Pixel Scroll 9/5/19 You Don’t Scroll On Pixelman’s Cape, You Don’t File In The Wind

(1) DID AMAZON CHEAT? The American Booksellers Association is on the warpath: “ABA Condemns Amazon for Breaking ‘Testaments’ Embargo”.

The fallout from Amazon violating Penguin Random House’s September 10 embargo of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood continues to roil the industry.

Late yesterday, the American Booksellers Association released a strongly worded statement condemning Amazon. The ABA disclosed that it had contacted PRH “to express our strong disappointment regarding this flagrant violation of the agreed protocol in releasing this book to the public.”

In a statement released to PW late Thursday morning, Amazon acknowledged it had unintentionally shipped some books ahead of the sale date. “Due to a technical error a small number of customers were inadvertently sent copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments,” the statement said. “We apologize for this error; we value our relationship with authors, agents, and publishers, and regret the difficulties this has caused them and our fellow booksellers.”

Before the broken embargo, the ABA was already working on initiatives that would put pressure on Amazon. In an organization-wide newsletter the ABA sent last week, ABA president Oren Teicher said the group is continuing its ongoing discussions with officials at the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission about looking into whether Amazon is violating antitrust laws. (ABA executives were in Washington, D.C., yesterday, when the news broke about Amazon’s violation of the PRH embargo.)

…The Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, NY, created a digital postcard that it posted on its website and on social media with the heading, “Loyal Customers and Supporters of Independent Bookstores: A Request.” In it, the store said Amazon had shipped pre-orders of The Testaments to customers a week early, in clear violation of the “legally binding” embargo that all retailers had to sign.

The store went to ask customers to “please pre-order your own copy at your local or nearby independent bookstore” or to visit a story “on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the day the book legally is on sale.” The post closed with a quote from The Handmaid’s Tale, the bestselling prequel to The Testaments: “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

(2) MEANWHILE IN VIDEOLAND. The question is — “Handmaid’s Tale: Was it right to take the series beyond the book?” Warning for those who click through — Excerpt ends at point where spoilers start.

The second series of the Handmaid’s Tale came to an end on Sunday night.

Writing in iNews, Mark Butler calls the finale “a nail-biting conclusion to the season, with a controversial twist”, but Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya termed the climax “a singularly frustrating end to a season that, despite its high points, often struggled to find its purpose”.

The series went beyond Margaret Atwood’s original novel – with her blessing – but how well did the show do in extending the novel beyond its intended lifecycle and how difficult is it to go beyond the book of an acclaimed author like Atwood?

“The novel ends quite ambiguously,” says Julia Raeside, who has written The Guardian’s episode-by-episode guide to series two of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Speaking to BBC News, she adds: “It’s really interesting when someone takes up the mantle of an unfinished story. If they’ve got something to say about what happens when you repress women for so long, then it’s something I welcome.”

The second series has been criticised by some for its brutal scenes, with some viewers switching off entirely due to what’s been termed by some as “needless torture porn”.

“I think the first couple of episodes were slightly misjudged,” says Raeside, “and I wonder how much brutality Atwood really agreed with.”

(3) GREAT LINES FROM SFF. Discover Sci-Fi is running a poll: “What are the best one-liners from sci-fi books?” There are 13 choices. I’d say about half of them shouldn’t even be under consideration. And it doesn’t include one of my all-time favorites, the line that opens E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman Series –

“Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other.”

I’m writing it in. So there.

(4) GAME HUGO? The Hugo Book Club Blog, in “Game Over”, casts doubt on the qualifications and capability of Worldcon members to choose a winner of a proposed Best Game Hugo. Here are some of the reasons they say the proposal should be rejected:

Ira Alexandre, who has been the driving force in arguing for a Best Game Hugo, has done their research. They looked at the amount of gaming content at Worldcons, examined the burgeoning field of interactive works, and made some significant arguments in favour of the suggested award.

But none of their work addresses the fact that gaming has never been a primary focus of Worldcon. Alexandre’s number-crunching even showed that the amount of gaming-related programming has never exceeded nine per cent of the convention — and is usually much smaller. We would suggest that the majority of Hugo voters are unlikely to have played a wide-enough and diverse-enough range of games and interactive experiences to make adequate nominations in a category dedicated to gaming. 


It’s already difficult enough for Hugo voters to get through a voting package with six works on the shortlist in 15 categories. Games and Interactive Works individually take up to 150 hours to play through – with a short time between the announcement of the shortlist and the voting deadline, it would be difficult to play through, and be able to adequately assess, even one such game.

(5) A CAT BY ANY OTHER NAME. [Item by Bruce D. Arthurs.]  Not sure if this is newsworthy, but a cheap laugh for others at my own expense is surely a good thing.

One of our rescue cats, Baldur, who we’ve had for about two years, came down very sick and has spent the last week at the vet’s. Recovering well, thankfully, but in the process we discovered something surprising about “him”. Tweeted it here:

In some follow-up tweets, I discussed a possible renaming for our newly-female cat:

Hope the tweets are amusing. I wouldn’t say “amused” for myself, but certainly bemused.

