Pixel Scroll 3/17/20 Let’s Build Robots With Genuine Pixel Personalities, They Said

(1) SPRNG THAW. Book borrowers cheer as Publishers Weekly reports “Macmillan Abandons Library E-book Embargo”.

In a surprise announcement today, Macmillan abandoned its controversial embargo on new release e-books in libraries, effective this week.

“There are times in life when differences should be put aside,” reads a brief memo from Macmillan CEO John Sargent addressed to librarians, authors, illustrators, and agents. “Effective on Friday (or whenever thereafter our wholesalers can effect the change), Macmillan will return to the library e-book pricing model that was in effect on October 31st, 2019. In addition, we will be lowering some e-book prices on a short term basis to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times. Stay safe.”

A Macmillan spokesperson confirmed that the removal of the embargo covers all titles, including new release Tor titles (which were technically still under a “test” embargo on October 31, 2019).

The news comes as libraries across the nation are (or soon will be) closing down their physical locations in an attempt to slow the outbreak of Covid-19….

(2) MORE NON-CORONA NEWS. The South China Morning Post has the story: “Xiao Zhan scandal – why millions of Chinese shoppers boycotted Piaget, Cartier and Estée Lauder because of homoerotic idol fan fiction”.

Things escalated quickly after A03’s takedown. Enraged by Xiao fans’ censorship plot, millions of free speech activists began boycotting the dozens of brands Xiao campaigns for, including Estée Lauder, Piaget and Qeelin. But they’ve gone further than the usual boycott by promoting competitors of Xiao-promoted brands, crashing Xiao-sponsored brands’ customer service lines, and pressuring those brands to end their collaborations with Xiao. So far, the Chinese Weibo hashtag #BoycottXiaoZhan has exceeded 3,450,000 posts and 260 million views.

.. But the idol economy has a sinister side. In the Chinese model of idol adoration, fans are the ones in control of the idol’s reputation and commercial worth – not the idol. And since fan communities are so actively involved in their idol’s brand sponsorships, it also falls on them to attack brands that they perceive to be opposing their idol’s interests.

(3) FUN STORY. A wonderful spin on a beleaguered classic: Cora Buhlert’s “The Cold Crowdfunding Campaign” begins –

Save the Girl and Save Me From Having to Toss Her Out of the Airlock

Organised by Captain C. Barton

Started on August 4, 2178, 08:48     Category: Accidents and emergencies

My name is Barton and I’m the pilot of an EDS (Emergency Dispatch Ship) currently en route to the frontier world of Woden to deliver some desperately needed medical supplies.

I have a problem, because I just discovered a stowaway aboard my ship, an eighteen-year-old girl named Marilyn Lee Cross. Upon questioning, Marilyn explained that her brother Gerry works on Woden as part of the government survey crew. She wants to visit him and since there is no regular passenger traffic to Woden because of the current medical crisis, she snuck aboard my ship…..

(4) WINDY CITY PULP CON POSTPONED. Chicago’s Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, originally set for next month, has been rescheduled to September 11-13.

On March 16, 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker mandated that social gatherings of 50 or more people be cancelled for the next eight weeks.  Given other recent developments in the Covid-19 crisis, we anticipated that some sort of ban might be imposed that would make it impossible to hold our convention at its scheduled time in April, 2020.  Out of concern for the health of our extended family of attendees, dealers and staff, for the past week we had been working with our hotel — the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center in Lombard, Illinois — to attempt to reschedule our convention.  

We can now announce that we’ve just reached an agreement to postpone the convention to September 11-13, 2020. The location of the convention remains the same, and we thank the fine folks at the Westin Lombard for working with us to make this change….

More information about memberships and hotel reservations at the link.

(5) EDGAR AWARDS. Mystery Writers of America have cancelled the Edgar Awards event planned for April 30: “Edgar Week Events – Update”. How the awards will be announced is under discussion.

It is with heavy heart that we have to let you know we are cancelling both the Edgar Awards banquet and the symposium.

All bars and restaurants have been closed in New York City due to the pandemic (other than for delivery and pick-up), and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement on Sunday urging people to cancel or postpone all events bringing together 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, including weddings. “Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the CDC said on their website. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.

This year is the 75th anniversary of MWA; our Edgar week festivities were to be a celebration of that anniversary.

