Q&A With Ry Herman
About Love Bites

Ry Herman’s debut fantasy novel, Love Bites, is coming out from Jo Fletcher Books on July 9. Filers know the author here as Kyra, contributor of myriad reviews and curator of 770’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Brackets.

Love Bites centers on two people trying to rebuild their lives – one in a very literal way.

…Two years after a painful divorce, Chloë is still struggling to leave the house, paralysed by anxiety and memory. So when she’s bullied into a night of dancing by her busybody aunt and finds herself in a goth club, on her own, in a strange part of town, she isn’t looking for anything more than to pass the time until she can leave.

Then she meets Angela, a smart, beautiful astronomy Ph.D. student whose smile makes her heart pound. In Angela’s eyes, Chloë can see a future. Suddenly, home alone is the last place Chloë wants to be.

…Angela and Chloë might just be perfect for each other. But how do you build a life together when one of you is already dead?

About the author: Ry Herman, born in the U.S., is now a permanent Scottish resident, and has been writing theatrical plays for most of his life. He acts and directs, and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. He is bisexual and genderqueer. Hobbies include baking bread, playing tabletop roleplaying games, and reading as many books as humanly possible.

MIKE GLYER: What was the inspiration for Love Bites?

RY HERMAN: I met the love of my life in a goth club, one night very close to the turn of the 21st century. Both of us had recently gotten out of awful relationships. That created a bond between us, in the shared understanding of what we’d both been through, but at the same time it made us reluctant to start anything new. That dynamic, that simultaneous drawing together and pushing apart, eventually formed the basis for the book.

MG: Legend, books, and movies give vampires various attributes and vulnerabilities. What have you added and subtracted from the traditional vampire?  In fact, doesn’t one of your characters try to come up with tests to answer that for herself?

RY HERMAN: I tried to keep my vampires fairly traditional in their attributes. Mine are a bit more invulnerable than some. There are so many accumulated vampire legends, though, that every author has to pick and choose. One I didn’t include, but would love to see in a story sometime, is the arithmomania aspect; in some legends, one way to stop a vampire is to put a pile of millet or rice in their way, because they’ll be compelled to stop and count every grain.

And yes, the main vampire in my story is a scientist by training, and she immediately sets out to test how her newfound supernatural powers work. She becomes very frustrated, too, when some of them obstinately defy logic – she isn’t invisible, so why doesn’t she have a reflection?

MG: I enjoyed the wordplay – where else am I going to see a character say they spent a weekend learning to “cooper a firkin”? Language that suited the character just fine, I should add – she’s an editor at a publishing house, after all. But to tailor the vocabulary just right, did you have to “kill your darlings” sometimes? 

RY HERMAN: I actually tend to hear character voices very clearly in my head from the beginning. I suspect that’s because I began my writing career as a playwright, and theater conveys information almost entirely through dialogue. But for the same reason, physical description was something I had to go through a long process of learning to write when I turned to novels. I think it was around the third draft when I realized that maybe readers would like to know what my characters look like – you never put that in a play, because you don’t know what actor will end up playing the part. In the early stages of the book, there were a lot of failed attempts at description, and a number of descriptive passages I initially quite liked but later realized had to be changed or cut.

MG: Lately I have seen several writers put into characters’ mouths the idea that life is composed of stories we tell ourselves. The figure in Love Bites who says that might be an unreliable narrator – (or might not!) – Is her advice a good strategy for changing your life? 

RY HERMAN: Yes and no, I think. Many of the events that affect our lives really are external to us and out of our control, and there isn’t a way to alter them through sheer force of will. But I do think that the way we interpret and respond to events is, in a real way, an ongoing story we tell ourselves. It’s possible to change that narrative. And if we’re all the protagonists of our own stories, it’s important to remember that tragedies are traditionally about protagonists who can’t or won’t learn and change.

MG: Two of your main characters are abuse survivors from other relationships, and in a series of scenes threaded through the book you show us what one of them experienced. What’s one thing a writer needs to keep in mind when writing about a character in an abusive relationship?

RY HERMAN: I’m reluctant to make a blanket prescription for this, because I think everyone experiences abuse in their own way. For myself, I found it important to keep it as emotionally real as I could, even when that made it very difficult to write. But leaving out the difficult parts would have meant only telling part of the story.

MG: Who are some authors of supernatural characters that you admire, and why?

RY HERMAN: There are so many! I’m going to have to restrict it to a few. Robin McKinley created some of the best vampires ever written in Sunshine – recognizable as once being human, but at the same time creepily alien. For fairies, I might go with Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series. She makes them attractive and horrifying at the same time. The werewolves in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books are pretty great. But I really could go on forever – Kirsty Logan’s mermaids, Tasha Suri’s daiva, Sophie Cameron’s angels, R. F. Kuang’s shamans, Robert Jackson Bennett’s gods, Max Gladstone’s craftworkers, Fonda Lee’s Green Bones, N. K. Jemisin’s orogenes, Rachel Hartman’s dragons, Victoria Schwab’s ghosts, T. Kingfisher’s witches, Tamsyn Muir’s necromancers …

MG: By the end of the book important decisions about sexuality and the fate of a relationship are not the only issues your main characters have to cope with, so are immortality, supernatural strength, and foretelling the future. Is there meant to be a sequel? The key relationships get resolved, but there are questions that didn’t demand immediate answers which could lead to another novel.

RY HERMAN: There will be a sequel! Bleeding Hearts, the second book about Angela and Chloë, will be coming out sometime in 2021. I wrote it because those unresolved questions eventually made me desperate to find out what was going on with the characters a year later.

MG: What else does the future hold for Ry Herman?

RY HERMAN: Hopefully, a lot more books after these!

Robert J. Sawyer interviewed by Mike Glyer about The Oppenheimer Alternative

By Mike Glyer: Robert J. Sawyer is one of only eight writers — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the top science fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo (Hominids), the Nebula (The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (Mindscan). He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2016 “for his accomplishments as a science-fiction writer and mentor and for his contributions as a futurist.” Sawyer’s new book The Oppenheimer Alternative will be released June 2 and is available for pre-order now.  

