At NYRSF Readings, a Brave Little Toast to Thomas M. Disch

Henry Wessells

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, February 6th, at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn (somewhere on the Ruins of Earth), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series presented a tribute to the brilliant author and poet Thomas M. Disch (1940-2008), a celebration of his life and work, guest-hosted by Henry Wessells (a past guest curator) and featuring his peers and friends, including his literary executor, readings from his works and a short film.

The evening began with Series Producer and Executive Curator Jim Freund welcoming the crowd to the final session of the Series’ 27th Season, adding that there would be a special Summer Series: .

  • July 3rd – David Mack and Seth Dickinson, guest curated by Amy Goldschlager (a former Curator)
  • August 7th – A Launch Party/Reading for Sunspot Jungle, with guest curator Bill Campbell

As usual, he cautioned us that the event was being Livestreamed (so watch where you scratch) and asked all who could donate to donate (suggested amount $7, but no one gets turned away).

Freund related that he met Tom Disch during his early days at Hour of the Wolf, and that he was among the first ever to read at the NYRSF Reading Series. Disch’s last public appearance was a reading from his new novel, The Word of God, at a NYRSF event on June 3, 2008, 10 years and two days ago. (It was at the Series’ then-venue, the South Street Seaport, and I was privileged to have attended.) In it, Disch was God (and Philip K. Dick was Satan). Sadly, Disch killed himself by gunshot on July 4, 2008 (he referred to the 4th as “the Holiday”) in his Manhattan apartment. He had been depressed since the 2005 death of his partner, Charles (“Charlie”) Naylor; the two had been together for some three decades.

Shifting tone, Freund announced that the evening had “a sponsor,” and proceeded to read (his delivery bringing to mind Johnny Carson’s pitchman character Art Fern) “Fun With Your New Head.” (“Two heads are better than one. … Only $49.95!”)

(On a personal note, the story collection Fun with Your New Head was the first Disch that I ever read; and, it seems, for Elizabeth Hand as well.)

Then Wessells, a short story writer, poet and antiquarian bookseller, assumed his role of host. As well as a writer of prose – which ranged from wildly satirical stories to dark cautionary tales to works for children – Disch was a poet, and “wanted to be remembered as the Thomas Beddoes of death in America.” (Beddoes was a minor Romantic poet. “Americans,” said Disch once, “don’t read poetry, but they love poets.”) The first part of the evening, he announced, would be a panel on his life, followed by a clip from the film Winter Journey.

Gregory Feeley, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Henry Wessells

He was joined on stage by John Clute, Gregory Feeley and Elizabeth Hand. Hand, a multiple-award-winning author of novels and collections of short fiction, and reviewer, read a note from John Crowley, “Remembering Tom,” followed by “Ghost Ship,” a story from Disch’s last blog.

John Clute

Clute is variously an author, reviewer, critic, and encyclopedia writer – he is best known for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (the first version of which was published in 1979 and now exists in an online version). He shared that he met Disch in 1961 when they were at NYU, and their friendship continued until Tom’s death. His writing ability was “full-fledged” at 22. He was kind and generous, but he was also quick to end friendships for the littlest reason. He also sent out signals that his death, when it came, would be at his timing and at his own hand.

Elizabeth Hand

Gregory Feeley is a writer of and about science fiction. He is Disch’s literary executor (he had two, one for prose, Feeley, and one for poetry; though sometimes overlooked, poetry was half of Disch’s professional life), and is preparing an edition of Disch’s best short fiction. He met Disch in late 1978, when the Magazine of F&SF announced that they were going to publish On Wings of Song, which they described as “his best and longest novel,” in serial form, and he wrote him a letter, which Disch answered. Wings’ protagonist, Daniel Weinreb, was loosely based on Naylor, though the latter was not “a man without talent.” Clute, armed with laptop, read a very brief reminiscence from Pamela Zoline.

Henry Wessells knew him during the last years of his life. (He was with Disch when he spread Naylor’s ashes.) Though regarded as part of the British New Wave, Camp Concentration was “very much an American book.” Disch lived in New York, London, Spain and Turkey, but he remembered his Midwestern roots (he was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota). Wessells subsequently cited his “Minnesota Quartet,” The Businessman, The M.D., The Priest, and The Sub. (Disch later said that he thought that The Priest was published 10 years too early.) During his lifetime, he won a Hugo (his only one) for a nonfiction work (Best Related Book), for The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, and a John Campbell Award, for On Wings of Song (which received nominations for the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel).

Eric Solstein and Henry Wessells

Filmmaker Eric Solstein, joining Wessells on stage, related that he met Disch at the Sullivan County (aka the Catskills) home that he shared with Naylor, and, after Naylor’s death, Disch asked him to videotape what he called his “suicide note.” The “note,” such as it was, took the form of “a suite of 31 poems,” “a cycle of mourning verse” about Naylor, called Winter Journey, the title of the film as well. Shot with a handheld camera (as was evident), it took, said Solstein, three years to edit it, during which Disch went on with his life. We watched an excerpt, the first three poems. (It may be viewed on Solstein’s YouTube channel.)

Thomas M. Disch on video

During the intermission, a raffle was held for donors, with the prizes being a copy of Samuel R. Delany’s The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch – “Angouleme” (“Angouleme” was a story in 334), and a copy of a video featuring Disch’s NYRSF readings from 1993 and June 3, 2008.

The second half of the evening focused on Disch’s work. Wessells read a note from Delany, an excerpt from The American Shore, praising him as a “raconteur.”

Brendan C. Byrne

Brendan C. Byrne (neither the late Governor of New Jersey nor the since-renamed arena) has written criticism and short fiction. He never knew Disch, except as a reader. He offered an essay on 334. Written in and reflecting 1972 New York, his future Manhattan is a city of shortages and xenophobia (seen in its sterilization policy), and without privacy. Clute added that 334 has to be read against the background of the British New Wave. People aren’t starving, as in typical sf dystopias; it’s an impersonal welfare state, but not malignant. “It’s a complex vision.”

Terence Taylor

On Wings of Song (1979), said Wessells, “is set in an America not unlike our own, but suffering more shortages;” many cities have collapsed. Flying is achieved through rapture in song, but Daniel Weinreb, the protagonist, is not a good enough singer. (Disch, Clute observed, was obsessed with music.) With that, he introduced Terence Taylor, horror writer and the Series’ Tech Director, who took the stage to read an excerpt from the novel.

Wessells then brought his panel (Clute, Feeley and Hand) back on stage, with Byrne joining them, and asked them to cite or recommend Disch works. Byrne said that he was next going to read The Sub. Hand said that “The Roaches” and “The Descending” (in Fun with Your New Head) were the first Disch stories that she read (at 9), adding that we shouldn’t overlook The Brave Little Toaster. (Disch was, we were told, “mad about Paddington Bear;” he and Naylor had stuffed animals. “He was a depressive, but he wanted to be happy.”) She added Neighboring Lives (which he wrote with Charles Naylor). Clute recommended The Word of God, “a minor book, but in its way hilarious,” and Feeley Clara Reeve (written as Leonie Hargrave), which was set in the Victorian Era.

Gregory Feeley, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Brendan C. Byrne, Henry Wessells

On a final note, Wessells said that Disch had written a treatment for Disney that generated the original idea for The Lion King. (Well, Hamlet and Kimba the White Lion inspired it too.)

Regrettably, and doubtless embarrassingly, in a bit of strangeness, there were some technical difficulties during the evening, from sudden reverb to lights going on full force.

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a slew of books. The audience of perhaps 60 included Melissa C. Beckman (the Readings’ photographer), Moshe Feder, Amy Goldschlager, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, Lissanne Lake and Marco Palmieri. Over the course of the evening, audience members availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine.

That’s about the size of it.

— June 6, 2018

More Gardner Dozois Tributes

Gardner Dozois in 2017. Photo by Mark Blackman.

Gardner Dozois died May 27, and Michael Swanwick’s “The Gardner Dozois You Didn’t Know You Knew” (linked yesterday) has gone viral in the sf community.

Many other friends, colleagues and admirers of Dozois are also mourning the famed sff editor and writer. Here are a few excerpts:

Pat Cadigan on Facebook.

You will read a whole lot of tributes to Gardner, lauding him as a person, an editor, and a writer, and even the most superlative won’t be superlative enough.

But Gardner Dozois and Susan Casper were more than that to me…they were family.

I’m not trying to claim I’m part of Gardner’s and Susan’s family. I’m saying they’re part of mine.

But, as Michael Swanwick has pointed out to me, we don’t get the people we love for free. The pain of losing them is the price we pay for the privilege of having them in our lives.

They’re worth it.

Walter Jon Williams: “The Passing of a Titan”.

In public, Gardner was a Personality.  Loud, lewd, and Rabelaisian, he was an effervescent source of fun and mischief.  I remember chatting with him in a crowded restaurant when the room suddenly went quiet, in one of those odd silences that can sometimes occur even in a busy room.  Gardner was the only person in the room who kept talking, and suddenly the entire room heard Gardner’s high tenor voice singing out the words “FEMALE . . . GENITAL . . . MUTILATION.”  

The silence went on for some time after that.

But if he were only the large-scale public personality, he wouldn’t have had the impact on the field that he did, and he wouldn’t have found and published the literate, sensitive stories for which his tenure at Asimov’s became known.  He wouldn’t have won the Hugo Award so many times, and there wouldn’t be so many very good authors who owe him a boost in their careers.

David Gerrold on Facebook:

Over the years, he established himself as one of the people who simply defined what science fiction could be — as a writer, an editor, and a reviewer. It was my privilege to present the Skylark award to him at a Boskone a few years ago — but because of his health issues, he wasn’t able to accept the trophy in person. I think I was as honored to present it to him as he was to receive it.

To put it simply, Gardner was one of the people whose respect I wanted to be worthy of. He edited the Year’s Best SF anthology for over three decades. But it wasn’t until number 23 (if I remember correctly) that he finally decided one of my stories should be included. (And then one more time, a couple years ago.) To make it into one of his anthologies had been on my bucket list. I am heartbroken that there will be no more Year’s Best with his name as editor.

Equally saddening, losing him as a reviewer. Gardner had an insightful eye — which is why I always turned to his reviews first in nearly every new issue of Locus. I think that’s one of the things I will miss the most — there will be no more reviews of short fiction by Gardner and Locus will be just a little less fun to read.

Alastair Reynolds, after recounting Dozois’ influence on his career, ends his  “Gardner Dozois” tribute —

I can’t say I knew him terrible well; we met on perhaps two of three occasions over the years during which he (and his late wife) were charming company, but I liked him very much and his passing will leave a considerable void in the SF community. I always let him know how much it meant to me that he picked up my stories, and I hope some of that got through to him – it really was sincerely meant. And – all too briefly – I ought to mention that he was also a fine and stylish writer, a very accomplished SF thinker who could easily have had a career just as a writer, but who directed most of his energies into editing instead, and thereby did the community a great favour. He was also a very readable diarist, and – although it’s been many years since I last encountered them – his travel writings were extremely enjoyable. He was a loud, colourful presence at SF conventions, but also a sensitive, cultured and knowledgeable man in private.