But the health, safety, and well-being of our nominees, guests, members and the hotel staff have to be paramount, and it is not in anyone’s best interest that we go forward with the festivities.

(6) LEPRECON LOSES GOH. At the moment LepreCon 46 is still scheduled for April 10-12 in Chandler, Arizona, however, one of their guests of honor has stepped down. A decision about the con’s future is coming this week.

LepreCon has had some participant cancellations, most notably our Author Guest of Honor, Robert McCammon, who lives in Alabama. He stated: “I’ve gone back and forth on this, and back and forth again, and unfortunately I feel the need to cancel my appearance at LepreCon. I hate to do this because I’d been looking forward to the con and also because never before in my life have I said I would be somewhere and not shown up… but in all honesty I just don’t feel confident in traveling right now and am uncertain of what another month may bring.”

We are restricted in our decision to postpone or cancel Leprecon 46 by our contract with the hotel. We must work in conjunction with them to come up with a solution, since Governor Ducey & ADHS haven’t yet prohibited all public gatherings. We will speak with them Monday to begin the process of determining whether the convention can be postponed or canceled. A decision will be announced by the end of the week.

(7) NO LAST DANCE IN LOUISVILLE. It was going to be the last con in a series that started a decade ago, but now ConGlomeration won’t be taking place. The Louisville, Kentucky fan event was planned for April 10-12.

All good things, as they say, must come to an end. And so it comes to ConGlomeration.

In accordance with current COVID-19 safety recommendations, as well as local, state, and federal mandates, and to ensure the health and well-being of our membership, the Convention Committee has elected to cancel our final ConGlomeration

For those asking why we are cancelling, rather than merely postponing, we simply have no idea if or when a suitable replacement date and venue would become available. We cannot hold our guests, staff, or resources in limbo for an indeterminate amount of time. And, as this was our final convention, we have no “next year” to simply “roll over” this year’s plans and people into.

So, rather than “see you later,” we must instead say “goodbye.”

(8) COMIC RELIEF. Courtesy of George Takei.

(9) BACK TO THE BAD NEWS. Mark George R.R. Martin’s Jean Cocteau Cinema closed, too. The Santa Fe, NM theater posted this “Important Announcement”.

To our Jean Cocteau & Beastly Books Supporters:

We like to keep our community as informed as we can. We regret to say that we have decided to close the Jean Cocteau Cinema for a month starting 03/17 and hope to reopen on 04/15. TBD. The Jean Cocteau Cinema is fortunate enough to continue to pay our employees for the interim….

(10) LIBRARIANS’ DAY RECALENDARED. Horror Writers of America have moved HWA Librarians’ Day to November 12, 2020. The Naperville, IL event is another casualty of coronavirus restrictions.

(11) WHITMAN OBIT. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Actor Stuart Whitman has died at the age of 92. Whitman was probably best known for his work in action, war, and western films, but did have some genre roles, the first being an uncredited appearance in When Worlds Collide (1951).

Perhaps most notable were 10 episodes as Jonathan Kent scattered across 4 seasons of the 80s/90s TV series Superboy Other genre and adjacent TV work included seven episodes of Fantasy Island (as different characters), plus episodes on more than a half-dozen other shows including Night Gallery and Tales from the Dark Side

