Pixel Scroll 3/21/21 Who Is Commenter #1? You Are, Pixel Fifth

(1) NO MIDWESTCON THIS YEAR. [Item by Joel Zakem.] A message from Bill Cavin on behalf of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG):

Most fans who attend Midwestcon probably won’t be surprised to hear we will not be having the con this year, but I occasionally hear of someone asking the question.  So let this be the official announcement that Midwestcon is on hold until June, 2022.

Until 2020, Midwestcon had occurred every year since 1950.

(2) ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY TRANSPORTER BEAM. “Live Long And Prosper: Boston Dedicates Day For Leonard Nimoy” says the Boston, MA Patch.

Boston is paying a special tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who would have turned 90 years old later this month. Mayor Marty Walsh is declaring his birthday, March 26, to be “Leonard Nimoy Day” in the city.

Nimoy, who died in 2015, was born in Boston’s West End neighborhood. He’ll always be remembered for portraying the logical, pointy-eared Spock in “Star Trek,” and embracing the Vulcan character’s “live long and prosper” motto….

(3) MIRROR, MIRROR. E.T. Perry and Will Solomon examine how Star Trek: The Original Series’ view of expansion and “the frontier” clash with its progressive, egalitarian ideals in “New Life and New Civilizations: Socialism, Progress, & The Final Frontier” at Blood Knife.

In “Day of the Dove,” a 1968 episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the crew of the USS Enterprise fights a group of Klingons for control of their Federation starship. The Klingons, led by Kang (Michael Ansara, in seriously questionable make-up), are locked in battle with Captain Kirk and his men. Both sides have become victims of a mysterious alien entity aboard the ship that induces and draws life from emotions of hate, violence, and bigotry. In an attempt to convince Kang’s wife Mara to persuade her husband to accept an armistice, Captain Kirk argues that she accept the Federation’s doctrine of peaceful co-existence, a philosophy that Mara claims is incompatible with the Klingons’ warlike, imperialist way of life. 

“We must push outward to survive,” says Mara.

“There’s another way to survive,” replies Kirk, “mutual trust and help.”

Unspoken in Kirk’s characteristic response is that the Federation actually endures in pretty much the same way as the Klingon Empire—that is, by expansion. They just do it more humanely. But we should not mistake Kirk’s emphasis on decency with a radically different conception of civilization. Both systems are equally dependent on imperialism, on colonialism, on limitless resource extraction to survive. Both, in other words, find themselves unavoidably dependent upon a single concept: progress. 

* * * * *

This tension between the espoused ideals of “mutual trust and help” and the imperialist undercurrent of the Federation’s on-screen actions is an essential dimension of Star Trek, and one that is evident in many of the show’s recurring premises: visiting planets devoted to resource extraction, specifically mining (“The Devil in the Dark”); attempting to establish colonies, promote development, or facilitate “diplomatic relations” (“The Trouble with Tribbles,” “Journey to Babel”); and bartering with aliens for dilithium crystals or other raw materials (“Friday’s Child”). Often these plots occur in the context of competition with the Klingons (“Errand of Mercy,” “A Private Little War”) or Romulans (“Balance of Terror”). And even more often, they result in conflict and battle.

(4) CUT ABOVE THE REST. Variety’s Owen Glieberman makes a compelling case for why the Snyder Cut matters, and why any sequel would be a barometer of Hollywood’s health. “Will Zack Snyder Be Invited to Make a ‘Justice League’ Sequel?”

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has that thing. What is it? You could call it vision, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s also something I would call voice. That’s not a quality we associate with comic-book movies, but the rare great ones have it. And in “Justice League,” Zack Snyder’s voice comes through in ways at once large and small. It’s there in the doomy Wagnerian grandeur, and in the puckish way the movie hones on a seed coming off a hot-dog bun in the bullet-time sequence that introduces the Flash’s superpowers. It’s there in the way the backstories don’t just set up the characters but intertwine their fates, and in the way that Snyder, leaving Joss Whedon’s genial jokiness on the cutting-room floor, replaces it with a sincerity so present it doesn’t have to speak its name. It’s there in the majestic symphonic rigor of the battle scenes, and in how the villains, the glittering-with-malice Steppenwolf and the dripping-with-molten-corruption Darkseid, comprise a threat at once relentless and remorseless.

… Now that that’s happened, to leave Snyder by the wayside seems not merely unjust; it strikes me as foolhardy….

(5) DOES YOUR FANNISH ABODE NEED A CENTERPIECE? Then loosen your money belt: “H.R. Giger’s ‘Alien’ Prototype Is Up for Auction”.

What could be creepier than the drooling, carnivorous monster from 1979’s Alien? How about a translucent version?

The original design from the mind of H.R. Giger for the classic science fiction horror franchise is part of a Hollywood memorabilia sale being offered by Julien’s Auctions on Wednesday, April 28, and Thursday, April 29.

