Pixel Scroll 9/16/20 Let Us Pixelate It In Glorious Scrollovision

(1) THE EXPANSE REACHES ITS LIMIT. “Leviathan Falls Will Be The Final Installment of The Expanse” – Andrew Liptak has the story at Tor.com.

During a live stream today, Orbit Books officially announced the title and cover for the final installment of James S.A. Corey’s science fiction series, The ExpanseLeviathan Falls, which will hit stores sometime in 2021 .

…Orbit didn’t release any synopsis for the book, but Abraham and Franck did explain that the novel will provide a definitive ending for the series.

During the live stream, Abraham and Franck answered a handful of reader questions. In addition to Leviathan Falls, they plan to have another novella that’ll come out after that final book, which will provide a “nice grace note” to some hanging threads from the series. Abraham noted that he’s been waiting to write the story for “years.”

Franck explained that they don’t plan to write any novels in the world, but that Alcon could always put together another Expanse-related project for television.

(2) RSR UPDATE. Rocket Stack Rank’s Greg Hullender announced today in “Taking a Break” that he’ll be on hiatus as a short fiction reviewer —

After five years of writing reviews for Rocket Stack Rank, I’m going to take an indefinite break. This month marks five years since we started the site, and so it seemed like a good time to pause.

Eric Wong says he will continue to update RSR with monthly lists of stories that readers can flag and rate and find reviews for, as well as aggregate recommendations from various sources (currently 6 reviewers, 16 awards, 7 year’s best anthologies) for the Year-To-Date and Year’s Best lists. 

Hullender adds:

Five years ago, in September 2015, Eric and I started Rocket Stack Rank as a response to the Sad/Rabid Puppy episode that ruined the 2015 Hugo Awards. As we said at the time, we wanted “to create a website to encourage readers of science fiction and fantasy to read and nominate more short fiction.”

The response was very positive, and we’ve enjoyed steady support from readers. We quickly ramped up to a few thousand unique monthly users, with 20-30,000 monthly page views (we recently passed 1,000,000 total page views), and we’re currently the #1 Google result for “short science fiction story reviews.” Best of all, we were finalists for the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine three times (2017, 2018, 2019). Thank you for supporting us!

(3) ANOTHER VIEW OF ROWLING’S CONTROVERSIAL LATEST. Alison Flood, in “JK Rowling’s Troubled Blood: don’t judge a book by a single review” in The Guardian, says she’s read Rowling’s Troubled Blood and although there are parts she says are “tone-deaf” that she doesn’t consider the novel “transphobic” since the cross-dressing character is not the main villain and is not described as trans or even a transvestite.

…Perhaps some will still consider this depiction transphobic, given Rowling’s rightly widely criticised views on trans people. It is, at best, an utterly tone-deaf decision to include an evil man who cross-dresses after months of pain among trans people and their allies. But there is also reason to be wary of any moral outrage stoked by the Telegraph, a paper that generally doesn’t shy away from publishing jeering at the “woke crowd”, or claims that children are “put at risk by transgender books”, or attacks on “the trans lobby”. And we should also be wary of how one review has been reproduced without question by countless newspapers and websites, by journalists who have shown no indication of having read the book themselves.

(4) GREETINGS GATES. “‘Star Trek’ Alum Gates McFadden To Host Nacelle Company’s First Podcast” reports Yahoo! Entertainment. The title: Who Do You Think You Are?

…The McFadden-fronted podcast will be the first one from the Nacelle Company and serves as a stepping stone for its NacelleCast Studios, the company’s neighboring podcast studio in Burbank. The new podcast studio will serve as the main production space for all NacelleCast productions.

The Nacelle Company has created a number of pop history-focused titles including Netflix’s The Movies That Made UsThe Toys That Made Us and the CW’s Discontinued. Branching into the podcast space is a step in the company’s efforts to broaden its reach of pop history-focused content.

(5) STATUS QUO VADIS. Essence of Wonder with Gadi Evron will probe “Is Science Fiction Really the Literature of Change?” in its September 19 program. Register at the link.

Anil Menon is joining Gadi as co-host for a one-hour discussion on science fiction and change, bringing along friends and colleagues Christopher Brown, Claude Lalumière, Geoff Ryman, Nisi Shawl, and Vandana Singh. This Saturday, 19 September.

Arguably, science fiction has had a focus on working out the consequences of a change (what-if scenarios) rather than how a certain change comes to be. This seems to be especially true in the case of social or political change. The distinguished panelists will discuss the possibilities and limitations of (science) fiction for representing a changing world.

(6) GENUINE PIXEL NEWS. Plans for a Japanese adaptation of The Door Into Summer were unveiled on Twitter. Thread starts here.

(7) UNDERTALE CONCERT. Beginning at the 45-minute mark in this YouTube video, you can listen to the full orchestral concert that was staged for the 5th anniversary of the video game Undertale.

Polygon’s Patricia Hernandez tells why “Undertale’s surprise concert got the internet in its feelings”

This is probably why many folks who watched the concert last night absolutely got in their feelings about the game. The top comment on the YouTube video says, “I cried like twice through the whole thing.” I saw the same sentiment unfold across my Twitter timeline, where folks reminisced on the game’s highlights and what it meant to them when they played it. It was a total mood shift from the general depressing and terrifying tenor of the year. Undertale is, at its heart, an optimistic game about friendship and love. 

(8) LOOKING FOR SIGNS. In a Washington Post opinion piece, “Venus may hold the answers about life we’ve been looking for”, Cornell University astronomer Jonathan Lunine says that the discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus might mean that Venus had, and possibly has, life.

…How would we know such organisms might exist? Many chemical compounds that simple microbes produce are also made by non-biological processes. But one, phosphine or PH3, is difficult to produce on Earth abiotically (without life) and, as argued by Seager and her colleagues in another paper, could be a good “biosignature” or sign of life on planets around other stars. This isn’t always the case: The compound is found in the dense hydrogen-rich atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, where it is understood to be an abiotic product of simple chemistry, and will likely be found on gas giants around other stars using the James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch next year. But Venus — which has an atmosphere in which hydrogen is extremely scarce — is a place where phosphine is a plausible biosignature.

The detection of sufficient quantities of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere would be an intriguing pointer to the possibility of life in the sulfuric-acid clouds of our sister planet, but many questions would remain. Is it possible that planetary chemists have overlooked ways to produce phosphine on Venus in the absence of life? And if phosphine is produced by biology, where did that life originate? It is one thing to imagine life adapting to and hanging out opportunistically in the clouds of Venus. It is quite another to imagine that life could have originated there, sandwiched between the hell of the surface and the frozen realms of the thin upper atmosphere….

(9) MEDIA ANNIVERSARY.

  • September 1995 — Twenty five years ago this month at Intersection, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance won the Hugo for Best Novel. Other finalists were John Barnes’ Mother of Storms, Nancy Kress‘s Beggars and Choosers, Michael Bishop‘s Brittle Innings and James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah.  It would be the third Hugo winner of the Vorkosigan saga, and Bujold’s third Hugo award-winning novel in a row. It’s  the direct sequel to Brothers in Arms. The Vorkosigan saga would win the Best Series Hugo at Worldcon 75. (CE)

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born September 16, 1898 Hans Augusto Rey. German-born American illustrator and author best remembered for the beloved  Curious George children’s book series that he and his wife Margret Rey created from 1939 to 1966. (An Eighties series of five-minute short cartoons starring him was produced by Alan Shalleck, along with Rey. Ken Sobol, scriptwriter of Fantastic Voyage, was the scriptwriter here.) His interest in astronomy led to him drawing star maps which are still use in such publications as Donald H. Menzel’s A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets. A simpler version for children called Find the Constellations, is still in print as well. (Died 1977.) (CE) 
  • Born September 16, 1917 – Art Widner.  Pioneer in earliest days, he left for a few decades to teach school, beget children, other mundane matters, then returned, resuming his fanzine YHOS (“Your Humble Obedient Servant”, pronounced ee-hoss though I said it should rhyme with dose), the Eo-Neo.  See here.  Here is his cover for the Mar 40 Spaceways.  On his board game Interplanetary see here.  DUFF (Down Under Fan Fund) delegate.  Big Heart (our highest service award).  First Fandom Hall of Fame.  YHOS first took my note on The Glass Bead Game.  As of his passing he may have been Oldest of All; rooming with him at a few cons, I promised not to call him “Woody” (see Mary Sperling in Methuselah’s Children).  Our Gracious Host’s appreciation here.  (Died 2015) [JH]
  • Born September 16, 1916 Mary, Lady Stewart (born Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow, lovely name that). Yes, you know her better as just Mary Stewart. Genre wise, she’s probably best known for her Merlin series which walks along the boundary between the historical novel and fantasy. Explicitly fantasy is her children’s novel A Walk in Wolf Wood: A Tale of Fantasy and Magic. (Died 2014.) (CE)
  • Born September 16, 1930 — Anne Francis. You’ll remember her best as Altaira “Alta” Morbius on Forbidden Planet. She also appeared twice in The Twilight Zone (“The After Hours” and “Jess-Belle”). She also appeared in multiple episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. She’d even appear twice in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and played several roles on Fantasy Island as well. (Died 2011.) (CE)
  • Born September 16, 1932 Peter Falk. His best remembered role genre is in The Princess Bride as the Grandfather who narrates the Story. The person who replaced him in the full cast reading of The Princess Bride for the Wisconsin Democratic Party fundraiser, Director Rob Reiner, wasn’t nearly as good as he was in that role. He also plays Ramos Clemente in “The Mirror”,  an episode of The Twilight Zone. And he’s Reverend Theo Kerr in the 2001 version of The Lost World. (Died 2011.) (CE) 
  • Born September 16, 1932 – Karen Anderson.  Fan and pro herself, wife of another, mother of a third, mother-in-law of a fourth.  While still Karen Kruse she was WSFA (Washington, DC, SF Ass’n) secretary and joined SAPS (Spectator Amateur Press Society) and The Cult.  Marrying Poul Anderson she moved to the San Francisco Bay area, bore Astrid, and thus was mother by marriage to Greg Bear.  Stellar quality also in filk, costuming, and our neighbor the Society for Creative Anachronism.  At an SF con party a few decades ago I arrived in English Regency clothes having just taught Regency dancing; she sang “How much is that Dukie in the window?”  See here; appreciation by OGH here.  (Died 2018) [JH]
  • Born September 16, 1938 – Owen Hannifen, 82.  How he found the LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Soc.; “LASFS” pronounced as if rhyming with a Spanish-English hybrid “mas fuss”, unless you were Len Moffatt, who rhymed it with “sass mass” and had earned the right to do it his way) minutes, then and now known as The Menace of the LASFS, I’ve never learned; with a good Secretary – Jack Harness, Mike Glyer, John DeChancie – they’ve been swell; anyway they lured OH to L.A. (from Vermont?), where he roomed with Harness and others in a series of apartments, the Labyrinth, Labyrinth 3, Labyrinth of Valeron, Labyrinth DuQuesne (see here).  He was in N’APAOMPA, SAPS, and The Cult.  Dungeons & Dragons was fire-new then; he and his wife Hilda (also “Eclaré”) did that.  They moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, Sampo Productions (named for the magic sampo in “Why the Sea Is Salt”), and incidentally the SCA.  [JH]
  • Born September 16, 1948 – Julia Donaldson, C.B.E., 72.  Author, playwright, performer; almost two hundred books.  Famous for The Gruffalo.  Half a dozen stories of Princess Mirror-Belle.  Busked in America, England, France, Italy.  Bristol Street Theatre, British Broadcasting Corp., Edinburgh Book Festival.  Honorary doctorates from Univ. Bristol, Univ. Glasgow.  Children’s Laureate of the United Kingdom 2011-2013.  Commander of the Order of the British Empire.  Website here.  [JH]
  • Born September 16, 1952 Lisa Tuttle, 68. Tuttle won the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, received a Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “The Bone Flute”, which she refused, and a BSFA Award for Short Fiction for “In Translation”. My favorite works by her include CatwitchThe Silver Bough and her Ghosts and Other Lovers collection. Her latest novel is The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross. (CE) 
  • Born September 16, 1960 – Kurt Busiek, 60. Writer for Dark Horse, DC, Dynamite, Eclipse, Harris, Image, Marvel, Topps.  Known particularly for Astro City, Marvels, the Thunderbolts.  Nine Eisners, six Harveys; two Comics Buyer’s Guide Awards for Favorite Writer.  Here he’s interviewed about Conan.  Alex Ross put KB and wife Ann into Marvels 3 reacting to the arrival of the Silver Surfer and Galactus.  I’ll leave out Page 33.  What jewels these Filers be.  [JH]
  • Born September 16, 1960 Mike Mignola, 60. The Hellboy stories, of course, are definitely worth reading, particularly the early ones. His Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is an amazing What-If story which isn’t at all the same as the animated film of that name which is superb on its own footing, and the B.P.R.D. stories  are quite excellent too.  I’m very fond of the first Hellboy film, not so much of the second, though the animated films are excellent. (CE) 
  • Born September 6, 1982 – María Zaragoza, 38.  Three short stories for us; novels, poetry, film scripts, graphic novels.  Post-human, anthology of Spanish SF authors.  Atheneum of Valladolid Award, Young Atheneum of Seville Novel Prize.  Part of Fernando Marías Amando’s storytelling collective “Children of Mary Shelley”; of “The Cabin” collective of mutant artists (painters, poets, writers, sculptors, photographers), Ciudad Real.  [JH]

(10b) BELATED BIRTHDAY. Worldcon 76 chair Kevin Roche turned 60 on September 15 — we wish him a cake-full of candles for the occasion!

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Thatababy calls it a “new Mary Worth” storyline. Daniel Dern says, “I had to convince myself I hadn’t dreamed it.”
  • Lio discovers what happens when horror movies take over your yard. 
  • Argyle Sweater carves a Pinocchio joke.

(12) CLAREMONT ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL. Marvel Comics will honor the extraordinary career of writer Chris Claremont in December with the Chris Claremont Anniversary Special.

For the past 50 years, Claremont has graced the Marvel Universe with his brilliant storytelling—creating and defining some of its most iconic heroes and building the framework for one of its most treasured franchises.

In the Chris Claremont Anniversary Special, the acclaimed writer returns to the world of the X-Men with a brand-new story. Dani Moonstar is drafted for a mission across time and space for an incredible psychic showdown against the Shadow King—joining forces with other characters created and defined by the pen of Chris Claremont! In this extra-sized milestone issue, Claremont will team up with a host of iconic artists including Brett Booth and reunite with his classic New Mutants collaborator, Bill Sienkiewicz.

…Chris Claremont’s influential run on X-Men changed the comic book landscape forever. As the architect behind the epic tapestry that makes up the world of mutants, Claremont’s contributions went far beyond the creation of characters but to the very themes, concepts, and allegories that are ingrained in the X-Men today. Claremont’s work catapulted the X-Men into unprecedented success with now classic stories such as Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past as well as series like New Mutants and Wolverine’s first solo series. In addition to his groundbreaking work on X-Men titles, Claremont also had memorable runs on books such as Ms. Marvel and Fantastic Four.

(13) SFF IN TIMES TO COME. In “Noah Hawley on ‘Fargo’ Season 4, His ‘Star Trek’ Film and ‘Lucy in the Sky’” at Variety, Hawley says that his Star Trek film would be a new cast, and “we’re not doing Kirk and we’re not doing Picard” but there would be some sort of connection to the original Star Trek series.  He also says that Lucy In The Sky was his “magical-realist astronaut movie.”

Just before “Fargo” returned to production in August, Noah Hawley — the writer who somehow adapted an eccentric and beloved Coen brothers film into one of the most decorated television series of the past decade — sent a letter to the show’s cast and crew. He wrote about the importance of safety. He wrote about mutual responsibility. He wrote about Tom Cruise.

“Someday in the not too distant future Tom Cruise will go to space,” the message began. “He will bring a film crew with him. He will bring a director and actors. They will shoot a film. Now space, as we know, is an airless vacuum where nothing can live. A hostile void where a suit breach or airlock malfunction can kill, where even the simplest tasks must be done methodically, deliberately. Astronauts train for years to prepare. They drill protocols and procedures into their heads. They know that surviving in space will require their full concentration. Now imagine doing all that AND making a movie.”

The “Fargo” crew is rather more earthbound, but Hawley likened its experience to that of Cruise, who is indeed planning a trip to the International Space Station to shoot an action movie. (It was reported in May that he will do this with the help, of course, of Elon Musk.) But before Tom Cruise ascends into space, the cast and crew of “Fargo” are gathering in Chicago to film the final two episodes of the show’s fourth season in a 13-day stretch — five months after being forced to break camp by the coronavirus pandemic.

(14) FIRE BELLS. LAist points out a local science landmark in jeopardy: “What We’ll Lose If The Mt. Wilson Observatory Burns”.

You may not have realized it, but sitting atop one of the highest points in the San Gabriel mountains, looming 5,700 feet over L.A., is arguably one of the world’s most important spots for scientific discovery: the Mount Wilson Observatory.

The 114-year-old site is covered in equipment that not only helped mankind discover the universe and cement Southern California as an astronomy hub, but still connects normal people to wonders beyond our own world.

Worryingly, the Bobcat Fire is charging right for it. Only 500 feet away as of Tuesday afternoon.

(15) GREAT PUMPKINS. Los Angeles County’s Descanso Gardens plans a “Pumpkin-Filled Halloween Event”We Like LA has the story.

Descanso Gardens has announced a month-long fall exhibit for those of you who get really into decorative gourd season. “Halloween at Descanso” is a socially distant, “pumpkin-filled extravaganza” that takes place October 1-31. 

The exhibit is suitable for all ages, so don’t worry about this Halloween event being too scary. Instead, expect a winding hay maze, a house built entirely out of pumpkins, a pumpkin arch that leads to a forest filled with pumpkin-headed scarecrows, and colorful pumpkin mandalas. The pathways that lead to the Hilltop Gardens, the Japanese Garden, and the main promenade will feature hand-carved jack-o-lantern boxes. 

(16) JEOPARDY! Andrew Porter says tonight’s Jeopardy! contestants struck out on this one.

Category: Summarizing the novel.

Answer: Utopia (not); I ain’t goin’ nowhere; the butler did it (in 1872).

No one got: What is Erewhon.

(17) PRESAGED BY ASIMOV. In the Washington Post article “School, but an ‘undead version’: Students, parents and teachers in Northern Virginia adjust to online learning”, Hannah Natanson interviewed middle school math teacher Jay Bradley, who thinks virtual teaching reminds him of the Asimov story “The Fun They Had.”

Margie went into the schoolroom…and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her,’ the passage (from Asimov) read,  ‘The screen was lit up, and it said, ‘Today’s arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions.  Please insert yesterday’s homework in the proper slot.’  Margie did so with a sigh.”

These days, Bradley–who teaches middle school in Fairfax County Public Schools–feels a lot like the ‘mechanical teacher.’  He spends ever morning huddled ina spare room in his Northern Virginia home staring at his computer screen. The monitor is filled with small rectangles:  Each one depicts an anonymous, identical silhouette.

(19) BORDER, BREED, NOR BIRTH. “Star children: can humans be fruitful and multiply off-planet?”The Space Review weeks the answer.

From his home in Cape Canaveral, Air Force pilot Alex Layendecker explained how he had been drawn to the study of sex and reproduction in space. “I had been immersed in the space environment in the Air Force, assigned to launch duty, and was simultaneously pursuing an M.A. in public health, and then at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, and I was looking for a dissertation topic,” he recalled. “I decided that sex and reproduction in space had not received the attention they deserved—if we’re serious about discussions of colonization, having babies in microgravity—on Mars or other outposts of the Earth, then more needs to be learned.” His general recommendation was that because of the squeamishness of NASA to study sex in space, a private nonprofit organization, or Astrosexological Research Institute, should be founded for this research critical to human settlement of outer space.

What were the prospects for space-based sex lives? Layendecker’s study of the literature yielded both good and bad news. Sex should be possible, even lively, but reproduction, critical for space colonization, could entail severe health consequences… 

(20) BE SEATED. In Two Chairs Talking Episode 36 – “Marrying the genre next door” — Perry Middlemiss and David Grigg talk about novels which blur the boundaries between genres: literary novels with strong elements of fantasy or science fiction. Call them “genre adjacent” fiction. And David interviews Matthew Hughes, author of the historical fiction novel “What the Wind Brings.”

(21) SHARP, POINTY. The final trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s Antlers has dropped.

A small-town Oregon teacher and her brother, the local sheriff, become entwined with a young student harboring a dangerous secret with frightening consequences.

[Thanks to Darrah Chavey, Daniel Dern, N.,  John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, John Hertz, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, Gadi Evron, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ingvar.]

