Review of “The Dog Must Die”

By Martin Morse Wooster: How do you judge an sf play by an 18-year-old?

That’s the problem I had when I saw The Dog Must Die, a play by Madison Middleton, a high school senior from Washington, DC.  Her play was produced by The Highwood Theatre, a semi-professional troupe.  The theatre is located in a nondescript office building in Silver Spring, Maryland with sf roots; one floor below, the office directory told me, was the Planet of Accounting.

When I was in high school Scott Edelstein (not Scott Edelman, but someone else) was famous for, at age 16, selling a short story to Swank, a magazine he could not legally buy.  The equivalent transgression today is that in Middleton’s play, there are many adult beverages being consumed.

The Dog Must Die is set in 2033.  The planet is ravaged by ecological disaster.  Savage fires and floods have pulverized the earth, and the government has selected a few people to live in a bunker for a year to survive the environmental apocalypse. Produce has largely vanished, and Thanksgiving turkeys have been replaced by mystery meat.

Good times!

The five people all have different skills.  We meet a doctor, an architect, a high school philosophy teacher, an agricultural specialist, and a guy who spends most of his time on a couch moaning for reasons that are not quite clear.  Backstory scenes show the philosophy teacher in a park playing chess and (less convincingly) the doctor stressed after a patient dies in her office.

But the agricultural specialist has a dog, who has muck on her feet.  She explains that the government has given her protective gear and a dog, so she can plant seeds and the dog can smell where the best soil might be located.  But why does she get to go out when everyone else has to stay in the bunker?  With all the cast members racked with cabin fever, anything could happen….

The problem with The Dog Must Die is one of world building.  We know that enough of the world’s infrastructure has survived that the head of “the International Union of World Governments” can broadcast globally.  Why can’t the characters access the Internet?  Why can’t they spend their days watching Khan Academy videos or binging on TV? Why don’t they have any books?

Moreover, what I saw in the play didn’t convince me that people had to stay in the bunker for all that time.  Middleton told me after the show that the world she created had been nuked, but that information came from the scene where the global leader broadcast, and I could hear very little of the speech, even from the front row.  I told her she should study John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, that magnificently gloomy novel of ecological disaster, and study how he shows how his world is collapsing.

I can’t judge The Dog Must Die the way I would analyze a play by a professional.  But if I were a college admissions counselor at a highly competitive school, I would be very impressed by Middleton’s talent.  I hope she ends up at a school with an excellent drama department that has professors that make her write a lot.  If that happens, she could be someone that, in 2030, is recognized as a rising talent in the theatre.

Pixel Scroll 1/21/18 Right Here In File City, Trouble With A Capital T, That Rhymes With P, And Stands For Pixel

(1) COMPOSING SPACE OPERA. In this Twitter thread Cat Rambo captured the highlights of the Ann Leckie Space Opera class.

(2) WORLDCON 76 ACADEMIC TRACK ADDS PRIZE. The Heinlein Society’s Board of Directors has authorized a $250 cash prize to be awarded to the “Best Paper Presented at the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention’s Academic Track.”  President Keith Kato says “The final evaluation process is under discussion, but will likely involve a judging panel.”

The concom has extended the deadline for Academic Track papers to March 1 as a result.  This prize is not the William H. Patterson, Jr., Prize which is evaluated annually by the Society for the best Heinlein-related academic paper in a particular calendar year.

In addition, The Heinlein Society will be teaming with the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation for Academic Track papers, and possibly other con activities.

(3) HOW CAN THEY EVER RESPECT US AGAIN? She blabs a trade secret to The Guardian: “Margaret Atwood: ‘I am not a prophet. Science fiction is really about now’”.

“I’m not a prophet,” she says. “Let’s get rid of that idea right now. Prophecies are really about now. In science fiction it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many possibilities, but we do not know which one we are going to have.” She is, however, “sorry to have been so right”. But, with her high forehead and electric halo of curls, there is something otherworldly about Atwood. Dressed in one of her trademark jewel-coloured scarfs and a necklace of tiny skulls, she cuts a striking figure outside the cafe in Piccadilly where we are huddled.

(4) OUTSIDE SFWA. Vox Day’s post “SFWA rejects Jon Del Arroz” [at the Internet Archive], in which the expelled member condemns and reviles the organization’s decision to refuse admittance to JDA, publishes what is represented to be the text of SFWA’s notification to JDA.

(5) DILLMAN OBIT. Actor Bradford Dillman died January 16 at the age of 87. Some of his better-known roles included Robert Redford’s best friend in 1973’s The Way We Were, and two appearances in Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies.

His genre work included TV shows like The Wild, Wild West; Mission: Impossible; Thriller; Wonder Woman; The Incredible Hulk; and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In the movie Escape From The Planet Of The Apes he was the kind Dr. Dixon who helps Cornelius and Zira evade capture. He also starred in Bug, and appeared in Swarm, and Pirhana.

(6) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian didn’t look to see if this was really in the Old Testament, he just laughed: Bizarro.
  • Chip Hitchcock has his eye on the same cartoon series. He noted that this Bizarro shows new job opportunities, and another Bizarro tells us that even ~gods apprentice:

(7) DREAM HOME. In a hole in the ground there stayed a tourist — “Calling all ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans! You can spend the night in a real-life hobbit hole”.

Wolfe relied on the construction know-how she’d picked up from her parents — her mother remodeled houses when Wolfe was a child — and brought in a backhoe to clear the land. Wolfe needed to ensure the hobbit hole could hold the foot of dirt she planned to place on the roof, so she used marine-grade, pressure-treated wood.

“Any time you put dirt on top of a house, when that dirt gets wet, it’s basically having a swimming pool on top of your house,” she added. “It’s a lot of weight.”

Up next: an entrance fit for a hobbit. Wolfe wanted a signature round entryway, which she created using an industrial-sized cable spool. She enlisted a local designer to craft the hinges and the opening to the 288-square-foot space. He repurposed a trailer hitch to build the door handle.

When guests enter through the circular portal, they immediately stand in the bedroom. To the right is a fireplace, which helps heat the home in the winter, along with a woodworker’s bench. To the left is the bathroom, complete with a large wooden tub…

 

(8) WHO OWNS WHAT? THIRD BASE! At Plagiarism Today, they take on “The Strange Copyright of Doctor Who”.

Exterminate… Exterminate the copyright!

….It’s a bizarre show, even for science fiction. However, a recent news story highlighted an even stranger part of the series.

Shortly after the airing of the 2017 Christmas Special, which marked the end of Peter Capaldi’s run as The Doctor and introduced Jodie Whittaker, the series first female Doctor, a copyright controversy arose.

According to The Mirror, the estate of Marvyn Haisman, the creator of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, took issue with the episode introducing a new character that turned out to be Lethbridge-Stewart’s grandfather. Lethbridge-Stewart is popular character from the series that they hold the rights to.

Though later reports have downplayed the dispute, the story raised an interesting question: Why was one of the series’ most popular characters not controlled by the BBC, which produces the show?

It turns out though that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is far from alone in his bizarre copyright status. Many of the show’s iconic characters are controlled, at least in part, by outside entities. The list includes both the robotic dog K9 and even The Daleks themselves.

How did this happen? The answer is both complicated and simple at the same time but it all centers around how the series was written during its early years.

(9) WE INTERRUPT THIS MAELSTROM. Here is the kind of thing people discuss on days when the news cycle isn’t spinning like mad. Or if they need a break on a day when it is.

(10) MOONDUST AND SAND. Andy Weir was the subject of a podcast with Tyler Cowen (“Conversations With Tyler.”) Martin Morse Wooster says, “I’m sure it’s good because Cowen is a good interviewer.”

Martin adds: I learned about this by listening to Cowen’s podcast with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, which has quite a lot of sf content.  Douthat explained that he wanted to be a fantasy novelist, but settled for being an opinion journalist.  He talks about how Watership Down is his favorite fantasy novel, and about ten minutes of the hour and a half podcast is devoted to a discussion of Dune with an emphasis on the Butlerian Jihad.  The interview revealed that, along with Paul Krugman, there are two New York Times columnists who know a great deal about sf.” — Ross Douthat on Narrative and Religion (Ep. 32).

[Thanks to JJ, Keith Kato, Cat Rambo, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Will R., and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson.]

Pixel Scroll 10/10/17 Eric And The Dread Pixel Scroll

(0) TRAINING COMPLETED. Thanks to you who wished me a good trip to New Mexico for my mother’s 91st birthday celebration. I’d say your wishes were effective, not only because we had a fine reception and dinner, but because my Amtrak experience was far superior to that of the folks who left Los Angeles aboard the previous day’s Southwest Chief. The Santa Fe New Mexican has the story

Passengers and crew aboard a Chicago-bound Amtrak train spent the night stopped in Northern New Mexico hill country after the lead engine struck a boulder and partially derailed.

No serious injuries were reported, but the two engineers in the lead engine were taken to a hospital for evaluation, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Friday from Chicago.

The incident occurred Thursday evening on Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks in a rural area near Watrous about 105 miles northeast of Albuquerque.

…The train’s second engine and all the cars remained on the tracks and the train still had power, heating and toilet service while it remained at the derailment site, the Amtrak spokesman said.

Not to overstate things — I would have missed the excitement anyway, since my destination was one of the last stops before they hit the rock, however, it still felt like a narrow escape.

(1) RUH ROH! Last month Amazing Stories’ Steve Davidson shared the long history behind “Why Amazing Stories Isn’t Back on NBC”. However, over the weekend the media reported “Steven Spielberg will revive ’80s NBC series ‘Amazing Stories’ for Apple”.

Apple is making a major statement on its television ambitions as it nears an acquisition of an original series from filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

The tech giant is close to a deal to buy a new version of Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” the Emmy-winning sci-fi anthology series that ran on NBC from 1985 to 1987.