The Xenomorph costume, nicknamed “Big Chap” by those involved with the production, is a milky white and close to the final design. Camera tests were performed before director Ridley Scott opted for a non-translucent version. Long believed lost, it’s expected to fetch between $40,000 and $60,000. Alien collectors, however, are sure to drive up that conservative estimate.

(6) SIGN LANGUAGE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] This is another excerpt from Isaac Asimov’s In Joy Still Felt.

In one way, autographing became more and more of a problem for me, since it supplied me with more and more work; partly because the number of my books was increasing steadily, and partly because those books were individually popular.  In another sense, they were not a problem, because I loved autographing.  Some writers cut down on their labors by refusing to sign anything except hard-cover books, but I have never refused anything, and will sign torn scraps of paper if that is what is asked of me.

There is the occasional joker who hands me a blank check.  I just sign it along with everything else, but when the joker gets it back he finds I have signed it, ‘Harlan Ellison.’

(7) KRUGMAN REFERENCES ASIMOV. [Item by Linda Deneroff.] The March 16 edition of the New York Times had an opinion column from Paul Krugman entitled “The Pandemic and the Future City”. The first paragraph discusses Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun and refers back to it again later in the article.

The first paragraph reads: “In 1957 Isaac Asimov published “The Naked Sun,” a science-fiction novel about a society in which people live on isolated estates, their needs provided by robots and they interact only by video. The plot hinges on the way this lack of face-to-face contact stunts and warps their personalities.”

It’s behind a paywall.

(8) MEMORY LANE.

1991 – Thirty years ago at Chicon V, The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold which had been published by Baen Books the previous year wins the Hugo for Best Novel. It’s the sixth novel of the Vorkosigan Saga. The other finalists that year were Earth by David Brin, The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, The Quiet Pools by Michael P. Kube-McDowell and Queen of Angels by Greg Bear. It would be nominated for a number of other Awards but this would be the only one it would win. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born March 21, 1876 – Oshikawa Shunrô.  (Personal name last, Japanese style.)  Pioneer of Japanese SF.  So far I’ve found only his Verne-like Undersea Warship translated into English, first in a very popular series of six.  Also loved baseball.  Wrote detective fiction, some carrying SF.  Co-edited World of Adventure magazine; later founded World of Heroism.  A teacher of mine said “A vice is a virtue gone astray”: too true of heroism, nationalism, patriotism in Japan then, coloring Oshikawa’s work and leading to catastrophe.  (Died 1914) [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1915 Ian Stuart Black. British screenplay writer best known for work on two First Doctor stories, “The Savages” and “The War Machines” (with Kit Pedler and Pat Dunlop) and a Third Doctor story, “The Macra Terror”. He wrote thirteen episodes of The Invisible Man as well as episodes of One Step BeyondThe SaintStar Maidens and Danger Man. (Died 1997.) (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1931 Al Williamson. Cartoonist who was best known for his work for EC Comics in the ’50s, including titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, and for his work on Flash Gordon in the Sixties. He won eight Harvey Awards, and an Eisner Hall of Fame Award. (Died 2010.) (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1946 Timothy Dalton, 75. He is best known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill but is currently in The Doom Patrol as Niles Caulder, The Chief. As I’ve said before, go watch it now!  He also was Damian Drake in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Sir Malcolm on the Penny Dreadful series and Lord President of the Time Lords (Rassilon) during the Time of Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. He went to theatre to play Lord Asriel in the stage version of His Dark Materials. (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1946 Terry Dowling, 75. I was trying to remember exactly what it was by him that I read and it turned out to be Amberjack: Tales of Fear and Wonder, an offering from Subterranean Press a decade ago. Oh, it was tasty! If it’s at all representative of his other short stories, he’s a master at them. And I see he’s got just one novel, Clowns at Midnight which I’ve not read. He’s not at all deeply stocked at the usual digital suspects but they do have that plus several story collections. (CE) 
  • Born March 21, 1947 – Don Markstein.  Active New Orleans fan whose love of comics ran with a more general SF interest to which he gave full energy.  Chaired DeepSouthCon 11, won the Rebel Award, then two Southpaws (Best Apa Writer and Best Apa Administrator); he was in, among others, SFPA and Myriad.  Just for one sample, he produced, with Guy Lillian, Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (alluding to a satirical book – set in Connecticut! – and its movie) for the Rafael Aloysius Lafferty League of Yeomen.  DM’s Toonopedia, though not seeming updated recently, remains priceless.  (Died 2012) [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1952 – Sue-Rae Rosenfeld, age 69.  I’m baffled by having been acquainted with her for years to the point where I find no notes.  It won’t help you to know she led a Bible study session on Genesis 23:1 – 25:18 recounting the life of Sarah.  She was on the NY in ’86 Worldcon bidding committee with people you do know or know of e.g. Genny Dazzo, Moshe Feder, Elliot Shorter, Ben Yalow; serving egg creams, which have neither egg nor cream, they lost to Atlanta.  “Stu,” she told Stu Shiffman, as he dutifully recounted, “you are a great pain to your friends” – while we were electing him TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund) delegate.  [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1956 Teresa Nielsen Hayden, 65. She is a consulting editor for Tor Books and is well known for her and husband, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Making Light superb weblog, and back in the Eighties, they published the Izzard fanzine. And she has three fascinating framing pieces in The Essential Bordertown, edited by Delhia Sherman and Terri Windling. (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1964 – Lisa Desimini, age 56.  Fifty covers.  Here’s one for her own chapbook.  Here’s Shakespeare’s Landlord– no, not that Shakespeare.  Here is Death’s Excellent Vacation.  Here is This Is Midnight.  [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1970 Chris Chibnall, 51. Current Showrunner for Doctor Who and the head writer for the first two (and I think) best series of Torchwood. He first showed up in the Whoverse when he penned the Tenth Doctor story, “42”.  He also wrote several episodes of Life on Mars. He’s been nominated for a Hugo twice for work on Doctor Who. (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1981 – Lauren Kate, age 40.  Nine novels (Fallen was made into a movie, S. Hicks dir. 2016), eight shorter stories for us; a novel set in 1700s Venice became a top NY Times Best-Seller.  “My ‘blocks’ are generally related to not understanding how a character of mine feels, so … I will write … from the point of view of another character who … can often see things in my protagonist that I cannot.”  [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1982 – Andreas Suchanek, age 39.  Three novels (The Awakening, in English, appeared in January; Queen of Shadows earlier this month), eight shorter stories, starting with Perry Rhodan who or which is some kind of miracle.  Website in English or German; perhaps AS will forgive me for thinking “Multidimensional Characters – Nothing is as it seams” Typo of the Day (it’s just fine in the German, Nichts ist wie es scheint) – my fantastic imagination wishes he’d meant it.  [JH]

