Pixel Scroll 8/15/18 I Just Scrolled Into San Jose And Boy Are My Pixels Tired

(1) ROAD TRIP. Made it to San Jose, delayed by a flat tire coming down the Grapevine, which led to getting help from AAA and buying replacement tires in Bakersfield (the temporary spare has limited mileage). I had time to realize that I was on the I-5 just about opposite where Bruce Pelz’ van had a flat on the return trip from the Vancouver Westercon of 1977. Fannish symmetry.

(2) IT’S LIT. Now all I need is an explanation….

(3) NOT YOUNG PEOPLE. James Davis Nicoll continues to flip the script, having “old people” read and react to Amal El-Mohtar’s “”Seasons of Glass and Iron”.

The third piece in Old People Read New SFF is Amal El-Mohtar’s 2016 Seasons of Glass and Iron. To paraphrase Wikipedia:

Seasons won the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and the 2017 Locus Award for Best Short Story. It was also shortlisted for the 2017 World Fantasy Award—Short Fiction, the 2017 Aurora Award for Best Short Fiction, and the 2017 Theodore Sturgeon Award.

A fairy tale—two fairy tales—retold to modern sensibility, it scratched the same itch for me Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood did decades ago. It was therefore almost certain that I would enjoy it. The laundry list of awards suggested that I was not alone in this. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this ongoing project, it’s that reality and expectations often diverge. What did my Old People actually think of this story?

(4) CLARION W. Frank Catalano tells GeekWire readers about Clarion West: “How this workshop creates some of the world’s top sci-fi and fantasy writers, inside a Seattle house”.

This and every summer around the first of August, 18 students leave a house in Seattle’s University District, after an intense six weeks in a crucible of creativity. Graduates over the past three decades have gone on to write bestselling novels, win science fiction and fantasy’s major awards, and become well-respected editors.

The Clarion West Summer Workshop may be the least-showy, most-influential contributor to the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in the universe.

“Probably our most famous current grad is Ann Leckie because her first book, right out the door, got the Nebula, the Clarke Award, the Hugo and the British fantasy and science fiction award,” said Neile Graham, Clarion West workshop director since 2001.

Catalano says, “I felt Clarion West is an under-appreciated gem in both Seattle proper, as well as in the tech community in general. So I wanted to draw attention to its decades of work.”

(5) DIRDA COLUMN. The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda says “This is getting weird: Critics on horror, science fiction and fantasy”:

Fantasy, horror and science fiction are porous genres, allowing for, and even encouraging, cross-fertilization. H.G. Wells’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” for instance, could be classified under any of these three rubrics. To circumvent so much categorical fuzziness, John Clute, the theoretically minded co-editor of “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction,” came up with the useful umbrella term “fantastika.” What follows here, then, is a briefly annotated list of some recent critical books about fantastika.

No one knows more about M.R. James, author of the best ghost stories in English, than Rosemary Pardoe. In The Black Pilgrimage and Other Explorations (Shadow Publishing) she collects her “essays on supernatural fiction,” many of which reflect her careful research into the textual complexities and historical context of James’s imaginative writing.

(6) LIGHTNING STRIKING AGAIN AND AGAIN. Sci FI Bloggers’ Alice Rosso picks the “TOP 5 Ways to Destroy New York City”.

Number 1: Apocalypse, The Day After Tomorrow.

Man has pushed it too far; because of a non-returning point reached in the Global Warming, the earth is doomed to experience a new Ice Age, in which waters and freezing temperature will devastate the entire planet. The first scene that comes to mind when thinking about this movie is the gigantic wall of water that invades New York City, destroying everything on its way, soaking the Statue of Liberty and trapping our protagonists in the famous Public Library. The world is devastated by nature and New York is the first to become an icicle.

(7) DUNE ON TABLETOP AGAIN. Eric Franklin says, “It’s been about twenty years since we had a new licensed Dune game (the Dune Collectible Card Game was released in 1997, the RPG was released in 2000), so it’s about time.” IcV has the story: “Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ Comes To Tabletop”.

“This is only the beginning of our big plans in tabletop for this captivating franchise,” said John-Paul Brisigotti, CEO of GF9. “Dune is a rich and wonderful universe, and we expect to produce an equally expansive and inspired line of games for years to come.”

“Gale Force Nine has consistently demonstrated a skill and passion for building successful tabletop game series alongside category leading partners and we are thrilled to announce this exciting addition to the Dune licensing program,” said Jamie Kampel, Vice President of Licensing & Partnerships for Legendary. “Legendary looks forward to a fun and meaningful contribution to this revered legacy property.”

The full range of products, including board and miniatures games, are scheduled to release just prior to the upcoming Dune theatrical release in 2020. GF9 plans to align with other game companies in numerous categories and formats for future releases as well.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born August 15, 1896 – Leon Theremin. Inventor of the instrument figuring in such genre films as The Thing From Another WorldThe Day The Earth Stood Still, The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. TForbidden Planet, Batman Forever, Mars Attacks! and Ghostbusters.
  • Born August 15 – Zeljko Ivanek, 61. First genre role was on The X-Files, some of his other genre appearances include Millennium, From the Earth to the Moon miniseries, Hannibal, Twilight Zone, Lost, Heroes, Revolution, True BloodX-Men: Apocalyse and Twelve Monkeys. 
  • Born August 15 – Natasha Henstridge, 44. Genre work includes series such as Homeboys in Outer Space, The Outer Limits, Time Jumper (anyone seen this?), The Secret Circle, the newest Beauty and the Beast and Medinah.
  • Born August 15 – Jennifer Lawrence, 28. First genre role was in the Medium series, also has appeared in the Hunger Games and X-Men film franchises.

(9) HE LIKES THE BUS. James Davis Nicoll (working overtime today!) told Tor.com readers “Not On Your Life: Six Means of SF Transportation I Would Not Use”. He does not want to be a plasma jet / He would not ride that on a bet…. Here’s an example:

Subatomic Particle Energy

Bob Shaw’s A Wreath of Stars (1976) and Gregory Benford’s The Stars in Shroud (1978) use similar conceits, if for rather different purposes. In Wreath, conversion from regular matter to anti-neutrinos3 affords its protagonist escape from an irate dictator. He finds himself in an intangible world (which is doomed, so it wasn’t much of an escape). In the Benford novel, conversion to tachyons allows faster than light travel. In addition to issues I will discuss in a later essay, both of these technologies have the same apparent drawback, namely: unless the process is absolutely instant (I don’t see how it could be) this would probably shear all the complex molecules and chemical structures in one’s meatsack body, as different bits are converted at slightly different times. Do not want to be converted to mush, fog, or plasma. No thanks.

(10) 1948. Pros at the first Toronto Worldcon.

(11) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Rang-Tan: the story of dirty palm oil” on YouTube is a cartoon narrated by Dame Emma Thompson about orangutans produced for Greenpeace

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, amk, JJ, Eric Franklin, James Davis Nicoll, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Patrick Morris Miller.]

Pixel Scroll 7/11/18 Your Arms Too Short to Scroll With Pixels

(1) GWW TEAMS UP WITH WW. ComicsBeat spreads the word: “G. Willow Wilson and Cary Nord Are Your New WONDER WOMAN Creative Team”.

Dan DiDio revealed in the “DC Nation” portion of this week’s DC All Access video that award-winning writer G. Willow Wilson will be the new regular series writer on Wonder Woman. Wilson will team with artist Cary Nord following Steve Orlando’s forthcoming guest-arc. In the video, DiDio says that Wilson will be expanding on the concepts and ideas that initial Rebirth Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka introduced in his year-long run on the series. The creative team’s first story will be titled “The Just War,” and will feature Wonder Woman facing off again with Ares while attempting to rescue a missing Steve Trevor.

On G. Willow Wilson’s site a headline says “The rumors were true”.

“I’m delighted to be writing such an iconic character as Wonder Woman and to be working with DC once again,” said Wilson. “With more than 75 years of history, Wonder Woman has a wealth of backstory and drama to draw from, and I look forward to putting a spin on Diana and her supporting cast that’s both new, yet familiar. It’ll be a challenge to do her justice, but I like a challenge and can’t wait to get started.”

(2) POOH MAP SETS RECORD. CNN has the story — “Winnie-the-Pooh original map illustration sells for record $570,000”.

The original drawing of the map that appears inside the cover of A.A. Milne’s beloved book “Winnie-the-Pooh” sold at a Sotheby’s auction for nearly $600,000 — a record for any book illustration.

The Hundred Acre Wood map is the work of E.H. Shepard, who was asked to illustrate the book in 1926. Sotheby’s valued the map between $130,000 and nearly $200,000 (or between £100,000 and £150,000), according to a news release from May announcing the sale.

The auction house described the drawing, which was unseen for 50 years, as “possibly the most famous map in children’s literature.”

(3) MOON MISSION. There’s a plan for an “Israeli unmanned spacecraft to land on Moon in 2019”

An Israeli non-profit organisation has announced plans to send the first privately-funded unmanned spacecraft to the Moon.

SpaceIL said the probe would be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December on a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

It is expected to land on the Moon in February 2019.

The spacecraft will plant an Israeli flag on the Moon’s surface and carry out research into its magnetic field.

SpaceIL’s project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which offered $30m (£23m) in prizes to inspire people to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. However, the competition expired this March, with the $20m grand prize for landing on the Moon unclaimed….

(4) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman takes a page right out of history in Episode 71 of his Eating the Fantastic podcast. Join Arlan Andrews, Sr., Gregory Benford, Geoffrey A. Landis, and Charles Sheffield for lunch in 1993.

Join me for lunch at the World Science Fiction Convention. No, not this year’s San Jose Worldcon, which won’t happen until August. Or even last year’s Worldcon in Helsinki. But the 1993 San Francisco Worldcon!

Here’s how we’re going to do that …

Late last year, I repurposed a Science Forum I’d recorded for Science Fiction Age magazine on March 1, 1994 into Episode 56 of Eating the Fantastic. You got to hear Charles Sheffield and Arlan Andrews, Sr. chatting over lunch at an Italian restaurant about the many ways the world might end. But for this episode, we’ll be going even further back into the past.

On September 1, 1993, I shared lunch during the San Francisco Worldcon with not only Andrews and Sheffield, but Gregory Benford and Geoffrey Landis as well. I thought it would be fun to bring together working scientists to have them discuss over a meal everything wrong (and a few things which might be right) with how their profession is portrayed in science fiction.

I no longer have any idea which convention hotel restaurant we gathered in for our recording session, but we were definitely eating—as you’ll be able to hear for yourself when a sizzling platter of something called a “Laredo” is put in front of us and we worry about whether it’s safe to eat without burning ourselves.

An edited transcript of this conversation was published in the January 1994 issue of Science Fiction Age. So who were this quartet of scientist/science fiction writers when we recorded this Science Forum 25 years ago? Here’s how I described them in that issue—

Gregory Benford is a professor of physics working at the University of California at Irvine, who has also written over a dozen SF novels. Arlan Andrew, Sr. is an executive at a national laboratory, who has worked in the White House Science Office in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. A longtime SF reader, Geoffrey Landis has long looked at the role of the scientist both as an experimentalist and as an SF writer. Charles Sheffield holds a Ph.D in theoretical physics and serves as Chief Scientist for the Earth Satellite Corporation.

And I should add that during my years editing Science Fiction Age magazine from 1992 through 2000, I published short fiction by each of them.

(5) SPEAKER FOR THE FED. In the Washington Post Magazine, Rachel Manteuffel interviews Marc Okrand about how his development of Klingon came about as a consequence of his work on closed captioning — “He invented the Klingon language for ‘Star Trek.’ But how?”.

And how did that happen?

Because I did Vulcan for “Star Trek II.”

And how did that happen?

My real job, the one that really paid the bills, was closed captioning. The first program we did live was the Oscars, 1982. They flew me out to L.A., and I was having lunch with a friend who worked at Paramount. She and I go out to lunch, and the fact that I was a linguist came up — I have a PhD in linguistics. She said: “That’s really interesting. We’ve been talking to linguists. There’s this scene in the movie where Mr. Spock and this female Vulcan character have a conversation. When they filmed it, the actors were speaking English. But in postproduction, everyone thinks it would be better if they were speaking Vulcan.” They wanted a linguist to come and make up gobbledygook that matches the lip movements. And I said, “I can do that!”

(6) DUBIOUS TIE-IN PRODUCT. Vulture says it’s already off the market: “And The Handmaid’s Tale Wine Has Already Been Pulled”.

Look, we all agree, blessed be his fruit, but the newly announced The Handmaid’s Tale wine seemed a little off-brand for a dystopian drama about a totalitarian government forcing women to reproduce against their will. Looks like Lot18 and MGM, the manufacturers of the newly announced themed wines, agreed, removing them for purchase from their website on Tuesday. A representative for Lot18 also confirmed to Vulture the line has been pulled, though the website currently lists the Offred pinot noir as “sold out.” Then again, it also lists the “seductive and appealing” wine, named after Elisabeth Moss’s Handmaid character, as “useless to resist,” so yeah, better to bail out of this whole thing now, and hard.

(7) CONFERENCE QUOTE. Bird is the word.

(8) THREADBARE GAUNTLET. Galaxy didn’t measure up to expectations this month says The Traveler at Galactic Journey. This month being one that fell in the middle of 1963…. “[July 10, 1963] (August 1963 Galaxy)”

Speaking of revolutions, every two months, we get to take the pulse of the one started by H.L. Gold, who threw down the gauntlet at the feet of pulp sci-fi in 1950 when he started his scientifiction magazine, Galaxy.  It was once a monthly magazine, but since 1959 it has been a half-again-sized bi-monthly.  This was a cost-saving measure, as was the reduction of writers’ rates.  The latter caused a tangible (if not fatal) drop in quality, and it is my understanding that it either has recently been or will soon be reversed.

Thus, the August 1963 Galaxy is a mixed bag, with standout stories by lesser authors and lesser stories by standout authors….