He appeared in sf and horror movies such as Omega Cop, Deadly Intruder, Vultures, Invaders of the Lost Gold, The Monster Club, Demonoid, The Cat Creature, and City Beneath the Sea.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 17, 1846 Kate Greenaway. Victorian artist and writer, largely known today for her children’s book illustrations. So popular was she and her work that the very popular Kate Greenaway Almanacks appeared every year from 1883 to 1895. Among her best-known works was her edition of Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Rosa Mulholland’s Puck and Blossom and Bret Harte’s Pirate Isle. She’s readily available at the usual digital suspects. (Died 1901.)
  • Born March 17, 1906 Brigitte Helm. German actress, Metropolis. Her first role as an actress, she played two roles, Maria and her double, the Maschinenmensch, plus several uncredited roles as well.  She’s got some other genre credits including L’Atlantide (The Mistress of Atlantis) and Alraune (Unholy Love). Her later films would be strictly in keeping with the policies of the Nazis with all films being fiercely anti-capitalist and in particular attacking Jewish financial speculators. (Died 1996.)
  • Born March 17, 1945 Tania Lemani, 75. She played Kara in the Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold”. She first met Shatner when she was offered her a role in the pilot for Alexander the Great which starred him in the title role (although the pilot failed to be picked up as a series). She had parts in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Bionic Woman and she shows up in the fanfic video Star Trek: Of Gods and Men. I assume as Kara, though IMDb lists her as herself. 
  • Born March 17, 1947 James K. Morrow, 73. I’m very fond of the Godhead trilogy in which God is Dead and very, very present. Shambling Towards Hiroshima is a lot of satisfying satirical fun as is The Madonna and the Starship which is also is a wonderful homage to pulp writers.
  • Born March 17, 1948 William Gibson, 72. I’ve read the Sprawl trilogy more times than I can remember and likewise the Bridge trilogy and The Difference Engine. The works I struggled with are Pattern RecognitionSpook Country and Zero History. I’ve tried all of them, none were appealing. Eh? 
  • Born March 17, 1949 Patrick Duffy, 71. Surely you’ve seen him on Man from Atlantis? No?  Oh, you missed a strange, short-lived show. His other genre credits are a delightfully mixed bag of such things as voicing a Goat on Alice in Wonderland, appearing on The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne as Duke Angelo Rimini  in the “Rockets of the Dead” episode and voicing  Steve Trevor in the incredibly excellent “The Savage Time” three-parter on Justice League
  • Born March 17, 1951 Kurt Russell, 69. I know I saw Escape from New York on a rainy summer night in a now century-old Art Deco theatre which wasn’t the one I later saw Blade Runner in. I think it’s much better than Escape from L.A. was. Of course, there’s Big Trouble in Little China, my favorite film with him in it. And let’s not forget Tombstone. Not genre, you say. Maybe not, but it’s damn good and he’s fantastic in it. 

(13) COMICS SECTION.

  • About today’s Wallace the Brave Rich Horton commented, “I’m just surprised he didn’t wear a propeller beanie!”

(14) BEYOND 404. Bleeding Cool tells about a new comedy that’s on the way — “’Upload’: Your Afterlife Depends on Your Wi-Fi Strength in Greg Daniels’ Upcoming Amazon Prime Comedy Series”.

If we’re reading things correctly, Greg Daniels‘ (The Office, Space Force) new comedy series Upload for Amazon Prime Video makes the case that the future of your afterlife may depend on how strong your Wi-Fi signal is. At least that’s the premise vibe were getting from the 10-episode series, which includes an ensemble cast fronted by The Flash alum Robbie Amell and Andy Allo (Pitch Perfect 3, The Hero) and a debut date of May 1 for the streaming service….

(15) SPACE COLLECTIBLE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Kickstarter: “DeskSpace: Lunar Surface“. Inspired by the Apollo 11 lunar landing, this Kickstarter project is selling a detailed replica landscape of part of the Moon’s surface. 

Made from “jewelry grade concrete,“ they plan to make it available in two sizes — roughly 7” (180 mm) square & roughly 4“ (100 mm) square. Introductory pledge levels – which are about to run out – are about 75 & 99 US dollars respectively. (Actual pledges appear to be in HK$.)

For a bit more, they’ll sell you the entire solar system.

(16) POMP AND MINECRAFT CIRCUMSTANCES. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] SoraNews24: “Japanese students hold graduation ceremony in Minecraft amid school cancellation”. Tagline: “As usual, kids are way ahead of adults.”

Japanese schools have been closed for over two weeks now due to coronavirus quarantine, and they will remain closed until after spring vacation.

Because the Japanese school year ends in March and begins in April, for many students this closing period means that they will miss their graduation ceremonies. Whether they’re leaving elementary school, middle school, or high school, it’s a sad feeling for them to go out with a whimper instead of a bang.

But some creative elementary school graduates in Japan came up with a great workaround. If they couldn’t have a graduation ceremony at school, then why not have one digitally in a place they all meet often anyway… in Minecraft!

(17) SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CRITTER. At Dogpatch Press, Patch O’Furr has an animal-centric post about the plague, with a side order of furry con fraud. “Good news! Doggos won’t make you vom-o — and more to know about a zoonotic pandemic.”