(10) ON BOARD. G.T. Reeder looks at how tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder and D&D represent race and disability, where it succeeds, where it fails, and how it could be a tool for better understanding these ideas in the real world: “Ability Score: Tabletop RPGs & the Mechanics of Privilege” at Blood Knife.

Tabletop gaming has experienced a recent surge in popularity to heights never before seen, bringing hordes of new players into close contact with what are frequently decades-old mechanics for the first time. This Great Leap Forward in gaming has brought new and necessary scrutiny on what are in many cases antiquated notions of race, gender, and valor that had been baked into the tabletop RPG landscape over the years.

The result of this has been twofold. First, it’s led to a great “spiritual purge” of the genre, as publishers grapple (or fail to grapple) with issues that had long been overlooked or tolerated within the once-insular tabletop community. This sea change has also opened doors onto new issues and new perspectives, such as transgender characters, race mixing, and questions of accessibility. 

Questions of identity and experience are unavoidable in tabletop roleplaying. After all, a character in an RPG functions essentially as a number of modifiers, either positive or negative, to the dice rolls that propel gameplay. A player can even opt to hobble their character — losing an eye, having less ability in a hand — in exchange for yet more points to spend on positive parts of gameplay. The result is that the in-game privilege of the characters is often tied to the possibilities of the adventure on which they are embarking: games are considered easier (and therefore potentially more fantastical and fun for players) when players are given more points to use while creating their characters, or harder (and therefore more “realistic”) when there are fewer. But in truth, the story of a character with less privilege in their imagined world need not be less fun or less fantastical—indeed, it may be just the opposite.

(11) HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER. Powell’s virtual events include Jeff VanderMeer in Conversation With Karen Russell on April 13 at 5 p.m. Pacific. Register for the webinar here.

Software manager Jane Smith receives an envelope containing a list of animals along with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and salamander. The list is signed “Love, Silvina.” Jane does not know a Silvina, and she wants nothing to do with the taxidermied animals. The hummingbird and the salamander are, it turns out, two of the most endangered species in the world. Silvina Vilcapampa, the woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of a recently deceased Argentine industrialist. By removing the hummingbird and the salamander from the storage unit, Jane has set in motion a series of events over which she has no control. Instantly, Jane and her family are in danger, and she finds herself alone and on the run from both Silvina’s family and her ecoterrorist accomplices — along with the wildlife traffickers responsible for the strange taxidermy. She seems fated to follow in Silvina’s footsteps as she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, why she is now at the center of this global conspiracy, and what exactly Silvina was planning. Time is running out — for her and possibly for the world. Hummingbird Salamander (MCD) is Annihilation author Jeff VanderMeer at his brilliant, cinematic best, wrapping profound questions about climate change, identity, and the world we live in into a tightly plotted thriller full of unexpected twists and elaborate conspiracy. VanderMeer will be joined in conversation by Karen Russell, author of Orange World and Swamplandia!.

(12)  VIDEO OF THE DAY. Mind Matter’s intro“Sci-fi Saturday: Can We Live In More Than the Present Moment?” warns “Scenes of gruesome suffering so caution re kids.”

The creator of a time machine becomes trapped inside his own creation where he must figure out the timing of his mistakes. PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE, CONTAINED.

[Thanks to Joel Zakem, JJ, Kurt Schiller, Mike Kennedy, Olav Rokne, Linda Deneroff, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, John Hertz, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

Juneteenth 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

On this, the 155th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, the one word that is uppermost in my mind is…endurance.