NBCUniversal, which co-owns the rights to the property, confirmed that an agreement is imminent. Apple declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported the deal Tuesday.

A scripted series with the imprimatur of Spielberg, one of Hollywood’s most-heralded producer-directors thanks to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Schindler’s List” and the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and his company Amblin Television, will be a demonstration of the tech giant’s clout as it enters the television business…

More as the story develops.

(2) PUPPY LOVE. Yahoo! says get your Kleenex ready — “Carrie Fisher’s dog watching the new ‘Star Wars’ trailer will destroy you”.

Millions of Star Wars fans watched the new trailer for The Last Jedi on Monday night — including one very good boy.

A photo of Gary, Carrie Fisher’s beloved French bulldog, was posted to his official Instagram account on Monday, and, guys, we’re warning you — it’s going to make you whimper….

(3) WHO ARE YOU? Jim C. Hines, in “A Plea to Conventions About Name Badges”, asks conventions to fix a problem that people have been complaining about the entire time I’m been in fandom.

I have a favor to ask of conventions: please design your badges so that names can be easily and clearly read.

I’ve never been good with names. It’s frustrating as hell, and it’s become a bigger problem as I travel to more conventions. I get introduced to so many people, and within 24 hours, a lot of those names escape my brain like Batman villains from Arkham Asylum.

Jim provides illustrations of what works for him, and what doesn’t.

(4) A NEW YORK COMIC CON STATE OF MIND. The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg, in “Marvel cancels comic book deal with Northrop Grumman after Twitter backlash”, says that Marvel cancelled a proposed partnership with Northrop Grumman (whose “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” superheroes were supposed to team up with The Avengers) after lots of fans objected, noting, among other things, that Tony Stark gave up his defense contracts.

Marvel teased the partnership Friday morning in a tweet that promised more details in a presentation the following day at the New York Comic-Con festival. A retro-style comic book cover temporarily posted on Marvel’s website featured a team of “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” super heroes fighting alongside Marvel’s popular Avengers superheroes. The cover was quickly scrubbed from the company’s website, but not before it went viral on Twitter.

Twitter users ridiculed Marvel, accusing it of partnering with “death merchants.” Some pointed out that the Marvel character Iron Man, alias Tony Stark, had been the billionaire CEO of a company that built advanced weaponry but had turned his back on the weapons business after seeing its effects. Angry fans called out specific Marvel executives, and at least one suggested publicly protesting the issue at Marvel’s Comic-Con booth.….

(5) SZECHUAN LETDOWN. Meanwhile, another corporation was breaking hearts in the culinary arena. Michael Cavna and Maura Judkis, in “McDonald’s botched its ‘Rick and Morty’ Szechuan sauce stunt, and fans are not happy”, report that McDonald’s has disappointed thousands of viewers of the Cartoon Network show Rick and Morty. After 45,000 people signed a Change.org petition inspired by the show calling on the company to bring back Szechuan Sauce (originally created to promote Mulan in 1998), McDonalds promised select locations would have the sauce, but only a few did.

One Washington Post reporter was among those “Rick and Morty” fans who went questing Saturday for the fabled sauce, driving to three Maryland locations — one of them listed as an official “participating” outlet — and none had received a Szechuan shipment. One restaurant tried to pawn off Sriracha sauce. Another tried to sell the tangy Signature sauce. And a third outlet’s shift manager came to the drive-thru window to apologize profusely — clearly this wasn’t her first “Rick and Morty”-related apology of the day.

(6) REMEMBER WHEN? The Atlantic bills this article as “Revisiting Star Trek’s Most Political Episode” – which is saying something about a series that often delivered messages.

“It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they’ve given up.” This was how Commanding Officer Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks, described early 21st-century Americans in an episode from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When it aired in 1995, “Past Tense” spoke to contemporary concerns about homelessness by telling a story set in 2024—the near future for viewers, but the distant past for characters. In the two-part episode, Sisko and two of his companions from the U.S.S. Defiant find themselves stranded in San Francisco, where they’re reminded that the federal government had once set up a series of so-called “Sanctuary Districts” in a nationwide effort to seal off homeless Americans from the general population. Stuck in 2024, Sisko, who is black—along with his North African crewmate Dr. Julian Bashir and the fair-skinned operations officer Jadzia Dax—must contend with unfamiliar racism, classism, violence, and Americans’ apparent apathy toward human suffering.

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Tiaan Jerjerrod was the project manager of the second Death Star, which was destroyed at the end of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Supervising Jerjerrod was Emperor Palpatine’s right-hand man, Darth Vader. (Source: Death Star II: A Project Management Case Study.)

(8) TODAY’S DAY

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day, whose goal is to “… raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths.” (Wikipedia)

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • October 10, 1965 — The Red Baron first appeared in  Peanuts comic strip.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY EXPLORER

  • Born October 10, 1861 — Fridjtof Nansen, whose arctic navigation inspired fellow Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl. His ship, Fram, shares a museum with Kon Tiki and Ra.

(11) COMIC SECTION.

Martin Morse Wooster approves this “old school groaner” in today’s Frank and Ernest.

(12) SCI-FI SWINGS LIKE A PENDULUM DO. In “‘Blade Runner 2049’: Why some science fiction writers are tired of dystopias”, a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor, several sff authors suggest that they are tired of the wave of grim visions of humanity’s future. Is it time to create more works around an optimistic future based on expanding technology and human understanding?

In “Blade Runner 2049,” which opens Friday, post eco-disaster Los Angeles has built a massive coastline wall to fend off rising ocean levels. Few of the overpopulated city’s human or android occupants have ever seen a tree or a real animal. The incessant rain is as dour as Harrison Ford’s facial expressions. Worst of all? One character bemoans the fact that there’s no more cheese in the world.

Recent dystopian blockbusters seem to be jostling in a grim race to be the first to reach the seventh circle of hell in Dante’s “Inferno.” But some science-fiction writers are tired of the sorts of pessimistic futures depicted in movies and TV shows such as “The Hunger Games,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Black Mirror,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

In response, influential authors Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, David Brin, and Kim Stanley Robinson argue that futuristic fiction should, instead, offer an inspiring outlook about mankind’s ability to shape its destiny. But do the kinds of stories we tell ourselves have a cultural impact on shaping a better tomorrow?

“I want to nod at something that Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker about the dangers of drowning ourselves in dystopian stories,” says Christopher Robichaud, who teaches a class at Harvard Extension School on Utopia and Dystopia in fiction and philosophy. “The utility dystopian fiction used to serve was to bring problems to our attention and seek solutions. But the danger is that these stories can become a collective act of despair in response to current events.”

(13) SPACE TUTOR. In “Astronaut encourages kids to flip for STEM”, the Washington Post’s Marylou Tousignant says that the Air and Space Museum recently hosted a webcast with astronaut Randy Bresnik on the International Space Station where he had floating candy and showed kids an official NASA barf Bag.

If you could ask an astronaut orbiting in space any question, what would it be?

Students from several Washington-area schools got to do that recently at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as part of its “STEM in 30” program.

Among other things, they wanted to know: Is it hard to move around up there? Can you watch TV? How do you know when it’s time for bed? What if you get sick?

(14) GRIM TIDINGS PODCAST SEEKS SUPPORT. The hosts of the Grim Tidings Podcast have invited fans to support them via Patreon.  Rob Matheny and Philip Overby focus on interviewing authors, editors, and agents working within the Grimdark sub-genre.  They have recorded over 100 episodes including luminaries from the field such as Joe Abercrombie, C.T. Phipps, Anna Smith Spark, Brian Stavely, Michael R. Fletcher, Sebastien De Castell, Laura M. Hughes, and Deborah A. Wolf.

(15) HAIR APPARENT. Is singing songs like this the real reason John Scalzi constantly needs to think up new names for his band?

(Just kidding – I laughed….)

(16) A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Alex Acks finds more to criticize about fantasy maps in a post for Tor.com — “Tolkien’s Map and the Perplexing River Systems of Middle-earth”.

…So what is it about the mighty Anduin that makes me tilt my head like a dog hearing a high-pitched noise? There are four main factors, in ascending order based on how easily I’m able to mentally excuse each point.

It cuts across two mountain ranges.

There is one fact you really need to understand to grasp the basics of how rivers work. Ready? Water flows downhill. That’s it. That’s the secret. Water flows downhill, and as it flows it tends to erode sediment and transport it downstream, and over long enough periods of time, that gets us our classic V-shaped river valleys and a ton of other morphological features. Which is why, when a river is on a collision course with mountains—normally places where the elevation goes up—you have to stare at it for a minute.

This is the easiest oddity for me to find an excuse for—because it is actually something that happens in reality! For example, the Colorado River cuts pretty much perpendicularly through the entire Basin and Range Province of North America. And the reason this works is because the Colorado was here before all that extensional tectonic silliness happened and the basins started dropping down from the ranges—and that process of down-drop was slow enough, relative to the ability of the Colorado to cut its own channel, that the river didn’t get permanently trapped in one of the basins.

So if we make the assumption that the Anduin existed before the mountains—and assume that the mountains uplifted in a natural way, thank you—it’s very possible for it to have cut down fast enough to maintain its course despite uplift. (Keep this in mind, we’ll be coming back to it later…)

(17) KEEP ON SWIMMING. And over the weekend Camestros Felapton gave us “Even More Plot Elements of Fantasy Maps”.

Big Islands

In Earthsea islands are large and numerous, in Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, islands barely appear and are small. In both cases they are locations and destinations and themselves contain terrain.

In Tolkien’s wider work, Númenor is the most notable island – a version of Atlantis, which itself gives us a classic inspiration for islands in Western literature. Oceanic islands can be countries with their own terrain but cut off from surroundings. Le Guin depicts the islands of Earthsea more like medieval era city-states with a wider common culture but no central authority.