(6) SUPERBRAWL. Alyssa Wong has written all three issues of these Future Fight Firsts comics from Marvel.

Introduced in the Marvel Future Fight mobile game, White Fox, Luna Snow, and Crescent & Io recently made their Marvel comic book debut in War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas and now, because you demanded it, all three will have their origin stories revealed in Marvel Future Fight Firsts! Check out these gorgeous covers by In-Hyuck Lee and prepare yourselves for an up close look at these new fan-favorite characters!

Marvel Future Fight Firsts arrives in October in comic shops, on the Marvel Comics App, and on Marvel.com.

FUTURE FIGHT FIRSTS: WHITE FOX #1

  • Written by ALYSSA WONG
  • Art by KEVIN LIBRANDA
  • Cover by INHYUK LEE

FUTURE FIGHT FIRSTS: LUNA SNOW #1

  • Written by ALYSSA WONG
  • Art by GANG HYUCK LIM
  • Cover by INHYUK LEE

FUTURE FIGHT FIRSTS: CRESCENT AND IO

  • Written by ALYSSA WONG
  • Art by JON LAM
  • Cover by INHYUK LEE

(7) POLLY WANNA CONVERSATION? “The Great Silence” by Ted Chiang in Nautilus is a short story excerpted from Chiang’s new collection Exhalation.

The humans use Arecibo to look for extraterrestrial intelligence. Their desire to make a connection is so strong that they’ve created an ear capable of hearing across the universe.

But I and my fellow parrots are right here. Why aren’t they interested in listening to our voices?

We’re a nonhuman species capable of communicating with them. Aren’t we exactly what humans are looking for?

(8) SOLUTION UNSATISFACTORY. Randall Munroe will soon be bringing us How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. His book tour started this week.

For any task you might want to do, there’s a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally bad that no one would ever try it. How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems is a guide to the third kind of approach. It’s the world’s least useful self-help book.

It describes how to cross a river by removing all the water, outlines some of the many uses for lava around the home, and teaches you how to use experimental military research to ensure that your friends will never again ask you to help them move.

With text, charts, and stick-figure illustrations, How To walks you through useless but entertaining approaches to common problems, using bad advice to explore some of the stranger and more interesting science and technology underlying the world around us.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 5, 1936 Rhae Andrece and Alyce Andrece. They played twin androids in I, Mudd, a classic Trek episode. Both appeared as policewomen in “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club” on Batman. That’s their only genre other appearance. (Died 2009 and 2005.)
  • Born September 5, 1939 George Lazenby, 80. He is best remembered for being James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Genre wise, he also played Jor-El on Superboy and was a Bond like character named JB in the Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. film. 
  • Born September 5, 1939 Donna Anderson, 80. She was Mary Holmes in On The Beach, based on Neal Shute’s novel. She also appeared in, and I kid you not, Sinderella and the Golden Bra and Werewolves on Wheels
  • Born September 5, 1940 Raquel Welch, 79. Fantastic Voyage was her first genre film though her appearance in One Million Years B.C. with her leather bikini got her more notice. She was charming in The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. She has one-offs in BewitchedSabrina the Teenage WitchThe Muppet ShowLois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanHappily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child and Mork & Mindy
  • Born September 5, 1951 Michael Keaton, 68. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! He also has the title roles of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. His most recent role is The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Born September 5, 1964 Stephen Greenhorn, 55. Scriptwriter who has written two episodes for Doctor Who: “The Lazarus Experiment” and “The Doctor’s Daughter”, both Tenth Doctor stories. He also wrote Marchlands, a supernatural series with Doctor Who star Alex Kingston. 
  • Born September 5, 1973 Rose McGowan, 46. Best known as Paige Matthews on Charmed. She played two different roles in the Grindhouse franchise, Cherry Darling in  Planet Terror and Pam in  Death Proof. She was Miss Kitty in Monkeybone, a very weird film indeed.

(10) MYTHBUSTING. The results of test purport to explain “Why phones that secretly listen to us are a myth”.

A mobile security company has carried out a research investigation to address the popular conspiracy theory that tech giants are listening to conversations.

The internet is awash with posts and videos on social media where people claim to have proof that the likes of Facebook and Google are spying on users in order to serve hyper-targeted adverts.

Videos have gone viral in recent months showing people talking about products and then ads for those exact items appear online.

Now, cyber security-specialists at Wandera have emulated the online experiments and found no evidence that phones or apps were secretly listening.

(11) IN A SNAP, IT’S GONE. “Trolls cause shutdown of official Jeremy Renner app” – BBC has the story.

Superhero Hawkeye may have helped defeat Thanos – but trolls have proved too tough a foe for him to best.

Actor Jeremy Renner, who plays Marvel’s eagle-eyed hero, has shut down his app after it was hijacked and used to harass people.

Abuse and harassment mushroomed after trolls found a way to impersonate the actor and others on the Jeremy Renner Official app.

Renner apologised for the shutdown in a post explaining what had happened.

Identity crisis

Created in 2017, the app, on which Renner regularly posted exclusive images and content and occasionally messaged users, also operated as a community hub where fans could post their own stories and communicate with each other.