Lorena Haldeman on Facebook.

Some days you wake up and the daylight seems a little dimmer, your gravitational spin seems a little off; as if a star has gone out and the universe has to learn to adjust to new patterns.

I’ve always truly believed that the best way to keep people with us, in our hearts, when they have to leave the party, is to look for the qualities we so deeply admired in them and cultivate those in ourselves. May a part of me, going forward, always find mad humor in the angry darkness, keep the ability to be gentle in the tossing storm of life, and to be able to find the heart of the story by expertly cutting out the unnecessary.

Matthew Cheney shares bittersweet memories of growing up with Asimov’s – and growing apart, in “Gardner Dozois (1947-2018)”.

Dozois never showed interest in avant-garde fiction, at least to my knowledge, but in his early years at Asimov’s and in the late-’80s/early-’90s Year’s Bests he published quite a bit of work that pushed against various borders and walls, especially the expectations of genre readers about what SF could and, indeed, should be. His was a pluralistic, ecumenical, eclectic vision of the field, one gained from coming up as a writer himself in the years after the New Wave had shaken things up a bit. He loved a good space opera, but he was just as much a champion of “The Faithful Companion at Forty”, the sort of story that less open-minded readers said didn’t belong in a science fiction magazine.

Lavie Tidhar will miss him in a very practical way: “RIP Gardner Dozois (1947-2018)”.

What I can say about Gardner is that he meant a hell of a lot to me. He was my most strident champion in short fiction. He first contacted me about ten years ago, asking to reprint one of my stories in his seminal Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology series. Since then, he’s included me in every volume, sometimes doing me the honour of reprinting not one but two in the same volume. I only skipped one year – I got fed up with short fiction for some reason and published barely nothing, and it was the realisation that I missed a volume in Gardner’s anthology, I think, that made me realise how ridiculous I was being, so I started again.

…He’d asked me for a new one just 3 weeks ago. I was just about to start writing it… I don’t really know what happens now. He was an amazing editor, a defining force, and my knight in shining armour. He knew my work better than I did. There is no one else like him. The world of science fiction is poorer for not having him, but God damn it, I needed you, Gardner!

Jamie Todd Rubin shares memories of one of “The Nine Billion Names of Science Fiction”.

…I was present for an amazing “panel” discussion that included Gardner, and George R. R. Martin at Capclave back in 2013. It was standing-room only, and I stood near the back for two hours, laughing harder than I’d laughed in years. Gardner told stories from his days in the army, and the refrain across the convention the following day went something like: “IF YOU DO (X) YOU WILL DIE.” You had to be there.

…I have to remind myself that Gardner himself was a supernova. He was a nursery for new stars. And while his star may have winked out, there are thousands that he helped create that still shine brightly, and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Alec Nevala-Lee was affected by “The Constant Gardner”.

Gardner and I never met, and we exchanged only a handful of emails over the last decade, but he profoundly affected my life on at least two occasions. The first was when I was twelve years old, and I received a copy of Asimov’s Science Fiction—which Gardner was editing at the time—for my birthday. As I’ve recounted here before, it was that present from my parents, given at exactly the right moment, that made me aware of short science fiction as a going concern, as embodied by its survival in the three print digests. My career ended up being more closely tied to Analog, but it was Asimov’s that set me on that path in the first place. Without that one issue, I don’t know if it would have occurred to me to write and submit short stories at all, and everything that followed would have been very different.

Lou Antonelli says “Farewell, Oh Great One!”

I will always be grateful to Gardner Dozois for encouraging me and giving me invaluable writing advice when I was just starting to write spec fic back in 2003 and 2004, and ultimately accepting my first pro sale, “A Rocket for the Republic”, which was published in Asimov’s Science Fiction in Sept. 2005.

That was the only story of mine he ever accepted, because it was the last he ever accepted before he retired in April 2004. I will always be proud of the fact that mine was the last story he bought before leaving Asimov’s after 19 years.

John Clute concludes his entry on “Dozois, Gardner”  at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction —

It may be that Dozois’s main contribution to sf – including a maturely realistic sense of the nature of the worlds he honoured both in his creative work and in his edited books – was technical: his remarkable capacity to select (and to edit) work that is both exciting to read and adult on reflection. But over and above that, his abiding contributions to the field seem from the first to have been fueled by his deep love for the field, not uncritical but unfaltering.

Richard Parks remembers hanging out on Delphi: “Gardner Dozois 1947-2018”.

I actually “met” Gardner online back in the early 1990’s, in the relatively early days of what was almost but not quite the internet. Before FB and Reddit there was Genie and Delphi, “bulletin board” sites where you logged in through an analog modem to argue and chat with friends. A lot of the sf/f field hung out on Genie, but on one night a week a smaller, very lucky group came together on the sf/f board on Delphi. Membership varied, but at one time or another there was Janet Kagan, Pat Cadigan, Lawrence Person, Jack L. Chalker, Eva Whitley, Mike Resnick, Susan Casper and yes, Gardner Dozois. And me. I wasn’t the only nobody there, of course, but on the other hand there weren’t any nobodies there. It was a friendly group and everyone felt welcome. I certainly did. At the time I had only sold one story, several years earlier, to Amazing SF, and while I was still working hard, I was beginning to think that was it. And even though talking business was generally frowned on, it was there that Gardner broke the news that he was taking a story of mine, “Laying the Stones,” for Asimov’s SF. Now imagine yourself drowning, not for a minute or two but for months, years, and somebody finally throws you a lifeline.

For me, that somebody was Gardner Dozois.

Pixel Scroll 3/6/18 Ready Pixel One

(1) DISNEY’S CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Disney has dropped the Christopher Robin official teaser trailer.

The Hundred Acre Wood is opening up to our world. Watch the brand-new teaser trailer for Disney’s Christopher Robin. Coming soon to theatres Disney’s “Christopher Robin” is directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder and a story by Perry based on characters created by A.A. Milne. The producers are Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr with Renée Wolfe and Jeremy Johns serving as executive producers. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn; Bronte Carmichael as his daughter Madeline; and Mark Gatiss as Keith Winslow, Robin’s boss. The film also features the voices of: Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh; Chris O’Dowd as Tigger; Brad Garrett as Eeyore; Toby Jones as Owl; Nick Mohammed as Piglet; Peter Capaldi as Rabbit; and Sophie Okonedo as Kanga.

 

(2) CTHULHU. But if Pooh is too sweet for your taste, Reddit’s “Ask Historians” takes a deep dive into question: “Where did HP Lovecraft come up with the idea of Cthulhu?”

…So the idea of Cthulhu was percolating in Lovecraft for some time; he borrowed portions of concepts from other writers – artificial mythology, sleeping gods and mountainous size from Dunsany; the alien origin and creepy cults from Theosophy (this is actually made more explicit in the text); the telepathic dream-sendings from Dunsany and de Mausauppant – the octopus/dragon mixture is a little hard to pin down, since Lovecraft never went into specifics about his influences on that in his letters, although he did provide a sketch of the idol. But tentacles were not unfamiliar in weird fiction in the period….

(3) PRO TIPS. Much to be learned from “8 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer” at the Chicago Review of Books.

1—The amount of time you spend writing isn’t necessarily as important as the time spent thinking about what you are going to write.

I often feel it is easier to spoil a novel by beginning to write too soon than by beginning to write too late. Perhaps this is because I need to know certain things before I can even contemplate writing a novel.

For example, I need to know the main characters very well, the initial situation, and the ending (even if the ending changes by the time I write it). I also have to have some kind of ecstatic vision about a scene or character, some moment that transcends, and I have to have what I call charged images associated with the characters. These aren’t images that are symbolic in the Freudian sense (humbly, I submit that Freud just gets you to the same banal place, as a novelist, every time), but they are definitely more than just images. They have a kind of life to them, and exploring their meaning creates theme and subtext. For example, the biologist encountering the starfish in Annihilation or Rachel in Borne reaching out to pluck Borne from the fur of the giant bear. (Both of which also have their origin in transformed autobiographical moments, and thus an added layer of resonance.)

Once I know these things, it may still be six months to a year before I begin to write a novel. The process at that point is to just record every inspiration I have and relax into inhabiting the world of the novel. To not have a day go by when I’m not thinking about the characters, the world they inhabit, and the situations. If I lose the thread of a novel, it’s not because I take a week off from writing, but because I take a week off from living with the characters, in my head. But, hopefully, the novel takes on such a life that everything in the world around me becomes fodder for it, even transformed….

(4) FINDING THE GOOD STUFF. At Rocket Stack Rank: “New Features: Flag, Rate, Group, Highlight Stories”. Greg Hullender explains:

Our main goal is to be as useful as possible to readers looking for good stories and for fans trying to make nominations for awards, and a key part of that has always been the big tables of recommended stories. Almost from the beginning, people have asked us to give them more ways to navigate those tables, and we’ve finally put something together.

Fans wanting to use RSR to manage his/her Hugo longlist and short list can do that now by giving 5-stars to the shortlist and 4-stars to the longlist-only stories. These ratings are saved on your local device and can be backed up, copied, shared, etc.

Readers who only read stories that are free online can highlight all such stories—including the ones that appeared in print magazines but are also available online.

Readers who care about the recommendations of particular reviewers can highlight those.

Etc.

The feature is new, and doubtless has some bugs in it. We’d welcome any and all feedback.

(5) DEVELOPING STORY. Jason Sanford, in a free post on his Patreon, published a “Response from Left Hand Publishers” to some issues he raised about their business practices.

This morning I received a response from Left Hand Publishers to my analysis of concerns related to their publishing house. The response is presented below in its entirety, along with additional information provided by the publisher in regards to issues I raised about their contract…

(6) PUSHBACK ACKNOWLEDGED. In “Washington National Cathedral’s hawk is named Millennium Falcon. How stupid are we?”, the Washington Post’s John Kelly investigates the red-tailed hawk Miillennium Falcon currently living at Washington National Cathedral.  He consults an expert at the Audubon Naturalist Society who says that both hawks and falcons are both part of the order Falconiformes and then comes up with other exciting names for the bird, including Hawk Solo and Jabba the Hawk.

That’s the name a majority of the voters picked: Millennium Falcon, even though the bird is not a falcon but a hawk. Hawks have feathered “fingers” at the ends of their wings, instead of the tapered points that falcon wings come to. Falcons such as the peregrine are rarer in our area.

This is what happens when you let the public vote. Sometimes, we can’t be trusted. Look at that research vessel in Britain, which, if the public had had its way, would have been christened Boaty McBoatface. (It became RRS Sir David Attenborough, with an underwater vehicle it carries bearing the BMcB moniker.)