It is interesting to me that Tolkien, who draws on many aspects of Britain and Britishness in building Middle Earth, avoids the island quality of Britain. This despite a tendency to mythologize the insular quality of Britain in English propaganda-history both in high-culture (Shakespeare’s ‘sceptered isle’) and low-culture (‘fog in the channel, continent cut off’). George R.R. Martin’s Westeros does this by having it be an eratz England circa the War of the Roses (with Scotland being another place full of ice zombies). Westeros’s scale seems flexible but it’s primary plot role as an island is to be a container. Events are within Westeros (up to the Wall) or beyond (either over the wall or on another continent).

The point being – oceanic islands are treated as political units rather than as terrain.

(18) JUXTAPOSITION. The title of Max Florschutz’ latest post halted me in my tracks — “Being a Better Writer Delayed” — until I remembered “Being a Better Writer” is a recurring topic at his Unusual Things blog.

(19) HOLY BLEEP. Camestros Felapton subjected his precious bodily fluids to a famous corporation’s bizarre new offering, “Coca-cola with coffee”.

…There is also a weird slimy quality to it. It’s like drinking coke but a bit more unpleasant.

The coffee is “real” and from Brazil. If I was Brazil I might object to the free advertising.

(20) X-FILES SEASON 11 TRAILER. The truth etc. etc.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Christian Brunschen, Chip Hitchcock, Dann, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day ULTRAGOTHA.]

Pixel Scroll 9/28/17 The Night They Scrolled Old Pixel Down

(1) A HATCHLING. The Book Smugglers conduct “A Chat With Ann Leckie” about Provenance.

The Book Smugglers: Yeah, and there’s scope for that, there’s so many different worlds and so many different things and the set-up is already there, so…

Ann Leckie: I put in the glass bridges in Nilt, which you may have noticed. And this is not a spoiler per se but an easter egg – There’s a moment in Ancillary Justice when Breq says the tourists come to Nilt and they buy these rugs that they think are handmade by the nomads, but in fact they’re made in a factory and they’re overpriced in the giftshops. So there’s a moment in Provenance, where Ingray meets Zat, and Zat says that she went to Nilt, and she saved up extra to buy this wonderful handmade rug, that was in beautiful colors, that was made by the nomads on Nilt, and that’s a couple of people who got advanced copies. I got a direct message from one person like “Ohh she got cheated!” [laughs] I’m like that’s – that’s just a little tiny easter egg!

(2) CATCH THE NEXT WAVE. The evidence is piling up: “Scientists record a fourth set of gravitational waves”.

Last year, researchers confirmed the existence of gravitational waves with two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors. Shortly thereafter, they detected twoadditional gravitational wave-causing events that sent ripples through the universe. Well, we can now add a fourth to that list, as astronomers announced another set of waves. And for the first time, they observed the waves with a third detector — the Italy-based Virgo.

(3) CODICIL. Good luck to Delilah S. Dawson on her surgery:

(4) CROWDSOURCED SUCCESS. The Unbounders has announced that Farah Mendelsohn’s Heinlein book has funded.

(5) KEEP ON PITCHING. Francis Hamit reminds everyone about this appeal for books for s North Carolina school.

Here is a worthy cause: Hoke County High School has put out an online appeal for books; almost any books, for their school library. Hoke County, North Carolina, is a poor rural community where times have been hard and there has been no money for school library books since 2009. The appeal was specific, for writers to donate copies of their own books but we all have a pile of review or other books that have been consumed and can now be repurposed. (Time to attack the clutter people!). We put together three boxes of these yesterday. If you look at the Facebook page for Hoke County High School you will see that they encourage enlistments in the US military, so that’s another reason to donate books. Can’t stand to part with your hoard? Send money so they can buy books they really need.

Here is the address:

Hoke County High School
c/o Rebecca Sasala
505 Bethal Road
Raeford, NC 28376.

(6) NOWHERE NEAR REMULAC. ScreenAnarchy shares a French import: “MISSIONS: Watch This Exclusive Clip For French Sci-fi Series Coming to Shudder”.

Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium thriller, suspense and horror streaming service, will launch the first season of Missions, France’s critically praised OCS Signature sci-fi series, on September 28, 2017 across its territories. Shudder will also co-produce the second season, slated to air in 2018.

With the funding of an eccentric billionaire, the crew of a manned craft aims to be the first to land on Mars. Much to the dismay of all on board however, just before the culmination of their 10-month journey to the Red Planet, they are made aware of a video sent by a rival ship that has overtaken them and already landed on the planet thanks to a revolutionary engine. The bad news doesn’t end there however, as the tape contains a cryptic warning from the Americans pleading with the crew not to land as something far too dangerous is happening on the surface. After a chaotic landing on Mars, the crew finds a survivor — but he’s not from their rival mission. His name is Vladimir Komarov. He is Russian. And he is the first man who died in space…in 1967.

 

(7) THIRTY-EIGHT STORIES HATH SEPTEMBER: Jason, of Featured Futures, is back with the “Summation of Online Fiction: September 2017” with its list of recommended stories and honorable mentions.

With Compelling off, Apex doing a lot of reprints, and Tor.com worryingly publishing a single story, September would have been an extremely light month, but a double issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and the return of a lost zine helped compensate, resulting in thirty-seven stories of 149K words (plus one I skipped). Regardless, it was a very light month in terms of the proportion of the good stuff (though there was plenty of readable stuff). I’m not sure what happened beyond it being one of those freaky streaky webzine things. Speaking of, the returning lost zine is Terraform.

Ralan.com declared it defunct a few months ago and, after waiting awhile to “make sure,” I declared it dead on April 27th and stopped looking at it. Recently, I happened to take another look and, naturally, they’d published another story on April 29th. But, other than excerpts, interviews, graphic stuff, etc., they did quit producing anything after that until August 24th. Since then, they have managed to publish a story coupled with an article every seven or eight days (two in August and three in September though, to keep the irony ironing, they don’t seem to be doing anything but another excerpt this week). So perhaps they’re back. Only one story was at all noteworthy but, since I gave Terraform‘s death an explicit notice, I feel like I ought to do the same for its rebirth. Now, on with the very short (or “little”) list…

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 28, 1951 — The original The Day The Earth Stood Still was released on this day.

(9) STAND-UP COMIC. As Vox Day prepares to launch his Alt*Hero comics line, he’s running the customary anti-SJW setups to fire up his customers. His mockery of Jack Kirby predictably upset people in the comics field.

I’ve been a little taken aback by the sheer vituperation of the SJWs triggered by the mere existence of the Alt*Hero concept, at least at this very early stage. And, I confess, I have been more than a little surprised by their apparent confusion between the late Marvel/DC artist Jack Kirby and the superheroes that he drew.>

Some responses — I think a bunch of comics type only just found out that he exists. They are not especially impressed…

(10) RETRENCHMENT. Nerd & Tie’s Trae Dorn reports some shrinkage in the convention calendar.

Dayton, OH based Time Lord Expo has officially been called off just two weeks before the con’s scheduled date. Convention organizer Patrick Baumgardner took to the con’s official Facebook page and announced the cancellation earlier today…

In a press release yesterday, Wizard World announced that they were “postponing” five of their remaining seven 2017 shows. While their Austin and Oklahoma City shows will still take place as scheduled, their events in Biloxi, Peoria, Springfield, Montgomery, and Winston-Salem won’t be taking place this year.

Now a normal person would refer to these events as “cancelled,” but I guess saying they’re “postponed” reads better from a PR perspective.

Considering the financial difficulties Wizard World has had over the last few years, it’s hard to be all that surprised…

(11) GHOST WRITER. Twain’s long gone, so NPR talked to his self-appointed co-authors: “A Modern Collaboration With Mark Twain In ‘Prince Oleomargarine'”.

This week Mark Twain has a new book out.

Yes, we know. He’s been dead for more than a century, but that hasn’t stopped him — or more accurately, his collaborators — from publishing a children’s book, called The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. It’s based on 16 pages of notes, handwritten by Twain and discovered in an archive, in Berkeley, Calif.

Philip and Erin Stead took it from there; the Caldecott Award-winning author-illustrator duo picked up Twain’s trail and finished the story.

“It was never entirely clear to us if there was never an ending, or if Twain just never got around to writing it down,” Philip Stead says. “That said, we had to make a book, so we had to provide an ending to the story.”

(12) NOT BINDING. Margaret H. Willison of NPR discusses “In ‘Dear Fahrenheit 451,’ Loving Books Both Wisely And Well”

The truest testament to the quality of Dear Fahrenheit 451, Annie Spence’s ingratiating collection of love letters and breakup notes to the books in her life, is that my enjoyment of it was, in the end, great enough to outweigh my fury that someone other than me had written it.

It’s lucky that she manages this feat, as anyone who loves books well enough to enjoy reading Spence’s letters is likely to relate so closely to her thoughts that they’ll struggle with that same sense of resentful ownership — particularly librarians. “What are you doing,” they will think, “writing out my life like it’s your own, Annie Spence? Who do you think you are? What makes you special?” Thankfully, Spence’s voice is ultimately so warm, funny, and specific that it answers the question handily — she’s special because she has a unique ability to capture the thoughts and feelings of book lovers, both professional and otherwise, on the page.

(13) THESE ARE THE JOKES, FOLKS. Martin Morse Wooster tells me: “I know Filers spend too much time staring at screens and need to go outside and soak up some crisp fall air.  Why not go to a corn maze?  In The Plains, Virginia, you can go to Pirates of the Corn-ibbean.’”

The website is http://cornmazeintheplains.com. Here’s a review of this year’s theme:

The giant 5 Acre maze with the theme “Pirates of the Corn-ibbean”, has a pirate’s flag, parrot, and a chest full of treasure.  The cornfield comes alive when it is filled with maze goers who enter the 2.5 miles of “cornfusing” pathways. They soon find themselves facing countless choices, while attempting to answer the trivia clues en route to the elusive victory bridge. Whether it is during the night or day, each maze wanderer is armed with a survival guide and flag on a mission to collect puzzle pieces of the maze design and test their trivia skills to help them find their way out.  If one gets “udderly cornfused”, they can always wave their teams flag frantically, to signal the “corn cop” to come to their rescue.

