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.]

Pixel Scroll 4/9/18 The Opera Of The Menacing Phantom Tollbooth

(1) BUCKS TO PRESERVE BRADBURYANA. At BradburyMedia, Phil Nichols reports “Center for Bradbury Studies receives major grant”.

Congratulations to my friends and colleagues at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies who were today awarded $50,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The grant is for the preservation of the Center’s extensive collection of Bradbury papers and memorabilia – materials which have been invaluable in my research, and will continue to be of interest to Bradbury scholars in the future. The project lead is Prof Jonathan R. Eller, author of Becoming Ray Bradbury and Ray Bradbury Unbound.

And Nichols was amused that the NEH press release mentioned Bradbury and Mae West in the same paragraph:

Additional awards will ensure the preservation of nearly 30,000 pounds of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, and memorabilia from author Ray Bradbury, and support production of a documentary on the life and legacy of Mae West, one of the most powerful women of early Hollywood, whose writing and film roles served as a barometer ofrapidly changing social mores in 20th-century America.

(2) SIMPSONS RECAP. Martin Morse Wooster had his eye on The Simpsons last night:

Homer and Bart went to a “Tunnelcraft” convention, which was portrayed to be the most boring con ever.  It took up most of a giant convention center, with a few number of dealers and quite a lot of walking.  The high point for Bart was watching two Tunnelcraft players who were very popular on YouTube on a panel.playing each other.  But they presented the panel as if it was just two random dudes playing video games.

This was the first time I had heard “cosplay” used as a word on The Simpsons, and cosplayers in Tunnelcraft looked like the old-school rock’em sock’em robots.  One of the cosplayers was Daniel Radcliffe, who said the only way he could go to a con was hiding under a robot head.  He took off his robot head and was promptly mobbed by fans.  Daniel Radlciffe played himself.

This excerpt is from another part of the episode.

(3) PKD’S REVELATION. In his podcast Imaginary Worlds, Eric Molinsky interviews Penn State professor Richard Doyle, Erik Davis, one of the editors of the “Exegesis,” and Victoria Stewart, who wrote the play 800 Words: The Transformation of Philip K. Dick in order to find out why Dick was obsessed with the mystical experience that happened to him in 1974 and why his work resonates with us today

(4) 1963 SFF. Galactic Journey reviews the latest IF: “[April 9, 1963] IFfy… (May 1963 IF Science Fiction)”

Every month, science fiction stories come out in little digest-sized magazines.  It used to be that this was pretty much the only way one got their SF fix, and in the early ’50s, there were some forty magazines jostling for newsstand space.  Nowadays, SF is increasingly sold in book form, and the numbers of the digests have been much reduced.  This is, in many ways, for the good.  There just wasn’t enough quality to fill over three dozen monthly publications.

That said, though there are now fewer than ten regular SF mags, editors still can find it challenging to fill them all with the good stuff.  Editor Fred Pohl, who helms three magazines, has this problem in a big way.  He saves the exceptional stories and known authors (and the high per word rates) for his flagship digest, Galaxy, and also for his newest endeavor, Worlds of Tomorrow.  That leaves IF the straggler, filled with new authors and experimental works.

Sometimes it succeeds.  Other times, like this month, it is clear that the little sister in Pohl’s family of digests got the short end of the stick.  There’s nothing stellar in this book, but some real clunkers, as you’ll see.  I earned my pay (such as it is) this month!

(5) FASHION PLATE. Miriam Weinberg on Hugo Ceremony attire —

See the outfit under discussion in a photo here.

(6) CHARTIER OBIT. Christopher Chartier (1966-2018), founder of Warp 9, a media oriented fan club in Montreal, died April 5. Cathy Palmer-Lister notified local fans, adding: “He ran a couple of conventions, and got many of us involved in the concom. He also got me travelling to Chicago for Visions, still in my memory as the best conventions ever. It’s a shock that he passed away so young, only 52.”

(7) TOO. Junot Diaz’ #MeToo confession, “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma”, is online at The New Yorker.

I never got any help, any kind of therapy. I never told anyone.