I figured that ornithologists and other bird-lovers would surely share my sense of outrage. I mean, a hawk isn’t a falcon. With our skyscrapers, chemicals and habitat destruction, humans are killing millions of birds a year. Shouldn’t we at least be able to properly differentiate among the victims?

But Alison Pierce at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md., was more forgiving. “Hawk Solo would have been a more taxonomically-correct choice,” she wrote in an email. “But since hawks and falcons are both part of the order Falconiformes, we’re willing to give them a pass on Millennium Falcon. As the D.C. region’s consummate birdwatchers and lovers, we think it’s cool that so many area residents appreciate the beauty of the red-tailed hawk, which is one of our most common raptors.”

(7) NICHOLLS OBIT. Encyclopedia of SF creator Peter Nicholls died March 6, of cancer reports SF Site News. He won a Hugo Award in 1980 for its first edition, and shared Hugos won by its subsequent editions in 1994 and 2012. Nicholls also won SFRA’s Pilgrim Award (1980), and the Peter McNamara Award (2006), among other honors.

His SFE colleague John Clute said in “Peter Nicholls (1939-2018)”:

We announce with great regret the death on 6 March of Peter Nicholls (1939-2018), who conceived and edited the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979), who co-edited the second edition in 1993, and who served as Editor Emeritus of this third edition (2011-current) until today. His withdrawal from active editing was due solely to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in 2000, after which he rarely left his native Australia; but he continued to speak to the rest of us, sometimes firmly, always with the deepest loyalty to the encyclopedia he had given birth to and nurtured.

 

Peter Nicholls. Photo (c) Andrew Porter.

(8) BAYLIS OBIT. Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the wind-up radio, has died.

Trevor Baylis believed that the key to success was to think unconventional thoughts.

It was this mindset that saw him develop his clockwork radio after hearing about the problems of educating African people about HIV and Aids.

It enabled those in remote areas without electricity, or access to batteries, to get the information that could save their lives.

But despite the success of this, and other inventions, Baylis never made a great deal of money from his many ideas.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Mike Kennedy saw Brewster Rockit get a good laugh out of a well-known sf trope.

(10) AN OLD FAMILIAR FACE. The Hollywood Reporter says some major movies are the focus of litigation over technology infringement: “New Copyright Theory Tested in Lawsuit Over Disney’s ‘Avengers,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy'”.

A VFX firm asserts its software program is an original literary work and that Hollywood studios are liable for vicarious and contributory infringement.

Rearden LLC, the VFX firm that claims ownership to a popular facial motion-capture technology used in Hollywood, is not giving up on hopes of winning a copyright lawsuit against Disney, Paramount and Fox. On Tuesday, the plaintiff brought an amended lawsuit that tests a new copyright theory over blockbuster films including Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Beauty and the Beast. Ultimately, the plaintiff remains insistent that these films deserve to be literally impounded and destroyed.

The background of the case is complicated, but what’s essential to know is that in a previous lawsuit, Rearden was able to convince a judge that its technology was stolen by Digital Domain 3.0 and a Chinese company. After the victory, Rearden went after the customers of the technology — the Hollywood studios using facial motion-capture software to do things like de-age Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys or transform actor Dan Stevens into Beast for Beauty and the Beast.

(11) LIPTAK. Andrew Liptak has been writing up a storm at The Verge (as always) and Filers will find plenty of interest in his recent posts.

There are a ton of podcasts out there, but finding the right one can be difficult. In our new column Pod Hunters, we cover what we’ve been listening to that we can’t stop thinking about.

A couple of years ago, Verge listener David Carlson wanted to help his wife. She had a new job with a long commute, and he wanted her to read some of his favorite articles at The Verge, like All Queens Must Die and Welcome to Uberville, so he recorded audio versions for her to listen to en route. He’s since moved on to a project of his own: The Hyacinth Disaster, a science fiction story told through the black box transmissions of a doomed asteroid mining ship in our solar system.

In his debut novel, author Tom Sweterlitsch constructed a fascinating mystery with Tomorrow and Tomorrow, set in a virtual version of Pittsburgh after a terrorist attack leveled the city. In The Gone World, he introduces an even more ambitious investigation: one that jumps back and forth in time, and which could decide the fate of humanity. It’s a complicated, dazzling novel that keeps the reader hooked until the last pages.

The Gone World opens with a 20th-century NCIS agent named Shannon Moss on a training mission in the distant future of 2199. She’s part of the Naval Space Command, which runs a covert space and time-traveling program that sends Navy personnel across the galaxy and across time. On her first mission, she discovers a horrifying scene: a version of herself crucified mid-air in a broken wasteland. She’s witnessed what her agency calls The Terminus, a mysterious phenomenon which signals an apocalypse that appears to be moving closer and closer to the present. After her training, she’s called to investigate a brutal murder in her present — 1997. The apparent culprit appears to be a Navy SEAL named Patrick Mursult, once part of the same time-travel program as Moss — until his starship, the Libra, was lost on a mission.

Star Trek: Discovery is the biggest change to the Star Trek franchise in years, adopting the same attitudes that the showrunners for Stargate and Battlestar used: putting an emphasis on agonizing decisions that challenge the characters in complicated ways. At New York Comic Con, Discovery executive producer Akiva Goldsman explained that the new version was putting an emphasis on its characters. “If Jim Kirk had to deal with Edith Keeler’s death in ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ as if it were real life, it would take a whole series or a season,” Goldsman said.

In the months since, I’ve found that the Kindle opens up more dedicated reading time. While before I’d only use the Kindle app on my phone to read snippets while I was bored (and usually without cellular service), I’m now using it to actually take time and sit and read. I can’t flip over to check e-mail or lose myself in Twitter. I can capture that 15 to 30 minutes at night or in the morning to read without turning on a light.

The results are promising. I strive to read about a book a week, and I’ve been setting aside time in the morning to sit down and read, before I plug into the world for the rest of the day. I haven’t abandoned my paper books — I’ve got more of them in my house than ever — but what the Kindle does is give me options.

(12) NEW WRINKLE. In the Washington Post, Sandie Angulo Chen interviews Storm Reid, who is happy to star in A Wrinkle in Time and proud to be “a kid of color” — “Storm Reid felt an instant bond with ‘Wrinkle in Time’ character”.

The ninth-grader first read Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 science-fiction classic when she was in the sixth grade. Storm says she felt an immediate connection with Meg, a brilliant but misunderstood middle-schooler who goes on an adventure across time and space.

“She’s such a peculiar character, and I wanted to know more about her. And I thought it was so amazing that she couldn’t realize how beautiful and smart and gracious she was, but everyone around her saw it,” the 14-year-old actress told KidsPost. “It took her a trip around the universe to notice that.”

Like Meg, Storm loves and excels in science and math. But she doesn’t think readers or viewers have to like those subjects to understand the character.

“I relate to Meg so much, and other teenagers and kids relate to her, because we are all trying to figure things out,” Storm explained. “We all might have things in our lives that are stopping us, but Meg shows all of us that we can overcome our challenges and we can live out our dreams.”

(13) MUSICAL TRADITION COMING TO AN END. The 86-year-old composer is finishing his run: “’Star Wars’ Composer John Williams May Stop After ‘Episode IX’: ‘That Will Be Quite Enough for Me’”.

There’s at least one member of the “Star Wars” galaxy who might not be saddling up for any further adventures after J.J. Abrams’ “Episode IX” wraps the Skywalker saga in 2019. NME reports (from a chat on California radio station KUSC) that longtime composer John Williams might be leaving the franchise after Abrams’ film arrives in 2019.

(14) NON-CENSUS. An opponent to the census claims to be elsetime to avoid being recorded: “New Zealand census campaigner takes to his TARDIS”.

An anti-census campaigner in New Zealand is hoping to avoid today’s compulsory national count by hiding in a TARDIS, it’s reported.

The self-styled Laird McGillicuddy, otherwise known as Graeme Cairns, says he is using the Doctor Who time-travelling space craft to boycott the five-yearly census by “travelling in time”, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Mr Cairns, who was once the leader of the satirical McGillicuddy Serious Party, has a history of unusual stunts to protest the census, which is compulsory for all New Zealanders.

He’s once claimed not to be in New Zealand by hovering above the city of Hamilton in a hot-air balloon, and on another occasion declared himself “temporarily dead”.

(15) WORDS TO LIVE BY. Jane Yolen features in The Big Idea at Whatever.

My two mottos are BIC and YIC:

Butt in chair. (Or for the finer minds—backside, behind, bottom).

Yes I Can. The answer I give if someone asks if I have time or inclination to write something for their blog, journal, magazine, anthology, publishing house. I can always say no after careful consideration. But an immediate no shuts the door for good.

Both BIC and YIC are variants of my late husband’s motto: Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

However, the word I hate most when a reviewer or introducer are talking about me is prolific. It carries on its old farmer’s back a whiff of a sniff. As if someone is looking own his or her rarified patrician nose and saying, “Well, of course she writes a lot. . .” That’s their dog whistle for inconsequential, not literary kind of stuff, things like kiddy books and verse, scifi and fantasy. Or as my father said when I was years past my fiftieth plus book, “When are you going to grow up and write something real?”

(16) BREAK THE INTERNET. Last week there was also a trailer for the new Wreck-It Ralph movie due in November.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” leaves Litwak’s video arcade behind, venturing into the uncharted, expansive and thrilling world of the internet—which may or may not survive Ralph’s wrecking. Video game bad guy Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) must risk it all by traveling to the world wide web in search of a replacement part to save Vanellope’s video game, Sugar Rush. In way over their heads, Ralph and Vanellope rely on the citizens of the internet—the netizens—to help navigate their way, including a webite entrepreneur named Yesss (voice of Taraji P. Henson), who is the head algorithm and the heart and soul of trend-making site “BuzzzTube.” “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-Ralph 2” hits theaters on Nov. 21, 2018.

 

[Thanks to David Langford, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Microtherion, Andrew Porter, Carl Slaughter, Greg Hullender, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 8/24/17 Is The Grisly Pixel Scrolling?

(1) THE GREAT UNREAD. James Davis Nicoll fesses up – now you can, too: “Twenty Core Speculative Fiction Works It May Surprise You To Learn I Have Not Yet Read Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves”. Who knew there were 20 sff books altogether than he hadn’t read, much less ones not by Castalia House authors? Here are a few examples:

  • Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta by Doris Lessing
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
  • England Swings SF edited by Judith Merril

(2) MOVING DAY. Meanwhile, at another of his platforms, James Davis Nicoll has gone silent while he works on moving that website.

Why was my site down? Because it turns out the soft-on-Nazis fuckwits running DreamHost thought it would be a good idea to host the Daily Stormer. My site will be moving. Until it has been moved, I won’t be updating it; I will go back to posting reviews on DW.