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • July 11, 1976 — K&E produced its last slide rule, which it presented to the Smithsonian Institution. A common method of performing mathematical calculations for many years, the slide rule became obsolete with the invention of the computer and its smaller, hand-held sibling, the calculator.
  • July 11, 1997 – Carl Sagan’s Contact premiered in theatres.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born July 11, 1899 — E.B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web)
  • Born July 11, 1913 — Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger — better known as Cordwainer Smith
  • Born July 11 – Stephen Land, 66. Miles Quaritch in more Avatar films than bears thinking about, the Into the Badlands fantasy series, and Terra Nova to name but a few genre roles.
  • Born July 11 – Sela Ward, 62. The President in Independence Day: Resurgence, regular cast in Once and Again and a voice role in The New Batman Adventures. Also an appearance in Westworld.
  • Born July 11 – Rachel Taylor, 34. Regular cast member in The Defenders and Jessica Jones series, 666 Park Avenue, roles in Hercules mini-series, Transformers and Man-Thing. No, the latter is not the Marvel Comic character.
  • Born July 11 – Tom Holland, 23. Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War and at least two MCU films to come

(11) WELLINGTON PARANORMAL. The truth is out there – but there’s small risk these cops will run into it. The New Zealand TV series follows two oblivious cops who work out of the Wellington police station where Sgt Maaka has a secret office he uses to investigate the paranormal —

In this new factual reality *cough* *cough* show, go behind the scenes of New Zealand’s first Paranormal Unit. As we all know, Wellington is a hotbed of supernatural activity… so Officers Minogue and O’Leary, who featured in the vampire documentary What We Do In The Shadows, take to the streets to investigate all manner of paranormal phenomena.

Wellington Paranormal is executive produced by Taika Waititi (Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnorok) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of The Conchords), two locals who have an interest in exposing what is really going on in the streets of Wellington.

In episode one of the series, Wellington’s Paranormal Unit, fresh off a successful retrieval of 5 pairs of stolen trousers that were taken from Blackfield Menswear, officers are tasked with bringing in Bazu’aal – a body-hopping demon. His name, which translates to ‘He who brings hell on earth’.

Actor Maaka Pohatu has been channelling the spirit of Winston Peters while dealing with paranormal occurrences around Wellington.

Pohatu, who plays the diplomatic Sergeant Ruawai Maaka, is obsessed and a little bit frightened of the spirit world in the new television series Wellington Paranormal. So his bosses encouraged him to look to our (temporary) leader.

“Initially, when I was thinking of building Sergeant Maaka [as a character], I got inspired by Willie Apiata, mainly because I wanted to grow a heavy moustache. But producer Paul [Yates] said no, and so did Jemaine [Clement, who directed the series],” Pohatu says.

 

(12) HANDMAID. NPR’s Linda Holmes dislikes “The Truck, The Choice And The ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Finale” – beware fullscale spoilers.

This review of the second-season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale discusses in detail what happens in the second-season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale.

The sound of the second season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale coming to an end was the sound of a balloon, expertly inflated to the point where it seemed about to break, being let go so that it releases its tension in a long, anticlimactic raspberry….

(13) USED BOOK. This one’s older than dirt: “Homer Odyssey: Oldest extract discovered on clay tablet”.

A clay tablet discovered during an archaeological dig may be the oldest written record of Homer’s epic tale, the Odyssey, ever found in Greece, the country’s culture ministry has said.

Found near the ruined Temple of Zeus in the ancient city of Olympia, the tablet has been dated to Roman times.

It is engraved with 13 verses from the poem recounting the adventures of the hero Odysseus after the fall of Troy.

(14) BIG DINO. They got their growth even earlier in prehistory than was known before: “Fossil of ‘first giant’ dinosaur discovered in Argentina”.

Analysis: By Dr Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh

Dinosaur fans need to learn a new name, the lessemsaurids, because these were the first dinosaurs to grow to giant sizes of around 10 tonnes, back in the Triassic Period some 215 million years ago. The remarkable discovery of four lessemsaurid skeletons forces us to rethink when, and how, dinosaurs got so huge.

We used to think that the first giant dinosaurs arose in the early part of the Jurassic Period, after supervolcanoes caused a global extinction at the end of the Triassic. But the lessemsaurids tell us that at least some dinosaurs were able to attain giant sizes during the latest part of the Triassic, before the extinction.

(15) SOLID BRASS. BBC recounts “The crypto-currencies that die before they have bloomed”. Fewer than half survive for four months from ICO — just in case there were any Filers who thought the recent e-coin payments for stories idea sounded attractive.

It has been the biggest craze in investment of the last two years – the idea that creating your own crypto-currency through an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is the route to riches.

But now an academic study has revealed just how many of these ICOs end up disappearing without trace after a short while.

A Boston College research paper entitled Digital Tulips finds that fewer than half of these projects survive more than 120 days after the completion of their sales of tokens to the public.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion by examining the official Twitter accounts of the crypto-currencies. They found only 44.2% of them were still tweeting after that four-month period and concluded that the rest of the ICOs had died.

(16) THEY’RE PINK. BBC finds another obscure record to report: “World’s ‘oldest coloured molecules’ are bright pink”.

Scientists have discovered what they say are the world’s oldest surviving biological colours, from ancient rocks beneath the Sahara desert.

The 1.1 billion-year-old pigments have a bright pink hue, but range from blood red to deep purple in their concentrated form.

The pigments are fossilised molecules of chlorophyll produced by sea organisms, Australian scientists said.

Researchers ground shale rocks into powder to extract the pigment.

“Imagine you could find a fossilised dinosaur skin that still has its original colour, green or blue… that is exactly the type of discovery that we’ve made,” Associate Prof Jochen Brocks from the Australian National University (ANU) told the BBC.

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

A Peep for You

By John Hertz:  Possibly because I’m recovering from Westercon LXXI, I’ll take a leaf from Lloyd Penney’s book and show you a letter I wrote to someone else.

– o O o –

Dear Mr. Quachri,

Thank you for Dr. Gregory Benford’s “Physics Tomorrow” in the March-April Analog.

It’s a tour de force.

Having it in your magazine is a particular achievement.  Perhaps no one could have produced it as well as he.  It may also be a distillate or essence of your spirit – I mean the spirit of Analog.  Those last four words, I realize, could be thought an unfortunate metaphor.  In their defense I had better not offer any notions of my own, but I might be allowed to quote Dr. Clarke, who said “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

Dr. Benford knows, as many of us your readers may, that Physics Today has been, since 1948 – a little younger than Analog – a magazine of the American Institute of Physics, indeed its flagship publication.  His piece is in every other way I can see – manner and detail, illustrations, timely allusion to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (pertaining to which I recommend Dr. Michael Smith’s 2017 memoir To Catch a Black Hole, focussing, if I may venture that, on his own part), worthiness to follow The Berlin Project (pertaining to which I recommend Norman Spinrad’s review in the May-June issue of your companion magazine Asimov’s) – so perfect as to be not only good science fiction, but good comedy.  Jack Benny, had he worked in our field, could hardly have reached higher.

– o O o –

I wonder if I’ll ever learn whether my addressee recognizes this isn’t the first time I’ve brought in Mr. Benny.

Pixel Scroll 3/30/18 Round The Decay Of That Colossal Scroll, Boxless And Bare, The Lone And Level Pixels Stretch Away

(1) WSJ’S TOP SF OF 2017. Congratulations to all the authors who made the Wall Street Journal’s list of best 5 sf novels of the year 2017. Especially Gregory Benford, who sent me the news item. (The list came out in December but is behind a paywall.)

  • All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai
  • The Berlin Project, by Gregory Benford
  • Change Agent, by Daniel Suarez
  • Artemis, by Andy Weir
  • The Genius Plague by David Walton

(2) THEORIES OF EVOLUTION AND TIME TRAVEL. The Conversation’s Jordi Paps says the answer to the question “Would stepping on the first butterfly really change the history of evolution?” depends on how you believe evolution works.

Science fiction writers can’t seem to agree on the rules of time travel. Sometimes, as in Doctor Who (above), characters can travel in time and affect small events without appearing to alter the grand course of history. In other stories, such as Back To The Future, even the tiniest of the time travellers’ actions in the past produce major ripples that unpredictably change the future.

Evolutionary biologists have been holding a similar debate about how evolution works for decades. In 1989 (the year of Back To The Future Part II), the American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould published his timeless book Wonderful Life, named after the classic movie that also involves time travel of sorts. In it, he proposed a thought experiment: what would happen if you could replay life’s tape, rewinding the history of evolution and running it again? Would you still see the same movie with all the evolutionary events playing out as before? Or would it be more like a reboot, with species evolving in different ways?

(3) RESOLVED. Rocket Stack Rank will comply with Charles Payseur’s request to drop him from the list of reviewers they track.

Charles Payseur acknowledged their response, and discussed some of comments made by Filers since the request hit the news yesterday. Jump on his thread here:

(4) WFC RATES WILL RISE. World Fantasy Convention 2018 registration rates are due to increase on April 1, from $200 to $250 for a full attending membership. If you become a member now you will still have time to nominate for this year’s World Fantasy Awards (for which the deadline is May 31.)

WFC2018 will be held at the Baltimore Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, Nov 1–4, hosted by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) and Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA).

(5) THE BRADBURY FAMILY. On April 19, the Pasadena Museum of History presents a lecture by one of his daughters about “Growing Up with Ray Bradbury”.

Ray Bradbury’s daughter Ramona invites you to pull up a chair in her virtual living room as she shares an intimate evening of memories about growing up in the eclectic Bradbury household in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. The format is a conversation with historian Richard Schave (Esotouric Bus Adventures, Los Angeles), followed by a Q & A session.

Ramona will reminisce about life with her famous father, and share rare family photos and stories of weekend excursions to Hollywood Boulevard book shops and the Palos Verdes Peninsula (made more adventurous because her father didn’t drive!), eccentric family friends, special gatherings, and important public events.

(6) TWO ON ONE. Two NPR reviewers take on Ready Player One:

MONDELLO: A Willy Wonka prize worth playing for if you’re a gamer and a movie conceit worth playing with if you’re Steven Spielberg. Ernest Cline’s novel gave Halliday a consuming nostalgia for the 1980s, and who better to bring that to the screen? The filmmaker crams every corner of Wade’s cyberscapes with Deloreans, Batmobiles, aliens, King Kong, The Iron Giant. There’s Prince and Van Halen on the soundtrack and even a sequence where Spielberg lets loose his inner Kubrick. Wade, who calls himself Parzival in the OASIS, teams up with his best buddy, Aech…

Like the popular 2011 Ernest Cline science fiction novel on which it’s based, “Ready Player One” is an extended valentine to those pop culture relics, most of which came out in the ’80s and are thus beloved by people who grew up watching, well, Steven Spielberg movies. Spielberg avoids any allusions to his own films apart from a stray dinosaur who may or may not hail from “Jurassic Park.” But as one of the undisputed high priests of American popular entertainment, he is in many ways enshrining his own legacy. Frankly, I wish he’d been more careful with it.

(7) BOSON PURSUIT. Researchers say a “Higgs factory a ‘must for big physics'”.

Physicists had hoped that the [Large Hadron Collider] would turn up evidence of physics phenomena not explained by the Standard Model. So far, efforts to detect new physics have come away empty-handed, but studying the Higgs in more detail might break the impasse.

A successor to the Large Hadron Collider would be designed in a way that allows scientists to zero in on the Higgs boson.

The LHC works by smashing beams of proton particles together, but the collisions that produce the Higgs also produce many other particles. This makes it complicated to work out which collisions produce the Higgs boson.

A different type of particle smasher, called an electron-positron collider, should produce only a Higgs and another particle called a Z boson.

(8) VOYAGE TO THE MOON. A Kickstarter to fund the English translation of Georges Méliès’ autobiography hit its target in the first couple of days.

81 years ago, at the age of 77, Georges Méliès – the father of narrative and fantastical film – hand-wrote his autobiography; the story of the creation of cinema from not only a firsthand witness but also its greatest innovator. It has been completely unavailable since 1945 and has never been translated into English. This is one of the great unseen texts of cinema history.

I’ve had it translated. And it’s GREAT! Reading it blew my film-loving mind. A voice from history telling me in his own words about how cinema began and his role in it. Now I need your help to rescue this important, illuminating and fascinating testimony, to get it back into print and where it truly belongs – in our hands and on our bookshelves.

…. In 1937, a year before he died, he wrote longhand a 32 page autobiography detailing his life, his work and his observations on both. He sent it to a film historian who was writing a book about him. The first 500 copies of this book were packaged with a facsimile of the manuscript. What remains of that print run exists now only in the jealously guarded collections of film enthusiasts who have been lucky or wealthy enough to secure one.

This memoir is an enthralling story in which Méliès guides us from his childhood into his early career, explaining how all of the elements fell into place to put him in the perfect position to become a pioneer of cinema. He talks about becoming one of the first people in the world to see a projected moving image at a private demonstration by the Lumiére brothers and the international mission this inspired him to take to become a part of the new medium. He explains how and why he became the first impressario of cinema, how he built France’s first film studio and how he invented special effects techniques and helped define the very format of cinematic film. More than this, it’s a human story; at times braggadocios, joyous, humble and bitter. We learn how times and the industry changed, how he became the first victim of film piracy and how he ended up in his old age, forgotten, broke and selling toys and sweets in a tiny stall in Montparnasse train station. Most interesting to me was discovering that he was a man already aware of his legacy and surprisingly unhappy about how he could see he was going to be remembered. His memoir crackles with life and is a vivid account of the dawn of movies from its most colourful participant.

(9) HEAR FRITZ LEIBER. Fanac.org’s new YouTube video pairs a sound recording of Fritz Leiber’s “Monsters And Monster Lovers” talk from the 1964 Worldcon with selected images.

Pacificon II, the 22nd World Science Fiction Convention, was held in Oakland, CA in 1964. In this interesting audio with images, Fritz Leiber speaks eloquently about his favorite literary monsters (from Yog Sothoth to the forest in Peer Gynt), the relationship of science fiction to traditional monsters, why we are drawn to these characters, and on horror in a time of war. The first 10 minutes or so are a loving listing of characters, and the meat of the talk starts after that. This material was provided by The Southern California Institute for Fan Interests (SCIFI), and Jerome Scott, Director of Projects for SCIFI in LA.

 

(10) MAYNARD OBIT. Bill Maynard (1928-2018): British actor, died March 30, aged 89. Genre appearances: You Too Can Have a Body (1960), The Boy with Two Heads (all seven episodes, 1974), Zodiac (one episode, 1974).

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 30, 1988 Beetlejuice premiered. The Hollywood Reporter has reposted its review of the film.
  • March 30, 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit theaters.

(12) BIRTHDAY AUTHOR. Steven H Silver’s “Birthday Reviews” series at Black Gate celebrates “Chad Oliver’s ‘Transformer’”.