In his explanatory post, Renner blamed “clever individuals” who had found a way to pose as other users.

(12) FRIENDLY (?) NIEGHBORHOOD SPIDER-DRONE. What flies through the air and snares its enemies in webs? CNN has the answer: “China says its drone can hunt like Spiderman”.

               China says it has developed a new hunter drone that can disable other drones — or even small aircraft — by firing a 16-square-meter (172 square feet) web at them.

               “Caught by the web, the hostile drone should lose power and fall to ground,” said a report on the Chinese military’s English-language website.

               Developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, the drone can work alone but also can integrate with China’s defense system for small, slow and low-flying targets, according to the report.

The hexacopter drone can also perform surveillance and reconnaissance, it said.

(13) NECRONOMICON. The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda gives a con report for Necronomicon, including the panels he enjoyed and the art and books he brought home: “Dispatch from a ‘horror’ convention: It began in a dark, candlelit room .?.?.”

… Because NecronomiCon runs a half dozen simultaneous tracks, you can’t help but miss wonderful-sounding panels and events. On Friday alone I would have liked to have heard “Unsung Authors,” “Pulp History,” “Providence in Weird Fiction,” “Children’s Horror Anthologies of the 1960s and 70s,” and a discussion of the lushly decadent fantasist Tanith Lee, which featured, among others, her bibliographer Allison Rich, science fiction writer and critic Paul Di Filippo and popular Washington author Craig Laurance Gidney.

Still, along with my friend Robert Knowlton — a Toronto book collector who has read more weird fiction than anyone else alive — I did catch the program devoted to the specialty publisher Arkham House. Its participants included Donald Sidney-Fryer, who in his youth got to know that most poetical of Weird Tales writers, Clark Ashton Smith. Donaldo, as he likes to be called, generously inscribed my copy of “The Sorcerer Departs,” his memoir of that friendship. Not surprisingly, among the many films shown during the con was Darin Coelho Spring’s superb documentary “Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams.”…

(14) PYTHON RECOVERIES. Not exactly SF but Monty Python does a surreal riff. The BBC in a two part series of just 15 minutes are revealing newly discovered material from the cutting room floor — Monty Python at 50: The Self-Abasement Tapes.

Part one here.

On the 50th anniversary of Python, Michael Palin hunts down lost sketches. This programme contains material never heard before, including the infamous Fat Ignorant Bastards sketch.

(15) DRESS FOR EXCESS. Jezebel claims “The Woman Who Wore a T-Rex Costume to Her Sister’s Wedding Is the Best Person in America”. Photo at the site.

…As chill as many soon-to-be-married couples pretend to be, weddings are all about control. This is why bridesmaids are forced to purchase matching dresses that make them look like bipedal draperies, often to the tune of several hundred dollars. But this wedding season, one woman had the courage to say “no” to wrapping herself in an ill-fitting puff of chiffon for her sister’s nuptials. Instead she went with an outfit she loved, something she knew she’d wear again and again: A T-rex costume….

(16) MUSIC OF THE SPHERES. Live Proms from the Royal Albert Hall, London: London Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Robert Ames in music from Sci-Fi films. On the BBC Sounds website: “Prom 27: The Sound of Space: Sci-Fi Film Music”. You can listen anytime.

A Late Night Prom with a futuristic spin brings together some of the best sci-fi film music. Excerpts from cult soundtracks come together with recent works by Hans Zimmer and Mica Levi. The award winning London Contemporary Orchestra – whose collaborators include Radiohead, Goldfrapp and Steve Reich – perform music from Under the Skin, Interstellar and the recent Netflix series The Innocents, among other titles, as well as from Alien: Covenant, whose soundtrack the LCO recorded.

  • Steven Price: Gravity 
  • Mica Levi: Under the Skin 
  • John Murphy: Sunshine 
  • Wendy Carlos: Tron (Scherzo) 
  • Carly Paradis: The Innocents 
  • Clint Mansell: Moon 
  • Louis and Bebe Barron: Forbidden Planet (Main Titles – Overture) 
  • Jed Kurzel: Alien: Covenant Jòhann Jòhannsson arr. 
  • Anthony Weeden: Arrival (Suite No 1) 
  • Hans Zimmer: Interstellar 

(17) SWEET. The Harvard Gazette calls it “Pancreas on a chip”.

By combining two powerful technologies, scientists are taking diabetes research to a whole new level. In a study led by Harvard University’s Kevin Kit Parker and published in the journal Lab on a Chip on Aug. 29, microfluidics and human, insulin-producing beta cells have been integrated in an islet-on-a-chip. The new device makes it easier for scientists to screen insulin-producing cells before transplanting them into a patient, test insulin-stimulating compounds, and study the fundamental biology of diabetes.

The design of the islet-on-a-chip was inspired by the human pancreas, in which islands of cells (“islets”) receive a continuous stream of information about glucose levels from the bloodstream and adjust their insulin production as needed.

