(1) STAR TREK DISCOVERING. Camestros Felapton takes you from photon soup to Klingon nuts: “Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Episodes 1 & 2”. Although not especially spoilery, good form still demands a SPOILER WARNING!
However, Russell T Davies made a smart move from which Discovery could have learnt. Set a new series in a time that follows a catastrophe that creates both a bridge to the previous series, and allows the viewers to re-encounter familiar protagonists in a new way. That doesn’t imply a new Star Trek would need to have a post-apocalyptic vibe, rather some sort of event that disrupted galactic civilisations sufficiently that the Federation is needing to rebuild (a gamma-ray burst, a contagion that spreads via transporter beams, a big-bad alien did more damage than usual).
Discovery hasn’t taken that option but the setting kind of looks like it did. The technology is both old and new, the spaceships look both updated and more grungy, some aliens are now more familiar and closer to humans (e.g. the Vulcans) while others have become even more alien and Star Fleet understands them less (the Klingons). The whole feel of the show implies a setting where change has occurred but which claims that it is about changes that will occur and I find that somewhat annoying.
(2) ALLEGRO CON TROPE. The Independent is more enthusiastic — “Star Trek: Discovery season 1 episode 1 & 2 review: Tropes and unprecedented surprises balance out for an intriguing new Trek iteration”. But who are you going to believe?
The team behind Star Trek: Discovery could be forgiven for feeling under pressure. They had to deliver a show that satisfies one of the most rabidly pedantic fan bases out there, while still catering to normies only not really au fait with Trek beyond a few action movies about good-looking people having fights in space.
But, despite a reportedly troubled gestation, they’ve somehow managed to deliver, audaciously using their first two episodes to set up several seemingly key characters before wiping the slate clean in the closing moments. In truth, the first two episodes that arrive on Netflix today – ‘The Vulcan Hello’ and ‘Battle at the Binary Stars’ – function more as a standalone TV movie, setting up the tone and feel of the show while leaving about as much wiggle room for the future as conceivably possible.
(3) ROCKET SCIENCE. Video highlights of last Saturday’s Atlas V launch of NROL-42 from Vandenberg. Via United Launch Alliance.
(4) FUSION. The Register says it’s happening — “Hotter than the Sun: JET – Earth’s biggest fusion reactor, in Culham”.
Geek’s Guide to Britain I’m in a room that, in normal circumstances, is not fit for human habitation. It features a number of big red buttons surrounded by illuminated yellow rings – just in case. “Push button to switch off Jet. Press only in case of extreme emergency,” the signs read, informatively.
This is the Torus Hall, a 40,000m3 space the size of an aircraft hangar with two massive fly-towers that house 1,100-tonne doors to seal the room off from an adjacent assembly hall. The walls and ceiling are two metres thick. The atmospheric pressure inside the hall is kept lower than pressure outside so that in the event of a breach, air would be sucked in rather than vented.
The hall houses possibly the closest thing on Earth to the centre of a star: the Joint European Torus, the world’s biggest fusion reactor at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, UK. Jet is a tokamak, a circular structure shaped like a doughnut that employs powerful magnets to control that stuff of science fact and fiction: plasma.
…Jet is a European project involving 40 laboratories and 350 scientists. In 1997 it set a record, producing 16MW of fusion power from a total input power of 24MW.
Iter, however, is a scaled-up version of Jet currently under construction in the south of France planned to open in 2025 – a fusion reactor that aims to use 50MW to generate 500MW for 500 seconds. Iter, in turn, will pave the way for Demo, one or more proof of concept fusion power stations, with South Korea aiming to put a Demo live in 2037.
For now, however, Jet is the world’s biggest fusion device and proves that nuclear fusion can generate power – it’s just not big enough to create more power than it uses….
(5) HOW ONE AUTHOR GETS PAID. A post at Metafilter attempting to use Amazon stats to estimate writers’ sales provoked John Scalzi to explain why that is a futile effort: “Can You Tell My Earnings From My Amazon Sales? Spoiler: Nope, Not at All”.
