(1) NAME YOUR PRICE. John Varley realized this material should not go to waste — “And the Hugo Goes to … Introduction”.
Earlier this year I was putting together an anthology project to be called And the Hugo Goes To …. The idea was to collect all my stories that were nominated for the Hugo Award. Now, I have had a lot of nominations in my career, and have won three times. Putting them all together would make up a fairly healthy volume.
…Except that fact that one of the books to be published again was The John Varley Reader, which contained most of the stories. It made no sense to put that book and the new one in print. So the Hugo book was dead.
But not quite. I still had fun writing the intros, and I would hate to see them go into the trunk, never to be seen. So I am going to experiment.
…I am going to go the Doctorow route. You can read all the intros at the link right HERE.
Then, should you decide they are worth something, you can go to that little yellow button on the Welcome box at the home page, the one that says DONATE. You can’t miss it. That will take you to PayPal, where you can decide what you want to pay. I don’t know what to suggest. $5? $10? $2? More, less? It’s entirely up to you.
And should you want to read them for free, or if you don’t think they are worth anything, that’s cool, too. We can get along eating dog food for another year.
Here’s a small taste of what Varley put on the table –
…But I gave it a shot. I wrote a four-page story, pecking it out painstakingly on a borrowed typewriter. I can’t recall anything at all about that story. I sent it off to Mr. H.L. Gold, the editor of Galaxy, my favorite magazine at that time. He sent it back with a form rejection slip, and he had written at the bottom: “Nice try, but not quite.”
You think I was disappointed? Not a bit! Those five words, from a man who lived in New York City and edited the finest magazine in the world, just had me walking on air. I’d have framed that rejection slip and hung it on the wall if I could have afforded a frame….
(2) SPACE TRADERS. The Hugo Book Club Blog post “The Movement of Goods In Science Fiction” asks whether these science fictional economies are really wearing any clothes….
Space-based science fiction places a lot of attention on the transportation of goods.
Whether it’s a Lissepian captain hauling self-sealing stem bolts from Deep Space 9 or the crew of Firefly delivering cattle to the colony of Jiangyin, we are often presented with depictions of how goods are moved from one location to another.
This focus is probably a reflection of the modern neoliberal consensus that globalized trade is a good and necessary thing, and is a trend in science fiction that is worth questioning.
The large-scale movement of goods only makes sense if there is a strong economic incentive; if it is cheaper to build something in one location rather than another, if the skills to build something are only available in one location, or if the resources are only available in one location. When you see the depiction of merchant space ships travelling on regular runs between two locations, it implies that there are entire planets where it is cheaper to build something, and markets looking to buy those things.
Is inter-jurisdictional trade really that scalable?
(3) ABEBOOKS QUIZ. Answer appears at the end of the Scroll.
(4) FORESIGHT. The Christian Science Monitor collected input from a host of sff writers for “Future present? How science fiction sees our world in 2050”.
Machine learning speeds up
The science fiction writer Liu Cixin, author of “The Three-Body Problem,” a richly layered Chinese novel that describes first contact with extraterrestrial life forms, foresees the transforming effect of artificial intelligence.
“I don’t believe that in 2050 strong artificial intelligence that surpasses human beings will appear, but AI will have developed enough to compete with humans for jobs,” Mr. Liu says in a written statement to the Monitor, translated from Chinese by staff writer Ann Scott Tyson.
“This will have two possible profound implications for society,” he says. “One is that the jobless public and AI will be in a long-standing conflict, causing long-term social turmoil and instability. The second is that humans will have smoothed out the relationship with AI and established a leisurely life in which people reduce their working hours or even don’t need to work. The latter, however, will require major changes in the current political and economic distribution system of mankind.” …
(5) IT IS THE END, MY FRIEND. Here are Paste Magazine’s picks for “The 20 Best “End of the World” Movies”.
“This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper.”