(3) GENRE TENSIONS. Here’s what Teleread’s Paul St. John Mackintosh deemed to be the takeaway from an all-star panel at Helsinki: “Worldcon 75: Horror and the World Fantasy Award”.

[Stephen] Jones pointed to the origins of the WFA Awards and their parent convention, the World Fantasy Convention, during the horror boom of the mid-1970s. The first WFC, held in Providence, RI in 1975, had as its theme “The Lovecraft Circle,” and that Lovecraftian association has persisted ever since, despite the name on the billboard. Jones attributed the perceived bias towards horror at fantasy and other conventions to the view that “the horror guys the people who go to all the fun conventions.” [Ellen] Datlow, conversely, reported that “from the horror people’s point of view, in the past ten years, they always feel there’s a bias towards fantasy.” Her analysis of actual awards and nominations showed no bias either way, and she saw this as “all perception,” depending on which end of the imaginative literature spectrum it’s seen from. [John] Clute described the situation as “pretty deeply confusing altogether,” given that the WFC externally was intended as a fantasy convention, and the final result has become “terminologically inexact,” though Jones pointed out that “the community itself has changed and mutated, as has the genre.”

(4) VOICE OF EXPERIENCE. Simon Owens reveals “What’s behind the meteoric rise of science fiction podcasts?” – and these are just the drama podcasts, never mind all the nonfiction ones…

According to Valenti, a serialized fiction podcast is an inexpensive way for aspiring filmmakers to gain recognition in the industry. “The reason you’re seeing all these shows crop up is because it’s so much less expensive to experiment and prove yourself as a storyteller in this medium, more than any other,” he said. It used to be that Hollywood directors got their foot in the door with short, independent films, but even those kinds of projects require significant resources. “With podcasts, you don’t have to spend any money on locations,” he explained. “You don’t have to spend any money on cameras, hardware, or hiring a cinematographer. And even if you have the footage, and you had a decent camera, which you probably had to rent because they cost thousands of dollars a day, you’re getting someone to color grade everything after it’s over.” Podcasts rarely require anything more than decent mics, actors, and audio mixing technology. And speaking of actors, your average voiceover performer costs much less to hire than a SAG member.

(5) INKY AWARDS. The shortlists for the 2017 Inky Awards were announced August 15 – the Gold Inky for Australia titles, and the Silver Inky for international titles. The award recognises achievement in young adult literature, with nominees and winners selected by voters under the age of 20. Some of these titles are of genre interest. Voting is currently open for the winners. [H/T Earl Grey Editing Services.]

(6) MORE WORLDCON WRITEUPS. The conreports keep on coming.

Kelly Robson: “What it’s like to lose a Hugo Award”

The Campbell was the second-to-last award, and sure, I was disappointed not to win, but not horribly. On a scale of one to ten, it was about a three at the time and now is zero. I’m very happy for Ada. She deserves every success.

However, I did feel foolish for thinking I could win, which was painful but mostly dispersed by morning. Being a finalist is wonderful. Winning would have been amazing, but it does come with a certain amount of pressure. So maybe — just maybe — being a finalist is the best of both worlds. And that lovely pin in the first picture is mine forever.

Ian Sales: “Kiitos, Helsinki”

My second panel of the con was at noon on the Saturday, Mighty space fleets of war. When I’d registered at the con, I’d discovered I was moderating the panel, which I hadn’t known. I checked back over the emails I’d been sent by the con’s programming team. Oops. I was the moderator. The other two panellists were Jack Campbell and Chris Gerrib. As we took our seats on the stage, Mary Robinette Kowal was gathering her stuff from the previous panel. I jokingly asked if she wanted to join our panel. And then asked if she’d moderate it. She said she was happy to moderate if we wanted her to, but we decided to muddle through ourselves. The panel went quite well, I thought. We got a bit of disagreement going – well, me versus the other two, both of whom admitted to having been USN in the past. I got a wave of applause for a crack about Brexit, and we managed to stay on topic – realistic space combat – for the entire time. I’d prepared a bunch of notes, but by fifteen minutes in, I’d used up all my points. In future, I’ll take in paper and pencil so I can jot stuff down as other members of the panel speak.

Marzie: “The Long Overdue WorldCon Recap!”

This was the first WorldCon I’ve attended and while I had voted in previous Hugo Awards, and attended other Cons (for instance NYCC) I was kind of taken aback by how non-commercial WorldCon is. A case is point is that there are no publishers hawking books at WorldCon, which, on the one hand is great because you don’t get tempted to buy a bunch of stuff and spend a fortune shipping it home and on the other hand is bad because if you’ve travelled a long way with a carry-on only bag, you’re probably packing clothes, not books for your favorite author to sign. Some authors take it all in stride, bringing their own small promotional items they can sign (Fran Wilde, Carrie Vaughn) or will happily sign anything that you set in front of them (Max Gladstone kindly signed a WorldCon postcard for my friend and fellow blogger Alex, who couldn’t come to WorldCon because of Fiscal Realities of New Home vs. Sincere Desire. So other than some interesting panels (climate change in science fiction and fantasy, readings by Amal El-Mohtar and Annalee Newitz, while I can say that pigeonholing fantasy genres is not for me!) the author signings and beloved kaffeeklatsches, the latter limited to ten people, are the definitely the most exciting thing about WorldCon.

Ian Moore: “Helsinki Worldcon write-up Part 1: estrangement, We3, crowds”

Tomi Huttunen introduced the concept of Estrangement, which derives from Russian art theorist Viktor Shklovsky who discussed the topic (Ostrananie) in an article in 1917. Huttunen and others on the academic track offered varying definitions of the concept, noting that different people in the past had come at this in a different way. For all that he was someone primarily associated with the avant-garde, Shklovsky’s own definition appeared to imply that all art involved a process of estrangement because of the difference between an actual thing and its artistic representation. Brecht later attempted his own definition, which appeared to be more about uncanny valley or the German concept of the unheimlich, which I found interesting as for all his ground-breaking approach to theatre Brecht had not particularly involved himself in work that strayed into non-realistic territory.

“Helsinki Worldcon write-up Part 2: Saunas, Robert Silverberg & Tanith Lee #Worldcon75”

On Thursday I did not quite get up in time to make it from where I was staying to the convention centre in time for the presentation on Tove Jansson’s illustrations for The Hobbit (which apparently appear only in Scandinavian editions of the book for Tolkien-estate reasons). I did make it to a panel on Bland Protagonists. One of the panelists was Robert Silverberg, a star of Worldcon and a living link to the heroic age of Science Fiction. He is a great raconteur and such an entertaining panelist that I wonder whether people do not want to appear on panels with him for fear of being overshadowed.

“Helsinki Worldcon write-up Part 3: Moomins, Clipping #Worldcon75”

After the Tanith Lee discussion there were a lot of potentially interesting things happening but we felt that we had to go to a session on the Moomins (entitled Moomins!). As you know, these are character that appeared in books written and illustrated by Tove Jansson of Finland. They started life in books and then progressed to comics and subsequently to a succession of animated TV series. If you’ve never heard of them, the Moomins are vaguely hippopotamus shaped creatures that live in a house in Moominvalley and have a variety of strange friends and adopted family members. Moomin stories are pretty cute but also deal with subjects a bit darker and more existential than is normally expected in children’s books.

(7) ROBOCRIMEVICTIM. It is a lawless country out there: “Popular Robots are Dangerously Easy to Hack, Cybersecurity Firm Says”.

The Seattle-based cybersecurity firm found major security flaws in industrial models sold by Universal Robots, a division of U.S. technology company Teradyne Inc. It also cited issues with consumer robots Pepper and NAO, which are manufactured by Japan’s Softbank Group Corp., and the Alpha 1 and Alpha 2 made by China-based UBTech Robotics.

These vulnerabilities could allow the robots to be turned into surveillance devices, surreptitiously spying on their owners, or let them to be hijacked and used to physically harm people or damage property, the researchers wrote in a report released Tuesday.

(8) TODAY’S DAY

Pluto Demoted Day

Many of us are fascinated by outer space and its many mysteries. Our own solar system went through a change in classification on 2006, when Pluto was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet. Pluto Demoted Day now takes place every year to mark that very occasion. While sad for fans of the former ninth planet of the solar system, Pluto Demoted Day is an important day for our scientific history and is important to remember.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • August 24, 1966 Fantastic Voyage premiered theatrically on this day.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born August 24, 1951 – Orson Scott Card

(11) COMIC SECTION. Finnish comic  Fingerpori has a joke about the George R.R. Martin signing at W75. Tehri says it translates something like this (with the third frame being a sight gag):

First panel: (The guy’s name is Heimo Vesa) “What’s going on?”

“George R.R. Martin’s signing queue.”

Middle panel: “Well, I must experience this”.

(As in once in a lifetime thing.)

And Mike Kennedy says today’s Dilbert Classic confirms that publishers exist in order to stomp on potential author’s dreams.

(12) SHE HAS A LITTLE LIST. Kayleigh Donaldson asks “Did This Book Buy Its Way Onto The New York Times Bestseller List?” at Pajiba.

Nowadays, you can make the bestseller list with about 5,000 sales. That’s not the heights of publishing’s heyday but it’s still harder to get than you’d think. Some publishers spend thousands of dollars on advertising and blogger outreach to get that number. Everyone’s looking for the next big thing and that costs a lot of cash. For the past 25 weeks, that big book in the YA world has been The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a searing politically charged drama about a young black girl who sees a police officer kill her friend, and the fallout it causes in her community. Through publisher buzz and exceedingly strong word of mouth, the novel has stormed to the forefront of the YA world and found thousands of fans, with a film on the way. Knocking that from the top of the NYT YA list would be a major deal, and this week it’s going to happen. But something’s not right.

Handbook For Mortals by Lani Sarem is the debut novel from the publishing arm of website GeekNation. The site announced this news only last week, through a press release that can be read on places like The Hollywood Reporter, not a site known for extensive YA coverage. Sarem has an IMDb page with some very minor acting roles, several of which are uncredited, but details on the book are scanter to find. Googling it leads to several other books with the same title, but most of the coverage for it is press release based. There’s little real excitement or details on it coming from the YA blogging world, which is a mighty community who are not quiet about the things they’re passionate about (believe me, first hand experience here).

YA writer and publisher Phil Stamper raised the alarm bells on this novel’s sudden success through a series of tweets, noting GeekNation’s own low traffic, the inability to even buy it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and its out-of-nowhere relevance…

(13) AMAZONIAN BOGOSITY. While reporters are dissecting the bestseller list, Camestros Felapton turns his attention to Amazon and the subject of “Spotting Fakery?”