Endurance can be the only word that can be applied to my African ancestors, brought here involuntarily, the Native Americans of this continent, and all those others who have migrated or immigrated here from other lands.

For we have endured despite the numerous and myriad attempts by, let’s just say, other, richer, less melanin enhanced Americans, who have done their damnedest to dominate, assimilate, and commit waves of genocidal acts and otherwise erase us from history.

And, for long stretches of our mutual history, they succeeded. But the funny thing about history is that it can never completely be erased or forgotten, especially by those who are the ones being oppressed.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, started out as a regional celebration in Texas state holiday. Though it was somewhat eclipsed by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, the celebration began anew in the 70’s, particularly in the American South.

I first became acquainted with Juneteenth in the 1990’s when National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a lengthy feature story about it. Having grown up in a Catholic grade and high school, I was never taught about the contributions of people of color to American History, with one single exception, the death of Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore who was killed by British troops at the Boston Massacre of 1770. He is widely regarded as the very first casualty of the American Revolution.

As I progressed through high school and into college, I discovered even more tidbits of hidden Black History, explorers like Matt Henson, journalist Ida B. Wells, scientists and engineers such as George Washington Carver, Granville Woods, and Willie Hobbs Moore. This was during a time when the hidden figures of Black History were being rediscovered and elevated by revisionist historians at universities all over America.

This was also the era when I discovered sf fandom.

I had been reading sf authors like Bradbury and Asimov since the eighth grade and had discovered the first two volumes of The Hugo Winners (the book club edition) when it was first published  during my sophomore year in high school. 

As I recounted in File 770 over twenty years ago, I was puzzled by the mention of conventions where the Hugo were given out but there were practically no information on how to attend them. Little did I know that I was living in one of the hotbeds of sf fandom at the time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I came across a notice of Cincinnati’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in an issue of Analog in the summer of 1976, I persuaded my best friend and neighbor, Michaele Jordan, to come with me to a small hotel less than five miles from our homes.

It just so happened that Midwestcon 27 had a rather high number of professional writers and fans attending that weekend. I not only found myself surrounded by writers whose books I had read, I also were with people, for the very first time in my life, who did not judge me by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.

In the forty-four years since that joyous weekend, I have been to nearly two hundred conventions (YES, I saved ALL of my badges) including twenty-nine Worldcons.

I did notice that unlike today, there were not a lot of African Americans attending conventions in those days. As I made my way around the east coast conventions I did encounter three African-Americans I looked up to and admired from afar.

Samuel R. Delany.
Photo from SFWA website.

Samuel R. “Chip” Delany still walks among us. We met in 1986 when I chaired and organized a one-shot sf convention, Cinclave, which was done in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati. Despite my best efforts, the convention was a financial disaster for me but Chip Delany was a delight to converse with and he graciously signed all of my books. I recently made it a priority to spend some of my COVID-19 stimulus cash on acquiring all of his most essential works. You know them; Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, Triton, Nova, Distant Stars. A tremendous writer, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014. 

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter (April 2, 1939 — October 1, 2013) was an impressive looking man; an ex-marine MP, he stood at 6’4” he was easy to spot. He won a TAFF race against Charles N. Brown and Bill Rotsler and was the Fan Guest of Honor at Heicon in West Germany, the first Worldcon held on mainland Europe. He was a regular conrunner at many east coast conventions and very active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I found out who he was and how accomplished he was, I wanted to be just like him.

D Potter (who died October 25, 2017) was a very tall, funny and effusive soul, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a good time wherever she was. She was an avid and prolific fanzine writer and apazine editor. I never got to know her very well and that was my loss. But I remember her vividly as a welcoming and good soul. 

D Potter at “New York is Book Country,” mid-1980s. Photos by and copyright © Andrew Porter

My time in fandom, has, for the most part, been a very good journey. It has not been without a few controversial moments and bruised toes but overall, there are very few things that I regret doing or experiencing.

My first volunteer effort was a brief stint in the Iguanacon Art Show in 1978. I started appearing regularly on Worldcon panels starting at Noreascon 2 in 1980. I have mostly been either staffing or running Worldcon Press Offices starting with ConStellation in 1983 to MidAmericon 2 in 2016.

In addition, there was the twenty-year odyssey at the Worldcon Business Meetings, wherein I labored to persuade members to change, modify or create new Hugo Award categories. Although I have been the subject of derision and abject scrutiny because of my efforts, I am quite proud of the work I and the like-minded fans who either supported these efforts and gave up their precious time at various Worldcons to come and vote on measures, motions and amendments.  

So, where does fandom stand today?

Goodness knows we can safely say, we are in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. Most cons have been either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no end in sight. 

Add on the uncertain and unsteady leadership in our government, the economic crisis that came as a result of the disease and the incredible social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, every branch of fandom has reason to worry about their future endeavors.

Which brings me back to that word.

Endurance. 

Fandom has been here before. In 1968. In 1972. In 1980. In 2001. In 2016.