Need something wholesome for a time like this?  Investigation found no reason to fear that people might catch COVID-19 from dogs. That’s good for me and my chihuahua child. No more worry about going “aww” for little sneezes!

(18) COMBAT NEWS AFFECTED DISORDER. Kristine Kathryn Rusch is running a “March Sadness Special” which includes the offer of a couple free books to people signing up for a newsletter.

The last week has been…well, a year in stress and changes and everything else. I’ve been blogging about it to help people through the changes. Those blogs are currently on Patreon, but will hit here, starting tomorrow night.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that people worldwide are staying home. Inside. With computers and streaming and books to keep them occupied.

Last week, Allyson of WMG, Dean, and I discussed a way to provide weekly content to readers and writers. The Stay At Home And Chill Newsletter will tell you about deals and discounts...and if you sign up now, you’ll get two free books to help you relax through this crisis.

[Thanks to Doug Ellis, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Michael Toman, Camestros Felapton, Brian Z., Patch O’Furr, Dann, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Brian Z.]

Pixel Scroll 11/22/17 By Jove, Who Scrolled The Quartz Monkey Pixel Fudge?

(1) WORLDCON 76 HOTEL RESERVATIONS. Worldcon 76 emailed the passkey to members today and opened reservations today at 1 p.m. Pacific time.

The Marriott and the Hilton, the two hotels directly connected to the CC, and the least expensive of the official hotels, almost immediately became unavailable, presumably due to being booked up.

The Fairmont, the party hotel ($199/night), The Hyatt Place, Westin and The AC Hotel by Marriott remain available on the convention dates (Thursday-Monday) at this writing. However, when I added Wednesday to my request, only The Fairmont was available.

(2) NEW “NOTHING TO READ” UPDATE. North Carolina schoolteacher Becky Sasala (sister of John Joseph Adams) has received hundreds of donated books for her classroom library since her appeal was posted in September (item #2).

View this post on Instagram

Updated classroom library. #englishteacher

A post shared by Becky Donovan Sasala (@becky_sasala) on

(3) NEW HUMBLE BOOK BUNDLE. The “Humble Book Bundle: Stellar Sci-Fi & Fantasy by Tachyon” is offered for a short time at the usual pay-what-you-want rates. Pay more, unlock more books.

$1+

  • Falling In Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson (World Fantasy Award Winner)
  • The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer
  • In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
  • Invaders by Junot Diaz, Katherine Dunn, Jonathan Lethem, contributors
  • Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

$8+

  • The Very Best of Kate Elliott
  • The Very Best of Tad Williams
  • Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts
  • Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology by John Kessel, James Patrick Kelly, contributors
  • Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

$15+

  • Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century by Cory Doctorow
  • Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror by Stephen King, Clive Barker, George R. R. Martin, contributors
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Locus Award Winner)
  • Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick (Hugo Award Winner)
  • Hap and Leonard Ride Again by Joe R. Lansdale
  • Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, contributors
  • The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Hugo Award Winner)

$18+

  • Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (Campbell Award Winner)
  • Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress (Nebula Award Winner)
  • Led Astray: The Best of Kelly Armstrong
  • Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade by Joe R. Lansdale
  • Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, contributors
  • The New Voices of Fantasy by Peter Beagle, Jacob Weisman, contributors

(4) SPEED SHOPPING. Pornokitch’s 2017 gifting guide begins with Becky Chambers’ suggestions:

Becky recommends:

If they need a laugh after this garbage fire of a year, then get them season one of The Good Place, because we’re all messy humans, we’re all caught up in stupid systems beyond our control, and we all could use some frozen yogurt.

If they’re still ride or die for Game of Thrones while simultaneously nursing a bitter resentment over how much better this show could do by its female characters, then get them the Skyrim Special Edition and let them live their own high fantasy adventure. It’s got all the time-sucking goodness of the original game, but the art’s gloriously remastered, the DLC’s unlocked, and the bugs are (mostly) fixed.

If they aren’t religious but love the winter holidays for symbolizing love and kindness in the face of the freezing dark, then give them The Bonobo and the Atheist by primatologist Frans de Waal. It’s a thought-provoking, perspective-altering, brain-calming book about compassion as natural instinct….