One thing new to me from those articles was this site: http://fakespot.com/about It claims to be a site that will analyse reviews on sites like Amazon and Yelp and then rate the reviews in terms of how “fake” they seem to be. The mechanism looks at reviewers and review content and looks for relations with other reviews, and also rates reviewers who only ever give positive reviews lower. Now, I don’t know if their methods are sound or reliable, so take the rest of this with a pinch of salt for the time being.

Time to plug some things into their machine but what! Steve J No-Relation Wright has very bravely volunteered to start reading Vox Day’s epic fantasy book because it was available for $0 ( https://stevejwright.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/a-throne-of-bones-by-vox-day-preamble-on-managing-expectations/ ) and so why not see what Fakespot has to say about “Throne of Bones” http://fakespot.com/product/a-throne-of-bones-arts-of-dark-and-light

(14) WORLD DOESN’T END, FILM AT ELEVEN. Kristine Kathryn Rusch got a column out of the eclipse – “Eclipse Expectations”.

The idea for the post? Much of what occurred around the eclipse in my small town happens in publishing all the time. Let me lay out my thinking.

First, what happened in Lincoln City this weekend:

Damn near nothing. Yeah, I was surprised. Yeah, we all were surprised.

Because for the past 18 months, all we heard about the eclipse was what a mini-disaster it would be for our small town. We expected 100,000 visitors minimum. Hotel rooms were booked more than a year in advance—all of them. Which, the planners told us, meant that we would have at least that many people camping roadside as well.

The airlines had to add extra flights into Portland (the nearest major airport). One million additional people were flooding into Oregon for the five days around the eclipse. Rental cars were booked months in advance. (One woman found an available car for Thursday only and the rental car company had slapped a one-day rate on the car of $850. Yeah, no.)

The state, local, and regional governments were planning for disaster. We were warned that electricity might go down, especially if the temperature in the valley (away from us, but near the big power grids) soared over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius). Our internet connection would probably go down, they said. (Great, we said. Our business is on the internet. Phooey!) Our cell phones would definitely go down.

The state called out the National Guard, expecting all the trouble you get when you cram too many people in a small space. The hospitals staffed up. We were told that traffic would be in gridlock for four days, so plan travel accordingly. Dean and I own three retail stores in the area, so we spent weeks discussing scheduling—who could walk to work, who couldn’t, who might stay overnight if need be. Right now, as I write this, Dean is working our new bookstore, because the bookstore employees live 6 miles away, and couldn’t walk if there was gridlock. The schedule was set in stone; no gridlock, but Dean was scheduled, not the usual employee, so Dean is guarding the fort (so to speak).

(15) MAKING BOOKINGS. Website Focus on Travel News has made note of the Dublin win: “Dublin to host the 77th Annual World Science Fiction Convention”.

The successful Dublin bid was led by James Bacon, with support and guidance from the bid committee, Fáilte Ireland, Dublin Convention Bureau (DCB) and The CCD. Dublin was confirmed as the 2019 location by site selection voters at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki where 1,227 votes were received, of which Dublin won 1,160 votes.

“It’s fantastic that we had such a large turnout, indicating strong support for the bid,” said James Bacon, Dublin 2019 chair. “Voting is a vital part of the process so twelve hundred votes is a great endorsement and I’m very pleased it’s a new record for an uncontested bid. Given New Orleans and Nice have declared for 2023 and Perth and Seattle for 2025, that we remained unopposed is indicative of the enthusiasm, strategic determination and commitment from all involved with the bid. It’s absolutely magnificent to be able to say we are bringing the Worldcon to Ireland and we cannot wait now for 2019.”

(16) HELP IS COMING. Drones at serious work: “Tanzania Gears Up To Become A Nation Of Medical Drones”

Entries like these popped up as Keller Rinaudo browsed a database of health emergencies during a 2014 visit to Tanzania. It was “a lightbulb moment,” says the CEO and co-founder of the California drone startup Zipline.

Rinaudo was visiting a scientist at Ifakara Health Institute who had created the database to track nationwide medical emergencies. Using cellphones, health workers would send a text message whenever a patient needed blood or other critical supplies. Trouble is, while the system collected real-time information about dying patients, the east African country’s rough terrain and poor supply chain often kept them from getting timely help. “We were essentially looking at a database of death,” Rinaudo says.

That Tanzania trip motivated his company to spend the next three years building what they envisioned as “the other half of that system — where you know a patient is having a medical emergency and can immediately send the product needed to save that person’s life,” Rinaudo says.

(17) ROBOPRIEST. St Aquin? Not yet: “Robot priest: the future of funerals?” BBC video at the link.

Developers in Japan are offering a robot “priest” to conduct Buddhist funeral rites complete with chanted sutras and drum tapping – all at a fraction of the cost of a human.

It is the latest use of Softbank’s humanoid robot Pepper.

(18) UNDERSEA DRIVING. Call these “tunnel pipe-dreams”: “The Channel tunnel that was never built”.

The Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France holds the record for the longest undersea tunnel in the world – 50km (31 miles) long. More than 20 years after its opening, it carries more than 10 million passengers a year – and more than 1.6 million lorries – via its rail-based shuttle service.

What many people don’t know, however, is that when owner Eurotunnel won the contract to build its undersea connection, the firm was obliged to come up with plans for a second Channel Tunnel… by the year 2000. Although those plans were published the same year, the tunnel still has not gone ahead.

The second ‘Chunnel’ isn’t the only underwater tunnel to remain a possibility. For centuries, there have been discussions about other potential tunnelling projects around the British Isles, too. These include a link between the island of Orkney and the Scottish mainland, a tunnel between the Republic of Ireland and Wales and one between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

[Thanks to JJ, James Davis Nicoll, Hampus Eckerman, Cat Eldridge, lauowolf, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, and Robot Archie for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day rcade.]

Pixel Scroll 5/4/17 Her Pixels Scrolled Up Forever

(1) SUN GOES POSTAL. Daniel Dern, who has an eye for science fictional and related kinds of cool postage stamps, points to plans for this year’s “Total Eclipse of the Sun to be commemorated on a Forever Stamp”.  On June 20, the US Postal Service will issue a pair of stamps capable of a unique special effect:

In the first U.S. stamp application of thermochromic ink, the Total Solar Eclipse stamps will reveal a second image. Using the body heat of your thumb or fingers and rubbing the eclipse image will reveal an underlying image of the Moon (Espenak also took the photograph of the Full Moon). The image reverts back to the eclipse once it cools.

Thermochromic inks are vulnerable to UV light and should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible to preserve this special effect. To help ensure longevity, the Postal Service will be offering a special envelope to hold and protect the stamp pane for a nominal fee.

The back of the stamp pane [ a sheet, looks like of 8 stamps] provides a map of the August 21 eclipse path and times it may appear in some locations.

Tens of millions of people in the United States hope to view this rare event, which has not been seen on the U.S. mainland since 1979. The eclipse will travel a narrow path across the entire country for the first time since 1918. The path will run west to east from Oregon to South Carolina and will include portions of 14 states.

The June 20, 1:30 p.m. MT First-Day-of-Issue ceremony will take place at the Art Museum of the University of Wyoming (UW) in Laramie. The University is celebrating the summer solstice on June 20. Prior to the event, visitors are encouraged to arrive at 11:30 a.m. to witness a unique architectural feature where a single beam of sunlight shines on a silver dollar embedded in the floor, which occurs at noon on the summer solstice in the UW Art Museum’s Rotunda Gallery.

(2) BEAM UP MY MAIL. Dern says the eclipse stamp promises to be as cool as Canada’s “Star Trek – Transporter” stamp series, which he was able to get while there last summer.

A tribute to the high-tech world of Star Trek, this stamp uses lenticular printing, a method that makes images appear in motion when viewed from different angles. A homage to the show’s most famous technology – the transporter – and one of its most popular episodes, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” they bring the beloved series to the “miniature screen.”

Stamp designer Kosta Tsetsekas, of Vancouver-based Signals Design Group, saw lenticular as an opportunity to recognize the show’s futuristic vision and the special effects that brought it to life.

“I felt that lenticular, developed in the 1940s, had a bit of a low-tech feel that really mirrored the TV special effects used in the original Star Trek series. Thanks to newer technology, it is now possible to show a lot more motion.”

The set also includes one of Spock and Kirk passing through the Guardian of Forever in the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode.

(3) TAKE NOTE. SCORE: A Film Music Documentary features interviews with nearly 60 composers, directors, orchestrators, studio musicians, producers, recording artists, studio executives, In theaters June 26.

This documentary brings Hollywood’s premier composers together to give viewers a privileged look inside the musical challenges and creative secrecy of the world’s most widely known music genre: the film score.

CAST: Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Trent Reznor, James Cameron, Randy Newman, Quincy Jones, Junkie XL, Howard Shore, Alexandre Desplat, Steve Jablonsky, Brian Tyler

 

(4) HOW RUDE. At McSweeney’s, Kaya York gives examples of what it would look like “If People Talked About Other Things the Way They Talked About Gender Identity”. Here are two:

Subatomic particles: “Now they’re saying they discovered ‘tetraquarks’ and ‘pentaquarks’. How many combinations of quarks are there? I can’t even keep up these days. What ever happened to just talking about good old atoms?”

Cats: “A Manx is not a cat. Cats are defined as having tails. Maybe it’s a koala.”

(5) SFFH JOURNAL. Download Fantastika Journal issue 1 free. Dozens of articles and reviews, including an editorial by John Clute.

From their website:

“Fantastika” – a term appropriated from a range of Slavonic languages by John Clute – embraces the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but can also include alternative histories, gothic, steampunk, young adult dystopian fiction, or any other radically imaginative narrative space. The goal of Fantastika Journal and its annual conference is to bring together academics and independent researchers who share an interest in this diverse range of fields with the aim of opening up new dialogues, productive controversies and collaborations. We invite articles examining all mediums and disciplines which concern the Fantastika genres.

(6) GAME OF VAULTS. When you’ve got a license to print money, you buy more printing presses. Entertainment Weekly reports: “Game of Thrones forever: HBO developing 4 different spinoffs”.

HBO is doubling down — no, quadrupling down — on its epic quest to replace Game of Thrones.

The pay TV network is determined to find a way to continue the most popular series in the company’s history and has taken the highly unusual step of developing four different ideas from different writers. The move represents a potentially massive expansion of the popular fantasy universe created by author George R.R. Martin. If greenlit, the eventual show or shows would also mark the first time HBO has ever made a follow-up series to one of its hits….

The prequel or spinoff development battle royale is a bit like how Disney handles their Marvel and Star Wars brands rather than how a TV network tends to deal with a retiring series (Thrones is expected to conclude with its eighth-and-final season next year.) But GoT is no ordinary show — it’s an international blockbuster that delivers major revenue for HBO via subscriptions (last season averaged 23.3 million viewers in the U.S. alone), home video and merchandise licensing. Plus, there’s all those Emmys to consider (GoT set records for the most Emmys ever won in the prime-time ceremony).