“If we want to cure diabetes, we have to restore a person’s own ability to make and deliver insulin,” explained Douglas Melton, the Xander University Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). “Beta cells, which are made in the pancreas, have the job of measuring sugar and secreting insulin, and normally they do this very well. But in diabetes patients these cells can’t function properly. Now, we can use stem cells to make healthy beta cells for them. But like all transplants, there is a lot involved in making sure that can work safely.”

Before transplanting beta cells into a patient, they must be tested to see whether they are functioning properly. The current method for doing this is based on technology from the 1970s: giving the cells glucose to elicit an insulin response, collecting samples, adding reagents, and taking measurements to see how much insulin is present in each one. The manual process takes so long to run and interpret that many clinicians give up on it altogether.

The new, automated, miniature device gives results in real time, which can speed up clinical decision-making.

(18) BUT IT’S NOT RIGHT. BBC reports “Left-handed DNA found – and it changes brain structure”.

Scientists have found the first genetic instructions hardwired into human DNA that are linked to being left-handed.

The instructions also seem to be heavily involved in the structure and function of the brain – particularly the parts involved in language.

The team at the University of Oxford say left-handed people may have better verbal skills as a result.

But many mysteries remain regarding the connection between brain development and the dominant hand.

(19) HAVING A MELTDOWN. Global Meltdown:My Ice on YouTube explains what happens when the last man on Earth stands on the last piece of ice.

[Thanks to Bruce Arthurs, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Daniel Dern, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Matthew Johnson.]

Pixel Scroll 7/5/19 We Hold These Pixels To Be Self Scrolling, That All Filers Are Created Equal

(1) TUNING IN. The Doctor may use her time traveling skills to visit your TV set even sooner than the beginning of Season 12. Radio Times speculates that “Doctor Who could air an extra episode before the new series”.

RadioTimes.com understands that a plan is in the works to air a standalone Doctor Who special some time before series 12 hits screens, possibly in a festive slot like this year’s New Year’s Day Special or the Christmas specials that were released every year prior (from 2005 onwards).

However, it’s also possible that the proposed episode will bypass the festive period altogether, airing in a less competitive slot to give the Tardis team their best reintroduction this winter, and avoiding the usual holiday themes favoured by previous Doctor Who specials.

(2) ORDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE. Just as French fries are merely a delivery vehicle for ketchup, File 770 exists to publicize where Scott Edelman goes to eat lunch. In Episode 99 of Eating the Fantastic, the meal is served at the Sagebrush Cantina in the company of comics legend Gerry Conway.

Gerry Conway

My first meal of the Nebula Awards weekend was with comics legend Gerry Conway, who I’ve known for at least 48 years, since 1971 — when I was a comics fan of 16, and he was 19, and yet already a comics pro with credits on Phantom StrangerKa-Zar, and Daredevil. Our paths back then crossed in the basement of the Times Square branch of Nathan’s (which, alas, no longer exists) where the late Phil Seuling had organized a standalone dealers room without any convention programming dubbed Nathan’s Con, which was a test run for his future Second Sunday mini-cons.

Gerry and I have a lot of history in those 48 years, including his time as Marvel’s editor-in-chief when I worked in the Bullpen — though his tenure was only six weeks long, two of those weeks my honeymoon — a tenure you’ll hear us talk about during the meal which follows. He’s the creator of The Punisher, Power Girl, and Firestorm, and wrote a lengthy and at one point controversial run on Spider-Man. But he’s also worked on such TV series as MatlockJake and the FatmanHercules: The Legendary JourneysLaw & Order, and many others.

At Gerry’s recommendation, our meal took place at the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, California, where I invite you to take a seat and eavesdrop on our longest conversation in 40 years.

We discussed how the comics business has always been dying and what keeps saving it, why if he were in charge he’d shut down Marvel Comics for six months, what it’s like (and how it’s different) being both the youngest and oldest writer ever to script Spider-Man, the novel mistake he made during his summer at the Clarion Writers Workshop, why he’s lived a life in comics rather than science fiction, what caused Harlan Ellison to write an offensive letter to his mother, the one bad experience he ever had being edited in comics (it had to do with the Justice League), the convoluted way Superman vs. Spider-Man resulted in him writing for TV’s Father Dowling Mysteries, how exasperation caused him to quit his role as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief (while I was out of the Bullpen on my honeymoon), how he’d have been treated if he’d killed off Gwen Stacy in today’s social media world, and much, much more.

(3) TALKING ABOUT A GAMES HUGO. Camestros Felapton starts a thoughtful discussion of Ira Alexandre’s motion in “Looking at the Hugo Game/Interactive Experience proposal”.

…I think accessibility to the works remains one of the biggest obstacles to this category working effectively, although the proposal makes substantial efforts to address this.

My other concern is the multiple vectors against which we’d need to judge works in this category. The proposal gives numerous examples of other game awards but I’m struck by the many ways game awards split their own categories….

(4) KOTLER’S PICKS. Paul Weimer hosts “6 Books with Steve Kotler” at Nerds of a Feather. I’m in the middle of reading the author’s latest —

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome?