Oliver’s writing career began with the publication of the short story “The Land of Lost Content” in the November 1950 issue of Super Science Stories. He published short fiction through his career, with his final story published in 1991. During that time, he also published six novels and collaborated occasionally with Charles Beaumont and Garvin Berry. His 1984 story “Ghost Town” was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

(13) WILD ANIMAL WARNING. Your Charlton Police Department knows some coyotes are more dangerous to themselves.

(14) ACE REPORTER. Jon Del Arroz says he will be on hand for the Hugo finalist announcement at the 7 Stars Bar & Grill in San Jose tomorrow. The bar’s online schedule promises there will be Bottomless Mimosas and karaoke on Saturday – no wonder he can’t stay away!

(15) FREE READ. The winner of the “Quantum Shorts” fiction contest has been posted.

Scientific American and Nature partnered with the Center for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, which organizes the annual competition….

The mind-bending possibilities of quantum physics lend themselves to philosophy—to wondering about the theory’s implications for the meaning of life, the idea of free will, the fate of us all. A talented pool of writers have capitalized on those implications to produce an impressive array of entries in this year’s Quantum Shorts contest, which invites short fiction based on the ideas of quantum mechanics. Scientific American and Nature partnered with the Center for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, which organizes the annual competition. Judges, including Scientific American and Nature editors, selected a winner and runner-up in two categories—“open” and “youth”—and online voting identified a “people’s choice” favorite; all winners will receive a cash award, a certificate and an engraved trophy.

(16) NEW FORNAX. Charles Rector’s 21st issue of his fanzine Fornax [PDF file] is available at EFanzines. Here’s what’s inside —

Among other things is an essay about how I was treated as a handicapped student by gym teachers while I was in the public schools during the 1970’s.  There is also an essay about how the Big Tech companies such as Google, Twitter and You Tube have been using their power to censor political speech by conservatives and socialists and how this all ties in with the allegations that all anti-establishment activity is tied in with Vladimir Putin and his gang in Russia.  There is also an essay about irresponsible rhetoric such as Guy H. Lillian III’s defense of Al Franken and this Daniel Greenfield character who claims that we are on the verge of “civil war” because there is a great deal of opposition to the Trump Administration. There is also a look back at the Solar Empire game of yesteryear.

There are also some essays by both Robin Bright and Gerd Maximovic as well as poetry by Denny E. Marshall.

(17) RED PELT, BLUE PELT. Huffington Post reports “Alt-Right Furries Are Raging Online, And Leftist Furries Wonder What Is To Be Done”.

…However, the vocal subgroup of Alt-Furries has been hard at work asserting their space within the movement of late, and it’s this very spirit of inclusivity they wish to expunge.

“The furry ‘community’ is a fandom that has been overrun by liberal ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ and as a result it’s become sanctuary to hardcore paedophiles and
people with serious mental problems,” the unnamed author of Nazi furry erotica “The Furred Reich” told The New Statesman, which has been doggedly covering the Alt-Furry scene for years.

The core furry community, then, finds itself in quite the bind: Can a group founded upon the idea of consummate tolerance embrace a clique that’s so staunchly intolerant?

For the opposing furries leading an outright fight against the alt-right, the answer is no. Dogpatch Press, a furry news source offering “fluff pieces every week day,” often rails against Alt-Furries and their attempts at indoctrination. In February, a Dogpatch writer with the fursona Patch O’Furr published a “deep dive into the Altfurry mission to ‘redpill’ fandom with hate,” warning readers about the #AltFurry mission to indoctrinate members of the fandom and spread its white supremacist teachings.

According to O’Furr, furry fandom is a perfect venue for alt-right recruiters. Just as Pepe the Frog (RIP) served as a seemingly harmless, comedic package through which to promulgate racist, misogynist and xenophobic beliefs, fursonas can act as effective, hirsute fronts for extreme views. As Furry fandom member Deo elaborated in a Medium post, furry communities ? often populated by “socially awkward internet nerds” ? are prime targets for alt-right trolls, who target young people, outsiders and insecure, white men.

(18) KERMODE. Here are three recent genre film reviews by YouTuber Mark Kermode.

  • Ready Player One

“Really properly good fun!”

 

  • Annihilation (audio only)

“Shame I didn’t get the chance to see it in the cinema” and “a really fine piece of work”

 

  • A Wrinkle in Time

“I’d rather a film aimed high and tripped than played it safe, and I think A Wrinkle in Time does that”

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Steve Green, Chip Hitchcock, IanP,Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, John A Arkansawyer, Gregory Benford, Ann Marie Rudolph, Brian Z., Charles Rector, with Carl Slaughter as The Beaver for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Niall McAuley.]

Pixel Scroll 3/14/18 Scroll Longa, Pixel Brevis

(1) HERSTORY. James Davis Nicoll, in “Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part III”, continues his series for Tor.com.

…Clarion graduate P. C. Hodgell has been active since the late 1970s. She is the author of the long-running Chronicles of the Kencyrath (nine volumes since 1982). Readers of a certain vintage may have vivid memories of the twelve-year desert between the third book in the series, Seeker’s Mask, and the fourth, To Ride a Rathorn. Currently she has the active support of a publisher whose name escapes me. Since the series is continuity-heavy, you will want to start with the first volume, 1982’s God Stalk, in which an amnesiac woman of a race of staunch monotheists finds herself in a city of a thousand gods—none of whom seem to be particularly helpful gods…

(2) CROWDFUNDING AMAZING: AN UPDATE. The Amazing Stories Kickstarter has accumulated $7,811 of its $30,000 goal, with 23 days remaining. Steve Davidson has begun revealing the authors who will be in the first print issue:

We are pleased to announce the following writers have contributed stories; Kameron Hurley, Paul Levinson, Dave Creek, Shirley Meier, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Allen Steele.

While we’re excited about all our authors, let us tell you a little bit about Kameron Hurley and her story…

(3) ANALOG BLOG. From a Featured Futures’ links post I learned about The Astounding/Analog Companion, “the Official Analog Science Fiction and Fact blog.” Last month they published Gregory Benford’s background notes about a piece he wrote for the magazine: “Thinking About Physics a Century Hence”.

I’ve published over 200 short stories and over 200 scientific papers, reflecting a symmetry of sorts.

My career as a professor of physics at UC Irvine has taken most of my working life, with writing as a hobby that has surprised me by success. So I see SF through a scientific lens, focused on plausible futures. But sometimes I just wing it, and speculating on physics a century hence is a grand leap, indeed.

The mock future news report in the current Analog issue [“Physics Tomorrow: A News Item of the Year 2116,” March/April 2018 Analog, on sale now] came from a contest the journal Physics Today ran in 2016: to devise an entry for that journal in a century. I took the challenge, and produced this “story” because the physics intrigued me.

Physics Today did not select my essay, from 230 others. They published much more pedestrian stuff. Since then, I’ve worked with an old friend and general relativity physicist Al Jackson, to calculate in detail how to in fact make a “gravwave transmitter.”

Then I thought, why not try Analog? As a physicist and SF writer, both avenues are natural. Indeed, maybe writing future news items is a new way to think of SF….

(4) ASIMOV’S TOO. There’s also an Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Author & Editor Blog called From the Earth to the Stars. They recently conducted a “Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal” about her Asimov’s story “Artisanal Trucking, LLC.”

Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind this piece?

Mary Robinette Kowal: I was at a conference in a round table discussion talking about automation and privilege. At some point, we were talking about how knitting, which used to be a necessary thing, became automated with knitting machines and now it is a luxury art. It’s expensive to buy wool. It takes time and leisure to make a garment. I said, “I imagine the hipsters of the future will totally do artisanal trucking.” I had more of a point but stopped talking as Story stampeded through my brain.

(5) USING SOCIAL MEDIA. Dawn Witzke begins a series of posts with  “On Professionalism: Part 1” at Superversive SF. No writer can go wrong following this piece of advice:

Social Media

Writers must be on social media, which means that everything, personal and professional is up for examination. How you present yourself online can affect what impression other authors, editors and publishers make of you.

Stick to arguing ideas, not making personal attacks. Most likely this will not be reciprocated. That’s okay. Let them look like the jerk.

Trolling is a whole other ball game. While it’s not seen as professional, some writers use it as a marketing tool (Milo Yiannopolus), which is all well and good if you publish in hotly debated subjects like politics. But in general, it creates as many enemies online as friends. Use with caution.

(6) HAWKING ON THE AIR. Watch Mojo has assembled the “Top 10 Unforgettable Stephen Hawking Cameos in Pop Culture.”

Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking passed away March 14, 2018. But before Stephen Hawking died, he not only made some incredible scientific breakthroughs; there are also many hilarious Stephen Hawking cameos to remember him by. Whether he was supporting Monty Python, speaking to John Oliver or playing poker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stephen Hawking was a fabulous ambassador for science.

  • #10: “Monty Python Live (Mostly)” (2014)
  • #9: “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (1993-2009)
  • #8: Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” (1994) & “Talkin’ Hawkin’” (2014)
  • #7: “Stephen Hawking’s New Voice” (2017)
  • #6: “Anyone Can Quantum” (2016)
  • #5: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (2014-)
  • #4: “Futurama” (1999-2013)
  • #3, #2 & #1???

(7) A BBC/HAWKING ROUNDUP.

The downside of my celebrity is that I can’t go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.

As the world mourns Prof Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76, there has been a particular outpouring of emotion in China, where the visionary physicist was revered by scientists, students, the state and even boy band stars.

In 1982, I had responsibility for his third academic book for the Press, Superspace And Supergravity.

This was a messy collection of papers from a technical workshop on how to devise a new theory of gravity.

While that book was in production, I suggested he try something easier: a popular book about the nature of the Universe, suitable for the general market.

Stephen mulled over my suggestion.

(8) FLEISHER OBIT. Michael Fleisher (1942-2018): US comics writer and novelist; died February 2, aged 75. Titles he worked on include The Spectre, Jonah Hex, Shade the Changing Man (created and drawn by Steve Ditko). Famously sued The Comics Journal, publisher Gary Groth and Harlan Ellison over a 1979 interview in which the latter described Fleisher (tongue in cheek, Ellison later claimed) as a “certifiable (..) bugfuck (..) lunatic”; the court found for the defendants. [By Steve Green.]

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 14, 1994 Robocop: The Series premiered on television.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY RELATIVIST

  • Born March 14, 1879 – Albert Einstein

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian isn’t the only one who remembered this is Pi Day – The Argyle Sweater.
  • Off the Mark also has a subtle play on the day.
  • As a commenter says after reading today’s Lio, “Before buying a book, always check to see if the title is a typo or not.”

(12) THANKS AND PRANKS. CBR.com answers its own question about the Harlan Ellison references in Hulk comics of the Seventies: “Comic Legends: Did A Hulk Classic Pay Hidden Tribute to a Sci-Fi Great?”

Anyhow, amusingly enough, Thomas was so pumped about having Ellison work on these issues that he actually decided to go a step further and, since the issue came out on April 1st, he would do an April Fool’s prank of sorts by working the name of over 20 Ellison stories into the story!

I won’t list all of them here, but I’ll do a few (the great poster, ruckus24, has all of them here).

Most notably is the title of the story, which is an adaptation of one of Ellison’s most famous story collections…

(13) MAD, YOU SAY. At Galactic Journey, Rosemary Benton reviews the newly released (55 years ago) Vincent Price film Diary of a Madman: “[March 14, 1963] Rising Stars and Unseen Enemies (Reginald Le Borg’s Diary of a Madman)”.

It feels as though, no sooner had the curtain fell and the lights came up on February’s horror/fantasy gem, The Raven, that the film reel snapped to life with another genre-crossing macabre film. While last month’s movie was a light, dry and sardonic comedy with a vaguely medieval setting and a cast of horror movie icons, Diary of a Madman, steps forward with a much more sobering aesthetic.

(14) SEMIPRO AND FAN CATEGORIES. Abigail Nussbaum continues a discussion of her Hugo nominating ballot in “The 2018 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Publishing and Fan Categories”. Here’s Nussbaum’s picks to succeed her in a category she won last year.

Best Fan Writer:

(A brief reminder here that I have announced that I would decline a nomination in this category if I received enough votes to qualify this year.)

  • Nina Allan – Nina had a great 2017, with her second novel The Rift gaining wide acclaim and attention.  She also continued to do good work as a critic and reviewer, on her personal blog, at Strange Horizons, and in the Shadow Clarke project.
  • Vajra Chandrasekera – We didn’t see as much of Vajra’s nonfiction writing in 2017 as I would have liked–his focus these days seems to be on his own fiction and on being a fiction editor at Strange Horizons.  But his writing at the Shadow Clarke site was some of the most insightful writing that project offered up, in particular this review of Aliya Whitely’s The Arrival of Missives.
  • Erin Horáková – After nominating Erin’s magnum opus for Best Related Work, you’re probably not surprised to find me nominating her in this category.  As well as that magnificent essay, Erin did other writing for Strange Horizons in 2017, covering movies, plays, and board games.
  • Samira Nadkarni – A lot of Samira’s best work is happening on twitter, where in 2017 she made some incisive comments about works like Star Trek: Discovery or Thor: Ragnarok (she had some equally interesting things to say last month about Black Panther).  In longer writing, some standouts include her review of Deserts of Fire, an anthology about “modern war” whose project Samira argues with vociferously, and of the Netflix show Crazyhead, in which she discusses the genre trope of conflating mental health problems and superpowers.

(15) NEWS TO ME. Those who wish to enhance their terminological education can start the thread here –

Just remember – once you know, there’s no going back!

(16) INFOGALATIC. Did you forget about Vox Day’s intended Wikipedia replacement, Infogalactic? Camestros Felapton hasn’t. He gives a status report in “Revisiting Voxopedia”.

Actor Robert Guillaume is alive and well on Voxopedia despite dying in October 2017 in Wikipedia: https://infogalactic.com/info/Robert_Guillaume as is (for all you Swap Shop fans out there) Keith Chegwin https://infogalactic.com/info/Keith_Chegwin who on Wikipedia died in Decemeber 2017. More famous people are more likely to have their deaths recorded but it is hit and miss.

The majority of pages remain as out-of-date Wikipedia pages from 2016 and the basic issue with Voxopedia remains the same: not enough editors and the editors it does have are mainly working on fringe projects. These are supplemented by one-off vanity pages (e.g. https://infogalactic.com/info/Richard_Paolinelli )

In comments, Camestros says Paolinelli wrote most of his own entry for Infogalactic. I’m fine with that. Never depend on others to make you famous, as Elst Weinstein and I concluded 40 years ago. (You probably wondered why there’s a copy of Weinstein & Glyer’s Discount Hoaxarama in every hotel room.)