…So what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a non-self-pubbed author, often none of their annual earnings from a book are directly related to how many of those books sell in a year (or any other specified time frame). In fact, depending on how the advance is paid out, three-quarters or more (even all!) of the author’s earnings from a book are disbursed before the book has sold a single unit.
Book is contracted: 40% of the advance (“signing installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0.
Book is turned in and accepted: 20% of the advance (“delivery and acceptance installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0
Book is published in hardcover: 20% of the advance (“hardcover installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0 (there may be pre-orders, but the sales don’t usually start being counted until this time).
Book is published in paperback: Final 20% of the advance goes to author. Books sold to date: Hopefully some! But even if the number is zero, the final installment gets paid out (if so few books are sold that the publisher foregoes the paperback release, there’s still usually the contractual obligation to pay out)….
(6) CROWDFUNDING THREE ANTHOLOGIES. Joshua Palmatier’s “Guilds & Glaives, Insurgency, and Ur-Bar Anthologies!” Kickstarter has less than three days to run and is still looking to raise about $3,000 of its $20,000 goal.
THE RAZOR’S EDGE, GUILDS & GLAIVES, and SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR anthology kickstarter is nearing its goal! If we can reach $20K by Noon, September 28th, EST, then there will be an open call for submissions for the remaining slots in the anthologies. If you have a story idea that fits one of the anthology themes, write it up, revise it, polish it, and send it in for consideration. I’ve posted the guidelines below. Note that the kickstarter still has a few days left and there are still some pretty awesome reward levels left…
(7) AS YOU WISH. “‘The Princess Bride’ Turns 30: Rob Reiner, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal Dish About Making the Cult Classic” is a Variety piece full of interviews about the beloved 1987 fantasy film.
“It was an impossible sell,” said Reiner. “The funny thing about it was that before I made ‘Stand by Me’ — I had made ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘The Sure Thing’ — I had a meeting with this executive at Paramount. She said, ‘We love your films. What do you want to do next? I said, ‘Well, you don’t want to do what I want to do.’ She said, ‘No, that’s not true. I want to do what you want to do. I said, ‘No, no. You want me to do what you want to do.’ She said, ‘No, no. I want to do what you want to do. What is it?’ I said ‘The Princess Bride.’ She said, ‘Well, anything but that.’”
(8) PALS FOR ETERNITY. SyFy Wire contributes to the nostalgia in “The Princess Bride at 30: Why Fezzik and Inigo have one of the best friendships in film”. Reason number one is —
Helping each other deal with a difficult boss, Vizzini
Vizzini is clearly not an easy man to work for, and he doesn’t treat Fezzik or Inigo very well as his employees. After they kidnap Buttercup, Fezzik expresses his opinion that it’s not right to kill an innocent girl, but Vizzini isn’t interested in his hired help doing anything beyond what they are hired to do. He immediately insults Fezzik, and when Inigo voices his agreement with Fezzik, insults him as well before turning on Fezzik again. Once Vizzini walks away though, Inigo goes to Fezzik and the two rhyme together happily, much to Vizzini’s annoyance.
The scene captures how the two friends have each other’s back in this perhaps less than ideal work environment. Inigo didn’t have to voice his agreement with Fezzik after seeing Vizzini’s reaction, but he did. Then he tries to turn the mood around by doing something Fezzik enjoys and excels at: rhyming. It reminds Fezzik that he’s more than the dumb brute Vizzini wants him to be, and that Inigo recognizes his gifts, even if Vizzini does not.
(9) DONATIONS NEEDED. The father of Pierre Pettinger died recently due to a house fire, and Pierre has set up a Gofundme campaign to help cover the funeral expenses — Pierre Pettinger [Sr.] Funeral Fund. Their target is $13,000.