My latest book is Last Tango in Cyberspace. It’s a novel that follows a protagonist named Lion Zorn. He’s an empathy tracker or em-tracker, a new kind of human with a much deeper ability to feel empathy than most. His talent lets him track cultural trends into the future, a form of empathetic prognostication, and a useful skill to certain kind of company. But when Arctic Pharmaceuticals hires him to em-track rumors of a new and extremely potent psychedelic—with potential medical uses—he ends up enmeshed in a world of startup religions, environmental terrorists and overlapping global conspiracies. It’s a thriller about the ramifications of accelerating technology, the evolution of empathy, and the hidden costs of consciousness-expansion. And it’s awesome because, well, it’s just a ton of mind-blowing fun.

(5) GROKKING JAPAN. In The Paris Review, Andrei Codrescu resurrects “The Many Lives of Lafcadio Hearn”, once among the best-known literary figures of his day.

…History is a fairy tale true to its telling. Lafcadio Hearn’s lives are a fairy tale true in various tellings, primarily his own, then those of his correspondents, and with greater uncertainty, those of his biographers. Hearn changed, as if magically, from one person into another, from a Greek islander into a British student, from a penniless London street ragamuffin into a respected American newspaper writer, from a journalist into a novelist, and, most astonishingly, from a stateless Western man into a loyal Japanese citizen. His sheer number of guises make him a creature of legend. Yet this life, as recorded both by himself and by others, grows more mysterious the more one examines it, for it is like the Japanese story of the Buddhist monk Kwashin Koji, in “Impressions of Japan,” who owned a painting so detailed it flowed with life. A samurai chieftain saw it and wanted to buy it, but the monk wouldn’t sell it, so the chieftain had him followed and murdered. But when the painting was brought to the chieftain and unrolled, there was nothing on it; it was blank. Hearn reported this story told to him by a Japanese monk to illustrate some aspect of the Buddhist doctrine of karma, but he might as well have been speaking about himself as Koji: the more “literary” the renderings of the original story, the less fresh and vivid it becomes, until it might literally disappear, like that legendary painting.

(6) VISIONARY. CNN discovers Simon Stålenhag — “Simon Stålenhag’s hauntingly beautiful retro sci-fi art”.

Simon Stålenhag’s paintings are a strange, irresistible mix of mundane scenes from the Swedish countryside and haunting scenarios involving abandoned robots, mysterious machinery and even dinosaurs.

They are the product of his childhood memories — growing up in suburban Stockholm and painting landscapes and wildlife — and his adulthood appreciation for sci-fi.

“I try to make art for my 12-year-old self,” he said in a phone interview. “I want to make stuff that would make my younger self see it and go, ‘I’m not supposed to look at this because it’s for adults, but I really want to anyway.'”

(7) UNSURPRISINGLY, THE IRS RECOGNIZES SATAN. The Burbank Leader generated some clicks with its overview: “The IRS gave nonprofit status to a satanic church. Will all hell break loose?”.

Earlier this year the Internal Revenue Service officially recognized the Satanic Temple as a church, meaning it has 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.

According to the church’s website, the Satanic Temple’s mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”

Yet perhaps because the group describes itself as a “nontheistic religious organization” and maintains an openness about taking political stances, the IRS decision has brought some controversy.

According to an article on Rewire.News, a pro-life petition online states, “This egregious decision runs counter to everything America stands for,” and a Catholic commentator argued that without God or a literal Satan, there is no “real religion.”

A letter to the editor from a self-identified atheist began:

I’m fine with the ruling, based on the finding that the Temple’s attributes — unique tenets, regular congregations and religious services — meet the IRS guidelines for a tax-exempt religious organization, i.e., a church. Neither God, gods nor Satan are required to be a “real religion” under these guidelines, contrary to the commentator quoted in this month’s question.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born July 5, 1904 Milburn Stone. Though you no doubt know him as Doc on Gunsmoke, he did have several genre roles including a German Sargent in The Invisible Agent, Captain Vickery in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, Mr. Moore in The Spider Woman Strikes Back and Capt. Roth in Invaders from Mars. (Died 1980.)
  • Born July 5, 1929 Katherine Helmond. Among her roles was Mrs Ogre in Time Bandits and Mrs. Ida Lowry in Brazil. Now I’ll bet you can tell her scene in the latter… (Died 2019.)
  • Born July 5, 1941 Garry Kilworth, 78. The Ragthorn, a novella co-authored with Robert Holdstock, won the World Fantasy Award. It’s an excellent read and it makes me wish I’d read other fiction by him. Anyone familiar with his work? 
  • Born July 5, 1948 Nancy Springer, 71. May I recommend her Tales of Rowan Hood series of which her Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest is a most splendid revisionist telling of that legend? And her Enola Holmes Mysteries are a nice riffing off of the Holmsiean mythos.
  • Born July 5, 1957 Jody Lynn Nye, 62. She’s best known for collaborating with Asprin on the MythAdventures series  Since his death, she has continued that series and she is now also writing sequels to his Griffen McCandle series as well. 
  • Born July 5, 1963 Alma Alexander, 56. Author of three SF series including the Changer of Days which is rather good. I’m including her here for her AbductiCon novel which is is set in a Con and involves both what goes on at that Con and the aliens that are involved. 
  • Born July 5, 1964 Ronald Moore, 55. He‘s best known for his work on various Star Trek series, on the Battlestar Galactica reboot and on the Outlander series.  
  • Born July 5, 1972 Nia Roberts, 47. She appeared in two two Doctor Who episodes during the time of the Eleventh Doctor, “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood”. But it’s an earlier role that gets her a Birthday citation just because it sounds so damn cool: Rowan Latimer in the “Curse of the Blood of the Lizard of Doom” episode of the Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible whichspoofed shows such as Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected.