Last’s year’s maze looked like this:

Martin adds, “I know in the UK the word for ‘corn’ is maize.  So do they have maize mazes over there?

[Thanks to JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Carl Slaughter, Nigel, Jason, and NickPheas for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]

Review of Noah: Apocalypse


By Martin Morse Wooster: I’ve seen plays in a lot of odd places.  But on September 11 I saw a dystopian play in a bar!

The play was Noah: Apocalypse by Amanda Quain, which was held by Live Art DC at the DC Reynolds bar in Washington.  I sat on a cramped barstool, fortified by happy hour beer and occasional rounds of free beer and watched the play, which was performed by a cast of seven to an audience of 15.  All 22 of us fit into the entire space of a smallish bar.

The premise is that Washington has been nuked, and after the atomic attack and “150 days of acid rain” a group of survivors headed by Noah (Raven Wilkes) is in the bar.  Mutants that kill and eat humans have surrounded Washington.  But one survivor from another group (Jasmine Jones) shows up and says she can get the survivors to a larger group of survivors that have far more food and some medical supplies.  Should the group try to escape?

The author says she was inspired to write the play after spending “most of my high school and college years reading about teens saving the world from corrupted government, when there was a government left at all.”  One character, Sarah (Nerissa Hart) gets to dress like Katniss Everdeen and make geek jokes, including one to a questionable cocktail that is apparently a reference to a potion in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

This is Quain’s first full-length play, and she needs an editor.  The ending, where we learn why Washington has been nuked, doesn’t work.  But Noah: Apocalypse has a lot more energy than many more expensive productions I’ve seen on real stages.  I spent two hours on my uncomfortable barstool watching this play, and I enjoyed all but the last ten minutes.

Amanda Quain isn’t there yet as a writer, but she has potential and should be encouraged.

Noah: Apocalypse runs through September 18.

Pixel Scroll 8/15/17 She Said She’d Always Been A Filer, She Worked At Fifteen Blogs A Day

(1) OUT TO LAUNCH. The Planetary Society is trying to raise $100,000 for its LightSail project. They have raised $22,000+ so far.

LightSail: Help Us Get to the Launchpad

The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft is getting ready to make space exploration history as the first to demonstrate controlled solar sail flight of a CubeSat.

Known as the people’s spacecraft, together we’re ushering in a new era—the democratization of space—but there’s still so much to be done and we need your support to do it.

“We have lingered for too long on the shores of the cosmic ocean; it’s time to set sail for the stars.” — Carl Sagan

We’re kicking off the final phase of preparations for the upcoming launch of LightSail 2 into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket. We need your help to get there.

When you make a gift today, your contribution —and your impact on the LightSail mission—will be boosted by a $50,000 matching gift challenge issued by a generous Planetary Society member!

 

(2) TOUCHING SPACE. Some of the remains of the late Hugh Daniel, known to fans as “Doctor Destructo,” are scheduled to fly to the edge of space on the next Celestis mission.

Starseeker, the eighth Celestis Earth Rise service, is scheduled to launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico on November 15, 2017. Your loved one’s flight capsule – containing a symbolic portion of cremated remains or DNA sample and engraved with a memorial message – will launch into space, experience the elegant dance of weightlessness, and return to Earth for recovery and return to you as a flown keepsake.

The Celestis flight capsules will be flown aboard an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket, on a mission sponsored by the NASA Spaceflight Opportunities Program to conduct microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations for NASA and affiliated researchers.

You can read about Hugh Daniel at the link.

It seemed Hugh’s love of space and all things science began at birth, helped by regular dinner conversations, open houses at the University of Michigan (UofM) telescopes, Star Trek, Larry Niven, dozens of SciFi Conventions, endless conversations with amateur and professional astronomers, and many nights at the Lick Observatory. He assisted with a friend’s meteor work on Antarctica, attended private rocket launches, and even did some contract work for NASA. He always dreamed of the opportunity to make it into space himself, but he wasn’t counting on being reduced to 1 gram for the trip! Hugh didn’t believe in any form of “afterlife,” but in tribute to a warm and generous friend and beloved family member, we send a piece of him Ad Astra!

(3) IT’S THE VERSE. SPECPO brings us the “Armadillocon Poetry Thunderdome 2017”.

But what is a Poetry Thunderdome? First crafted at Comicpalooza, Thunderdome brings together a group of speculative poets to duke it out in front of an audience in a LIVE writing exercise. Audience members participate by yelling out prompts and poets are given a short period of time to write a poem in response. Hilarity ensues….

By the second round, the audience was feeling feisty. It chose “AitheistJackalope,” “Egypt,” and “Third Eye,” as the topics for our poets writing delight.

In response, Michelle Muenzler gave us this gem:

it’s not the third eye that gets you
that one has all the knowledge after all
it’s that fourth eye
the one that sees the jackalope in the corner of the bar
drinking whiskey and whining about his in-laws
just flown in from Egypt
and maybe it’s the drink talking now
but as far as you knew
there were no jackalopes in Egypt
…then again, somebody had to build the pyramids

(4) PUTTING OUT A CONTRACT. On Facebook, Heikki Sørum has photos of Eemeli Aro signing a solemn agreement to give Finnish fandom a 90 day respite before be gets them involved in his next fannish scheme. Aro was the first one to appear at a Fannish Inquisition and talk about holding a Helsinki Worldcon.

(5) LONG LIST ANTHOLOGY. David Steffen’s latest Diabolical Plots newsletter says he will produce a third Long List Anthology.

On Friday was the Hugo Award Ceremony announcing the winners of this year’s Hugo Awards, and with the nomination numbers posted after the ceremony, starts the planning of the Long List Anthology Volume Three.  If you’re not familiar with the previous two anthologies, it’s an anthology of short fiction from the longer Hugo Award nomination list–more stories that the Hugo voters loved.  Queries have been sent out and there is enough author interest to go forward, and I’m sure I’ll get more responses over the next week or so, (especially with international WorldCon travel).  I am aiming to launch the Kickstarter in early September, so the next newsletter might get sent out a bit early to coincide with it.  The anthology will have stories by the following authors and more included in the base goal or stretch goals:

  • Joseph Allen Hill
  • Yoon Ha Lee
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Ian R. MacLeod
  • Sam J. Miller
  • Sarah Pinsker
  • Cat Rambo
  • Jason Sanford
  • Caroline M. Yoachim

(6) THE SURVIVOR. The upcoming sci-fi indie short film The Survivor: A Tale From The Nearscape, which centers on a young boy as he does whatever it takes to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

In a post-apocalyptic world where the air is toxic to breathe and oxygen is a precious resource, a young boy embarks on a perilous supply run to obtain water and medicine for his ailing mother. With just his toy robot as a companion on his journey, he faces many obstacles, but the real danger is waiting for him back home.

 

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Polyphemus was the name of the cyclops Odysseus and his crew encountered in The Odyssey.

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • August 15, 1977 — On duty at the Big Ear Radio Observatory at The Ohio State University, Dr. Jerry Ehman heard radio noise that lasted 37 seconds and came from the direction of a star nearly 220 light-years away. The signal traveled at a frequency whose use is prohibited by international agreement and that is unlike those of most natural radio sources. It is known as the Wow signal and hasn’t been heard since.
  • August 15, 1984The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension first screened in theatres on this day.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRLS

  • August 15, — Bjo Trimble
  • August 15, 1990 – Jennifer Lawrence

(10) COMIC SECTION.

(11) CAVNA. The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna interviews Ian Jones-Quartey, creator of the new Cartoon Network show O.K. K.O! Let’s Be Heroes because the show is a fictionalized version of Jones-Quartey’s home town of Columbia, Maryland — “A new Cartoon Network show finds inspiration in Columbia, Md., the animator’s home town”.

“OK K.O.!” centers on a boy’s adventures at friendly Lakewood Plaza, where his kick-butt mother runs a dojo and fitness center, and where he helps out at a bodega that supplies equipment to heroes — all across Route 175 from where villainous Lord Boxman runs his big-box retail monstrosity, which sells weapons to baddies.

(12) THE GOOD OMENS SCOREBOARD. Carl Slaughter, after reading that Neil Gaiman is showrunning a screen adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, found more reasons to be proud of the collaborators:

“Good Omens” is #68 in the BBC’s survey of 750,000 readers.  The 67 books preceding it on the list include “Pride and Prejudice,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “1984,” “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Great Expectations,” “Little Women,” “War and Peace,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “Emma,” “Animal Farm,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Crime and Punishment,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “A Christmas Carol,” and a slew of B list classics.

Plus “Lord of the Rings,” “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” “Dune,” “Watership Down,” “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Harry Potter,” “Alice in Wonderland,” etc.

#69-200 includes, “Vanity Fair,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” etc.

Pretty impressive list of competition for a comedy sci fi writer!

(12) BEWARE SPOILERS. Business Insider interviews Conleth Hill: “The actor who plays Varys on ‘Game of Thrones’ explains how he’s making ‘a better world for everybody else'”

Kim Renfro: On the second episode, “Stormborn,” Varys had a confrontation with Daenerys over his loyalties. What was it like filming a conversation with Emilia Clarke?

Conleth Hill: That was very exciting. Had you not done that scene people would have gone ‘well why did she take him on her team so easily?’ And we couldn’t do it in Meereen because she was off with the Dothraki and I was off, according to some people ‘mermaiding around’ with Olenna and the rest, so it was nice that we had it as soon as we got there — where she was born.

Renfro: You brought up ‘mermaiding around’ — are you sick of people asking you if Varys is a merman?

Hill: Yes. I don’t get it. I really don’t get it. I mean I’m not annoyed or anything, I think it’s funny, but I really don’t know where it comes from. I think someone got too stoned one night and came up with it.