(7) ANOTHER NIMOY HEARD FROM. Julie Nimoy has made a movie about her dad, too, Remembering Leonard Nimoy.

Leonard Nimoy grew up in Boston’s old West End, before urban renewal razed much of the once-ethnic neighborhood. As a kid, the future actor was mesmerized by “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the 1939 film based on Victor Hugo’s novel.

“I remember being touched by the humanity trapped inside the Hunchback,” Nimoy says in a voice-over in “Remembering Leonard Nimoy,” a new hourlong documentary that premieres at 9?p.m. Thursday on WGBH 2. For Nimoy, Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Quasimodo was entirely relatable: “That alienation was something I learned in Boston.”

Nimoy was many things — a fine art photographer, a philanthropist, a great-grandfather, the director of “Three Men and a Baby.” But he was known universally — and we do mean universally — as Spock from “Star Trek,” the half-human, all-logic officer in the long-running science fiction franchise. After Nimoy died in early 2015, an asteroid between Jupiter and Mars was named after him.

“Remembering Leonard Nimoy” shares the same orbit as “For the Love of Spock,” the recent feature-length documentary directed by Nimoy’s son, Adam. The newer film is produced and directed by Adam’s sister Julie and her husband, David Knight. Adam Nimoy appears on-camera (as he does in his own film) and gets an adviser’s credit, so there was evidently no familial dispute about telling the famous father’s story.

(8) GORDON OBIT. Actor Don Gordon (1926-2017) died April 24. He worked a lot – seems there was hardly a series in the Fifties or Sixties he wasn’t cast in at some point. His genre roles include appearances on Space Patrol, The Twilight Zone (two episodes – “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”: (1964) and “The Four of US Are Dying” (1960)), The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild, Wild West, The Invaders, The Bionic Woman, The Powers of Matthew Star, Knight Rider and movies including The Final Conflict, The Beast Within, and The Exorcist III.

(9) DALBY OBIT. Editor, scholar and bookseller Richard Dalby (1949-2017) passed away May 4 at the age of 68.

He edited a succession of well-chosen and pioneering anthologies, including the Virago volumes of women’s ghost stories, the Mammoth Books of ghost stories, the Jamesian collection Ghosts & Scholars (with Rosemary Pardoe) and several popular books of Christmas ghost stories and thrillers. Other noted volumes include The Sorceress in Stained-Glass (1971), Dracula’s Brood (1989) and Tales of Witchcraft (1991), all highly respected and now much sought-after.

(10) TODAY’S DAY

Star Wars Day

“May the Fourth be with you” was first used by Margaret Thatcher’s political party to congratulate her on her election on May 4th, 1979, and the saying quickly caught on. However, the first celebration of May 4th took place much later, at the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2001. This first official Star Wars Day’s festivities included a costume contest and a movie marathon. Fans’ favorite parodies of the franchise were also enjoyed, as were some of the most popular mash-ups and remixes. Since then, Star Wars Day has gained popularity and is celebrated by Star Wars Fans worldwide.

(11) EXCEPT IN WISCONSIN. The school district has announced a “no costume” policy going forward: “Wisconsin High School Evacuated After Student Arrives in Stormtrooper Costume for Star Wars Day”

A student celebrating Star Wars Day prompted the brief evacuation of a Wisconsin high school on Thursday morning because they were wearing a Stormtrooper costume, officials said, describing it as a mix-up.

Capt. Jody Crocker, of Wisconsin’s Ashwaubenon Department of Public Safety, tells PEOPLE it happened this way:

Someone driving adjacent to Ashwaubenon High School saw a masked person entering with a large duffel bag and what appeared to to be a bullet-proof vest — but what was actually a costume of a Stormtrooper, a fictional soldier in the Star Wars franchise….

The school was evacuated for about an hour and the students were safely returned, Crocker says.

(12) DARTH WELCOME HERE. Ironically, a Tennessee hospital is perfectly fine having Darth Vader on the premises. But then, he’s not in costume. That’s just his name.

Meanwhile, ABC News chose May the Fourth to reveal Darth Vader is a 39-year-old man living in Tennessee, United States. Darthvader Williamson, that is….

Ms Knowles explained that she compromised with Darthvader’s dad, who wanted to use the full title Lord Darth Vader. She agreed to the shorter version because she “hadn’t seen the movie” and “didn’t know the character”.

Chip Hitchcock sent the link with a comment, “I’d say someone who names their boy after a major villain is more than a ‘serious geek’, even if it’s not naming him Sue.”

(13) PIXEL POWER. Satellites go where no man has gone before: counting albatrosses on inaccessible island steeps. The BBC tells how in “Albatrosses counted from space”.

The US government has only recently permitted such keen resolution to be distributed outside of the military and intelligence sectors.

WorldView-3 can see the nesting birds as they sit on eggs to incubate them or as they guard newly hatched chicks.

With a body length of over a metre, the adult albatrosses only show up as two or three pixels, but their white plumage makes them stand out against the surrounding vegetation. The BAS team literally counts the dots.

(14) INTERNET ABOVE THE SKY. Deployment will begin in two years — “Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to send the first of its 4,425 super-fast internet satellites into space in 2019”.

“SpaceX intends to launch the system onboard our Falcon 9 rocket, leveraging significant launch cost savings afforded by the first stage reusability now demonstrated with the vehicle,” the executive said.

The 4,425 satellites will operate in 83 orbital planes at altitudes ranging from 1,110 KM to 1,325 KM.

SpaceX argues that the U.S. lags behind other developed nations in broadband speed and price competitiveness, while many rural areas are not serviced by traditional internet providers. The company’s satellites will provide a “mesh network” in space that will be able to deliver high broadband speeds without the need for cables.

(15) FIFTIES SF NOVEL TO STAGE. London’s Br\dge Theatre lists among its future projects a production of The Black Cloud, a new play by Sam Holcroft, from the 1957 novel by Fred Hoyle. “One of the greatest works of science fiction ever written,” according to Richard Dawkins.

The New York Times reports

The London Theater Company is a new commercial venture by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, who previously ran the National Theater in London together; Mr. Hytner was director, overseeing artistic programming, while Mr. Starr served as executive director.

The company’s first season will take place in the new Bridge Theater, the name of which was also announced on Wednesday. The 900-seat venue, on the south side of the Thames, near Tower Bridge, is the first commercial theater of its scale to be built in London in 80 years, according to the company.

(16) SUPERNATURAL AFTERLIFE. Teresa Wickersham covered an on-stage interview with Jim Beaver for SciFi4Me.com “Planet Comicon 2017: Idjits, Death and No Bobby in Season 12 of SUPERNATURAL”.

Jim said that he just looks at the script and guesses how to play it. Usually someone will tell him if he gets it wrong. Writers create and the actor visually and orally interprets what they have created. Ninety-nine percent of what you love is the writer. “I’m happy to be here and take his (Kripke’s) money.”

Jim Beaver’s favorite episode is “Weekend at Bobby’s”, which was Jensen Ackles’ first directing experience. He said Jensen did a fine job. It was exhausting, being on screen ninety percent of the time. He said that you wouldn’t be an actor if you didn’t want to have people pay attention to you. “Look at me.” It’s not about the art at first. Probably only “Daniel Day Lewis is playing Rousseau in his kindergarten.”

One of the audience members said his sister cried when he died. “You should have seen my accountant.”

(17) HELP WANTED. Now’s your chance to get paid for something you’re already doing for free – reading horrible content on Facebook. The Guardian has the story — “Facebook is hiring moderators. But is the job too gruesome to handle?”

Ever wanted to work for Facebook? Mark Zuckerberg has just announced 3,000 new jobs. The catch? You’ll have to review objectionable content on the platform, which has recently hosted live-streamed footage of murder, suicide and rape.

In his announcement, Zuckerberg revealed that the company already has 4,500 people around the world working in its “community operations team” and that the new hires help improve the review process, which has come under fire for both inappropriately censoring content and failing to remove extreme content quickly enough. Just last week the company left footage of a Thai man killing his 11-month-old daughter on Facebook Live on the platform for a whole day.

Instead of scrutinizing content before it’s uploaded, Facebook relies on users of the social network to report inappropriate content. Moderators then review reported posts – hundreds every shift – and remove them if they fall foul of Facebook’s community standards. Facebook does not allow nudity (including female, but not male, nipples), hate speech or glorified violence.

I looked around and didn’t find these jobs being offered yet.

(18) EXTRA SENSE. Blindsight in the real world:

It ranks among the most curious phenomena in cognitive neuroscience. A handful of people in the world have “blindsight”: they are blind, but their non-conscious brain can still sense their surroundings.

Milina Cunning, from Wishaw in Scotland, lost her sight in her 20s, and later realised she had this blindsight ability. She has been studied extensively by researchers.

“If I was to throw a ping pong ball at Milina’s head, she would probably raise her arm and duck out of the way, even before she had any awareness of it,” says Jody Culham, a scientist who has scanned Cunning’s brain.

(19) SAY MR. SANDMAN. Neil Gaiman converses in his sleep: “Neil Gaiman On Returning To ‘Sandman,’ Talking In His Sleep And The Power Of Comics”

On creating a dysfunctional family for Sandman and his siblings (also known as “The Endless”)

A lot of it went back to when I started writing Sandman. Back in 1987 I began to write it. I was thinking that there really just weren’t any comics out there with families in [them] — and I love family dynamics. I love the way that families work or don’t work, I love the ways families behave, I love the way that families interact, and it seemed like that would be a really fun kind of thing to put in.

When I came over to America to do signings, people would say to me, “We love the Endless; we love Sandman and his family, they’re a wonderful dysfunctional family.” It wasn’t a phrase I had ever heard before, and I said, “Hang, on. Explain to me, what is a dysfunctional family?” And people would explain, and after a while, I realized that what Americans called a “dysfunctional family” is what we in England call “a family,” having never encountered any of these functional ones.

(20) FIRST PAST THE POLE. Racing molecules: “Microscopic Cars Square Off In Big Race”

This car race involved years of training, feats of engineering, high-profile sponsorships, competitors from around the world and a racetrack made of gold.

But the high-octane competition, described as a cross between physics and motor-sports, is invisible to the naked eye. In fact, the track itself is only a fraction of the width of a human hair, and the cars themselves are each comprised of a single molecule.

The Nanocar Race, which happened over the weekend at Le centre national de la recherché scientific in Toulouse, France, was billed as the “first-ever race of molecule-cars.”

(21) ALL FROCKED UP. The next Marvel TV series is off to a rough start: “‘Marvel’s Inhumans’ Costumes Draw Jeers: ‘Discount Halloween Store,’ ‘Walmart’”.

Entertainment Weekly released a first look at “Marvel’s Inhumans,” the studio’s latest foray into television, and it’s not going over so well.

The interview with showrunner Scott Buck doesn’t reveal much more than what we already knew about the show, but it does provide the first official picture of the group known as the Inhuman Royal Family, which will star in ABC’s eight-episode show.