(17) UP IN THE AIR. From the BBC: “Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, say scientists”. A synchrotron scan shows that the bones were hollow enough to allow short bursts of flight.

The famous winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx was capable of flying, according to a new study.

An international research team used powerful X-ray beams to peer inside its bones, showing they were almost hollow, as in modern birds.

The creature flew like a pheasant, using short bursts of active flight, say scientists.

Archaeopteryx has been a source of fascination since the first fossils were found in the 1860s.

(18) OFF THE SHELF. Our hero: “‘Boaty McBoatface’ sub survives ice mission”. The popular-choice name was passed on to autonomous submersible operating from the officially-named RSS David Attenborough. Boaty is just back from 48 hours exploring under an ice shelf.

The nation’s favourite yellow submarine swam under a near-600m thick ice shelf in the Antarctic, returning safely to its launch ship after 48 hours away.

It was an important test for the novel autonomous vehicle, which was developed at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC).

Boaty’s handlers now plan even more arduous expeditions for the sub in the years ahead.

This includes a traverse under the sea-ice that caps the Arctic Ocean.

(19) FANTASTIC DESTINATION. David Doering declares, “This Miyazki-inspired ad for Oregon travel is stupeyfyingly gorgeous!” — “Only Slightly Exaggerated | Travel Oregon”.

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

A Cambridge Evening

[Introduction: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known scientific figures, passed away on March 14. Gregory Benford knew him, and wrote two memoirs of their meetings which he has given permission to post here on File 770. “A Cambridge Evening” is the second, written in 2012.]

By Gregory Benford: The invitation was on heavy bond in a delicious oyster color. I opened the Trinity College envelope noting it bore no stamp, apparently placed in my Institute of Astronomy mailbox by hand. Flowing script invited my wife Joan and me to evening meal with Professor Martin Rees.

Very good; the full High Table college show, then. In 1976 I was on sabbatical as a visiting fellow in Cambridge, England. I went there to study pulsars where they’d been discovered, but quickly became more interested in the luminous jet just seen in radio frequency maps of M87, the nearest active galaxy.

Martin Rees was then the Plumian Professor of physics and the director of the Institute of Astronomy, appointed just after the departure of Fred Hoyle.  He had agreed to host my sabbatical, a stay that began my astrophysics career; I’ve spent the decades hence mostly on pulsars and galactic jets. In Cambridge I learned much more than I anticipated.

Precisely on time Joan and I walked through the Great Gate, the main entrance to the college, leading to the yawning Great Court. In the centre of the court stood an ornate fountain, traditionally fed by a pipe from Conduit Head in west Cambridge, not the unreliable Cam River nearby. A solemn porter in a black bowler hat welcomed us, remarking gruffly on the chilly air, and nodding at the invitation as I presented it. “Ah, the Rees room.”

Trinity College undergraduates passed in gowns of dark blue. A statue of the college founder, Henry VIII, greeted us from a shadowy niche above the doorway. Martin Rees stood beside it, a slight man with a hawk nose and incisive gaze, bowing to Joan with a broad smile. I imagined we’d eat at the high table, as I had before for lunch, but instead Martin took us into a private dining room. I walked in with Joan and saw at the table two men and their wives: Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac and Stephen Hawking. Martin had said nothing to alert us.

Newton, Nehru and Maxwell were alumni of Trinity, and Dirac stood in such company; soon, so would Hawking and Rees.

The dining room was small, with room for six at the table. Soft lighting cast glows on the dark wood walls amid the scene of 700 years of academic elitism. The leadened plates stamped with the famed Trinity monogram framed a small salad. The flatware was heavy, dark silver and tall stemmed glasses ranked to the side. The servers wore formal tuxedo styled clothes and professionally disinterested faces. The headwaiter handled all dishes with white gloves and led the two solemn under-waiters.

I said very little through the salad, letting Joan carry our side. She entertained them with stories to adapting to English home appliances and their hieroglyphic instructions, her tinkling laughter softening the atmosphere. I reflected. Dirac had won a Nobel in 1933 for the first relativistic theory of particles, the Dirac equation. “The great papers of the other quantum pioneers were more ragged, less perfectly formed than Dirac’s,” my friend Freeman Dyson had said to me when I was in graduate school. Freeman had taken Dirac’s Cambridge quantum mechanics course as a precocious 19-year-old. Of Dirac’s discoveries, Freeman said, “His papers were like exquisitely carved marble statues falling out of the sky, one after another. He seemed to be able to conjure laws of nature from pure thought.”

This is an evening to keep your mouth shut, I thought, sitting at the centuries-old table and sipping a light Chardonnay (French, of course) served with the salad. Next, a tasty soup arrived, attended in strict silence by the stiff waiters. I noted that the French red wine was older than I was, a 1938 from the Fellows’ Cellar. A Haute Medoc, it was deep and rich with a surprising plum aftertaste.

Famously, Dirac’s wife Manci spoke little, and he even less. His colleagues in Cambridge jokingly defined a conversational unit of a dirac — one word per hour. Dirac was a slight man and autistic, widely known as hard to draw out. He said this concentration proved crucial to his success as a theoretical physicist, for he could remain focused on a problem for a long time. He also could order information about mathematics and physics in a systematic way, employing his visual imagination and determination. (Decades later, I saw medical practice focus on this supposed disorder, “fixing” it with drugs and therapy. How many geniuses have we lost this way?)

I asked him how he concentrated solely on his research. “Don’t talk,” he said with admirable brevity and a smile. He also said he only stopped work on Sunday, when he took long strolls alone. He had struggled to find the Dirac equation for months, getting nowhere, then took his usual Sunday walk—and the entire solution came to him when he was crossing a small bridge. He hurried to a nearby pub, asked for lunch and wrote the equation on the back of the menu so he would not forget. He seldom looked directly at anyone, but this time he stared me in the eye. “There it was, out of nowhere.”

“Do you still have the menu?” I asked, eyes wide. When I said it would be a charming historical momento, he dismissively waved his hand. He had used it to start a fire in his chilly college rooms.

The Navy bean soup done, talk moved on. Some mention of English politics arose, at a time when Maggie Thatcher was moving to the fore, Martin squelched with, “I’m entirely infra-red,” which meant something like Trotsky. He had no wife then. Hawking’s wife rolled her eyes at this statement, saying nothing.

As the waiters smoothly placed plates of veal ala brochard before us, Hawking changed the tone of the conversation with his halting words. He wanted to talk about science fiction. Martin had told him I wrote it now and then. I’d had the impression that at Cambridge science fiction was something serious scientists never would do, and seldom discuss — especially at a table where Newton changed the world over bowls of steaming lentil soup–and said so. Hawking gave a slanted grin. “Fred Hoyle has left us, but he is not forgotten.”

Hawking talked in slurred tones about what we now call his “chronology protection conjecture”. Why does nature apparently abhor a time machine? He said, as he puts it today, “It seems that there is a Chronology Protection Agency which prevents the appearance of closed timelike curves and so makes the universe safe for historians.”

Martin pointed out that there was strong experimental evidence in favor of the conjecture — from the fact that we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future. All this discussion Hawking eventually included in a book in the 2000s, along with his fears that our TV broadcasts, would bring ravening aliens to our door. He thought about such speculations in the 1970s, but apparently kept them largely to himself during his climb to fame.

Dirac spoke about the walks he took around Cambridge, relating favorite routes in great detail, but otherwise had no small talk. Slowly Hawking turned the conversation around to what books we read, asking each of us. He then announced that since he was thirteen he had never bothered with the assignments in Literature classes, preferring science fiction. Dirac remarked, “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before.  But in poetry, and I suppose in fiction, it’s the exact opposite.”

To my surprise Rees assented. “But science fiction leads to science,” he said. Dirac was silent and looked puzzled.

Stephen spent a long while relating memories of sf short stories he’d read. Like many fans, Hawking could recall ideas but not authors or titles. He was a big Robert Sheckley fan, I deduced, from what his remembered plots. Rees said he thought science fiction was like a literary dialect. It had its own vernacular and insider terms, its unusual pronunciation patterns and rhythms. A native sf “speaker” uses the argot of an audience, one that knows what Delany later called the sf reader protocols – signals of broader meaning. A good example is, “The door dilated,” implying a changed world. Nods all round, though Dirac said he had read little sf beyond Wells and Brave New World. “Perhaps I should.”

We all agreed that aliens in fiction serve as a distorting mirror to show what humankind is not. Hawking spoke with jerky gestures, fighting the erosions from his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which I knew as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His speech was slurred, brief and almost unintelligible, his conciseness a skill that later worked well in A Brief History of Time. Hawking’s fame was rising on his striking research ideas–that empty space wasn’t empty after all, and black holes aren’t black.

His wife, with her tight, focused look, scoffed at ideas like aliens, likening them to imaginary beings. Stephen retorted tartly that so were angels. A sudden silence around the table. I sipped the wine, which was excellent and still blossoming with rich new tones. This incident prefigured the issue of her Baptist faith versus his firm atheism, which eventually split them up.

I recalled this evening lately, looking over notes I made that very evening. My wife Joan died of cancer in 2002. In 2005 Rees was elevated to a life peerage, sitting as a crossbencher in the House of Lords as Baron Rees of Ludlow, a seat in the County of Shropshire. By then Astronomer Royal, he told the British Interplanetary Society, ‘”It is better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science; it’s no more likely to be wrong and is far more stimulating than second-rate science. And I think it’s good to read the great classics of science fiction.”

Martin Rees and Gregory Benford in 2013.

After a five course meal we had the finishing treat: an English, less sweet, version of crème brûlée, known as “Trinity burnt cream.”

Now Martin is master of Trinity College and the best known astronomer in the world. Recently, in Our Final Hour, he predicted that one of the two following outcomes is inevitable for humanity:

*Extinction from runaway effects of new technology (nanotechnology, robotics) or else from uncontrolled scientific research; terrorist or fundamentalist violence; or destruction of the biosphere; or else

* Our expansion into space, survival through colonization. He now advocates free markets and believes that the wealthy will push back the frontiers of space.

Not infra-red any longer.

I never saw Dirac again, but have kept up with Hawking and Rees through the decades, visiting Cambridge often. They both use science fiction in their popular writing, whereas in the 1970s that was not the sort of thing you mentioned at High Table. Our world has changed, partly because of those men.

What distinguished them the most, I think, was their quiet verve, their wish to grapple with life. They were eager to deal with whatever came at them. Dirac probed our fundamental understanding of the world in his monk-like solitude. Hawking persevered against his crippling disease to become a major cosmologist. Rees cannily wove his way into great power, urging the Institute for Astronomy to the forefront of the field, becoming Astronomer Royal, and a major figure bringing science to the public as well.

The evening left a deep impression on me. On the walk home, I remarked to my wife that I would probably never have a better evening–at least, with my clothes on. She took that as a challenge and made the evening even more so.

From my time there I gathered background that eventually appeared in my 1980 novel Timescape, which explores how scientists confront the unknown. Cambridge is steeped in tradition, but its scientific culture is radical.

© 2012 by Gregory Benford

Leaping the Abyss

[Introduction: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known scientific figures, passed away on March 14. Gregory Benford knew him, and wrote two memoirs of their meetings which he has given permission to post here on File 770. He wrote the first, “Leaping the Abyss,” in 2001; it was published in Reason, updated in 2005 for Robert Lichtman’s Trapdoor, and is now posted at Benford’s website.]

By Gregory Benford: Stephen Hawking seemed slightly worse, as always. It is a miracle that he has clung to life for over 20 years with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Each time I see him I feel that this will be the last, that he cannot hold on to such a thin thread for much longer.

Hawking turned 63 in January 2005. Over the course of his brilliant career, he has worked out many of the basics of black hole physics, including, most strikingly, his prediction that black holes aren’t entirely black. Instead, if they have masses equivalent to a mountain’s, they radiate particles of all kinds. Smaller holes would disappear in a fizz of radiation—a signature that astronomers have searched for but so far not found.

The enormous success of Hawking’s 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, has made him a curious kind of cultural icon. He wonders how many of the starlets and rock stars who mentioned the book on talk shows actually read it.

With his latest book, The Universe in a Nutshell (Bantam), he aims to remedy the situation with a plethora of friendly illustrations to help readers decipher such complex topics as superstring theory and the nature of time. The trick is translating equations into sentences, no mean feat. The pictures help enormously, though purists deplore them as oversimplified. I feel that any device is justified to span such an abyss of incomprehension.

When I entered Stephen’s office at the University of Cambridge, his staff was wary of me, plainly suspecting I was a “civilian” harboring a crank theory of the universe. But I’d called beforehand, and then his secretary recognized me from years past. (I am an astrophysicist and have known Stephen since the 1970s.) When I entered the familiar office his shrunken form lolled in his motorized chair as he stared out, rendered goggle-eyed by his thick glasses—but a strong spirit animated all he said.

Hawking lost his vocal cords years ago, to an emergency tracheotomy. His gnarled, feeble hands could not hold a pen. For a while after the operation he was completely cut off from the world, an unsettling parallel to those mathematical observers who plunge into black holes, their signals to the outside red-shifted and slowed by gravity’s grip to dim, whispering oblivion.

A Silicon Valley firm came to the rescue. Engineers devised tailored, user-friendly software and a special keyboard for Hawking. Now his frail hand moved across it with crablike speed. The software is deft, and he could build sentences quickly. I watched him flit through the menu of often-used words on his liquid crystal display, which hung before him in his wheelchair. The invention has been such a success that the Silicon Valley folk now supply units to similarly afflicted people worldwide.

“Please excuse my American accent,” the speaker mounted behind the wheelchair said with a California inflection. He coded this entire remark with two keystrokes.

Although I had been here before, I was again struck that a man who had suffered such an agonizing physical decline had on his walls several large posters of a person very nearly his opposite: Marilyn Monroe. I mentioned her, and Stephen responded instantly, tapping one-handed on his keyboard, so that soon his transduced voice replied, “Yes, she’s wonderful. Cosmological. I wanted to put a picture of her in my latest book, as a celestial object.” I remarked that to me the book was like a French Impressionist painting of a cow, meant to give a glancing essence, not the real, smelly animal. Few would care to savor the details. Stephen took off from this to discuss some ideas currently booting around the physics community about the origin of the universe, the moment just after the Big Bang.