Last week I returned to Amherst. It’s been years since I was there, the time we met. I was hoping that you’d show up again; I even looked for you, but you didn’t appear. I remember you proudly repped N.Y.C. during the few minutes we spoke, so I suspect you’d moved back or maybe you were busy or you didn’t know I was in town. I have a distinct memory of you in the signing line, saying nothing to anyone, intense. I assumed you were going to ask me to read a manuscript or help you find an agent, but instead you asked me about the sexual abuse alluded to in my books. You asked, quietly, if it had happened to me.

You caught me completely by surprise.

I wish I had told you the truth then, but I was too scared in those days to say anything. Too scared, too committed to my mask. I responded with some evasive bullshit. And that was it. I signed your books. You thought I was going to say something, and when I didn’t you looked disappointed. But more than that you looked abandoned. I could have said anything but instead I turned to the next person in line and smiled….

(8) THE EXPANSE. Abigail Nussbaum, in her column for the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog with “A Political History of the Future: The Expanse”, assures readers: “I don’t hate The Expanse.

For two-plus years, I’ve watched this celebration of the show with bemusement. I don’t hate The Expanse, and I’ll probably keep watching it for as long as it’s on. But I also find it singularly un-engaging—surprisingly so, given how well-calibrated its premise and genre are to my interests. I would describe The Expanse as a show with great casting and production values, amazing worldbuilding, a so-so story, and characters who are, with a few notable exceptions, dull as ditchwater. In its second season in particular I’ve been extremely frustrated by where the show has placed its storytelling emphasis, and the political blindspots that has ended up revealing.

(9) MONSTER SMASH. From February 2017 – Hugo Finalist Emil Ferris, on how My Favorite Thing Is Monsters came to be in “The Bite That Changed My Life”. Following this intro, it’s all done as a comic.

Writer and illustrator Emil Ferris has always had an affinity for stories about outsiders. Growing up in Uptown in the 1960s, Ferris was part of a diverse community of people who she says “operated outside the system.” Her neighbors included black migrants who traveled north during the Great Migration, white Appalachian miners living in abject poverty, and thousands of Native Americans who left their reservations in the wake of relocation programs. “There was an incredible beauty,” says Ferris. “These were people who suffered, but were strong. They were survivors.”

One reason Ferris was drawn to those on the fringe was because she herself was a loner. Born with scoliosis, Ferris was immobile for much of her childhood. “I was also severely hunchbacked, which is why I loved monsters,” says Ferris, who also characterizes her younger self as very wolf-like. “I had this vision of this little wolf girl, enfolding in the arms of this tall handsome cut-apart Frankenstein character.”

Ferris uses those early experiences as a loose backdrop in her stunning debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

(10) ON EXHIBIT NOW. Print Magazine covers an “American Illustration and Comic Art Exhibit”, running from April 7 til May 20.

In the early part of the twentieth century, illustration came into its own. Simultaneously over on the newsprint pages of national newspapers, comic strips did as well. These were joined later in the decade by art for both pulp magazines and comic books. This golden age of editorial illustration and cartooning is currently on display in the exhibit “American Illustration & Comic Art” at the Sordoni Gallery, Wilkes University in Wilkes Barre, PA.

The Gallery’s website describes the exhibit: “Selections from the Sordoni Collection of American Illustration & Comic Art”.

The exhibition features 135 original artworks by more than 100 artists—N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover, Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker, George Herriman, Harold Foster, Jack Cole, Milton Caniff, Norman Saunders, Harold Gray, Al Hirschfeld, Al Capp, Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz and many others. Wilkes Barre native son Ham Fisher, creator of Joe Palooka, is represented as well. While focusing on the golden age of illustration, contemporary artists, such as Anita Kunz, C.F. Payne, Bob Eckstein, Thomas J. Fluharty, Mike  Lynch and Paul Davis, also have their place in the exhibit.

In that century it would have been rare to see work for the slicks (the upper tire of magazine publishing, such as Life, The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker) to be seen as equal to that printed on newsprint (the pulps and comics). There once was a pecking order within editorial illustration (slicks over pulps) and in cartooning (single panel over strips, strips over comic books), but times have changed. This all-inclusive exhibition includes work that appeared on magazine covers and interiors, advertisements, book jackets, album covers, daily and Sunday comic strips, cartoons, movie cels and comic books.