The show follows the family, which features — from left to right — Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), Karnak (Ken Leung), Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Medusa (Serinda Swan), Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), and Maximus (Iwan Rheon). Each are Inhumans, or superpowered humans descended from aliens and possess sometimes catastrophic abilities.

The main criticism of the photo on the internet, which you can check out above, seems to focus on the costumes, which look cheap. Some people compared them to things you’d find in a Halloween store or a Hot Topic.

(22) JUST PUCKER UP. Atlas Obscura celebrates a working relic of history — the “Pneumatic System of the New York Public Library”

Put into operation in New York in 1897 by the American Pneumatic Service Company, the 27-mile system connected 22 post offices in Manhattan and the General Post office in Brooklyn. The pipes ran between 4 to 12 feet underground, and in some places the tubes ran along the subway tunnels of the 4, 5 and 6 lines. At the height of its operation it carried around 95,000 letters a day, or 1/3 of all the mail being routed throughout New York city….

But there is one wonderful New York location where the pneumatic tubes have proven quicker and more nimble then their modern-day electronic substitutes; the stacks of the NY Humanities and Social Sciences library. When one hands their paper slip to the librarian, they slip it into a small pneumatic tube and send it flying down past seven floors of books deep underground. The request is received, the book located, and it is sent up on an ever-turning oval ferris wheel of books.

[Thanks to Carl Slaughter, rcade, JJ, Cat Eldridge, David K.M.Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, Daniel Dern, stuckinhistory, John King Tarpinian, and Chris Rose for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Rob.]

Pixel Scroll 2/19/17 Put A Pinch Of Pixel Into Five Cups Of Scrolls And Knead Until It Becomes Lembas

(1) MOUNT TBR. Telluride, Colorado has a new cultural resource – the Clute Science Fiction Library. [Via Ansible Links.]

The library, a program of the Telluride Institute, contains over 11,000 volumes, many of them first editions. It is located on Colorado Avenue next to Ghost Town Grocer.

The Clute Science Fiction Library is intended to be a place of excellence for scholars, writers and researchers, according to Pamela Lifton-Zoline, vice president and founding trustee of the Telluride Institute, a nonprofit that works to enrich “the health of environments, cultures, and economies,” according to the organization’s website.

The volumes were a private collection belonging to John Clute, an award-winning author, essayist and editor of “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.” Clute contributed over 2 million words and thousands of entries to the encyclopedia.

Clute, who resides in England, has been a trustee of the Telluride Institute since its inception in 1985 — but he has been friends with Lifton-Zoline since high school, where she remembers meeting him in their French class.

“He came into this French class and he was just so exotic, (being) from Canada. We became really good friends,” Lifton-Zoline said. “(The library) is a work of friendship as much as it is a work of ownership.”

She added, “He has promised to bless the library with his visits, his presence, his connections and his whole community of wonderful writers.”

Clute has visited Telluride more times than he can count. He will return again in June 2017, this time to give an inaugural lecture at the Sheridan Opera House entitled: “Those Who Do Not Know Science Fiction are Condemned to Repeat it.”

(2) THE MUSIC INSIDE YOU. Articles that reference Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Inklings research in Bandersnatch don’t usually begin with a great big photo of Beyonce and a hook about the Grammys. The exception is Jeff Goins’ “Why You’ll Never Do Your Best Work Alone”.

When it was released on April 23, 2016, Lemonade credited 72 writers—and earned a swift public backlash as a result. One person on Twitter wrote, “Is this the time of year where we call Beyoncé a musical genius even though she has 50 [to] 100 writers and producers for each album[?]” Another said, “Beyoncé has FIFTEEN writers on one of her songs. But she’s a genius, they say.”

…Beyoncé’s detractors believe geniuses work alone, but history and modern research both suggest not….

…Diana Glyer has spent decades studying the Inklings, that famous literary group that birthed the careers of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others. And as she sees it, the myth of the starving artist who works alone is not only wrong, it “robs writers and other creatives of the possibility of writing the way that writing or creating normally takes place, which is in a community.”

Embracing that reality, rather than resisting it, can actually encourage creativity itself by helping us find like-minded creatives to collaborate with. If anything, our success is contingent on our ability to work well with others—which may be just one reason why employers seem so desperate lately to hire people with high emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Of course, we need to spend significant amounts of time alone with our craft. But we also need significant amounts of time with people who can guide us in doing better work.

Otherwise, creative output becomes a much slower, more grueling slog than it needs to be. As Glyer puts it, “the life of an artist, [or of] any kind of creator, is fraught with discouragement. You need people to correct your path.”

(3) SHARING THE SHIELD. In her article “My grandfather helped create Captain America for times like these”, Megan Margulies tells Washington Post readers about her grandfather, Captain America co-creator Joe Simon, and how Captain America “came to symbolize the immense love I had for my grandfather” but also Captain America’s shield is “again serving as a tool to fight all that threatens our Constitution and our national decency.”

Amid the masses of strangers gathered to protest at the Boston Women’s March, I spotted something familiar: that shield — red, white and blue — a simple design that holds the weight of so much conviction. Captain America’s iconic getup caught my eye, not only because of the principles it stands for but because he reminds me of another hero of mine. On Dec. 20, 1940, a year into World War II, my grandfather Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, both sons of Jewish immigrants, released the first issue of “Captain America.” The cover featured Cap slugging Adolf Hitler . Because the United States didn’t enter the war until late 1941, a full year later, Captain America seemed to embody the American spirit more than the actions of the American government.

As Cap socked the Führer, many rejoiced, but members of the German American Bund, an American pro-Nazi organization, were disgusted. Jack and my grandfather were soon inundated with hate mail and threatening phone calls, all with the same theme: “Death to the Jews.” As the threats continued, Timely Comics employees became nervous about leaving their building in New York. Then my grandfather took a call from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who promised to send police officers to protect them. “I was incredulous as I picked up the phone, but there was no mistaking the shrill voice,” my grandfather recalled in his book “The Comic Book Makers.” “’You boys over there are doing a good job,’ the voice squeaked, ‘The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’”

(4) BACK TO THE BEAR FLAG. David Klaus sent the following link with a comment: “I have been saying for twenty years that Heinlein accurately predicted an eventual balkanization of the U. S., particularly a ‘California Confederation’ made up of today’s California, Oregon, and Washington ad depicted in Friday — although Northern California is probably more likely to band with the two other states while Southern California will set apart on its own.” — “’California is a nation, not a state’: A fringe movement wants a break from the U.S.”, in the Washington Post.

About 15 people huddled in a luxury apartment building, munching on danishes as they plotted out their plan to have California secede from the United States.

“I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of an independent California,” Geoff Lewis said as he stood in a glass-walled conference room adorned with California’s grizzly-bear flag and a sign reading “California is a nation, not a state.”

Sweaty onlookers from the gym across the hall peered in curiously.

Bolstered by the election of President Trump, the group, Yes California, is collecting the 585,407 signatures necessary to place a secessionist question on the 2018 ballot. Its goal is to have California become its own country, separate and apart from the United States.

(5) EXPANDING HORIZONS. The Everyone: Worlds Without Walls Kickstarter reached its minimum goal in the first five days. Since then editor Tony C. Smith has announced the addition of a story by Lavie Tidhar, and now a previously unpublished story by Ken Liu.

(6) WHEN THE EMPIRE STRUCK BACK. Washington Post columnist John Kelly continues his investigation of the Internet myth that the paper fired its film critic for giving Star Wars a bad review (“Would you believe that a Post critic was fired for hating ‘Star Wars’? Well, don’t”). He finds that, like most Internet myths, it’s a garbled version of the truth. Washington Star film critic Tom Dowling stopped writing film reviews (he continued to work for the newspaper) shortly after a May 1980 review where he called The Empire Strikes Back a “two-hour corporate logo explaining the future of the Star Wars industry.”

Several readers…wrote to say it was the Washington Star’s Tom Dowling who was canned for a pan — not of the first film, but its sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.” True?

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Dowling said when Answer Man rang the retired newspaperman up at his home in Northwest Washington. “The story is true as far as it goes. I don’t know how far it factually goes.”

…Never, he wrote, “had such unlimited resources, unparalleled good will and guaranteed formula of success been frittered away in such irreparable fashion.”

For most of its history, the Evening Star was the dominant newspaper in Washington, but by 1980 it had fallen behind The Post. It had been bought in 1978 by Time magazine, which that very week had put Darth Vader on the cover. The story inside noted: “In many ways the new film is a better film than ‘Star Wars,’ visually more exciting, more artful and meticulous in detail.”

Was it corporate embarrassment that got Dowling the ax? Hard to prove. Dowling said that years later, at a reunion of Star employees, a former editor sidled up and told him that Time magazine had a “secret interest” in the movie and executives were worried his pan would discourage people from going to see it.

“I have no idea if that was true,” Dowling said.

But the review had apparently irritated someone. Dowling filed a few more reviews — “The Gong Show Movie,” “Fame” — before Star editor Murray Gart moved him to a column called “Federal Cases” that poked fun at government bureaucracy. (“Actually, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in newspapers,” Dowling said.)

(7) ALDRIDGE OBIT. British artist, graphic designer and illustrator Alan Aldridge died February 17 at the age of 73. Best known as the creator of album covers for The Who (A Quick One) and Elton John (Captain Fantastic), he also worked as Penguin Books’ art director for a number of years. His SF cover artwork and design for Penguin Books is discussed at length here. Andrew Porter observes, “To say he was not popular with Penguin’s owners and the authors published would not be amiss.”

By 1967 Allen Lane was harbouring deep misgivings about the direction Tony Godwin was taking Penguin with regard to the marketing and distribution of fiction. Lane felt that the covers being designed by Alan Aldridge et al. were becoming too commercial and increasingly tasteless. To Lane such covers were undignified and not in keeping with Penguin’s reputation. Worse still, the use of images he regarded as titillating or even offensive was an insult to the books’ authors, some of whom were now making their own feelings known, with more than one threatening to move to another publisher.

Matters were made worse by Godwin’s desire to sell Penguin books in non-traditional outlets such as supermarkets. Lane disliked the idea and as booksellers joined authors to protest at the way Penguin was heading so the rift between the two men deepened. To Lane, Aldridge’s ‘vulgar covers’ and Godwin’s ‘gimmicky selling’ were a threat to over thirty years of Penguin tradition and brand identity. If left unchecked it would only be a matter of time before the books were being packaged and sold just like any other consumer product. The crisis came to a head in late April and early May, with a boardroom bust-up that resulted in Godwin’s departure and Lane’s barbed comment that ‘a book is not a tin of beans’.

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

Thought to be introduced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair by brothers F.W. and Louis Rueckheim, legend has it the caramel-coated treat got its name three years later when a salesman — impressed by the process that kept the concoction from sticking together — exclaimed in delight: “That’s cracker jack!”