(5) PIXAR EXEC PLACED ON “SABBATICAL”. The Washington Post’s Steven Zeitchik, in “Disney animation guru John Lasseter takes leave after sexual misconduct allegations” follows up The Hollywood Reporter piece about John Lasseter being sidelined on sexual harassment allegations by noting that Lasseter is “one of the most important figures in modern entertainment…in charge of hundreds of people, making discipline a more fraught affair.”

Citing a six-month “sabbatical,” Lasseter closed the letter to employees saying he looked forward to “working together again in the new year.”

It remains unclear whether Disney could extend the leave or make it permanent. The company released a short statement late Tuesday saying that it is “committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”

…The Hollywood Reporter piece cited one woman as saying Lasseter was prone to “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes.” Another woman said that Lasseter’s statement Tuesday that centered on hugs minimized the alleged offenses. Many of the accusers were anonymous.

The story said that the writer-actor Rashida Jones had left “Toy Story 4” because of Lasseter’s behavior. But she and writing partner Will McCormack later issued a statement that “we did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances.  That is untrue.” They said instead that diversity concerns played a role. “There is so much talent at Pixar and we remain enormous fans of their films.  But it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice,” they wrote.

(6) BLABBING FOR DOLLARS. SyFy Wire says “J.J. Abrams is selling Star Wars spoilers for a good cause”.

When J.J. Abrams directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he was his usual secretive self right up until the end. But something seems to have changed in the Star Wars/J.J. Abrams universe since he was tapped to direct Star Wars Episode IX. He’s now selling Star Wars spoilers to the highest bidder.

After Ron Howard’s masterful use of social media when it came to getting fans engaged with Solo: A Star Wars Story, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy announced a shift in the company’s attitude toward sharing more information with the fans, and we even saw a verified Twitter handle pop up for Abrams (no tweets yet, but we remain hopeful), but J.J.’s appearance on HBO’s Night of Too Many Stars definitely qualifies as a new development.

To help raise money for autism, J.J. offered up the plot of Star Wars Episode IX to one lucky bidder. What happened next? Well, you’ll just have to watch….

(7) UNLIKELY PAIR. Yahoo! Entertainment writer Gwynne Watkins, in “‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’: 7 things we just learned”, summarized  the Entertainment Weekly issue devoted to the film, and says that a reunion between Luke and Leia is highly unlikely and General Leia’s successor is her childhood friend Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern.

One of the biggest questions for longtime Star Wars fans is whether estranged twins Luke and Leia will find one another in The Last Jedi, since Carrie Fisher died before shooting any scenes for Episode IX. (Lucasfilm has said they will not digitally recreate the character to conclude her storyline.) EW won’t say either way, but their coverage suggests that a reunion may have been planned for the third part of the trilogy, which is slated for 2019 and hasn’t begun production. Nevertheless, director Rian Johnson chose to pair Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia on one of EW‘s four covers. “It’s nice seeing them on the cover though. Even if all we have is that,” Johnson told the magazine.

(8) PROP WORTH MORE THAN MOVIE. After Bonham auctioned Robby the Robot for over $5.3M, Phil Nichols of Bradburymedia did a little checking —

According to Wikipedia (so it MUST be true!), the movie cost $1,968,000. It took in $2,765,000 at the box office. So Robby alone has earned nearly double what the film earned.

(9) TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES FOR FORTY THOUSAND BUCKS, Another sff treasure sold at yesterday’s auction was “A Harper Goff scrapbook pertaining to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, for $40,000 including premium.

“Forget Robby,” says Andrew Porter. “Click on images to see gorgeous preproduction paintings and behind-the-camera photos.”

Titled “A history in informal photography,” this is production designer Harper Goff’s personal scrapbook documenting every stage of the making of his masterpiece, Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This is a mother lode of original artwork, rare photographs, and ephemera from the film, curated throughout with Goff’s handwritten captions. Goff’s original art in this lot includes an incredible series of 5 vividly-colored, action-packed sequential paintings of the submarine Nautilus’ attack on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

(10) PHOENIX EVENT CANCELLED. From Nerdvana we learn — “LepreCon 44 cancels 2018 Phoenix Science Fiction and Fantasy Art Expo”.