(13) DIY. And just to make sure no customer is left behind, IKEA has published diagrams showing how to turn their rugs into Game of Thrones capes – Bored Panda has them: “IKEA Releases Instructions How To Make ‘Game Of Thrones’ Cape After Costumer Reveals Actors Wore IKEA Rugs”.

Being a member of the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones doesn’t sound like much fun. Constant threat of danger and death at the hands of Wildlings and White Walkers. Vows of celibacy. Freezing your ass off constantly. There really is very little about their job that you’d actually want. They do however have some pretty cool capes, and you don’t need to be a Brother to get one. All you need is a $79 SKOLD IKEA rug, because believe it or not, that’s what the tough guys of the Night’s Watch have actually been wearing on their backs this whole time.

(14) PLAY PASSWORD. The NIST also approves of less-painful passwording: “Forget Tough Passwords: New Guidelines Make It Simple”.

The organization suggests keeping passwords simple, long and memorable. Phrases, lowercase letters and typical English words work well, Grassi tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. Experts no longer suggest special characters and a mix of lower and uppercase letters. And passwords never need to expire.

“We focus on the cognitive side of this, which is what tools can users use to remember these things?” Grassi says. “So if you can picture it in your head, and no one else could, that’s a good password.”

While these rules may seem suspiciously easy, Grassi says these guidelines help users create longer passwords that are harder for hackers to break. And he says the computer security industry in both the public and private sectors has received these new rules positively.

Chip Hitchcock adds, “I suspect this is a readable version of guidelines issued in June and linked to in the previous story; anybody want to dig through the bureaucratese to find out?”

(15) GAZING. London’s Great Fire monument was also intended to be a telescope: “The secret lab hidden inside a famous monument”.

Robert Hooke was a man of many passions, who applied his enquiring mind to subjects as diverse as chemistry and map making, at the sober end of the scale, and folk beliefs about toads and his own bowel movements at the other. In his day, he had a reputation as lofty as the pillar itself, variously described as “England’s Leonardo” and “certainly the greatest mechanick [sic] this day in the world”.

Today his name has largely been forgotten, but his contributions have endured. Among other things, he coined the word “cell” to describe the basic unit of life (they reminded him of Monks’ rooms, or “cells”), devised Hooke’s law of elasticity – arguably not particularly exciting, but useful – and invented mechanisms still used in clocks and cameras to this day.

After the fire, Hooke tried his hand at architecture too, designing hospitals, civic buildings and churches across the city. He didn’t get a lot of credit, partly because most of his achievements were signed off by, and mistakenly attributed to, Wren – and partly because some of them weren’t very good.

(16) DINO NEWS. Martin Morse Wooster advises: “In the Washington Post, Travis M. Andrews writes about how Britain’s Natural History Museum discovered a fossil they thought was a crocodile was actually a new creature, which they named Lemmysuchus obstusidiens after the late heavy metal rocker Lemmy Kilmister.  This critter partied all night and fought all day, specializing in crushing turtle shells with its mighty teeth. The painting by Mark Witton is very cool.” — “Meet the brutally violent prehistoric crocodile named for Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister”.

They had a new species on their hands, and it needed a name. The creature’s brash, aggressive nature brought to mind the hell-raising British heavy metal band Motorhead, known for songs such as “Killed By Death,” “Born to Raise Hell,” “God Was Never On Your Side” and “I Ain’t No Nice Guy.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Karl-Johan Norén, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, and David K.M. Klaus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson.]

One Fan’s Take on Salvation’s First Episode

By Martin Morse Wooster: Here is what I learned from last night’s premiere episode of Salvation.

(1) The science fiction writer’s profession was revealed because she carries around a notebook with an inspiring quote by Isaac Asimov on the cover. She falls in love with the brilliant astrophysics graduate student, and reveals that she has sold a short story to “a publisher.”

“What’s it about?”  the grad student asks.

“The…future!”

(2) If you are a brilliant tech billionaire and a Defense Department contractor you can eliminate all security protocols and admit anyone you want into the Pentagon by handwaving. This includes access to the really secret underground bunker in the basement of the Pentagon whose existence is only known to 40 people.

(3) The showrunners for Salvation realized that naming the asteroid that will crash into the earth in 186 days “XJ42” is not scary. So the asteroid is code-named “Samson.”

(4) The brilliant tech billionaire has a spaceship ready to be tested that has room for 180 people, because some theory—I think it’s called “Maximum Plot Stupidity”—says that you can repopulate the earth is you save 180 people.

(5) Should I be delighted or terrified that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a recurring character on Salvation?

Review of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” Musical

By Martin Morse Wooster: The studios are busily trying to turn their films into musicals these days.  Every studio is trying to do this; I once paid good coin to see Elf:  The Musical (which had its moments).  But Disney has probably put the most effort into turning its films into theatrical productions.

Go to Disney Theatrical Productions’ website and you’ll find they’ll happily sell you tickets to the Broadway productions of The Lion King, Aladdin, and Newsies. But the idea that Disney is an unstoppable theatrical juggernaut, in my view, rests solely on The Lion King, which was bold and innovative.  My impressions of The Lion King are second-hand because the production has visited Washington twice, but both times the production went to the Kennedy Center, which never discounts. When I saw that the sell-through for The Lion King was north of 95 percent and the few available tickets were available on StubHub for three figures, I realized this show was too expensive for me.

There are lots of attempts by Disney to turn their films into musicals that have gone nowhere.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the greatest Disney musicals, but Wikipedia tells me the theatrical version has only played in San Diego.  Many other Disney musicals haven’t toured.  But Disney’s The Little Mermaid was on tour, for five performances at Wolf Trap, which is our outdoor theatre that people go to in the summer.  (Neil Gaiman will perform there on July 9.)  The tickets were on Groupon, which is understandable because the performance I went to on a Thursday was half-full.  So I wallowed in my discounted ticket.

The production I saw was, I think, the second national tour for The Little Mermaid, which was developed by Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight, theatres in those cities that specialize in musicals.  It played in Pittsburgh and Kansas City before coming in Washington.

You know the story.  Ariel is the youngest daughter of King Triton, and she finds human boys attractive.  So she steals the keys to the car…, oh, sorry.  She floats around on the surface, where she attracts the eye of Prince Erik.  She also collects a lot of human stuff, including a giant statue of a Roman emperor.

King Triton is outraged!  So he throws out Ariel’s comic books…, oops.  Sorry.  He smashes her collection of human stuff and the giant statue falls and turns into rubble.  “You worship rubbish!” the king thunders, and I made a note, “I must not let King Triton see my CD collection.”

So naturally Ariel wants to become a human. She goes to the king’s evil sister Ursula.  Ursula has Ariel sign a contract where she gets to be a human for three days but she has no voice.  She has to get Prince Erik to kiss her or her soul is Ursula’s.  We learn Ursula is a squid, because she says one clause of her contract is a “squid pro quo.”  “I’m a squid,” she explains, in case we didn’t get the joke.

So will Ariel convince Prince Erik to kiss her?  Well, this is a happy musical.  That’s all I say.

The Little Mermaid was the second feature of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who wrote The Little Shop of Horrors and were turned into megastars.  They could have been one of the great teams in musical history, except that Ashman died in 1991 at age 41, having written the lyrics for Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and three songs for Aladdin.  Menken is still with us, and was happy to write more music.[1]     But there are 20 songs in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and only seven of them have lyrics by Ashman.  The remaining 11 songs are by Glenn Slater, who is competent but second-tier.  (Two songs are credited to both Slater and Ashman.)

The problem with Disney’s The Little Mermaid is that it’s like lots of other Disney films, but like Ariel, never really develops its own voice.  Do you like sailors roistering in the sea like the ones in Peter Pan?  Well, they’re here.  How about evil stepsisters picking on Cinderella?  Well, Ariel has seven sisters, all of whose names begin with A, and there’s a scene like the one with Cinderella’s glass slipper.  How about an evil woman like Cruella DeVil? That is Ursula the squid.

The cast was, of course, competent.  Diana Huey played Ariel.  She is Asian American, and told the Kansas City Star that she thought she could be a role model for actors of color.  Other standouts included Melvin Abston as Sebastian the crab (you know, the guy who sings “Under the Sea”) and Jennifer Allen as Ursula, who got to wear a purple gown with seven tentacles.

I thought Disney’s The Little Mermaid was a line extension of the Disney brand that wasn’t that original, but it was pleasant.  Still, I saw a lot of 10-year-old girls having a happy evening with their mothers, and at least two Millennial women wearing mouse-ear dealy boppers. So I won’t grumble too much.

But if any other Disney musicals show up in Washington, well, I’m there!


[1] Menken’s work for Disney includes the remake to The Shaggy Dog, which lets me ask this trivia question.  What’s the connection between The Shaggy Dog and Bambi?  They’re both based on novels by Hungarian fantasy writer Felix Salten.

Pixel Scroll 6/13/17 Will Nobody Rid Me Of These Crottled Greeps?

(1) 2017 MANNING AWARD NOMINEES. Four of the five Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award nominees for 2017 are women:

  • Rafael de Latorre, artist of Animosity and Superzero (AfterShock)
  • Riana Dorsey, artist of Cloud Riders (Hashtag Comics)
  • Mindy Lee, artist of Bounty (Dark Horse)
  • Leila Leiz, artist of Alters (AfterShock)
  • Anne Szabla, writer/artist of Bird-Boy (Dark Horse)

(2) LEGENDARY BOOKSTORE TO CLOSE. Dark Carnival, SF bookstore in Berkeley, will soon go out of business, and may take the owner’s nearby comics store with it: “After 41 years, Berkeley sci-fi bookstore Dark Carnival is closing”.