MIKE GLYER: Why this book at this time?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: There are three reasons. First, this is the 75th-anniversary year of the birth of the atomic age: July 16 is the 75th anniversary of the Trinity test; August 6, the bombing of Hiroshima; and August 9, the bombing of Nagasaki.

Science-fiction publishers are notoriously bad about promoting books — one senior editor once told me they literally have no idea how to do that — but I knew, given my track record, that I could get lots of mainstream media attention if my book tied into a major anniversary. I was so convinced of the importance of this that I turned down offers from bigger publishers who wanted The Oppenheimer Alternative but said they couldn’t get it out until 2021 or even later.

Second, enough time has passed for an appropriate reassessment. Everyone I portray in my book is dead except for Oppenheimer’s son Peter, although Freeman Dyson was alive when I finished the book. I sent him an autographed bound galley with my regards, which he received just before he died.

If you do a book today about Ronald Reagan or either Bill or Hillary Clinton or Elon Musk or William Shatner, the partisans descend upon you, but we all can look back now at the cast I used — not just Oppenheimer, but Hans Bethe, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Kurt Gödel, Leslie R. Groves, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Harry Truman, Wernher von Braun, and John von Neumann — with a degree of objectivity.

This sort of historical writing is somewhat akin to the science-fiction process: a scientist conceives of a great idea — Szilard, say, with the nuclear-fission chain reaction or Oppie with black holes — and we extrapolate forward to see what the ramifications of it will turn out to be. The difference is that in historical writing, we know the ramifications by now.

Third, there are profound real-life parallels today. The obvious one is the renewed threat of nuclear annihilation as rogue nations and the White House rattle their sabers. But, more subtly, the development of artificial intelligence — one of my favorite topics in previous books — echoes the Manhattan Project: a bunch of scientists, with virtually no oversight, deciding what is and what is not good for the rest of us.

You know, in 1942, Edward Teller had suggested that a single blast of an atomic bomb might ignite all the hydrogen in the oceans or all the nitrogen in the atmosphere, destroying the world. Hans Bethe said, nah, you’re probably wrong — and so they went ahead and did a test without any public or Congressional discussion of what amount of risk-taking with an extinction-level event was acceptable. Likewise, almost all artificial-intelligence research is done today in deep secret by the military or by corporations, with no one but the scientists themselves deciding if and when to throw a particular switch that might unleash Frankenstein’s monster.

MG: The Oppenheimer Alternative is grounded in your extensive research of the history of physics and atomic weaponry. I recognized some of that history but it was only quite late in the book that I recognized the science fictional departures — the alternate history. Are they present throughout, or is your goal to take readers inside the Manhattan Project as it happened?

SAWYER: The point of departure from what is established fact occurs in chapter 14 out of 57, when Edward Teller and Hans Bethe start arguing about their conflicting solar spectrographs, Bethe’s from 1938, which seems to show the sun undergoing carbon-nitrogen-oxygen-cycle (CNO) fusion, and Teller’s from 1945, which seem to show it undergoing proton-proton fusion.

But I actually don’t call the novel an alternate history; I think of it more as a secret history. None of the events it portrays are contradicted by what we know actually occurred. Instead, I’m filling in the gaps in the record. And gaps there surely are. As I mentioned above, Oppie was responsible for the notion of black holes. As Freeman Dyson wrote:

“As a direct result of Oppenheimer’s work, we now know that black holes have played and are playing a decisive part in the evolution of the universe. He lived for twenty-seven years after the discovery, never spoke about it, and never came back to work on it. Several times, I asked him why he did not come back to it. He never answered my question, but always changed the conversation to some other subject.”

And when Oppie was hauled before a security-review board, Deak Parsons, his second-in-command at Los Alamos really did go ape, declaring, in reference to President Eisenhower:

“I have to put a stop to it. Ike has to know what’s really going on. This is the biggest mistake the United States could make!”

In a bit of bad luck for Parsons — not to mention Oppie! — Parsons keeled over dead the next morning before he got in to see Eisenhower.

Even Oppie himself alluded to something huge going on behind the scenes. He really did say:

“There is a story behind my story. If a reporter digs deep enough he will find that it is a bigger story than my [security-clearance] suspension.”

So I set out to tell that story: the tale of why Oppie never commented publicly again on his astrophysics research, of the truth about what was really going that Parsons took to his grave, of the “bigger story” Oppie referred to.

There’s a thorough discussion of what’s real history and what’s my invention on my website: https://sfwriter.com/ffoa.htm

As you’ll see when you get to the chapter-by-chapter breakdown, the book is about half events we know actually occurred and half ones that are my own plotting.

MG: Many of the scientists whose characters are drawn on your pages died in the Sixties, like Oppenheimer himself, but others remained active for decades, like Hans Bethe, or Freeman Dyson (who I saw speak in 2013). Did you ever meet any of these scientists yourself? If so, how were you able to use those experiences to shape their characterizations in your book?

SAWYER: The only Manhattan Project figure I got to meet was Nobel Prize-winner Luis Alvarez; he graciously spent an afternoon with me at UC Berkeley on September 7, 1983, although my interest then was more in his work on identifying an asteroid as the cause of what we now call the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinctions.

But I’ve enjoyed having long conversations with four other Nobel laureates — Elizabeth Blackburn, Arthur McDonald, Joseph Stiglitz, and Robert W. Wilson — and I drew heavily on those encounters in trying to portray the Nobelists in my novel.

Cover of Canadian edition

Unlike the geeks portrayed on The Big Bang Theory, by and large these were people who were just as interested in the arts as the sciences, who were as happy to talk about their kids or pop culture as about their specialties, and who, although entitled perhaps to some arrogance, were actually all quite humble and nice.

