Report on the 2018 World Fantasy Convention

By Michael Whelan

By Martin Morse Wooster:

World Fantasy Convention (Baltimore, November 1-4, 2018)

 If you want to know how a World Fantasy Convention differs from your typical convention, here is what happened when I checked in on Thursday.

I was running late, and after getting to the con, getting to my hotel, and getting to the Renaissance Hotel where the con was held, it was 8 PM.  Registration closed at 7.  I felt very tired and frustrated.  I was going to miss the opening ceremonies.

Then a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association who I didn’t think particularly liked me said, “Why don’t you walk right in?”

What?  No security?  No badge checks?  No cops?

Welcome to the World Fantasy Convention, where everyone is civil.

Here’s another example.  I was taking a nap Friday afternoon in a chair in the central area of the convention, and woke up, and who was sitting next to me but Michael Whelan (Michael Whelan!) signing some paperbacks.

“I’ve admired your work for 30 years,” I said.  He thanked me.

I’ve been to six World Fantasy Conventions, and I think their purpose has changed.  They were founded in 1975 to do two things:  make sure that fantasy was as respectable as sf, and be a place where writers, editors, and publishers could congenially conduct business.

Their first goal, of course, was achieved decades ago and fantasy is more popular than sf.  As for the convention, there were as many writers as ever, including blue chips such as John Crowley and Joe Haldeman.  But there weren’t as many editors, even though Baltimore is a two-hour train ride from New York.  Ellen Datlow, Sheila Williams, and Gordon Van Gelder were there, as were Irene Gallo and Tom Doherty of Tor.  I don’t think there were many other major book editors there; Patrick Nielsen Hayden in particular was conspicuous by his absence.

All the lavish parties thrown by big publishers have disappeared with one exception.  For the past 35 years, super-agent Howard Morhaim has held a black-tie dinner at the World Fantasy Convention.  He held one this year.  If you’re successful enough that you regularly attend black-tie dinners, you got an invitation.

The World Fantasy Convention is known for three things:  its con suite, its art show, and its dealer’s room.

First off, the con suite was outstanding.  You pay a lot for a World Fantasy Convention membership, but part of the deal is that the con suite has real food.  I had four meals there, and everyone who worked that room gets a big thumbs up from me, and whoever made the barbecue on Saturday night gets two thumbs up.

I was disappointed in the dealers’ room.  Part of what makes a World Fantasy Convention special is that the dealers have rarities you don’t see every day.  But most of the dealers had more normal books.  However, Greg Ketter of Minneapolis’s DreamHaven Books had some finds.  He had a copy of The Outsider and Others that you could pick up and flip through—but very carefully, since the book sells for $5,000.  In a case he had a copy of the first edition of Again, Dangerous Visions in a dust jacket signed by 14 contributors for $600.

But Ketter’s prize was a first edition of a cheesy 1967 paperback called Pleasure Planet (“the whole world was obsessed by the pleasures of sex”), the first novel by Robert E. Vardeman.  Vardeman signed his novel with an inscription so tasteless, so depraved that I dare not repeat it in a family blog.  But you can find out what Vardeman wrote for $75!

Here’s a book I couldn’t find.  Ursula K. Le Guin was interviewed in the last year of her life about writing; the interviews have been published this summer by Tin House Books as Ursula K. Le Guin:  Conversations on Writing.  No dealer had this book.  Don’t they think customers would be interested in Le Guin?

I didn’t spend as much time in the art show as I should have, but it was large and filled with art by Guest of Honor Tom Kidd as well as Donato Giancola.  Another theme was about women in sf and fantasy and featured paintings featured as covers on books and magazines, many from the collections of Edie Stern and Joe Siclari.  I am told there was an original Margaret Brundage painting there, but I didn’t see it.

As for panels, I didn’t see as many as I should have because I was having too much fun chatting with fans.  I learned everything from why Latter-Day Saints don’t have any crosses in their churches to what it was like to film monster movies in Hamilton, Ontario.  (The director, Catherine Whitlock, was wearing a t-shirt promoting her film Vampire Dentists—you know, they drill by day and suck at night.)

I also heard this story about Dragon Con.  Early in the convention’s history, Dragon Con shared a hotel with the Salvation Army.  The Sally Anns made prune faces at the cosplayers, but the Sallies had a parade.  Dragon Con organizers thought a parade was a splendid idea, and the parade is a highlight of Dragon Con.

I also learned lots of new words.  A “chapterbook” is a book for beginning readers who have graduated from picture books.  It isn’t very long, but it has chapters, just like the ones older readers devour.  A “plot bunny” is a plot thread that diverts people writing their novels in November for National Write Your Novel Month from plowing forward to get their 50,000 words done.  Plot bunnies need to be crushed.

Finally, two winners of World Fantasy Awards thanked their “beta readers.”  I don’t know why this term is better than “friends in my writer’s group.”

As for panels, I saw the part of the opening ceremonies where toastmaster Linda Addison provided fun facts about the guests of honor.  Aliette de Bodard lived in a tiny apartment in Paris with a toddler, a husband, and “Lovecraftian plants.”  Tom Kidd has a lifetime passion project called “Gnemo,” which I gather is neither about Captain Nemo or Winsor McCay’s Nemo.  Scott Edelman was a Stoker finalist seven times…

“Eight!” Edelman said.

I was impressed by the way moderator Lee Modesitt steered a discussion about politics in fantasy to avoid all minefields, particularly when an audience member mentioned a novel by John Ringo and Tom Kratman whose premise seemed particularly dopey. Modesitt ended the Baen Books discussion very quickly.  Modesitt, who served in the Reagan Administration, noted that when he puts politics in his sf he gets plenty of comments, but no one notices the politics in his fantasies.

The high point, however, was Russian émigré Anatoly Beilkovsky, who, when asked if Animal Farm was a political fantasy, said, “I consider it nonfiction.”  Beilkovsky noted that Russians have a hearty appetite for trashy alternative history, such as a series where a submarine travels from today to 1942 solely to kill Admiral Hyman Rickover.  Beilkovsky added that there were commanders on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine who, before the war, wrote military sf novels.  They may be fighting today, but before the war these novelists “used to party together at conventions.”

At the panel on audiobooks, Simon Vance, a British narrator now living in San Francisco who has won a ton of audiobook awards, impressed me.  Vance carefully prepared for every project.  He was the reader for Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, and asked Neil Gaiman for advice. Gaiman said that Moore’s giant novel was set in Northhampton, and Vance needed to talk to Moore and see some of the landscape Moore used for his novel.  So four days before he started, he got on an airplane, went to England, interviewed Moore and saw some of the landscape that Moore used. Then he flew back to San Francisco and began recording Moore’s book, which takes 60 hours to listen to.

The World Fantasy Awards were a dour affair.  One of the themes of the convention was “safe havens,” and Linda Addison explained how she found the world of science fiction and fantasy a safe haven from the fools and trolls who routinely harass her.  At least three winners—including Canadian Charles de Lint—urged members to vote on Tuesday, with Betsy Wollheim saying that she was an editor, “so please pick up your editorial pens and vote.”

Someone needed to tell at least one joke to break up the gloom.  So when Gordon Van Gelder announced that there would be a panel where the World Fantasy Awards judges explained their decisions, I shouted, “Omigod!”

“Yes,” Van Gelder said, “it’s always interesting to see how the sausage was made.”

Then I got my luggage and went home.

Frankenstein on a Big Screen with Big Music

By Martin Morse Wooster: I was at the American Film Institute on Friday night to see the 1931 Frankenstein. The added value this time was a score by Michael Shapiro. Frankenstein doesn’t have a score except for the main title and one musical stretch) so Shapiro created one, which I learned from Shapiro’s website was first performed in 2002, and comes in versions for full orchestra, chamber orchestra, or wind ensemble.  The version I heard was the wind ensemble one, and the wind ensemble was the U.S. Navy Band.

The American Film Institute does a brisk trade in showing silent films with live accompaniments, but in these cases musicians are adding sound to films that don’t have any noise. Frankenstein has a reasonable amount of dialogue for a film and Shapiro’s score often drowns out what happens on the screen.  I don’t think Shapiro’s work adds to Frankenstein, and it occasionally subtracts from what is happening on screen.  I’m glad I heard it, and of course the Navy Band was competent, but I don’t need to hear Shapiro’s score again.

That being said, I’m very glad I saw Frankenstein on a large screen.  Given that I’ve seen the stage version of Young Frankenstein, which is a copy of a copy, it’s good to see the original again. Frankenstein has its problems.  At 71 minutes, it’s too short, and there are some scenes that are now clichés.  (Note to assistants of Frankenstein:  stealing the jar that says “Abnormal Brain” is a really bad idea.)  I also liked Frankenstein’s explanation that he has harnessed something even more powerful than the ultraviolet ray and “the violet ray.”

That being said, Frankenstein is a great film.  Colin Clive is excellent as Frankenstein, and gives a performance of controlled menace.  James Whale was an excellent director; you can argue whether this film or Bride of Frankenstein was better, but Frankenstein is in the first tier.  Whale picked Boris Karloff and was right to do so.  I thought the most powerful scene was when the monster kills a little girl because, well, he’s evil.  That scene was scarier than a lot of gorefests I’ve seen.

Michael Shapiro may have written a superfluous score, but I’m glad the American Film Institute reminded me of Frankenstein‘s excellence.

U.S. Navy Band rehearses Frankenstein score.

Pixel Scroll 10/11/18 My Pixels Touched Dog Pixels! Agh!

(1) F&SF. Gordon Van Gelder shared F&SF’s Nov/Dec 2018 issue cover:

(2) ISS CREW OKAY AFTER FAILED TAKEOFF. Astronauts bound for the ISS safely returned when their rocket failed soon after launch — “Space crew survives plunge to Earth after Russian rocket fails”.

A Russian cosmonaut and a U.S. astronaut were safe on Thursday after a Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station failed in mid-air two minutes after liftoff in Kazakhstan, leading to a dramatic emergency landing.

The two-man crew, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and American Nick Hague, landed unharmed on the Kazakh desert steppe as rescue crews raced to reach them, according to the U.S. space agency NASA and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.

The mishap occurred as the first and second stages of a Russian booster rocket separated shortly after the launch from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.

(3) WHALE OF A TALE. L.A. Smith has a fascinating writeup about this 8th century artifact — “The Franks Casket” – carved from whalebone.

…So, the pictures and inscriptions on the casket are a great source of scholarly discussion. To top it all off, there seems to also be some numerological significance to the number of runes on the casket. There are 72 runes on the front and left panels, and a total of 288 runes in total. The 72 could correspond to the 72 disciples mentioned in the Latin Vulgate Bible familiar to the Anglo-Saxons. The number 288 is a multiple of 24, which is the number of runes in an early continental Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, which had magical significance for the Anglo-Saxons.

Phew! No wonder many scholars have devoted so much time and effort on trying to decipher the runes and pictures on this little box. The more you look at it, the more you discover.