Oh yes, we have been here before and we will endure, as we have always have.

Fandom has never been more diverse, more aware and as WOKE as ever.

On this Juneteenth, I may be wary of what may lie over the horizon but I do know that we, as fans, writers, editors, artists and conrunners are ready to weather almost anything that may be coming.

Right now, our institutions, fan groups and individuals are rallying around the victims of COVID-19, economic distress, police murders and riot damaged businesses. And we didn’t need to be told that Black Lives Matter, we ALWAYS knew that.

More than ever, like the generations of black and other minorities we call our allies and brethren, we cannot be silenced. We will not obey. We will not comply. We will always ask the next question. We will always question authority.

We will endure. No matter what comes next.

“If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” — James Baldwin

Pixel Scroll 5/13/20 You Can’t Sleep ’Cause The World’s On Fire, Don’t Read Me If You’d Prefer The Shire, Techno Thriller

(1) FLIP THE SCRIPT. “James McAvoy to Lead ‘Sandman’ Audible Drama” says The Hollywood Reporter. Wait a second – Michael Sheen is going to be Lucifer?

James McAvoy is stepping into a dream role. The actor will voice star as Dream in Audible’s adaptation of The Sandman, the classic DC/Vertigo comic book written by Neil Gaiman.

McAvoy, known for playing Prof. X in four X-Men films, will lead a cast that also includes Riz Ahmed, Justin Vivian Bond as Desire, Arthur Darvill, Kat Dennings as Death, Taron Egerton, William Hope, Josie Lawrence, Miriam Margolyes as Despair, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis and Michael Sheen as Lucifer.

(2) NO MIDWESTCON IN 2020. Joel Zakem, who has attended 52 straight Midwestcons, nevertheless considers this a wise decision:  

After being held annually since 1950, Midwestcon 71, scheduled for June 25-28, 2020, in Cincinnati, OH., has unsurprisingly been cancelled. Everyone who has a hotel reservation should receive a cancellation notice with verification number from the hotel – no need to call them. Checks for pre-registrations (the only way to pre-reg fir Midwestcon) have not been cashed.

(3) DOOMSDAY BOOKS. The LA Times’ Martin Wolk tapped Emily St. John Mandel and other writers for their recommendations: “Essential end-of-the-world reading list offers a glimpse of the abyss”.

 …“I would not recommend reading ‘Station Eleven’ in the middle of a pandemic,” Mandel told the L.A. Times in an interview.

Yet many people are doing just that: The book is selling briskly just as Mandel’s new novel of financial disaster, “The Glass Hotel,” settles into the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. Mandel joins the L.A. Times Book Club on May 19 for a virtual discussion of these two eerily timely novels….

If you go: Book Club

Emily St. John Mandeljoins the L.A. Times Book Club in conversation with reporter Carolina A. Miranda.

When: 7 p.m. May 19

Where: Free virtual event livestreaming on the Los Angeles Times Facebook Page and YouTube.

More info: latimes.com/bookclub

(3.5) SFF JUSTIFIED. If it needs it. Esther Jones at The Conversation says “Science fiction builds mental resiliency in young readers”.  

Young people who are “hooked” on watching fantasy or reading science fiction may be on to something. Contrary to a common misperception that reading this genre is an unworthy practice, reading science fiction and fantasy may help young people cope, especially with the stress and anxiety of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am a professor with research interests in the social, ethical and political messages in science fiction. In my book “Medicine and Ethics in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction,” I explore the ways science fiction promotes understanding of human differences and ethical thinking.

While many people may not consider science fiction, fantasy or speculative fiction to be “literary,” research shows that all fiction can generate critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence for young readers. Science fiction may have a power all its own….

(4) FROZEN AT HOME. The Walt Disney Animation Studios today released “I Am With You” — At Home With Olaf.

Wherever you may be, here’s a special message from Olaf’s home to yours. “I Am With You” Music and Lyrics Written at Home by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Performed at Home by Josh Gad. Directed at Home by Dan Abraham.

(5) THE ROAD TO FURY. [Item by Olav Rokne.] Five years after the fourth Mad Max movie took audiences by storm, the New York Times film critic Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) interviewed dozens of crew members, producers, writers and stars to weave together a compelling picture of how Fury Road came to be. In “’Mad Max: Fury Road’: The Oral History of a Modern Action Classic”,  he charts the course of its production through quotes from Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and writer/director George Miller.

…CHARLIZE THERON (Furiosa) I grew up on all the “Mad Max” movies — they’re very popular in South Africa. I remember being 12 and my dad letting me watch it with him. So I was like, “Oh yeah, I wanna be in a ‘Mad Max’ movie. Are you kidding me?”

[GEORGE] MILLER When someone is directing a film, they’re thinking about it every waking hour, and even processing it in their dreams. The problem is, if you’re a studio executive, you tend to think about it for 10 minutes on a Wednesday.