(9) GET MAD. If you want to see more of Alfred E. Newman’s gap-toothed smile, Doug Gilford’s MAD Cover Site is the place for you.

Look at every regular issue cover from the comic book days of 1952 to the present day! Issue contents included!

(10) COUNTING FANS AT WORLDCONS. The latest round of Hugo statistics led to a discussion on the SMOFs list about other Worldcon stats, where Rene Walling reminded readers about his compilations, published by James Gunn’s Ad Astra earlier in this decade:

Sweeping statements and generalizations are often made about the membership of early World Science Fiction Conventions (WSFC, or Worldcon) such as “only the same people came back every year” or “the attendance was all male.” Yet rarely is more than anecdotal evidence given to support these statements. The goal of this report is to provide some hard data on the membership of early Worldcons so that such statements can be based on more than anecdotal evidence.

…The number of members listed over the entire 1961-1980 time span totals 33,279 for the WSFC sources, which represents 81.66% of the total from the Long List (40,752). The total number of individual members is 17,136.

(11) IS BEST SERIES WORKING? At Nerds of a Feather, Joe Sherry precedes his discussion of the nominees in “Reading the Hugos: Series” with some meta comments about the category.

This is worth mentioning now because 2019 is the third year of the Best Series category and the second appearance of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series because McGuire has published two additional novels (The Brightest Fell, Night and Silence) as well as some short fiction set in that universe. I wouldn’t be shocked to see McGuire’s InCryptid make a second appearance next year, and I also expect to see The Expanse to have its own second crack at the ballot, though with The Expanse I hope readers wait one more year for the ninth (and final?) volume to be published so that The Expanse can be considered as a completed work.

I’m curious what this says about the long term future and health of the category if we see some of the same series make repeat appearances. Of course, we can (and do) say the same thing about a number of “down the ballot” categories like Fanzine (we do appreciate being on the ballot for the third year in a row!), Semiprozine, and the Editor categories.

(12) IN A BAD PLACE. Steve J. Wright’s review of the finalists has reached “Hugo Category: Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” – and there’s one he really doesn’t like.

We have two episodes of The Good Place, and I won’t complain about that either, because this is a popular vote and the show clearly has its fans…. I’m still not among them.  It seems to me that The Good Place is still trying to be several things at once, and is failing at all of them, and since the things it’s trying to be include “funny” and “though-provoking”, the result isn’t good. 

(13) HELICON AWARDS. Richard Paolinelli celebrated the Fourth of July by announcing the ten inaugural winners of the Helicon Awards on his YouTube channel. Sad Puppy Declan Finn won the Best Horror Novel category, which is probably more informative about where these awards are coming from than that Brandon Sanderson and Timothy Zahn also won.  

The 2019 Helicon Awards celebrates the best literary works of 2018 in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Military Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Alternate History, Media Tie-In, Horror and Anthology (SF/F/H).

Throughout the presentation Paolinelli keeps using the pronouns “we” and “our” without shedding very much light on who besides himself is behind these awards. The slides for the winners bear the  logo of his Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators Guild, opened last year with the ambition of rivalling SFWA. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators Guild closed group on Facebook is listed as having 275 members – you can’t see the content without joining, but FB displays a stat that it’s had 6 posts in the last 30 days. The SFFCGuild Twitter account hasn’t been active since February 2018.

Paolinelli’s blog claims sponsorship of the awards, but in the video he says not only won’t winners be receiving a trophy, he hasn’t even designed a certificate for them, though he might do that in a few weeks.

In addition to the 10 Helicon Awards, Paolinelli named “three individual honorees for the Mevil Dewey Innovation Award, Laura Ingalls Wilder Best New Author Award and the Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award.”

So far as the first two awards are concerned, it’s likely that what did most to persuade Paolinelli to give them those names was the decision by two organizations this past year to drop the names from existing awards – in Wilder’s case (see Pixel Scroll 6/25/18 item #5), the US Association for Library Service to Children said it was “over racist views and language,” while the American Library Association dropped Dewey (see Pixel Scroll 6/27/19 Item #13) citing “a history of racism, anti-Semitism, and sexual harassment.”

(14) A FANNISH ANIMAL. “My Wild Time Living in a House Full of Wombats” is an article at The Daily Beast, where else?

What is a full night’s sleep?! I haven’t had one of those in a long time. I run Sleepy Burrow Wombat Sanctuary in Australia, which is the largest wombat sanctuary in the world. I’m up every three hours to do round-the-clock feedings for the baby wombats that have recently come into our care. Their first nights with us are always the most critical time where their survival is the most at risk. If being up all night is what it takes to pull them through, I will do it. Don’t feel too bad for me though. I wouldn’t trade the life I have for anything in the world. I have a wonderful family I built with the most supportive husband, who is my partner both in life and rescue. I’m a mother to two perfect daughters, a dog, and a house full of the cutest wombats you can imagine. As a family unit we have rescued over 1,300 wombats.