After 41 years serving an enthusiastic customer base of sci-fi geeks and proud comic-book nerds in Berkeley, Dark Carnival, at 3086 Claremont Ave., is closing up shop. Its sister store, The Escapist, which is two doors down on Claremont, may also shutter if sales don’t pick up.

Owner Jack Rems describes himself as heartbroken. Speaking to Berkeleyside Monday, he said he had made the decision due to declining sales. He expressed gratitude to all his long-term customers and encouraged people to come by the store where he is holding a “progressive sale.” All stock is currently being offered at a 20% discount.

Rems doesn’t yet know when he will close the doors to the treasure-trove of a shop for the final time. “I need to pay bills, so as long as by selling off stock we are generating more than it costs [we will stay open],” he said.

(3) ARC AND PSA. The release of Ann Leckie’s Provenance draws closer. The author just got her advance reading copies.

It’s a real book! Sort of.

Just as a reminder–readers of this blog likely already know, but still–Provenance is set in the Ancillaryverse but does not concern the same characters and is not set in Radch Space. No, and not in the Republic of Two Systems either. It will be out September 26, 2017, and I’m given to understand there will be an audiobook, out on the same date. I have no further details about audio, though.

(4) STRANGE TAXONOMY. “The idea that the X Prize Foundation is funding sf is big news,” says Martin Morse Wooster about the news story below, “BUT if you look at the Science Fiction Advisory Council press release you will see that Neil Gaiman and Andy Weir are ‘novelists’ while Charles Stross and Mike Resnick are ‘science fiction writers.’”

From Slate, “Prototyping a Better Tomorrow”:

The fact that so many people are turning toward these dire visions of the future may seem like cause for worry, but it is also a sign of hope. Great dystopian works like The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, in the words of one defender of dystopian fiction, can serve as self-defeating prophecies helping us to recognize and prevent the dark worlds they depict. Put another way, The Handmaid’s Tale actually is an instruction manual, meant to teach us what we must fight to avoid. But hope can’t live on dystopia alone. It requires positive visions, too.

Thankfully, an ambitious new project launched this month aims to use the vision and expertise of the science fiction community–including Atwood herself–to move past dystopian visions. The newly announced Science Fiction Advisory Council, composed of a stellar selection of 64 bestselling sci-fi writers and visionary filmmakers, has tasked itself with imagining realistic, possible, positive futures that we might actually want to live in–and figuring out we can get from here to there. The council is sponsored by XPRIZE, the nonprofit foundation that uses competition to spur private development of things like a reusable suborbital spacecraft. The advisers on the council will “assist XPRIZE in the creation of digital ‘futures’ roadmaps across a variety of domains [and] identify the ideal catalysts, drivers and mechanisms–including potential XPRIZE competitions–to overcome grand challenges and achieve a preferred future state.”

(5) DIVERGING PATHS. For everyone who read these books and thought they should do this except it would take so much time, Tor.com brings you “The Secret Maps Buried Beneath the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Books”.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” was a groundbreaking book series that prepared many of our child minds for the internet…or for keeping track of all the endnotes in Infinite Jest if you’re into that sort of thing. But did you know that each twisty, unforgiving story in the CYOA series has a map? The good folks over at Atlas Obscura have dug into the books and the maps they’ve generated.

The series original ran from 1979 to 1998, but since 2004, Chooseco, the company founded by one of the CYOA author, R.A. Montgomery, has re-released classic volumes and included the maps that are created by all the possible choices in each book! The official maps keep things fairly clear-cut. Pages are shown by an arrow, circles represent the choices the book offers its readers, each possible ending is represented by a square, and the dotted lines show the links between choices.

(6) ELECTRONIC ENTERTAINMENT EXPO. Follow this link to a roundup of game news from E3 2017.

There is a long list of announcements and news items in Tuesday’s individual post alone.

(7) ORGAN CONCERT. Daniel P. Dern was fascinated by the New York Times article about “The Liver: A ‘Blob’ That Runs the Body”.

The underrated, unloved liver performs more than 300 vital functions. No wonder the ancients believed it to be the home of the human soul.

Dern points to “fascinating stuff” like –

Scientists have also discovered that hepatocytes, the metabolically active cells that constitute 80 percent of the liver, possess traits not seen in any other normal cells of the body. For example, whereas most cells have two sets of chromosomes — two sets of genetic instructions on how a cell should behave — hepatocytes can enfold and deftly manipulate up to eight sets of chromosomes, and all without falling apart or turning cancerous.

“Not to mention the amusing term, ‘liverati’,” he continues. “Wonder if this organ was originally an alien symbiote, etc?”

(8) BEOWULF’S NEW NEIGHBOR. A Python’s diaries go to the British Museum.

Michael Palin has made a significant donation of written archives to the British Library, which documents his literary and creative career, covering the years 1965-1987.

Not much text, but some interesting video with commentary. Chip Hitchcock adds, “Note especially that the original contract paid one person in pounds and the rest in guineas; how very antique.”

(9) PUFF, PUFF, PUFF. What happened to Robert the smoking robot? A briefly-notorious private project from the 1930’s.

Today, the story of Robert the Robot is little known, even in the Northamptonshire town where he was once a celebrity.

Yet in the 1930s, his fame reached as far as Czechoslovakia and the United States, where he even featured in Time magazine.

And the reason he came to be?

“Someone bet me £5 I could not make a robot in three weeks,” inventor Charles Lawson, who had a radio shop, told a newspaper at the time.

“I won.”

… “The robot relied on a combination of motors, photoelectric cells, telephone relays and a record player to perform 26 pre-programmed routines, each one initiated by voice commands from a human co-star.

“Smoking was done using automated bellows which were also a feature of 19th Century automatons.

“Remember that this type of robot did not have access to a computer and so talking was done using a triggering mechanism for a record player playing old 78 RPM bakelite records.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • June 13, 1953 The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms hit theaters.

  • June 13, 1981Clash of the Titans was released.

(11) FORGOTTEN TV. Echo Ishii holds forth on a rare Seventies series with Edward Woodward in “SF Obscure: 1990”.

1990, made in 1977, posits a future Britain run by the Public Control Department (PCD)- an all powerful bureaucracy in which government regulations turn into social control. A few lone journalists walk a fine line between criticizing the government and being shut down.

It starts with an attempt at a military overthrow in the mid 1980’s in which the state took over. Emigration, not immigration, is Britain’s biggest problem as those with skilled jobs and higher education seek a life abroad.

(12) TRUE SCI-FI. John King Tarpinian says, “I’ve not heard of this artist but I love his work: “El Gato Gomez Painting Retro Mid Century Modern Atomic Ranch House Robot Sci -Fi” for sale on eBay.

(13) TALKING OVER. Rose Eveleth’s “What I Learned About Interruption From Talk Radio”, on her blog Last Word on Nothing, comes recommended by Martin Morse Wooster: “I think has a lot of good practical advice which panelists at conventions can use.”

On June 3rd, writer and philosopher Jim Holt was moderating a panel at the World Science Festival called “Pondering the Imponderables: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology.” …One of the panelists was a woman named Veronika Hubeny, a theoretical physicist. She was the only woman on the panel. Holt asked Hubeny a question about string theory. And then, without letting Hubby [sic] answer his question, Holt began to hold forth on string theory.

The exchange was caught on camera, so you can watch it here. Hubeny is clearly trying to answer Holt’s question, but he simply won’t stop talking to let her. At one point, a woman in the audience named Marilee Talkington, actually shouted “LET HER SPEAK” to stop Holt from interrupting (you can read her entire account of the panel here). After a pause that I’m sure felt like ages to Talkington, the audience burst into applause. Hubeny then finally got to speak.

I’m not here to adjudicate this exchange, and I’m sure if you want to read heated debates about it you can find those using your trusty search engine of choice. Or the YouTube comments, if you enjoy true pain.

But this, this thing where a man simply doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise, this doesn’t happen to me much. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of mansplainers (my favorite being a clone of Solnit’s book-explainer, the man who explained my own podcast to me). But I don’t generally have trouble getting a word in. And I think it’s because I learned how to handle men who talk over me by listening to all that talk radio.

So here are my tips for anybody who might find themselves in a situation like Hubeny, where someone simply isn’t letting you get a word in, as learned from many, many hours of talk radio.

Let’s start with some general rules. First, when you are dealing with a chronic over-talker, do not try to be subtle. This is not a situation in which you should “go high.” Politeness does not work here, nor does trying to “take the high road.” You will wait forever for them to notice that they are doing this. You will die or fall asleep or the universe will end in a white-hot explosion before they will stop and think “hm I have been talking a lot I wonder if I’m talking over this person.”

Second, there are no pauses in talk radio, no long moments of thinking, no silences while you try to formulate a thoughtful response. Think of this conversation like a rock climbing wall. Each breath and micro-pause is a foothold. Your interlocutor will grab every single one and climb to the top, and you will be left at the bottom staring up at his backside. And it is not a nice view, let me assure you. …

(14) THE CANDY MAN. Atlas Obscura argues that “C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”. And American adults — as a Narnia fan it seemed de rigeur to try some why I was on a tour of Turkey in 2004.

Turkish Delight, or lokum, is a popular dessert sweet throughout Europe, especially in Greece, the Balkans, and, of course, Turkey. But most Americans, if they have any association with the treat at all, know it only as the food for which Edmund Pevensie sells out his family in the classic children’s fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Until I first tried real Turkish Delight in my 20s, I had always imagined it as a cross between crisp toffee and halvah, flaky and melting in the mouth.

Here’s what it really is: a starch and sugar gel often containing fruit or nuts and flavored with rosewater, citrus, resin, or mint. The texture is gummy and sticky, some of the flavors are unfamiliar to American palates, and the whole thing is very, very sweet. (In addition to the sugar in the mixture, it’s often dusted with icing sugar to keep the pieces from sticking together.) While some Turkish Delight newbies may find they enjoy it, it’s not likely to be the first thing we imagine when we picture an irresistible candy treat.