Pixel Scroll 9/9/20 The Worm Rider’s Digest

(1) DUNE TRAILER. A trailer dropped for the Denis Villenueve-directed Dune movie.

Beyond fear, destiny awaits.

(2) LIKE SANDS THROUGH AN HOURGLASS. The click industry immediately went to work deciphering the Dune trailer.

The Sandworm

Smartly, the Dune trailer saves the giant Sandworms of the planet Arrakis for the very end. In the reality of Dune, the Sandworms are responsible for the creation of the substance known as “the Spice,” which is basically why anyone wants to be on Arrakis at all. The Spice is created by the Sandworms, and dealing with the worms, and making peace with them is a huge part of what Dune is all about.

It’s unclear which Sandworm scene this is from the book, but the look and scope of the worm feel correct. These are mysterious creatures in the world of Dune, but they are not monsters. In some ways, the Sandworms are the most important characters in Dune, and this Sandworm looks exactly as it should. The Maw of the Sandworms seems a little more refined, but overall, these are the worms we’re looking for.

Water World

What’s an ocean doing in a movie called Dune? The footage of Paul on the shore of a vast sea with starships hovering in the sky takes place on his original home world of Caladan. Their move to Arrakis at the behest of the Emperor is like moving from Scandinavia to the Sahara.

“He thinks he’s going to be sort of a young general studying his father and his leadership of a fighting force before he comes of age, hopefully a decade later, or something like that.” Chalamet said.

Events are moving faster than he expects.

(3) OSCARS ADDING INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY REQUIREMENTS. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Tuesday published detailed inclusion and diversity guidelines that filmmakers will have to meet in order for their work to be eligible for a best picture Oscar, starting in 2024. Variety has a breakdown of the new rules: “Oscars Announce New Inclusion Requirements for Best Picture Eligibility”.

For the 94th and 95th Oscars ceremonies, scheduled for 2022 and 2023, a film will submit a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form to be considered for best picture. Beginning in 2024, for the 96th Oscars, a film submitting for best picture will need to meet the inclusion thresholds by meeting two of the four standards.

All other Academy categories will keep their current eligibility requirements. For categories such as animated feature, documentary feature and international feature, that submit for best picture consideration, they will be addressed separately….

Adweek’s summary says:

The body that hands out the Academy Awards on Tuesday published detailed inclusion and diversity guidelines that filmmakers will have to meet in order for their work to be eligible for a best picture Oscar, starting in 2024. (Reuters)

To meet the onscreen representation standard, at least one of the lead actors or a significant supporting actor must be from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, whether that means Asian, Hispanic, Black, Indigenous, Native American, Middle Eastern, North African, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. (NYT)

Alternatively, a film can meet the standard if at least 30 percent of all actors in secondary and more minor roles are women, from a racial or ethnic group, LGBTQ+, or people with cognitive or physical disabilities or if the film’s main storyline, theme or narrative focuses on one of these groups. (Variety)

Additionally, films seeking consideration must hire diverse creative leadership and department heads, maintain at least 30 percent of crew from the previously mentioned groups, offer paid internships to underrepresented groups, and ensure representation in marketing and distribution. (THR / The Race)

(4) NOT EVEN WITH A MASK. LA County has not entirely cancelled Halloween, only a lot of the activities traditionally associated with it. (Complete guideline here.)

Halloween Activities:

Not Permitted (gatherings and events are not currently allowed under the Health Officer Order)

Halloween gatherings, events or parties with non-household members are not permitted even if they are conducted outdoors.

Carnivals, festivals, live entertainment, and haunted house attractions are not allowed.

Not Recommended

Door to door trick or treating is not recommended because it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, ensure that everyone answering or coming to the door is appropriately masked to prevent disease spread, and because sharing food is risky.

“Trunk or treating” where children go from car to car instead of door to door to receive treats is also not recommended, particularly when part of Halloween events, since it is difficult to avoid crowding and sharing food.

(5) HAUNTED DRIVE-THRU. That explains why, here in the land of the drive-in, folks will be able to pay to drive through Haunt ‘O Ween LA.

The experience will last between 25-35 minutes. We recommend guests arrive 10 – 15 minutes prior to their scheduled time slot during peak hours.

  • Pumpkin “Picking” (1 pumpkin per vehicle. Additional pumpkins available for purchase)
  • “Door to Door” Trick or Treating (enough candy for everyone!)
  • Video Op (sent to your email)
  • Immersive Installations (photo friendly environments)

(6) TENET & CO. The Guardian’s Alex Hess wonders “Why so serious? Tenet and the new wave of ‘science-based’ time travel movies” BEWARE SPOILERS.

Back in the good old days, time travel in the movies was a strictly no-strings-attached affair, a straightforward plot device to bewilder a couple of high-school dimwits or dispatch a killer robot on its mission. It was used to spice up action filmsadventure films, even romcoms – the only rule was that it shouldn’t be thought about too hard. The biggest conundrum it might cause was how to fend off the advances of your own unsettlingly attractive mum.

What John David Washington’s secret agent in Tenet wouldn’t give for such trivial problems. He not only needs to save the world from a supervillain armed with nuclear warheads and a time machine, but also get his head around the news that his nemesis can invert an object’s temporal properties at will, thus sending it hurtling backwards through a space-time continuum that is not as linear as he thought. Worse still, so do we….

(7) THE ETERNAL PEDESTRIAN CROSSING. Even Zombies can’t walk forever. “The Walking Dead Officially Ending With Season 11” promises Comicbook.com.

Oops, we lied! Actually, there’s going to be a spinoff.

The Walking Dead is officially ending after its 11th season. Season 11 will be a super sized season, offering the show a 24-episode farewell tour, with its airing beginning in the fall of 2021. The 24-episode run will span the fall of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. It is unclear whether it will be broken into three 8-part segments to two 12-part halves. The AMC zombie show began in 2010 with its premiere episode Days Gone Bye airing on Halloween. In the years which followed, The Walking Dead became a global hit, claiming the #1 spot on cable and spawning several spinoff shows, including two more new series which will follow its conclusion.

… Following the conclusion of the flagship Walking Dead series, a spinoff centered around Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon and Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier will go into production. The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang will run the Daryl/Carol spinoff show. There will also be a Tales From The Walking Dead anthology series which will follow different characters in each episode, exploring pockets of the TWD universe which have been left undiscovered.

(8) SCOOBY ORIGINS. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] I thought these paragraphs from Harrison Smith’s obituary for “Scooby-Doo” co-creator Joe Ruby in the Washington Post, “Joe Ruby, TV writer and producer who co-created Scooby-Doo, dies at 87”, would be of interest to Filers.  “Silverman” is a reference to NBC president Fred Silverman. “Spears” is Ruby’s writing partner Ken Spears, Scooby-Doo’s other co-creator.  “Takamoto” is Iwao Takamoto, a Japanese American animator who drew the original sketches for the main characters.

Mr. Ruby said he considered a small, feisty sheepdog character before settling on an oversized, cowardly Great Dane inspired by actor and comedian Bob Hope.  The dog was originally called Too Much–the show was originally called ‘Mysteries Five’–before Silverman said he pushed for raising the character’s profile and renaming him Scooby-Doo, after hearing Frank Sinatra scatting ‘doo-be-doo-be-doo’ on a recording of ‘Strangers in the Night.’…

…Most persistently came questions about Shaggy.  Why did he have the munchies all the time?  Was he, as many viewers speculated, actually a stoner, a marijuana-loving emblem of the drug-infused 1960s?

By all accounts, the answer was no.  Shaggy and Scooby’s constant hunger was simply an attempt by Mr. Ruby and Spears ‘to insert certain idiosyncrasies into their characters,’ the animator Takamoto wrote in a memoir, My Life With A Thousand Characters.

‘And for the record,’ he added, ‘drugs of any kind were anathema to Joe Ruby; he hated them.’

I also learned that the idea for “Scooby-Doo” came from Fred Silverman, who wanted a cartoon like the 1940s radio show “I Love A Mystery” but with kids.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • September 2013 — Seven years ago this month, Kamala Khan made her first appearance in Captain Marvel #14 before going on to star in the her own series Ms. Marvel, which debuted in February 2014.This Pakistani American Muslim teenager was created by G. Willow Wilson along with editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie. The first volume of Ms. Marvel would win the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story at Sasquan in 2015.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born September 9, 1900 James Hilton. Author of the novel Lost Horizon which was turned into a film, also called Lost Horizon by director Frank Capra. It is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La. Many claim Lost Horizon is the first American book printed as a paperback but it’s actually Peal S. Buck’s The Good Earth. (Died 1954.) (CE) 
  • Born September 9, 1906 – Aileen Fisher.  A hundred children’s books, some ours.  Nat’l Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.  Natural history, fiction, poetry, plays; nonfiction including lives of Louisa Alcott, Jeanne D’Arc, Emily Dickinson.  “Poetry is a rhythmical piece of writing that leaves the reader feeling a little richer than before”.  (Died 2002) [JH]
  • Born September 9, 1915 Richard Webb. Captain Midnight on the Captain Midnight series when it began and which ran for two years in the Fifties on CBS. It was called Jet Jackson, Flying Commando when it was syndicated. He played Lieutenant Commander Ben Finney in the “Court Martial” episode of Star Trek. And in the Fifties, he was Lane Carson, the lead investigator in The Invisible Monster. (Died 1993.) (CE)
  • Born September 9, 1922 – Pauline Baynes.  Seventy covers, a hundred eighty interiors, for us; many others.  First to illustrate “Farmer Giles of Ham”; also The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, “Smith of Wootton Major”, other Tolkien including The Lord of the RingsNarniaRichard Adams, Hans Andersen, the Grimms, Kipling; outside our field, Uden’s Dictionary of Chivalry, winning the Greenaway Medal; religious books e.g. King Wenceslaus, the Nicene Creed; magazines e.g. The Illustrated London News.  (Died 2008) [JH]
  • Born September 9, 1929 Joseph Wrzos, 91. He edited Amazing Stories and Fantastic under the name Joseph Ross from August 1965 through early 1967. He was responsible for their move to mostly reprints and a bimonthly schedule while the publisher refused to pay authors for the reprints saying he held the rights to them without needing pay additional renumeration and leading to severe conflict with SFWA. With Hannes Bok, he edited in 2012, Hannes Bok: A Life in Illustration. (CE)
  • Born September 9, 1943 Tom Shippey, 77. Largely known as a Tolkien expert, though I see he wrote a scholarly 21-page introduction to Flights of Eagles, a collection of James Blish work, and under the pseudonym of John Holm, he is also the co-author, with Harry Harrison, of The Hammer and the Cross trilogy of alternate history novels. And early on, he did a lot of SF related non-fiction tomes such as Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative (edited with George Slusser). (CE) 
  • Born September 9, 1946 – Anna Lee Walters, 74.  Pawnee (her mother) / Otoe-Misouria (her father).  Goddard alumna.  American Book Award, Virginia McCormick Scully Award.  Ghost Singer is ours; half a dozen nonfiction books; she is in many anthologies and journals.  [JH]
  • Born September 9, 1952 – Michael Dobson, 68.  Chaired Corflu 36 (fanziners’ con; corflu = mimeograph correction fluid, once indispensable).  Fanzine, Random Jottings (note, “FIAWOL” = Fandom Is A Way Of Life”).Three alternative-history novels (with Douglas Niles).  Nonfiction books may show SF color, e.g. Watergate Considered as an Organization Chart of Semi-Precious Stones.  Timespinner Press has a booklet for each day of the year.  [JH]
  • Born September 9, 1952 Angela Cartwright, 68. Fondly remembered as Penny Robinson on the original Lost in Space. She, like several of her fellow cast members, made an appearance in the Lost in Space film. She appeared in the Logan’s Run series in “The Collectors” episode as Karen, and in Airwolf as Mrs. Cranovich in the “Eruption” episode. (CE) 
  • Born September 9, 1955 Janet Fielding, 65. Tegan Jovanka, companion to the Fifth Doctor. The actress had a rather short performing career starting with the Hammer House of Horror series in 1980 where she was Secretary Mandy on the “Charlie Boy” episode” before landing the the Doctor Who gig through 1984. Her career ended in the early Nineties. She was part of the 2013 50th Anniversary The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. (CE) 
  • Born September 9, 1958 – Frank Catalano, 62.  Book reviews in Amazing with Buck Coulson.  Half a dozen short stories.  Toastmaster at the first Baycon (i.e. the regional, not the Westercon or Worldcon, with that name) and at Dreamcon 10.  Fan Guest of Honor, Rustycon 4.  Fanzine, Syntactics.  [JH]
  • Born September 9, 1977 – Viktor Martinovich, Ph.D., 43.  (Various romanizations of this Belarusian name.)  Teaches at European Humanist Univ., Vilnius.  Bogdanovich Prize.  Paranoia is ours, I mean his novel by that title (see NY Rev Bks here), also Mova; several others.  [JH]

(11) COMICS SECTION.

(12) SECOND FANDOME. DC Fandome Part 2 takes place September 12. Explore the Multiverse. The schedule is here.

(13) AHH, NATURE! This video suggests the American Museum of Natural History in New York is hosting a Terrible Pun exhibit when its doors reopen this week.

(14) GONE MORE THAN A FORTNITE. Epic Games is still trying to get Apple to reinstate its Fortnite app on iOS devices. Late Friday, the gaming company filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Apple’s blocking Fortnite on iPhones and iPads. “Epic Games renews legal request to bring Fortnite back to Apple store” at CNN Business.

The injunction brief says that more than 116 million gamers have played Fortnite on iOS, making it the game’s biggest platform, larger than its player base on Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, PC or Android.

Filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, the motion says, “all Epic seeks is for the Court to stop Apple from retaliating against Epic for daring to challenge Apple’s misconduct.”

In a Saturday statement to CNN Business, Epic said, “today we ask the Court to stop Apple from retaliating against Epic for daring to challenge Apple’s misconduct while our antitrust case proceeds.”

Fortnite has been blocked on iOS since August, when Epic introduced a new way for players to buy in-game currency directly without paying Apple or Google their customary 30% cut of revenue. This move violated both Apple and Google’s app store policies, the tech giants said, and Fortnite was pulled from both iOS and Android devices. Epic then sued both Apple and Google, accusing them of monopolistic practices.

(15) FROM SOMEBODY’S GOLDEN AGE. The Bristol Board has a flock of excellent black & white illustrations by famed sff artist Edd Cartier.

(16) DECIPHERNG THE STICKERS. Kirby Kahler’s article is a neat bit of space history: “Walking through the doors of history: unlocking a space tradition” at The Space Review,

In July 2019, I had the unique opportunity to revisit the astronaut walkout doors at the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building (O&C) at the Kennedy Space Center for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Fifty years ago, I was one of more than 3,500 journalists trying to get the “money shot” of the Apollo 11 astronaut walkout.

As I balanced on top of my camera case, I took as many pictures of the astronauts as possible as they walked purposely through those double doors before disappearing like magic into the transfer van on the way to the launch pad. I was 17 years old and was covering this historic event for a small Illinois newspaper. It was an experience that will change my life and soul forever. I covered Apollo 15 as well, and that mission was equally as exciting.

For the Apollo 50th reunion at KSC, I also took many photos of the famous astronaut walkout doorway and surrounding area as part of the NASA tour granted to a select group of “old space journalists.” There were no astronauts this time, just memories of the excitement and anticipation of seeing them walking through those iconic doorways. Those brave men and women were heading on the adventures of their lives, and they were taking us all with them.

This article is about investigating the O&C shuttle mission stickers that have been placed on the historic doorway, as noted in the photographs I took of the O&C walkout area. While many stickers seemed easy to identify, I noticed several immediately that could not be easily identified due to weathering and other issues.

(17) GROK AROUND THE CLOCK. Today I learned there is official Heinlein apparel. Shades of the Sixties!

(18) HERE THEY COME TO SAVE THE DAY. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] A group of mice genetically engineered to have greater muscle mass have retained that muscle during a trip to the International Space Station. Their regular, unmodified cousins who also went for the trip lost muscle and bone mass—just as happens for astronauts during their stay in weightlessness. Some of this mouse control group were treated with the “mighty mice” drug upon returning and rebuilt their muscle mass faster than untreated mice. “‘Mighty mice’ stay musclebound in space, boon for astronauts”.

…While encouraged by their findings, the couple said much more work needs to be done before testing the drug on people to build up muscle and bone, without serious side effects.

“We’re years away. But that’s how everything is when you go from mouse to human studies,” Germain-Lee said.

Lee said the experiment pointed out other molecules and signaling pathways worth investigating — “an embarrassment of riches … so many things we’d like to pursue.” His next step: possibly sending more “mighty mice” to the space station for an even longer stay.

(19) SHAT’S BACK. “William Shatner ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ feat. Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night” on YouTube is a track from Shat’s new album The Blues, which Cleopatra Records will release In October.

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, N., Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Toman, John Hertz, John King Tarpinian, Contrarius, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 8/28/20 Maslow’s Filerarchy Of Pixels

(1) GARCIAGATE GOFUNDME. Chris Garcia, Vanessa and the boys had to evacuate from their Northern California home because of the fires. So far their house has survived, but there’s no telling when they will be able to return. Til then, they’re in hotels. A GoFundMe appeal launched yesterday: “GarciaGatePenguins Fire Relief”  People have donated $5,780 of the $10,000 goal in less than 24 hours.

…Initially they believed their home is lost, but are holding out hope that their home and belongings aren’t destroyed. It may still be a long voyage in the clean up process, assuming the house is still standing. What may have been destroyed by smoke damage is also still an unknown. It has been an incredibly hard time and they are incurring many added expenses for temporary lodging and having to eat out. 

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman continues having the conversations he would have had in New Zealand had there been a flesh-and-blood CoNZealand. It’s time for tea and scones with Farah Mendlesohn on Episode 126 of Eating the Fantastic.

I’d previously made plans to chat and chew with three guests on the ground in Wellington, but since that proved impossible, I decided to go virtual, too, urged on by my Patreon supporters. And so, during my previous two episodes, you were able to eavesdrop as I dined with Lee Murray in New Zealand and Stephen Dedman in Australia. This time around, we’re off to Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England for tea and scones with Farah Mendlesohn.

Farah was a Hugo Award finalist this year in the category of Best Related Work for her book The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, and had previously been nominated in that category for The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction, and On Joanna Russ. She won a Hugo (with Edward James) in 2005 for The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, as well as a World Fantasy Award in 2017 for Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction, which she wrote with Michael M. Levy.

She’s also edited anthologies, including Glorifying Terrorism, Manufacturing Contempt: An Anthology of Original Science Fiction, which she created to protest laws introduced by the British Government she saw as restricting free speech. She was the chair of the Science Fiction Foundation from 2004-2007, served as President of the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts from 2008-2011, and is currently an Associate Fellow of The Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

We discussed the reasons Robert A. Heinlein resonated with her, how her early and current readings of Heinlein differ, why the science fiction of the ’30s was far more politically radical than that of the ’40s and ’50s, her deliberately controversial comment about Ursula K. Le Guin, the circumstances under which she’s more interested in the typical rather than the groundbreaking, that period during the ’20s when everyone was fascinated by glands, the one Heinlein book she wishes we’d go all back and reread, our joint distaste for fan policing, and much more.

(3) INTO THE UNKNOWN. Deadline introduces “‘His Dark Materials’ Teaser: First Look At Season 2 Of HBO/BBC Adaptation Of Philip Pullman’s Fantasy Epic”.

We’re getting the first look at the upcoming second season of His Dark Materials, HBO/BBC’s big-budget adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy epic.

The second season begins after Lord Asriel has opened a bridge to a new world, and, distraught over the death of her best friend, Lyra follows Asriel into the unknown. In a strange and mysterious abandoned city she meets Will, a boy from our world who is also running from a troubled past. Lyra and Will learn their destinies are tied to reuniting Will with his father but find their path is constantly thwarted as a war begins to brew around them. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter searches for Lyra, determined to bring her home by any means necessary.

(4) ROWLING RETURNS AWARD. “J.K. Rowling Returns Kennedy Family Award Following Kerry Kennedy Remarks”Variety has the story.

Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling has emerged into a fresh controversy after she returned the Ripple of Hope Award bestowed upon her by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization in December 2019, following criticism from Kerry Kennedy. Kerry is the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and the president of the organization.

“Over the course of June 2020 — LGBTQ Pride Month — and much to my dismay, J.K. Rowling posted deeply troubling transphobic tweets and statements,” Kennedy posted on the organization’s website on Aug. 3. “On June 6, she tweeted an article headlined “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.” She wrote glibly and dismissively about transgender identity: ‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

Kennedy said she had spoken with Rowling “to express my profound disappointment that she has chosen to use her remarkable gifts to create a narrative that diminishes the identity of trans and nonbinary people, undermining the validity and integrity of the entire transgender community — one that disproportionately suffers from violence, discrimination, harassment, and exclusion and, as a result, experiences high rates of suicide, suicide attempts, homelessness, and mental and bodily harm. Black trans women and trans youth in particular are targeted.”