There’s a zen that comes with reaching the pinnacle of your field. Of course, at the beginning of the Manhattan Project, of the physicists who appear in The Oppenheimer Alternative, only Neils Bohr, Arthur Holly Compton, Albert Einstein, and Enrico Fermi already had their Nobels; the ones for Luis Alvarez, Hans Bethe, Patrick Blackett, Richard Feynman, and I.I. Rabi came later.

Naturally, I’d seen Freeman Dyson speak many times on TV, and his son George gave my novel a very nice blurb, but I never got to meet Freeman or the others except Alvarez, although, of course, I’ve read all the biographies and autobiographies, and I’ve been to Los Alamos and the Trinity site.

MG: How should the A-bomb have been used? You show how Leo Szilard, who got Einstein to write to FDR urging the creation of an atomic weapon, circulated a petition calling for a demonstration of the bomb to the Japanese experts, rather start out using it on Japanese cities. The petition was suppressed and the leadership chose to drop the bomb to end the war. My father was a Marine on a troop carrier floating around Okinawa by then, so the idea that this was done in alternative to invading the Home Islands was real to him. Others now write that it was used with the intent to establish a post-war order with America as the only superpower. There are also some who look on its use as the product of an overpowering narrative, like Chekhov’s gun — “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” What’s your take on why it was used?

SAWYER: This is a sensitive issue, and I want to address it with an appropriate degree of respect. Most people think of me as a Canadian writer, but I’m also an American citizen, and I intend no bashing of the US here. Indeed, Canada is culpable, too: the three countries that collaborated on the development of the atomic bomb were the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

So let me start obliquely. I know exactly what I was doing on Sunday night, January 19, 1975: I was watching the first-ever broadcast of the episode “The Last Kamikaze” on The Six Million Dollar Man, written by Judy Burns, perhaps best known for previously having scripted “The Tholian Web” for Star Trek.

In this episode, United States Air Force Colonel Steve Austin, an astronaut and the very symbol of US patriotism, finds a Kamikaze pilot who thinks World War II is still being fought. In trying to explain that the war is over, Steve says this, verbatim — just about the longest speech Lee Majors made in the entire series:

“I’m afraid your Emperor didn’t have much choice. It’s not easy for me to tell you this. The United States invented an atomic bomb, a powerful bomb that could destroy a whole city with one explosion. At the time it seemed the best way to stop the war was to drop the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities. I wish it wasn’t true. Most Americans wish it never happened. But it did. Two Japanese cities were completely destroyed. Many, many people were killed. Your Emperor saw the wisdom of surrender. The fighting stopped September 1945, almost thirty years ago.”

I was fourteen then, and I was floored. Never before had I heard anyone say that most Americans — or Brits or Canadians — regretted using the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remained alert for similar assertions, but it wasn’t until I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s short story “The Lucky Strike,” which was first published in 1984 but I didn’t discover until 1989, that I again heard doubts being raised about the necessity of dropping those bombs.

I don’t gainsay your father’s feelings or experience for one moment, Mike. That the bombs had to be dropped was the line he and everyone else was fed then — and that most people still accept today. But it’s just not true (a) that it was necessary to use the atomic bomb at all, (b) that it was necessary to use it on civilian targets, (c) that the bombings in fact reduced the number of American war dead, and (d) that the bombings even reduced the number of Japanese war dead.

In truth, Japan had been making back-channel overtures to surrender for a year before the atomic bombs were dropped, wanting only one condition: that Emperor Hirohito, whom they considered divine, retain his throne. This seemed reasonable to both Churchill and Roosevelt — after all, there’d have to be some sort of functioning government in Japan after the war. But FDR went off-script in a briefing that was broadcast on radio and called instead for _“unconditional_ surrender.”

Churchill was gobsmacked, but said — as quoted in Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb — “Any divergence between us, even by omission, would on such an occasion and at such a time have been damaging or even dangerous to our war effort,” and because of that one slip of the tongue the official demand became unconditional surrender. Well, asking the Japanese to renounce the emperor in 1945 wouldn’t be much different from demanding the US renounce Jesus then if America had been the country needing to surrender — a complete non-starter.

On the day of the Trinity test, July 16, 1945, General Leslie R. Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, said — his own words as he reported them in his autobiography, Now It Can Be Told — in response to someone declaring the war was now over, “Yes, after we drop two bombs on Japan.”

Two bombs. He was hell-bent on testing both of their two competing bomb designs — the straightforward gun-type “Little Boy” and the complex implosion “Fat Man” — on civilian populations. At Groves’s request, a few Japanese cities had been spared the firebombing that had already ravaged Tokyo and other places precisely so that they could be used as pristine testbeds for atomic explosions.

Indeed, Groves was so afraid that he wouldn’t be get to test the second bomb design on Japan that he rushed the bombing of Nagasaki. He had it occur just three days after the Enola Gay bombed Hiroshima, even though word of what had happened in that city was only just reaching the Tokyo government, because thunderstorms were forecast for the subsequent few days. He knew that if he waited, the Japanese might surrender before he got to drop a Fat Man on the planned target of Kokura; it was only because of overcast skies there that Bockscar actually dropped its atomic bomb on Nagasaki instead.

Of course, once both bombs were dropped, we of the Allied powers happily accepted surrender and freely gave Japan the one condition it had always wanted: Hirohito the divine retained his throne until his death forty-four years later in 1989.

This topic always engenders a lot of heat, and a lot of people — including my US publisher, Shahid Mahmud — have gone back and forth with me over the issue. To at least give people a current overview of the topic, rather than what they might have learned in history class decades ago, I’ve put up a sourced discussion of this on my website: https://sfwriter.com/suoa.htm

Okay, enough preamble; let me answer your questions directly, Mike. In the first place, the atomic bomb never should have been built at all. I’ve read the Farm Hall transcripts made of secret recordings of Werner Heisenberg and others after the war, and it’s clear that Germany was nowhere near having, and really not seriously trying to develop, an atomic bomb.

Indeed, I’m in the camp — although this is certainly debatable — that believe Heisenberg, a German patriot but one who couldn’t stomach what Hitler was doing, threw the game and made sure the Fatherland would never develop an atomic bomb for that madman to use.