While it appears that insurance will cover the costs of repairing and restoring the home, the expenses for Dad’s funeral were significant and have put some strain on all the members of our family. Pierre will be administering the funds and will see to it that they go directly to the funeral home. The goal we have set represents the total cost, but any help you would care to offer would be received with gratitude.
Pierre the younger and his wife Sandy are Fan GoH for Worldcon 76. They’ve done wonders in Masquerades for years, winning many awards, and Pierre is Archivist for the International Costumers Guild.
(10) REED OBIT. SF Site News reports author Kit Reed (1932-2017) died on September 24 from an inoperable brain tumor.
Reed was a Best New Author Hugo nominee in 1959. Reed was up for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award three times, had a novel, Where, on the John W. Campbell Memorial Award shortlist, and received the ALA Alex Award for Thinner Than Thou. Reed’s most recent novel, Mormama, was published earlier this year.
(11) JACOBS OBIT. Harvey Jacobs (1930-2017), a 1998 World Fantasy Award nominee for his novel American Goliath, died September 24 from an infection brought on by brain cancer treatment. An author sometimes compared with Vonnegut and Roth, he published his first story in 1951, contributed regularly to New Worlds and F&SF in the Sixties, and continued to produce a modest number of sff stories thereafter.
(12) TODAY IN HISTORY
- September 25, 1989 — Fox TV’s Alien Nation premiered.
(13) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS
- Born September 25, 1930 — Shel Silverstein (author, humorist)
- Born September 25, 1951 – Actor Mark Hamill
- Born September 25, 1952 – Actor Christopher Reeve
(14) POURNELLE MEMORIAL. Jennifer Pournelle’s eulogy of Jerry Pournelle, delivered at the memorial service held September 16, has been posted at Chaos Manor.
He was generous as a husband. He adored his wife. He loved deeply, and passionately, and never anyone more than her. The parable of the widow’s alms teaches us the truest measure of generosity: when that of which you have the least, you give most freely. So by “generous,” here I do not mean with obvious things like, like gifts and jewelry and public events (though with those too). I mean that, although always awkward as a schoolboy in showing his feelings for her, he did his utmost with what he knew how to do: jokes, and puns, and praise, and respect, and walks, and stalwart support of her career, and four sons.
And especially—and this is most telling—by listening to her, and to her alone. Certainly not always. Probably not often enough. But I do not believe that any other human being on the planet had the capacity to tell him “no” and make it stick. Because of his generous love for her, he listened, and learned how to be a better father, and an outwardly more affectionate one. To say the words out loud. She taught him that the great light of a generous heart need not be hidden beneath a bushel. He listened, and let his generous light shine on her, and everyone around them.
It certainly shined on us, his children. He was generous as a father. OK, let’s start with the obvious. There was never a check he would not roll his eyes, groan, and write. School fees? Of course. Wrecked car? Harrumph. No problem. College expenses? Well, it’s your job to get the best deal you can. It’s my job to pick up the rest. Airplane tickets, tailored mess uniforms, personal sidearms? Here you go. Need a tool, a meal, a book, a computer, a printer, a place to sleep, a bottle of white-out? There’s one here somewhere in the house. Go find it. Help yourself.
But his real generosity was with imagination. He believed in space. He believed in adventure. He believed in deep truths in myth, and deep lessons in legend. He believed in science. He believed in nature. He believed in fun. And he combined them all. Road trips, hiking trips, shooting trips; flights of imagination; cooking (badly), reading (well), brainstorming plot lines, standing up to bluster, figuring out what you need to know, then figuring out who could tell you. He’d pick up a phone in a heartbeat if he thought he could marshal support or make a contact. He’d invite you to dinners across thresholds you’d never otherwise cross—and then always pick up the tab.
And when you finished what you started, or achieved what you’d aimed, or found success in your field, his outpouring of respect was spontaneous and generous—and never seeking to curry your favor….
(15) KEITH KATO. Keith Kato posted his own extensive memories of Jerry Pournelle and account of the memorial service at The Heinlein Society website.