[GEORGE] MILLER When the ideas that you start off with are then comprehended by an audience at large out there, that’s ultimately what redeems the process for you. The Swahili storytellers have this quote: “The story has been told. If it was bad, it was my fault, because I am the storyteller. But if it was good, it belongs to everybody.” And that feeling of the story belonging to everybody is really the reward.

(6) FROM THE BATCAVE. Zach Baron, in “Robert Pattinson: A Dispatch From Isolation” in GQ, caught up with Pattinson last month as he stayed isolated in a London hotel room.  Pattinson says he’s living on food supplied by The Batman production until shooting resumes but isn’t doing any exercise.  He also says although he is in Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet, he can’t give anything away because he doesn’t understand the plot except that it doesn’t involve time travel.

…It’s possible that you couldn’t build a person more suited to this experience. Pattinson, who turned 34 in May, has spent his adult life separating himself from the rest of the world. He was 21 when he was cast in the first Twilight, as the lead vampire in what would become five increasingly popular movies about teen lust in the Pacific Northwest. The final installment of the franchise, which turned Pattinson and his costar, Kristen Stewart, into two of the more famous people in the world, came out in 2012 and grossed over $800 million worldwide. But by that time, he was already mostly gone.

(7) GOING FOR THE KO? It’s Reader Request time at John Scalzi’s Whatever. In “Reader Request Week 2020 #6: Pulling Punches in Criticism”, the reader’s question begins:

Do you ever hold back in your criticism of other artistic endeavors (movies for instance) out of fear or apprehension that it will open your own work to hostile/non constructive criticism and exclude you from future opportunities?

We already know what the answer is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to see Scalzi work it out.

(8) CAFFEINATED CARTOON. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster, Designated Financial Times Reader.] In the May 8 Financial Times, behind a paywall, Neville Hawcock reviews Rick and Morty.

It could easily be so sweet, charming, whimsical.  An eccentric old scientist zips around the galaxy in his home-made flying saucer, accompanied by his grandson sidekick. Each cartoon episode brings a new alien peril and a new chance to prevail through pluck and ingenuity, You could be forgiven for imagining a cross between a Werther’s Original commercial and Star Trek.

Rick and Morty, however is anything but…

…That doesn’t mean it’s weary; it is consistently energetic, inventive, and witty, both in script and animation. To borrow a phrase from the late sci-fi writer Gardner Dozois, each 30-minute episode has a high bit-rate. Whereas some bingeable TV is like the unlimited cups of coffee you get in American diners, and endless warm wash, an evening with Rick and Morty has the jolting quality of an espresso spree.

(9) DOCTOR WHO FACTOID. Martin Morse Wooster also found this data point in Horatio Clare’s essay-review in the May 9 Financial Times.

The National Trust reports that while 30 percent of eight-to-11 year olds could not identify a magpie, 90 percent could spot a Dalek.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • May 13, 1994 The Crow premiered. It was directed by Alex Proyas, written by David J. Schow and John Shirley. It was produced by Jeff Most, Edward R. Pressman and Grant Hill.  It starred Brandon Lee in his final film appearance as he was killed in a tragic accident during filming. It’s based on James O’Barr’s The Crow comic book, and tells the story of Eric Draven (Lee), a rock musician who is revived to avenge the rape and murder of his fiancée, as well as his own death. 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born May 13, 1876 – Harold De Lay.  Illustrated W.E.B. DuBois’ Quest of the Silver Fleece, pretty good since De Lay later did covers and interiors for Golden Fleece.  Five interiors for Frank Baum’s early Daughters of Destiny.  Four covers and thirty-eight interiors for Weird Tales, of Robert Bloch, Edmond Hamilton, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Manly Wade Wellman, Jack Williamson; here’s one.  Blue Bolt and The Human Torch for Marvel while it was under Funnies, Inc.; Treasure Island for Target Comics.  (Died 1950) [JH]
  • Born May 13, 1937 Roger Zelazny. Where do I start? The Amber Chronicles are a favorite as is the Isle of The Dead, To Die in Italbar, and well, there’s very little by him that I can’t pick him and enjoy for a night’s reading. To my knowledge there’s only one thing he recorded reading and that’s a book he said was one of his favorite works, A Night in the Lonesome October. I understand that John’s going to have a choice remembrance of him for us. (Died 1995.) [CE]
  • Born May 13, 1937 – Rudolf Zengerle.  Pioneer of the Risszeichner (German, “crack markers”) for Perry Rhodan – illustrators who draw schematics of robots, ships, weapons.  Zengerle did six dozen; here’s a Grand Battleship of the Blues.  Speaking of series, PR has sold over two billion copies worldwide.  (Died 2009) [JH]
  • Born May 13, 1941 – John Vermeulen.  Flemish author; also sailor, diver, glider, horseman.  First SF novel at age 15.  Historical novels of Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Brueghel the Elder, Mercator, Nostradamus, da Vinci, translated into German, Japanese.  A dozen SF novels, as many each of thrillers, plays, books for children & young adults, shorter stories.  (Died 2009) [JH]
  • Born May 13, 1946 – Marv Wolfman. Comics, novelizations, animation, for Dark Horse, DC, Disney, Eclipse, Image, Marvel (Editor-in-Chief 1975-1976), many more.  Pioneered writing credits when the Comics Code Authority said “No wolfmen; remove” (as was the rule at the time), DC said “But the writer’s name is Wolfman”, CCA said “Let’s see the name credit, then”, after which everybody got one.  Inkpot Award, 1979; Jack Kirby Awards, 1985-1986 (for Crisis on Infinite Earths, with George Pérez); named in Fifty Who Made DC Great,1985; National Jewish Book Award, 2007 (for Homeland); Scribe Award, 2007 (for novel based on Superman Returns).  Recently, see Man and Superman (2019, with Claudio Castellini).  [JH]
  • Born May 13, 1949 Zoë Wanamaker, 71. She’s been Elle in amazing Raggedy Rawney which was a far better fantasy than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where she was Madame Hooch. And she was Cassandra in two Ninth Doctor stories,” The End of the World” and “New Earth”. [CE]
  • Born May 13, 1951 Gregory Frost, 69. His retelling of The Tain is marvelous. Pair it with Ciaran Carson and China Miéville’s takes on the same existing legend and remaking it through modern fiction writing. Fitcher’s Brides, his Bluebeard and Fitcher’s Bird fairy tales, is a fantastic novel though quite horrific