It all comes from the private collection of Andrew Sordoni III, whose mother helped found the gallery in 1973. The gallery was renovated last year and now sports 7,000 square feet of exhibition space. The show is up through May 20 and admission is free. It is accompanied by a 185-page catalog with myriad essays, including those by comic book artist and filmmaker Jim Steranko, David Saunders (Norman’s son) and New Yorker and National Lampoon cartoonist Sam Gross.

(11) JUSTICE LEAGUE PERFECTED. Just in case you wondered – “How Justice League Should Have Ended.”

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

Pixel Scroll 4/3/18 You Got The Jong Number For That Pixel Scroll

(1) WHEN TROLLS ATTACK. The London Film and Comic Con told readers how they responded to a trolling attack.

Now to an important activity that really did affect us last week and it did catch us out for a few hours until we worked out what was going down.

Two days before the most recent big announcement, 15 new accounts were created on our forum and equally, multiple new Facebook members with brand new accounts started following our Facebook page. Then, on the announcement night, the users of these accounts started to aggressively and negatively comment and undermine the guest announcement. This was the ONLY thing they were set up to achieve.

This was not noticed by us at first and it took some time to look into these Facebook accounts. As we started to look a little closer, it was clear that we’d attracted a small vocal minority with a real and cynical agenda to purely undermine the guest announcement and belittle any fans or attendees showing any type of excitement.

I’ve since learnt this is known as ‘TrollJacking’, where internet trolls post or comment on a piece of content or an announcement to drum up negativity or just to damage the purpose of the thread. What a lovely thing to do.

This is something very new to us and it really did catch us out, in fact so much so we left the comments up online – as we believe in freedom of speech and opinion and there’s always the odd bit of negativity with every update or announcement.

To all the true fans out there, regardless of whether you are happy about the announcement or not – I am sorry that we did not pick up on it sooner and allowed this minority to cause friction at a time that should have been a time for great excitement and discussion for everyone….

This announcement on Facebook about the appearance of Christopher Eccleston seems to have been the target.

(2) CORALINE MEANING. The Guardian interviews Gaiman about the opera based on his book: “Neil Gaiman on Coraline the terrifying opera: ‘Being brave means being scared'”.

The button eyes are a macabre touch that places Gaiman’s story firmly in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales tradition. And there’s more than a touch of Hansel and Gretel in Coraline’s themes of parental abandonment, an initially appealing but evil mother figure, and a brave child who conquers her fears to win the day. “I’d wanted to write a story for my daughters,” says Gaiman in the introduction to the 10th-anniversary edition, “that told them something I wished I’d known when I was a boy: that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. Being brave means you are scared, really scared, badly scared, and you do the right thing anyway.”

(3) A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. And The Guardian comments on the performance: “Coraline review – creepy adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s tale will turn kids on to opera”.

The Royal Opera have certainly done it proud. The supernatural rubs shoulders with the mundane in Aletta Collins’s production, in which the two worlds are placed back to back as mirror images on a revolving stage. Magic consultants Richard Wiseman and David Britland have been drafted in to provide the special effects, which drew gasps from the audience on occasion on opening night, though Collins also has a knack of suggesting unease by the simplest of means. The scene in which Kitty Whately’s Other Mother produces syringes and surgical needles in an attempt to sew buttons over the eyes of Mary Bevan’s Coraline (“just a little incision under your eyelids”) had me squirming in my seat.

(4) DUFF. SF Site News covered the Down Under Fan Fund result:

Marlee Jane Ward won DUFF (the Down Under Fan Fund) in an unopposed race. She will travel to the US to attend Worldcon 76, to be held in San Jose from August 16-20….

(5) ALPHABET SOUP. James Davis Nicoll returns with: “Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part IV”. This time letter letters I and J, which include –

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones was prolific and talented, which makes singling out a particular work as a starting point especially problematic. The fact she’s the subject of one of my review projects doesn’t help, as it only expands the number of worthy candidates. Although it is a bit of a cheat, what I would recommend is not a single novel but an omnibus: 2003’s The Dalemark Quartet. It is composed of four early secondary-world fantasy novels that recount the history of troubled Dalemark, from its age of legends to a quasi-medieval period thousands of years later.

(6) MLK. On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, here is N. K. Jemisin’s contribution to CNN’s post “Who is Martin Luther King Jr. to us, 50 years later?”