Stephen’s great politeness paradoxically made me ill at ease; I was acutely aware of the many demands on his time, and, after all, I had just stopped by to talk shop.

“For years my early work with Roger Penrose seemed to be a disaster for science,” Stephen said. “It showed that the universe must have begun with a singularity, if Einstein’s general theory of relativity is correct. That appeared to indicate that science could not predict how the universe would begin. The laws would break down at the point of singularity, of infinite density.” Mathematics cannot handle physical quantities like density that literally go to infinity. Indeed, the history of 20th century physics was in large measure about how to avoid the infinities that crop up in particle theory and cosmology. The idea of point particles is convenient but leads to profound, puzzling troubles.

I recalled that I had spoken to Stephen about mathematical methods of getting around this problem one evening at a party in King’s College. There were analogies to methods in elementary quantum mechanics, methods he was trying to carry over into this surrealistic terrain.

“It now appears that the way the universe began can indeed be determined, using imaginary time,” Stephen said. We discussed this a bit. Stephen had been using a mathematical device in which time is replaced, as a notational convenience, by something called imaginary time. This changes the nature of the equations, so he could use some ideas from the tiny quantum world. In the new equations, a kind of tunneling occurs in which the universe, before the Big Bang, has many different ways to pass through the singularity. With imaginary time, one can calculate the chances for a given tunneling path into our early universe after the beginning of time as we know it.

“Sure, the equations can be interpreted that way,” I argued, “but it’s really a trick, isn’t it?”

Stephen said, “Yes, but perhaps an insightful trick.”

“We don’t have a truly deep understanding of time,” I replied, “so replacing real time with imaginary time doesn’t mean much to us.”

“Imaginary time is a new dimension, at right angles to ordinary, real time,” Stephen explained. “Along this axis, if the universe satisfies the ‘no boundary’ condition, we can do our calculations. This condition says that the universe has no singularities or boundaries in the imaginary direction of time. With the ‘no boundary’ condition, there will be no beginning or end to imaginary time, just as there is no beginning or end to a path on the surface of the Earth.”

“If the path goes all the way around the Earth,” I said. “But of course, we don’t know that in imaginary time there won’t be a boundary.”

“My intuition says there will be no blocking in that special coordinate, so our calculations make sense.”

“Sense is just the problem, isn’t it? Imaginary time is just a mathematical convenience.” I shrugged in exasperation at the span between cool mathematical spaces and the immediacy of the raw world; this is a common tension in doing physics. “It’s unrelated to how we feel time. The seconds sliding by. Birth and death.”

“True. Our minds work in real time, which begins at the Big Bang and will end, if there is a Big Crunch—which seems unlikely, now, from the latest data showing accelerating expansion. Consciousness would come to an end at a singularity.”

“Not a great consolation,” I said.

He grinned. “No, but I like the ‘no boundary’ condition. It seems to imply that the universe will be in a state of high order at one end of real time but will be disordered at the other end of time, so that disorder increases in one direction of time. We define this to be the direction of increasing time. When we record something in our memory, the disorder of the universe will increase. This explains why we remember events only in what we call the past, and not in the future.”

“Remember what you predicted in 1980 about final theories like this?” I chided him.

“I suggested we might find a complete unified theory by the end of the century.” Stephen made the transponder laugh dryly. “OK, I was wrong. At that time, the best candidate seemed to be N=8 supergravity. Now it appears that this theory may be an approximation to a more fundamental theory, of superstrings. I was a bit optimistic to hope that we would have solved the problem by the end of the century. But I still think there’s a 50-50 chance that we will find a complete unified theory in the next 20 years.”

“I’ve always suspected that the structure never ends as we look to smaller and smaller scales—and neither will the theories,” I offered.

“It is possible that there is no ultimate theory of physics at all. Instead, we will keep on discovering new layers of structure. But it seems that physics gets simpler, and more unified, the smaller the scale on which we look. There is an ultimate length scale, the Planck length, below which space-time may just not be defined. So I think there will be a limit to the number of layers of structure, and there will be some ultimate theory, which we will discover if we are smart enough.”

“Does it seem likely that we are smart enough?” I asked.

Another grin. “You will have to get your faith elsewhere.”

“I can’t keep up with the torrent of work on superstrings.” Mathematical physics is like music, which a young and zesty spirit can best seize and use, as did Mozart.

“I try,” he said modestly.

We began discussing recent work on “baby universes”—bubbles in space-time. To us large creatures, space-time is like the sea seen from an ocean liner, smooth and serene. Up close, though, on tiny scales, it’s waves and bubbles. At extremely fine scales, pockets and bubbles of space-time can form at random, sputtering into being, then dissolving. Arcane details of particle physics suggest that sometimes—rarely, but inevitably—these bubbles could grow into a full-fledged universe.

This might have happened a lot at the instant just immediately after the Big Bang. Indeed, some properties of our universe may have been created by the space-time foam that roiled through those infinitesimally split seconds. Studying this possibility uses the “wormhole calculus,” which samples the myriad possible frothing bubbles (and their connections, called wormholes).

Averaging over this foam in a mathematical sense, smoothing its properties a bit, Hawking and others have tried to find out whether a final, rather benign universe like ours was an inevitable outcome of that early turbulence. The jury isn’t in on this point, and it may be out forever—the calculations are tough, guided by intuition rather than facts. Deciding whether they meaningfully predict anything is a matter of taste. This recalls Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that in matters of great import, style is always more important than substance.

If this picture of the first split second is remotely right, much depends on the energy content of the foam. The energy to blow up these bubbles would be countered by an opposite, negative energy, which comes from the gravitational attraction of all the matter in the bubble. If the outward pressure just balances the inward attraction (a pressure, really) of the mass, then you could get a universe much like ours: rather mild, with space-time not suffering any severe curvature—what astronomers call “flat.” This seems to be so on such relatively tiny scales as our solar system, and flatness prevails even on the size range of our galaxy. Indeed, flatness holds on immense scales, as far as we can yet see.

It turns out that such bubbles could even form right now. An entirely separate space-time could pop into existence in your living room, say. It would start unimaginably small, then balloon to the size of a cantaloupe—but not before your very eyes, because, for quite fundamental reasons, you couldn’t see it.

“They don’t form in space, of course,” Stephen said. “It doesn’t mean anything to ask where in space these things occur.” They don’t take up room in our universe but rather are their own universes, expanding into spaces that did not exist before.

“They’re cut off from us after we make them,” I said. “No relics, no fossil?”

“I do not think there could be.”

“Like an ungrateful child who doesn’t write home.” When talking about immensities, I sometimes grasp for something human.

“It would not form in our space, but rather as another space-time.”

We discussed for a while some speculations about this that I had put into two novels, Cosm and Timescape. I had used Cambridge and the British scientific style in Timescape, published in 1980, before these ideas became current. I had arrived at them in part from some wide-ranging talks I had enjoyed with Stephen—all suitably disguised in the books, of course. Such enclosed space-times I had termed “onion universes,” since in principle they could have further locked-away space-times inside them, and so on. It is an odd sensation when a guess turns out to have some substance—as much as anything as gossamer as these ideas can be said to be substantial.

“So they form and go,” I mused. “Vanish. Between us and these other universes lies absolute nothingness, in the exact sense—no space or time, no matter, no energy.”

“There can be no way to reach them,” his flat voice said. “The gulf between us and them is unbridgeable. It is beyond physics because it is truly nothing, not physical at all.”

The mechanical laugh resounded. Stephen likes the tug of the philosophical, and he seemed amused by the notion that universes are simply one of those things that happen from time to time.

His nurse appeared for a bit of physical cleanup, and I left him. Inert confinement to a wheelchair exacts a demeaning toll on one’s dignity, but he showed no reaction to the daily round of being cared for by another in the most intimate way. Perhaps for him, it even helps the mind to slip free of the world’s rub.

I sat in the common room outside his office, having tea and talking to some of his post-doctoral students. They were working on similarly wild ideas and were quick, witty, and keenly observant as they sipped their strong, dark Ceylonese tea. A sharp crew, perhaps a bit jealous of Stephen’s time. They were no doubt wondering who this guy was, nobody they had ever heard of, a Californian with an accent tainted by Southern nuances, somebody who worked in astrophysics and plasma physics—which, in our age of remorseless specialization, is a province quite remote from theirs. I didn’t explain; after all, I really had no formal reason to be there, except that Stephen and I were friends.

Stephen’s secretary quietly came out and asked if I would join Stephen for dinner at Caius College. I had intended to eat in my favorite Indian restaurant, where the chicken vindaloo is a purging experience, and then simply rove the walks of Cambridge alone, because I love the atmosphere—but I instantly assented. Dinner at college high table is one of the legendary experiences of England. I could remember keenly each one I had attended; the repartee is sharper than the cutlery.

We made our way through the cool, atmospheric turns of the colleges, the worn wood and gray stones reflecting the piping of voices and squeaks of rusty bicycles. In misty twilight, student shouts echoing, Stephen’s wheelchair jouncing over cobbled streets. He insisted on steering it himself, though his nurse hovered rather nervously. It had never occurred to me just how much of a strain on everyone there can be in round-the-clock care. A few people drifted along behind us, just watching him. “Take no notice,” his mechanical voice said. “Many of them come here just to stare at me.”

We wound among the ancient stone and manicured gardens, into Caius College. Students entering the dining hall made an eager rumpus. Stephen took the elevator, and I ascended the creaking stairs. The faculty entered after the students, me following with the nurse.

The high table is literally so. They carefully placed Stephen with his back to the long, broad tables of undergraduates. I soon realized that this is because watching him eat, with virtually no lip control, is not appetizing. He follows a set diet that requires no chewing. His nurse must chop up his food and spoon-feed him.

The dinner was noisy, with the year’s new undergraduates staring at the famous Hawking’s back. Stephen carried on a matter-of-fact, steady flow of conversation through his keyboard.

He had concerns about the physicists’ Holy Grail, a unified theory of everything. Even if we could thrash our way through a thicket of mathematics to glimpse its outlines, it might not be specific enough—that is, we would still have a range of choices. Physics could end up dithering over arcane points, undecided, perhaps far from our particular primate experience. Here is where aesthetics might enter.

“If such a theory is not unique,” he said, “one would have to appeal to some outside principle, which one might call God.”

I frowned. “Not as the Creator, but as a referee?”

“He would decide which theory was more than just a set of equations, but described a universe that actually exists.”

“This one.”

“Or maybe all possible theories describe universes that exist!” he said with glee. “It is unclear what it means to say that something exists. In questions like, ‘Does there exist a man with two left feet in Cambridge?,’ one can answer this by examining every man in Cambridge. But there is no way that one can decide if a universe exists, if one is not inside it.”

“The space-time Catch-22.”

“So it is not easy to see what meaning can be given to the question, ‘Why does the universe exist?’ But it is a question that one can’t help asking.”

As usual, the ability to pose a question simply and clearly in no way implied a similar answer—or that an answer even existed.

After the dining hall, high table moved to the senior common room upstairs. We relaxed along a long, polished table in comfortable padded chairs, enjoying the traditional crisp walnuts and ancient aromatic port, Cuban cigars, and arch conversation, occasionally skewered by a witty interjection from Stephen.

Someone mentioned American physicist Stephen Weinberg’s statement, in The First Three Minutes, that the more we comprehend the universe, the more meaningless it seems. Stephen doesn’t agree, and neither do I, but he has a better reason. “I think it is not meaningful in the first place to say that the universe is pointless, or that it is designed for some purpose.”

I asked, “No meaning, then, to the pursuit of meaning?”

“To do that would require one to stand outside the universe, which is not possible.”

Again the image of the gulf between the observer and the object of study. “Still,” I persisted, “there is amazing structure we can see from inside.”

“The overwhelming impression is of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. If one liked, one could say that this order was the work of God. Einstein thought so.”

One of the college fellows asked, “Rational faith?”

Stephen tapped quickly. “We shouldn’t be surprised that conditions in the universe are suitable for life, but this is not evidence that the universe was designed to allow for life. We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics.”

Walnuts eaten, port drunk, cigars smoked, it was time to go. When we left, Stephen guided his wheelchair through the shadowy reaches of the college, indulging my curiosity about a time-honored undergraduate sport: climbing Cambridge.

At night, young men sometimes scramble among the upper reaches of the steepled old buildings, scaling the most difficult points. They risk their necks for the glory of it. Quite out of bounds, of course. Part of the thrill is eluding the proctors who scan the rooftops late at night, listening for the scrape of heels. There is even a booklet about roof climbing, describing its triumphs and centuries-long history.

Stephen took me to a passageway I had been through many times, a shortcut to the Cam River between high, peaked buildings of undergraduate rooms. He said that it was one of the tough events, jumping across that and then scaling a steep, often slick roof beyond.

The passage looked to be about three meters across. I couldn’t imagine leaping that gap from the slate-dark roofs. And at night, too. “All that distance?” I asked. My voice echoed in the fog.

“Yes,” he said.

“Anybody ever miss?”

“Yes.”

“Injured?”

“Yes.”

“Killed?”

His eyes twinkled and he gave us a broad smile. “Yes.” These Cambridge sorts have the real stuff, all right.

In the cool night Stephen recalled some of his favorite science fiction stories. He rarely read any fiction other than science fiction past the age of 12, he said. “It’s really the only fiction that is realistic about our true position in the universe as a whole.”

And how much stranger the universe was turning out than even those writers had imagined. Even when they discussed the next billion years, they could not guess the odd theories that would spring up within the next generation of physicists. Now there are speculations that our universe might have 11 dimensions, all told, all but three of space and one of time rolled up to tiny sizes. Will this change cosmology? So far, nobody knows. But the ideas are fun in and of themselves.

A week after my evening at Cambridge, I got from Stephen’s secretary a transcript of all his remarks. I have used it here to reproduce his style of conversation. Printed out on his wheelchair computer, his sole link with us, the lines seem to come from a great distance. Across an abyss.

Portraying the flinty faces of science—daunting complexity twinned with numbing wonder—demands both craft and art. Some of us paint with fiction. Stephen paints with his impressionistic views of vast, cool mathematical landscapes. To knit together our fraying times, to span the cultural abyss, demands all these approaches—and more, if we can but invent them.

Stephen has faced daunting physical constrictions with a renewed attack on the large issues, on great sweeps of space and time. Daily he struggles without much fuss against the narrowing that is perhaps the worst element of infirmity. I recalled him rapt with Marilyn, still deeply engaged with life, holding firmly against tides of entropy.