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) THINK OF SFF CONFINED TO A HAMSTER BALL. Is it possible that James Davis Nicoll found “Classic SF With Absolutely No Agenda Whatsoever…”? Uh, you’ve read his Tor.com posts before, haven’t you?

As happens from time to time, I recently noticed an author being subjected to complaints that their fiction has an “agenda,” that there are “political elements” in their story, that it touches on society, class, race, culture, gender, and history. As it happens, the calumniated author is one of those younger authors, someone who’s probably never owned a slide-rule or an IBM Selectric. Probably never had ink-well holes in their school desks. Undoubtedly, they may be missing context that I, a person of somewhat more advanced years, can provide…

(14) GOOD TO GO. “Inflatable e-scooter that fits in backpack unveiled”.

An inflatable e-scooter compact enough to be stored inside a commuter’s backpack has been unveiled in Japan.

The Poimo, developed by the University of Tokyo, can be inflated in just over a minute, using an electric pump.

The creators said they wanted to create a vehicle that minimised the potential for injury in the event of an accident.

However, experts say e-scooter rules still need to be clarified by the government before such modes of transport can be considered safe.

(15) I’LL BE MACK. “Scientists Make the World’s First Liquid Metal Lattice’. Tagline: “It’s like the Terminator, only much less murdery.”

Scientists from SUNY-Binghamton are developing new Terminator-like liquefying metals made from Field’s alloy. And in a fun twist, the lead researcher behind the study—which appears in the journal Additive Manufacturinghasn’t seen any films in the Terminator franchise.

“To be honest, I’ve never watched that movie!” Pu Zhang, a mechanical engineering professor, said in a statement. (It’s safe to assume he also missed out on The Secret World of Alex Mack.)

The term “additive manufacturing” refers broadly to technology like 3D printing, where you add material in order to build an item. That contrasts with subtractive manufacturing, like using a lathe and removing metal or wood in order to sculpt a final shape. But in this case, the liquid metal is used in a more complex process where a “shell skeleton” is 3D printed from rubber and metal and then filled with liquid metal lattice….

(16) HAZARD PAY. Casualties on the front lines of the culture war will get help: “In Settlement, Facebook To Pay $52 Million To Content Moderators With PTSD.

Facebook will pay $52 million to thousands of current and former contract workers who viewed and removed graphic and disturbing posts on the social media platform for a living, and consequently suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a settlement agreement announced on Tuesday between the tech giant and lawyers for the moderators.

Under the terms of the deal, more than 10,000 content moderators who worked for Facebook from sites in four states will each be eligible for $1,000 in cash. In addition, those diagnosed with psychological conditions related to their work as Facebook moderators can have medical treatment covered, as well as additional damages of up to $50,000 per person.

(17) HINTS FROM OUR AI OVERLORDS. A Harvard researcher finds “Predictive text systems change what we write”.

Study explores the effects of autocomplete features on human writing

When a human and an artificial intelligence system work together, who rubs off on whom? It’s long been thought that the more AI interacts with and learns from humans, the more human-like those systems become. But what if the reverse is happening? What if some AI systems are making humans more machine-like?

In a recent paper, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) explored how predictive text systems — the programs on our phones and computers that suggest words or phrases in our text messages and email — change how we write. The researchers found that when people use these systems, their writing becomes more succinct, more predictable and less colorful (literally).

…“We’ve known for a while that these systems change how we write, in terms of speed and accuracy, but relatively little was known about how these systems change what we write,” said Kenneth Arnold, a PhD candidate at SEAS and first author of the paper.

Arnold, with co-authors Krysta Chauncey, of Charles River Analytics, and Krzysztof Gajos, the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at SEAS, ran experiments asking participants to write descriptive captions for photographs.