On Thursday, Rowling responded with a statement posted to her website.

“Because of the very serious conflict of views between myself and RFKHR, I feel I have no option but to return the Ripple of Hope Award bestowed upon me last year,” said the author. “I am deeply saddened that RFKHR has felt compelled to adopt this stance, but no award or honor, no matter my admiration for the person for whom it was named, means so much to me that I would forfeit the right to follow the dictates of my own conscience.”

Rowling said Kennedy’s statement “incorrectly implied that I was transphobic, and that I am responsible for harm to trans people.”

(5) FAMILY FEUD. The Independent eavesdropped on David Tennant’s podcast and learned: “William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy rivalry sparked by fan letter jealousy, claims George Takei”.

While appearing on David Tennant’s celebrity interview podcast, David Tennant Does a Podcast With…, Sulu actor Takei alleged that the cast of the original Star Trek TV series all got along apart from Shatner, with Takei confirming that it often felt like “William Shatner versus the rest of the world”.

“It got more and more intense,” Takei recalled. “How do I put it? It began from the TV series. There was one character whose charisma and whose mystery was like a magnet.

“It was Spock, the strange alien with pointy ears. That intrigued the audience and women thought ‘I’m the one who can arouse him.’ His fan letters were this many, and Leonard’s were that many, and that created an insecurity [in Shatner].”

He continued: “Movie-making, TV-making, theatre-making is all about collaborative teamwork. A good actor knows that the scene works when there’s that dynamic going on with the cast. Some actors seem to feel that it’s a one-man show. That’s the source of some tensions.”

Shatner saw the article and lashed out —

Then, in an unrelated exchange on Twitter, Shatner downplayed Trek’s immediate benefits to his career.

(6) THE MARTIAN CANTICLES. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the August 24 Financial Times, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney talks to progressive rocker Rick Wakeman about his new album, The Red Planet, He says he got the idea for the album about Mars by attending the Starmus International Festival of astronomy and music in Tenerife, Spain.

“Next year’s Starmus, due to be held in Armenia, marks the 50th anniversary of the first orbit of Mars by a space probe.  Wakeman will be among the musicians appearing.  He describes how the event’s founder, the astrophysicist Garek Israelian, updated him about the latest Martian findings.

‘He told me that it’s beginning to look like 20bn years ago Mars was a blue planet with oceans and rivers.  ‘Your good friend David Bowie may have been right,’ Wakeman recalls.  The rock musician–who played the piano part on Bowie’s celebrated ‘Life on Mars’ in 1971–went very quiet as the scientist spoke.  Inside, a light went on.  ‘Bingo!’ he said to himself/”

(7) THE TOON IS OUT THERE. [Item by Olav Rokne.] Lower Decks must look like a success, since now X-Files seems to be jumping onto the animated spin-off bandwagon. But since this show is being done by the creators of Movie 43 (which currently earns a generous 5% on Rotten Tomatoes) I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the series being watchable. From Variety: “‘X-Files’ Animated Comedy Series in Development at Fox”.

An animated “X-Files” comedy series spinoff is in the works at FoxVariety has confirmed.

The project is currently titled “The X-Files: Albuquerque.” It has received a script and presentation commitment at the broadcaster. The show would revolve around an office full of misfit agents who investigate X-Files cases too wacky, ridiculous or downright dopey for Mulder and Scully to bother with. They’re basically the X-Files’ B-team.

“X-Files” creator Chris Carter is attached to executive produce the project, with Rocky Russo and Jeremy Sosenko attached to write and executive produce. Gabe Rotter, who worked on the “X-Files” revival at Fox, will also executive produce. 20th Television and Fox Entertainment will produce. Bento Box will provide animation. Neither Gillian Anderson or David Duchovny is involved with the project at this time.

(8) UP THE AMAZON. Publishers Lunch reports:

…In advance of Independent Bookstore Day on August 29, Powell’s Books announced that it will no longer sell rare and collectible books through Amazon Marketplace. Owner Emily Powell wrote in a message to customers, “For too long, we have watched the detrimental impact of Amazon’s business on our communities and the independent bookselling world…. The vitality of our neighbors and neighborhoods depends on the ability of local businesses to thrive. We will not participate in undermining that vitality.”

(9) TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION. James Davis Nicoll tells about “Five Stories About Generation Ships That Don’t End in Disaster”. (Did I know there were any such stories? Couldn’t remember, but I guess I must, because I’ve read the first two he names.)

We’ve all read about it: after decades of construction, a shiny new generation ship is loaded with a crew of bright-eyed optimists. Once the sun is just another bright star in the sky, mutiny and civil war reduce the crew to ignorant peasants…unless something worse happens. This is a narrative pattern set as early as Murray Leinster’s 1935 “Proxima Centauri,” solidified by Heinlein’s 1941 “Universe,” and embraced by authors ever since: human foibles in the confined space of a generation ship ensure calamity. Ideally not of the sort that leave everyone too dead to be interesting.

But it does not have to go that way! Here are five examples of generation ships that managed to avoid mutiny, civil war, barbarism, and mass cannibalism.

(10) THE MAGIC OF LONDON BOOKSHOPS. Publishers Weekly conducted a “Q & A with Garth Nix” whose new book is The Left-Handed Booksellers of London.

Why did you choose to set the tale in 1983 London?

In part I chose to set the story in 1983 London because that was when I first saw it in person, visiting from Australia. I was there for about six months, off and on—even though I have returned to the U.K. many times since—so I have particularly concrete memories of that time. But I also wanted to make it a slightly alternate 1983, so the world of the book could be more diverse and have greater gender equality, and I could enjoy myself including and transforming various cultural references of the time.

The magic users in your book are booksellers rather than being specifically wizards, witches, magicians, etc. What’s the connection for you, between selling books and casting spells?

I think bookshops have always been rather magical, so by extension, the people who work in them are too! There is also something magical about making the connection between a book and a reader. I always had tremendous satisfaction in match-making a customer with a book they didn’t know they wanted, but would later come back in to rave about and buy everything the author had written.

In Merlin and the booksellers generally, you’ve created a group of characters who are magically gender-fluid. Why was it important for you to include this facet of the characters?

I think this is similar to my writing about places I wish really existed, that I could visit. While it isn’t easy for the booksellers to physically become the gender they feel they are, it is far easier than it is in this world. I think it would be good to be, as Merlin says, “somewhat shape-shiftery.”

(11) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • August 28, 1956 X Minus One’s “Surface Tension.” Based off the short story of the same name by the Hugo Award winning James Blish that was first published in the August 1952 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction,  it first aired on this date in 1956. A Cold War tale in which The East and The West knowing the sun will soon explode meet to decide how to save  the human race. Can this end well? The story was adapted as usual by George Lefferts. The rather extensive radio cast was   Luis Van Rooten, Danny Auchal, Lawson Zerbe, Larry Haines, Mason Adams, Jim Stevens and Bob Hastings. You can listen to it here.         

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born August 28, 1749 – Johann von Goethe.  Two-part play Faust big in the history of fantasy; four shorter stories, a dozen poems, also ours; other plays, poems, novels; criticism; science, particularly anatomy, botany, color; three thousand drawings.  Inspired Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Gounod.  On the cusp leaving the balance of Classicism for the passion of Romanticism.  (Died 1832) [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1833 – Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bt.  Painter, illustrator, designer.  “I mean by a picture a beautiful, romantic dream of something that never was, never will be – in a light better than any light that ever shone – in a land no one can define or remember, only desire – and the forms divinely beautiful”.  Here is The Beguiling of Merlin.  Here is Angeli laudantes (Latin, “Angels praising”; tapestry).  Here is The Golden Stairs.  Here is The Wheel of Fortune.  Here is a study for The Masque of Cupid (Desiderium is Latin, “desire”).  His accepting a baronetcy disgusted his socialist wife and friends.  (Died 1898) [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1896 Morris Ankrum. Numerous appearances in the Fifties — in Rocketship X-M as Dr. Ralph Fleming, as a Martian leader in Flight to Mars, in Red Planet Mars playing the United States Secretary of Defense, in Invaders From Mars playing a United States Army general, and as yet another Army general in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. (Died 1964.) (CE)
  • Born August 28, 1916 – Jack Vance.  Forty novels – these are round numbers; I think The Dying Earth is a novel, and I think it’s science fiction.  Sixty shorter stories.  Memoir This Is Me, Jack Vance (or more properly “This is I”).  Interviewed in AberrationsLighthouseLocusOrbit (Dutch, hello Kees van Toorn), SF ReviewStarShipSofa.  Mystery novels too (Edgar for The Man in the Cage), unless they all are.  Three Hugos, a Nebula; Prix Utopia; Forry (for service to SF; Los Angeles Science Fantasy Soc.); Jupiter; Emperor Norton Award (for extraordinary invention and creativity); Seiun; World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement; SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) Grand Master; SF Hall of Fame.  (Died 2013) [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1917 Jack Kirby. Responsible for a goodly part of modern comics from Captain America and the X-Men to Challengers of the Unknown and the New Gods. I’m very much looking forward to the New Gods film being worked on, now delayed by the Pandemic. (Died 1994.) (CE)
  • Born August 28, 1925 – Arkady Strugatsky.  A score of novels, fifty shorter stories, with his brother Boris; also translated English (with B) and Japanese.  Roadside Picnic is much applauded; I recommend Hard to Be a God.  Interviewed in Fiction (French), FoundationLocusPolaris (German), Urania (Italian), Yellow Submarine (French).  Together Guests of Honour at Conspiracy ’87 (45th Worldcon).  (Died 1991) [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1948 Vonda McIntyre. I’ve read a number of her works including Dreamsnake and The Moon and the Sun which are all phenomenal. The latter was based on a short stor of hers done as a faux encyclopaedia article “The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea”, that was illustrated by Le Guin. Way cool. (Died 2019.) (CE)
  • Born August 28, 1951 – Barbara Hambly, 69.  Forty novels, two dozen shorter stories.  Interviewed in Andromeda SpacewaysLocus.  Forry Award.  Two Lord Ruthven Awards.  Children of the Jedi NY Times Best Seller.  Served a term as SFWA President.  Black Belt in karate (shôtôkan).  Outside our field, notably historical fiction (free man of color Benjamin January, nineteen detective novels in antebellum New Orleans; The Emancipator’s WifeSearch the Seven Hills; several others).  Peter Nicholls calls her writing vigorous, interesting, and alert.  [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1954 – Diane Turnshek, 66.  Astronomer; teaches at Carnegie Mellon Univ. and Univ. Pittsburgh.  Four short stories and a Probability Zero.  SFWA Speakers’ Bureau.  Dark Sky Defender Award from Int’l Dark Sky Ass’n.  Ranks Flatland about the same as The Taming of the Shrew.  [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1964 – Traci Harding, 56.  A score of novels, half a dozen shorter stories.  Her publisher (HarperCollins/Voyager Australia) says she blends fantasy, fact, esoteric theory, time travel, and quantum physics; sold half a million books in Australia alone.  Worked in film studio management before starting to write novels.  Website here.  [JH]
  • Born August 28, 1965 Amanda Tapping, 55. She’s best known for portraying Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. She also starred as Helen Magnus on Sanctuary which I never managed to see. Anyone seen it? She was in The Void which also starred Adrian Paul and Malcolm McDowell. (CE)
  • Born August 28, 1978 Rachel Kimsey, 42. She voices Wonder Woman on Justice League Action, yet another series that proves animation, not live, is the DC film strong point. Here’s a clip of her voice work from that show. She was Zoe, the old imaginary friend of Frances, on Don’t Look Under The Bed, a supposedly horror that ran on Disney. Disney, horror? And she was a zombie in the “Don’t Let Her Pull You Down” musical video by New Found Glory. (CE) 
  • Born August 28, 1978 Kelly Overton, 42. She has the lead role of Vanessa Van Helsing in Van Helsing, a Syfy series based off of Zenescope Entertainment’s Helsing graphic novel series. She‘s been on True Blood as the werewolf Rikki Naylor, and then there’s The Collective, a  horror film written, directed, and produced by her and her husband, Judson Pearce Morgan. (CE) 

(13) COMICS SECTON.

(14) GREAT EXPECTATIONS. LitHub introduces a NewberyTart podcast episode: “What We’ve Come to Expect From Heroines in Science Fiction”. (The podcast link is embedded at the post.)

Each week on NewberyTart, Jennie and Marcy, two book-loving mamas (and a librarian and a bookseller, respectively), read and drink their way through the entire catalogue of Newbery books, and interview authors and illustrators along the way.

On today’s episode, Jennie and Marcy talk about the finalist of the 1971 Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature, Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl.

Marcy: Since I started reading what I consider to be better science fiction, the tone of the book leaves me thinking it could be a little better, even if it might not necessarily be true, but it just falls in that category. Does it make sense the association?

Jennie: I think that we’re both talking about prejudices we have when it comes to books as we approach them and what we enjoy versus what we have been exposed to in the past. I think that makes total sense. I’m just like, Elana should be with a knife in her teeth and she should be hanging from the rafters.

Marcy: You want her to be Zoe from Firefly.

Jennie: I was thinking more Ripley.

This is a really great discussion about what we’ve come to expect from heroines in sci-fi!

Marcy: Which is ironic because this is probably one of the building blocks that got us to where we are to the ones that we wanted.

Jennie: I think it’s really good that we take some time and look at this and hopefully bring it to some new new readers.

Marcy: I have nothing but gratitude for the innovators who gave us any main characters, much less ones who rebelled in even any small ways and accomplished things and were characters who had agency. In this case, literally, even if they make bad choices sometimes, which people do. It’s still totally necessary to get us to where we are now, where we have so many choices and so many great female characters. We wouldn’t be here without those.

(15) ALL A LOAN.  I Love Libraries investigated “What It’s Like to Be a Library Cat During the Pandemic”.

Libraries have long been home to feline residents who keep patrons company, promote activities and programs, and assist with pest control. We checked in on four library cats (and their humans) to see how their lifestyles have changed during the pandemic.

Browser from Texas’s White Settlement Public Library may be one of the nation’s most famous library cats. In a viral story from 2016, a city council member tried to oust Browser from his position at the library; after a public outcry, Browser was reinstated for life while his political opponent lost his reelection campaign.

Browser has stuck around the library during the pandemic closure but seems to be missing the crowds.

“He is generally quite independent, but since the closure he always wants to be near people. We can usually find him in the lap of a staff member, or lying helpfully on their keyboard,” library staffer Kathryn King told I Love Libraries. “Now that we are offering curbside service, he posts himself at the window during curbside hours to watch the patrons come and go.”…

(16) FREE IS NOT ENOUGH. In “The Public Domain Will Not Make You Popular”, John Scalzi disputes an SFFAudio tweet that essentially claims Heinlein would be more widely read if his work was available free.

…What is true is that Heinlein is probably less generally relevant to newer science fiction readers and writers than he was to new SF readers and writers in earlier eras. I have essayed this at length before and therefore won’t go into it again now. I will say, however, that Heinlein’s work and the work of many of his contemporaries are at an awkward age: enough decades after publication that the underlying cultural assumptions of the work and the author are no longer consonant with contemporary times, but not enough decades out that the work can be comfortably be considered a “period piece,” which means that consonance is no longer expected.

In other words: a lot of “Golden Age of Science Fiction” work currently lies in a sort of cultural uncanny valley, existing in a simultaneous state of being too distant from contemporary readers, and also not nearly distant enough. That’s not Heinlein’s fault, precisely; it’s a matter of time and culture. It’s going to happen to most creative work — well, most work that’s remembered at all.

SFFAudio’s thread starts here. They also say:

(17) BRADBURY’S CRIME. Time travelers…dark carnivals…living automata…and detectives? Hard Case Crime is celebrating Ray Bradbury’s centennial, with a deluxe illustrated commemorative collection of his finest crime stories: Killer, Come Back To Me.

Honoring the 100th birthday of Ray Bradbury, renowned author of Fahrenheit 451, this new, definitive collection of the master’s less well-known crime fiction, published in a high-grade premium collectible edition, features classic stories and rare gems, a number of which became episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Ray Bradbury Theater, including the tale Bradbury called “one of the best stories in any field that I have ever written.” 

Is it murder to destroy a robot if it looks and speaks and thinks and feels like a human being? Can a ventriloquist be incriminated by the testimony of his own dummy? Can a time traveler prevent his younger self from killing the woman they both loved? And can the survivor of a pair of Siamese twins investigate his own brother’s murder? No other writer has ever rivaled the imagination and narrative gifts of Ray Bradbury, and the 20 unforgettable stories in this collection demonstrate this singular writer’s extraordinary range, influence and emotional power.

(18) HOLE NEW IDEA. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Universe Today brings to our attention a new theory that would allow human-transmissible wormholes. There are, however, just a feeeew caveats. For instance, though the trip would be almost instantaneous for the passengers, an outside perspective would see the trip take longer than light would take to travel the same distance. Oh, and there’s the bit where the engineering would be many, many orders of magnitude greater than anything humans are currently capable of. And the thing where the effect depends on whether a particular 5-dimensional model of the universe correctly describes it or not. “One Theory Beyond the Standard Model Could Allow Wormholes that You Could Actually Fly Through”.

The study, titled “Humanly traversable wormholes,” was conducted by Juan Maldacena (the Carl P. Feinberg Professor of theoretical physics from the Institute of Advanced Study) and Alexey Milekhin, a graduate of astrophysics student at Princeton University. The pair have written extensively on the subject of wormholes in the past and how they could be a means for traveling safely through space.

(19) JDA’S SELF-ASSESSMENT. Jon Del Arroz told readers of his blog how he’s “Making Science Fiction Greater” [Internet Archive].

…The fireworks underlined the light in the darkness, the path forward, the bombs bursting in air, and made me reflect on our journey here for our movement to push this great American culture in a healthy and wondrous direction through science fiction and comics.

God’s blessed me with talents beyond most of the field in science fiction, fantasy, and comics, and on top of it, a clear vision of what needs to be done with the work not only to produce greatness for my own edification, but to do glory to His name and bring a return to hope, heroism, and the exceptionalism of mankind to fiction and culture.

It’s been missing for a long time, and the trials and tribulations, the struggles, the blacklisting, the bannings, they all were trials given to me to push me to outwork and out-innovate the competition, which is the true American way of winning.

(20) SONG DYNASTY CAT TWEETS. You wouldn’t want to miss this. Thread starts here.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, John Hertz, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Lise Andreasen, Michael Toman, James Davis Nicoll, Mike Kennedy, Chris Barkley, Olav Rokne, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Olav Rokne.]

Writers Of The Purple Page:
The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein

[Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in the July issue of the Denver clubzine DASFAx. Reprinted by permission. You can find issues of DASFAx at this link.]

By Sourdough Jackson: Normally, I don’t read doctoral dissertations, nor any later academic works based on them. The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn, is an exception.

The author is a British cultural historian and literary critic specializing in SF and fantasy, and has served on the committees of several UK science fiction conventions, including co-chairmanship of the 2006 Eastercon. Her dissertation was a study of a dozen major SF authors, six male, six female, and one of them was Heinlein.

Years later, she returned to Heinlein scholarship, basing Pleasant Profession on her earlier research, adding in a great deal more work. One of my multiple beefs about the Patterson biography (Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, 2 vols.) was its lack of discussion of Heinlein’s fiction; this book fills that gap for me, although very much not in the way William Patterson might have written it. Mendlesohn is politically center-left (UK style) and a moderate feminist, while Patterson was emphatically neither.

One thing Mendlesohn does not do is to create a scheme of little boxes and try to shoehorn all the information into them. You will find no mention of the “Heinlein Individual,” first proposed by Alexei Panshin and then discussed by other commentators, except to say that some critics had found the concept useful.

Instead there are deep chapters on many aspects of RAH’s fiction. She begins with a 70-page biographical precis, including a few points missed or misinterpreted by Patterson—this section is by no means a simple digest of the earlier work. Following this is a brief description of Heinlein’s “narrative arc,” a summary of his fictional output and how the stories are related. Unlike most earlier scholars, she is able to discuss the comparatively-recent posthumous book For Us the Living. She relates it to his other work—this book may have been a colossal marketplace failure during his lifetime, but he mined it for ideas and characters throughout his career. Mendlesohn acknowledges that, although neither of the Heinleins ever wanted it to see the light of day, it’s a valuable resource for critics, historians, and the curious.

In “Technique,” she discusses how the cinema molded much of his early work and influenced his style—one of the hallmarks of his stories is sparse description, particularly of characters. Although she does not mention this, such technique is far older than the movies—Shakespearean drama works without stage scenery and the barest minimum of props. The author, be it Heinlein or Shakespeare, counts on the audience to have their imaginations in good working order.