This beautiful box has so much to tell us about this fascinating period in England’s history….

(4) ANIME TRIAGE. Petréa Mitchell reviews 15 anime series and approves many as the title of her Amazing Stories post hints — “Anime roundup 10/11/2018: Sturgeon Takes a Holiday”. For example —

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime premiere – Satoru Mikami is a single geek who suddenly gets stabbed to death on a Tokyo street, only to find himself in a fantasy world, granted fabulous powers, and hobnobbing with a mighty dragon. Typical light-novel power fantasy, right? Well, there are a couple of catches. One is that he’s been reborn as the weakest creature possible. The other concerns the visual presentation of the show itself.

When adapting a popular property, a show is expected to make a predictable amount of money off selling Blu-Rays and merchandise to hardcore fans. Since those fans will buy it no matter what, most shows like this have a look about them that the only minimum necessary effort was made. In this case, a similar calculation seems to have been made, only the conclusion was that those fans will still mindlessly purchase it if it turns into an art film.

This premiere is one visual treat after another, from the careful attention to detail in the movement and posture of people in modern Tokyo, to the trippy mixed-media imagery as Satoru falls into another reality, to the wild expressiveness wrung from a ball of goo. This still has some of the usual problems of light-novel adaptations— the protagonist is already ridiculously overpowered, too much game terminology, and a lot of time spent sitting around and talking— but between the unique twist and the look of this episode, it’s actually enjoyable.

(5) FIRST MAN REVIEW. NPR’s Linda Holmes reports that “‘First Man’ Considers Glory, Grief And A Famous Walk On The Moon”:

…We encounter Armstrong at three points: 1961, leading up to the start of his training as an astronaut; 1965, just before his first space flight; and 1968, as he prepares to be the first person to walk on the moon. His family life progresses alongside his much more famous professional one: the loss of his two-year-old daughter from brain cancer, the grief that nearly consumes him after, the sacrifices that his service demands from his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), and his relationship with his two boys, to whom he hesitates to explain the dangers of space travel….

(6) WHAT WE LEARNED FROM WAR GAMES. The answer is: absolutely nothing. BBC reports “US weapons systems can be ‘easily hacked'”.

…The committee’s members expressed concerns about how protected weapon systems were against cyber-attacks.

The report’s main findings were:

  • the Pentagon did not change the default passwords on multiple weapons systems – and one changed password was guessed in nine seconds…

So, does the United States use its birthday as a password? – July41776….

(7) RIVERDALE RECAP. A public service message from Martin Morse Wooster:

For people who are wondering how much Riverdale is like Archie Comics, I offer the folllowing recap of last night’s show.

Archie Andrews was found guilty of murder, but he was framed by Veronica’s father.  The underground offers to sneak him into Quebec but he decides to stay in Riverdale and take his punishment.

Veronica finds out where the jury in Archie’s trial is sequestered and sneaks into the hotel in a maid’s outfit but is thrown out before she can engage in jury tampering.

Betty is an Adderall addict and is stopped before she can fill a forged prescription.

But the gang still relaxes at Pop’s Malt Shop!

Also, I learned that fans who want Betty and Jughead to have a relationship are known as “Bugheads.”

(8) GLASS. M. Night Shyamalan’s next picture, about tortured people with superpowers, will be released in the U.S. on January 18, 2019.

M. Night Shyamalan brings together the narratives of two of his standout originals—2000’s Unbreakable, from Touchstone, and 2016’s Split, from Universal—in one explosive, all-new comic-book thriller: Glass. From Unbreakable, Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn as does Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, known also by his pseudonym Mr. Glass. Joining from Split are James McAvoy, reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb and the multiple identities who reside within, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the only captive to survive an encounter with The Beast. Following the conclusion of Split, Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born October 11, 1922 – G.C. Edmondson (José Mario Garry Ordoñez Edmondson y Cotton), Author from Mexico who mostly wrote Westerns under several pen names – and, being fluent in six languages, he also did translations – but produced a number of science fiction works, many involving time travel and Latin America, including the Nebula Award-nominated The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream and its sequel, the trilogy The Cunningham Equations (co-written with C. M. Kotlan), and numerous short works in his Mad Friend universe.
  • Born October 11, 1928 – Doris Piserchia, 90, Author of more than a dozen of what multiple sources call “darkly comic novels”, including her penultimate novel, I, Zombie which she published under the pseudonym Curt Selby, and a somewhat larger number of short fiction works. Because she had a story in The Last Dangerous Visions, she has been labelled New Wave by some who didn’t do their research properly. Like most genre writers of the 70s and 80s, she has greatly benefited from digital publishing, with all of her backlist now republished in that format.
  • Born October 11, 1944 – Patrick Parrinder, 74, Writer and Critic from England who is one of the foremost experts on H. G. Wells, having written works specializing on that author subtitled Shadows of the Future, Science Fiction and Prophecy, and The Critical Heritage. Not to be mistaken as a one-trick pony, he’s also penned Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching and Utopian Literature and Science.
  • Born October 11, 1944 – Julek Heller, 74, Artist and Illustrator from Jerusalem who emigrated to England, who did cover art for around 80 novels and more than 50 works of interior art, mostly in the 80s and 90s, including covers for works by Norton, Moorcock, Silverberg’s Majipoor series, and several Mammoth Books. He also provided artwork for the 1978 TV series Pinocchio.
  • Born October 11, 1945 – Gay Haldeman, 73, Writer, Translator, and Member of First Fandom who has Masters degrees in Linguistics and Spanish. A fan and con-goer since 1963, she has contributed many letters, essays, and convention reports to genre and fannish publications, a fair number of them written in Spanish. She and her author husband Joe have been Guests of Honor at numerous conventions – including a relaxacon in Sydney, Australia named Haldecon – and she has been much in demand as a con Toastmaster. She and Joe were given the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award (NESFA’s Skylark Award) in 1996.
  • Born October 11, 1950 – William R. Forstchen, 68, Writer and Historian, whose early novel series included Ice Prophet, Wars of Heaven, Gamestar Wars, and The Lost Regiment, and more recently the One Second After post-apocalyptic novels. Has also contributed novels to the Star Trek, Riftwar, and Wing Commander universes. He was Guest of Honor at InConJunction XIX.
  • Born October 11, 1953 – David Morse, 65, Actor, Writer, Singer, and Director, who has had main roles in the Hugo-nominated Twelve Monkeys, The Green Mile, The Boy, Double Vision, the Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge-inspired Passengers, and the Hugo-winning film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Locus-winning Contact, as well as parts in World War Z, Joe Hill’s Horns, TV series Friday the 13th: The Series, Tales from the Crypt, SeaQuest DSV, Medium, and Blindspot, and the Stephen King miniseries The Langoliers.
  • Born October 11, 1962 – Joan Cusack, 56, Actor and Writer especially known for comedic roles, who had main parts in the Hugo-nominated Addams Family Values (for which she received a Saturn nomination), the film adaptation of David Gerrold’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning The Martian Child, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and a plethora of voice roles in animated features including the Hugo-nominated Toy Story movies and TV specials, Chicken Little, and Mars Needs Moms.
  • Born October 11, 1965 – Lennie James, 53, Actor, Screenwriter, and Playwright from England who has had main roles in the genre TV series The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and Jericho, and movie roles in Blade Runner 2049, Sahara, Lockout, and the (in JJ’s opinion) vastly-underrated Lost in Space.
  • Born October 11, 1965 – Sean Patrick Flanery, 53, Actor who starred in the TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and also had lead roles in the genre films Powder, Demon Hunter, The Insatiable, Veritas, Prince of Truth, InSight, The Devil’s Carnival, and The Evil Within, and guest roles on Stargate: SG-1, The Twilight Zone, The Dead Zone, The Outer Limits, Charmed, and Touched by an Angel.
  • Born October 11, 1972 – Claudia Black, 46, Actor from Australia best known for her roles as Aeryn Sun on Farscape (for which she won a Saturn Award) and Vala Mal Doran on Stargate SG-1 (for which she won a Constellation Award, Canada’s counterpart to the Saturn Award), who also appeared in the films Pitch Black and Queen of the Damned. Her first genre role was as Cassandra on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, followed by episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, Beastmaster, The Dresden Files and Haven, a recurring role on The Originals, and a main role on Containment. She has also provided character voices to animated films and TV series, and a very large number of videogames, including Uncharted, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Final Fantasy.
  • Born October 11, 1972 – Nir Yaniv, 46, Writer, Editor, Musician, and Fan from Israel who in 2000 founded the webzine of the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy and was its chief editor for seven years. He later edited several issues of Chalomot Be’aspamia, Israel’s only professional printed science fiction and fantasy magazine. He co-authored with Lavie Tidhar the short novel The Tel Aviv Dossier, and has published a collection of his short fiction, The Love Machine and Other Contraptions; several of his stories have been translated into English by Tidhar. As a musician, he created the first Hebrew-language SF music-themed album, The Universe in a Pita, and more recently has begun writing and directing short films of strong genre interest.
  • Born October 11, 1974 – Ian Mond, 44, Writer, Critic, and Podcaster from Australia who has published a dozen of his own stories, plus a few Doctor Who stories. He was Tuckerized by fellow Australian and Doctor Who writer Kate Orman in the tie-in novel Blue Box. For eight years, he co-hosted with Kirstyn McDermott the Hugo-nominated and Ditmar-winning book podcast, The Writer and the Critic, and his reviews of genre fiction have garnered him two Atheling nominations. He started reviewing for Locus Online in June this year.
  • Born October 11, 1978 – Wes Chatham, 40, Actor best known for a main role in the Hugo-winning TV series The Expanse, as well as a role in the two-movie Hunger Games installment Mockinjay.
  • Born October 11, 1974 – Doona Bae, 34, Actor from South Korea whose most notable genre role has been as a lead in the TV series Sense8 but has also had roles in Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, as well as several South Korean science fiction and horror films including The Ring Virus and The Host and the manga adaptation Air Doll.
  • Born October 11, 1985 – Michelle Trachtenberg, 33, Actor and Producer who started early in genre roles with a guest role on Space Cases at the age of 11 and a main role on Meego at the age of 12. At 14, she took on a main role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for which she received 3 Saturn nominations. Her other appearances include the films Inspector Gadget, Can’t Be Heaven, Richie Rich’s Christmas Wish, Black Christmas, 17 Again, and The Scribbler, and guest spots on the live-action and animated TV series Sleepy Hollow, Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Robot Chicken, The Super Hero Squad Show, SuperMansion, and Superman/Shazam. She currently has a starring voice role in the animated SF series Human Kind Of.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

(11) FRANKENSTEIN. Sean O’Hara talks about how Mary Shelley’s preface to the book was an attempt to whitewash her life — “The History of Frankenstein Part I: Lies, Damned Lies, and Mary Shelley’s Preface to Frankenstein”

Most of us are familiar with the tale of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein — how she and her husband Percy were on vacation in Switzerland and happened to be staying near Lord Byron, and on a dark and stormy night, after reading some German horror stories, they decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story. It all sounds so genteel. Something you’d see on Masterpiece Theater.