N.K. Jemisin: I pray it won’t take another 50 years

In 1963, as Martin Luther King Jr. sat in solitary confinement in Birmingham, he lamented the failures of white moderates, who at the time seemed to prefer “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

It must have seemed clear to King that even white people who claim to support equality are unreliable allies — willing to talk the talk and walk a few steps, but only if their own anxieties are put first.

Which is why the civil rights movement made what progress it did by effectively shaming white moderates into doing the right thing. This makes me wonder what America is to do in 2018, when our society daily endures a shameless embarrassment of a President, abetted by his shameless party and the shameless media — and when, too often, some white liberals and moderates openly wonder if there’s some way to ease tension between themselves and … fascists.

I have no solutions to offer, other than to survive and to try and help as many others survive as possible. It saddens me that we’ve progressed so little in the 50 years since King’s death. I pray it won’t take another 50 years for all of us to know the presence of justice at last.

N.K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction. In 2016, she became the first black to win the Hugo Award for best novel for “The Fifth Season.” In 2017, she won Hugo for best novel again, for “The Obelisk Gate.”

(7) EXPANSE. The next Expanse novel will be out in December – Tiamat’s Wrath.

(8) THEY’LL BE BACK. The Hollywood Reporter brings word: “‘Riverdale,’ ‘Flash,’ ‘Supernatural’ Among 10 CW Renewals”.

The CW, fresh off news that it is expanding to a sixth night of originals for the 2018-19 broadcast season, has renewed nearly its entire lineup.

Returning for additional seasons are: Arrow, Black Lightning, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Legends of Tomorrow, Dynasty, The Flash, Jane the Virgin, Riverdale, Supergirl and Supernatural.

Still to be determined are the fates of midseason fare The 100, iZombie and Life Sentence and fall debut Valor. Official decisions on those four — as well as The CW’s new series orders — will be determined in May.

(9) FIGURING IT OUT. NPR’s Glen Weldon finds both style and substance in “‘Legion,’ Season 2: Welcome Back To The Weirdest Corner Of The Marvel Universe”.

Legion is the story of David Haller (a perpetually rumpled and vaguely confused Dan Stevens), the world’s most powerful mutant, who’s now free of the evil psychic parasite known only as the Shadow King, who last season assumed the form of his friend Lenny, played by Aubrey Plaza. David’s grown up believing himself to be schizophrenic, but came to realize his true nature when he was taken in by an organization seeking to train him — and to fight the Shadow King, who is in fact an ancient being known as Amahl Farouk (played, this season, by Navid Negahban).

(10) BEWARE SPOILERS. Martin Morse Wooster tells me, “Since you are having more troubles with computers I offer a show recap” —

Last night’s episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow began with a scene captioned ‘OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE–1979,”  The camera zooms in on the back of an African-American student’s head.  The student, suing an Olympia manual typewriter, dutifully types, “Obama.Political Science 100.”  We know that this scence is about Barack Obama when he was a freshman in college.  Obama looks out the window and sees a campus in springtime.

As the future president is typing, the window is smashed and a giant paw GRABS the president and holds him high in the air!  It is Grodd the gorilla, and he’s on a mission.

‘IT’S TIME TO MAKE AMERICA GRODD AGAIN!,” the beast thunders,

Fortuntately the Legends of Tomorrow show up and Grodd drops Obama, who runs off.  The Legends then blast the beast with flamethrowers, then shrink him and throw him in a Mason jar.  The future president then decides to party with the Legends on their time ship.  He holds out a hand to one of the women, saying, “Hi, my name is Barry.”  “You should call yourself ‘Barack,’ ” she responds.  Another woman swoons, “I miss you, Barry!”

I wish I could tell you how Obama gets back to California and somehow doesn’t remember how he was nearly killed by a giant talking ape and then partied with some time lords.  But this is the first of a two-part episode, so we will learn these answers next week

(11) SKYE STOMPERS. Why are the : “Dinosaur tracks on Skye ‘globally important'”? They date to the Middle Jurassic, for which there’s relatively little data.

Most of the prints were made by long-necked sauropods – which stood up to 2m (6.5ft) tall – and by theropods, which were the older cousins of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Researchers measured, photographed and analysed about 50 footprints in a tidal area at Brothers’ Point – Rubha nam Brathairean – a headland on Skye’s Trotternish peninsula.