Second, Leo Szilard was right: if you had to show the world you had such a bomb, either as a deterrent or to explain to the taxpayers what you’d spent two billion 1945 dollars on, all you needed to do was invite Japanese observers and journalists to a remote site, set off the bomb there, and let people see what it could do.

The only reason I can see that this approach was unacceptable to Groves, who scuttled Szilard’s petition supporting this idea, was that he and others didn’t want the Soviets — the real audience — to know just that the US had a hugely powerful new weapon but also to have them know that the US had the balls to actually use it against civilian populations. No safe demonstration would have conveyed that message, and Truman, who by this time had succeeded FDR, delusionally believed that the Russians would “never” — his word — get the atomic bomb, so he felt there was no need to worry about them ever doing the same thing to the West.

So, I’m with Steve Austin from all those years ago: I wish it had never happened.

MG: Science fiction written in the Thirties contemporaneously with the period where your novel begins tended to be populated by altruistic superscientists — thinking for example of E.E. Smith’s Skylark series, and John W. Campbell Jr.’s stories about Arcot, Wade and Morey. Growing acceptance of scientific leadership on the issues of the day was once considered part of sf’s mission. But no matter what problem they’re working on, creating the atomic bomb or saving the human race from the calamity posed in your novel, your characters are utterly human, with questions never far from their minds like: Who gets the prizes? Who gets the good jobs? Who gets to work on the most interesting topics? Can sf readers handle the truth?

SAWYER: Excellent question. Science fiction, as a field, long held these truths to be self-evident: all scientific knowledge is worth having; government oversight is an impediment to progress — only those supercompetent Heinleinian lone wolves (read: we science-fiction fans) have the moxy to propel us into the future; and as long as our side is the one with the superior firepower, we’ll only use it virtuously. But all three of those are demonstrably hogwash.

Scientists are as human and as fallible as anyone else; they have — as Oppie contended throughout his life — no special moral insight; and most are, like people in any profession, careerists and opportunists trying to build reputations, make money, and get ahead.

One of my favorite bits in The Oppenheimer Alternative, wholly fictitious as far as I know, has Oppie, who was the manager of a team of Nobel laureates but never won the prize himself, getting to hold I.I. Rabi’s Nobel Prize: “Oppie rubbed the medal between thumb and forefinger, an atom or two of gold transferring to him, a few molecules from his body making a new home on the disk. Soon, he hoped; soon.” That sort of ambition is real, driving, and often blinds one to reality.

Can science-fiction readers handle the truth? I hope so. The ideal of the scientist as unbiased, rational truthseeker, as a Godlike beneficence, as an infallible oracle is simply not supportable. One of the great joys of reading — and writing — sf is getting inside the heads of realistic scientists and seeing the myriad conscious and subconscious forces that color their perceptions.

MG: Sf has become a more skeptical genre, more interested in mythmaking than science. What kind of stories would you like to see more of? And are there people you could point to already working in those areas?

SAWYER: I mentioned my friend Kim Stanley Robinson earlier. He and I do seem to be part of the very small group still left whose members generally write optimistic science fiction; the days of Clarke and Asimov and their mostly sunny futures are long behind us. But it’ll be interesting to see how the field morphs after the COVID–19 pandemic: all those dystopian visions perhaps don’t seem nearly as entertaining as they did before.

Science fiction never predicts the future, but collectively, on any given topic, it should predict a smorgasbord of possible futures — and I firmly believe that, unless we put some positive scenarios on the table, the negative ones will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Despite what I said earlier, for instance, I don’t think that artificial intelligence will necessarily be our downfall, although that was what almost all written and media sf was telling us, and so I wrote my WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder to add a win-win scenario to the discourse on the topic.

But finding similarly good-hearted, upbeat books is hard; cynicism is often presented as if it were a de facto measure of both literary worth and personal maturity. I recently went back and read a bunch of James White’s Sector General hospital-in-space books because I needed a dose of that good old-fashioned the-future-will-be-a-better-place science fiction.

Robert J. Sawyer. Photo by Carolyn Clink.

MG: What projects do you have in the works?

SAWYER: I’ve been lucky, as genre authors go. A lot of foreign-language popularity, some good Hollywood deals, and so on, have left me with the luxury of taking my time with books now. It’s been four years since my last novel, Quantum Night, and I’m only very slowly gearing up to write my next (which will be my 25th).

As always, I start with research, research, and more research. I have a vague notion for a novel about the future relationship between people and artificial intelligences, and I’ve been doing background reading related to that for months now — but I haven’t written a word of the novel yet.

I usually start with a topic, develop a theme, create characters that will let me explore the multiple facets of that theme, and only then work out a plot. At this point, I’m still developing my theme — the fundamental thing I want to say. As the old fanzine writers would have put it, I’m thisclose to having pinned it down, though.

I also just wrote a pilot script based on my 1997 novel Illegal Alien and I’ve got some nice Tinsel Town interest in doing a TV version of that book. And I’m in negotiations to do an original project for Audible. But, most of all, I’m just reading and thinking … and seeing where my curiosity leads me next.

Pixel Scroll 1/27/20 Say, Isn’t That The Scrolled Pixel Of Filothrace?

(1) BAD DOG. “No Doctor Who spoilers will adorn future Pixel Scrolls,” promised Mike Glyer, after spending the day being chastised by File 770 commenters.

(2) BAD IDEA THAT’S DESTINED TO HAPPEN? Alex Kurtzman says it’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide…or something like that: “The Future of ‘Star Trek’ and Why the ‘Doors Are Just Opening’ for a Film-TV Crossover” at The Wrap.

Now that “Star Trek” has beamed Jean-Luc Picard back up into its universe, the sci-fi franchise’s captain is already plotting its next course. And that may include mind-melding the film and TV universes after more than a decade apart.

When Viacom and CBS agreed to re-merge, after spending the past 14 years as separate companies, the film and TV rights to “Star Trek” once again came under the same corporate roof. CBS TV Studios controls the TV side, while Paramount has steered the Enterprise on the film part of the universe.