Then again, what does T.S. Eliot know? As far as the movies go, the possibilities for destroying our planet or civilizations are downright infinite. Certainly, in light of several recent predictions claiming that the end of the world is ‘nigh (most of which have passed, mind you), the apocalypse has naturally been on a lot of peoples’ minds.
And so it goes: What’s prevalent in society’s consciousness is subsequently reflected in our pop culture. This means a surge of movies dealing with a world-ending event. Dramatic or funny; action-packed and exciting or slow and deliberate; real life or supernatural—there’s an apocalypse story for everyone….
6. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Inspired by the classic 1962 French short film La Jetée, 12 Monkeys went on to become the rare financial success in the notoriously disaster-prone career of former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis plays a mentally unstable convict from an apocalyptic future who is sent back in time to halt the release of a deadly virus that will kill billions. Featuring great performances from Willis and a decidedly un-glamorized Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys bears that rare distinction of containing all the creative visuals and quirks that make Gilliam films great without the incoherent, scatter-brained plotting that often proves to be their downfall.
(6) WITCHER WATCHER. In the Washington Post, Sonia Rao previews the Netflix series The Witcher, including news about Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, on whose novels the series is based, and how the series “is like turning on a self-aware B movie.” “Will you toss a coin to ‘The Witcher’?”
Perhaps you would remain stone-faced, a reaction typical of the Witcher himself, given that Cavill plays him as a brooding hunk wandering the Continent — which, yes, is what this magical, medieval society calls its continent. Or maybe you would be inclined to give “The Witcher” a chance. It’s been advertised as Netflix’s very own “Game of Thrones” but has also proved to be an entertaining fantasy series in its own right. That’s not to say it’s good, per se, but that it’s so bizarre, it’s hard to look away.
(7) CHEKHOV’S CAT. In “Kneading Into the Comfort of Cozy Cat Mysteries”, on Jezebel, Kelly Faircloth explains the rules of cozy mysteries with cats in them, including that you can’t put a cat on the cover unless the cat is a character and you can’t kill a cat in a cozy cat mystery.
…Within the wider world of the cozy, there is the cat cozy. These specifically were pioneered by Lilian Jackson Braun, who launched the “Cat Who” series in the mid-1960s, took a couple of decades off, then returned in the 1980s after she retired and continued writing them regularly almost until she died in 2011. She was joined in the 1990s by Rita Mae Brown—whom you may know as the author of the classic lesbian novel Rubyfruit Jungle—who began “cowriting” her Mrs. Murphy series with her own cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. The cat mystery became a thing unto itself, a world within the broader universe of cozy mysteries.
(8) IF YOU GIVE THE GAME AFOOT IT’LL TAKE A MILE. In “The Year in Sherlock Holmes” on CrimeReads, Lyndsay Faye summarizes 2019’s Sherlockian developments, including two new Sherlock Holmes conventions, the end of Elementary, and the postponement of the next Robert Downey Jr. Holmes movie until at least 2021.
…CBS’s highly regarded procedural Elementary wrapped up its seventh season this year, and it’s with a heavy heart that I take up my proverbial pen to say goodbye to Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu’s Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson. An unflinching look at sobriety and addiction—as well as unapologetically progressive casting regarding both race and gender—helped to bring the Great Detective and the Good Doctor to a new generation of enthusiasts. Kinder than BBC’s Sherlock (and in some ways more respectful of the original material—there, I said it, and I’m not taking it back either), Elementary not only stood on its own two feet as a modern crime drama, but contained scores of delightful Easter eggs for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works.
(9) TODAY IN HISTORY.
- January 4, 1982 — Doctor Who first aired “Castrovalva, Part 1”, the first full episode of the Fifth Doctor as played by Peter Davison. He would play the Fifth Doctor for three series which were twenty stories in totality. As a Baker preceded him in the role, a Baker would follow him in playing the role.