She also makes a point often lost on many readers: the viewpoint character in most Heinlein stories is not the principal actor, it’s his sidekick. One example is The Star Beast. The main character appears to be John Thomas Stuart XI; the real protagonist is Lummox, the runaway alien princess—John Thomas is her sidekick (and, in her eyes, her pet human). Two other active characters are Betty, his girlfriend, and Mr. Kiku, the alien-affairs diplomat. They and Lummox drive the story, while John Thomas is along for the ride.

She also discusses how engineering informs his tales, and dissects his time-travel technique. RAH was good at that; his early story, “By His Bootstraps,” only pales when stood against his later masterpiece, “All You Zombies.”

In “Rhetoric,” the next chapter, she discusses at length sentiment and how important it is to nearly anything Heinlein wrote. After a brief foray into his fantasy stories, she launches into a long talk about picaresque novels, a form he went in for later in his career, although his first picaro came early (and stayed late, wearing out his welcome with this reader): Lazarus Long. It is that discussion which brought home to me why I care little for much of Heinlein’s later work. A picaro, to many readers (myself included) is not a sympathetic character. In the case of Lazarus, I want to take my hardcover of Time Enough for Love and throw it at him.

The next two chapters cover civic society and revolution. In a nutshell, Heinlein considered the civic order to come from informed citizens working together to create and maintain it—a standard tenet of old-school American liberalism (see Emerson on self-reliance). As for revolution, he injected several instances of that into his tales, some necessary and praiseworthy (Between Planets, Red Planet, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and “If This Goes On…”), and some attempts at tyranny (Friday, Beyond This Horizon, and “The Long Watch”).

In the revolution chapter Mendlesohn places a long aside on guns. One of the odd things about guns is that, when they appear, they almost always end up being useless. It’s only in Starship Troopers, one of his two military novels, that they’re consistently effective (the other, Space Cadet, is about peacekeeping, not war-making).

Racism is a major can of worms. Mendlesohn states—and shows—that Heinlein did not like it at all, and tried to work against it in his fiction. Sometimes he succeeded, other times not. One of his anti-racist (or, more properly, anti-ethnic-prejudice) tools in the 1950s was to fill a tale with background characters having wildly-diverse surnames. This is especially noticeable in Space Cadet, Time for the Stars, and Starship Troopers (for the last-named book, she includes a list of character names in an appendix). Incidentally, it is here that Mendlesohn makes an uncharacteristic boo-boo: When she discusses Alfred McNeill, the elderly black department head of the ship’s telepaths, she describes him as coming from the American South. Late in the novel, his tele-partner’s residence is given as being in Johannesburg, where she’d apparently been all the time. Last I heard, Johannesburg was in South Africa.

In this chapter is also a long, long discussion of Farnham’s Freehold. Even after reading her cogent exegesis of that novel, I still dislike the book, and probably always will. In his attempt to show the racist shoe on the other foot, Heinlein went too far—he ascribed habitual cannibalism to the black masters, atop all the other evils of slavery. Although Heinlein did not intend to play up to the white supremacists, this aspect of the story made blacks out to be inherent savages.

“Right Ordering of Self” comes next, and begins with personal honor. Heinlein’s honor is that of the person who is married or in the military, living by an internal code and living up to sworn vows and oaths. It is not the “honor” of the prickly, upper-class rakehell in the streets of Shakespeare’s Verona.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to sexual integrity and sexuality in general. To Heinlein, the worst thing a man can do, except perhaps to violate his oath of military service, is nonconsensual sex (aka rape). In one of his yarns, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, rapists, attempted rapists, and men perceived as attempting rape (even though they intended no such thing) get summarily shoved out the nearest airlock without benefit of pressure suit.

She brings up an odd, but true, idea in this passage on sex. Although RAH has a reputation for writing a lot of sex into his later books, it’s not so. There’s plenty of sexual banter, and much implied sex, but hardly any visible sex acts. What there is, is a great proliferation of kissing. Mendlesohn concludes that Heinlein simply liked kissing, and often used it to show love between characters.

From I Will Fear No Evil (1970) onward, Heinlein often explored transgender phenomena, and Mendlesohn devotes a chapter to this. Her discussion indicates that he knew his masculine side quite well, and had some understanding of his feminine side and how it related to the rest of him. She does not directly address his skill at handling transgender themes, which is perhaps just as well. Fear No Evil was clumsy, ill-informed, and rushed to publication. Normally, his wife took a pass through every manuscript before it went out, giving him suggestions—this did not happen with this book, owing to Heinlein’s desperately poor health at the time.

Also, very little was known about transgender issues at that time, or at any time during his life. Heinlein was a great respecter of information—when he had good data, he used it to good effect. When he had poor or spotty info, his lack of awareness of this tended to yield questionable results.

A case in point is Heinlein’s handling of female characters. For at least half a century, a common beef has been, “Heinlein can’t write females worth spit!” implying that he didn’t know anything about women. Not necessarily so. He knew several quite well: his mother, his sisters, and three different wives. Traits from all of these (not just Virginia, his last wife) found their way into the women and girls on his pages—a fine example is Grandma Hazel in The Rolling Stones, whose prototype was his mother (Mendlesohn misses this point).

One exception to this observation is the three Puddin’ stories (non-SF) and Podkayne of Mars. For these, he did have information—badly distorted, though. It came from the editor of a magazine for teenage girls, and no doubt fitted that editor’s preconceptions of what teenage girls should be. Knowing no better, RAH swallowed it whole (and sold three stories), later reusing the misinformation to produce Podkayne. Incidentally, Podkayne of Mars is another place where Mendlesohn missed a point. The scene where Mrs. Royer tries to get Podkayne to rub her back has usually appeared to me to be an attempt at lesbian seduction by Mrs. Royer. Mendlesohn considers it to simply be Mrs. Royer treating Podkayne like a servant, which is how I read it at first (I was eleven years old then, and innocent of sexual matters). Podkayne misses the point, too, although later on, she is fully aware of Dexter Cunha’s intentions toward her.

The epilogue, “The Cat Who Walked Through Genres,” is a nice exploration of Heinlein’s love of cats, as expressed in his writings. A dog person early in life (best illustrated in “A Tenderfoot in Space,” whose main character is a dog), he was introduced to cats by Virginia when they married. He was practical about this in his fiction; in The Rolling Stones, for example, Roger Stone loudly vetoes the idea of carrying a cat on the family rocket-yacht, due to feline sanitary considerations in zero-G.

On the whole, this is a very good exploration of Heinlein’s writings. This was published in the UK and written by an Englishwoman, so spellings and typographical conventions are what one would expect when reading something by Arthur C. Clarke or Fred Hoyle. She does keep British colloquialisms down to a minimum, however.

It is also a scholarly work, filled with source citations—which she does in the most convenient way possible, inline, contained in parentheses. Other footnotes she puts at the bottom of the page, where they belong (that’s why they’re called footnotes). There is an extensive bibliography at the end, which is an excellent source for further readings about Heinlein. An accident of the alphabet places Alexei Panshin next to William H. Patterson, Jr., a juxtaposition which would irk both men, as Alexei and Patterbill always disagreed strongly in their interpretations.

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein is well worth the purchase price—like almost all books, it can be found for a discount on Amazon.com (list price on the dust jacket is £25.00).

Next month, I hope to return to my series of essays on Heinlein’s juvenile fiction. Until then, clear ether!

Pixel Scroll 7/14/20 No Space Suit? No Service!

(1) WHERE TO FIND WHO. HBO Max did this video meetup to promote that they are now the exclusive outlet for Doctor Who Seasons 1-11. (Future season/specials will premiere on BBC AMERICA.)

Moderated by Terri Schwartz of IGN, HBO Max, in partnership with BBC America, presents the first-ever, historic meeting of The Doctors: Jodie Whittaker, Matt Smith, and David Tennant.

(2) LIKE YOU NEED TEENY TINY BRANDING IRONS. [Item by Rob Thornton.] Remember the Cordwainer Smith story with the laminated mouse brain? here is a picture of a mouse brain slice that won a prize: “Extreme closeup of mouse-brain slice wins top Life Science Microscopy prize” at Ars Technica.

Spain’s Ainara Pintor snagged the top honor from over 400 submissions with her gorgeous image of an immunostained mouse-brain slice, titled Neurogarden. The image focuses on the hippocampus area of a single slice, but there are more than 70 million neurons in the mouse brain as a whole, according to Pintor.

(3) THE MAINSTREAM GOES FILK. [Item by Rob Thornton.] A new musical genre named “bardcore” has emerged, in which musicians create medievalized versions of pop tunes reports The Guardian: “Never mind the ballads! How bardcore took over pop music”.

Is [it] a big thing? Where on earth have you been for the past two months? Bardcore is booming online, swarming all over YouTube and Reddit, and appealing to what i-D Magazine calls Generation Z’s ‘existential humour’.

Here is a bardcore version of Radiohead’s “Creep” as done by the musician Hildegard von Blingin’.

(4) OLD GUARD REVIEW. NPR’s Linda Holmes reports that “‘The Old Guard’ Is A Smart Blend Of Action And Emotion”.

…Here’s a quandary: How do you make a compelling movie — one with a good measure of fairly graphic violence, by the way — about a group of heroes who can’t be killed? Don’t they always have the upper hand? Won’t they always win? There are clever ways that the story itself gets around this problem, but it’s also absolutely critical that it’s in the hands of a director who understands, and can convey on film, that link between physical vulnerability and humanity. Because one of the things this story is about is that even if you do not die, the pain of cycling through injury after injury, recovery after recovery, reconstitution after reconstitution of your being, is a hard way to exist.

It’s a story that’s partly about the attrition of your spirit that can come from being, very literally, a “survivor.” And particularly because new recruit Nile (KiKi Layne, whom you know from If Beale Street Could Talk) is a black woman and two of her teammates are men who fell in love after being on opposite sides of The Crusades (which is a witty idea, let’s be honest), there is additional subtext here about the churn of violence and the costs of enduring it. Moreover, in a world seized with emergencies that activists are scrambling to address, it is frustrating enough when you feel like years have passed and all the attempts you have made to improve the world have come to nothing. What would it be like to feel that for centuries? For longer? Would you really want the long view? How much perspective could you stand to have about humanity?

More immediately, the plot is this: Andy (Theron) has been doing this the longest. She wants out of the hero business, really, but she can’t escape. She’s pulled into a job with teammates Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). The job, conveyed to them by a man named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is to rescue a group of kidnapped girls in South Sudan. How can they say no? When it turns out there’s more to the job than meets the eye, she’s confronted by the fact that there are people out there who know about her and her team and wish them no good.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Nile is a young soldier consumed with the wars of the present, and shortly after she discovers that something is very unusual about her response to injury, she winds up in the company of the Old Guard. (They don’t go around calling themselves that, by the way; it would be very corny. And they don’t do it.)

This is the first film I’ve seen in quarantine that felt to me like a proper big summer movie — and yet it transcends so much of what’s sometimes been disappointing about that category. Yes, it’s a comic book movie. Yes, it’s an action movie. Yes, it’s about a team of good-doers. And it’s exciting and satisfying and tense and all those things. But everything from its queer couple to its leading women to its director to its thoughtfulness to its point of view about violence makes it such a welcome addition….

(5) A SHORTER REVIEW OF SOMETHING EVEN OLDER. Brooke Bolander has a concise take. Thread starts here.

(6) THE CUPBOARD IS SEMI-BARE. Variety says transforming San Diego Comic-Con into an online experience has an extra challenge – how to bake a cake without all the usual ingredients: “Comic-Con ‘At Home’ Aims to Rescue Fandom’s Biggest Week — Even If Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm Are No-Shows”.

Indeed, almost no feature films announced panels for Comic-Con@Home. Paramount, Sony, and Universal are sitting out the convention entirely, while WarnerMedia’s DC Entertainment elected to launch their own virtual fan convention — DC FanDome on Aug. 22 — to promote its suite of film, TV and comic book properties.

The biggest blow for Comic-Con@Home, however, is arguably the lack of participation from marquee Comic-Con participants Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, which aren’t bringing any of their features or live-action scripted TV series to Comic-Con@Home. Fans had been especially anticipating first looks at Marvel Studios’ upcoming slate, including theatrical releases “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Disney Plus series “Falcon and the Winter Solider” and “WandaVision.”

(7) SFWA DEI. The members of SFWA’s newly-formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee are:

  • Alaya Dawn Johnson – traditional novelist
  • Alex Acks – traditional novelist 
  • Crystal Watanabe – freelance editor
  • James Beamon – SFWA director-at-large, short fiction writer
  • Jane Pinckard  – writer, game designer, researcher, teacher
  • Kyle Aisteach  – short fiction writer
  • Michi Trota – SFWA Editor-in-Chief, critical and creative nonfiction writer
  • Tao Roung Wong – indie novelist
  • Whitney “Strix” Beltrán – game writer

The committee is developing procedures, and setting its action and scope, and will update the membership soon. 

(8) IMAHARA OBIT. Grant Imahara, host of MythBusters’ and White Rabbit Project, has died at the age of 49. The Hollywood Reporter story is here.

…While as part of the MythBusters team he sky-dived and drove stunt cars, on film sets he came into contact with some of the most iconic characters in screen history, installing lights onto Star Wars‘ R2-D2, creating the robot Geoff Peterson for The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and working on the Energizer Bunny.

…In his nine years at Lucasfilm, he worked for the company’s THX and Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) divisions. In his years at ILM, he became chief model maker specializing in animatronics and worked on George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, as well as The Matrix ReloadedThe Matrix RevolutionsGalaxy QuestXXX: State of the UnionVan HelsingThe Lost World: Jurassic ParkA.I. Artificial Intelligence and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

In 2000, Imahara also competed in Comedy Central’s BattleBots with a robot he built himself called “Deadblow” that won two Middleweight Rumbles, was the first season’s Middleweight runner-up and became the third season’s first-ranked robot.

He was also an actor on The Guild and Star Trek Continues (as Sulu in the latter.)

John Scalzi, who knew him from a JoCo Cruise, wrote a short farewell.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • July 14, 1989 Muppets From Space premiered. It is the first film since the death of Jim Henson to have an original Muppet-focused plot, and is a breakaway from other Muppet films as it is the only non-musical Muppets film to date. Directed by Tim Hill, it was produced by Brian Henson and Martin G. Baker off a script written by Jerry Juhl, Joey Mazzarino and Ken Kaufman. It starred Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Frank Oz (in his last Muppet role), Jeffrey Tambor, F. Murray Abraham,  David Arquette, Josh Charles,  Hollywood Hogan, Ray Liotta and Andie MacDowell. Some critics really loved it, some really despised it and mourned the passing of Henson. It bombed at the box office. At Rotten Tomatoes, audience reviewers give it a not bad 58% rating.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born July 14, 1918 – Ingmar Bergman.  Director, writer, producer of film, television, theater, radio; questioning, perhaps re-creating, the human condition.  Five dozen films, fifteen dozen plays, half a dozen ours; one is Mozart’s Magic Flute; perhaps not The Magician, whose characters prove to be engaged in theatrical, not supernatural, magic.  Three Academy Awards, Golden Bear at Berlin, Palme des Palmes at Cannes, many more. (Died 2007) [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1926 – Jef De Wulf.  For us two dozen covers for works in French, like this and this; also this; five hundred all told.  Had his own photography studio, in the end worked with the photo department of a regional newspaper.  (Died 1994) [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1926 Harry Dean Stanton. My favorite genre role for him? The video for Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. No, I’m not kidding.  He also played Paul of Tarsus in The Last Temptation of Christ, Harold “Brain” Hellman in Escape from New York, Detective Rudolph “Rudy” Junkins in Christine, Bud in Repo Man, Carl Rod in Twin Peaks twice, Toot-Toot in The Green Mile, Harvey in Alien Autopsy and a Security Guard in The Avengers. He didn’t do a lot of genre tv, one episode of The Wild Wild West as Lucius Brand in “The Night of The Hangman” and a character named Lemon on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the “Escape to Sonoita” episode. (Died 2017.) (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1939 – George Slusser, Ph.D.  Eight books of SF criticism; anthologies of papers at U. Cal. Riverside’s Eaton Conference; Professor of Comparative Literature, first Curator of the Eaton Collection, Director of the Eaton Program for SF Studies.  “Clarke, along with Asimov and Heinlein … human dramas determined by advances in science and technology… to blend two otherwise opposite activities.”  Pilgrim Award.  (Died 2014) [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1943 Christopher Priest, 77. This is the Birthday of the One and True Christopher Priest. If I was putting together an introductory reading list to him, I’d start with The Prestige, add in the Islanders and its companion volume, The Dream Archipelago. Maybe Inverted World as well. How’s that sound?  (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1949 Nick Bantock, 71. This is a bit of a puzzler for me. He’s the creator of The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy and The Morning Star Trilogy, a series of faux letters and postcards telling a story between two individuals. ISFDB lists it as genre but I’ve never heard it described as such before, and it certainly isn’t shelved as such in bookstores that I’ve frequented. Who’s read it here? (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1960 – Michèle de Laframboise, 60.  A dozen novels for us, as many shorter stories in Abyss & ApexGalaxiesTesseract (“Women Are From Mars, Men Are From Venus”); others too.  For one of her books she did this cover with Jean-Pierre Normand.  Translated into German, Italian, Russian.  Three Auroras, Prix Cécile-GagnonPrix Solaris.  Website (in English and French, of course) here.  [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1960 – Larry Segriff, 60.  Two novels of Tom Jenkins, a young adult who finds adventure in the stars.  Ten shorter stories.  Three Tom Clancy Net Force tie-ins.  Ten anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg.  Productive and competent.  [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1964 Jane Espenson, 56. She had a five-year stint as a writer and producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer where she shared a Hugo Award at Torcon 3 for her writing on the “Conversations with Dead People” episode, and she shared another Hugo at Chicon 7 for Games of Thrones, season one. She was on the the writing staff for the fourth season of Torchwood and executive produced Caprica. And yes, she had a stint on the rebooted Galactica. (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1966 Brian Selznick, 54. Illustrator and writer best known as the writer of The Invention of Hugo Cabret which may or may not be genre. You decide. His later work, Wonderstruck, definitely is. The Marvels, a story of a travelling circus family is magical in its own right though not genre.  (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1979 – Yukiko Montoya, 41.  Novelist, playwright and theatrical director, radio and television host.  Akutagawa, Noma, Mishima, Ôe Prizes; Nanboku and Kishida Drama Awards.  Recent collection in English, The Lonesome Bodybuilder.  The New York Times says she wins over her audience by pushing the absurd to extremes.  For example, in “The Straw Husband” the narrator’s husband is –    [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1989 Sara Canning, 31. Major roles in A Series of Unfortunate Events,  Primeval: New World and The Vampire Dairies, she also appeared in Once Upon a TimeWar for the Planet Of The ApesAndroid EmployedSupernatural and Smallville to name some of her other genre work. (CE) 

(11) COMICS SECTION.

TwistedDoodles translates parenting into genre:  

(12) MR. RICO GOES TO WASHINGTON. David Gerrold told Facebook readers “Starship Troopers is the single most misunderstood book in the entire SF genre.” An excerpt:

….Now, to be fair — Heinlein stacked the deck. Not the first time, not the last time. In this book, the enemy exist as a relentless, unending horde of mindless giant insects. Bugs. There is nothing there to empathize with. They are killing machines — chitinous terminators. The only response is kill or be killed. And in that context, Heinlein’s assertin is justifiable.

Now, consider if the enemy was not some kind of alien bug — but instead, another branch of humanity. Or even just another nation with a shared border. And consider that the battle is not so much a fight to the death, but an argument over whether eggs should be broken at the big end or the little end. At that point, the whole discussion of military service breaks down with one simple question, “Are you fucking kidding me? You want me to die on that fucking hill?”

Second question? How well did Heinlein do it? Well, we’re still talking about the book 60 years later, so I would say that he did a damn good job. Except that we’re not just talking about the book, we’re arguing ferociously about it. So maybe his point wasn’t as clear as he intended it to be. The accusations of fascism have pretty much obscured the more interesting point, which is worth discussion even if we’re not at war:

What is the obligation of a citizen toward the nation in which he lives? If the citizen benefits from their participation, what is their obligation — but also if the citizen does not benefit, what are their options?…

(13) STAR WARS IN THE NEWS. From the New York Times article, “Headed to the Convention? No I, More Republicans are Saying”:

…Everyone in the media wants to act like it’s some big deal that Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander aren’t going to the convention,” said Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. “The reality is the number of delegates craving the octogenarians and septuagenarians of the Senate are surely lower than the number who have purchased their third Star Wars costume….

(14) A HIPPER FLIPPER. “Robot dolphins: the cruelty-free £20m ‘animal’ you can’t tell from the real thing”The Guardian will tell you call about it.