It’s also pure BS.

Mary and her step-sister Claire were the Kardashians of the early 19th Century. And I don’t mean they were wild by the standards of their day. They did things that would still make the front page of TMZ. If they were alive today, they’d be feuding with Beyonce and Taylor Swift, I guarantee it.

So where did the sanitized version of the story come from?

Why Mary Shelley herself….

— Then steps back to look at her mother, the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft: “The History of Frankenstein Part II: That Time the World’s First Feminist Married the World’s First Libertarian”.

But their happiness was short lived. Wollstonecraft became pregnant at the end of 1796, and she and Godwin decided, despite their mutual misgivings about marriage, to wed so their child would be legitimate. But Wollstonecraft was by now thirty-eight, an age at which child birth became dangerous. Her daughter Mary was born safely, but Wollstonecraft contracted a postpartum infection and died a mere two weeks later, leaving her two daughters in the care of a forty year old man who had spent his entire life as a bachelor.

There are several more posts in this series at O’Hara’s blog, Yes, We Have No Culottes.

(12) KIRBY YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Scott Bradfield recommends “Reading irresponsibly with Jack Kirby” at the LA Times.

Probably what I miss most in our perilous, terrifying and end-of-times-like historical era is the ability to read irresponsibly. There’s just too much responsible reading around; it can drive you to drink. Everything we’re supposed to read keeps looming up out of the darkness, bristling with portents, economic data, apocalyptic planetary crises and an endless urgent blizzard of news bulletins about tweets, personal liberties, gun violence and conflagrations both natural and metaphorical — all of which require more sober attention than most of us can muster. Increasingly (and understandably), reading has become a duty to be performed by conscientious citizens and students. And I’m sorry, but jeez, that just isn’t right.

When I was young, reading irresponsibly was easy. I did it all the time. In fact, well into my late teens and early 20s I could easily lose myself in books and comics; it just came with the territory.

(13) WFA CONTENDER. Lela E. Buis sings the praises of a World Fantasy Award nominee: “Review of City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty”.

…So, counter to the depressive trend in the WFA finalists this year, this is a romance and an intrigue. All these people are lying to each other, and political groups are plotting right and left. Daevabad is exotic, the details of the city life, the temples and the palace very well assembled. I didn’t have any problems visualizing the people, the creatures or the scenery–the author has done a lot of research. The characters are slightly flat, but the story is more focused on the action and intrigue than on revealing their deepest inner thoughts. The reader is left to deduce a lot of what’s going on from their actions….

(14) MURDER MOST ‘BOT. And Buis gives five stars to the conclusion of the Murderbot series, but says it is not flawless – “Review of Exit Strategy by Martha Wells”.

On the not so great side, I’ve got some nits to pick with the whole story arc at this point. I suspect the series was written fairly quickly, as Wells has said it’s a short story that got out of control, and after the huge success of the first novella, she quickly got in gear to produce the rest. Tor was also in a hurry to follow up on the initial success, and went light on the editing. That means there are some inconsistencies in the content.

(15) CHIBNALL ON WHO. Showrunner Chris Chibnall discusses his new vision for Doctor Who.

(16) WHO PANEL AT NYCC. Here’s the full Doctor Who panel from New York Comic-Con 2018, with Jodie Whittaker, Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens.

(17) THE NOSE KNOWS. io9’s Germain Lussier is thrilled to hear that “The Most Disgusting Scenes in Star Wars Are Now Scented Candles”.

Scents like “Trash Compactor,” “Inside of a Tauntaun,” “Rancor,” and “Sarlacc Pit” are just some of the scents available in these new, officially licensed candles. There are some more pleasant sounding ones, too, like “Bantha Milk,” “X-Wing Cockpit” and “Yoda’s Cooking Pot”—as well as just plain weird ones like “Death Star Destroyed,” “Millennium Falcon,” “Han Solo Carbonite” and “Lightsaber Duel.”

(18) AND SMALLER FLEAS TO BITE ‘EM. Science Alert is sure “You’ll Never Guess What Scientists Want to Call The Moon of a Moon”.

Stars have planets, and planets have satellites we call moons; but can a moon have its own satellite? And if it did, what would we call it?

In a paper currently up on pre-print resource arXiv, astronomers Juna Kollmeier of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Sean Raymond of the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux have called them submoons.

But other scientists are using the far more delightful term moonmoon, so that’s what we’re going to go for.

(19) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In La Futur Sera Chauve (The Bald Future) on Vimeo, Paul Cabon imagines how limited his life will be when he loses his hair.

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

Pixel Scroll 10/8/18 And We Are Her Sisters, And Her Cousins, And Her Ancillaries

(1) RECESS IS OVER. File 770 was down for approximately 7 hours today, for reasons never fully explained by customer support, except they were “actively working” on a server problem. Well, to quote Sam Gamgee, “I’m back.”

(2) WHO WATCHED. The Guardian has the numbers: “Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who debut is most watched launch for 10 years”.

Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Time Lord drew Doctor Who’s biggest series launch audience in more than a decade on Sunday night.

An average of 8.2m viewers watched Whittaker’s first outing as the Doctor, beating the ratings for political thriller sensation Bodyguard, which attracted 6.7m viewers when it debuted in August. With an audience share of 40.1%, Whittaker’s performance was the most-watched episode of the science fiction drama since the 2008 series.

The first female doctor bettered Matt Smith and David Tennant’s debut viewing figures of 7.7m and 8m respectively. While she drew a smaller audience than Christopher Eccleston’s first appearance, which was watched by 9.9m, he had the advantage of appearing in the show’s comeback episode in 2005.

(3) WHO LISTENED. But some claim the Doctor Who theme music has been defaced. “Yes,” says SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, “thought impossible but some consider true.”

The brand new theme for Doctor Who Series 11, composed by Segun Akinola, which premiered tonight during the closing credits of ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’

 

(4) IT’S ALREADY BEEN DONE! Alastair Reynolds apparently blazed the trail for Banksy“Artist shreds unique work of art”.

Alastair Reynolds destroys last english copy of his short-story “Pandora’s Box” at Finncon’09

 

(5) A VOLUNTEER FOR PICARD’S CREW. Wil Wheaton told a Baltimore Comic Con audience he’d say yes — “Star Trek: Wil Wheaton Wants to Return in New Picard Series” at Comicbook.

Of course, fans also want to know if he could appear as Wesley Crusher could appear in the new show. Wheaton says he thinks its unlikely he’ll be asked, but he’d definitely be up for it if asked.

“I think it is very unlikely they will ask me to participate in it,” Wheaton said. “I mean, I think it is just extraordinarily unlikely that will happen. If they did, I would say ‘yes,’ of course. I think all of us would say ‘yes.’ I think all of us if we were given the opportunity to put on the spacesuits again and go work together and bring those characters back, as they would be thirty years later, we would all say ‘yes.’ And I don’t think it’s because we want the work. I don’t think it’s because we need the money. I don’t think it’s because we don’t have other things to do. It’s because we love each other so much and an opportunity, even for a day, to return emotionally to some of the best times of our lives, I think that we would jump at that opportunity.”

(6) LONG LIST ANTHOLOGY. David Steffen’s Long List Anthology Volume 4 Kickstarter has fully funded, included the stretch goal — 204 backers pledged $4,754.

(7) BITE CLUB. Ron Charles in the Washington Post discusses how Fangoria, which died last year, has been revived “as a new quarterly journal with photos so high-gloss that the blood looks wet.”  But Charles notes many book reviews amid all the gory photos, as well as a short story by Chuck Pahlaniuk — “Fangoria, the fabled horror magazine, has risen from the dead”.

…There’s also a piece for die-hard fanatics about continuity problems among the various “Halloween” sequels and a true story about a young man in North Carolina who built a replica of the Myers house. “I have to carefully pick what I’m going to invest my time in,” he says without any apparent irony.

Handy advice abounds in these pages. Makeup artist Tate Steinsiek explains “how to slit your own throat,” and director Corin Hardy walks us through hideous visuals in his new movie “The Nun.” “Malignant Growths,” a piece about homemade horror films, should come with its own barf bag….

(8) RAH RAH RAH (RAH RAH).  In a piece for Tor.com, James Davis Nicoll says there are “Five Books That Improve Upon Heinlein’s Juveniles”. (How can that be possible?)

Nothing fills me with dread quite like a middle-aged male writer announcing that he plans to write a YA novel just like the ones Robert Heinlein used to write . I could explain why this is such a harbinger of disappointment…but Charles Stross has already beat me to it. Instead, allow me to offer some non-Heinlein novels that succeed in scratching some of the same itches that the RAH juvies once scratched. For me, that requires the intended audience to include teens, that the genre be science fiction in the narrow sense, that the protagonist be a young adult, and that they get to do something that actually matters in the course of the book .

(9) NYCC COSPLAY. Huffington Post’s photo gallery promises “Here Are The Best Costumes From 2018’s New York Comic Con”.

But aside from stars to see, artists to discover, and unique merchandise to buy, people go to Comic Con to see (and be seen in) costumes. There were probably as many people in costume as not this year, and as always it was a wonderful distraction when walking from one part of the convention center to another.

(10) NYCC PROGRAM VIDEOS. On the Penguin Random House YouTube channel you’ll find links to 12 full panels recorded at New York Comic Con. These include a Patrick Rothfuss panel, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Panel, A Night with Author Andy Weir (The Martian), “How Writers Build Authenticity Into Diverse Worlds Panel,” Patrick Rothfuss and R.A. Salvatore Discuss Epic Fantasy, “Disney-Lucasfilm Publishing: Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away,” The World of Lore with Aaron Mahnke Panel, “Disney-Lucasfilm Presents: A Celebration of Female Writers in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.”