The footprints were difficult to study owing to tidal conditions, the impact of weathering and changes to the landscape but the scientists identified two trackways in addition to many isolated footprints.

(12) SMUGGLE BY WIRE. TeleCrunch reports “Chinese police foil drone-flying phone smugglers at Hong Kong border”:

Dozens of high-tech phone smugglers have been apprehended by Chinese police, who twigged to the scheme to send refurbished iPhones into the country from Hong Kong via drone — but not the way you might think.

China’s Legal Daily reported the news (and Reuters noted shortly after) following a police press conference; it’s apparently the first cross-border drone-based smuggling case, so likely of considerable interest.

Although the methods used by the smugglers aren’t described, a picture emerges from the details. Critically, in addition to the drones themselves, which look like DJI models with dark coverings, police collected some long wires — more than 600 feet long.

…So here’s what you do:

Send the drone over once with all cable attached. Confederates on the other side attach the cable to a fixed point, say 10 or 15 feet off the ground. Drone flies back unraveling the cable, and lands some distance onto the Hong Kong side. Smugglers attach a package of 10 phones to the cable with a carabiner, and the drone flies straight up. When the cable reaches a certain tension, the package slides down the cable, clearing the fence. The drone descends, and you repeat.

I’ve created a highly professional diagram to illustrate this technique (feel free to reuse):

(13) READ BUHLERT. Cora Buhlert has some new work available — “A Triple New Release and Some Thoughts on Cozy Space Opera”.

I have an announcement of my own to make. And it’s a big announcement, because I have not one but three new In Love and War stories to announce, two short stories and one short novel.

The first of the two short stories isn’t quite that new, because it has been available as part of the anthology The Guardian for a while now. However, if you want a standalone edition, here is your chance.

Like Dreaming of the Stars and Graveyard Shift, Baptism of Fire is a prequel to the In Love and War series proper, though it is listed as Part 2 at most vendors, because they don’t support prequels very well.

(14) BLOOM. The singer of “F*** Me Ray Bradbury” continues her TV career as someone who is late.

Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fame will be heading over to another CW show when she guest stars on an upcoming episode of iZombie.

Bloom will be portraying a “pretentious theater actor” whose death is investigated by iZombie’s Liv (Rose McIver) and Clive (Malcolm Goodwin), TV Line reported.

(15) GOING GREEN. The 2019 Worldcon committee wishes to apprise you of the availability of the “Finest Public Toilet in Dublin”. Or “Where All the Big Lads Hang Out…” as the post’s author Pádraig Ó Méalóid says:

It’s the middle of August 2019, and you’re in Dublin for Worldcon – a Stranger, if not in a Strange Land, at least in a strange city. A strange city with many secrets, which sometimes only the locals truly know about. You’ve heard all about our native literary giants – George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, and Flann O’Brien, to name but three – but even they were only human, prey to the wants and needs that mortal flesh is heir to. It’s only natural that you’ll want to know where they would have gone, and where you could go, too. So let me introduce you to one of the hidden architectural gems of my native city: the beautiful public toilets in the National Library of Ireland….

(16) GOING PINK. You could win this outfit and fight cancer —

Enter to win Deadpool’s Pink Suit and Send a Big F-You to Cancer at https://fox.co/DeadpoolPinkSuitYT Learn more about Fuck Cancer at https://LetsFCancer.com

 

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

Pixel Scroll 2/27/18 But A Scroll Files What It Wants To File And Pixelates The Rest

(1) SCROLLO. Four genuine Solo posters appeared in this space recently. I learned from Nerdist there have been a lot of Solo parodies, like these —

(2) WHAT, ME WORRY? In December, the Scroll linked to Washington Post writer Joel Achenbach’s query about whether robots will kill us all once AI becomes smarter than people. The Bookmark has responded with “Artificial Intelligence: Today’s Intrigue. Tomorrow’s Terminator”, which tells each AI’s Terminator Score, and how close each AI is to bringing about the end of the world.

“How might AI fit into our lives?” Our chart explains advancements in AI ranging from novelty to utility. You can click on any of the AI to learn more about how humans benefit from their existence. And, use our Terminator score (with 1 being the least threatening and 5 being the most) to help decide if you should worry about a robot uprising with each AI.