Alex Kurtzman, who oversees “Star Trek” for CBS TV Studios, believes it’s only a matter of time before the film and TV worlds of “Star Trek” collide.

 “The ink has just dried on the merger and the doors are just opening. So I think anything is possible at this point,” he told TheWrap. “I can’t imagine that CBS and Paramount, in their infinite wisdom, would say lets create two ‘Star Trek’s and have them be separate. That doesn’t seem like it would be a good strategy to me.”

(3) MONEY? GONE IN A FLASH! “DC Comics has its own super hero-themed credit cards” at CNET. The Justice League says, “Charge! it.”

If you’ve ever wanted to show off your love of DC Universe super heroes with a themed credit card, now’s your chance. DC Comics has teamed up with Visa to launch a series of credit cards with entertainment rewards. 

You can choose between seven different designs: animated Batman images for the character’s 80th anniversary; the Batman symbol; an animated Superman opening his shirt to the logo underneath; the Wonder Woman symbol; The Flash’s symbol; an animated Harley Quinn; and the whole Justice League in animated form. 

(4) LIST OF THINGS THAT WOULD BE BAD. CrowdScience asks “Could we survive an extinction event?” – available at BBC Sounds.

Super-sized volcanic eruptions and giant asteroids crashing in from outer space are the stuff of disaster movies. They have listener Santosh from South Africa slightly concerned. He’d like to know what’s being done in real life to prepare for this kind of event.

Although the chance of these events occurring is low, Santosh isn’t entirely wrong to be worried: Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the dominant species on the planet at the time, as we’ve heard before on CrowdScience. The kind of extraordinary geological and extra-terrestrial hazards thought to be responsible for the death of millions of lives do still exist. So is there really any way that humans could survive where the dinosaurs – and plenty of other species – have failed? 

Presenter Marnie Chesterton finds out by meeting experts who are already preparing for the remote but real possibility of the biggest disaster we could face. It turns out that in real life most things we can think of which could cause an extinction event are being watched closely by scientists and governmental agencies. 

How worried we should really be by the possibility of a sudden super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone in the USA, or one of the other enormous volcanoes dotting our planet’s surface? Marnie heads into an underground bunker near the remote Scottish coast to find out if hiding out is a viable survival option. Now a museum, Scotland’s Secret Bunker, formerly RAF Troywood, is one of a network of nuclear shelters built by nation states during the Cold War. 

And she hears about one of the combined space agencies most ambitious projects yet: NASA and ESA’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission to crash an impactor into an asteroid’s moon to find out whether we could knock any potentially problematic collisions off-course well before Earth impact

(5) PAUSEWANG OBIT. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] Gudrun Pausewang, a German YA author who occasionally ventured into SFF, died on January 24 at the age of 91. Ms. Pausewang’s forays into science fiction were mainly dystopian such as the 1983 novel The Last Children of Schewenborn, a story about life and death (but mainly death) after a nuclear war, and the 1987 novel The Cloud about the fallout from a nuclear disaster, which sits on the reading list of many German schools. She also wrote less gloomy fare on occasion such as the 1972 modern fairytale “The Merman Behind the House”. I wasn’t a huge fan of her work – way too gloomy for my tastes – but she was certainly an important voice. Here is an English language obituary: “Anti-nuclear author Gudrun Pausewang dies”.

(6) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • January 27, 1980 Galactica 1980 premiered on ABC. A spin-off from the original Battlestar Galactica series, it was the result of a massive letter writing campaign in the days before email which made the network actually pay attention. Alas it performed quite poorly and was canceled after the initial order of ten episodes. I remember Lorne Greene as Commander Adama was the only major returning cast member, but I’ll freely admit I’ve not seen either series in decades so that could be inaccurate. The DVD release twenty seventy years later would be carry the tagline of “The Original Battlestar Galactica’s Final Season”. 
  • January 27, 1998 The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy premiered on UPN. Written by Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist, it was directed by Joe Dante. It starred  John Corbett, Carolyn McCormick, Rod Taylor, John Pyper-Ferguson, Elisabeth Harnois and J. Madison Wright. It was intended as a pilot for The Osiris Chronicles series but that never happened though similar concepts can be seen in Roddenberry’s Andromeda series. It is available for viewing here.
  • January 27, 2008 Attack of the Gryphon premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel. It was directed by Andrew Prowse, with a cast led by Amber Benson, Jonathan LaPaglia, and Larry Drake. It was one in a series that included a film called Mansquito. Really. Truly. Like most of the Sci-Fi Pictures original films series, neither critics or reviewers were impressed with the story, SFX or acting. It’s got no rating at Rotten Tomatoes and the scant number of Amazon ratings are all over the place.
  • January 27, 2008 Journey To The Center Of The Earth premiered. It was directed by Eric Brevin. It starred Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, and Josh Hutcherson. Surprisingly, at least to me, it received positive reviews from critics, and was a huge box office success. It currently holds a 51% rating among reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 27, 1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On the strength of The Magic Flute. (Died 1791.)
  • Born January 27, 1940 James Cromwell, 80. I think we best know him as Doctor Zefram Cochrane In Star Trek: First Contact , which was re-used in the Enterprise episode “In a Mirror, Darkly (Part I)”.  He’s been in other genre films including Species IIDeep ImpactThe Green MileSpace CowboysI, RobotSpider-Man 3 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He played characters on three Trek series, Prime Minister Nayrok on “The Hunted” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Jaglom Shrek in the two part “Birthright” story, Hanok on the “Starship Down” episode of Deep Space Nine and Zefram Cochrane once again as noted before on Enterprise
  • Born January 27, 1950 Michaela Roessner, 70. She won the Astounding Award for Best New Writer for Walkabout Woman. Her The Stars Dispose duology is quite excellent. Alas, none of her fiction is available digitally. 
  • Born January 27, 1956 Mimi Rogers, 64. Her best known known SFF role is Professor Maureen Robinson in the Lost in Space film which I did see in a theatre I just realized. She’s also Mrs. Marie Kensington in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and she’s Orianna Volkes in the Penny Dreadful hitchhiker horror film. She’s got one-offs in Tales from The Crypt, The X-Files, Where Are You Scooby Doo? and Ash v. Evil Dead.
  • Born January 27, 1957 Frank Miller, 63. He’s both an artist and writer so I’m not going to untangle which is which here. What’s good by him? Oh, I love The Dark Knight Returns, both the original comic series and the animated film, though the same not no true of Sin City where I prefer the original series much more. Hmmm… What else? His runs on Daredevil and Electra of course. That should do. 
  • Born January 27, 1958 Susanna Thompson, 62. She played Dr. Lenara Kahn in Deep Space Nine’s “Rejoined” episode and was the Borg Queen in three episodes of Voyager. Back here on Earth, she was Moira Queen on Arrow. She’s also had roles in Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, The LakeBermuda Triangle, Dragonfly, KingsThe Gathering and she had two different one-offs on Next Gen before being cast as the Borg Queen. 
  • Born January 27, 1963 Alan Cumming, 57. His film roles include his performances as Boris Grishenko in GoldenEye, Fegan Floop In the Spy Kids trilogy, Loki, god of Mischief in Son of the Mask (a really horrid film), Nightcrawler In X2 and Judas Caretaker in Riverworld
  • Born January 27, 1966 Tamlyn Tomita, 54. I’m fairly sure I first saw her in a genre role on the Babylon 5 film The Gathering as Lt. Cmdr. Laurel Takashima. Or it might have been on The Burning Zone as Dr. Kimberly Shiroma. And she had a recurring late on Eureka in Kate Anderson, and Ishi Nakamura on Heroes? She’s been in a number of SFF series in one-off roles including Highlander, Quantum Leap, The Sentinel, Seven Days, FreakyLinks, Stargate SG-1 and a recurring as late as Tamiko Watanabe in The Man in The High Castle.
  • Born January 27, 1969 Patton Oswalt, 51. He gets his Birthday Honors for voicing Remy in Ratatouille, a truly lovely and rather tasty film. He also played Eric, Billy, Sam and Thurston Koenig in a recurring and fascinating role on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series. And let’s not overlook that he’s been Max for the part several years on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Damn, I almost forgot he voiced Space Cabbie on Justice league Action!