What I had matches the author’s description. And it was okay, but far from addictive.

(15) HOPS HORROR. “Don’t drink and dive,” says Andrew Porter after seeing this ad for The Temple from Narragansett Beer.

The Story

There was nothing we could do. It was just after 2pm on June 28th when we heard the explosion from the engine room. We were across enemy lines and we could do nothing but sink quietly to the ocean floor. Helpless and incapacitated, our submarine drifted for days — weeks. That’s when we found it aboard the ship — a very odd and seemingly ancient ivory medallion. As the men started to pass it around the ship for inspection, their minds began to fill with darkness and visions of those lost to the deep floating by the portholes of the ill-fated vessel in which we were trapped.

League by league, we fell into black nothingness, and with every league another member of my crew was stripped of his sanity. “MERCY!” they would begin to cry. Over and over. One by one they would turn. There was nothing else we could do… what else could we do? It needed to stop!

Today is August 9th. I have been resting on the ocean floor for nearly 3 weeks now alone and in complete darkness… except for… My mind has been tainted by hallucination. I swear it. Outside of the porthole lies a temple with a lone light shining over it’s door. The voices of my men have been chanting, pushing me to explore the impossible structure. I fell to their temptations, put my diving suit on, and stepped out onto the pitch black ocean floor and headed for the inconceivable glow. Once I arrived on the steps a voice hissed, “What do you seek?”

(16) CARTOON OF THE DAY/. In Martin, Sholto Crow reveals what happens if you use a metal detector on the beach and you dig up something that has a green flashing warning light!

[Thanks to JJ, DB, Cat Eldridge, Daniel P. Dern, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael J. Walsh, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 6/6/17 Scrolltime For Pixels

(1) RABID DRAGONS. Vox Day has posted his picks for “Dragon Awards 2017”. Castalia House and John C. Wright are well represented, along with other things he likes. But poor Declan Finn — he’s not on the list.

(2) BOOZY BARBARIANS. Fritz Hahn, in a Washington Post piece called “A ‘Game of Thrones’ pop-up bar where you can drink Dothraquiris on the Iron Throne”, reviews the Game of Thrones Pop-Up Bar, which will be open throughout the summer and where you can drink The North Remembers from a horn as well as all the Ommegang Game of Thrones beers. But don’t take any broadswords there or the bouncers will confiscate them!

After pop-up bars dedicated to Christmas, “Stranger Things,” cherry blossoms and Super Mario, the Drink Company team is turning the former Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency and Eat the Rich spaces into five settings evoking George R.R. Martin’s novels. (Doors open June 21, just a few weeks before Season 7 premieres on HBO.) Immersive rooms include the House of Black and White (where you’ll find a Wall of Faces made of molds of employees and friends of the bar) and the Red Keep, where you can pose for a photo as House Bolton’s flayed man. There will be dragons and house banners, of course, though the real centerpiece will most likely be a full-size replica of the Iron Throne, which co-founder Derek Brown says “is going to be totally ridiculous.”

(3) OCTAVIA BUTLER SET TO MUSIC. A theatrical concert based on Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower is coming to Chapel Hill, NC in November.

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Toshi Reagon is a celebration of all that’s progressive and uplifting in American music. Written by Toshi in collaboration with her mother — iconic singer, scholar and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon — this powerful theatrical concert brings together 200 years of African American song traditions to give life to Octavia E. Butler’s acclaimed science fiction novel, with revealing insights on gender, race and the future of human civilization.

 

(4) SPECIAL NASFIC OBSERVATORY TRIP. NorthAmeriCon ‘17 members have a chance to join guest of honor Brother Guy Consolmagno, the “Pope’s Astronomer,” on a special tour of the Arecibo Observatory. Find out how at the link.

There are 25 spaces available for the VIP tour, which includes the visitor’s center as well as a 30-minute behind-the-scenes tour in small groups. Since we anticipate that demand for the VIP tour may exceed supply, we are creating a lottery to allocate these spaces. An additional 25 spaces will be available on the bus for the Visitor’s Center only.

The lottery will close at 10 pm ET on Monday, June 12. So as long as you request a spot by then you have an equal opportunity to be picked.

Also, the convention room rate for the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino ends on June 12. Reserve your rooms at the this link.

(5) WHETHER OR NOT YOU WISH. “This is really a neat piece, about the universe where a fantasy princess became a warrior general,” notes JJ, quite rightly. Princess Buttercup Became the Warrior General Who Trained Wonder Woman, All Dreams Are Now Viable by Tor.com’s Emily Asher-Perrin.

Spoilers ahead for the Wonder Woman film.

Those who know the secrets of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride know that he started writing the story for his daughters, one who wanted a story about a bride and the other who wanted a story about a princess. He merged those concepts and wound up with a tale that didn’t focus overmuch on his princess bride, instead bound up in the adventures of a farmboy-turned-pirate, a master swordsman in need of revenge, a giant with a heart of gold, and a war-hungry Prince looking for an excuse to start a terrible conflict. It was turned into a delightful movie directed by Rob Reiner in 1987.

The princess bride in question was played by a twenty-year-old Robin Wright….

(6) HENRY HIGGINS ASKS. In “Why Can’t Wonder Woman Be Wonder Woman?” on National Review Online, editor Rich Lowry says that conservatives will find much to like in the new Wonder Woman movie. He also addresses the mighty controversy about whether the film is feminist because Gal Gadot has no armpit hair in the movie…

(7) FANTASTIC FICTION AT KGB READING SERIES. On June 21, hosts Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel present Catherynne M. Valente & Sunny Moraine. The event begins 7 p.m. at the KGB Bar.

Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of over 30 books of fiction and poetry, including Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, Radiance, The Refrigerator Monologues, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Own Making (and the four books that followed it). She is the winner of the Andre Norton, Tiptree, Prix Imaginales, Eugie Foster Memorial, Mythopoeic, Rhysling, Lambda, Locus, Romantic Times and Hugo awards. She has been a finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, three cats, six chickens, and a small army of tulips.

Sunny Moraine

Sunny Moraine’s short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Nightmare, Lightspeed, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies, among other places. They are also responsible for the Root Code and Casting the Bones trilogies and their debut short fiction collection Singing With All My Skin and Bone is available from Undertow Publications. In addition to time spent authoring, Sunny is a doctoral candidate in sociology and a sometime college instructor. They unfortunately live just outside Washington, DC, in a creepy house with two cats and a very long-suffering husband.

KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, New York (just off 2nd Ave, upstairs.). Remember to donate to their Kickstarter. Readings are always free.

(8) THE FIELD OF MARS. Esquire explains “Why Wonder Woman Has the Most Powerful Opening Scene In Comic Movie History”.

The opening scene in Wonder Woman is a stunning statement: On the enchanted island, the Amazonian women prepare for the day the god of war Ares finds them and tries to wipe them out. To prepare for the god of war is to prepare for war. The camera swoops through the training ground, capturing the Amazonian warriors as they practice wrestling, hand-to-hand combat, archery, and horsemanship. They clash, fists to skin, on a lofted pedestal. They flip from their horses in slow motion, and they smash each other to the ground, all gleaming armor and sinewy muscle as they whirl through the air, braids whipping and breastplates glinting.

It’s a purely physical display of beauty and strength. In a brief minute of film, these women redefine what it means to be a fighter, setting the tone for the rest of the movie: This is going to be two hours of a woman who was raised by women charging straight into the bloody fray of war. You just don’t ever see this bodily type of combat training with women in a movie, and it is enough to make you giddy with anticipation of whatever graceful punishment the Amazonian women will dish out against a real enemy.

(9) BLUE MAN GROUP. I guess they are not playing around. “21st Century Fox’s FoxNext Acquires Mobile Game Studio Group Developing ‘Avatar’ Title”Variety has the story.

FoxNext, the recently formed gaming, virtual reality and theme parks division of 21st Century Fox, is sinking its teeth into the $40 billion mobile games market.

FoxNext has acquired mobile-game developer Aftershock, the entity spun off from Kabam after South Korean gaming company NetMarble acquired Kabam’s Vancouver studio and other assets last December in a deal reportedly worth up to $800 million.

Aftershock — which has studios in L.A. and San Francisco — currently has three titles in development. The only one that’s been publicly announced is a massively multiplayer mobile strategy game for James Cameron’s “Avatar” franchise, in partnership with Lightstorm Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.

(10) WHEN HE’S WRONG. ComicMix’s John Ostrander has a bone to pick with Bill Maher. (And it’s not the one I expected.)

Maher is very attack orientated and each week he winds up his hour with a rant on a given topic., Usually, I find him really funny and incisive but Maher does have his blind spots. He is anti-religion — Islam in particular. He thinks the majority of American voters to be morons and says so, which I find to be a broad generalization, counter-productive and not true.

His past two shows featured rants that gored a pair of my oxen. One was on space exploration, such as terraforming and colonizing Mars, and the other was a screed against super-hero movies.

Maher argued (ranted) that we should not be exploring space or even think of colonizing Mars so long as we have so many problems here at home. Neal DeGrasse Tyson rebutted Bill the following week when he pointed out that any technology that could terraform Mars could also terraform the Earth and restore what has been ravaged. I would add that a lot of our technological advances are a result of space exploration. That computer you carry in your pocket? That’s a result of the need to reduce the size of computers while making them faster and stronger to be of use to astronauts in space. Sorry, Bill, you didn’t think this through.

Then on his most recent show, Maher was quite disdainful about superhero movies in general.

He said there were too many superhero shows on TV and too many superhero movies at the cineplex and blamed the genre for the rise of Donald Trump. He said they “promote the mindset that we are not masters of our own destiny and the best we can do is sit back and wait for Star-Lord and a f*cking raccoon to sweep in and save our sorry asses. Forget hard work, government institutions, diplomacy, investments — we just need a hero to rise, so we put out the Bat Signal for one man who can step in and solve all of our problems.”