The Phoenix Science Fiction and Fantasy Art Expo, which was scheduled for March 16-18, 2018, in conjunction with and presented by LepreCon 44, is apparently canceled — but may be retooled.

…According to the group’s Facebook page and website, “LepreCon 44, in the form of the Phoenix Sci-Fi & Fantasy Art Expo, which was scheduled for March 2018 at the Unexpected Art Gallery, has been cancelled. LepreCon, Inc. is no longer associated with any event of that name.

(11) UNDER THE HAMMER. Dominic Winter Auctioneers will be handling the sale of The Library Of Richard Adams on  December 14. The catalog is now available in print and online.

Comprising 1500 books sold singly and in groups in a total of 134 lots, the antiquarian highlights include a Shakespeare Second Folio, 1632, a uniformly calf-bound set of the first editions of Jane Austen, a very rare first edition of John Milton’s Lycidas, 1638, and a two-volume first edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, 1755. Among the highlights of the children’s books are first editions of Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows and the four Winnie-the-Pooh books. Adams’s deep interest in the history of English literature, poetry, nineteenth-century fiction and country matters is also reflected throughout the collection, many of the highlights of which bear his bookplate.

(12) COCO. NPR’s Bob Mondello says: “In ‘Coco,’ Pixar Finds Joyous Life — In Death”

We get there alongside young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), who lives with his shoemaking family in a Mexican village. He’s a happy kid, except for one thing: His family has lived an entirely music-free existence for three generations. His grandmother (Renee Victor) has forbidden it all — no blowing into soda bottles, no listening to passing car radios and absolutely no mariachis.

Miguel knows why. Years ago, his musical great-great-grandfather grabbed his guitar and left, never to return. On Dia de Muertos — the Day of the Dead — when it’s said the deceased return to visit their families, no one so much as mentions great-great-granddad. Which means Miguel gets a bit of a shock when he strums a guitar in a cemetery on that day and finds himself and his street puppy Dante — get it? — transported to the land of the dead.

(13) TANZER REVIEWED. NPR’s Jason Sheehan approves of subtlety: “‘Creatures Of Will And Temper’ Is A Slow-Burn Slide Into Deviltry”

The biggest problem with most urban fantasy is that, by nature, it becomes alternate history. It’s Renaissance Italy, but with vampires. Or Victorian England, but everyone wears cool goggles and has an airship!

And there’s nothing wrong with that. There are stories out there that have done wonders with their skewed versions of our shared past. I’m just saying it’s rare for a writer to be able to do one (insert a fantasy element into a historical setting) without doing the other (letting the dragons eat the townsfolk, thereby giving rise to Bert the Dragonbasher, hero of West Crudwell, or whatever). And when someone pulls it off as well as Molly Tanzer in her new novel, Creatures of Will and Temper, it’s worth checking out just to see the restraint and careful worldbuilding gymnastics required.

Honestly, if that was the only thing Tanzer accomplished here, I’d be impressed. She has created a Victorian England which is, in all noticeable ways, exactly the Victorian England we know — the mother of our modern world, by turns smoky, smutty, gross and backward, then beautiful, wondrous and louche with the turn of a corner. And yet, embedded in it — woven so closely into the fabric of normalcy that almost no one can see it — Tanzer has given us … demons.

(14) DON’T SPARE THE ROD. John W. Campbell would have been thrilled to hear it: “U.K. Water Companies Sometimes Use Dowsing Rods To Find Pipes”.

Most of the major water companies in the United Kingdom use dowsing rods — a folk magic practice discredited by science — to find underwater pipes, according to an Oxford Ph.D. student and science video producer who accidentally discovered the practice is still in use.

Ten out of the U.K.’s 12 regional water and sewer utilities confirmed to Sally Le Page that they at least occasionally use dowsing rods, also known as divining rods or “witching sticks,” to locate underground water sources. Many of the companies later emphasized that dowsing is done by individuals, not as a company-wide policy, and that it does not cost any money.

Le Page began asking water companies about the practice after her parents told her that they saw a water technician holding “two bent tent pegs” to decide how much of the road needed to be closed off. Le Page was incredulous and started asking water companies if this was an actual practice they used.

(15) FREQUENT VISITOR. It’s been in and out of Europe multiple times: “Plague reached Europe by Stone Age”.