 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born October 8, 1916 – George Turner, Writer and Critic from Australia, who was a successful mainstream novelist but turned to writing SF fiction and criticism in his sixties. His novel Drowning Towers (also published as The Sea and Summer) was a near-future story about global warming and economic collapse, which won the Clarke Award and was a finalist for the Nebula, Campbell, and Ditmar Awards. His book In the Heart or In the Head: An Essay in Time Travel, a memoir in which he chronicles his chaotic growing-up in a family for whom fact and fantasy were equally acceptable and often indistinguishable, won the William J. Atheling Jr. Award and was a finalist for the Hugo for Best Nonfiction Book. He wrote a lot on the history of the genre, including John W. Campbell: Writer, Editor, Legend for an Australian symposium on Campbell in 1971. He was given an A. Bertram Chandler Award – Australia SFF fandom’s highest honor – and his other works, both SF and genre nonfiction, received many nominations and wins for Ditmar and Atheling Awards, all earned between the age of 60 and his death at age 80. He was to be Author Guest of Honor at Aussiecon 3, the 1999 Worldcon, but died prior to the convention. The interview “Judith Buckrich in Conversation with George Turner” can be found in SF Commentary #76.
  • Born October 8, 1920 – Frank Herbert, Writer well-known for his Dune series – the first of which won Hugo, Nebula, Seiun, and Locus Awards – which has been translated into more than a dozen languages and adapted to movies and videogames, including the Hugo-nominated version by David Lynch. Songs of Muad’Dib: Poems and Songs from Frank Herbert’s Dune was published posthumously, edited by his son Brian Herbert. Other work includes the ConSentiency universe novels, Under Pressure and Hellstrom’s Hive (which was awarded the Prix Apollo), and works in his Pandora and Jorj McKie universes. He was nominated for the 1956 Most Promising New Author Hugo, and was Author Guest of Honor at a number of conventions.
  • Born October 8, 1941 – Penny Frierson, 77, Writer, Editor, Conrunner, and Fan who chaired or co-chaired several conventions and Worldcon bids, and co-chaired the 1986 Worldcon. She was one of the founders of the Birmingham Science Fiction Club. She collaborated with her husband Meade in her fan writing; they were big H.P. Lovecraft fans, and their fanzines included Science Fiction on Radio, HPL, The HPL Tribute, The HPL Supplement, and the fannish play, Shattered Like a Clockwork Orange. She was a member of the APAs Myriad, RAPS, and SFPA, Guest of Honor at Coastcon in 1978, and in 1987 Southern Fandom recognized her with the Rebel Award.
  • Born October 8, 1943 – David Dvorkin, 75, Writer from England who emigrated to the U.S., and has written more than a dozen of his own speculative fiction novels, but is perhaps best known for three of the earliest novels written in the Star Trek Original Series and Next Generation universes for Pocket Books.
  • Born October 8, 1943 – R.L. Stine, 75, Writer, Editor, and Producer. Author of more than 300 novels, mostly young adult horror, most famously the Goosebumps series, which, along with some of his other works, has been made in TV series and videogames. He has written novelisations of the genre films Ghostbusters II and Spaceballs. He was recognized with a Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2013.
  • Born October 8, 1949 – Sigourney Weaver, 69, Oscar-nominated Screen and Stage Actor and Producer. Her most famous genre roles are in Hugo-winning movies the Alien series and the Star Trek homage Galaxy Quest, in addition to parts in both Hugo-nominated versions of Ghostbusters, Dave (an uncredited version of Robert Heinlein’s Double Star), the Hugo finalist Avatar and its upcoming sequels, The Village, Vamps, and Chappie. She has also provided voices for animated films including the Hugo-winning WALL-E, Happily N’Ever After, The Tale of Despereaux, and Finding Dory.
  • Born October 8, 1949 – Richard Hescox, 69, Artist and Illustrator who, between the years of 1976 and 1993, illustrated over 135 covers for genre books, but now works mostly in the games industry and for private commissions. He is also notable for producing advertising art for such movies as Escape from New York, Time Bandits, Swamp Thing, The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story, and Conan the Barbarian. Some of his work has been gathered into two collections, The Fantasy Art of Richard Hescox and The Deceiving Eye: The Art of Richard Hescox, with text by Randy Dannenfelser. He has been nominated for a Chesley a half a dozen times, winning in 2003, named Artist Guest of Honor at numerous conventions, and received The Jack Gaughan Award for Best Emerging Artist in 1991.
  • Born October 8, 1956 – Stephanie Zimbalist, 62, Writer and Actor of Stage and Screen. While she is best known for the lead in the TV series Remington Steele, she has appeared in more than 60 stage plays and as many TV series, with her most notable genre appearances being the films Jericho Fever and a Saturn Award-nominated role in The Awakening, the film version of Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars. She appeared in the 2006 documentary Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars, and also portrayed McAuliffe in the play Defying Gravity.
  • Born October 8, 1970 – Matt Damon, 48, Oscar-winning Writer, Actor, and Producer. His most famous genre roles involve having to be rescued in both the Hugo-winner The Martian and the Hugo finalist Interstellar. After starting his career with a role as an uncredited extra on the Hugo-nominated Field of Dreams, he later had parts in genre films The Adjustment Bureau (based on a Philip K. Dick story), The Brothers Grimm, Contagion, Elysium, The Zero Theorem, Downsizing, and he reprised his Dogma role playing Loki in a cameo in the Hugo-nominated Thor: Ragnarok.
  • Born October 8, 1979 – Kristanna Loken, 39, Actor and Producer, known to genre fans as the cyborg Terminatrix from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Her other genre appearances include the films Bloodrayne and In the Name of the King, and the TV series Mortal Kombat: Conquest and Painkiller Jane.

(12) HERBERT DAY. Steven H Silver finds a story to celebrate in a 1971 Analog – “Birthday Reviews: Frank Herbert’s ‘By the Book’” at Black Gate.

Originally published by John W. Campbell, Jr. in the October 1966 issue of Analog Science Fiction Science Fact, “By the Book” was reprinted in 1971 in The Worlds of Frank Herbert and again in The Best of Frank Herbert. It was also included in the Herbert collections Eye and The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert. The story was translated into Croatian in 1978 for inclusion in the Yugoslavian magazine Sirius and into French in 1987 for the Hebert collection Champ Mental.

(13) COMICS SECTION.

(14) LOCAL TALENT. In LA on October 11 — “Dana Gould – A reading of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space”. Here’s some names you don’t see all the time anymore.

Dana Gould presents A Live, Stage Reading of EdWood’s… Plan 9 from Outer Space

w/ Bobcat Goldthwait, David Koechner, Janet Varney , Laraine Newman, Kevin MacDonald, Dana Gould, Matt Braunger, Rob Zabrecky, Ron Lynch, Nate Mooney, DeborahBaker, Jr., Ken Daly, G CharlesWright, w/ Eban Schletter and other surprises!

(15) DADDY DATA? Variety reports — “TNT Orders Ridley Scott-Produced Sci-Fi Drama ‘Raised by Wolves’”.

TNT has given a straight-to-series order to a sci-fi drama project that hails from executive producer Ridley Scott.

Titled “Raised by Wolves,” the series centers on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious virgin planet. As the burgeoning colony of humans threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task….

(16) SECOND NOVEL. Adri Joy has been looking forward to the continuation of this series – see “Microreview [Book]: The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera” at Nerds of a Feather.

…The Phoenix Empress pick up almost exactly where its predecessor leaves off, and while the “present” takes up more of the narrative in this volume, there’s still a substantial story-within-a-story as Shizuka fills Shefali in on the events that led to her becoming empress, not to mention developing an alcohol addiction and a severe phobia of water. Shefali has returned from her own travels even more changed, following events in that have led to her being contaminated by black blood but not succumbing to the usual progress of the illness, and now expects to die on her next birthday in four months’ time. A great deal of the book is therefore based on learning each others’ secrets and renewing their relationship, as well as working out what the wider implications of Shefali’s return are for the future of Hokkaro and the black- blood plague.

I suspect that the unusual structure of these novels is playing an important trope-subverting role as well as being a narrative choice….

(17) AGE BEFORE BEAUTY. Apparently D.B. Jackson couldn’t resist the challenge – at Whatever, “The Big Idea: D.B. Jackson”.

Anyone who has written a time travel novel knows that they can send an author ‘round the bend. Time travel is a plotting nightmare. It creates narrative holes big enough to accommodate a truck. It acts as a virtual eraser, a do-over generator, a distributor of endless mulligans. Even the most sound, well-considered plot point can be undermined by the simple question, “Well, why can’t one of our characters go back and prevent this?” Hermione Granger’s ill-advised flirtation with Time-Turners is just the tip of the iceberg. Time travel will make an author’s brain explode.

So, naturally, I have just published the first novel in a new time travel/epic fantasy series.

(18) PALACE INTRIGUE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Various sources are reporting that the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) has announced an intent to deorbit their Tiangong-2 (Celestial Palace 2) space laboratory during or after July 2019. You may recall that Tiangong-1 deorbited in an uncontrolled manner (though the Chinese claim otherwise) earlier this year. Fortunately,  the bits of Tiangong-1 that didn’t burn up on reentry happened to hit an unoccupied part of the Pacific Ocean. The plan for Tiangong-2 is to deliberately aim for such a spot.

Neither of the Celestial Palaces were intended to be permanent space stations, though China is planning a modular space station of a more permanent nature. Mooted dates for launching the various parts of that are currently 2020–2023.

(19) GOTHAM’S FIFTH. The trailer for the last season of Fox’s Gotham was played at the New York Comic Con.

(20) THE LAST GYRO. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] NASA has confirmed, via Twitter, that the Hubble Space Telescope has been put into “safe mode” following the failure of one of its gyroscopes (Space.com: “Hubble Space Telescope in ‘Safe Mode’ After Gyroscope Failure”). This leaves the iconic telescope with only two gyros operating, not enough to “ensure optimal efficiency” per the Hubble website. All six gyroscopes were last replaced during Servicing Mission 4 when Shuttle Atlantis visited in 2009 during mission STS-125. With the Shuttle fleet long retired now, further servicing is not an option.

Dr. Rachel Osten, Hubble Deputy Mission Head, has tweeted that the “[f]irst step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic.” If that fails, there was quick speculation that a change in operational mode may emerge, Dr. Grant Tremblay, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted:

*IF* the third [gyroscope] doesn’t spin back up, I wouldn’t be surprised if they drop to 1 gyro mode, keeping the second as reserve. @rachelosten might know, but I imagine it’s a stressful, difficult decision. Let’s just hope the brilliant people at @STScI can recover the third. Stress.

That plan was confirmed shortly after, when Dr Osten replied:

It’s not a difficult decision, @astrogrant: the plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain. There isn’t much difference between 2- and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time. Which the Astro community wants desperately.

In fact, the gyroscope that just failed lasted “about six months longer” than had been anticipated. This failure is one more confirmation that the Hubble is nearing the end of it’s life, though it is clearly still doing good science.

(21) RED HAT. Mlex says he’d wear one –

(22) STYLE POINTS IF YOU STICK THE LANDING. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] There’s video of the first Vandenberg landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 on The Verge (“SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on the California coast for the first time”). The video includes launch, side-by-side views of the second stage burn and the first stage return to Vandenberg, and more. If you want to skip ahead to the final landing  burn, that starts just after the 29 minute mark of the video when the stage is still over 4 km in altitude. This is a night landing, so the burns are spectacular, but overall visibility is limited. The split screen for the last few moments of the landing has video from the side of the stage (looking down) and from a ground camera viewing from a safe distance.