(8) COMICS SECTION.

  • B.C. has an unlikely solution to arachnophobia.
  • Pearls Before Swine shows that space aliens can be part of really bad puns.

(9) HATCHET TO PRATCHETT. The Guardian’s Alison Flood thinks “Discworld fans are right to be nervous about the BBC’s ‘punk rock’ The Watch”.

We Terry Pratchett fans have been lucky in recent years. We were given Good Omens, which thanks to co-author Neil Gaiman’s shepherding and incredible performances from David Tennant and Michael Sheen, was a joy to watch. And we were told that BBC America was developing The Watch, a series based on Pratchett’s stories about Ankh Morpork’s City Watch. Yes, we were a little nervous to read that Pratchett’s fierce, dark, sardonic stories were to become a “startlingly reimagined … punk rock thriller” that was “inspired by” the books. But we stayed faithful, for it was promised that the show would “still cleav[e] to the humour, heart and ingenuity of Terry Pratchett’s incomparably original work”.

But nerves were jangling even more fiercely on Friday as the first glimpses of the forthcoming show were shared by the studio. They look … kind of cyberpunky? Is that electricity? Where is their ARMOUR? Should we have been more wary about that “inspired by”?

(10) A PLANET STORY. Cora Buhlert, in “Retro Review: ‘The Jewel of Bas’ by Leigh Brackett”, discusses another 1944 work eligible for CoNZealand’s Retro Hugos.

… “The Jewel of Bas” is a glorious pulpy adventure story that manages to offer up plenty of twists and turns,…

(11) JEOPARDY! Andrew Porter sometimes finds the wrong questions more amusing than the right ones on this game show:  

Category: Novels by Chapter Title

Answer: From a Verne work: “Boldly down the crater”

Wrong Question: “What is ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’?”

(Right question: “What is ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’?”)

And they weren’t finished —

Final Jeopardy: Poets.

Answer: A Dartmouth dropout, he received 2 honorary degrees from Dartmouth — in 1933 & 1955

Wrong questions: “Who is Whitman?” and “Who is Thoreau?”

Right question: Who is Robert Frost?

(12) PARENTAL SUPERVISION. On Facebook, Worst of Tumblr shows photos of kids who are crying, with parents’ explanation of what incited the tears.

(13) TRADITION. “Photographing One Of America’s Oldest Tofu Shops” on NPR.

Growing up in Portland, Ore., in the ’90s, tofu could be hard to find. It would be a long time before ramen joints spread across the city, before national chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods had their own store-brand tofu.

But like soba noodles, nori, rice and fish, tofu is a staple of Japanese home cooking. So my parents regularly made a 15-minute drive west, across the Willamette River, to stock up at Ota Tofu.

The old-school company still makes its tofu by hand in small batches, navigating a growing demand for plant-based foods. But what I didn’t realize then is that it’s also a cultural institution — the oldest tofu producer still operating in the country, Ota Tofu has fed Portland’s Japanese American community for more than 100 years.

Eileen Ota, a former owner of Ota Tofu, notes that other tofu producers existed earlier in the United States, but many ceased operations because of one event: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

(14) MYTH FULFILLMENT OR METAL FATIGUE? As The Week put it: “A brawny visitor to Disneyland managed to pull a model of Excalibur out of a model stone, thus arguably revealing himself as the future king of England.  A friend fo the future king, whom he identified only as ‘Sam,’ says he’s ‘a pretty buff dude.” Also at CinemaBlend: “A Disneyland Guest Literally Pulled The Sword Excalibur From The Stone”.