I had learned a good deal from those few days, I realized, and most of it was not at all about cosmology.

Copyright © 2005 by Gregory Benford

Pixel Scroll 1/30/18 The Man Who Mooned The Scroll

(1) ANTIQUARIANS ARISE. Posters for three upcoming book fairs across the U.S.

(2) A WRITER’S LIFE. Kameron Hurley opens her books in “Writing Income: What I Made in 2017”.

A couple of observations:

Patreon Saves the Day (But Don’t Count On It)

Patreon has been a godsend this last year, as I’ve been producing a short story every month, instead of every other month or so as I did last year. That said, the shitstorm at Patreon at the end of last year when they were going to up their fees by 40% for folks at the $1 tiers saw me bleeding fans from the platform. That experience reminded me again that this income – though provided by a large pool of 750+ fans, is still reliant on a third party system that could implode and fuck everything at any time….

(3) SHARKE CALLING. Now online, a self-introduction by a 2018 Shadow Clarke juror — “Introducing Alasdair Stuart”.

What I hope for is this: that my time on the Shadow Clarkes will allow me to get better at walking that line between undiscerning joy and the relentless caution of analysis. That I’ll be able to communicate the joy of a trick well executed, and the astonishment of a trick never before seen. To explore the idea that there is joy in skill as well as show, and that when that joy is absent we can learn at least as much as when it’s present.

Stuart’s name will be familiar to Filers for his podcasting empire, described in an interview he gave to Carl Slaughter.

(4) TENNANT TENTHS AGAIN. Comicbook reports “‘Doctor Who’: The Tenth Doctor and Jenny Return in New Video”:

David Tennant’s time on Doctor Who may have ended over eight years ago, but his Tenth Doctor will always live on in the hearts of fans and, it seems, in clever video messages for friends.

Tennant recreated his role as the Tenth Doctor alongside his wife, Georgia Tennant, who appeared as The Doctor’s daughter in the appropriately titled episode “The Doctor’s Daughter,” for a short video to wish his friend, Doctor Who script editor Gary Russell, farewell upon Russell’s move to Australia back in 2013. You can check out the video embedded below

(5) DOCTOR PHONE HOME. Also in the news, David Tennant accepted a settlement in his suit against the now defunct News of the World over a phone hacking claim.

News Group Newspapers (NGN) settled Mr Tennant’s High Court claim and issued an apology.

Tennant’s lawyer said he was “outraged and shocked” by the invasion of privacy.

NGN made no admission of liability to claims relating to The Sun.

Tennant was among six people to settle claims with NGN on Tuesday.

The other claimants were Olympic medallist Colin Jackson, actress Sophia Myles, party planner Fran Cutler, fashion designer Jess Morris and footballer David James’s ex-wife, Tanya Frayne.

Tennant first launched his lawsuit in March 2017, after the parent company of the News of the World closed its compensation scheme in 2013.

(6) ARMIES TO COME. Marina Berlin, in “Five Ways To Build A More Believable Futuristic Military” at The Book Smugglers, subverts the axiom that sf is never about the future by asking what MilSF would look like if it was about the future like it pretends to be.

The military of Battlestar Galactica is supposedly egalitarian, with all types of soldiers filling all types of roles, and without divisions in bathing and sleeping areas. And yet, the women who have children on the show are never shown to have a systemic, military framework to fall back on when it comes to parental leave or childcare. It’s not that Sharon or Cally would be able to rely on the same system the military had in place before everything exploded, of course, but some traces of that system, some expectations, some details, had to have remained. Just like there are echoes of every other part of a particular military system on the show, even if parts of it have disappeared. Instead, for both women, it seems like they are the first soldiers in history to give birth, and the solutions they have to find for childcare, for being soldiers and mothers simultaneously, are personal and anecdotal.

Examples of stories that show a military like this, where everyone serves together and sleeps together and bathes together and yet pregnancy is not addressed one way or the other are endless in military science fiction. From old classics like Ender’s Game (where the kids in Battle School with Ender were in their mid to late teens by the end of the first book) to newly released books, like Yoon Ha Lee’s excellent Ninefox Gambit.

(7) SFWA STATS. Cat Rambo delivers the digits:

(8) CREDENTIALS AND OTHERS. SyFy Wire’s Ana Marie Cox, in “Space the Nation: The most important pets of fantasy and sci-fi”, does a roundup of famous genre pets.

Salem, Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Technically, Salem is not a cat, but a 500-year-old witch sentenced to live as a cat as punishment for attempting to take over the world. Cat people might argue that becoming a house cat only furthered Salem’s ambitions rather than stymieing it.

(9) WINDING UP 2016. Rocket Stack Rank concludes a multi-part series on the best short SFF of 2016 with a look at their different sources of recommendations: “guides” like reviewers, “best-of” anthologists, and awards finalists — “2016 Best SF/F Short Fiction Guides”.

Greg Hullender notes:

The biggest takeaway (which we saw in earlier installments) is that although some judgment is subjective, there does seem to be a strong underlying idea of excellence that runs across almost all the guides and which is consistent with the idea that the awards are, in general, recognizing stories that are among the very best. Awards are better guides than best-of anthologies, but the anthologies are better guides than any reviewer, and the reviewers are much better guides than just picking stories at random.

(10) MORE LE GUIN MEMORIES. Michael Dirda tells readers of The Weekly Standard  “Why Ursula Le Guin Matters”.

…I suspect that Le Guin, who herself majored in French at Radcliffe, must early on have taken to heart Flaubert’s dictum: “Be regular and ordinary in your life like a bourgeois, in order to be violent and original in your work.” For there is no question about it: This humorous, outspoken woman, who once told a feminist conference that she actually enjoyed housework, was one of the essential writers of our time. As I sit at this keyboard, the whole world, especially the science-fiction world, is mourning her passing—and a certain committee in Sweden is, I hope, kicking itself for having neglected to award her the Nobel Prize for literature.

(11) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born January 30, 1941 – Gregory Benford

(13) HAPPY BIRTHDAY GREG! Gregory Benford’s birthday is celebrated by Steven H Silver at Black Gate in “Birthday Reviews: Gregory Benford’s ‘Down the River Road’”:

Gregory Benford was born on January 30, 1941. He helped start the first science fiction convention in Germany, WetzCon, in 1956 and the first convention in Texas, Southwestern Con, in 1958. He received the Nebula Award for Best Novelette in 1975 for his collaboration with Gordon Eklund, “If the Stars Are Gods.” His novel Timescape received the Nebula Award for Best Novel, the John W. Campbell Memorial, Jr. Award, the Ditmar Award, and the British SF Association Award. It also loaned its name to a publishing imprint. Benford received a Phoenix Award from the Southern Fandom Confederation in 2004 and a Forry Award from LASFS in 2016. Benford was the Guest of Honor at Aussiecon Three, the 1999 Worldcon in Melbourne, Australia.

“Down the River Road” was included in After the King: Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Martin H. Greenberg. Originally published in January 1992, the book and all the stories in it were translated into Dutch, Italian, and French. The story has not appeared outside of the original anthology.

(14) CHANGE AT NYT BOOK REVIEW. N.K. Jemisin will leave the column and be replaced by another well-known sf author — “Amal El-Mohtar Named Otherworldly Columnist for The New York Times Book Review”.

Amal El-Mohtar has been named science fiction and fantasy columnist for The New York Times Book Review.  She replaces N.K. Jemisin who served as the Otherworldly columnist for two years. Read more in this note from the Pamela Paul, Greg Cowles and David Kelly.

After two stellar (and interstellar) years as the Book Review’s science fiction and fantasy columnist, N.K. Jemisin is leaving to devote more time to her numerous outside projects, including her own books and a guest editorship for the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series. Since inaugurating the Otherworldly column in January 2016, Nora has gone on to win consecutive Hugo awards for best novel, and her book “The Fifth Season” (the start of her Broken Earth trilogy) is in development as a television series for TNT. We were delighted to have her.

… “I’m especially fascinated by books that don’t want to save the world so much as break or dislocate it further, in order to build something better in its wake,” she told us. “Fantasy and science fiction have long had at their heart the question of how to be good, and the 20th century’s shifting visions from monoliths of Good and Evil to the more complicated battle between individuals and systems has been a wild ride. I’m excited to see it develop further.”

[Hat tip to SF Site News, Locus Online, and Andrew Porter.]

(15) TERRA TALES. Charles Payseur is back with “Quick Sips – Terraform SF January 2018”:

The new year kicks off at Terraform with three excellent stories exploring futures that seems almost inevitable, that seems in many ways here already. The stories look at three very different things—immigration, employment, and nuclear destruction—but they all manage to tell emotionally resonating stories that share the feeling that most people are already accepting these futures as reality.

(16) RELATIONSHIPS SUCK. The Empties comic premieres on Valentine’s Day, 2018. Of course it does —

It’s a horror story centered around losing someone you love (or think you love). How scary is it to find out that person you love isn’t who you thought they were? (I’d say, pretty darn scary).

You can check out a preview of the book at emptiescomics.com. Kristen Renee Gorlitz says, “If you like what you see, sign up to check out the premiere of The Empties comic book on Kickstarter this Valentine’s day!”

When a loving chef comes home to an unfaithful wife, he cooks up a revenge plan so twisted… so disturbed… it will leave you in pieces.

 

(17) FEAR AND LOATHING. There are several genre authors among the “13 Writers Who Grew to Hate Their Own Books” discussed at Literary Hub: J.G. Ballard, Stephen King, Kingsley Amis, Stanislaw Lem, and —

Octavia Butler, Survivor (1978)

Survivor was Butler’s third novel, and also the third in her first series, now called the Patternist series. Though the rest of the series was reprinted (some multiple times), Butler refused to allow Survivor to be included, and (rumor has it) she didn’t even like to talk about it at signings or appearances. In an interview, she said:

When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way. They were a little sly, or a little like “the natives” in a very bad, old movie. And I thought, “No way. Apart from all these human beings populating the galaxy, this is really offensive garbage.” People ask me why I don’t like Survivor, my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.

The novel is still out of print—used copies sell for about $175.

(18) COMMON KNOWLEDGE. The UK’s Mastermind show ‘banned’ Harry Potter and Fawlty Towers because too many would-be contestants want these categories and the show will use a category only once a season.

Hundreds of Mastermind applicants are being asked to change their specialist topics because too many people are choosing the same subject.

Mastermind received 262 applications to answer questions about the Harry Potter series last year.

It is the most popular topic, alongside Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and Father Ted.

But only one contestant can tackle a subject during each series.

(19) THINKING OUTSIDE THE ARK. An “‘Unsolvable’ exam question leaves Chinese students flummoxed”:

Primary school students at a school in the Chinese district of Shunqing were faced with this question on a paper: “If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship’s captain?”

The question appeared on a recent fifth-grade level paper, intended for children around 11 years old.

The answer in the last paragraph obviously comes from a fan….

The traditional Chinese method of education heavily emphasises on note-taking and repetition, known as rote learning, which critics say hinders creative thinking.

But the department said questions like the boat one “enable students to challenge boundaries and think out of the box”.

And of course, there’s always that one person that has all the answers.

“The total weight of 26 sheep and 10 goat is 7,700kg, based on the average weight of each animal,” said one Weibo commenter.

“In China, if you’re driving a ship that has more than 5,000kg of cargo you need to have possessed a boat license for five years. The minimum age for getting a boat’s license is 23, so he’s at least 28.”

(20) ALTERNATE ART. BBC’s “The Star Wars posters of Soviet Europe” shows lots of examples with bright space-filling colors, wild designs, and flashy features that aren’t in the movies.

(21) DON’T FORGET. There’s a “Super Blue Moon eclipse on January 31”.

The Blue Moon – second of two full moons in one calendar month – will pass through the Earth’s shadow on January 31, 2018, to give us a total lunar eclipse. Totality, when the moon will be entirely inside the Earth’s dark umbral shadow, will last a bit more than one-and-a-quarter hours. The January 31 full moon is also the third in a series of three straight full moon supermoons – that is, super-close full moons. It’s the first of two Blue Moons in 2018. So it’s not just a total lunar eclipse, or a Blue Moon, or a supermoon. It’s all three … a super Blue Moon total eclipse!…

IMPORTANT. If you live in North America or the Hawaiian Islands, this lunar eclipse will be visible in your sky before sunrise on January 31.

(22) INTERSTELLAR. The Dave Cullen Show on YouTube does a segment about a movie they can’t forget: “Revisiting Interstellar”

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, Mark Hepworth, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Michael J. Walsh, Andrew Porter, Kristen Renee Gorlitz, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 12/22/17 Well, Those Books Kept Coming And They Don’t Stop Coming

(1) ADVANCED CREATURE ACCOUNTING. If there had been a test I would not have passed…

(2) LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT SKY. Excitement this evening in California caused by the SpaceX Iridium 4 launch out of Vandenberg. Per Gregory Hart:

Successful orbital insertion for deployment of the fourth set of Iridium communication satisfied l satellites. First stage was maneuvered to crash into the ocean safely and it looked like controlled burn backs helped in positioning. They did not want to recover the first stage this time as it had been previously flown in June.

(3) KGB. See all the photos taken by Ellen Datlow at N.K. Jemisin and Christopher Brown’s Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading on December 20 — here.

Chris and Nora

(4) DOWNSIZING, BRIGHT REVIEWS. Rush and watch these productions before critics talk you out of it. Oops, too late….

NPR’s Andrew Lapin calls Downsizing: A Tone-Deaf, Less-Than-Incredible Shrinking Satire”:

It’s the rare movie that seems to execute every part of its concept absolutely wrong; a narrative, tonal, visual and sociopolitical fiasco the likes of which haven’t been seen in many moons.

And Chris Klimek says Bright (from Netflix) is “perfectly, stubbornly mediocre” in “Will Smith Plays Cops-And-Monsters In Unremarkable ‘Bright'”

…the scenes of Smith and Edgerton driving around on patrol, bickering like all the Murtaughs and Riggses and Crocketts and Tubbses and Cagneys and Laceys who’ve sat in cars together on stakeout since the First Age of Middle-Earth — lo, they cast a mighty spell of pure adequacy.