…They can respond to questions, swim happily in shopping mall display tanks, and withstand close contact that would usually be harmful to real animals – without any ethical problems. And they could soon be coming to aquariums in China.

Entrepreneurs in New Zealand are working with American creators of some of Hollywood’s most famous creatures to develop animatronic dolphins that look almost identical to their living counterparts.

A robotic dolphin that can nod an answer to a child – thanks to the human controlling it by remote – might sound unappealing or disconcerting. But as marine parks around the world face increasing pressure to abandon exhibitions featuring real whales and dolphins, the creatures provide an appealing alternative, their creators say.

(15) THE PICTURE OF HEALTH. “The new tattoo: Drawing electronics on skin:” Tagline: “MU engineers discover the possibility of using pencils to draw bioelectronics on human skin.”

… Since its invention, pencils — made of lead including various levels of graphite, clay and wax — have often been used for writing and drawing. In the study, the researchers discovered that pencils containing more than 90% graphite are able to conduct a high amount of energy created from the friction between paper and pencil caused by drawing or writing. Specifically, the researchers found pencils with 93% graphite were the best for creating a variety of on-skin bioelectronic devices drawn on commercial office copy paper. Yan said a biocompatible spray-on adhesive could also be applied to the paper to help it stick better to a person’s skin.

(16) THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY. HBO Max dropped a trailer for the animated series Close Enough, which premiered on the channel last week.

(17) THE LIGHTS IN THE STY ARE NOT STARS. Elly Griffiths speculates about “Why Marshes Capture Our Imaginations—And Inspire Some Of Our Most Unsettling Folklore” at CrimeReads.

…I first came across this legend when I was researching a book, which was subsequently called The Lantern Men. I soon found out that there are many myths and legends about mysterious lights appearing on marshland at night. One version links them to a wicked blacksmith called Jack who tricks the devil and so escapes hell but can never be allowed into heaven. Jack is condemned to walk the earth forever, carrying a single coal from hell inside a pumpkin. The tradition of putting lighted candles into pumpkins at Halloween, also known as jack o’ lanterns, probably comes from this fable.

Jack is not the only creature abroad at night. Sometimes the blacksmith is called Will and, in English folklore,  marsh lights are often called will o’ the wisps, wisp meaning a bundle of twigs tied together to make a torch.  There are some regional variations, hobby lanterns in the north and pixie lights in Devon and Cornwall, where hapless travelers are said to be ‘pixie led’.

(18) HOPE AND GLORY. BBC says “‘Hope’ and ambition drive UAE’s Mars mission”.

The United Arab Emirates will despatch a satellite to Mars to study its weather and climate this week.

Hope, as the 1.3-tonne probe is called, is launching on an H-2A rocket from Japan’s remote Tanegashima spaceport.

The 500-million-km journey should see the robotic craft arrive in February 2021 – in time for the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation.

Lift-off is scheduled for 05:43 local time on Friday (20:43 GMT; 21:43 BST on Thursday).

An earlier attempt on Wednesday was called off ahead of time because of expected poor weather conditions over Tanegashima.

…Why is the UAE going to Mars?

The UAE has limited experience of designing and manufacturing spacecraft – and yet here it is attempting something only the US, Russia, Europe and India have succeeded in doing. But it speaks to the Emiratis’ ambition that they should dare to take on this challenge.

Their engineers, mentored by American experts, have produced a sophisticated probe in just six years – and when this satellite gets to Mars, it’s expected to deliver novel science, revealing fresh insights on the workings of the planet’s atmosphere.

In particular, scientists think it can add to our understanding of how Mars lost much of its air and with it a great deal of its water.

The Hope probe is regarded very much as a vehicle for inspiration – something that will attract more young people in the Emirates and across the Arab region to take up the sciences in school and in higher education.

(19) UNWRAPPED BOXING DAY. “Rare Super Mario becomes highest-selling video game”.

A rare version of the classic 1985 Super Mario Bros has sold at auction for $114,000 (£90,000), the most ever paid for a video game.

The cartridge, still in its original packaging, sold to an anonymous bidder.

And the US auctioneer said demand “was extremely high”, partly because this particular packaging had been used for a short while only.

The previous record for an auctioned game was $100,000 – for a different copy of Super Mario.

(20) NOT ZERO YET. In Godzilla:  King of the Monsters Pitch Meeting on ScreenRant, Ryan George explains that the film has lots of characters who utter “science words” and Snarky Countdown Guy, who is snarky when he isn’t counting things down.

[Thanks to Rob Thornton, John Hertz, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, Daniel Dern, Contrarius, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 6/17/20 How Many Pixels Will It Take? One For Peter, Two For Paul, Three To Post On My Facebook Wall

(1) WORLD FANTASY CON UPDATE. The chairs of World Fantasy Con 2020 announced the availability of sponsored memberships for People of Color.

We at World Fantasy Convention 2020 support diversity in all aspects of fantasy and horror. It is our hope that our virtual convention will be attended by a diverse membership, many of whom are using their craft to create literature and art that not only entertain but introduce fantasy enthusiasts to a wide range of cultures. Many WFC members feel the same and are taking steps toward encouraging people of color to participate in this year’s virtual convention. As a result, we’ve received several offers to sponsor the memberships for people of color to participate in the Virtual World Fantasy Convention.
 
If you would like to apply for one of these sponsored memberships, please complete the request form.

The form includes this explanation —

Only two criteria are required to request one of these sponsored memberships: (1) you must be actively participating in some aspect of fantasy or horror (examples: author, artist, collector, bookseller, etc.); (2) you must consider yourself a person of color.

(2) F&SF. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’s July/Aug 2020 cover art by Alan M. Clark is for the story “All Hail the Pizza King and Bless His Reign Eternal” by David Erik Nelson.

(3) IN BLOOM AGAIN. Grady Hendrix offers advice about reading Ulysses. First, that you should do it.  

…Everyone should read Ulysses at some point in their life. It’s a book unlike any other, a book that knocks you out of your comfort zone, a book that makes your brain strain like you’re reaching for something on a high shelf, and it’s really, really funny. I’ve read it a couple of times and here’s my advice:

Step 1) RELAX.
You’re going to miss things. It’s okay. Some things are worth missing, some things are boring, some things are references that don’t make any sense in today’s world, so who cares? Joyce didn’t want people to puzzle out his book like the answers to an exam, he wanted to present a slice of life in all its freaky majesty and stupidity. Keep looking up at the stars, not down at your feet.

Step 2) Like a shark, keep moving forward.
Reading this book is like trying to drink a waterfall. The point is the overall impression, not so much the individual details. Just keep pushing ahead, don’t sit there with a magnifying glass trying to appreciate every single word. Joyce himself said he put in a buttload of puzzles and tricks and things that don’t make sense for literary critics and scholars, just to mess with their heads, so don’t get hung up on them…..

(4) TROOPER STORM. A conflict between the top officer of the Star Wars costuming group the 501st Legion and a local United Kingdom unit led to a suspension of the officer: “Major Costume Club Drama: 501st LCO Ousted in Apparent Coup d’État”, a long post at Costuming, Cosplay & Costume Clubs 101, tries to explain what happened.

We’ve observed different types and degrees of #CostumeClub drama over a period of more than 10 years, but never have we seen something as “grand mal” as this: in a secret hearing held by the world’s largest costume club, the 501st Legion, the club’s president (called the Legion Commanding Officer, or LCO) was found “guilty” of a minor offense and sentencing her to a six-month suspension from the club. This effectively removed her from the position of LCO that she had been elected to in February, 2020….

  • The LCO, under her authority to oversee the club, questioned the leadership of the UKG (the 501st local chapter, or garrison, in the United Kingdom) about their charitable donation practices, which include the possible misuse of collected funds, as well as the possible intimidation of UKG members to donate in order to be permitted to participate at club events. In other words, “pay for play”, which is a violation of the 501st’s charter, as is the possible misuse of the collected funds.
  • Members of the UKG leadership accused the LCO of “humiliating” them on their forum and brought charges against her.
  • Using the club’s bylaws, the Legion leadership then held a hearing (a secretive hearing that the overall membership had no knowledge of until it was too late) in which the LCO was found guilty and sentenced to a six month suspension, effectively removing her from the position of LCO.

(5) BIGFOOT. On Soundcloud, hear an excerpt from Devolution by Max Brooks read by Judy Greer, Max Brooks, Jeff Daniels, Nathan Fillion and full cast.

The #1 bestselling author of World War Z returns with a horror tale that blurs the lines between human and beast, and asks, What are we capable of when we’re cut off from society?

Entertainment Weekly interviewed Brooks about his new novel:

In Devolution, the residents of a remote and tiny Washington town called Greenlop are menaced by creatures following the eruption of Mount Rainier.

“As with all my books, for every hour I spent writing, I must have spent maybe between 10 and a hundred hours researching,” says Brooks. “I mean, I researched everything. I researched how Mount Rainier would really erupt. I researched how those houses — these smart eco-homes — would actually work with a friend of mine who worked for Microsoft. I made those weapons, by hand, just to see if they were possible, with the materials the character have. I went to the Pacific Northwest to the space where I put Greenloop to see if my characters could walk out on their own. And, just FYI, they couldn’t. That is some brutal lethal terrain out there. As far as the Bigfoot creatures themselves, I’ve always studied the lore but I really tried to research genuine primate biology and behavior. I tried to go the factual route. If there was a giant species of ape living in North America, how would they live? I went the path of facts and science.”

(6) BARKING ZONE. Marona’s Fantastic Tale on YouTube is a trailer for a new French animated film that was virtually released last Friday.

Marona is a half-breed Labrador whose life leaves deep traces among the humans she encounters. After an accident, she reflects on all the homes and different experiences she’s had. As Marona’s memory journeys into the past, her unfailing empathy and love brings lightness and innocence into each of her owners’ lives

(7) BRYMER OBIT. Well-known puppeteer Pat Brymer died April 12 at the age of 70 according to The Hollywood Reporter.

…Brymer also served as principal puppeteer on Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police (2004), for which he also “portrayed” Baxter, the bartender and limo driver. His credits included such other features as Short Circuit (1986), My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988), So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), Extreme Movie (2008).

Star Wars veteran John Dykstra led the team that built the animatronic Bushwood Country Club gopher that bedeviled Murray’s Carl Spackler in Caddyshack (1980), but it was Brymer, as the principal puppeteer, who gave him life.

Brymer created an updated version of the woolly Lamb Chop character for renowned puppeteer and ventriloquist Shari Lewis. In the 1990s, they collaborated on the PBS shows Lamb Chop’s Play-Along and The Charlie Horse Music Pizza and on Lamb Chop on Broadway.

(8) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • June 1940 — In the John W. Campbell, Jr. edited Astounding Science-Fiction, Robert Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll” was first published. Heinlein would reprint it in The Man Who Sold The MoonThe Past Through Tomorrow and The Best of Robert Heinlein. Through the Eighties, it was a favorite of genre anthologists. It was adapted for both Dimension X and X Minus One. MidAmeriCon II (2016) would give it a Retro Hugo for Best Novelette over “Blowups Happen” by, errr, the same author. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.] [Note: There was a problem forwarding John’s entries to OGH with the hyperlinks included. They will be added as soon as possible,]

  • Born June 17, 1876 – Norman Grisewood.  His Zarlah the Martian of 1909, with travel between planets, and an advanced civilization on Mars that had antigravity machines, made him a pioneer; Gernsback’s Ralph 124C41+ came in 1911.  (Died 1923) [JH]
  • Born June 17, 1898 – Maurits Cornelis Escher.  Called himself a “reality enthusiast”.  Worked mainly in lithographs and woodcuts.  “Mathematicians,” he wrote, “have opened the gate leading to an extensive domain.”  Touched our field with e.g. Relativity and Waterfall.  His work used e.g. for this cover of Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang and this one of The Book of Sand and Shakespeare’s Memory.  (Died 1972) [JH]
  • Born June 17, 1903 William Bogart. Pulp fiction writer. He is best remembered for writing several Doc Savage novels, using the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson. Actually, he’s responsible for thirteen of the novels, a goodly share of the number done. It’s suspected that most of his short stories were Doc Savage pastiches. (Died 1977.)(CE)
  • Born June 17, 1931 Dean Ing, 89. I’m reasonably sure the first thing I read by him was Soft Targets and I know I read all of his Man-Kzin Wars stories as I went through a phase of reading all that popcorn literature set in Niven’s universe. I also liked his L-5 Community series which he wrote with Mack Reynolds though I won’t re-read it lest the suck fairy visit it. It looks like he stopped writing genre fiction about fifteen years ago. (CE)
  • Born June 17, 1941 William Lucking, 79. Here because he played Renny in Doc Savage: Man of Bronze. (I know I’ve seen it, but I’ll be damned if I remember much about it.’)  He’s also had one-offs in Mission: ImpossibleThe Incredible HulkThe American HeroThe QuestVoyagersX-FilesThe Lazarus ManMillenniumDeep Space Nine and Night Stalker. (CE)
  • Born June 17, 1948 – Sandy Cohen 72.  A dozen book notes for Delap’s F & SF Review.  Helpful at many conventions; a leading Art Show auctioneer; recently his management of the Dealers’ Room at the 2019 World Fantasy Con was applauded in Locus 707.  [JH]
  • Born June 17, 1953 Phyllis Weinberg, 67. She’s a fan who was married to fellow fan Robert E. Weinberg. She co-edited the first issue of The Weird Tales Collector. She co-chaired World Fantasy Convention 1996. (CE)
  • Born June 17, 1955 – Themistokles Kanellakis, 65. Prolific Perry Rhodan artist; eighty covers, three hundred sixty interiors.  Here is a cover for Terra Astra featuring “Wanderer” [Cora Buhlert, is that right for Irrläufer?] and another featuring “The Forbidden Generation”.  [JH]
  • Born June 17, 1977 – Tomasz Jedruszek, 43. A dozen covers, interiors too.  Here is a Kuttner collection headed by “Robots Have No Tails”; here is Sparrow Fallinghere is Holy Sister.  [JH]
  • Born June 17, 1982 Jodie Whittaker, 38. The Thirteenth Doctor, now in her third series. She played Ffion Foxwell in the Black Mirror‘s “The Entire History of You”, and was Samantha Adams in Attack the Block, a horror SF film. (CE)
  • Born June 17, 1982 Arthur Darvill, 38. Actor who’s had two great roles. The first was playing Rory Williams, one of the Eleventh Doctor’s companions. The second, and to my mind the more interesting of the two, was playing the time-traveller Rip Hunter in the Legends of Tomorrow. He also played Seymour Krelborn in The Little Shop of Horrors at the Midlands Arts Centre, and Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus at Shakespeare’s Globe. (CE)
  • Born June 17, 1997 – Jadna Alana,23. Brazilian writer, singer, “always surrounded by books and with many ideas in her head”; first novel published at age 18, two more, two shorter stories.  This anthology has her “Shadow of Night”.  [JH]

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • xkcd shows that some resources are more renewable than you think, if you have the right technology.
  • The Wizard of Id has an unexpected notion about throwing a curse.

(11) MY BACK PAGES. Rich Lynch invites readers to download “the newest issue of my personal time capsule,” My Back Pages, at eFanzines.

Issue #24 was assembled in the middle of the ongoing world health crisis and has essays involving large cities and small college towns, a heavenly altarpiece and a demon barber, lost photographs and discovered keepsakes, huge spheres and regular-sized disk jockeys, blue skies and a robot deluge, national elections and regional theatre, famous writers and forgotten outcomes, major tourist attractions and minor league baseball, sharp razors and a pandemic beard, fan friends and an unseen enemy, cancelled conventions and rescheduled meetings, rich pastries and penniless college students, good musicals and bad taste, dumb questions and dumber suggestions.  And also the stuff legends are made of.

(12) THE ANSWER MY FRIENDS. You’ll find it blowing in “The Wind in the Willows: Part One” available for listening online at the Parson’s Nose Theater.

Kenneth Grahame’s charmingly funny 1907 tale of the “Riverbankers” – Moley, Ratty, Badger, Toad – the animals (or are they?) who dwell along the Thames. Culled from bedtime tales he told his blind son, Alistair, Grahame’s stories are full of the universal longing for friendship, home, adventure and courage adults seem to forget about until reminded, and then are so delighted to have found again.

(13) HONEST TRAILER TIME. The Screen Junkies continue their series of “honest trailers” for old movies with a look at Shrek 2.

(14) FROM ANOTHER WORLD. “Scientists Find The Biggest Soft-Shelled Egg Ever, Nicknamed ‘The Thing'”. My first reaction was that they didn’t exactly stretch their creativity trying to name this specimen. Then again, it was found in Antarctica, and maybe they had the Campbell story in mind, which would be clever. The NPR article doesn’t say.

…The object was more than 11 by 7 inches in size and looked like a deflated football. Clarke immediately realized that The Thing was a giant egg — a soft-shelled egg. And it was from 66 million years ago, around the time when an asteroid hit Earth and led to dinosaur extinction.

Many turtles, snakes and lizards lay eggs with soft, flexible shells. The Thing is the largest soft-shelled egg ever, by a long shot, says Clarke.

This fossilized egg is also one of the biggest animal eggs ever discovered, second only to the egg of the extinct elephant bird from Madagascar.

It’s also appropriate that this piece originated on NPR’s All Things Considered. Get it? D’oh.

(15) WHERE IT ALL CAME DOWN. This demonstrates the power of…something. Oregonlive reports “Now you can visit Exploding Whale Memorial Park on the Oregon coast”.

Florence, near where the whale — or as a KATU reporter referred to it at the time “a stinking whale of a problem” — washed up, is finally honoring this beautiful moment in history with a new park.

It was the people of Florence who picked the name Exploding Whale Memorial Park.

“We asked the community for name suggestions, narrowed those 120-plus names down to nine, and had the community vote on them,” said Florence city project manager Megan Messmer.

The park offers views of the Siuslaw River and Bridge and the sand dunes on the south side of the river, according to the City of Florence’s website.

(16) THEY SEEK IT HERE, THEY SEEK IT THERE. “Dark matter hunt yields unexplained signal”

An experiment searching for signs of elusive dark matter has detected an unexplained signal.

Scientists working on the Xenon1T experiment have detected more activity within their detector than they would otherwise expect.

This “excess of events” could point to the existence of a previously undetected dark matter particle called an axion.

Dark matter comprises 85% of matter in the cosmos, but its nature is unknown.

Whatever it is, it does not reflect or emit detectable light, hence the name.

There are three potential explanations for the new signal from the Xenon1T experiment. Two require new physics to explain, while one of them is consistent with a hypothesised dark matter particle called a solar axion.

The findings have been published on the Arxiv pre-print server.

(17) I’M FOREVER… “Blowing bubbles: Soapy spheres pop pollen on fruit trees.” The BBC has the story:

Japanese researchers have succeeded in fertilising pear trees using pollen carried on the thin film of a soap bubble.

They’ve been searching for alternative approaches to pollination, because of the decline in the number of bees worldwide.

When fired from a bubble gun, the delicate soapy spheres achieved a success rate of 95%.

The researchers are now testing drones that fire bubbles for pollination.

(18) BIG SJWCs. “Endangered cheetahs snapped in award-winning photos”. See the few places where cheetahs are prospering… Lots of pictures, including a carnivorous pushmi-pullyu.

Charity picture book series Remembering Wildlife has announced the 10 winners of its cheetah photography competition.

The winners were picked from more than 2,400 entrants, with the winning images showing cheetahs in Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa.

The images will be published in the book Remembering Cheetahs in October this year, alongside images donated by world-leading wildlife photographers. Competition entry fees will be distributed to cheetah-protection projects in Namibia and Kenya.

With slightly more than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, Remembering Wildlife aims to create awareness of the threats to wildlife.

(19) NOISE REDUCTION. Sounds too good to be true. “Facebook to let users turn off political adverts”.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg says users will be able to turn off political adverts on the social network in the run-up to the 2020 US election.

…Rival social platform Twitter banned political advertising last October.

“For those of you who’ve already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you — so we’re also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Neil Gaiman — 3 Books That Have Changed My Life” on YouTube is a video from 2010 where Gaiman talks about his love of C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, and Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore and drawn by Steve Bissette.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Michael Toman, Dennis Howard, Andrew Porter, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Cat Eldridge, John Hertz, Mike Kennedy, BravoLimaPoppa, Gordon Van Gelder, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xopher Halftongue.]

Pixel Scroll 6/14/20 To Follow Pixels Like A Sinking Star,
Beyond The Utmost Bounds Of Human Scrolls

(1) DROPPING THE PILOT. “Harry Potter Fans Reimagine Their World Without Its Creator” – the New York Times listened to some fans who are trying to make the division.

…Over the past week, some fans said that they had decided to simply walk away from the world that spans seven books, eight movies and an ever-expanding franchise. Others said that they were trying to separate the artist from the art, to remain in the fandom while denouncing someone who was once considered to be royalty.