(3) LEVAR AND LANGFORD. Congratulations to David Langford, whose short story “Different Kinds of Darkness” is on Episode 19 of LeVar Burton Reads.

A group of children form a secret society around a mysterious and powerful artifact….

(4) SURPRISED BESTSTELLER. This scam involving fake books is a means of laundering money (not to gull regular readers into buying fake books as if they came from their favorite author) — “Money Laundering Via Author Impersonation on Amazon?”

Patrick Reames had no idea why Amazon.com sent him a 1099 form saying he’d made almost $24,000 selling books via Createspace, the company’s on-demand publishing arm. That is, until he searched the site for his name and discovered someone has been using it to peddle a $555 book that’s full of nothing but gibberish….

…Reames said he suspects someone has been buying the book using stolen credit and/or debit cards, and pocketing the 60 percent that Amazon gives to authors. At $555 a pop, it would only take approximately 70 sales over three months to rack up the earnings that Amazon said he made.

(5) KUGALI. One of several crowdsourced projects hoping to ride the Black Panther’s wave is “The Kugali Anthology”, featuring African and diaspora creators.

200 full colour pages.  15 incredibly talented creators, 6 amazing stories and two wonderfully designed covers. But above all: a comic book experience you won’t find anywhere else!

From multiple award-winners to the brightest up-and-coming voices, Kugali has united some of the most talented artists across the African continent and diaspora. Our creators hail from across Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Cameroon, South Africa, Uganda) and other parts of the world (Venezuela, Brazil, Jamaica, the US and the UK)….

So far backers have pledged $2,890 of the $13,596 goal, with 28 days remaining.

(6) OTHERING. Dare Segun Falowo has a lot of interesting things to say about the villains from Black Panther.

….A lot of people are like he was right ideologically and I get where they are coming from. Still he wouldn’t have ended up being morally right because his repressed disdain for his place in the world has left him ill. He would have kept on drinking more and more of that sense of complete and utter power and it would have ruined him. He even had the purple plant destroyed because he wanted it for himself alone.

So he basically had actions that marked him out as obviously villainous but behind all these actions are factors like being abandoned as a child, being excluded by his blood. Think of it, how African Americans and certain Africans don’t get along because these Africans believe that African Americans are not African blah blah blah. It really hits a spot and the way the character is crafted, down to the jagged family ties, brings together a lot of the facets of what is seemingly wrong with the idea of the African-American both from the Western viewpoint, and from the African viewpoint. He stands in the middle. He’s othered actually. He’s an other in the story. Even though he has the accent and all, he belongs nowhere….

(7) SOCIOLOGY AT THE BOX OFFICE. According to NPR, a “Hollywood Diversity Study Finds ‘Mixed Bag’ When It Comes To Representation”.

The global box office success of Black Panther is no surprise to UCLA sociologist Darnell Hunt. His annual report on Hollywood diversity argues that movies and TV shows with diverse casts and creators pay off for the industry’s bottom line.

Hunt says Black Panther, for example, “smashed all of the Hollywood myths that you can’t have a black lead, that you can’t have a predominantly black cast and [have] the film do well. It’s an example of what can be done if the industry is true to the nature of the market. But it’s too early to tell if Black Panther will change business practices or it’s an outlier. We argue it demonstrates what’s possible beyond standard Hollywood practices.”

The fifth annual diversity report is subtitled, “Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities,” suggesting that America’s increasingly diverse audience prefers diverse film and television content. The study reports that people of color bought the majority of movie tickets for the five of the top 10 films in 2016, and television shows with diverse casts did well in both ratings and social media.

(8) MELNIKER OBIT. Benjamin Melniker, best known as a producer on Warner Bros.’ many Batman projects, has died at the age of 104.

Melniker was credited on every big-screen version of the DC superhero since Tim Burton’s 1989 film.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian found genre laughs in the Wizard of Id – I laughed too!

(10) DEEPSOUTHCON. At last weekend’s DeepSouthCon business meeting, CONtraflow (New Orleans) won its bid to host DSC in 2020.

(11) ANNIHILATION. The BBC’s Caryn James awards “Four Stars for the thrilling Annihilation.