A few days ago the sword, which sits in front of the carousel, went missing, and while it was believed to have something to do with an upcoming refurbishment of the attraction, it seems that’s not the case. WDWNT reports that the site has been told by somebody in the know, that the hilt of the sword was actually pulled, or more accurately, broken, by a guest who pulled on it so hard that it came out.

(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Obst” on Vimeo, Jan Eisner asks the question, “If fruit could move, what would they do?”

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

My Year at Goodreads

The elves at Goodreads put together a graphic from my Kindle reading for the year.

I thought it would be fun to post it for two reasons.

It documents that I really did read Somtow Sucharitkul’s autobiographical account of his summer as a monk —

And I thought Craig Miller would get a kick out of seeing this cover collage and the august (or at least bestselling) company his book is keeping.

Walter Day Will Debut SF Trading Cards at 2020 Balticon

Walter Day, the trading card creator who also celebrates video games and historical figures, has announced that Balticon will host his 2020 Science Fiction Trading Card Award Ceremony on Saturday, May 23 at 2 p.m. Day will unveil the newest cards in the Science Fiction Series and present ornate awards to worthy honorees who have contributed greatly to the global science fiction culture.

In recent years this ceremony has been conducted at WorldCon 74 (Kansas City), WorldCon 75 (Helsinki, Finland), WorldCon 76 (San Jose) as well as smaller ceremonies at the last five years of the Nebula Awards Weekend.

This year’s awards ceremony will be held at Balticon 54, which is the annual Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention put on by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Here are some of the trading cards that will be unveiled during these ceremonies and given away as free gifts to the attendees at the event. I thank Walter for including my card in this release!

(Note: Day says he has already corrected the spelling of Leibowitz, but he hasn’t posted the new art.)

Day has held his ceremony in conjunction with major cons and events over the past several years. Card #65 (author C. J Cherryh) was presented on the stage during the 2016 Nebula Awards weekend festivities, in Chicago, IL. Card #34 (author Robert Silverberg) was among many presented on the stage during the Grand Masters Talk at the 2016 WorldCon, in Kansas City, MO. On Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the 2019 SFWA Nebula Awards Conference in Los Angeles, Science Fiction Historical Trading Card #211 was presented to William Gibson — the author of Neuromancer — as part of the ceremonies that enshrined him as the 2019 SFWA Damon Knight Grand Master of Science Fiction.

Here is a link to the full gallery of the 182 Science Fiction Historical Trading Cards already in print.

Day first gained fame as a video arcade owner and for his work certifying video game achievements for the Guinness Book of Records. He is widely recognized as the inspiration for Mr. Litwak, the beloved arcade owner in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph animated film released in November 2012.

Ready Player One author Ernest Cline says Walter Day (along with Twin Galaxies arcade and Billy Mitchell) were the inspiration for writing his story in 2011, later adapted for the screen by Steven Spielberg.

[Card art reproduced with permission.]

Q&A On Sci-Fi Package, Better Worlds w/ The Verge’s Editor Andrew Liptak

In January The Verge launched Better Worlds, a new series of short fiction and animation that explores how technology could shape our society and environment in better, more equitable ways. Here’s a Q&A about the series with The Verge’s Andrew Liptak.

MIKE GLYER: There are many ways of defining science fiction — one is that SF tells about the implications of science on humanity. How much emphasis do you place on the technical aspects of a story and how much emphasis on the human element?

ANDREW LIPTAK: As a science fiction writer and commentator, I certainly want to see cool future technology — handheld gadgets that we might someday hold ourselves, futuristic vehicles to take us from place to place, or advanced suits of armor that might someday protect soldiers and contractors on the battlefield. That’s always been at the heart of science fiction, ever since people like Hugo Gernsback began turning over pages of his electronics magazines to stories.

But at the same time, writing about futuristic technology on its own is just a technical manual. You need to have someone to press the button, and with that human (or alien, or robot) action, you need to have something behind it that gives it meaning. I’m a big fan of Isaac Asimov’s collection I, Robot, which explores what are very technical subjects in very emotional ways — Asimov worked through the various logical flaws with his Three Laws of Robotics, and in many instances, they hinged on ways that weren’t mechanical flaws, but emotive ones; Robbie saves a little girl, Herbie wants to try and make sure that nobody’s feelings are hurt, while Nestor’s overseers are desperate to find him when he takes their orders literally and hides. Each of those stories in the book deal with the impact of technology through a larger societal context, and that’s why that book has endured so well over the decades, because it frames those logical puzzles from the human perspective.

I think what’s most important about this balance is that science fiction at its best explores the ramifications of those technologies you’re imagining. I’m reminded of a quote from Frederik Pohl: “a good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile, but the traffic jam.” I recently read a fantastic book about the history of the iPhone that reminded me of that — The One Device by Brian Merchant. The book delved into all the technical details of how various components that make up the iPhone were invented. But alongside that, he explores the human cost of the device, from the engineers who were berated by Steve Jobs to the workers who are paid very little do mine the raw materials, or to assemble the devices. There was an anecdote that really stuck with me from the book — as the iPhone (and to be fair, other smart phones) came into widespread use across the country, there was an uptick in deaths of the workers who were installing and maintaining cell towers, because of that increased demand so that you could watch YouTube whenever you desire.

MG: “Better Worlds” is keynoted by words like inspiration and optimism. What ripple effect do you see the project having on the SF genre?

ANDREW LIPTAK: I hope that there are a lot of ripple effects! When we were designing the project, something that we came to quite a bit was that we wanted something that was essentially an anti-Black Mirror. I really love Charlie Brooker’s show, because it’s an example of really good science fiction storytelling, particularly when it comes to exploring the ramifications of technology. But it’s also so damn bleak. It’s not a show that I can binge watch, because I have to step away and decompress after watching each episode.

If there’s any big impact, I’m hoping that this highlights that “science fiction” doesn’t equate to “worst case scenario.” Charlie Jane Anders published a really excellent op-ed in The Washington Post the other day, where she highlights the need for science fiction to imagine what the future holds, and how we can get there. It’s not just parading in disaster porn where rugged survivalists find a way to survive amidst the collapse of society, but figuring out how people collectively come together to navigate a world in which the rules are continually changing.