“J.K. Rowling gave us Harry Potter; she gave us this world,” said Renae McBrian, a young adult author who volunteers for the fan site MuggleNet. “But we created the fandom, and we created the magic and community in that fandom. That is ours to keep.”

The essay was particularly gutting for transgender and nonbinary fans, many of whom found solace in the world of “Harry Potter” and used to see the series as a way to escape anxiety.

(2) ONE MINNEAPOLIS SFF BOOKSTORE BACK IN BUSINESS. Greg Ketter’s DreamHaven Books has reopened.

(3) TINY THEOLOGY. The Small Gods series by Lee Moyer (icons) and Seanan McGuire (stories) reported here last month has assembled quite a pantheon in the past few weeks. See them all here.

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Sometimes education isn’t enough. Sometimes you can study and study and try and try, and never quite cross the last bridge between where you are and your heart’s desire. Sometimes you need to tell the perfect little lie to get there. Once upon a time there was a small god of goldfinches named Yucan who wanted nothing more in the world than to be a god of toucans, to manifest himself as a big, beautiful, tropical bird that people would stop to ooo and ahh over when they saw it in the trees, something impressive. It was a good thing to be a god of songbirds. There weren’t as many of them as there had been before cats became quite so popular as house pets, and the ones remaining needed all the divine intervention they could get their wings on. He appreciated their attention and their worship, but he wanted, so very badly, to be more than his nature was allowing him to be. So he hatched, over the course of several slow decades, a plan, and one night, with no warning whatsoever, his faithful woke and found him gone. He had abandoned his divine duties, flown the coop, left the nest, and no one could find a single feather left behind! All the little birdies were distraught…but not for very long, as little birdies have short memories, and there were other gods of songbirds around to serve. If it wasn’t quite the same, well, nothing ever is, not even following the same god from one day to another. They adjusted. They adapted. And far away, a very small god with a very big dream put his plans into action. He donned a false face, he told everyone who met him that he was the god of endangered tropical birds, and if no one had ever seen him before, well, some of those birds were very endangered. Deforestation and poaching, don’cha know? So many dangers to evade. So many fledglings to protect. So he lied, and lied, and pretended, and did his best to live up to his own lies. He protected those who came to him, he spread his wings over the nests of species unknown to science, and he tried, and he lied, and he tried. (Continued in comments)

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(4) ESTATE SALE. There are 209 items up for bid in Everything But The House’s “Resnick Estate: Sci-Fi Writer’s World”. Sale continues through June 18.

Born in Chicago in 1942, Mike Resnick always wanted to be a writer. During his prolific career he wrote over 40 science fiction novels, 150 stories, 10 story collections, and edited more than 30 anthologies. Mike’s list of awards and recognitions is lengthy as well; they include 5 Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and more than 30 other awards. He was the Guest of Honor at Chicon 7, the 70th Worldcon.

Mike met his soul mate Carol, married at 19, then spent nearly 58 years side by side. In fact, when it came to his writing, Mike once said that “Nothing goes out without Carol (my wife) seeing it, editing it, and making suggestions.”

Please enjoy perusing this unique estate featuring otherworldly art, sci-fi collectibles, books and a peek into Mike & Carol Resnick’s wonderful world.

(5) Q&A & BAGELS. Scott Edelman had a vision – that fans should binge on bagels while he finishes answering listeners’ questions at Eating the Fantastic.

It’s been more than three months since I met with Michael Dirda to record the last — though it would be more accurate to instead call it the most recent — face-to-face episode of Eating the Fantastic. Since then, I also shared two episodes recorded remotely — with Sarah Pinsker and Justina Ireland — each with its own special reason for allowing me to step beyond this podcast’s meatspace culinary mandate.

But because it still seems unsafe out there for a guest to meet with me within the walls of the restaurant, you and I are now about to sequester together, just as we did four episodes ago, when we sheltered in place, and two episodes back, when we practiced social distancing.

Thirty questions remained from my original call to listeners and previous guests of the show, and this time I managed to get through all of them. 

I answered questions about whether my early days in fandom and early writing success helped my career, which anthology I’d like to edit if given the chance, what different choices I wish I’d made over my lifetime, what I predict for the future of food, how the pandemic has affected my writing, if anything I’ve written has ever scared me, whether writer’s block is a reality or a myth, which single comic book I’d want to own if I could only have one, how often I’m surprised by something a guest says, the life lessons I learned from Harlan Ellison, and much more.

(6) CLARION ALUMS ARE ZOOMING. You are invited to register for the 2020 Clarion Summer Conversations. The first two are —

Join the Clarion Foundation for conversations with writers from the Clarion alumni community about writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

This week, our guests are Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, and Ashley Blooms, moderated by Karen Joy Fowler.

Join the Clarion Foundation for conversations with writers from the Clarion alumni community about writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

This week, our guests are Eileen Gunn, Ted Chiang, Lilliam Rivera, and Sam J. Miller, moderated by Kim Stanley Robinson.

(7) FIRST CONTACT. Yesterday, Bill reminded us that the premiere of Forbidden Planet at a 1956 SF convention. The attached photo is from the local news coverage of that event – and includes Bob Madle, whose hundredth birthday we celebrated earlier this month.

(8) MEDIA BIRTHDAYS.

  • June 1965 – Fifty-five years ago this month, Arthur C. Clarke’s Prelude to Mars was published by Harcourt, Brace & World. A hardcover edition of 497 pages, it would’ve cost you $4.95. You got two novels, Prelude to Space and Sands of Mars, plus a novelette, “Second Dawn.” You also got a lot of stories, sixteen in total, many of them from his Tales from The White Hart series.
  • June 1973 — This month in 1973, Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love was first published. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama would beat it out for the Hugo for Best Novel at Discon II. It was given a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. It’s the life of Lazarus Long told in exhaustive detail. Critics including Theodore Sturgeon loved it, and John Leonard writing for the NYT called it “great entertainment”. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born June 14, 1908 Stephen Tall. His first published  work was “The Lights on Precipice Peak“ in Galaxy, October 1955. Not a prolific writer, he’d do about twenty stories over the next quarter of a century and two novels as well, The Ramsgate Paradox and The People Beyond the Wall. “The Bear with the Knot on His Tail” was nominated for a Hugo. He has not yet made into the digital realm other than “The Lights on Precipice Peak“ being available on iBooks. (Died 1981.) (CE)
  • Born June 14, 1914 Ruthven Todd. He’s here for his delightful children’s illustrated trio of Space Cat books — Space Cat Visits Venus, Space Cat Meets Mars and Space Cat and the Kittens. I’m please to say they’re available at all the usual digital suspects. He also wrote Over the Mountain and The Lost Traveller which are respectively a lost world novel and a dystopian novel. (Died 1978.) (CE)
  • Born June 14, 1917 – Maeve Gilmore.  British author, painter, pianist, sculptor, notable to us for helping her husband Mervyn Peake, generally and with Titus.  After Titus Groan and Gormenghast MP’s health was declining; she halted her own career to give him a hand; he barely finished Titus Alone, published without its final polish.  Notes for a fourth book largely illegible.  After his death she wrote a memoir A World Away and worked on the notes, then she too was gone.  For MP’s birth-centennial in 2011 his children and grandchildren published one of several versions as Titus Awakes.  Michael Moorcock said it “successfully echoes the music of the originals, if not the eloquent precision of Peake’s baroque style”.  (Died 1983) [JH]
  • Born June 14, 1917 – Arthur Lidov.  Illustrator, inventor, muralist, sculptor.  Did the first cover for The Martian Chronicles.  Had already done representational work; here is a 1942 mural Railroading in the Post Office of Chillicothe, Illinois.  Here is his work in a 1950 television ad.  Also real things in a way that might be called fantastic; here and here are paintings for “How Food Becomes Fuel” in the 7 Dec 62 Life.  He still did SF; here is his illustration for “The Cathedral of Mars” (by W. Sambrot; Saturday Evening Post, 24 Jun 61).  Here is a 1982 painting Alpha Universe.  (Died 1990) [JH]
  • Born June 14, 1919 Gene Barry. His first genre role was in The War of the Worlds as Dr. Clayton Forrester. He’d have a number of later genre appearances including several on Science Fiction TheatreAlfred Hitchcock PresentsThe Devil and Miss SarahThe Girl, the Gold Watch & Dynamite, multiple appearances on Fantasy Island and The Twilight Zone. He’d appear in the ‘05 War of The Worlds credited simply as “Grandfather”. (Died 2009.) (CE)
  • Born June 14, 1921 William Hamling. Author and editor who was active as an sf fan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. His first story “War with Jupiter”, written with Mark Reinsberg, appeared in Amazing Stories in May 1939. He’d write only short stories, some nineteen of them, over the next twenty years. Genre adjacent, his Shadow of the Sphinx is a horror novel about an ancient Egyptian sorceress. He would be the editor of two genre zines, Imagination for most of the Fifties, and Imaginative Tales during the Fifties as well. He published four issues of the Stardust fanzine in 1940, and contributed to the 1940 Worldcon program. (Died 2017.) (CE)
  • Born June 14, 1923 – Lloyd Rognan.  After discharge from World War II (Purple Heart in the Normandy landing; served on The Stars and Stripes) and freelancing in Paris he worked for Hamling’s Greenleaf Publications, thus Imagination and Imaginative Tales; a score of covers, a dozen interiors.  Here is a biography, with a 1956 cover.  Here is a cover from 1957.  (Died 2005) [JH]
  • Born June 14, 1939 Penelope Farmer, 81. English writer best known for children’s fantasy novels. Her best-known novel is Charlotte Sometimes, a boarding-school story that features a multiple time slip. There’s two more novels in this, the Emma / Charlotte series, The Summer Birds and Emma in Winter. Another children’s fantasy by her, A Castle of Bone, concerns a portal in a magic shop. (CE)
  • Born June 14, 1948 – Laurence Yep.  Twenty novels, thirty shorter stories for us; forty more novels; picture books; plays. Ph.D. in English.  Newbery Medal; Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Fiction; Woodson, Phoenix Awards; Wilder Medal (as it then was; career contribution to American children’s literature).  Golden Mountain (Chinese immigrants’ name for America, particularly San Francisco) Chronicles, though not ours, valuably tell that story from 1849.  “I was too American to fit into Chinatown, and too Chinese to fit in anywhere else.”  Married his editor and wrote books with her.  Note that dragons, which he writes about, although fantasy in China are quite different there and in the West.  Memoir, The Lost Garden.  [JH]
  • Born June 14, 1949 – Harry Turtledove.  Ninety novels, a hundred eighty shorter stories, translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, under his own and other names, and with co-authors.  Famous for alternative history; three Sidewise Awards.  Best-Novella Hugo for “Down in the Bottomlands”.  Toastmaster at Chicon VI the 58th Worldcon.  Forry Award.  Guest of Honor at – among others – Loscon 23, Deepsouthcon 34, Rivercon 23, Windycon XXII and XXXII, Westercon 55, Eastercon 53 (U.K. nat’l con).  Perfectly innocent Ph.D. in Byzantine history which he then used for more fiction.  Once while I was moderating “Twenty Questions for Turtledove” audience questions ran out so I made up some; afterward I said “You should thank me”; he said “Certainly; why?” and I said “I didn’t ask Why did Byzantium fall?”  [JH]
  • Born June 14, 1958 James Gurney, 62. Artist and author best known for his illustrated Dinotopia book series. He won a Hugo for Best Original Artwork at L.A. Con III for Dinotopia: The World Beneath, and was twice nominated for a Hugo for Best Professional Artist. The dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was named in his honor. (CE)
  • Born June 14, 1972 – Adrian Tchaikovsky.  Born Czajkowski, living in England.  Instead of spelling his namelike any reasonable Pole he agreed to Tchaikovsky for the convenience of English-language readers; then when his books were going to Poland he was stuck with it (“this tale of Frankish ignorance”).  Clarke and British Fantasy awards.  Honorary Doctorate of the Arts.  Nine novels in Shadows of the Apt series, two in Children of Time, three in Echoes of the Fall, five more; eighty shorter stories.  Amateur entomologist.  [JH]

(10) OFFENSIVE WEAPONRY. ScreenRant made a list to laugh at: “The 10 Most Hilariously Lame Sci-Fi Weapons In Movies, Ranked”.

Sci-fi films have weapons of all sorts and many of them might seem to be impractical or unrealistic but they still continue to fascinate us….

The absolute worst is —

1. Bat-Shark Repellent- Batman: The Movie (1966)

Adam West’s Batman gave a lighthearted avatar to the caped crusader, giving viewers some priceless ‘so bad that it’s good moments’. In 1966’s Batman: The Movie, Batman is escaping from an ocean while Robin pilots the Bat-Plane above. Robin drops a ladder for Batman to climb but right then, a shark charges at the dark knight.

In a calm and composed tone, Batman asks his accomplice to throw him a can of Bat-Shark Repellent. This random item has no match in terms of lameness and creativity.

(11) BAEN PUBLISHES JANISSARIES SEQUEL. The fourth book in Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries series has been completed posthumously. Baen has a three-part dialog between the writers who finished t.

David Weber and Phillip Pournelle discuss Mamelukes, by Jerry Pournelle. When the late, great Dr. Jerry Pournelle passed away, he left behind the nearly completed manuscript for science fiction novel Mamelukes. Now Pournelle’s son, Phillip Pournelle, and Honor Harrington series creator David Weber have completed the book. This is an entry in Jerry Pournelle’s legendary Janissaries series;

Part I:

Part II:

Part III: The third segment is only in podcast form at this writing:

(12) NEWS TO ME. Puffs “is a stage play written by Matt Cox as a transformative & transfigured work under the magic that is US Fair Use laws.”

Puffs is not authorised, sanctioned, licensed or endorsed by J.K Rowling, Warner Bros. or any person or company associated with the Harry Potter books, films or play.

Here’s the brief description:

For seven years a certain boy wizard went to a certain Wizard School and conquered evil. This, however, is not his story. This is the story of the Puffs… who just happened to be there too. A tale for anyone who has never been destined to save the world.

(13) NEW HORIZONS. “As California Trains 20,000 Contact Tracers, Librarians and Tax Assessors Step Up”.

After more than two months at home, Lisa Fagundes really misses her work managing the science fiction book collection of the San Francisco Public Library. She feels like she’s in withdrawal, longing to see new books, touch them, smell them. “It’s like a disease,” she says, laughing.

But recently, she’s been learning how to combat a different disease: COVID-19. While libraries are closed, Fagundes is one of dozens of librarians in San Francisco training to become contact tracers, workers who call people who have been exposed to the coronavirus and ask them to self-quarantine so they don’t spread it further.

Librarians are an obvious choice for the job, says Fagundes, who normally works at the information desk of the San Francisco Main Library. They’re curious, they’re tech savvy, and they’re really good at getting people they barely know to open up.

“Because a lot of times patrons come up to you and they’re like, ‘Uh, I’m looking for a book –’ and they don’t really know what they’re looking for or they don’t know how to describe it,” Fagundes says.

Or they’re teens afraid to admit out loud that they’re looking for books about sex or queer identity. Fagundes is used to coaxing it out of them in an unflappable, non-judgmental way. Similar skills are needed for contact tracing, which involves asking people about their health status and personal history.

“Talking about sensitive subjects is a natural thing for librarians,” she says. “It’s a lot of open ended questions, trying to get people to feel that you’re listening to them and not trying to take advantage or put your own viewpoint on their story.”

Fagundes is part of the first team of contact tracers trained through a new virtual academy based at the University of California – San Francisco. The state awarded the university an $8.7 million contract in May to expand the academy and train 20,000 new contact tracers throughout California by July — one of the largest such efforts in the country.

(14) CASE SETTLED. Possibly the final word on a Pixel from 18 months ago: “Gatwick drone arrest couple receive £200k payout from Sussex Police”.

A couple arrested over the Gatwick Airport drone chaos that halted flights have received £200,000 in compensation.

Armed police stormed the home of Paul and Elaine Gait in December 2018, and held them for 36 hours after drones caused the airport to close repeatedly.

The couple were released without charge, and sued Sussex Police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

On Sunday, their legal team announced the force had agreed to an out-of-court settlement package.

Sussex Police confirmed it has paid the couple the £55,000 owed in damages, and law firm Howard Kennedy said it has billed the force an additional £145,000 in legal costs.

Flights were cancelled in droves over a three-day period, as police investigated multiple reported drone sightings.

No-one has ever been charged, and police have said that some reported drone sightings may have been Sussex Police’s own craft.

Twelve armed officers swooped on Mr and Mrs Gait’s home, even though they did not possess any drones and had been at work during the reported sightings.

(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “More Creative Writing And Tips From Stephen King” on YouTube is a 2016 compilation by Nicola Monaghan of writing advice Stephen King has given in lectures at the University of Massachusetts.

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

Pixel Scroll 5/15/20 Hey, Scrollers! Watch Me Pull a Pixel Out of My Hat!

(1) NEXT TREK. CBS All Access dropped a trailer for Star Trek:  Strange New Worlds, a spinoff from Star Trek; Discovery that stars Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn.

Fans spoke, Star Trek listened, and a new series aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise is on the horizon! Watch stars Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn excitedly break the big news. Stay tuned for more information on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, coming soon to CBS All Access. In the meantime, stream full episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, exclusively in the U.S. on CBS All Access.

(2) NOT ENTIRELY A BAD THING. The Romance Writers of America have cancelled the annual gathering planned for San Francisco in August, another consequence of the pandemic. Attendance levels were already in doubt due to the upheaval and disaffection in the group this year, which led to this reaction from Courtney Milan —

(3) DEALING WITH A FAMILIAR MEDIA WEAPON. On Saturday, May 16, professionals in the field of influence operations (“Fake News”) will join Gadi Evron, Sounil Yu, Malka Older, and special guest David Weber to discuss how disinformation can be countered from an operational standpoint, as well as its effects on society and policy. “Countering ‘Fake News’: Professionals Speak” at Essence of Wonder. Registration required

Panel one will cover the effects of “Fake News” on society, and the shaping of policy around the topic. Panel two will dive deeply into methodologies, operational tools, and techniques, for countering “Fake News” attacks.

(4) THINKING ABOUT ADAPTATIONS. The World Fantasy Con 2020 blog featured one of their GoH’s in an “Interview with Charlaine Harris”.

WFC2020: The Sookie Stackhouse books were made into the series True Blood, which ran seven years. In the books Lafayette (the fry cook) doesn’t last long, but the actor, Nelsan Harris, was so popular his role was expanded in the series. What other changes were made to the books’ characters?

CH: I thought the character of Jessica (Deborah Wohl) was a fabulous addition to the storyline. Wished I had thought of her. The fae on screen turned out to be not at all what was in my head, but it worked for the purposes of the show. I loved the sets, which I saw several times: Sookie’s house, Jason’s house, Merlotte’s. And all the actors were amazing. Alan Ball is a genius at casting. Nelsan was wonderful!

(5) HEAR MORE FROM HARRIS. And on May 23, Essence of Wonder will present “Masters of Urban Fantasy: Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Dana Cameron, and Toni L.P. Kelner”. (Registration required.)

Dana Cameron, Toni L.P. Kelner (a.k.a. Leigh Perry), Patricia Briggs, and Charlaine Harris will join us on Essence of Wonder with Gadi Evron for geeky shenanigans in a panel discussion about Worldbuilding (and maybe pets). Before the panel, Charlaine will interview Patricia on her new Mercy Thompson book, “Smoke Bitten. Join us for this special show with The Leading Ladies of Urban Fantasy on Saturday (23 May).

(6) DON’T MISS OUT. Another WFC 2020 guest of honor, Steve Rasnic Tem, telling about “My First WFC”, includes this wisdom:

…My late friend Ed Bryant and I would sometimes read the glowing tributes to authors who had passed and Ed would say, “Well, I hope they told them these nice things while they were still alive.” Attending a World Fantasy Convention gives you a great opportunity to practice Ed’s advice. The sad fact is you may not have another chance.

(7) IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING. Tor.com is serializing “Never Say You Can’t Survive: How To Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories”:

Charlie Jane Anders is writing a nonfiction book—and Tor.com is publishing it as she does so. Never Say You Can’t Survive is a how-to book about the storytelling craft, but it’s also full of memoir, personal anecdote, and insight about how to flourish in the present emergency.

Below is the Introduction, followed by the first chapter, “How To Make Your Own Imaginary Friends”

New installments will appear every Tuesday at noon EST.

Here’s an excerpt –

….So I’m writing a series of essays called Never Say You Can’t Survive, all about how writing and making up stories can help you to survive a terrifying moment in history. (These essays came out of a talk that I gave at the Willamette Writers Conference and elsewhere. And their title is borrowed from the 1977 album of the same name by Curtis Mayfield, which is a piece of music that has given me so much strength and inspiration over the years.)