- January 4, 2002 — Impostor premiered in limited release. in California. Produced by a large group including Gary Sinise, best know for CSI: NY, with a screenplay by Caroline Case, Ehren Kruger and David Twohy off the Dick’s “Impostor” story which was first published in Astounding SF magazine in June, 1953. The 11th Worldcon held in Philadelphia didn’t do a Hugo for Best Short Story, so there’s no telling how it might’ve done that year. The film received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics and Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 41% from reviewers.
- January 4, 2011 — Monster Mutt was released on DVD. It’s making these notes because of The Baby discussion we’ve been having. Monster Mutt, the very large dog with that name, is not CGI but is yes a puppet requiring five people to control its movements. Critics actually liked the puppet and the film as well, even though it has a rather weak 40% rating among reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born January 4, 1890 — Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Creator of the modern comic book in the early Thirties by publishing original material instead of reprints of newspaper comic strips. Some years later, he founded Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications which would eventually become DC Comics. (Died 1965.)
- Born January 4, 1927 — Barbara Rush, 93. She won a Golden Globe Award as the most promising female newcomer for being Ellen Fields in It Came From Outer Space. She portrayed Nora Clavicle in Batman, and was found in other genre programs such as the revival version of Outer Limits, Night Gallery, The Bionic Woman and The Twilight Zone.
- Born January 4, 1930 — Ruth Kyle. OGH has her touching story here. Warning: it has Isaac Asimov behaving badly at a Con material. Just kidding. Maybe. (Died 2011.)
- Born January 4, 1946 — Ramsey Campbell, 74. My favorite novel by him is without doubt The Darkest Part of the Woods which has a quietly building horror to it. I know he’s better known for his sprawling (pun full intended) Cthulhu mythology writings but I never got into those preferring his other novels such as his Solomon Kane movie novelization which is quite superb.
- Born January 4, 1958 — Matt Frewer, 62. His greatest role has to be as Max Headroom on the short-lived series of the same name. Amazingly I think it still stands thirty-five years later as SF well-crafted. Just a taste of his later series SF appearances include playing Jim Taggart, scientist and dog catcher on Eureka, Pestilence in Supernatural, Dr. Kirschner in 12 Monkeys and Carnage in Altered Carbon. His film genre appearance list is just as impressive but I’ll single out Supergirl, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Stand, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (oh, do guess where he is in it) and lastly Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, a series of films that I really like.
- Born January 4, 1960 — Michael Stipe, 60. Lead singer of R.E.M. which has done a few songs that I could are genre adjacent. But no, I’ve got him here for being involved in a delightful project called Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. Lots of great songs given interesting new recordings. His contribution was “Little April Shower” from Bambi which he covered along with Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, Mark Bingham and The Roches. Fun stuff indeed!
- Born January 4, 1985 — Lenora Crichlow, 35. She played Cheen on “Gridlock”, a Tenth Doctor story. She played also Annie Sawyer on the BBC version of Being Human from 2009 to 2012. And she appeared as Victoria Skillane in the “White Bear” of Black Mirror.
- Born January 4, 2000 — Addy Miller, 20. She is on the Birthday List for being Sarah in Plan 9. Really? They remade that movie? Why? And yes, she played A Walker in that other show. My fav role by her is because of the title, it was a short called Ghost Trek: Goomba Body Snatchers Mortuary Lockdown, in which she was Scary Carrie Carmichael. And yes, you can watch it here.
(11) COMICS SECTION.
- The Flying McCoys has an ad from an unexpected kind of ambulance chaser.
- The strip doubtless works even better if you understand the language, but it’s funny anyway.
(12) UNCANCEL CULTURE. “How Amazon (and Jeff Bezos) Saved ‘The Expanse'” – Space.com thinks, “In hindsight, being canceled by Syfy was probably the best thing that could have happened to ‘The Expanse.’”
However, only three seasons had been sold to Syfy and there are eight novels in the series with a ninth on the way. Not long after Season 3 started to air, Syfy announced it had not purchased the rights for future seasons because of restrictive distribution arrangements, and on May 11, 2018, it was officially canceled.