(23) EPISODE RECAP. Martin Morse Wooster says, “My local public television station is showing the New Zealand series The Brokenwood Mysteries.  Last night they showed an episode which appeared in the show’s third season and was broadcast in New Zealand in 2016.” —

The premise is that a sleazy tour operator is offering “Lord of the Ringz” tours to the Brokenwood forest for Chinese tourists.  They’re shown a crappy matte painting of mountains.  Guys with pointy ears do some swordplay. The climax of the tour is when a giant plush toy spider descends on a woman wrapped up in spider webbing–but the unplanned but is that the woman is dead, and the detectives then find out who killed her.

A German guy complains that he isn’t seeing anything from The Lord of the Rings, and is told, “Oh, in New Zealand we spell things creatively.”  In another scene, a lawyer explains that as long as the customers aren’t told they’re seeing things from The Lord of the Rings–and every sign, for some reason, isn’t spelled correctly!–then it’s legal.  “We could be showing scenes from some direct-to DVD film,” he said.

I hope this lawyer never deals with the Tolkien estate…

(24) SHADOW OF VADER. Chuck Wendig will write a five-issue miniseries for Marvel Star Wars:

Chuck Wendig on Darth Vader and his newly-announced series, Shadow of Vader: “Vader is a character with a long shadow, literally and figuratively. His legacy is deep and unpleasant.” The world will not be bereft of Darth Vader in their comics for long, as Wendig announced that he will be writing a miniseries called Shadow of Vader, beginning in November. Each issue will feature a different set of characters: Issue #1 is a Friday the 13th homage, with Vader hunting down kids at summer camp; issue #2 stars the one-and-only Willrow Hood; issue #3 centers on a morgue attendant on the Death Star; issue #4 diverges to focus on the Acolytes of the Beyond; issue #5 follows a New Republic pilot — whose parents were killed by Vader — who joins the Resistance only to learn that Leia’s father is the Sith Lord.

(25) AMERICAN GODS TRAILER. The second season of American Gods is on the way.

A storm is coming. American Gods returns to STARZ in 2019. Starring Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Yetide Badaki, Orlando Jones, Omid Abtahi, Mousa Kraish, and more.

 

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

Review: The Interstellar Ghost Hour

By Martin Morse Wooster: Imagine you’re an astronaut, who has just landed on a new planet.  You take off your helmet, after making sure the air is breathable, and you’ve landed in your dead parents’ living room!  And you can talk to your dead parents, and ask them questions!

“Do you wish I’d mourned you differently?” asks the astronaut, whose name is Iris.

That’s the way The Interstellar Ghost Hour by Kathleen Akerley, begins, in a play produced by Longacre Lea at Catholic University’s Callan Theatre.

The 80-minute first act juggles a lot of balls in the air.  You have astronaut Iris, who is trying to ask her parents questions she didn’t ask them when they were alive.  Her parents offer cryptic answers before keeling over and periodically reviving.

But behind Iris and her parents is a giant TV set.  Broadcast on the TV is a cooking show with Hammurabi—you know, the Babylonian king, who for some reason is wearing a basket on his head (or what one character calls “hat froufrou”).  The ancient Babylonian has a reality show called Cooking With Hammurabi, in which contestants try to come up with recipes that match his laws.  One contestant wins the round where you are supposed to come up with a recipe that matches the ancient law of “an eye for an eye” by offering a soup with two eyeballs in it instead of the traditional one.

A subplot involves another ancient Babylonian, whose name I didn’t get, but who wrote the first cookbook.  He shows up in Iris’s parents’ living room, theatrically stirring an empty bowl and offering cryptic comments about cooking.

The other channel on the TV is showing a generic cop show, one of those where the perps spend a lot of time in the interrogation room.  Iris can somehow manipulate what’s being shown on the TV, so at one point on one channel Hammurabi is beating her father to a pulp and on the other channel a cop is beating her father to a pulp.

Finally there are occasional ghost hunters, who look very confused.

What’s going on here?  The nature of The Interstellar Ghost Hour becomes very clear in the second half, which I won’t give away, except to say that the frequent rumbling made by the thunderstorm that happened during the production was a very appropriate free sound effect.

Was it any good?  Let me explain what happened during intermission.  We were in the experimental theatre at Catholic University, which was separated from the bathrooms by an open corridor.  Because the rain was very heavy, we stayed inside and were led down some stairs and into the main theatre at Catholic, where they were rehearsing Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

“Can we start from ‘I have the gravest doubts?’” the director said.

“I have the gravest doubts,” said an actress in a pretty bad British accent.

Do you know “Bibliomancy,” where you thumb through a Bible for a random passage that might offer important advice?  Well, this was…theatreomancy!  Yes, Oscar Wilde had, after over a century in the grave, emerged from the tomb to give his review of The Interstellar Ghost Hour!

I think Wilde, as usual, was a little harsh.  The Interstellar Ghost Hour was a long fly ball that was pretty when it soared but was not a home run.   Akerley has a lot of skill as a writer but the play could have been cut by 15 minutes and I was never quite clear why all the Babylonian bits were there except to add spice to the weird first act.

Let me say something nice about Kathleen Akerley.  Last month I went to a play by an author I will not name except to say that the author is well-known to theatre lovers and is a MacArthur “genius grant” winner.  The company who produced the play asked for my reaction and I said the 100-minute play was the worst six hours I had spent in the theatre in some time.

The Interstellar Ghost Hour didn’t seem like six hours to me.  Kathleen Akerley has a lot of talent and I hope she continues to swing for the fences.  Someday she will hit a grand slam.

Pixel Scroll 7/6/18 I Picked A Hell Of A Day To Quit Scrolling

(1) CRUSHING IT. We may have missed the anniversary of Jaws’ release (June 20) but Narragansett Beer will still sell you the gear.

(2) ELVISH INVENTIVENESS. Middle-earth Reflections celebrates its second birthday with a recollection of “Fëanor the skilful.” (Yes, but was his beer any good?)

It is very often that Fëanor is remembered for grievous deeds and worst manifestations of his complex, albeit fascinating, character. However, being a gifted and skilful Noldo, he contributed a lot to Elvish craftsmanship, culture and traditions. His works were meant to be useful, unique and long-lasting, with some things surviving well into the Third Age and remaining long after Fëanor himself was no more…

(3) ON STAGE. Chicago’s sff-themed Otherworld Theatre will celebrate its opening on July 14:

Join us as we officially open the world’s only venue dedicated to Science Fiction + Fantasy performance – Otherworld Theatre Company!

Enjoy food + drinks, entertainment, and be the first to hear our 2018/2019 Season announcement! Attendees will be the first to be able to reserve tickets to our shows!

(4) FIGHTING PAIR. Stay tuned for Marvel Comics hype!

Deadpool has gone up against almost everyone in the Marvel Universe…and now, that roster includes the legendary Black Panther in BLACK PANTHER VS. DEADPOOL, a new story from Lockjaw and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (Hit-Girl, Civil War II: Kingpin).

For a reason he’d rather not disclose (because, well, it makes him look bad!) Deadpool needs a piece of Vibranium…and the only way to get Vibranium is to go through the Black Panther himself! But Deadpool soon learns that his unconventional methods don’t exactly work against the king of the most technologically advanced country on the planet…

(5) THE LOCAL ANIME SCENE. Martin Morse Wooster hates that I have deprived you of news about a big event that’s happening in my own backyard. Let the Los Angeles Times’ famed Charles Solomon remedy my oversight: “Anime Expo 2018 returns to L.A. with ‘My Hero Academia: Two Heroes’ premiere”.

More than 100,000 otaku (fans of Japanese animation and manga) are expected to attend the annual Expo, which runs July 5-8. The attractions include themed cosplay pageants, maid and butler cafes, karaoke contests, workshops, concerts, screenings and guest appearances by artists and voice actors. Panel discussions will a focus on favorite series and features, from Makoto Shinkai’s record-breaking “Your Name” to “Cardcaptor Sakura.”

As the Expo has grown more popular since the early ’90s, it’s also grown more diverse. It began as a convention primarily attended by young white and Asian American fanboys; now it’s thronged with people of all races, genders and ages. The communal atmosphere fostered by the Expo remains intact; anyone who loves “Fullmetal Alchemist,” “Princess Jellyfish” or “Attack on Titan” will find new friends eager to discuss the show. People in costumes — whether elaborate, revealing or cross-gender — will happily pose for pictures.

One of the most eagerly anticipated events at this year’s Expo is the world premiere Thursday of “My Hero Academia: Two Heroes,” the first theatrical feature based on the hit adventure-comedy. The filmmakers had to rush to prepare a subtitled version in time for the event.

The premiere will include guest appearances by Daiki Yamashita and Justin Briner, the Japanese and English voices of Deku, the main character, and ADR director and actor Colleen Clinkenbeard. The first trailer for the English dub — which will be released here in the fall — will screen, and there’ll be giveaways of posters and other swag….

(6) STAN LEE. Variety reports “Judge Grants Second Restraining Order to Protect Stan Lee”.

A judge on Friday granted a restraining order to protect Marvel’s Stan Lee and his family from a memorabilia collector who allegedly embezzled assets worth more than $5 million.

The collector, Keya Morgan, is accused of isolating Lee from his daughter, J.C. Lee, and others, in an effort to assert control over Lee’s business affairs.

Earlier in the day, Judge Pro Tem Ruth Kleman dismissed another restraining order, which was filed last month on Lee’s behalf by attorney Tom Lallas. The judge found that Lallas, who was fired in February, does not represent Lee.

The new restraining order was filed Thursday by attorney Stephen Crump. In the application, Crump alleges that Morgan made malicious and false remarks about his daughter to Lee, and prevented Lee’s financial advisers from seeing him. The order bars Morgan from coming within 100 yards of Lee, his daughter, or his brother, Larry Lieber….

(7) HIGHLIGHTS. Adsoftheworld covers the Stabilo Boss advertising campaign:

Everyone knows the phrase “Behind every great man is a great woman.” But what does it mean? That the man is always the hero and the woman his sidekick? The truth is, all too often women were upstaged, and their actions and successes not mentioned. 2018 is the year to rewrite history: with Stabilo Boss.

By highlighting remarkable women and their stories.

Print advertisement created by DDB, Germany for Stabilo Boss, within the category: Office Equipment.

Caption:

Highlight the remarkable. Lise Meitner.
Discoverer of nuclear fission who male partner was awarded with the Nobel Prize.

 

(8) TOXIC FANDOM. Cnet spreads the word: “James Gunn: Toxic Star Wars haters should ‘go to therapy'”.

Star Wars fans can be a little touchy when the latest film doesn’t live up to their expectations.

Sometimes that feeling can bubble over into real-life toxic actions. Actress Kelly Marie Tran recently deleted her Instagram posts, with many speculating that it was because of online harassment due to her role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And actor Ahmed Best, who played the controversial character Jar Jar Binks in 1999’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, revealed on July 3 that the reaction to his role almost drove him to suicide.

Gunn later responded to the reaction his tweet received, writing, “People responding to this post saying, “Yeah, it wasn’t the actor’s fault! It was the writer’s!” are missing the point. Critique it. Don’t like it. But spewing hate and bile at individuals just doing their best to tell a story, even if the story sucks, is lame. Don’t watch it!”