(15) NIGERIAN SFF. Adri Joy makes the book sound pretty interesting, though rates it only 6/10: “Microreview [book]: David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa” at Nerds of a Feather.

That main character, it will not surprise you to hear, is David Mogo, Godhunter. David lives in a version of Lagos which has been subjected to the Falling: a war which has caused thousands of Orisha to rain down on the city and take up residence. A half-god himself, David was abandoned by his mother and raised by a foster-father who also happens to be a wizard, wielding magical talents which David’s divinity keeps him from using in the same way. Instead, when we meet David he’s trying to throw himself into a bounty hunting existence with as much amoral abandon as possible, taking on a job from far more shady wizard Ajala for “roof money” while trying to suppress the sense that he should be acting with slightly more principle.

(16) SPONGING OFF FANS. That’s the allegation, anyway: “SpongeBob SquarePants fan claims Nickelodeon copied art”.

A fan has claimed Nickelodeon used his SpongeBob SquarePants artwork without his permission.

Matt Salvador, 17, says the art was featured in an advert for the show which was aired in June.

His artwork, uploaded online in 2016, is drawn in the style of a background used in a typical episode.

Various YouTube channels have uploaded the video, which the fan says shows the same artwork, but with his signature in the bottom-right corner removed.

(17) THINKING INSIDE THE BOX. Unlike Facebook or Google — “Why the BBC does not want to store your data”.

BBC audience members could soon be using all the data from their social media and online accounts to fine tune the content they listen to and view.

The BBC is developing a personal data store that analyses information from multiple sources to filter content.

Early prototypes of the BBC Box draw on profiles people have built up on Spotify, Instagram and the BBC iPlayer.

The BBC will not store data for users. Instead, preferences will be kept in the Box so they can be reused.

The project is seen as “disruptive” because individuals will decide what they use their data for themselves.

The Box is part of a larger European project seeking to give people more control over their data.

(18) STILL NOT READY. Let’s face it: “Biased and wrong? Facial recognition tech in the dock”.

Police and security forces around the world are testing out automated facial recognition systems as a way of identifying criminals and terrorists. But how accurate is the technology and how easily could it and the artificial intelligence (AI) it is powered by – become tools of oppression?

Imagine a suspected terrorist setting off on a suicide mission in a densely populated city centre. If he sets off the bomb, hundreds could die or be critically injured.

CCTV scanning faces in the crowd picks him up and automatically compares his features to photos on a database of known terrorists or “persons of interest” to the security services.

The system raises an alarm and rapid deployment anti-terrorist forces are despatched to the scene where they “neutralise” the suspect before he can trigger the explosives. Hundreds of lives are saved. Technology saves the day.

But what if the facial recognition (FR) tech was wrong? It wasn’t a terrorist, just someone unlucky enough to look similar. An innocent life would have been summarily snuffed out because we put too much faith in a fallible system.

What if that innocent person had been you?

This is just one of the ethical dilemmas posed by FR and the artificial intelligence underpinning it.

Training machines to “see” – to recognise and differentiate between objects and faces – is notoriously difficult. Computer vision, as it is sometimes called – not so long ago was struggling to tell the difference between a muffin and a chihuahua – a litmus test of this technology.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, rcade, Michael Toman, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Paul Weimer.]

A Hugo Award for Best Game or Interactive Experience

[This guest post proposes adding a category to the Hugo Awards.]

By Ira Alexandre:  Thirteen years ago, in 2006, there was a trial attempt at a “Best Interactive Video Game” Hugo category. Then, as now, hundreds of WSFS members were also creating and playing analog games, telling stories by touch and by chance, by word and by wit. These experiences were excluded from this award entirely. Since then, we have entered the age of Steam, YouTube, and Twitch, mobile games and the indie explosion. The tools to breathe life into the branching paths of an interactive novel have never been more accessible and sophisticated. We need an award that recognizes the proliferation of games, platforms, creators, and users in the thirteen years since the video game award was last trialed.

It is time for all types of games and interactive media to be recognized in our community. It is time for an inclusive games Hugo Award.

I know we’ve tried this before, but a lot has changed – including what is actually being proposed. In addition to the 2006 trial category attempt, there was also a petition in 2015 to get MidAmeriCon II to run a Best Video Game category. There’s two major ways my proposal is different: it’s not just for video games, and it addresses the issue of modifications (DLC, expansions, fan mods, etc.).

Here’s what I’m proposing, and I’ve put together roughly 100 pages of data, arguments, and case by case analysis to back it up:

3.3.X: Best Game or Interactive Experience.

Any work or substantial modification of a work (such as a game or interactive narrative, demonstration, or installation) first released to the public in the previous calendar year in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects in any medium where player/user choice, interaction, or participation significantly impacts the narrative, pacing, play, or experience of the work.