(11) BEESE OBIT. Conrunner Bob Beese suffered an aortic aneurysm and passed away on Friday, June 2. He is survived by his wife Pat “PJ” Beese. Both were past Marcon guests of honor.

Bob Beese worked on Chicon IV (1982) and other Chicago cons.

(12) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • June 6, 1933 — The first drive-in movie theater of the United States opened in New Jersey.
  • June 6, 1949 — George Orwell’s novel of a dystopian future, Nineteen Eighty-four, is published. I may have to run this again in two days — many sources, including the Wikipedia, say it was published on June 8. The correct date has probably been lost down the Memory Hole.

(13) NEW MIDDLE GRADE FICTION PRIZE. Joan Aiken’s estate and the A.M. Heath Literary Agency have announced the creation of the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize.

A.M. Heath and Lizza Aiken, Joan’s daughter, are launching a competition to find a standout new voice in middle grade children’s fiction.

Joan Aiken was the prizewinning writer of over a hundred books for young readers and adults and is recognized as one of the classic authors of the twentieth century. Her best-known series was ‘The Wolves Chronicles’, of which the first book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was awarded the Lewis Carroll prize. On its publication TIME magazine called it: ‘One genuine small masterpiece.’€¯ Both that and Black Hearts in Battersea have been made into films. Joan’s books are internationally acclaimed and she received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the United States as well as the Guardian Award for Fiction in the UK for The Whispering Mountain. Joan Aiken was decorated with an MBE for her services to children’s books.

The Prize will be judged by Julia Churchill, children’s book agent at A.M. Heath, and Lizza Aiken, daughter of Joan Aiken and curator of her Estate. The winner will receive £1,000 and a full set of ‘The Wolves Chronicles’.

A shortlist of five will be announced on August 28, and the winner will be announced on September 14. [Via Locus Online and SF Site News. See guys, giving a hat tip doesn’t hurt at all!]

(14) SMALL BALTICON REPORT. Investigative fan journalist Martin Morse Wooster gives File 770 readers the benefit of his latest discovery:

I learned from the Balticon fan lounge that there was Mythbusters slash fiction. No one knew, though, whether in these stories Jamie and Adam did it before, after, or during the explosions (because as we all know, the four best words in Mythbusters are “Fire in the hole!”

I’ll probably have to forfeit one of my Hugos for reporting that.

(15) STRIKING AGAIN AND AGAIN. Mark Kaedrin takes a stylistic cue from his subject — “Hugo Awards: Too Like the Lightning”.

You will criticize me, reader, for writing this review of Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning in the style that the book itself notes is six hundred years removed from the events it describes (though only two hundred years removed for myself). But it is the style of the Enlightenment and this book tells the story of a world shaped by those ideals.

I must apologize, reader, for I am about to commit the sin of a plot summary, but I beg you to give me your trust for just a few paragraphs longer. There are two main threads to this novel. One concerns a young boy named Bridger who has the ability to make inanimate objects come to life. Being young and having a few wise adult supervisors, he practices these miracles mostly on toys. Such is the way they try to understand his powers while hiding from the authorities, who would surely attempt to exploit the young child ruthlessly.

(16) INNATE OR OUTATE. Shelf Awareness interviews John Kessel about “Sex (and Pianos) on the Moon.”

John Kessel is the author of the novels Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and the story collections Meeting in Infinity, The Pure Product and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. His fiction has received the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Award for fiction dealing with gender issues. He teaches American literature and fiction writing at North Carolina State University. He lives in Raleigh with his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler. Kessel’s new novel, The Moon and the Other (reviewed below), recently published by Saga Press, is set on the moon in the 22nd century and tells two love stories, in two politically opposed lunar colonies–the patriarchal Persepolis and the matriarchal Society of Cousins.

What was the genesis of The Moon and the Other?

When my daughter was little, I’d take her to daycare and watch her on the playground with other kids. There was a difference in the way that the girls and the boys played. The boys would run around, often doing solitary things. The girls would sit in a sandbox doing things together. So I began to wonder: To what degree is gendered behavior innate, and to what degree is it learned? I read up about primate behavior, including chimpanzees and bonobos, both related to human beings, but with different cultures. That started me wondering whether there are other ways society could be organized. I didn’t see myself as advocating anything, but I did consider how the world might be organized differently.

(17) THE SHARKES CONTINUING DELIBERATIONS. The Shadow Clarke Jury keeps its reviews coming.

Of the six novels on my personal shortlist, Emma Geen’s The Many Selves of Katherine North is the one that disappointed me most when I came to read it. I originally picked it partly because there was a slight buzz about it online, and I am always curious about novels that provoke online chatter. I chose it too because I’d gained an impression, mostly erroneous as it turned out, that the main character would spend a considerable amount of her time as a fox (and indeed, the novel’s cover art rather implies that this will be the main thrust of the novel), and I’m oddly fascinated by the human preoccupation with vulpine transformations (also, I happen to like foxes a good deal). When I initially wrote about my choices, I invoked David Garnett’s odd little novel of transformation, Lady Into Fox, but having read Many Selves and reread Lady Into Fox, I can see now that I was wrong, except perhaps for one thing, which I’ll come to in due course. Instead, as I read on I found myself thinking more about T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. Again, I’ll come back to that shortly.

Even before it was published, The Underground Railroad enjoyed a spectacular amount of pre-buzz. I came to it with a certain amount of apprehension — could any book possibly survive the weight of so much hype? — but expecting to admire it nonetheless. Colson Whitehead is a writer with a notable track record in literary innovation — he gave the zombie novel the full Franzen, after all — and has always been a better-than-solid craftsman. Yet in spite of judging it a perfectly decent book — it’s a thoroughly professional, smoothly executed, highly readable novel on an important subject — I found myself distinctly underwhelmed. Where The Underground Railroad is concerned and in spite of wishing I liked it better than I do, I remain in a condition of some bemusement: I simply cannot see what all the fuss is about.

It is hard to think of a work that does a better job of articulating the artistic tensions at work within contemporary literary science fiction than Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit. Set in the same universe as many of the shorter works that Lee has produced since first entering the field in 1999, his first novel speaks to what science fiction must become whilst paying excessive lip-service to what some would have it remain.

Some thoughts. If anyone has ever read my blog they will, I hope, see that most of the implicit criticism is aimed at myself, though obviously some of what follows touches on various discussions on the Shadow Clarke board.

Subjective taste and critical practise depend on so many factors, thus any reading will privilege certain aspects — close reading, theoretical base, genre knowledge, life experiences, political orientation. Once you remind yourself of that basic idea, it becomes almost impossible to defend the rhetoric and moralism that goes into a special pleading for this book or that. I like a bit of rhetoric and I like a bit of hyperbole — it’s fun. BUT my head would not have exploded if The Power had won this year now would it? It will be hard to stop but I probably should. Moreover, I CAN understand why Priest, Mieville, MacInnes, Kavenna or ANY novel didn’t make it on to the shortlist. The idea that there is some objective truth or taste out there that says differently now seems to me entirely bogus. Even amongst those with a depth and breadth of knowledge about the SF megatext there is no agreement or consensus about the books this year or any year.

There is legitimate concern that by labeling The Underground Railroad as science fiction, readers might dismiss the horrors presented in this geographically and chronologically distorted history, thus relegating it all to whimsical fiction. Yet the SFnal device is there for a reason, and Whitehead’s manipulations of time and space are critical to that purpose: as unnerving as The Handmaid’s Tale, as destabilizing as The Man in the High Castle, as cognitively demonstrative as Viriconium, and as psychologically resonant as The Dark Tower€”all works that utilize alt universe devices to bring sociopolitical and literary concerns into powerful, stark relief. Whitehead’s use of this device is complex and brilliant, although I was unable to grasp just how complex and brilliant it is until this project, which has forced me into the tedious and meaningless position of having to argue for its place in science fiction.

But here we are.

(18) PERN RECOVERED. Book Riot reports: “Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy Gets New Covers”.

Del Rey Books is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a publisher of quality science fiction and fantasy novels. Among those titles are the three books that make up Anne McCaffrey’s original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy and the more than 20 novels that have come since. And now, they’re getting a new look.

After August 1, readers will be able to purchase the trilogy, Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon, with shiny new covers.

Images of the covers appear at the post.

(19) SUNSTROKED. The BBC knows about “A planet ‘hotter than most stars'”.

Scientists have found a hellish world where the “surface” of the planet is over 4,000C – almost as hot as our Sun.

In part, that’s because KELT-9b’s host star is itself very hot, but also because this alien world resides so close to the furnace.

KELT-9b takes just two days to complete one orbit of the star.

Being so close means the planet cannot exist for very long – the gases in its atmosphere are being blasted with radiation and lost to space.

Researchers say it may look a little like a comet as it circles the star from pole to pole – another strange aspect of this discovery.

(20) STORYTELLING. It’s great to listen to authors reading — if they’re any good at it. Book View Cafe’s Madeleine E. Robins advises how to do it well in “Modulation: The Art of Reading to an Audience”.

You’re telling a story. When you’re among friends telling the anecdote about that time in Marrakesh with the nun, the waffles, and the chicken, do you tell it in a monotone? Not so much. Reading in a monotone does not give your material dignity–it flattens it. So read as if you’re talking to your friends. On the other hand, unless you’re a really gifted actor, you don’t have to act it out. No, really.

And dialogue? Speak it as you hear it in your head, as if your characters were saying it. Use the emphases you hear them using. Pause when they do. (Maybe I’m overselling this, but when I write I hear the dialogue, so that’s how I read it. Your mileage may vary.)

(21) THE PHOTON OF YOUTH. Golden Oldies on Vimeo starts at a Fifties sock hop, then explains the horrible things that happen when the music stops!

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, Lurkertype, Andrew Porter, Alan Maurer, Mark-kitteh, Ellen Datlow, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kendall, who may not have realized what he was doing at the time.]