… The further the team explores, the more we see of each character’s particular vulnerability. Cass is grieving for a dead child. Anya is a sober addict. In flashback we learn that Lena’s marriage was not as perfect as it seemed at the start. “Almost none of us commit suicide,” Ventress says about the team’s apparent suicide mission, extending it to a sweeping assessment of human nature. “Almost all of us self-destruct.”

Garland playfully borrows from classic genre films and makes those references and influences his own. There are scenes that evoke 2001, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien and any number of Terrence Malick films. The minimalist, electronic score by Geoff Barrow (of the group Portishead) and Ben Salisbury adds a subtle layer of mystery….

(12) YOUTUBER MIGRATES TO TUBE WITH NEW SFF COMEDY. The Daily Beast’s Karen Han asks “Is ‘Final Space’ the Next Great Animated Series?”

Even if the name Olan Rogers doesn’t ring a bell, if you’ve spent any time on the internet over the past few years, you’ve probably seen his face. His YouTube channel has close to a million subscribers, and his videos are popular to the point that they’ve been mined for reaction images and GIFs. His latest project is considerably larger in scale, though it still bears the signs, good and bad, of that more short-form medium.

Final Space, airing on TBS and executive produced by Conan O’Brien, is an animated sci-fi comedy. Like most TV shows, it falls prey to the rule of “give it a few episodes and then it’ll get good,” but it’s charmingly animated and bite-sized to boot (each episode clocks in at just over 20 minutes), so it’s worth sitting through the shaky opening episodes to get to what lies beyond.

(13) NO MORE HAPPY FEET? French scientists report that king penguin breeding grounds will become untenable due to global warming: “Scientists Predict King Penguins Face Major Threats Due To Climate Change” (Of course, you all know Happy Feet is about emperor penguins rather than king penguins, so apologies if the headline struck you as a shocking error….)

Seventy percent of the world’s king penguin population could face threats to its habitat by the end of this century, according to a new scientific model.

The researchers say the problem is that the animals’ primary source of food is moving farther away from places where the penguins can breed. They’re very likely going to have to swim farther for their dinner.

“This is really surprising to us, to find such a massive change is going to happen in such a short time frame,” says Emiliano Trucchi, a researcher in evolutionary genetics from the University of Ferrara. The team’s research, co-led by Céline Le Bohec of the Université de Strasbourg, was published Monday in Nature Climate Change.

Trucchi tells NPR that king penguins breed only on islands that are ice-free near Antarctica, and there are “just a handful” of those.

BBC also has a story.

(14) KEEP DANCING. Maxwell Smart would be proud: hands-free emergency signaling via shoe radios: “Morse code shoes send toe tapping texts at MWC 2018”.

A pair of smart shoes has been created to let industrial workers keep in touch via toe-typed coded messages.

The footwear was inspired by Morse code, but made possible by the latest communication technologies.

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones meets the firm responsible at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

(15) TODAY’S OUTRAGE. Io9 was not exactly surprised to find an argument on the internet getting out of hand, one that seemed to have lost track of an obvious fact: “We’re Sorry to Have to Remind You, But Groot Is Dead”.

Groot is dead. Long live Baby Groot!

Die-hard Guardians of the Galaxy fans are known for having watched and rewatched the James Gunn films multiple times in search of the hard-to-find Easter eggs the filmmaker scattered throughout the movie. That’s what makes it so odd that these fans seem to have forgotten something rather important about our dear friend Groot. He’s dead.

Gunn recently got into a heated philosophical debate with Entertainment Tonight producer Ash Crossan about whether it would be better to save the life of a single porg (from Star Wars: The Last Jedi) or Groot if forced to choose in a hypothetical situation. Crossnan argued in favor of the porg and Gunn understandably went to bat for Groot, pointing out that the sentient plant had a direct hand in saving the universe.

(16) LUCIFER EPISODE RECAP. Martin Morse Wooster decided to save me from my bad wi-fi by writing a recap instead of sending a link. Thanks, Martin!

I watched Lucifer last night.  I haven’t seen the show in a while, but it now has a credit (which it didn’t used to have) acknowledging that the comic book on which it is based was created by Neil Gaiman and two other people.  This was the first time I saw that Gaiman had anything to do with this show.