Stories of Darkness and Escapism

When I wrote “Don’t Press Charges And I Won’t Sue,” I was going to the darkest possible place I could go in a story, and putting my protagonist through the most dehumanizing treatment I could imagine. I needed to face up to the absolute worst that could happen, so I felt like I understood it a little better. I also needed to write about someone facing up to the most nightmarish scenario and still emerging in one piece, surviving, even though it’s a dark ending.

Writing a horrifying story on your own terms means that you can show how someone can survive, or even triumph. And meanwhile, you can cast a light on the injustice of oppressive systems. You can also choose the frame and eliminate some of the ambiguity in some situations, to make things more stark and more clear, or to make juxtapositions that illuminate how the problem started, and how it’ll be in the future.

When you’re telling the story, you get to draw all the lines….

(8) 1990’S GAME MAGAZINE. The Digital Antiquarian presents a bit of video game history in “The Shareware Scene, Part 3: The id Boys”.

…Thus he was receptive on the day in early 1990 when one of his most productive if headstrong programmers, a strapping young metalhead named John Romero, suggested that Softdisk start a new MS-DOS disk magazine, dedicated solely to games — the one place where, what with Apogee’s success being still in its early stages, shareware had not yet clearly cut into Softdisk’s business model. After some back-and-forth, the two agreed to a bi-monthly publication known as Gamer’s Edge, featuring at least one — preferably two — original games in each issue. To make it happen, Romero would be allowed to gather together a few others who were willing to work a staggering number of hours cranking out games at an insane pace with no resources beyond themselves for very little money at all. Who could possibly refuse an offer like that?

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY.

May 15, 1955X Minus One’s “Universe” first aired. It’s based off Heinlein’s Universe which was first published in Astounding Science Fiction’s May 1941 issue, and George Lefferts wrote the script. The cast includes Donald P. Buka, Peter Kapell, Bill Griffis, Abby Lewis, Edgar Stehli, Jason Seymour and Ian Martin. Untold generations of people traveling in a giant’s spaceship have lost track of who they are and what they set out to do. They think that their ship is the Universe. You can listen to it here.                    

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born May 15, 1856 – L. Frank Baum. His Wizard of Oz has been translated into 50 languages, selling 3 million copies by the time it entered the public domain in 1956, applauded by the Library of Congress in 2000; 13 more Ozbooks, 28 others, 83 shorter stories, 200 poems, at least 42 scripts, under his own and half a dozen pen names.  While living in the Dakota Territory, he was Secretary of the Aberdeen Woman’s Suffrage Club, and hosted Susan B. Anthony (Aberdeen is now a city in the State of South Dakota).  He knew French, German, Italian. He said at the start that Wizardaspired to fantasy “in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out,” at which he succeeded. Last words, to his wife, “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.”  (Died 1919) [JH]
  • Born May 15, 1848 – Viktor Vasnetsov.  Co-founder of Russian folklorist and romantic-nationalist panting, key figure in Russian Revivalist movement.  Designed churches, mosaics, a revenue stamp, the façade of the Tretyakov Gallery.  Worked on stage designs and costumes for Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden.  V’s fantasy and epics irritated radicals, who said he undermined realist principles.  Here is a flying carpet.  (Died 1926) [JH]
  • Born May 15, 1891 – Mikhail Bulgakov.  Had he only written The Master and Margarita, that would have sufficed us; an elaborate strange masterpiece; Margarita, not the Master, allies herself with the Devil – maybe; I talk a little about it here; in fact not published until decades after his death, too dangerous.  Mick Jagger said it inspired “Sympathy for the Devil”.  Try this Website.  See also DiaboliadThe Fatal EggsHeart of a Dog.  Two rival museums in Moscow – in the same building; one in Kiev.  (Died 1940) [JH]
  • Born May 15. 1906 – Ellen MacGregor.  Librarian, cataloguer, researcher, editrix of the Illinois Women’s Press Ass’n monthly bulletin Pen Points; also worked in Florida and Hawaii.  For children’s fantasy with accurate science she wrote Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and Goes UnderseaGoes to the Arctic published after her death; then 13 more, 16 shorter stories, by Dora Pantell.  Lavinia Pickerell, prim, angular, and devoted to her pet cow, is an inadvertent stowaway on a rocket to Mars in her first adventure, but she is unflappable.  (Died 1954) [JH]
  • Born May 15, 1932Jack Cady. He won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, an impressive feat indeed. McDowell’s Ghost gives a fresh spin on the trope of seeing seeing a War Between The States ghost, and The Night We Buried Road Dog is another ghost story set in early Sixties Montana and is quite horrid. Underland Press printed all of his superb short fiction into two volumes, Phantoms: Collected Writings, Volume 1 and Fathoms: Collected Writings, Volume 2. (Died 2004.) (CE)
  • Born May 15, 1948 Brian Eno, 72. Worth noting if only for A Multimedia Album Based on the Complete Text of Robert Sheckley’s In a Land of Clear Colors, though all of his albums have a vague SF feeling  to them such as Music for Civic Recovery CentreJanuary 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of  The Long Now and Everything That Happens Will Happen Today which could the name of Culture mind ships. Huh. I wonder if his music will show up in the forthcoming Culture series? (CE)
  • Born May 15, 1955 Nina Kiriki Hoffman, 55. Her book The Thread That Binds the Bones, won the Bram Stoker Award for first novel. In addition, her short story “Trophy Wives” won a Nebula Award for Best Short Story. Other novels include The Silent Strength of Stones (a sequel to Thread), A Fistful of Sky, and A Stir of Bones. All are excellent. Most of her work has a strong sense of regionalism being set In California or the Pacific Northwest. (CE)
  • Born May 15, 1955 – Takayuki Tatsumi.  Professor at Keiô University, chair of K.U. SF Study Group; editor, essayist, interviewer, theoretician; 21st Nihon SF Taishô (Grand Prize) from Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of Japan.  President, American Literature Society of Japan 2014-2017, Poe Society of Japan 2009-  ; editorial boards of ParadoxaMark Twain StudiesJournal of Transnat’l American Studies.  In English, for SF ChronicleSF EyeN.Y. Review of SFSF Studies, the 65th and 72nd Worldcons’ Souvenir Books; The Liverpool Companion to World SF Film (2014); The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature (2016).  [JH]
  • Born May 15, 1974 – Ahmet Zappa.  Brother of Dweezil, Moon Unit, and Diva; wrote song “Frogs with Dirty Little Lips” with his father Frank.  Debut novel (and interiors), The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless; debut film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green; television, three-season host of Robotica; co-author with wife Shana Muldoon Zappa, Sage and the Journey to Wishworld and 14 more Star Darlings books.  [JH]

(11) COMICS SECTION.

(12) WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME. Polygon’s Alan Kistler asserts “Superheroes are scrapping their secret identities, and it’s for the best”. This might sound a little counterintuitive at a time when we’re all supposed to be wearing masks.

In the beginning, nearly every superhero had a secret identity. It protected them from villainous revenge, and created a delicious dramatic tension while interacting with loved ones who had no inkling of their other life. But the strict secret identity is fast becoming an anachronism.

Most heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe operate in the open, while other caped cinema stars, like Supergirl, are perfectly willing to trust close allies with their name. In comics, the X-Men no longer hide who they are or where they live. Even Superman’s identity has been revealed to the entire world twice in the last decade.

And all of this is for the better, delivering not only greater dramatic possibilities, but also a healthier idea of heroism….

(13) FANTASTIC FOUR COMICS. Marvel’s tells fans that Fantastic Four: Antithesis is coming in August, the first full-length Fantastic Four story ever illustrated by industry legend Neal Adams.

Adams is joined by Eisner Award-winning writer Mark Waid (Daredevil, Captain America, Fantastic Four), who jam-packs this tale with a fan-favorite roster of Fantastic Four heroes and villains! Together, this celebrated creative team create a new nemesis for the Fantastic Four guaranteed to send shockwaves throughout all of fandom.  

 …Adams shares [Waid’s] enthusiasm about the project. “I have always had the sense of missing the chance to draw the Fantastic Four. It was a quiet sense, since I’ve had every opportunity to do my favorites. More, I felt Kirby and Buscema had done it all, hadn’t they…?” he begins. “When Marvel’s Tom Brevoort asked if I’d like to do the Fantastic Four, I knew I had to ask for Galactus and the Silver Surfer as well. I am humbled and thankful to Tom for the opportunity.”

Who or what is the Antithesis, and will the combined might of the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, and Galactus himself be enough to defeat it?

(14) DC COMICS ARE BIG HITS TOO. The Hollywood Reporter has the numbers: “DC Universe Readership Jumps 35 Percent During Shutdown”.

Two ‘Batman’ titles were atop the most-read list.

With comic book stores closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was an open question just what fans would do to get their fix. New figures released from digital service DC Universe suggest that the answer was, simply, “go online.”

(15) ON THE WILDSIDE. John Betancourt has launched a Kickstarter appeal to produce “Staying In Place”, an “anthology of stories to pass the time.” Various support levels also bring additional rewards in the form of reading material.

With so many people staying at home right now, we at Wildside Press and the Black Cat Mystery & Science Fiction Ebook Club are putting together a mammoth anthology of amazing stories for you to read and enjoy. The anthology will feature 20 novels and short stories by iconic authors such as John Gregory Betancourt,  Paul di Filippo, John W. Campbell Jr., Robert E. Howard, G.D. Falksen, and many more to be announced.  But we need your help to make this happen. We are coming to Kickstarter to fund the anthology. In return for your support, you get the anthology itself, some of our fantastic ebooks, and even a subscription to the Black Cat which gives subscribers 7+ free ebooks every week, including new releases of all of the great Wildside Press magazines (WeirdbookBlack Cat Mystery MagazineSherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and even the upcoming revival of Startling Stories, the famous pulp magazine).

(16) BORN TO BE DUMPED. “‘Men of Middle-earth as Bad Ex-Boyfriends’ Thread Is Absolutely Perfect” – so says The Mary Sue.

Every now and then, a Twitter act of creation reminds us that good things can still emerge from our hellish Internet stomping grounds. Such is the case with a viral thread from writer Alex Arrelia, in which Arrelia painstakingly—and hilariously—takes on J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters under the heading of “Men of Middle Earth as bad ex boyfriends who ruined your life.”

Thread starts here. Some examples —

(17) THIS CLOSE! And don’t forget Tolkien’s ultimate Bad Boy — “The Lord Of The Rings: 10 Ways Sauron Could Have Won” at ScreenRant.

10. He Could Have Set A Guard On Mount Doom

Most obviously, Sauron could have prevented the destruction of the One Ring–and thus the unraveling of his power–if he’d only done a little more to make sure that Mount Doom was protected from approach and infiltration. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that it is so unguarded–because Sauron couldn’t imagine that anyone would want to destroy the Ring rather than use it – that allows Frodo and Sam to sneak up on it. Sauron is defeated by his own inability to think outside of himself. 

(18) SHE-RA ARRIVES. NPR’s Victoria Whitley-Berry reviews a reboot: “In She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, True Strength Is In Being Yourself”.

Showrunner Noelle Stevenson has always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. As a kid, she loved it all: the epic space battles, the magic, the quests that seemed larger than life.

But there was a problem with her favorite childhood stories, like Star Wars and The Lord of The Rings series. “I never quite saw myself reflected in them” Stevenson says, “certainly not at the heart of the story.”

There weren’t a lot of women.

Of course, there’s interstellar rebel Princess Leia and Nazgûl-slaying Éowyn. But Stevenson wanted a female version of Luke Skywalker and a terror-inducing femme Lord Sauron.

So when she started writing stories of her own, she made sure kids like her felt seen, in more ways than one.

…When Netflix and DreamWorks wanted to reboot She-Ra: Princess of Power — an epic showdown between magical princesses and an evil alien invader — Stevenson was all in.

She kept much of the original show’s action and adventure — like the original, the rebooted show takes place on the planet Etheria, and one of the princesses who is trying to stop the evil Horde army from taking over is named Adora.

…Stevenson did make one small but important change to the show: Its name. The Netflix and DreamWorks version is She-Ra and the PRINCESSES of Power. All the princesses are important.

She also gathered an all-female writing staff to update this team of powerful women. In the original show, the princesses are white, skinny and presumably straight. The new rebellion includes women of color. They’re women in all different shapes and sizes. And there are women who love other women.

Princess Weekes is an assistant editor at The Mary Sue, a website that covers the intersection of women and fandom. She’s been writing about the She-Ra reboot since the beginning.

Weekes says that because the team behind She-Ra is made up of LGBTQ people, the stories on the show give genuine representation of queer life for kids.

“You allow queerness for young kids to be just normalized in general,” Weekes says. “What I think Noelle Stevenson and the entire She-Ra team has done is create a society and place where characters can exist, but their biggest problem isn’t that they’re gay.”

(19) THAWED. “Disney Closes ‘Frozen’ on Broadway, Citing Pandemic” – the New York Times has the story.

Even Queen Elsa’s magic is no match for the coronavirus pandemic.

Disney Theatrical Productions said Thursday that its stage adaptation of “Frozen” will not reopen on Broadway once the pandemic eases, making the musical the first to be felled by the current crisis.

“Frozen” had been the weakest of the three Disney musicals that had been running on Broadway — the others were “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” — and the company made it clear that it does not believe audiences will return in substantial enough numbers to sustain all of those shows.

“This difficult decision was made for several reasons but primarily because we believe that three Disney productions will be one too many titles to run successfully in Broadway’s new landscape,” Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatrical Productions, said in a letter to his staff….

(20) LET THE SUN SHINE IN. WIRED found something the military would let them talk about for “A Secret Space Plane is Carrying a Solar Experiment to Orbit”, and it has a connection to the Golden Age of SF.

On Saturday, the US Air Force is expected to launch its secret space plane, X-37B, for a long-duration mission in low Earth orbit. The robotic orbiter looks like a smaller version of the space shuttle and has spent nearly eight of the past 10 years in space conducting classified experiments for the military. Almost nothing is known about what X-37B does up there, but ahead of its sixth launch the Air Force gave some rare details about its cargo.

…[The] real star of the show is a small solar panel developed by the physicists at the Naval Research Lab that will be used to conduct the first orbital experiment with space-based solar power.

“This is a major step forward,” says Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer at the Naval Research Lab and lead researcher on the project. “This is the first time that any component geared towards a solar-powered satellite system has ever been tested in orbit.”

Space-based solar power is all about getting solar power to Earth no matter the weather or the time of day. The basic idea is to convert the sun’s energy into microwaves and beam it down. Unlike terrestrial solar panels, satellites in a sufficiently high orbit might only experience darkness for a few minutes per day. If this energy could be captured, it could provide an inexhaustible source of power no matter where you are on the planet.

It’s an idea that was cooked up by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in the 1940s; since then, beamed power experiments have been successfully tested several times on Earth. But the experiment on X-37B will be the first time the core technologies behind microwave solar power will be tested in orbit.

(21) TIPTOE THROUGH THE TULIPS. Not genre, but one stunning upside to the pandemic: “The Most Beautiful Flower Garden In The World Has No Visitors For The First Time In 71 Years And I Got To Capture It (31 Pics)” at Bored Panda.

Most of you probably know the world-famous Keukenhof, the most beautiful tulip garden in the world. Every year millions of tourists visit this garden. That’s a huge lot considering the garden is only open in spring! Every year, a hard-working crew makes sure the garden looks as good as ever, including this year!

This year is ‘special’. Keukenhof is closed, for the first time in 71 years. But that doesn’t mean there are no flowers. On the contrary; the flowers look incredible and get as much attention and care as always. All the passionate gardeners do their work as they’re used to. Because even without people, nature and the show of the garden goes on….

(22) UPDATE. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer’s separation was reported in a recent Pixel Scroll. Gaiman has now made a blog entry about it, which includes an open letter to the world that the couple collaborated on: “Where I Am, What I’m Doing, How I’m Doing And How I Got Here”. Gaiman’s intro says in part —

…Once the world opens up and travel gets easier Amanda and Ash and I are looking forward to being together again in Woodstock. (Yes, I’ve seen the newsfeed headlines saying I’ve moved to the UK, and even that we’re divorcing. No, I haven’t moved the UK, and yes, Amanda and I are still very much together, even with half a world between us.) 

Thank you to everyone who’s been kind and nice and helpful, while Amanda and my problems got rather more public than either of us is comfortable with. We love each other, and we love Ash, and we will sort ourselves out, in private, which is much the best place for things like this….

And the couple’s joint letter follows.

(23) NOT THAT SUBTLE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Kyle Mizokami, in “The Space Force Receives Its ‘Kobayashi Maru’ Space-Tracking System” in Popular Mechanics says it’s no coincidence that Space Force’s warning system is a Star Trek reference; the Space Force also has a Kessel Run, and Mizokami thinks it’s no coincidence that the acronym for the force’s Space Operations Center is SPOC.

The U.S. Space Force announced the development of a brand new software package designed to track and monitor objects in space. Dubbed “Kobayashi Maru,” the cloud-based program was designed to modernize the way the U.S. Air Force—and now the U.S. Space Force—interoperates in space but with its allies in the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing alliance.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Cliff Ramshaw, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, John Hertz, Mike Kennedy, JJ, David Goldfarb, Paul Di Filippo, Michael Toman, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]

Writers Of The Purple Page:
The Pursuit of the Pankera: Solution Unsatisfactory?

[Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in the April issue of the Denver clubzine DASFAx. Reprinted by permission. You can find issues of DASFAx at this link.]

By Sourdough Jackson: In March, a new Heinlein novel came out, assembled from fragments found in his papers. The Pursuit of the Pankera contains no interpolations to link the fragments together; when placed in their correct order, they form a complete novel.

I awaited it with some trepidation, as pre-publication announcements stated this was, as its subtitle stated, “A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes,” and the novel it paralleled was, alas, The Number of the Beast. I have little use for most of what Heinlein wrote after 1958, the exceptions being Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. I have a sentimental attachment to Podkayne of Mars, but I know full well that one was a dud, when compared to RAH’s earlier work.

Despite my fondness for alternate-history tales, I found long ago that Number was easily Heinlein’s worst book. Pursuit turned out to be somewhat better, but it still has serious flaws. Something the editor did, as a service to the reader, was to place a discreet marker in the margin, near the top of page 152, where the two novels diverge—the first thirty percent is virtually identical to the original.

This means slogging through the same initial sequence, and getting to know the four main characters again, none of whom resonate with me. Jake Burroughs, his daughter Deety, Zeb Carter, and Hilda Corners are hyper-competent geniuses, deadly opponents in any fight, and arrogant as all hell.

Their origin is an Earth similar to ours, in what is apparently the early 21st century—flying cars are common. The elder Burroughs discovers the theory and practice of paratime travel. As in Number, they have little common sense to go with their brains; while escaping from an attempt on all their lives, they take time out to marry in a great deal of haste (Jake with Hilda, Zeb with Deety).

Still on the run, they honeymoon in Jake’s desert hideout, with a romantic interlude that could’ve been handled better. I tired quickly of the sexual banter; as in most of his late-period novels, Heinlein overdid it. Like Tabasco sauce, a little of that stuff goes a very long way.

During that time, Jake refits Zeb’s flying car to function as a “continua craft,” meaning “paratime machine.” It has sufficient life support to handle space; it’s unclear to me whether this was original equipment. Then they’re interrupted by a “federal ranger” who tries to arrest them, and whom they kill quickly. On inspection (and dissection), the “ranger” turns out to be an alien infiltrator. The two couples put this together with the earlier attempt on their lives, conclude that the aliens want to eliminate anyone who knows the truth about paratime travel, and bug out in a hurry. They attempt a trip to Barsoom, the alternate Mars created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

This is the divergence point. In Number, they reach a Mars that looks like Barsoom, but isn’t, while in Pursuit, they find a real one. Once they meet the Barsoomians, and are welcomed to the city of Helium, Jake and Zeb discover an inconvenient truth. Their wives are pregnant, and they are honored guests on a planet that has no obstetricians, or even backwoods midwives. All Barsoomians are oviparous, meaning they know no more of obstetrics than we do of the healthy incubation and hatching of children.

In a museum, they find an ancient specimen of an extinct invader who matches the phony ranger they killed earlier. These beings were called Panki or Pankera by the green Barsoomians, and tradition informs them that the Pankera tasted very good when cooked. Apparently, the Pankera have infiltrated the local version of Earth, as there is another attempt to apprehend the party by Terran visitors (this Barsoom has minor commercial relations with Earth, mostly in the form of tourists).

They scram once more, and visit Oz. No obstetricians there, either—childbirth is an alien concept, but for different reasons from Barsoom’s—but Glinda the Good does refit their flying car with a new interior, somewhat similar to that of a TARDIS (as also happens in Number). Eventually, they wind up in Doc Smith’s Lensman universe, and have some interesting times there.