…“While, for the most part, people wrote more efficiently with predictive text systems, this may have come at the cost of thoughtfulness. These kinds of effects would never have been noticed by traditional ways of evaluating text entry system, which treat people like transcribing machines and ignore human thoughtfulness. Designers need to evaluate the systems that they make in a way that treats users more like whole people.”

(18) IT WASN’T CASABLANCA THEN. “Scientists Might’ve Found the Most Dangerous Place in Earth’s History” claims Yahoo! News.

100 million years ago, Earth was a terrifying place. That’s according to a new paper in ZooKeys, which analyzed fossils from an area in southeastern Morocco also known as the Kem Kem beds. It was here that prehistoric animals such as “cartilaginous and bony fishes, turtles, crocodyliforms, pterosaurs, and dinosaurs” used to freely roam and hunt….

(19) VIDEO OF THE DAY. ScreenRant’s headline is the best reason to watch the video: “Blade Runner 2049 Honest Trailer Can’t Explain Why Dune Was Greenlit After This”.

Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve is due to return with another highly ambitious and cerebral – not to mention, expensive – sci-fi epic later this year in the form of Dune, the first of a planned two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s touchstone 1965 novel. It’s a peculiar move for Warner Bros. purely from a business perspective, considering how much money they lost on Villeneuve’s last costly, thought-provoking, sci-fi feature. So naturally, as you’d expect, Screen Junkies points that out in their latest video.

With marketing for Dune now underway ahead of its release in December (assuming it’s not delayed to 2021), Screen Junkies has gone and released an Honest Trailer for Blade Runner 2049

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Joel Zakem, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, John Hertz, Rich Lynch, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Camestros Felapton.]

Zakem: Whither Midwestcon

By Joel Zakem: [The following contains my personal thoughts and should be in no way construed to be the thoughts or position of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG) as a whole or of any other CFG member.]

On August 6, 2013, an article entitled “Midwestcon’s Future To Be Decided” was posted on File770. As of early morning on August 12, only two comments to the piece have been posted. While I drafted a rather lengthy comment to address what I felt was an oversimplification of the issue, upon reflection and after consulting with several other CFG members, I decided it would be best to refrain until after the vote took place. Besides, the CFG had earlier reached a consensus to keep this issue “in-house” until after the vote occurred.

There was a vote at the August 10 CFG meeting (one of the few official votes that I remember taking place during my 40+ years as a CFG member), and Bill Cavin left the voting open until Sunday night so that CFG members who were not able to attend the meeting in person could have their say. The choices were to retire Midwestcon after Midwestcon 65 in 2014; to continue Midwestcon, if possible (important emphasis) into the future; or abstention. At a bit past 11 p.m. (Eastern Time) on August 11, Bill reported that the winning vote was to continue Midwestcon, if possible. Discussions are ongoing as to how this will be accomplished.

Such discussion is necessary because Midwestcon, like several other cons, is in trouble. This is not a new problem and there have been many informal discussions over the past several years, within the CFG and among Midwestcon attendees, as to how to change the trend. Midwestcon’s attendance is decreasing and has fallen under 100 for the past three years, with only 86 paid members in 2012 (78 actually on site) and 90 paid members in 2013 (86 on site). Moreover, a sizable portion of Midwestcon’s current membership consists of locals who do not take a room for the weekend (not that I blame them for trying to avoid the expense), which has necessitated the shrinking of our room block.

Another major problem has been the fact that various department heads are looking to step down. Finding volunteers to work within these departments has never been a problem for Midwestcon. The problem is replacing these persons with others who have the time, knowledge and desire to run the departments, who are able coordinate with the committee and hotel, and who can direct the willing volunteers. As someone aptly stated at the August 10 meeting, “the dragon has many legs, it just needs a head.”

(And before anyone misconstrues what was said, the discussion involved department heads, and not the con-chair. I am unaware of any plans for Bill to step down from his position within the CFG or at Midwestcon. Also, I do not believe I have the ability to take over the positions in question, and this should be in no way construed to be an attempt to throw my hat into the ring. I will, however, continue to help Midwestcon in my way.)

This brings us to the “if possible” portion of the vote. Midwestcon is currently in a precarious financial position, and I believe that a majority of the CFG (myself included) is unwilling to operate Midwestcon at a loss. Therefore, Midwestcon’s attendance must increase, and I believe that the CFG should be open to suggestions on how to increase membership without changing the con’s fundamental nature (though I am realistic enough to realize that some change may be necessary). Some suggestions were made at the August 10 meeting and on email exchanges prior to the vote, and I hope these discussions continue. Midwestcon was the first con I attended, and I would hate to see it fade away.

Midwestcon’s Future To Be Decided

The Cincinnati Fantasy Group will vote August 10 whether to continue holding Midwestcon reports Leah Zeldes on Facebook.

Midwestcon is fandom’s oldest relaxacon, and among its longest continuing conventions, having been founded in 1950.

The issues are said to be that some of the concom intend to retire – some CFG members prefer not to carry on without them – and falling attendance.

Update 08/08/2013: Added attribution to FB.