The plot was about a popular YA author who wrote the Class of 3001 series, in which she fictionalized characters from her high school years.  But she put her high school antics in the future, and as one detective said, “She did have to come up with that futuristic sci-fi fantasy stuff.  That’s not easy.”  The author died because she wrote her novels on a typewriter, and there was only one copy.  The killer pummeled the author with her typewriter, and ultimately confessed that he did it because “she ended the series in the most boring way possible” and didn’t want anyone to read her ending.

Also, in the show a clueless nerd fails to impress a blind date by giving her a plant that was “the traditional Mexican cure for constipation.”

[Thanks to David K.M. Klaus, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Dave Doering, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Rich Lynch, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little.]

The Skin of Our Teeth: A Review

By Martin Morse Wooster: Name this play:  It’s probably one of the greatest fantasy plays ever written.  It’s one of the few outright fantasies to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The likelihood you’ve seen this play is vanishingly small.

The answer is Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, which won the Pulitzer in 1943.  As far as I can tell from IMDB, the last time anyone tried to film it was an Australian Broadcasting production in 1959.  But it’s a play that is undoubtedly fantasy.  It isn’t staged much, in part because plays from the 1940s don’t get revived very often, but more likely because the play has about 35 speaking parts, and few theaters these days can pay such a large cast.  However, it was revived on Broadway last year, and the Constellation Theatre Company has revived it with a cast of thirteen and a lot of doubling.  I was very happy to have seen it.

Wilder (1897-1975) wrote that he decided to write The Skin of Our Teeth in part as a reaction to the “well-made” plays of the previous generation. “Towards the end of the ‘twenties, I felt far less pleasure in going to the theater,” Wilder wrote in 1956.  “I ceased to believe in the stories I saw presented there.”  He said that in the plays he saw he couldn’t feel “overwhelmed by an artistic creation.”

So The Skin of Our Teeth has a lot of what used to be called “breaking the fourth wall” and we call “snark.”  There’s one seduction scene, for example, where the actress who is supposed to play it suddenly announces she can’t because it would upset a friend in the audience who has undergone trauma.  A second scene in the third act isn’t performed because we are told that seven members of the cast have all gotten ptomaine poisoning from bad lemon meringue pie.

I thought these were ironic commentaries by today’s theatres on an antique text, but I dutifully read the script and these interruptions are in it.  In fact, I thought Mary Hall Surface’s direction was reasonably straightforward with minimal updating, although of course The Skin of Our Teeth is now a historical play set in the 1940s.

It’s also, like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, very much an apocalyptic fantasy that is the product of when it was written—just before World War II.  Wilder said The Skin of Our Teeth “was written on the eve of our entrance into the war and under strong emotion and I think it mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis.”  He added that he was moved seeing productions in Germany in the late 1940s, “in the shattered churches and beerhalls that were serving as theaters,” where people would choose to skip meals to buy theatre tickets.

As for the plot:  We begin in the comfy home of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus at 216 Cedar Street, Excelsior, New Jersey.  It seems like we’re in one of those dramas where characters take the 5:56 to Chappaqua every evening except that the Antrobus family is really five thousand years old, and a giant ice sheet is coming down from Canada.  Oh, and the refugees pounding their door asking for food are really Moses, the Muses, and other mythical characters.  And the Antrobus’s have a mammoth they milk and a pet dinosaur named Frederick.

It turns out there are more environmental disasters in this play than in three Kim Stanley Robinson novels.  The second act has the characters in Atlantic City, where Mr. Antrobus is about to win an award for being a superior human.  But then he has to face a titanic flood.  The third act has the Antrobuses surviving a major war in the U.S. that pits Mr. Antrobus’s son (who could be the Biblical Cain) against his father.

I’m not sure that this play works today.  It’s a different flavor than the sort of plays I enjoy.  But I respect Wilder’s intelligence and imagination, and I was very glad to have seen this play.  The Skin of Our Teeth is a classic that fantasy lovers need to have seen.

I thought the cast was fine, with Steven Carpenter as Mr. Antrobus and Tonya Beckman as Sabina giving the best performances.  But the standout to me were the costumes of Frank Labovitz, who both provided some ridiculous dresses for Atlantic City patrons and also created the dinosaur and mammoth costumes.  The mammoth looked like a walking throw rug, and was charming.

The Constellation Theatre Company deserves credit for reviving an important—and neglected—fantasy.