Plague was present in Europe during the late Stone Age, according to a study of ancient remains.

Writing in Current Biology journal, researchers suggest the deadly bacterium entered Europe with a mass migration of people from further east.

They screened more than 500 ancient skeletal samples and recovered the full genomes of plague bacteria from six individuals.

These six variously date to between Late Neolithic and Bronze Age times.

The plague-positive samples come from Russia, Germany, Lithuania, Estonia and Croatia.

“The two samples from Russia and Croatia are among the oldest plague-positive samples published. They are contemporary with [a] previously published sample from the Altai region [in Siberia],” co-author Alexander Herbig from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, told BBC News.

The plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, was responsible for several major historic pandemics, including the infamous Black Death in the 14th Century, which is estimated to have killed between 30% and 60% of Europe’s population.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contrinbuting editor of the day Kip W.]

Hamit: LepreCon 38
A Con The Way They Used To Be

Joe and Gay Haldeman

By Francis Hamit: LepreCon 38, held April 5th through 8th in Tempe, Arizona, was, in many ways, a return to the kind of science fiction/fantasy convention that got me into Fandom in 1978.  Leigh and I have not been going to many conventions in recent years, so this was only my 108th.  The WorldCon in Reno, where we spent almost all of our time in the poker room at the Peppermill, was one of two we attended in 2011, followed by Bubonicon in Albuquerque a week later.  Neither was the kind of friendly, welcoming experience you want to repeat and both carried a sense of ‘been there, done that’ that made us wonder why we’d bothered.  Certainly it was not money well spent, but since it was part of a longer book tour, we endured anyway.

LepreCon 38 invited us, and wanted us both on the program, and we hadn’t been to a previous one for many years.  But we remembered those kindly as small relaxicons where interesting programs and great conversations were to be had.  Tempe is where Arizona State University is, and the hotel, the Tempe Mission Palms, is right next to the campus and the Mill Street neighborhood half a block away reminded me of Iowa City when I first lived there in the  mid 1960s.  Very mellow, positive vibes.

The hotel is also very fan friendly, with a very soft security posture, great rooms and plenty of opportunities for that writers’ sport of people watching.  It is an aircrew and military pilot hotel, with a good restaurant.  One need not leave the whole weekend, but if one does, Mill Street is nearby.  I made early morning pilgrimages to the local Starbucks.

Patti Hultstrand did an outstanding job of putting together a program that would do a much larger convention proud.  Some panels, unfortunately, outnumbered the audience, and some were cancelled because no audience appeared. This was especially true for readings where one lesser-known author after another found themselves addressing an almost empty room. One of the frustrations for panelists I heard more than once was that a panel they wanted to attend was often opposite one they were on, which might account for the low attendance at so many of them. I was in five events, but only made one panel as audience member.  It was a very diverse program with lots of options, but perhaps, next time, “less is more”?

I have the impression that a much larger attendance was anticipated than actually came. Certainly there were almost none of the usual suspects from Los Angeles , which is only a seven hour drive away.  Aside from myself, my roommate and editor Leigh Strother-Vien, and Michael Donahue, I don’t recall seeing another L.A fan there.   That might be because of the current economic problems, but it’s a pity because it was a very good event.

Mike Donahue only came over for one day, and that was because the convention very kindly scheduled a panel with the both of us about our forthcoming motion picture Marlowe, which is based on my 1988 stage play, “MARLOWE: An Elizabethan Tragedy”.  Since becoming a film director, Mike has thrown himself into one low-budget project after another and now is in various stages of completion with three features. Only one, Pool Time, has been released.  Complicating matters was the looming demise of Barry Workman, a close friend of his.  But people were very interested and showed up for that panel, which is helpful in creating “buzz”, and we also sold a few copies of the first-draft screenplay at a signing and from a dealer’s table.