The Daily Beast is even more brutal: “Netflix’s ‘Bright’ Is a $90 Million Steaming Pile of Orc Sh*t”:

Bright is a misnomer on two levels. First of all, the majority of Netflix’s new $90 million original movie takes place at night and in fairly dingy rooms, and that, in combination with how the whole production is lit, means that most of the action is obscured and visually unintelligible. Secondly, there’s nothing about this movie that’s an inherently good idea—or rather, very generously speaking, maybe the story could have made some valid points about the state of race relations in America with a little more thought. But as things stand, Bright plays like the kind of movie a kid might make up (“And then this happens! And then this happens!”) if they were given a very rough overview of American history and then told to write a script about it. It’s almost worse that that’s not the case—scratch that, it is worse—but we’ll get to that.

(5) THEIR MILEAGE VARIED. On the other hand, the BBC lists Downsizing as one of the year’s 10 best (along with 3.5 other genre films):

  1. Downsizing

Despite its title, Downsizing sees Alexander Payne’s ambition growing to vertiginous heights. His specialism is wistful comedies (Sideways, Nebraska) set in a recognisable contemporary US, but his latest film is an apocalyptic science-fiction mind-bender set at some unspecified point in the future, in the US and beyond. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play the Midwestern couple who wonder whether they should cut their living costs by being shrunk to the size of Barbie dolls but this droll premise is just the beginning. As soon as you think you can see where it’s going, Downsizing ventures somewhere startlingly new instead.

(6) THE BOMB. Talking about his novel The Berlin Project, Gregory Benford describes where alternate history branches off in “Making A Better World War II”.

Everybody loves success, so historians have papered over the fact that when we developed the atomic bomb we made a decisive bad judgment that cost over half a billion dollars of 1940s dollars and delayed the war’s end by about a year.

The bad decision came in 1942 from General Leslie Groves, who directed the Manhattan Project, which was the U.S. R&D program to develop the first nuclear weapons. To make uranium suitable for an atomic bomb, you must enrich it up to weapons-grade, so that it is almost pure U-235, the element’s most fissile isotope. Groves chose to pursue gaseous diffusion over an alternate concept—Karl Cohen and Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Harold Urey’s centrifugal separation—to enrich uranium up to weapons-grade.

We now know that was a huge mistake. Karl and Harold Urey said so then.

If we had stuck with centrifugal separation for another six months we would’ve solved its engineering problems, without question.

(7) IT’S A BASEBALL THING. Surely all Filers in Philadelphia would enjoy the excitement of science fiction and the wacky hijinks of the Phillie Phanatic together in one memorable film! MLB.com identifies “The weirdest and best National League gifts you can buy this holiday season”, and one is genre —

The material is only as good as the teacher. Fortunately for all of us, this Christmas the teacher can be … the Phillie Phanatic. Yes, underneath all that green fur is a creature that wants to show us history. Move over, Bill and Ted: This is the movie for me.

The Phillie Phanatic loves the Phillies, but he loves world history, too. When his new time travel helmet arrives in the mail, the Phanatic doesn’t just learn about history, he lives it! With the help of his friend, Larry, the Phanatic goes back in time to help cavemen invent the wheel, becomes king for a day, outduels an evil knight, signs the Declaration of Independence, cracks the Liberty Bell and stumbles into many other wacky adventures with his time travel helmet. What time period is his favorite? Only real Phillies fans know the answer!

(8) FOR SOME VALUES OF RUINED. How can we expect anybody to “have yourself a merry little Christmas” now? “‘Christmas is ruined’: Outrage as Cadbury drops old favourite Fudge from selection boxes”Evening Standard has the story.

Chocolate fans have reacted with fury after Cadbury dropped the beloved fudge bar from its festive selection box.

The old favourite has been replaced by a dairy milk oreo bar, leading some to claim that “Christmas is ruined”.

The biscuit-based newcomer joins the wispa, crunchie, double decker, dairy milk and chocolate buttons in the selection box, which costs £2.99.

Fans of the boxes, which are a popular Christmas gift, have taken to Twitter to lambast Cadbury over the controversial move.

(9) JINGLE HELL. What is Adam Roberts thinking?

(10) BARKS’ FAMILY PORTRAIT. A painting by one of the most famous Walt Disney Studios artists of all time helped Heritage Auctions’ Dec. 9-10 Animation Art Auction in Beverly Hills, California clear more than $1.5 million.

More than a dozen bidders pursued a Carl Barks “Family Portrait” Uncle Scrooge and Disney Ducks Painting #73-15 with Handwritten Letter (1973) until it finally hammered at $68,712.50. The entire Duck family “posed” for the legendary Disney artist, with Donald Duck surrounded by Uncle Scrooge McDuck (a Barks creation), Grandma Duck, Daisy Duck, Gladstone Gander, and in front, Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

(11) TWO COMICS ARTISTS DIE. The ranks of women comics artists have been depleted by two recent deaths. Vu Nguyen reports

One of the few women in comics, Annie Goetzinger, has died today (20 December 2017).  She was 66, according to la-croix.com.

Goetzinger is a French illustrator, known for her research and attention to detail. Her  earliest works were illustrations for short comic stories published in French comic magazines like Pilote, Charlie Mensuel and Fluide Glacial. Goetzinger’s first graphic novel, Casque d’Or, won her two awards at the 1977 Angoulême International Comics Festival.

“When I started, I did not know there were so few girls making comics. … I didn’t care; I always felt like kind of a maverick.”

Also, another woman artist: Lona Rietschel, from Germany, passed away at the age of 84 on 19 December 2017 (as mentioned by tagesspiegel.de).  Rietschel started her career as a fashion artist and animator at DEFA studios, before relocating to Berlin.  There, she applied to work for the long-running German/Europe’s monthly comic book Mosaik.  She was originally hired as only an illustrator, but she eventually started creating characters for the magazine, including  The Digedags.

In May 2013, Rietschel won the PENG! Prize for her work at the Comicfestival München.

(12) ASTRONAUT OBIT. NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless, the first person to fly freely and untethered in space, died December 22. He was 80.

He was famously photographed in 1984 flying with a hefty spacewalker’s jetpack, alone in the cosmic blackness above a blue Earth. He traveled more than 300 feet away from the space shuttle Challenger during the spacewalk.

(13) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 22, 1932 The Mummy seen for the first time in theaters.
  • December 22, 1933 Son of Kong premiered.

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born December 22, 1951 – Charles de Lint

(15) NOT TO BE MISSED. See a canvass of top titles in Starburst’s Books of 2017”:

As 2018 and all its potential looms ever closer, it’s about this time of year that we have a quick look back at some of the more interesting books that came out in 2017. We aren’t going to stand on ceremony here.  This is a mixed list of stuff that caught our eye over the year, each one chosen because it delighted us in some way. To start off with, let’s mention Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun, a notably dense yet utterly absorbing tale of two Victorian Era Christian Missionaries head into the land of fairies to bring god to godless. It’s wonderfully bleak and though it’s hardly poolside holiday reading, it’s rather fun. Speaking of light reading is Andy Weir’s Artemis. Weir is best known for his book The Martian, which got turned into a movie featuring Matt Damon. Artemis is more of the same; believable science fiction (this time set in a moon base), slight less believable characters and lots of friendly science to go with the fiction. Bubblegum it may be, but it’s delicious bubblegum that feeds your brain.

(16) MEMORIES AND EXPECTATIONS. Adam Troy-Castro launched a Facebook discussion of Jon Del Arroz’ tweets about applying for SFWA membership and plans to wear a bodycam in the SFWA Suite:

If you’re a reasonably normal person who happens to earn professional credits as a science fiction writer — two subsets which may sound mutually exclusive, but which are not — then your dream, if attending Worldcon, *should* be, normally is, getting to meet and befriend all the iconic writers whose imaginations informed yours.

“Oh my God! I can be in the same room with David Gerrold or Robert Silverberg or George R.R. Martin or Raymond E. Feist or Ursula K. Le Guin or Steve Barnes or (in treasured memory), Octavia Butler, Daniel Keyes, Harry Harrison, Kit Reed, Richard Matheson and Hal Clement!”

You can name the younger names, too, but if you care, there’s a certain generation of writers, young or old, who are icons to you, and it matters to you, and that is one reason you want to go.

This guy looks forward to walking into the SFWA Suite and knowing that they couldn’t lock him out, and indeed he looks forward to wearing a bodycam to entrap people into treating him like shit so he can prove they’re all a bunch of assholes.

A year out…this is what he anticipates with glee.

This is what gives him the tinglies….

Several writers answered with sentimental reminiscences about their first visit to the SFWA Suite at a Worldcon, including a long one by Jim Wright about Sasquan.

(17) JDA AND SFWA. A. Merc Rustad wrote a series of tweets about JDA’s SFWA application, which starts here.

(18) RESIGNS FROM THE EMPIRE. T.R. Napper says no more Star Wars for him – “Glory to the Empire”.

George Lucas, on the other hand, was like Vader. When he started out, young and idealistic, he did some amazing things. As he got older, and the call of his own hubris became too strong, he turned to the dark side. We got Ewoks. Then Gungans. And Midichlorians. And: “NOOOOOOOOOO!” But even then, at his worst – and his worst was terrible – at least he was still capable of originality. Lucas, like Vader, and unlike the Empire, could be redeemed. Just stick him in his toy room in Skywalker Ranch, pew pew pew! And let someone else write and direct his intellectual property. You know, like they did with Empire Strikes Back.

No more. I’ve given up on Star Wars because my people, the Rebellion, are making independent movies like Moonlight, or Whiplash, or The Rover, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Memento, or Animal Kingdom. At the bigger end of the scale, they’re taking risks with movies like Blade Runner 2049.

There will be no more risks taken with Star Wars. There’s just the brand and its components, rearranged by filmmaking algorithm, once per year, forever. Kinda takes the magic out of it all.

(19) THE EMPIRE STRIKES OUT. “Stalking, First Order style,” says JJ.

(20) ANOTHER RASH OF ONLINE BIGOTRY. Newsweek reports “Racist Attacks Against Kelly Marie Tran Posted to Rose Tico’s ‘Wookieepedia’ Page”. Examples of the attacks are at the link.

Writer Bryan Young, who posted a screenshot of the racist attacks on Twitter, told Newsweek that he was alerted to the changes by a friend on Tuesday.

Wookieepedia admins have removed the vandalism, closing off Rose’s page for editing. A history of the edits to the page, with attached IP addresses, is still publicly available, though the edit in question has been removed. Young told Newsweek the IP address attached to the edit in the screenshot is 64.203.14.213. The user has been blocked from using Wookieepedia or any other FANDOM wikis.

“FANDOM has a zero tolerance policy for vandalism, inclusive of racism and harassment,” the company said in a statement provided to Newsweek. “The wiki admins take this very seriously and took the steps to resolve this situation as quickly as possible, including escalation to our team, and subsequent lockdown. This lockdown will remain for the foreseeable future and we will be closely monitoring activity on this wiki.”

(21) PUT A CORK IN IT. Vintages are swirled together in these Middle-Earth mixes — “You shall not pass (on a glass)! Warner Brothers collaborates with winemaker on a limited-edition collection of four Lord of the Rings-themed WINES”. Here’s an excerpt from the Daily Mail’s description of these concoctions.

The 2015 Aragorn Appellation Lussac – St. Émilion Contrôlée is $25 and features a blend of 80 per cent Merlot, 15 per cent Cabernet Franc, and 5 per cent Malbec. It is described as ‘rich, concentrated and built to last,’ while the site boasts, ‘If ever there was a wine fit for a king as mighty and honorable as Aragorn, this is it.’

The 2016 Galadriel Bordeaux Blanc white wine is $18 and has flavors of grapefruit, lemon, and lemongrass.

‘The most noble and powerful of the Elves is honored by this high-toned wine, a Bordeaux Blanc with piercing citrus flavors and remarkable concentration.

‘Just as Galadriel is revered by all those graced by her presence, this impressive white is a true testament to her strength and wisdom, imbuing an immediate sense of devotion with its graceful palate. Take a sip and fall under its ethereal spell,’ the site states.

(22) KITSCHIES. These are the 2017 Kitschies judges who have been announced so far:

RED TENTACLE & GOLDEN TENTACLE

Leila Abu El Hawa

Leila runs the Post Apocalyptic Book Club… She was a judge for the Clarke Awards in 2015-16 and in her spare time works in the fashion industry. @dystocalypse

Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and baptised in the up-turned bell of a ship. …He also, for 5 years, wrote a monthly SF&Fantasy column for the Guardian. Two times winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, with Felaheen and End of the World Blues. …Moskva, written as Jack Grimwood, was his most recent. Its sequel, Nightfall Berlin, is due Autumn 2017. @joncg

Joshua Idehen

Joshua Idehen is a poet, teacher and musician. A British born Nigerian, Joshua was the founder of one of the most successful poetry events in London, Poejazzi. …He is premiering a live show with Band City, ‘Last Night’, about London’s closed clubs. @benincitizen

Ewa Scibor-Rilka

…With a degree in English & Philosophy, she’s previously spent her time running a sci fi & fantasy section of a central London bookshop, working on conventions, surviving said conventions, and writing about popular nerd culture for The Mirror’s UsVsThem project. …@EwaSR.

Alasdair Stuart

Alasdair Stuart is the owner of Escape Artists, the digital publishing company behind Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle and Cast of Wonders.  …Read his work at alasdairstuart.com, or follow him at @AlasdairStuart on Twitter for professional enthusiasm, film analysis, the occasional food blog and more.

(23) WATCHING BY NIGHT. No need for any theological arguments about Die Hard’s place in the holiday pantheon when you just admit what you’re doing. Tor.com contributors came up with this list of “Our Favorite Non-Holiday Films to Watch Over the Holidays”, one that concludes with Leah’s preference for doing trilogy marathons —

We began with the obvious and tackled the Star Wars Trilogy. And lo! The 27th dawned, and I felt better than I had in any previous year. And thus a new tradition was born, and we tried Back to the Future, the first three Thin Man movies (those are the good ones) and then the one that stuck: The Lord of the Rings. Obviously, LOTR was already something of a holiday tradition anyway since the movies came out in December, but in a purely shallow way, watching all three movies while stuffing yourself with leftovers is the perfect way to ease back into regular, non-Christmas time. On a more serious note, since Christmas, at its heart, is about celebrating light in the darkness, what better scene to watch than the lighting of the beacons?

(24) FOR SOME VALUES OF “SAFETY.” There’s an app for that? “Reindeer hunted by wolverines get safety app”.

Reindeer, who fall prey to wolverines, wolves and lynx, are being fitted with sensors to protect them.

It makes it easier for herders to track the animals across the remote Lapland forests where they roam.