The ending is one of the things that really gripes me about this book. No spoilers, but Heinlein has used this kind of ending before, in The Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers, two of my least-favorite books of his. The only good thing about it is that he doesn’t throw in Lazarus Long, except as an offstage cameo (in Number of the Beast, we see entirely too much of that ancient no-account).

The real problem with Pursuit isn’t the ending, though, or the insipid sexual banter that he habitually overused in his old age. It is the attitudes of the protagonists. I don’t call them “heroes,” as they don’t act very heroic, in my opinion.

Due to two murder attempts coupled with two attempts at imprisonment (which might or might not have been disguised murder attempts), the four not-heroes infer that all the Pankera are intent on killing them, and on enslaving every variant of Earth they contact. Their response, once they are settled somewhere comparatively safe and resolve their obstetrics problem, is to hunt and kill the Pankera whenever and wherever in the Multiverse they find them. The term they use for a version of Earth that has been infiltrated by Pankera— “infested”—says a lot about the Burroughses and the Carters, none of it good.

There is no attempt at any point to analyze why the Pankera might be after them, other than to prevent Jake Burroughs from further development or publication of his findings about paratime. Their motive might be a takeover of Earth, or it might simply be to protect “the Paratime Secret,” similar to the mission of the Paratime Police in some of H. Beam Piper’s stories. Bear in mind that, in Piper’s tales, it’s the good guys, not the villains, who preserve that secret.

Late in the tale, they survey many alternate Earths, and find ten of them to be “infested.” The worst case is our own world—it’s easy enough to figure this out from the clues Heinlein gives. Their solution to this problem is unethical in the extreme: extermination. If it proves impossible to root out all the Pankera from a particular Earth, the entire planet is to be burnt off.

This is the attitude of Cato toward the Carthaginians, of Hitler toward the Jews (and Roma, and Slavs, etc.), and of far too many immigrants to the New World toward the Native Americans.

This is also, alas, an attitude taken by many of the early authors of science fiction, especially of space opera. Don’t just beat the invading problem, followed by negotiating a peace with it, destroy it utterly! Root and branch! Vermin of the Universe! The only good _______is a dead _____!

Doc Smith, for all that I loved his tales, was a cardinal sinner here. I think “nuance” was a word in a foreign language (French?) to most of science fiction’s pioneers.

Some didn’t glorify genocide in their sagas—Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke come to mind. Thankfully, by the 1950s and 1960s, SF had rid itself of much of this nonsense. Absent from Star Trek were aliens who acted like Smith’s Osnomians or the humans in Starship Troopers. Captain Kirk (and later, Captains Picard and Sisko) didn’t try to destroy all Klingons, Romulans, or Cardassians.

One would think that, by 1980, Heinlein might have gotten the message. In 1945, after all, he and the rest of the world discovered the crimes of the Nazis and the Japanese militarists. And yet, he and some others continued to propose extermination as a solution to the problem of unfriendly aliens. One might think Heinlein was channeling the Daleks. Containment, the strategy that finally won the Cold War, never seemed to enter his head, at least when he was writing a novel.

Or, perhaps, he did get the message—The Number of the Beast, for all its manifold faults, is what got published in 1980, not The Pursuit of the Pankera. In Number, the trouble made by the (unnamed in that book) Pankera is dismissed by Jubal Harshaw as having been directly caused by a single entity, the one who was killed at Jake’s hideout. The real troublemaker, who tries to crash the convention at the end of Number, falls from a great height as it charges up Bifrost to storm Asgard—and the Rainbow Bridge vanishes underneath it.

It’s entirely possible that Pursuit was the original draft, and Number was the second—rewritten after Heinlein realized the ethical mess he’d created.

Pursuit is for Heinlein completists (I am one). Don’t expect anything like his average work during his middle period, much less such gems as The Door into Summer or Have Space Suit—Will Travel.

My nutshell assessment of The Pursuit of the Pankera comes from Heinlein himself:

Solution unsatisfactory!

Pixel Scroll 3/19/20 Using The Robotic Arm To Push The Mole

(1) JEMISIN EVENT CONVERTED TO LIVESTREAM. N.K. Jemisin’s in-person appearance at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has been converted to a virtual event, due to steps being taken to protect the health of the UC San Diego community and slow the spread of COVID-19. Use the Eventbrite link to secure access.

N.K. Jemisin’s in-person event for The City We Became has, unfortunately, had to be canceled, but we are pleased to be able to offer you access to an exclusive virtual event streamed live. You’ll get a chance to hear about The City We Became and ask Jemisin questions. Only ticket-holders will have access-plus, you will still receive a copy of the book, with an option to sign up for a signed bookplate from Orbit during the event.

The virtual event will take place at the same time as the original event, 7pm on Friday, April 3rd. Tickets are still available through Eventbrite. If you have already purchased a ticket and would like to request a refund, you may do so through Eventbrite. However we hope you choose to join us in celebrating The City We Became! All ticket purchases help support the author, Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, the publisher, and this thing we call human imagination.

And you have to buy the magazine to see this next Jemisin-related item. Kevin Hogan reports: “I was surprised but pleased to see a one-page The Making of the Book segment in Entertainment Weekly (April 2020, issue # 1586, page 90) on N.K. Jemisin and her upcoming novel, The City We Became. It’s always nice to see genre covered in ‘popular media’-type publications.”

(2) BALTICON NEWS. Dale S. Arnold, the Balticon 54 Hotel Liaison, asks for understanding about how reservation cancellations were sent by the hotel before the con could notify its members.

We sent a letter to the Balticon hotel asking for their opinion as to if they would be able to host Balticon this year and if they could not do so we would need to cancel the event.

The hotel management determined that it was very unlikely they would be able to host Balticon 54 and at a staff meeting on the morning of 03/18/2020 the general manager told his staff to send us an email explaining that it was unlikely they would be able to host Balticon and to cancel reservations once we confirmed we had told our people. Apparently, the head of reservations did not hear the part about waiting for us to send out notice and took immediate action by using an automated cancellation program.

Cancellations from the reservations department went out several hours before the email to us from the general manager letting us know they could not host Balticon 54 and would not attempt to collect cancellation fees and that they hope to see us next year was sent. A follow up email with apology for sending the cancellations before we told the hotel we had announced the cancellation of Balticon has already been received from the hotel. Given the stress many people are under during this pandemic I hope we can all forgive the hotel reservations department jumping the gun by a day or so.

A message concerning membership refunds (and roll-overs if you want to Balticon 55) and dealers tables refunds  etc. with the process to let us know what you want to do will be sent out soon.

(3) THE MAN WHO LEARNS BETTER. “Heinlein’s Juveniles, Pt. 1” is a fine article by Sourdough Jackson in the latest DASFAx clubzine. Click here – then scroll down to the March (202003) issue. Starts on page 2.

…When discussing the juveniles, I’ll be taking them two books per column. The first pair are Rocket Ship Galileo(1947) and Space Cadet (1948), both products of a troubled time in the author’s life—a typhoon was blowing his marriage toward the rocks, and the prospects for his writing career weren’t much better. Among his attempts to claw off that marital and literary lee shore was a projected series of books for boys: The Young Atomic Engineers. He thought to begin with a blockbuster—a trip to the Moon.

(4) MONSTROUS DISCOVERIES. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the March 16 Financial Times, Simon Ings reviews “Monsters of The Deep,” a show about giant aquatic creatures that will be at Britain’s National Maritime Museum through January.

Back in 1893, the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley wrote in The Times:  ‘There is not an a priori reason that I know of why snake-bodied reptiles, from fifty feet long and upwards, should not disport themselves to our seas as they did those of the cretaceous epoch, which, geologically speaking, is a mere yesterday.’

Palaentologist Darren Naish, who is lead curator of the Falmouth exhibition,, is willing to entertain Huxley’s theory.  “His was the right attitude at the time, because the life of the deep oceans was only just being discovered. (Monsters of the Deep makes much of the ground-breaking research led by HMS Challenger, which between 1872 and 1876 discovered 4,700 species of marine life.) Large fossil dinosaurs and early whales, and amazing gigantic living animals, had been discovered only relatively recently,’ Naish pints out.’The whale shark, the world’s biggest fish, was a mid 19th century discovery.

(5) AGAINST THE LAW. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Six Great Novels About Crime That Aren’t Quite Crime Novels” on CrimeReads, Mat Osman looks at six novels, two of which, China Mieville’s The City & The City and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, are Hugo winners.  He also writes about Michel Faber’s Under The Skin, noting the novel is a “very different beast” than the filmed version.

The joy of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is the way it lures you in with the most comforting of literary tropes. It’s a hard-bitten detective story about a boozy, lovelorn policeman with a seemingly unsolvable case. There are hard-drinking cops. There are underworld kingpins. There are unspoken codes of honor. So far, so Raymond Chandler. But under the surface another kind of book is flexing its muscles. It’s a what-if novel in which the post-WWII Jewish homeland is Alaska rather than Israel and the Messiah may (or may not) be on his way. It’s a setting that lets Chabon riff on his favored themes. Tall tales are told, language is toyed with (the Alaskan Jews call themselves The Frozen Chosen) and it builds to a denouement as vast as it is unexpected.

(6) BABY YODA ON THE COVER. That made me 1000% more interested. On sale May 26 from Titan Comics, Star Wars: The Mandalorian The Art & Imagery–Collector’s Edition Vol.1.

This deluxe edition collects the stunning artwork from the first four chapters of the Disney+ smash hit, highlighting the characters, creatures, allies, enemies and environments of this all-new Star Wars story.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • March 19, 1990 Repo Men premiered. It was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. It starred Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber and Alice Braga. It was based on Eric Garcia’s The Repossession Mambo who co-wrote the screenplay with Garrett Lerner. It wasn’t well-received by critics at the time, nor does the audience over at Rotten Tomatoes care for it giving it a 21% rating.
  • March 19, 1999 Farscape premiered on Syfy. The series was conceived by Rockne S. O’Bannon and produced by The Jim Henson Company and Hallmark Entertainment.  The Jim Henson Company was responsible for the various alien make-up and prosthetics, and two regular characters, Rygel and Pilot were completely Creature Shop creations. Filmed in Australia, it would would last for four seasons ending in The Peacekeeper Wars.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 19, 1821 Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS. He was a geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist when that term wasn’t a curse word, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat. And the translator of an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights. Along with Vikram and the Vampire or Tales of Hindu Devilry. Mind you, he was also the publisher of both Kama Sutra and The Perfume Garden. (Died 1890.)
  • Born March 19, 1919 Patricia Laffan. She was the alien Nyah in Devil Girl from Mars, a Fifties pulp film which you can see here. (Died 2014.)
  • Born March 19, 1926 Joe L. Hensley. He was a First Fandom Dinosaur which is to say he was  active in fandom prior to July 4, 1939 and he received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. He is also a published genre author with ”And Not Quite Human” in the September 1953 issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction being his first published work, and The Black Roads being his only genre novel. It does not appear that his genre works are available in digital editions. (Died 2007.)
  • Born March 19, 1928 Patrick McGoohan. Creator, along with George Markstein, of The Prisoner series with him playing the main role of Number Six. I’ve watched it at least several times down the years. It never gets any clearer but it’s always interesting and always weird.  Other genre credits do not include Danger Man but does comprise a short list of The Phantom where he played The Phantom’s father, Treasure Planet where he voiced Billy Bones and Journey into Darkness where he was The Host. (Died 2009.)
  • Born March 19, 1936 Ursula Andress, 84. I’msure I’ve seen all of the original Bond films though I’ll be damned I remember where or when I saw them. Which is my way of leading up to saying that I don’t remember her in her roles as either as Honey Ryder in the very first Bond film, Dr. No, or as as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Bond girls aren’t that memorable to me it seems. Hmmm… let’s see if she’s done any other genre work… well her first was The Tenth Victim based on Sheckley’s 1953 short story “Seventh Victim”. She also appeared in L’Infermiera, oops wrong genre, The Mountain of the Cannibal GodThe Fifth MusketeerClash of the Titans where she played of course Aphrodite, on the Manimal series, The Love Boat series and the two Fantaghirò films. 
  • Born March 19, 1945 Jim Turner. Turner was editor for Arkham House after the death of August Derleth, founder of that press. After leaving Arkham House for reasons that are not at all clear, he founded Golden Gryphon Press which published really lovely books until it went out of existence. Too bad their original website doesn’t exist anymore, but you can still view captures at the Wayback Machine. (Died 1999.)
  • Born March 19, 1955 Bruce Willis, 65. So do any of the Die Hard franchise count as genre? So even setting them aside, he has a very long  genre list, to wit Death Becomes Her (bit of macabre fun), 12 Monkeys (weird shit), The Fifth Element (damn great), Armageddon (eight tentacles down),  Looper (most excellent), The Sixth Sense (not at all bad), Sin City (typical Miller overkill) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (yet more Miller overkill). 
  • Born March 19, 1964 Marjorie Monaghan, 56. JoJo on all six episodes of Space Rangers. My brain keeps insisting it lasted much, much longer. She also was on Babylon 5 as the Mars Resistance leader during the Earth Alliance Civil War, where she was known as Number One. She’s also appeared on Quantum Leap, in the cyberpunk Nemesis film, in The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy film, on Andromeda series, and on The Great War of Magellan film. 

(9) COMICS SECTION.

(10) CORONAVIRUS IMPACT ON COMICS MARKETING. “Image Comics Publisher Asks for Retailer Relief Amid Coronavirus Pandemic”. The Hollywood Reporter explains the new returns strategy adopted by the publisher of Saga, The Walking Dead, Monstress and many other famous titles.

As the comics industry reacts to the social isolation response to the coronavirus, Image Comics publisher and CEO Eric Stephenson has released an open letter about what his company — the third-largest publisher in the U.S. market — is doing to lessen pressure on retailers struggling with reduced traffic to stores and enforced closures. He is also asking other publishers to follow suit.

In normal times, comic book stores must estimate how many issues of each comic they will sell, and pay upfront for inventory from publishers. However, as the coronavirus has dramatically shifted how many customers are coming into shops, Stephenson said Image will allow comic book stores to return orders for the next 60 days. 

(11) THE WAY THROUGH. Elizabeth Bear, in her latest newsletter, looks for the tunnel that has the light at the end of it: “Adapt, improvise, overcome. And some strategies for coping with that cabinet full of shelf-stable STUFF.”

One of the precepts of emergency response is the title of this email: Adapt, improvise, overcome. It’s a phrase that gets mentioned several times in Machine, and I found myself thinking of it last night as I chatted with friends in various corners of the internet about the economic repercussions of the current xombie apocalypse. I see a lot of fear, and a lot of people saying “If we have to do this quarantine bullshit for 18 months the economy will never recover.”

A problem here is that we’ve been taught (by entertainment) to think of massive catastrophes as The End Of The World because that makes a better story. And I don’t want to minimize the grief and suffering that we endure in a catastrophe, be it a hurricane or an earthquake or a war or a pandemic. That is real.

But it’s also true that we adapt….

(12) AS CHAYKIN SEES IT. “Graphic Content: At The Intersection Of Comics And Crime With Howard Chaykin” is a fascinating profile by CrimeReads’ Alex Segura.

….Like the best crime fiction, Chaykin’s work is well versed in the morally ambiguous protagonist, as opposed to the steel-jawed, superheroic superman.

“My work more often than not betrays that hero with a wound thing, with a protagonist who is far from morally sound—and informs my interest in telling stories without a hero who does the right thing, that right thing as defined by an audience trained to love this romantic vision of the world,” Chaykin said. “And don’t get me started with the “rich guy who had a bad day when he was eight and turns to wage war on crime” model, either.”

(13) COME TIME TRAVEL WITH ME. Galactic Journey’s Gideon Marcus will be doing a “Come Time Travel with Me” show on March 27. Sign up online.

It’s been a pretty difficult set of weeks lately.  In addition to normal life grinding to a halt, conventions and gatherings have been canceled.  Galactic Journey was scheduled to present at a number of venues over the next several months.  That’s all fallen by the wayside.

But!

Thanks to the miracle of TELSTAR, SYNCOM, and RELAY, Galactic Journey can still perform for you, coming to you Live, Coast to Coast, in the comfort of your own living rooms!

That’s right — we are reviving Galactic Journey’s “Come Time Travel with Me” show, an hour-long (more or less) trip back in time exactly 55 years.

We’ll be covering science fiction, the Space Race, the recent civil rights march in Alabama, fashion, politics — you name it.  And we mean YOU.  After our introduction, it’ll be your questions that guide the course of the program.  And the best questions will win a prize!

So come join us, March 27, 1965 (2020) at 6PM PDT.  All you need is a screen and an hour.  We’ll provide the rest.

See you there!

(14) IT FEELS SO GOOD WHEN I STOP. “At long last, NASA’s probe finally digs in on Mars” – the PopSci version.

NASA unsticks its Martian digging probe by whacking it with a shovel.

Every day, the InSight lander’s suite of instruments sends back data proving that the Red Planet isn’t really dead. Marsquakes rumble the seismometer. Swirling vortices register on onboard pressure sensor. And temperature sensors help track the weather and changing of the seasons.

Despite the lander’s successes, however, one gauge has met with resistance from the Martian environment while trying to carry out its mission. Something has stopped InSight’s 15-inch digging probe, dubbed “the mole” for its burrowing prowess. Instead of diving deep into the Martian sand where it could take the planet’s temperature, it’s been stuck half-buried. An intercontinental team of MacGyvers has spent a year devising successively daring plans to get the mole digging again, but still it flounders on the surface. Now their final gambit—directly pushing the mole into the soil—has shown tentative signs of success, NASA announced Friday on Twitter.

The goal of the mole, which is the measurement probe of InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (or HP3), is to track the temperature variations of Mars itself. This heat comes from Mars’s core, which, like Earth’s core, remains warm from the planet’s birth. By measuring it, researchers hope to learn about Mars’s formation—but from the rod-shaped mole’s current position they can get readings only of the surface temperature. Mission planners hope to ideally reach 15 feet underground to escape the warming and cooling from the Martian seasons that would interfere with reading the planet’s true temperature.

“I always thought, ‘let’s ask Mark Watney [the fictional protagonist of the book The Martian] to just go over there and just push a little bit on the mole,’” said Tilman Spohn, the HP3’s principle investigator.

But without any Martian explorers to lend a hand, Spohn and his colleagues on the “anomaly response team” have had to improvise with the only tool available—a small shovel-like “scoop” on the end of InSight’s robotic arm. Over the last year they’ve tried to punch down the walls of the hole around the mole, to fill in the hole with nearby sand, and to give the mole more purchase by pinning it against the side of the hole with the scoop. But to no avail.

(15) UNDER DEADLINE. Nature reports “How China is planning to go to Mars amid the coronavirus outbreak”.

China’s first journey to Mars is one of the most anticipated space missions of the year. But with parts of the country in some form of lockdown because of the coronavirus, the mission teams have had to find creative ways to continue their work. Researchers involved in the mission remain tight-lipped about its key aspects, but several reports from Chinese state media say that the outbreak will not affect the July launch — the only window for another two years…

(16) BEHIND THE SCENES. “We Spent 24 Hours Searching for the Elusive ‘Butthole Cut’ of Cats”. You probably don’t really need the Vanity Fair article – you intuited the whole story immediately.

You can blame—or thank—Seth Rogen.

On Tuesday, the actor and writer partook in the ancient theatrical tradition that is trying to understand the baffling, inscrutable movie-musical Cats (recently available on digital). Rogen wrote a long Twitter thread about the experience, marveling at the impossibly small cat shoes worn by several characters and wondering what the hell a “Jellicle” is, anyway. (For the record, that made-up word is a play on how posh Brits pronounce “dear little” cats).

In the process, Rogen also tweet-quoted a post from screenwriter Jack Waz, who claimed to know a visual effects artist who had been tapped to work on Cats back in November. That VFX person’s job? “To remove CGI buttholes that had been inserted a few months before,” Waz wrote. “Which means that, somewhere out there, there exists a butthole cut of Cats.”

(17) AREA 51. “Rise of Skywalker Has An Awesome John Williams Easter Egg You Missed”ScreenRant points the way.

…With The Rise of Skywalker concluding the iconic Skywalker saga and wrapping up Williams’ time in a galaxy far, far away, J.J. Abrams made sure to put Williams in front of the camera in the film. Williams has a minor Rise of Skywalker cameo, appearing in a seedy establishment on Kijimi as the Resistance heroes make their way to meet Babu Frik. Getting the opportunity to see Williams onscreen was thrilling enough for fans, but the scene also includes several nods to his unparalleled career.

The making-of documentary in the Rise of Skywalker home media release has a segment focused on Williams. In it, Abrams reveals each of the props surrounding Williams represents the 51 Oscar nominations Williams received up to that point. Examples include Indiana Jones’ whip from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the barrels from Jaws, and the iron from Home Alone….

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Toman, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Contrarius, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]