Of course he knew not only all the Mercury astronauts, but also knew the candidates who did not make the cut. Jerry once told a funny story about turning John Glenn upside down and shaking him over a smoky fire, while fake-arguing with the staff, and dropping manhole covers on the floor. Glenn kept a dot in a circle, and his heartbeat remained rock steady (except for one momentary blip when the manhole covers landed), after which Glenn glaringly said “You son of a [redacted for the delicacy of our readers’ um…eyes?]!”
(16) MASTERCHEF. On the making of videogames: Jason Sheehan reviews Walt Williams’s Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games: “Leveling Up In The Video Game Industry, Without Checkpoints: ‘Significant Zero'”.
I learned this recipe from Walt Williams, whose debut book, Significant Zero, is all about the making of videogames. And also about the making of Walt Williams who, for years, has been involved (both seriously, tangentially, and in every way in between) with the production of some of the best videogames ever created: Bioshock, Star Wars Battlefront, Mafia II, Spec Ops: The Line. Mostly Spec Ops, which is one of the darkest, most haunting, and most narratively daring games I’ve ever played. Spec Ops was Williams’s masterpiece and Significant Zero is the story of everything it took to make it and everything it cost him — beginning years before, ending years after. Sure, it’s a workplace memoir (more or less): A writer writing about writing, which can be the most annoying thing in the world. Except for one thing.
Walt Williams is basically a ghost.
(17) OVERWHELMING SUCCESS. The BBC writes the biography of a product in “How plastic became a victim of its own success”.
He became so famous that Time magazine put his face on the cover without needing to mention his name, just the words, “It will not burn. It will not melt.”
What Leo Baekeland invented that July was the first fully synthetic plastic.
He called it Bakelite.
(18) EXTENDED MAINTENANCE. How would you like this job? “Airlander 10: ‘How we fix the world’s longest aircraft'” (short video)
Two technicians have told how they had to learn how to rope climb to fix the world’s longest aircraft.
The Airlander 10 – a combination of plane and airship – has been at Cardington Airfield, Bedfordshire, for the last four years.
Technicians Ivor Pope and Darren Gurney have overseen the aircraft since early 2016.
“Being up on the hull is a fantastic experience,” said Ivor Pope, the maintenance, modification and ground operations manager.
(19) BIKE RECYCLERS. Leave no trace? “Abandoned at Burning Man, bicycles now head for Houston and the Caribbean”.
After nine days of parties, music and larger-than-life art installations, the 2017 season of Burning Man came to a close on 4 September. In theory, all evidence of “Black Rock City” – which attracted 70,000 attendees to the dusty desert – was supposed to vanish. One of the festival’s core tenets is “leave no trace”.
However, clean-up crews found thousands of perfectly useable bicycles abandoned by attendees. Bikes are the most common form of transportation around Black Rock City, and the way they are tossed aside at the end has long been a problem.
Burning Man partners with local charities to take, refurbish and sometimes donate the bikes to needy families, but this year, the sheer number of bikes overwhelmed even these partners. An estimated 5,000 bicycles were left behind.
(20) I SWEAR THAT IT’S ALL TRUE. Past Daedalus: Whale tails and the human-powered watercraft speed record: “Water speed record that’s surprisingly hard to break”.
However, an Oxford University spinout called Animal Dynamics, co-founded by zoologist Adrian Thomas, is spending £200,000 ($260,000) to do just that. Their craft, the Malolo, is a hydrofoil-like Decavitator. Unlike its rival, the Malolo’s design is inspired by the way whales swim through water – instead of a propeller, it has the kind of large, arched tail that you sometimes spot above the water when a whale dives.
Now two years after starting work on the project, the team have begun testing their third prototype off the south coast of England. According to Thomas, they have already reached speeds of about 12 knots (13.8mph/22km/h).
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Steven H Silver, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Nancy Sauer, Cat Eldridge, and David K.M. Klaus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]