(9) DITKO OBIT. Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko was discovered dead in his apartment on June 29. The Hollywood Reporter has a profile.

…The New York Police Department confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter. No cause of death was announced. Ditko was found dead in his apartment on June 29 and it is believed he died about two days earlier.

In 1961, Ditko and Lee created Spider-Man. Lee, the editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, gave Ditko the assignment after he wasn’t satisfied with Jack Kirby’s take on the idea of a teen superhero with spider powers. The look of Spider-Man — the costume, the web shooters, the red and blue design — all came from Ditko. Spider-Man first appeared in Amazing Fantasy No. 15. The comic was an unexpected hit and the character was spun off into The Amazing Spider-Man. Ditko helped create such classic Spider-Man characters as Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, and Green Goblin. Starting with issue No. 25 Ditko received a plot credit in addition to his artist credit. Ditko’s run ended with issue No. 38.

In 1963, Ditko created the surreal and psychedelic hero Doctor Strange. The character debuted in Strange Tales No. 110 and Ditko continued on the comic through issue No. 146, cover dated July 1966.

After that Ditko, left Marvel Comics over a fight with Lee, the causes of which have always remained murky….

(10) O’CONNOR OBIT. The New York Times reports: “Derrick O’Connor, Irish Actor on Stage and Screens, Dies at 77”.

Derrick O’Connor, a versatile Irish character actor who appeared in three Terry Gilliam films and played a memorable villain in “Lethal Weapon 2,” died on June 29 in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 77.

The cause was pneumonia, said a spokeswoman, Jane Ayer.

Mr. O’Connor had roles in Mr. Gilliam’s “Jabberwocky” (1977), “Time Bandits” (1981) and “Brazil” (1985). Perhaps his best-known role was Pieter Vorstedt, a murderous South African security official, in Richard Donner’s “Lethal Weapon 2” (1989), the second film in the action franchise starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

Among his many other films were John Boorman’s “Hope and Glory” (1987) and Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006)….

(11) COMICS SECTION.

Mike Kennedy sends a pair to draw to:

(12) SUPERANATOMY. A first look at DC Comics new book Anatomy of a Metahuman (which has a September 18 release date) is available on io9 (“This Book About the Anatomy of DC Heroes and Villains Looks Absolutely Gorgeous”). In it, you’ll see such things as cutaway views of Superman’s face and eye (with “explanations” of his various forms of super vision) and Cheetah’s musculoskeletal structure. Illustrator Ming Doyle has tweeted samples of the pages that she says she “spent a year illustrating […] from Bruce Wayne’s POV.” That’s right, the book is written in universe and represents Batman (or Bruce Wayne if you prefer) keeping close tabs on not only his enemies but also his allies. That sounds like a very Batman thing to do. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon (where it’s tagged at the #1 best seller in “Educational & Nonfiction Graphic Novels”), on the Barnes & Noble website, and doubtless at many of your local bookstores.

(13) HERE’S MY NUMBER AND A DIME. Craig Miller told Facebook readers there’s still a place you can phone to hear the series of telephone messages he created to promote the 1980 release of The Empire Strikes Back.

Back in my days at Lucasfilm, I wrote and produced a series of telephone messages. In the months preceding the release of “The Empire Strikes Back”, you’d call (800) 521-1980 (the date Empire was coming out) and you’d hear a message from one of the characters, telling you about the film….

…Someone saw them written up in a magazine back in 2010, found the recordings on line, and set up a phone line. You could call the phone number and hear one of the messages at random on the phone (their were five in all: Luke, Leia, Han, C-3PO, and Darth Vader), the way they were meant to be heard.

And what surprised me is that the number still works. Out of curiosity, I called it. Eight years later, you still get the messages.

The phone number isn’t a toll-free 800 line like the one we set up. But if you have free long distance on your phone, it doesn’t matter.

The number is (714) 643-2997.

(14) MARRIAGE BRINGS US TOGETHER. Nick Romano, in “‘Steven Universe’ Shows a Ground breaking Same-Sex Marriage Proposal” at Entertainment Weekly, says that creator Rebecca Sugar is promoting this week’s episodes of her show Steven Universe on the Cartoon Network as being the first cartoon to have a same-sex marriage proposal in it.

Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar has long used her Cartoon Network series as a means of supporting more inclusive storytelling, and she did it again Wednesday night with the July 4th episode. Capping off a five-episode Heart of the Crystal Gems story arc, “The Question” commenced with a same-sex marriage proposal between Ruby and Sapphire.

(15) STAR VEHICLE. Here’s the trailer for the Gillian Anderson movie UFO.

[Thanks to Steven H Silver, Hampus Eckerman, ULTRAGOTHA, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Brian Z.]

Review: Camelot

By Martin Morse Wooster: I’ll guess that Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 musical Camelot[1] is a musical you’ve heard about but probably haven’t seen.  Yes, there was a movie in 1967 and an HBO version in 1982, but my sense is that this musical is lost in the mists of theatrical history.  Most of us know about how Jacqueline Kennedy, a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, declared that the musical was one of JFK’s favorites.  A few of us know a few of the show’s songs.  But I suspect this is a show most people haven’t seen.

Well, I came to the show, currently at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, prepared.  Last year, thanks to my book club, I had read the great novel this musical is based on, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King[2].  Weirdly, the normally well-prepared Shakespeare Theatre bookshop, which would happily sell you books by Sir Thomas Malory or Howard Pyle, or a 33-piece “build your own castle” toy set, had no copies of White’s novel for sale.

White’s book is in two parts.  The first part, The Sword in the Stone, is a funny novel about young Arthur, before he became king, and his education by sorcerer Merlyn, who turns him into various animals to teach him what the world is like.  Disney turned this part into a carton in 1963.

The second part, which encompasses several hundred pages, is about Arthur, once he became king, and how he built the Round Table as a way of having knights do something constructive rather than endlessly bash each other.  White then shows the Round Table’s collapse, in part due to the adulterous relationship between the best knight in the realm, Sir Lancelot, and King Arthur’s wife, Guenevere.

In his notes in the program book, Shakespeare Theatre dramaturg Drew Lichtenberg explains that Camelot was the last great “book musical,” where the story mattered as much as the songs.  Lerner, Loewe, and director Moss Hart began work on the show in 1956, after their previous collaboration, My Fair Lady, became a hit.  They eventually had 4 ½ hours of story that they boiled down, in a process that ended up with Loewe retiring, Hart having the first in a series of heart attacks, and Lerner developing “a bleeding ulcer brought on by amphetamine abuse.”

After all this work, how much of The Once and Future King is left?  My sense is that the first half is reasonably close and the second half does a great deal of condensing.

The story begins with Arthur about to be married reminiscing about his days being educated by Merlyn, and how he was once called “Wart.”  But Merlyn teaches Arthur to move forward with his life, and Arthur recalls that when he was an eagle, he noticed there were no physical boundaries between all of the little kingdoms that constituted the England of his time.  He then reveals how he became king by pulling the sword out of the stone and resolves to have all the knights work together in the Round Table, a place where no one is the head.

The call for knights includes people from all over the world, including France, where Lancelot shows up.  Lancelot is the most accomplished knight, but he also falls in love with Arthur’s wife, Guenevere.  Their infidelity, fueled by the appearance of Arthur’s son Mordred, ultimately leads to the collapse of Camelot.

Most of this is in White, but there’s a great deal of simplification as well as the lack of several major characters.  If you’re a fan of Sir Galahad or Sir Bors, you won’t find them in Camelot.  Still, Lerner and Loewe did a good job in boiling down White’s complex novel.

The Internet Movie Database tells me that The Once and Future King has never been filmed.  Surely companies hungry for fantasy miniseries might want to give it a try?  Meanwhile, Variety says that The Sword in the Stone, which has been in development with Disney since 2015, is scheduled to be filmed as a live-action remake in 2019, with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo attached as director.

The Shakespeare Theatre production of Camelot was excellent, with the three leads—Ken Clark as King Arthur, Alexandra Silber as Guenevere, and Nick Fitzer as Lancelot de Lac, having superb voices, although director Alan Paul shouldn’t have made Fitzer use a plummy French accent.  Two long-established character actors in Washington, Ted van Griethuysen as Merlyn and Floyd King as King Pellinore, were also good in their parts.  Merlyn is a small part in Camelot, but King Pellinore is a substantial role, and King was very funny.

I think the last time Camelot played in Washington was in 2003. I hope I will not have to wait another 15 years to see this great fantasy musical again.


[1] Which should not be confused with a “camel lot,” which is where you park your camel.

[2] The proof White’s book is a great book is that it’s not easy to answer the question, “What books are like White’s?  Who did he influence?”

Review: Martin Luther on Trial

By Martin Morse Wooster: The  Fellowship for Performing Arts is a nonprofit founded by Max McLean which says its goal is to provide “provocative, entertaining theatre from a Christian worldview that is engaging to a diverse audience.”  What this means is that they are trying to produce good theatre with religious content.

Most of their work so far has been based on C.S. Lewis.  I’ve seen two of their earlier shows.  The Screwtape Letters was their first production, and I thought it was a snappy two-hander.  They followed this with The Great Divorce, which led me to read Lewis’s novel.  All I remember is that Lewis’s book was not translatable to the stage, which led to the adapters throwing out half the book and replacing it with another half that didn’t work either.

In addition, Max McLean came to Washington with a one-man show, C.S. Lewis:  The Most Reluctant Convert, which I didn’t see.

Martin Luther on Trial is the only FPA production that isn’t based on Lewis’s work or life, although in a post-show discussion McLean said that the character of the Devil was partially inspired by Lewis’s introduction to Paradise Lost.  It was performed at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington in late May.  I think the theatre was about 80 percent full, despite a nasty late spring storm.

The play was co-written by McLean and Chris Cragin-Day, who teaches theater at The King’s College.  In his post-discussion comments, McLean said the play has been in development since 2012, with the idea of having a play commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.  One critical change, McLean said, was that Cragin-Day decided to change the play from a history play to a supernatural one.

The setting is the afterlife, where Martin Luther is on trial over his ideas.  The Devil is the prosecutor and Luther’s wife, Katie von Bora, is his chief defense attorney.  If von Bora wins Luther gets to remain in Heaven, and if the Devil wins he goes to hell.  St. Peter is the judge.

This is a somewhat old-fashioned idea, and you could easily see this play produced in 1948.  The reasons this play is contemporary lies in how they answer this question:  how can you write a play about a preacher without being, well, preachy?  Or, casting this question in sf terms, how can you produce a play about Luther without periodic infodumps where characters say, “As you know, Bob, in 1518 Luther…”

What Cragin-Day and McLean did was put in a lot of comedy without descending into camp or snark. Scenes are a lot shorter than they would have been in 1948, and alternate between scenes with Luther and other characters describing Luther’s views.  For example, Adolf Hitler is brought on stage to show how the Nazis thought Luther a German patriot.  In the end, Hitler descends into foam-flecked dementia, where it’s revealed he didn’t believe in Christianity or any religion except the greatness of Adolf Hitler.  St, Peter’s last words—“Adolf Hitler, go to hell!” brought some cheering from the audience.