I was also on a military-related panel with Joe Haldeman, who was the Author Guest of Honor.  So were seven other people.  Joe being there was another reason for me to attend.  He and I were classmates at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the 1970s.  We were on a similar panel at the 2008 WorldCon in Denver, after which he became very ill.  He was a combat engineer in Vietnam and Agent Orange put him in the hospital with a near-fatal bout of pancreatitis.  In Reno he was still obviously suffering from the aftermath, so it was very good to see him looking healthy again in Tempe.  I had been worried about him.  I had my own illness last fall, after Reno, not as serious, but still very scary.  The panel was nine guys who’d all been in the military, and started by outnumbering the audience, but eventually filled even.  Joe and I were not the only ones on that panel old enough to be Vietnam veterans.  There were a surprising number of ex-military, some of them with long careers, on the program and at the convention.  It gave us something to talk about.  War stories were exchanged.  Nor was it entirely a male conversation.  There were at least two other female veterans aside from Leigh.

The proximity to ASU should have drawn some new fans, but there was a noticeable “graying of Fandom” at work.  Very few kids and very few young adults and teenagers. The hotel is a little on the pricy side, but the security was kind enough to look the other way from those who chose to sleep in the courtyard or some of the smaller lobbies. The convention security, colorfully designated “The Watch”, was also abundant and well-run.  Steve Lapota, another ex-combat engineer in Vietnam , was in charge and also a genial host.

The media guest of honor was Steven Furst, of Animal House and Babylon 5 fame, and he was, if not entirely one of us (I am told it was a paid appearance), an interested tourist who decided to throw an Animal House style Toga Party.  That was right after my third panel of the day and, in deference to my own months-long recovery from complex pneumonia, I went to bed instead.  Mr. Furst also gave panels on film directing and related topics.

The Green Room/ Staff Lounge and the Consuite were at opposite ends of a long hallway on the second floor and on the other side of the hotel from the room where Leigh and I were staying.  Some of the function rooms with program items were also there, while the Dealers’ Room, Art Show and Registration were across the courtyard on the ground level.  It made for a lot of walking, but was not as tiring as it might have been.   Con-kibble was plentiful, as were sandwiches and hot entrees, and a generous selection of soft drinks and bottled water.

So this was, for me, a return to the kind of convention that first got me to be a convention-going fan.  These days, age and health have a big impact on whether or not we’re going to go to one, and like, Jerry Pournelle, I’m not inclined to go unless I can contribute by being on a program item or two…and sometimes, not then. (We no longer do LASFS events.)

But this was one I’d be happy to repeat. Everyone was very nice, and no one was promoting any kind of agenda or trying to bully anyone else.  Fandom the way it used to be.

LepreCon registration.

Patti Huldstrand handing out program assignments.

Chicon 7 Sets Hugo Nominating Vote Record

The 2012 Hugo Award nominees will be announced simultaneously at five conventions in the United States and Europe on April 7. Arrangements are also being made to broadcast all five convention presentations via Ustream.

This is the fourth consecutive year Worldcon members have cast a record-breaking number of Hugo nominating ballots. Chicon 7 received 1,101 nominating ballots, exceeding the 1,006 received by Renovation last year. Prior to that Aussiecon 4 received 864 in 2010 and Anticipation received 799 in 2009, each a record-setting figure at the time.

Conventions taking part in the announcement are:

  • Norwescon 35, a Pacific Northwest sf convention, at Seatac, WA (1 p.m. PDT)
  • Leprecon 38, an annual Arizona sf convention, at Tempe, AZ (1 p.m. MST)
  • Minicon 47, Minnesota’s longest-running sf con, at Bloomington, MN (3 p.m. CDT)
  • Marcon 47, an annual Midwest sf con, at Columbus, OH (4 p.m. EDT).
  • Olympus 2012, the British Eastercon, (9 p.m. BST).

The final ballot voting deadline will be July 31, 2012, midnight PDT. The winners will be announced at the Hugo Awards Ceremony on Sunday, September 2.

The full press release follows the jump.

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Best Unlisted Con

LepreCon chair Lee Whiteside was pleasantly surprised that the Phoenix New Times named his event “Best Sci-Fi Convention 2010”

But it’s not just the guests that make LepreCon great; there are also sci-fi and fantasy art shows, gaming rooms, a Masquerade Ball, and even live music (the performer in 2010 was author and former Flash Girls folk rocker Emma Bull). With all its spacey, fantastic ambiance, LepreCon is heaven for sci-fi geeks, and a great introduction for newbies.

What’s providing the element of surprise is that LepreCon didn’t even get a mention in the New Times’ event listings the week it occurred.

[Via SMOFS.]