However, by now the show had built up a considerable following and fans protested the cancellation.
Such a display of displeasure from fans isn’t entirely unusual. When “Star Trek: The Original Series” was canceled in 1968 after just two seasons, a letter-writing campaign orchestrated by fans – Bjo and John Trimble in particular – kept the show on the air for an additional season. And while one more season might not seem like a substantial victory, it set a precedent for many subsequent campaigns to keep shows on the air. Some were successful, like “Star Trek” and “Quantum Leap,” but sadly, others weren’t, like “Firefly” and “Almost Human” – both were canceled by Fox after just one season, and both were high-quality sci-fi shows with massive potential that had amassed a loyal fan base in a short amount of time….
(13) WHERE THE FUTURE BEGAN. Syd Mead, whose passing was noted here December 31, has received a lengthy appreciation in the New York Times: “Syd Mead, 86, Maker of Future Worlds in ‘Blade Runner’ and More, Dies”.
…Although his work usually involved creating a fanciful future, it sometimes ended up depicting the actual future. A 2012 exhibition of his artwork in Manhattan included a painting from decades earlier that showed people using hand-held information devices; they could easily pass as modern-day smartphone users. In 1969 he envisioned a personal transportation system called a unipod that used gyroscope technology — what is now used in devices like the Segway personal transporter.
(14) LOOSE ENDS. Or as BBC says, “A Knotty Problem Solved”.
Special fibers that change color when they are under strain have helped scientists come up with some simple rules that can predict how a knot will perform in the real world.
There’s a whole field of mathematics that studies knots, to explore abstract properties of idealized curves. “But that’s not what you care about if you are, for example, a sailor or a climber and you need to tie something which holds,” says Vishal Patil, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose new findings appear in the journal Science.
People have used knots since ancient times, notes Patil, and thousands of knots have been invented. Yet scientists struggle to explain why knots do what they do. Most of what’s known about them comes from long experience, rather than any theoretical understanding.
For example, take the granny knot and the reef knot — two simple knots that look very similar but behave very differently.
“It’s quite easy to see this, if you just take a shoelace or a bit of string and you tie it. If you pull on the reef knot, it tends to hold. And if you pull on the granny knot, it tends to slip quite easily,” says Patil. “The fact that they behave so differently suggests that there must be some story there, something you can say mathematically and physically about them.”
(15) BESPOKE SPACESUITS A SPECIALTY. “Hey Sisters, Sew Sisters” from BBC Sounds — 26.5 minute audio.
Space travel is not always high-tech. When the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon in 1969, seamstresses made their spacesuits at a company famous for stitching latex into Playtex bras.
During the Space Shuttle era, a group of 18 women were in charge of all soft goods – the fabrics for machine and hand sewing the spaceplane’s thermal blankets. These women became known as the Sew Sisters.
Presenter, artist and former Nasa astronaut Nicole Stott meets some of these ‘sew sisters’ from past and present missions and celebrates their contributions,,,.
(16) SWEEPERS, MAN YOUR BROOMS. BBC tells a clean story: “Tackling the Earth’s orbiting space junk”.
Here’s a quiz question: what do using road navigation systems, keeping time consistent around the world and having accurate stock exchange data have in common? The answer is that they all depend on working satellites. But an increasing amount of debris polluting space is now posing a risk to all those services. So one Japanese firm, Astroscale, has been working on ways to clean up space junk. Its founder and chief executive Nobu Okada explains.
(17) CHIMP PUSHED OUT OF THE BUSINESS. The Hollywood Reporter discovers “Hollywood’s Last Actor Chimp in Need of Permanent Home”.
…Having been let go by Working Wildlife (which specializes in providing exotic species for entertainment productions), he was dropped off in March at a financially struggling nonprofit sanctuary near Angeles National Forest, just outside of Los Angeles. The facility shut down in August, and Eli and more than 40 other chimps, many of whom arrived from research labs, have since been under the on-site care of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We are currently in discussion with a high-quality facility that may provide a permanent home for Eli,” says Kirsten Macintyre, a spokeswoman for the state agency.