Other figures from history who are witnesses are Sigmund Freud, who discusses Luther’s descent into a rage against the world fueled by kidney stones, and also calls the Devil a “poser” because the devil couldn’t possibly exist, and Pope Francis, who conveys the Church’s nuanced position on the Reformation.  Max McLean, in a program note, is careful to say that the Pope’s teachings conveyed on stage are taken from his book The Joy of the Gospel.   There’s even a lightning round of historical figures at the start of the second act, including Friedrich Nietzsche (who says no one understands him) and Christopher Hitchens.  Both Nietzsche and Hitchens are played by a black actor, Jamil Mangan (who also plays Martin Luther King) while a white actor, Mark Boyett, plays all Hitler, Freud, and the Pope,

The fantasy scenes of the trial are interspersed with short dramatic scenes with Luther showing his life.  The portrait of Luther is nuanced, with his anti-Semitism and his rage against the world in his old age fairly portrayed.  I came away from Martin Luther on Trial thinking I learned a fair amount about him.

The cast was good, with Kerati Bryan as Katie von Bora delivering a strong performance, with Fletcher McTaggart as Luther also worth watching, even if he was a little overwrought. Paul DeBoy as the Devil had the best lines and delivered them well.

Special note should be made of an effect by scenic designer Kelly James Tighe, in which a giant stack of books is displayed, but characters are able to pull a book out of the pile without the tower of books falling down.  I think all fans can sympathize with this.

I thought Martin Luther on Trial was an effective play that strives—and occasionally succeeds—in hitting heroic chords most contemporary plays do not try to reach.

Pixel Scroll 5/5/18 By The Time You See This Pixel, You Will Have Been Scrolling In The Present Tense For As Long As You Can Recall

(1) CAMERON Q&A VIDEO. Wired headline: “James Cameron Answers Sci-Fi Questions From Twitter”.

A 7:46 video of director James Cameron using “the power of Twitter to answer some common questions about the science fiction genre.”

(2) JUNOT DIAZ. The Guardian reports “Junot Díaz withdraws from Sydney Writers’ festival following sexual harassment allegations”.

The Pulitzer prize-winning author was accused of sexual misconduct by author Zinzi Clemmons after revealing last month he had been raped as a child.

…The acclaimed Dominican American novelist Junot Díaz has been feted for his powerful literary expression of the pain of sexual violence. In 2008 he was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the story of a young boy growing up amid abuse in New Jersey, and last month he was widely applauded for writing a confessional essay about being raped when he was eight years old.

But this weekend Díaz has cancelled his scheduled appearances at the Sydney Writers’ festival following a public accusation of sexually inappropriate behaviour….

(3) DINO TAKEOFF. Robot Dinosuar Fiction! has launched —

ROBOT DINOSAURS! Over the summer, we will be publishing a flash fiction about robot dinosaurs each Friday (May 4th through August 31st 2018)….

First up – “Five Functions of Your Bionosaur” by Rachel K. Jones.

Your parents first activate your bionosaur when they bring you home from the hospital. The bionosaur was a baby shower gift from your mom’s favorite aunt. They were nervous about its size, the stainless steel maw, the retractable razorclaws inside its stubby little arms, but the aunt had insisted. She’d programmed it herself, covered its titanium-alloy skeleton in top-grade synthskin featherscales, and pre-loaded it with educational apps.

When your bionosaur’s eyes first flare to life, it scans tiny, squalling you and reaches out a stubby claw to rock you. When it starts humming a jazzy rendition of the Batman theme, you quiet down and sleep….

(4) DELINQUENT DAYS OF YORE. While Jane Sullivan in the Sydney Morning-Herald was sifting trash from the past in “Turning Pages: The literary joys of juvenile delinquents”, out popped a familiar name.

I’ve been having huge fun reading about JD fiction and looking at the outrageously titillating covers in Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats, an anthology edited by two Australians, Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette. What was once reviled as rubbishy reading is now collected, curated and revered as retro chic.

…Many of these books would make even Quentin Tarantino cringe, I suspect: they sound truly awful. But here and there I came across someone churning out quick books for cash who went on to make a more respectable name for himself. One was the science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who went undercover and joined a street gang as research for more than 100 stories and his 1958 debut novel.

He describes how he was later working as a reviewer and picked up a book from a box a publisher sent him. “It’s got this horrible, garish juvenile delinquent coming at you with a switchblade knife and it says Rumble. I thought ‘What is this piece of shit?’ and then I looked at the author and it was me.”

(5) TODAY’S TOY AD. Syfy Wire wants to tell you about “Stuff We Love: ThinkGeek’s plush Facehugger and Chestburster won’t ever want to let you go”.

If you’re experiencing symptoms like tightness and pain in your chest and possible heartburn, that may be because you absolutely need the Chestburster plush to explode into your life. 48 inches of alien protoplasm is going to love you so much that it will literally not be able to contain itself once it’s fully developed from feeding off your innards.

I guess they’re pretty used to this sort of thing around the ThinkGeek’s headquarters

(6) CASE OF THE COUNTERFEIT SJW CREDENTIALS. Beware! “This AI Will Turn Your Dog Into a Cat”Motherboard tells how.

If there’s one thing the internet needs it’s more cat pictures, so researchers from Nvidia and Cornell University developed an algorithm that will turn pictures of dogs into pictures of cats.

This neural network—a type of computing architecture loosely modeled on the human brain—was developed by a few of the same researchers behind the algorithm that can turn winter into summer in any video and employs similar principles.

(7) VOLZ OBIT. German actor Wolfgang Völz died yesterday. He was in a lot of genre films and TV shows over the years. Cora Buhlert pays tribute to him in “Remembering Wolfgang Völz (1930 – 2018)”. This is just part of his resume —

Wolfgang Völz was a German TV legend. If you watched TV in Germany at some point in the past sixty years, you have seen Wolfgang Völz and you have definitely heard his voice, because Völz was also a prolific voice actor, lending his distinctive voice to Walter Matthau, Peter Ustinov, Peter Falk, Mel Brooks, Majestix, the Gallic chieftain from the Asterix and Obelix films, as well as dozens of puppet and cartoon characters. It’s certainly fitting that Wolfgang Völz’s last credited role was the voice of God in the 2012 movie Der Gründer (The Founder).

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY

  • Born May 5 – Catherynne M. Valente

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • JJ finds an explanation of “The Nine Rs” at Incidental Comics.
  • Chip Hitchcock laughed at the doctor’s diagnosis in Bizarro.

(10) GENDER GAP IN BOOK PRICING. The Guardian ran an article about a sociological study which showed this result: “Books by women priced 45% lower, study finds”,

A study of more than 2m books has revealed that titles by female authors are on average sold at just over half the price of those written by men.

The research, by sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg and mathematician Adam Kapelner of Queens College-CUNY, looked titles published in North America between 2002 and 2012. The authors analysed the gender of each author by matching names to lists of male and female names, and cross-referenced with information about price, genre and publication.

Books by women released by mainstream publishers, they found, were priced on average 45% lower than books by men….

Reddit followed up with a discussion about the gender pay disparity in publishing. Michael J. Sullivan popped in with some interesting facts; such as the smallest pay disparity is among self-published works.

(11) DON’T BE COCKY WITHOUT A LAWYER. Chuck Tingle sorted this crisis in no time and moved on to bigger challenges –

(12) MAY THE FOURTH LEFTOVERS. More from Dr. Janelle Shane: “Darth Net: Star Wars characters invented by neural network”.

…There were enough Darths in the list that at the very lowest-creativity settings, everyone was a Sith lord. Here are some of my favorites:

Darth Teen
Darth Tannin
Darth Ben
Darth Toes
Darth Teena
Darth Darth
Dorth Darth Darth
Mon Darth
Man Darth
Darth Sans
Darth Band
Darth Mall
Darth Tall
Grand Moff Darth Salt

I would like to see the costumes for some of these….

RedWombat got in on the act:

(13) REDWOMBAT SALES REPORT. And Ursula Vernon says her book sales are keeping the house warm —

(14) STAR WARS FANS GET THEIR BASEBALL FIX. From the MLBshop.com, available for every team.

(15) THE SCARIEST. Victoria Nelson’s picks for the “10 Scariest Horror Stories” were listed in Publishers Weekly. Number one is —

1. “The Trains” by Robert Aickman

Virtually unknown in the U.S. outside a small coterie of dedicated fans, the British writer Robert Aickman (he died in 1981) is a virtuoso of the sophisticated “strange story,” as he dubbed his tales. The scares in an Aickman story come not from gore or violence but from the way he perversely bends reality right before your startled eyes. Not just once but again and again—and still again, all in the same story. In this little masterpiece of Gothic indirection, two young women stranded on a walking trip in the north of England seek shelter in a remote Victorian mansion adjacent to a train track. There is a handsome host, a menacing servant, a mad aunt who died mysteriously, even a murder, but all this is beside the point. The real scares come from the trains that scream loudly past every few minutes on this “main, important line” in the middle of nowhere and their unseen engineers, who always wave at girls. Curiously, the trains pass by less often on the third floor than on the ground level. As a child, it should be noted, Aickman liked to invent imaginary kingdoms complete with meticulously constructed railroad schedules.

Number 10 is C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau.”

(16) SURVEY SAYS. Martin Armstrong at Statistia tells you all about “Yesterday’s World: the old tech that kids don’t know”.

For most people born before the 90’s, a “3 1/2 inch floppy” was once a crucial part of their technological lives; securing and transporting important files and data. Of course nowadays, the 1.44 MB storage space is far from adequate and no new computers come equipped with an appropriate drive for the disks. Little surprise then that the majority of children today have no idea what one is (despite the fact that ubiquitous software such as Word and Excel still use a floppy disk symbol for their ‘save’ buttons).

As a recent survey by YouGov has shown, 67 percent of the 6 to 18 year olds in the UK don’t know what a floppy disk is. Other essentially obsolete tech such as overhead projectors (once present in almost every classroom), and pagers were recognised even less….

(17) DID WE MENTION? Patton Oswalt’s Parks and Recreation appearance in 2015 is a Star Wars-fueled filibuster.

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Martin Morse Wooster recommends “Seder-Masochism Trailer April 2018,” where animator Nina Paley previews her latest project, a look at the Book of Exodus.

[Thanks to JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Carl Slaughter, Dann, Cat Eldridge, Brian Z., and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kyra.]

Pixel Scroll 4/12/18 But By God, Elliot, It Was A Pixel Scroll From Life!

(1) KINGFISHER. James Davis Nicoll turned the Young  People Read Old SFF panel loose on “Toad Words” by T. Kingfisher.