(9) A ROOM OF KIRK’S OWN. A Boca Raton mansion with Star Trek and other pop culture themed rooms is on the market for $30M.

The nine-bedroom home belongs to Marc Bell, whose portfolio has included Penthouse and Adult Friend Founder over the years. The entrepreneur equipped his one-of-a-kind estate with rooms modeled after the popular TV series/movie franchise, including the bridge from the Starship Enterprise, which serves as the home theater.

Designed by architect Randall Stofft, the Mediterranean villa also features a full-scale Borg model, a fictional alien race first appearing in the Star Trek television series. Other details include a Call-of-Duty-modeled video game room, retro arcade, 16 bathrooms, resort-style pool with waterfalls, wine room, gourmet kitchen, and a full basketball court.

The Star Trek-themed room shows up at the 1-minute mark of this sales video.

(10) HELP ME OBI-WAN. Your wallet may need rescuing after you’ve bought all these — “Hasbro 40th anniversary ‘Star War’ toys recreate classic movie scenes”.

Hasbro has unveiled a new line of retro-style Black Series toys for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars this spring. And they’re unveiling them with this series of photos featuring the playthings recreating memorable scenes from the film.

Although these new 6-inch toys are much larger than the Kenner originals that hit shelves in late 1977, they are displayed in similar bubble and card packaging — for an extra helping of nostalgia. (Hasbro acquired Kenner in 1991.) Each of the toys retails for $19.99 and will be available later this spring.

Above, you see the new Black Series Han, Leia, and Luke fleeing Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers in a scene aboard the Death Star.

(11) CAST A GIANT SHADOW. New posts at the Shadow Clarke site. Two more jurors introduce themselves, plus a “guess the shortlist and win the books” competition.

The Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy at Anglia Ruskin University is delighted to host a competition for readers to guess the short list.

The winner, thanks to the generosity of the Arthur C Clarke Award, will receive copies of all six of this year’s shortlisted novels.

To enter, post a comment in reply to this post with a list of six books (no more, no fewer), selected from the list of 86 eligible submissions, along with a rationale as to why you think that shortlist will be the ones which the judges have chosen. Pingbacks won’t be accepted as entries.

That is what makes the Clarke Award great. The fact that it doesn’t conform to genre stereotypes, the fact that it bucks the trend, the fact that it regards science fiction as the broadest of broad churches, and will look anywhere within that spectrum for the best. And that restless, wide-ranging aspect of the award is what gets people arguing about it. And that argument is good, not just for the award itself (though it does keep the award alive in people’s minds), but for science fiction as a whole. Because the more the Clarke Award challenges our expectations, the more it opens us up to an ever wider, ever changing sense of what science fiction is and can be.

Let’s face it, the biggest debate within science fiction at the moment is the debate surrounding the Sad and Rabid Puppies, and that debate is all about narrowing science fiction. The Puppies want to enclose and limit the genre, restrict it to a narrow spectrum that resembles the science fiction they remember from the 1950s: overwhelmingly masculine, almost entirely American, distinctly technophiliac, and ignoring the literary changes that have occurred within the genre over the last half century. This is science fiction that repeats what has gone before, that depends upon its familiarity; this is science fiction that is not going anywhere new. Okay, some work that fits within this spectrum can be interesting and important, but it cannot be, it should not be, the whole of science fiction. The best way to counter the Puppies’ argument is with the sort of expansionist, innovative, challenging argument about science fiction that has traditionally been associated with the Clarke Award.

I don’t particularly like SF, which is also to say that I am very particular about SF. My relationship to SF has been long, unbidden, unlabeled, and mostly uninformed, and I suspect this is the case for the majority of human beings who are not in fandom, but who have, at some point, been drawn to a kind of storytelling that presents the world in a way that’s different from our reality. Those same folks who are non-fans might not want to read books because they think books are boring (they often are), they don’t read SF because they think it’s dorky (it often is), and they’re not involved in fandom because there’s life to live (though perhaps not for very much longer). I completely get this. Even the term “SF” is relatively new to me: I doubt I’ve ever said “SF” in public, much less “SFnal”; in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never said “SFnal” out loud. SFnal. I said it. It echoed off the kitchen walls and it sounded unfamiliar and now I feel weird.

So you don’t have to tell me there’s a problem in SF. There are a number of problems, not the least of which are its fannish exclusiveness and its inability to properly recognize itself, its shortcomings, and its potential.

SPIELS ON WHEELS. Messy Chic has a cool gallery of old bookmobile photographs.

Long before Amazon was bringing books to your doorstep, there was the Bookmobile! A travelling library often used to provide books to villages and city suburbs that had no library buildings, the bookmobile went from a simple horse-drawn cart in the 19th century to large customised vehicles that became part of American culture and reached their height of popularity in the mid-twentieth century. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane with this forgotten four-wheeler…

[Thanks to Mark-kitteh, JJ, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, David K.M. Klaus, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer Sylvester.]

Ed Bryant (1945-2017)

Ed Bryant. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Science Fiction author Ed Bryant, who died in his sleep after a long illness, was found February 10 reports Locus Online.

Bryant discovered science fiction at the golden age of 12 when he purchased the August 1957 issue of Amazing Stories. A decade later, he made his way to the very first Clarion Workshop in 1968, where he sold a story to Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions that became his first professional publication.

John Clute’s entry about Bryant in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia captures one of the reasons for the author’s meteoric ascent in Seventies sf.

His conversational, apparently casual style sometimes conceals the tight construction and density of his best work, like “Shark” (in Orbit 12, anth 1973, ed Damon Knight), a complexly told love story whose darker implications are brought to focus in the girl’s decision to have her brain transplanted into a shark’s body, ostensibly as part of a research project; in the story, symbol and surface reality mesh impeccably. The setting for many of the stories in this collection is a California transmuted by sf devices and milieux into an image, sometimes scarifying, sometimes joyful, of the culmination of the American Dream…

Registering an exception to the overall regard for Bryant’s work was Thomas M. Disch, who named him as part of “The Labor Day Group” (1981), a set of young writers whose work stroked fannish sensibilities, and as a result often won Hugo and Nebula awards. This provoked a response from another Disch target, George R.R. Martin, “Literature, Bowling, and the Labor Day Group”, which gave Bryant a deceptively lighthearted defense.

The Colorado resident was a 7-time nominee for SFWA’s Nebula Award, winning twice – “Stone” (1979) and  “giANTS” (1980) – as well as a 3-time nominee for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. The International Horror Guild Awards named Bryant a Living Legend in 1997.

Bryant has been a prolific short fiction writer whose career has been regularly punctuated by new collections of stories — Among the Dead and Other Events Leading up to the Apocalypse (1973), Cinnabar (1976), Wyoming Sun (1980), Particle Theory (1981), Neon Twilight (1990), Darker Passions (1991), The Baku: Tales of the Nuclear Age (2001), Trilobyte (2014), and Predators and Other Stories (2014).

He regularly contributed to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, appearing in five different volumes.

His other professional gigs included writing an annual media coverage essay in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology, which he did for over 20 years. He also edited an anthology of original stories and some poems, 2076: The American Tricentennial (1977).

Bryant’s fame did not rest entirely on his writing. He was in great demand as a convention toastmaster, gaining the pinnacle of notoriety by conducting the Denvention Two (1981) Hugo Awards ceremony on roller skates.

[Thanks to  Andrew Porter for the story.]

Photos From Day 1 of Loncon 3

Scenes at the 2014 Worldcon, shot by Francis Hamit:

Loncon 3 Guests of Honor Bryan Talbot, Jeanne Gomoll, Robin Hobb, with co-chair Steve Cooper at the press briefing.

Loncon 3 Guests of Honor Bryan Talbot, Jeanne Gomoll, Robin Hobb, with co-chair Steve Cooper at the press briefing.

Loncon 3 co-chairs Steve Cooper and Alice Lawson at left. Guests of Honor John Clute and Malcolm Edwards at right, during press briefing.

Loncon 3 co-chairs Steve Cooper and Alice Lawson with Guests of Honor John Clute and Malcolm Edwards.

Inside the ExCel at Loncon 3.

Inside the ExCel at Loncon 3.

Sales tables at Loncon 3.

Sales tables at Loncon 3.

Millennium Falcon exhibit at Loncon 3 -- .

Millennium Falcon exhibit at Loncon 3 — <http://www.loncon3.org/exhibits.php#70>.

Robbie Bourget, co-chair Anticipation, 2009 Worldcon.

Robbie Bourget, co-chair Anticipation, 2009 Worldcon.

Gay and Joe Haldeman at Loncon 3.

Gay and Joe Haldeman at Loncon 3.

SF Encyclopedia’s Clute, Langford Interviewed

The double-domes behind the SF Encyclopedia, John Clute and Dave Langford, have been interviewed for Amazing Stories by John Dodds:

The Encyclopedia has helped bring an academic rigour to the study of science fiction—which is not to discount the valuable science fiction courses offered by some universities, and individual commentators. What is it about this genre in particular, as opposed to crime and horror fiction, for instance, that makes it so worthy of in-depth study?

[John Clute]: Might have been more clearly the case in 1979, when what we did was attempt to establish a “playing field” within which a very broad-church definition of sf might be discussed. Though we were clearly prescriptive in our language at points throughout the enterprise (in fact a good deal more prescriptive than academics back then, still haunted by the objectivity mantras of the New Criticism), we were absolutely not prescriptive in what we deemed to be “worthy” of inclusion. Anything that fit the definition was our subject.

[Thanks to Dave Langford for the link.]

Something Else to Vote For

NPR has winnowed thousands of suggestions for the best SF and fantasy ever written and posted a list of finalists for everyone to vote on. Participants get to vote for their top 10 favorites.

The balance of old classics and popular recent works is appropriate to one of these summertime radio countdowns, the kind where The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” ends up losing to the Number One Hit of three weeks ago. Will N. K. Jemison’s Inheritance Trilogy similarly run ahead of The Lensman Series and The Martian Chronicles?

There are lots of entries by other women, too — Lois McMaster Bujold, Ellen Kushner, Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ, Sheri S. Tepper, and Connie Willis to begin with. Margaret Atwood has books on the list because it’s the readers, not the writers, getting the final say about what is genre fiction. Surprisingly, J.K. Rowling is not a finalist — if that is explained someplace, I didn’t see it, although in the comments several people said the reason is that all YA books were excluded. 

As for me, I’ll be happily clicking on Simak’s Way Station, Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, The Vorkosigan Saga, Doomsday Book and other favorites from a lifetime reading sf.

NPR had help from an expert panel of John Clute, Farah Mendelsohn and Gary K. Wolfe. Going by the not-exactly-infallible litmus test of whether everything I want to vote for is on the list I’d say they did a fine job.

[Thanks to Michael Walsh for the link.]