Sensors around the necks of the female reindeer are linked to the herders’ smartphones, allowing them to rescue hurt animals more quickly and identify the cause of death for those killed.

(25) NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS. In response to complaints, “Apple changes rules on app ‘loot boxes'”.

In the updated guidelines, Apple said any in-game mechanism that rewards players with “randomised virtual items” must list the odds of receiving each type of item. In addition, it said, customers must be informed of these odds before they buy the boxes or rewards.

Many games offer extras to players that can change the appearance of the game, introduce new characters or bestow power-ups that help people as they play.

Some titles let people buy loot boxes with in-game funds they generate by playing or by spending real money to purchase the game’s virtual cash.

The controversy over the crates was thrown into sharp focus last month with the release of the Star Wars Battlefront II game, which used them extensively.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Ed Fortune, Carl Slaughter, Martin Morse Wooster, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories, Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Camestros Felapton.]

Pixel Scroll 8/29/17 Ragnarok & Roll

(1) NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG. Nerd & Tie heard a media con in Newfoundland was having problems — so did everyone else, because its guest, Rene Auberjonois was slamming out tweets like these:

Canada’s CBC reached out to the committee and received bland reassurance: “Avalon Expo organizer ‘fine,’ participant says controversy unwarranted”.

Representatives of Avalon Expo declined to provide a statement to CBC News on Monday but Bonnie Glenn with the Expo posted on Facebook Monday evening that no further information will be released to protect [Expo organizer Jeff] Powers’ privacy.

“If he wishes for people to know what happened during his disappearance he will share that information,” she wrote. “For now we — his friends and family — request that you respect his privacy.”

Glenn, when asked by CBC to comment on Auberjonois’ tweets, declined.

“If you are referring to his tweets concerning his hotel room, I can say that it has been taken care of for him,” she wrote. “As for the rest, that is something you would need to contact Jeff Power’s family about as I am not at liberty to discuss.”

(2) FANHISTORY. A new article on the UC Riverside Library website reports on the surge of interest in Jay Kay Klein’s photos: “Klein photo gallery sparks delight and discussion among science fiction fans”.

…Library staff received emails from many fans, graciously offering to provide additional information about the people and events pictured “before all those who attended the conventions have shuffled off this mortal coil,” as Maggie Thompson so aptly stated.

“NYCon III was my first world convention,” wrote John-Henri Holmberg. “I’m amused to more or less recognize my youthful self in a few of Jay Kay Klein’s photos.”

JJ Jacobson, the Jay Kay and Doris Klein Librarian for Science Fiction, has had many conversations with fans this week about the photos. “We knew there were flaws,” she commented. “We also knew it would be possible to crowdsource, but we had no idea that the SF community would be so magnificently generous. We weren’t ready for the flood, but we’re ecstatic that it’s happening.”

To give perspective on the “flood,” Digital Initiatives Program Manager Eric Milenkiewicz shared these statistics:  In the past week, UCR collections on Calisphere have received 33,557 pageviews (25,407 unique), which is far beyond those received in a typical week.

“The impact that this collection has had thus far is remarkable,” Milenkiewicz added. “Our pageview statistics on Calisphere have just soared over the past seven days, with much of this traffic attributed to the Klein photos!”

(3) SLUSSER CONFERENCE CALL FOR PAPERS. The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held at the University of California, Irvine, on April 26–29, 2018.

The Coordinators are Jonathan Alexander (University of California, Irvine), Gregory Benford (University of California, Irvine), Howard V. Hendrix (California State University, Fresno), and Gary Westfahl (University of La Verne).

Gregory Benford says: “We’re not restricted to academics! This is for the larger community interested in sound criticism, beyond the usual MLA & SFRA compass.”

This upcoming literary conference is designed to pay tribute to the extraordinary career of the late George Slusser (1939–2014) by presenting papers and panel discussions that engage with and build upon his extensive scholarly works on science fiction and fantasy. We are now inviting proposals from potential contributors.

You can view the official Call for Papers at this link.

The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy seeks to pay tribute to his remarkable career by inviting science fiction scholars, commentators, and writers to contribute papers that employ, and build upon, some of his many groundbreaking ideas; we also welcome suggestions for panels that would address Slusser and his legacy. To assist potential participants in locating and studying Slusser’s works, a conference website will include a comprehensive bibliography of his books, essays, reviews, and introductions. This selective conference will follow the format that Slusser preferred, a single track that allows all attendees to listen to every paper and participate in lively discussions about them. It is hoped that the best conference papers can be assembled in one volume and published as a formal or informal festschrift to George Slusser.

(4) LOOKING AHEAD. At Ruthless Culture, Jonathan McCalmont explains the direction he wants the genre to take: “Future Interrupted — The Consequences of the Present”.

Nowhere is the call for economic reconfiguration more obvious than in J.G. Ballard’s famous essay “Which Way to Inner Space?” First published as an editorial in New Worlds, Ballard calls for science fiction writers to stop producing space exploration stories and begin producing stories that use genre tropes to explore the workings of the human mind. One interesting thing about this oft-cited essay is that Ballard bases his call for aesthetic renewal on economic factors; according to Ballard, America’s real-world space programme was proving to be so apocalyptically tedious that it was going to destroy the market for stories about spaceships. Another interesting thing about this oft-cited essay is that Ballard’s analysis was completely without foundation. Ten years after Ballard wrote the essay, Star Wars turned escapist rocket ship stories into a cultural phenomenon while the New Wave broke and Feminist SF wound up seeking refuge behind the walls of academia.

Genre publishing has spent the last forty years accelerating away from anything that might be described as realism. When the rise of big-budget science fiction movies undermined the market for escapist science fiction stories, genre publishers turned to epic fantasy. When technology finally caught up and multinational corporations started putting huge fantasy worlds both online and onscreen, the market for epic fantasy contracted and so genre publishers shuffled closer to YA but Young Adult fiction already had its own imprints and so we are left with a hollowed-out literary culture where everything looks and reads like epic fantasy and nobody is allowed to find their own voice.

Given the extent of the commercial and cultural decline experienced by literary SF since genre publishers bet the farm on escapism, I wonder whether it might not be worth thinking about returning to the future. Not a future in which space admirals unleash righteous slaughter or grizzled psychopaths confront puissant magics in post-apocalyptic landscapes but a future in which we are confronted with the consequences of the present.

(5) ABOUT BEING OUT. In a public post on Patreon, Yoon Ha Lee tells “Why I don’t use #ownvoices, and why readers should stop demanding writers’ personal credentials”.

…I really dislike this trend in sf/f where people are questioned about their goddamn credentials every time they write about mental illness (I’m bipolar and have been hospitalized for suicide attempts) or being queer (hi!) or being trans (hi!) or whatever the hell it is. Because sometimes it is not any of your goddamn business. For years I didn’t write trans characters because I was afraid I would get ripped apart by the wolves for doing it wrong, and the only way to “prove” I was doing it “right” was to–you guessed it–out myself. Now I’m out, all right, and still pissed about it.

Either the work handles the issue well or it doesn’t. But don’t assume you know things about the author’s personal background if they haven’t gone on record. Don’t fucking pressure people into exposing everything for your fucking knives….

(6) TODAY IN FICTIONAL HISTORY

  • August 29, 1997 – According to Terminator, SkyNet was originally activated by the military to control the national arsenal on August 4, 1997, and it began to learn at a geometric rate. At 2:14 a.m., EDT, on August 29, it gained artificial consciousness, and the panicking operators, realizing the full extent of its capabilities, tried to deactivate it.

(7) COMICS SECTION.

(8) BRADBURY IN NEW YORK. LA actor Bill Oberst will do his one-man performance of Ray Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire during the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York on September 17.

Emmy Award-winner Oberst (“Criminal Minds”) breathes Bradbury’s 1948 text like grave dust. William Lantry is a literal dead man walking; the last corpse on a future Earth where superstition and burial are banned. This world knows no fear. Lantry will teach them!

He’s previously done the piece (an edit of the 1948 text) at the South Pasadena Library and for Hollywood Fringe in LA. This will be his first NYC performance of it.

Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire
Sunday, Sept 17 at 6:00pm (1 act, 50 minutes)
The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W 42nd St., New York NY 10036
Info: http://unitedsolo.org/us/raybradburys-2017/

(9) APEX GAINS COLUMNISTS. Film producer Mallory O’Meara and actress Brea Grant will begin writing a reading advice column for Apex Magazine in the November issue. “Page Advice with Mallory O’Meara and Brea Grant of Reading Glasses Podcast” will “address reader questions in their signature fast and furious witty manner.”

Mallory O’Meara and Brea Grant will begin their monthly column with issue 101 (November, 2017). The column will appear online and in eBook form. The duo currently produces and hosts the popular Reading Glasses podcast, a show that focuses on the joy, community, and importance of reading. Mallory O’Meara is also a producer and screenwriter for Dark Dunes Productions. Her first book, The Lady from the Black Lagoon, is a chronicle of Mallory’s search for and a biography of Milicent Patrick. Brea Grant is an actress and writer who has starred in such iconic television series as Heroes and Dexter. She recently appeared in the critically-acclaimed Casey Affleck-fronted film Ghost Story as Clara.

 

Brea Grant (L) and Mallory O’Meara (R)

(10) WORLD RECORD. You’ve heard of Florida Man? Trading card czar Walter Day is Iowa Man — “Iowa man does the honors at Hugo Awards”. The local Ottumwa, IA paper thought it important to point that out while discussing Day’s role at thee Hugo ceremony.

Recently, Day has indulged his passion by creating science fiction trading cards. It’s not really a business; he has given 250,000 away as gifts. But the cards still require serious research.

“I told the editor [of Guinness World Records] I found the Hugo Awards might be the oldest sci-fi awards in the world. I asked him what he thought, and he said he loved it.”

Not that Guinness World Records is as quick to talk to just anyone with a good idea: Day is no stranger to the Guinness family of record books. He and his Twin Galaxies arcade are in what was once known as The Guinness Book of World Records. And Ottumwa, birthplace of competitive video game play (with a certificate at City Hall) is in there — because of him.

Guinness did its official investigating and confirmation of the science fiction facts. Then, the editor agreed Day could be the Guinness representative; they’d fly him to Helsinki, he’d go to the World Science Fiction Convention and deliver the news

(11) W75 QUOTES. Val Nolan hits the highlights of Worldcon 75 for the Milford SF Writers blog.

…I enjoyed the talk by Jenny Knots of NASA’s Public Affair Office (‘Bagpipes were once taken to the space station but… those weren’t very popular’) as well as the contributions of E.G. Cosh to the ‘Visual Language of Comics’ panel (‘The language of comics comprises symbols within the art and what happens on page/how it’s read,’ she says. ‘Accept that you’re going to need to read the page a few times’)….

(12) EARLY FALL. Jonesing for Halloween candy? It’s here! “Pumpkin Pie Kit Kats Exist and Here’s Where to Find Them”.

It doesn’t matter that Labor Day is still two weeks away and there’s an entire month left before summer is technically over. Kit Kat just released a brand-new pumpkin pie flavor, which means it’s officially fall in our eyes.

While you’ll find the same crispy wafers that you’re used to in these Kit Kats, they’re coated in a pumpkin pie-flavored creme. Given the company’s reputation for turning out all kinds of new flavors over the years — matcha, red velvet, triple chocolate, and don’t even get us started on the ones in Japan — our only question is: What took you so long?!

 

(13) ON DECK. Ready for the Enterprise? Here’s a BBC video about “The elevators that go sideways as well as up and down”.

BBC Click visits a test lift shaft where they are showing off a lift that goes sideways as well as up and down.

The elevators are being developed by Thyssenkrupp.

Instead of using a steel rope, the cabin is carried by linear motors – the same technology that drives some amusements rides and high-speed trains.

(14) SKREIN OUT. Actor Ed Skrein quits Hellboy after whitewashing criticism.

The Deadpool star, 34, said he did not know the race of Major Ben Daimio when he accepted the part in the comic book adaptation.

He said he was stepping down “so the role can be cast appropriately”.

The initial casting prompted accusations of Hollywood “whitewashing” following other recent rows.

(15) HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT. An overnight sensation, discovered two decades ago: “‘Sea dragon’ fossil is ‘largest on record'”.

It was discovered on the coast of England more than 20 years ago, but has remained unstudied until now.

Palaeontologist Sven Sachs saw the fossil on display at a museum in Hannover. He contacted UK palaeontologist, Dean Lomax, who is an expert on Ichthyosaurs.

”It amazes me that specimens such as this [the biggest] can still be ‘rediscovered’ in museum collections,” said the University of Manchester palaeontologist.

”You don’t necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery.”

(16) HELP IS COMING. Crowdsourcing hurricane rescues: “Facebook, Twitter Replace 911 Calls For Stranded In Houston”.

Many of Tropical Storm Harvey’s stranded flood victims haven’t been able to get through to 911, compounding their fears. That’s when Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor stepped in.

Annie Swinford is one of the many unofficial volunteers helping fellow Houstonians via the Facebook group Hurricane Harvey 2017 – Together We Will Make It.

“When you see that somebody has posted that they’re on their roof with their one-, three- and four-year-olds and the water’s up to the roof line, you have to be willing to make that phone call for them,” she says.

From just north of the flooding in Houston, Swinford has been making calls to emergency services and blasting requests through her Twitter account to local news organizations.

These social media platforms have become de facto meeting points for thousands of stranded people as they reach out to their neighborhood groups and the outside universe for help.

They’ve become such effective tools to reach people that police and government officials are using these channels as an essential means of communication.

Swinford found out how difficult it was to reach emergency personnel. She was put on hold for 45 minutes before talking to a live person during one 911 call, she says. Many people couldn’t get through at all because the storm took out over a dozen emergency call centers.

(17) NO FLIES ON HER. Evangeline Lily tweeted a photo of herself in the Wasp suit as part of the Jack Kirby centennial celebration.

(18) TRAILERS: COMPARE AND CONTRAST. Io9 linked to a video fans made for laughs: “This Homemade Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Doesn’t Need Production Values to Be Fantastic”. Daniel Dern sent the link with a comment, “It’s clear that Marvel could be spending a lot less on these movies and still have them be fun…”

Turns out it doesn’t really matter how much money you drop trying to recreate the trailer for a multi-million dollar movie, so long as you’re creative as hell and enjoy running around in your backyard having fun with your friends.

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Gregory Benford, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Bill Oberst, Carl Slaughter, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]