Young People Read Old SFF has circled back to a modern work for the final time in the phase of the project. This time the modern author is Ursula Vernon, who also publishes as T. Kingfisher. To quote her Wikipedia entry,

Digger won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2012 and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2013. She won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story and the WSFA Small Press Award for Jackalope Wives in 2015. Her story “The Tomato Thief” won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

I’ve read a number of Vernon’s works but not, as it happens, any of those. I have read “Toad Words”, however, and it seemed an apt choice for a modern work given what the Young People have liked in the past. But I’ve been wrong before…

(2) DEADPOOL CHOW. Adweek describes how “Deadpool’s Newest Product Pitch Takes Us Inside His Dreams, Which Center on … Frozen Food?”

Brand partnerships with superhero movies are inevitable—let’s face it, most movies are superhero movies these days—but so many of them seem like an unnatural fit. Or a lazy one, at best. There’s a car chase in the movie? Let’s use that in a car commercial! Genius!

That might initially seem like the case with Deadpool’s Devour partnership. Why would Deadpool care about frozen food? Well, he doesn’t—and that’s what makes the new 30-second spot work.

 

(3) POTTER RECAP. Martin Morse Wooster watched “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” last night on the CW:

This was a BBC documentary tied to an exhibit that is currently at the British Library and will be coming to the New-York Historical Society this fall, although what I gather from the Pottermore website is that there will be two exhibits with some overlap between the British and American versions.

The special, narrated by Imelda Staunton, had several parts.  One was when actors from the movies (including Warwick Davis, Miriam Margoyles, and David Thewlis) read excerpts from the novels.  A second thread consisted of curators from the British Library showing off their magical treasures of books and stuff from their collections.  In addition, we saw some witches and eccentrics who had things to donate to the exhibit, including two gentlemen named Dusty Miller XIII and Dusty Miller XIV who said they had created 7,500 magic-filled wands from sticks they collected in the woods.  Finally, J.K. Rowling was extensively interviewed and got to look at a lot of the stuff the curators had unearhed.

Oh, and there was a lot of Harry Potter cosplay.

Rowling had done a lot of research in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as a seventeenth-century herbal written by the great botanist Nicholas Culpeper.  She said that she invented everything to do with wands.  She also named two sources that inspired her.  One was C.S. Lewis’s THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, and if there are references to portals and libraries in that book those are the parts she found inspiring.  A second source came from an illustration Rowling made in1990 of Professor Sprout.  Rowling said that that night she was watching The Man Who Would Be King, a film with many Masonic symbols.  A simplified version of one masonic symbol was the source for the three-part symbol that denotes the Deathly Hallows in the novels.

Finally Rowling said, “I tied to steer clear of hallucinogenic drugs in Hogwarts.”  So if you’re writing fan fiction where Harry and the gang settle in for good times with some mushrooms, you should know that such scenes are NOT canonical.

(4) AUSTRALIAN CON SURVEY. Twelfth Planet Press publisher/editor and Galactic Suburbia cohost Alisa Krasnostein tweeted

If you’ve attended an SF con or event in Australia in the last 5 years, please consider taking this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TCGQB82

…The purpose of this survey is to investigate the degree of harassment being experienced at our SF conventions and events.

(5) WOTF. Vajra Chandrasekera discourages participation in the Writers of the Future Contest. His thread starts here —

(6) NEW PERSPECTIVES. Bogi Takacs has started writing a column for Tor.com about “QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics”.

…In this series of columns, I will review classics of QUILTBAG+ speculative fiction—often out of print, little-known and seldom discussed. Even novels which were acclaimed in their day are frequently ignored now, creating the false impression that all QUILTBAG+ SFF is very recent.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, QUILTBAG+ is a handy acronym of Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual / Aromantic / Agender, Gay and a plus sign indicating further expansion.

…On the other hand, I also don’t want to pigeonhole QUILTBAG+ writers and only show interest in their work if it is about their specific marginalization. I want to see minority writers write whatever they want. If they (we) want to write about cephalopods in space, I am all for that! Therefore I opted to include work either by QUILTBAG+ authors (where this is known) or with QUILTBAG+ themes. Often these two coincide, but not necessarily so.

A specific difficulty is whether to include people with non-Western, culturally specific gender, sex or sexuality IDs. Often these people also use at least some Western terms to self-identify, but sometimes they don’t—especially Indigenous people. If someone has expressed a desire not to be included in Western terms, both umbrella or specific terms, I will of course respect that. But in the absence of explicitly opting out, and also if the authors use Western terms, I decided on the side of inclusion. One of my motivations in this is somewhat self-serving: I also have a culturally specific gender / sex (though I am not Indigenous, specifically) and I am interested in other people who do too!

I aim to discuss a new book every two weeks. I will begin next week with The Gilda Stories, the queer Black / Indigenous vampire classic by Jewelle Gomez, and then follow with The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter, possibly the first SFF novel by an intersex author—which also draws a parallel between being intersex and sharing a mind with a giant whale.

(7) TRUTHINESS. Hear about “’That High Truth’: Lewis, Williams, Chesterton, and Ray Bradbury,” in this video of a lecture given at the Wade Center by Jonathan R. Eller of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies on April 9, 2018.

(8) PROGRAM IDEA. Amal El-Mohtar has a fresh angle for a panel discussion. Start the thread here:

(9) BECKETT OBIT. Alex Beckett (1982-2018): Welsh actor, death announced April 12, aged 35. His genre appearances include Spark Ark (2014), and The Aliens (two episodes, 2016).

(10) HEAR STAN LEE’S DENIAL. Io9 reports “In a New Video, Stan Lee Threatens to Sue Anyone Reporting on Claims of Alleged Elder Abuse”.

The Marvel mainstay came down with pneumonia in February and so his frequent convention appearances were understandably cut back. During this time, multiple reports emerged detailing how hundreds of thousands of dollars, and literal blood, were allegedly stolen from him. In a video sent to TMZ this week that’s copyrighted to Keya Morgan (Lee’s handler, who is currently in control of all of his communications), Lee says he’s prepared to take legal action against any and all media outlets that have reported on the claims that he’s being taken advantage of:

“Hi this is Stan Lee and I’m calling on behalf of myself and my friend Keya Morgan. Now, you people have been publishing the most hateful, harmful material about me and about my friend Keya and some others. Material which is totally incorrect, totally based on slander, totally the type of thing that I’m going to sue your ass off when I get a chance.

You have been accusing me and my friends of doing things that are so unrealistic and unbelievable that I don’t know what to say. It’s as though you suddenly have a personal vendetta against me and against the people I work with. Well I want you to know I’m going to spend every penny I have to put a stop to this and to make you sorry that you’ve suddenly gone on a one man campaign against somebody with no proof, no evidence, no anything but you’ve decided that people were mistreating me and therefore you are going to publish those articles.

I’m going to get the best and most expensive lawyers I can and I want you to know if you don’t stop these articles and publish retractions, I am going to sue your ass off.”

The subject video was reportedly sent to TMZ and is marked on their website as being copyrighted by Keya Morgan. The linked TMZ article is headlined: “STAN LEE DENIES ELDER ABUSE … Leave Me and My Friends Alone!!!” This copy is on YouTube, though who knows for how long?

(11) HUGOS AT ECBATAN. Rich Horton check off another nominated book in “Hugo Ballot Review: Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee”.

The novel is interesting reading throughout, with plenty of action (and some pretty cool battle scenes), some rather ghastly (in a good sense) comic bits, and lots of pain and angst. There is a continuing revelation of just how awful the Hexarchate is, with the only defense offered even by its supporters being “anything else would be worse”. There is genocide, lots of murders, lots of collateral damage. The resolution is well-planned and integral to the nature of this universe, with a good twist or two to boot. It’s a good strong novel that I enjoyed a lot.

(12) SERVICE TO SFF. Congratulations to 2018 Chandler Award winner Edwina Harvey! The award recognizes members of the Australian speculative fiction community, both professionals and fans.

Edwina Harvey is a worthy recipient of this year’s A. Bertram Chandler Award.  She has been an active member of Australian science-fiction fandom: writing, publishing and with her amazing artwork for 40 years.

She was one of the founding members of Astrex, the Star Trek fan club of NSW, and regularly contributed fiction to the associated fanzine Beyond Antares as well as other SF fanzines from the mid 1970s onwards. She was also an active member of The Hitchers Club of Australia (Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy Fanclub) from approximately 1984 onwards contributing to the newsletter Australian Playbeing through articles and comments and assisting with the copying and distribution of some issues of the newsletter.  Known locally as the Fund Raising Queens, Edwina has worked with Karen Auhl on organising fundraiser events for Medtrek 4, Huttcon 90 and two Sydney Worldcon bids. (Late 1980s – mid 1990s)  Edwina has been a contributing member of FOLCC (the Friends of Linda Cox Chan) which was an informal group donating monies raised to Diabetes Charities in Australia.  Linda Cox Chan was a Sydney-based SF fan artist and writer who passed away in 1991. From 2012 to the present time, Edwina has also run a lucky-dip at Australian SF conventions to raise money for FFANZ.

(13) EUROVISION IN SPACE. Learn about the author’s new novel Space Opera at Whatever: “The Big Idea: Catherynne M. Valente”.

My agent refers to it as the fastest deal in publishing. It was done and I was committed before I could catch a breath. As I was signing the contract, my fiance asked: “Does it really just say ‘Eurovision in space’? Do you actually have any idea how you’re gonna pull that off?”

“Yes, it does,” I said. “And no, I don’t.”

And I didn’t. Part of me was terrified. How the hell do you even begin to write that? I mean, you can’t play it straight. It’s too absurd. It’s obviously a comedy. Ah, but if you try to write science fiction comedy, the ghost of Douglas Adams appears and asks you with a stern expression if that’s really necessary. And even if it was a comedy, the core of Eurovision is that political darkness and artistic light. You can’t play it totally camp, either. And given the politics all around me, I wasn’t sure I was actually up to singing it out just this minute. What had I agreed to?

But the deadline approached. And I sat down at a blank screen. I laughed nervously.

And then I stopped trying to worry about whether I could do this thing at all and wrote some shit about Enrico Fermi and I was off, and off at breakneck speed.

(14) I’M HOME! Glen Weldon creates a mythic dialogue. Jump on the thread here:

(15) DIRECT FROM INTERNATIONAL FALLS. Here is Amazon Prime’s trailer advertising new episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle. [Via io9.]

The world-famous talking moose and flying squirrel are back in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a comedy about two goofball friends who end up in harrowing situations but end up saving the day time and again. As their silly ambitions dovetail with Fearless Leader’s sinister plans to take over the world, they are set on a collision course with his notorious super spies Boris and Natasha.

 

[Thanks to Standback, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Steve Green, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, StephenfromOttawa, Chip Hitchcock, Iphinome, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Errolwi, James Davis Nicoll, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories,. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day RedWwombat.]