With this proposed definition, I want to:

  • Name games specifically. Let’s keep it grounded, translatable, and accessible to international audiences.
  • Leave room for all the other amazing things that can be achieved with interactivity.
  • Acknowledge and engage with the uniquely modification-heavy nature of games. We’re taking advantage of the concept of “substantially modified,” already present in the Best Related Work Category.

This approach opens up the category to a ton of content that WSFS members are demonstrably interested in, judging by the amount of Worldcon programming that’s devoted to games. My proposal includes a Proof of Interest section covering the growth in games programming since 2006 as well as showing WSFS members writing about, playing, and creating games. Between WorldCon 64 — the year of the 2006 attempt — and WorldCon 76 last year, there have been 353 gaming panels, presentations, scheduled gaming sessions, and other gaming-related program items at WorldCons. The percentage of Worldcon programming that’s devoted to games has tripled since 2006, with some cons having as much as 6-9% of their entire program devoted to games, up from less than 1% when the category was last trialled.

Not only has interest grown, but games as a medium have changed and matured immensely. Indie and mobile games have taken off and now form the majority of the market, and the distribution platform of Steam has made gaming more accessible than ever.  There’s plenty of games – not just good but great games – to nominate every year, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot to nominate and vote. It’s not a solid wall of expensive AAAs and even more expensive consoles. Analog games are often collectively owned, with one playable set shared among several people. Prose interactive fiction is often low-cost or even free. Indie games, playable on run-of-the-mill PCs and phones, are doing a ton of the heavy lifting in terms of quality and interesting SFF work, and they cost about as much as a hardcover novel or even an ebook novella. For those who can’t or don’t want to play the games, guided game tours like Let’s Plays or “movie versions” of games abound on YouTube and Twitch (I moderated a panel on this very thing at WisCon). Existing WSFS gamers already own or buy the platform and materials in numbers large enough to nominate, and becoming an informed voter ranges from cheap to free.

But aside from the growing interest and accessibility, games are also just not well served by the current category structure.  Games simply do not fit in Best Dramatic Presentation or Best Related Work, where they’re currently eligible. In the BDP categories, not only are games competing with big budget films and TV series, but they also have to be sorted by runtime, which most games don’t even have. More importantly, putting them in either category ignores the unique nature of interactive storytelling that blends narrative and play.

It doesn’t matter if it’s audiovisual, analog, immersive, or prose. If it’s interactive, it’s made differently, it’s crafted differently. We approach the work in a different way; we shape it even as it shapes our experience. This unifying element of all interactive experiences – of this utterly unique way to convey a story, a world, an idea – deserves to be recognized.

The sort of speculative fiction storytelling that games can do is absolutely unique. There is no substitute for imagined planets you can actually explore, for time travel stories where you pick where and when to go, for being given the tools to make your own stories with your friends. Games are uniquely suited to push the limits of interactive worldbuilding (Microscope, Dragon Age, Dwarf Fortress), expand the ways we can tell stories (GRIS, Return of the Obra Dinn, Heaven’s Vault), and interrogate the natures of narrative and play themselves (BioShock, Braid, The Stanley Parable, Pandemic Legacy). There is simply nothing like this medium. There is SFF work only games can do.

WSFS members play games, write about games, make games, and are inspired by games. We have always been here. We have always gamed.

And as gamers, we understand that mods, analog or digital, pro or fan, are part of the game. Expansions, rereleases, editions, bundles. DLC, handmade cards, patches, fan mods, house rules. Part of the magic of games is that you can make them your own. Changes to the game can be experienced directly as part of it – not alongside, but during, the play. A truly inclusive game award must acknowledge game modifications. Including a substantial modifications clause in the award definition not only acknowledges the culture and reality of the gaming world, but also takes the burden off Hugo administrators during the nominations phase.

With a substantial modification clause, Hugo admins don’t have to legislate the common cases of expansive expansions, meaty DLC, and top-to-bottom remakes. These are part of modern gaming craft, and when they make a difference, they deserve to be acknowledged. And fans can tell what truly makes a difference. We are simply less likely to nominate mods that don’t have meaning when there’s so much fresh content to consider. By acknowledging this aspect of gaming culture, we honour the speculative fiction and fannish work being done without creating an undue burden on Hugo admins.

Whether you’re a gamer or not, this proposal is about you. It’s about what the speculative fiction work we as WSFS members choose to honour.

If you’re interested, please take this interest survey  – it does use Google sign-ins to enforce a single-vote policy. If you don’t have a Google account, please feel free to join the mailing list, tweet about it using #GamesHugo, email me at contact@gameshugo.com, or talk to me in person at Worldcon, where I will be at the Business Meeting.  I’ve made www.gameshugo.com as a central hub for this campaign.

If you’re not convinced, I invite you to read the full proposal, where I put forward full, detailed arguments, reams of data, and a dozen test cases: A Hugo Award for “Best Game or Interactive Experience”. There’s about 60 pages of arguments, examples, and narrative, about 40 pages of appendices, and a spreadsheet of hundreds of games, panels, and panelists. I’d love to hear feedback!

Thanks for your time!

— Ira Alexandre, (WSFS Member and Contributing Editor at Lady Business)