The 9-year-old chimpanzee’s transition out of the business, as typically occurs when the species reaches adolescence, is part of a larger trend away from using real wild creatures to “act” onscreen. (While chimps, orangutans and elephants are being phased out, it’s still mostly business as usual for species like big cats and bears.)
… Eli — who appeared in commercials (Microsoft), music videos (One Direction) and the occasional TV show (TBS’ Angie Tribeca) — saw his own output curbed by the effort, with a Geico ad pulled and scenes from a season of MasterChef Junior cut. PETA primate expert Debbie Metzler is proud of the result. “A decade ago, there were at least a dozen chimpanzees working,” she says. “Now there are zero.”
(18) NANO NANO. The Harvard Gazette calls it, “Catching lightning in a bottle”.
Researchers in an ultracold environment get a first look at exactly what happens during a chemical reaction
Call it a serendipity dividend. A big one.
Kang-Kuen Ni set out to do something that had never been done before. The Morris Kahn Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and of Physics and a pioneer of ultracold chemistry had built a new apparatus that could achieve the lowest temperature chemical reactions of any currently available technology. Then she and her team successfully forced two ultracold molecules to meet and react, breaking and forming the coldest bonds in the history of molecular couplings.
While they were doing that, something totally unanticipated and important also happened.
In such intense cold — 500 nanokelvin, or just a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero — the molecules slowed to such sluggish speeds that Ni and her team saw something no one has ever seen before: the moment when two molecules meet to form two new molecules. In essence, they captured a chemical reaction in its most critical and elusive act.
“Because [the molecules] are so cold,” Ni said, “now we kind of have a bottleneck effect.”
Chemical reactions are responsible for literally everything: from making soap, pharmaceuticals, and energy to cooking, digesting, and breathing. Understanding how they work at a fundamental level could help researchers design reactions the world has never seen. Maybe, for example, novel molecular couplings could enable more-efficient energy production, new materials like mold-proof walls, or even better building blocks for quantum computers. The world offers an almost infinite number of potential combinations to test.
…Ni’s ultracold temperatures force reactions to a comparatively numbed speed. When she and her team reacted two potassium rubidium molecules — chosen for their pliability —the ultracold temperatures forced the molecules to linger in the intermediate stage for mere millionths of a second. So-called microseconds may seem short, but that’s millions of times longer than ever achieved, and enough time for Ni and her team to investigate the phase when bonds break and form — in essence, how one molecule turns into another.
(19) HOLLYWOOD INSTITUTION CLOSES. The LA Times pays its respects: “His props starred in hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV shows. Now he’s exiting the stage after 42 years”.
Standing amid his life’s work inside a cavernous warehouse in San Fernando, John Zabrucky is eager to show off what he calls his most famous “machine.”
But first, he must scuttle past a spaceship command deck, rows of computer consoles, radar scanners, shelves packed with sophisticated high-tech gadgetry — and even an alien autopsy, before arriving at the futuristic device.
“We did this for the original ‘Incredible Hulk,’ the TV series, back in the late ’70s,” said Zabrucky, the founder and president of Modern Props.
Since then, the device has been seen in more than 100 hundred feature films and TV shows, including “Austin Powers” and multiple episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Giving it a once-over, Zabrucky adds with a sparkle of pride, “You can see how well it’s made.” The apparatus has turned up in so many shows that a fan created a YouTube video devoted to its many appearances, dubbing it “the most important device in the universe.”
Zabrucky’s magnum opus, with its pair of giant elongated glass tubes that glow variously in yellow, red and orange, operated by a cutting-edge control board with dials, buttons and a joy stick, looks as if it would be right at home inside the CERN particle collider lab in Switzerland….
(20) ABEBOOKS QUIZ ANSWER.
[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Lise Andreasen, John King Tarpinian, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]