Plus, the world is incredibly bleak right now. There’s a lot to be worried about when it comes to any number of issues, whether that be climate, politics, privacy, massive corporations, and so forth. But there’s still a lot of good that’s going on right now. The Better Worlds series isn’t about utopian futures — not by a long shot — but they do show how people coping with terrible problems can make the world better in their own ways.

MG: This is a beautifully-designed collection of multi-media works – how much of a collaborative process was involved, or were the different components produced autonomously?  

ANDREW LIPTAK: With each story that we’ve published so far, I’m constantly blown away by the creativity in the fiction, videos, artwork, and audio that come together. I was primarily involved on the editing side of this project, but I will say that it was a highly collaborative puzzle.

On one hand, you have all the authors who came up with the stories and put them down to paper (figuratively speaking), and the editors who take those stories and provide feedback and editing to make them the best that they can be. You’ve also got the artists, animators, and voice actors who interpreted those works and brought them to life.

On the other hand, you have all the unseen efforts that go on in the background: our managers, our fantastic copyeditor, business partners, social media people and our site’s leadership who help turn those stories into the fantastic finished stories that are on the website, but who also helped champion and encourage and otherwise make the series a reality that you can now read on our website.

Like any film, book, or TV show, nothing happens in a vacuum, and without the efforts of everyone involved, the series wouldn’t be what it is.

MG: What’s your advice for aspiring science fiction authors?

ANDREW LIPTAK: There’s a lot of advice out there that’s good — read a lot, write a lot, and read what you’ve written out loud, and so forth.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how incredibly valuable it is to break out of your shell / community / circle of writers / group to discover new ideas and viewpoints. I recently moderated a panel on the implications of artificial intelligence at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and I came out of that three-day experience with a notepad full of ideas for potential stories, based on what I’d seen and heard.

A lot of that came from the fact that I was surrounded by experts in military affairs, artificial intelligence, and robotics, and while a lot of them were certainly science fiction fans, they weren’t hung up on the genre’s long-standing conventions. I certainly think that if you’re out there writing science fiction, having a really solid familiarity with your subject matter is essential, even if you only use 1 percent of that. Go directly to the experts when it comes to science and technology. Spend a weekend at a conference for geologists or astronomers! Read a ton of nonfiction books about science and technology. Attend talks about ethics and social sciences that might be near you. (And take notes.) That type of multidisciplinary study and research will help bring new and useful perspectives to the genre.

Rotsler Award Exhibit at Worldcon 76

By John Hertz: Andrew Porter shot these fine photos of the Rotsler Award exhibit at the 76th World Science Fiction Convention.

Some Worldcons have nicknames.  This year’s Worldcon was just “Worldcon 76” .

In fact I know people whose nickname is “Nick”.  Maybe you do too.

I digress.

The Rotsler is for long-time wonder-working with graphic art in amateur publications of the science fiction community.  The current judges are Sue Mason, Mike Glyer, and me.  It’s named for Bill Rotsler (1926-1997), a long-time wonder-worker.  It’s ordinarily announced at Loscon.

We try to put up an exhibit at the Worldcon showing sample work by all the winners to date.  The exhibits have been curated by me, recently with first-rate layout and electronics help from Elizabeth Klein-Lebbink.

In building the exhibit I try to choose images that are both representative of the artist, and visually interesting for themselves.  If you happen to know the context, or some of the in-jokes, that might be more fun, but (if I do it right) you needn’t.  The exhibit is designed (I hope) so you can look at it as you go by, or stop and study.

You’ll see from Brother Porter’s photos that winners each have a section, with their name and year at the top.  Also there’s a section about fanzines, and one about Brother Rotsler and the Award.  Many of the images appeared in fanzines.  There are a few other things, like cards from Bruce Pelz’ Fantasy Showcase Tarot Deck.

The Award is sponsored by the Southern California Institute for Fan Interests, a California non-profit corporation (yes, its initials spell SCIFI – pronounced “skiffy”) – and, because this is fandom, where every day is Anything Can Happen Day, SCIFI the sponsor of the Award is not the sponsor of Loscon where it’s announced.  We are large, we contain multitudes.

Some but by no means all fanart (which, like “fanwriting”, I make one word; a loudspeaker is not the same as a speaker who is loud, a boyfriend or girlfriend is not the same as a boy or girl who is a friend) can be found in Electronicland; if you live there, Bill Burns’ Website eFanzines.com is worth a look.  As to the rest, seek and ye shall find.  If you have nothing better to do (and if you have, do that), you can always write to me, 236 S. Coronado St., No. 409, Los Angeles, CA 90057, U.S.A.

Photos taken by and (c) Andrew Porter. Click for larger view.

Pixel Scroll 8/18/18 With Pixelled Hide And Scrolly Horn

Much as I’d like to do more, I’ve got a long day tomorrow…

(1) DAILY NEWZINE. Read the Worldcon 76 daily zine here.

(2) WORLDCON 76. Got to meet Cat Rambo for the first time on Friday. Pics or it didn’t happen!

(3) DEMENTIA DISPUTED. TMZ learned in court papers: “‘Star Trek’ Star Nichelle Nichols, Her Son’s The Problem, Not Dementia, Claims Alleged Friend”:

Nichelle Nichols is spry and lucid, and doesn’t need to be controlled by a bunch of people who don’t have her best interests at heart — including her son– so says a woman claiming to be her close friend.

According to new legal docs filed by Angelique Fawcette … the ‘Star Trek’ icon’s son, Kyle Johnson, doesn’t really care about Nichols’ well-being … she says he’s trying to use her health issues as an excuse to gain possession of her riches.

Fawcette claims Nichelle even wrote a note to her son in March 2017, letting him know she wants to amend her will because he allegedly told her … “I can’t wait to get rid of this sh*t and sell [your] house and property.”

(4) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

  • Born August 18 – Christian Slater, 49. Genre work includes Tales from the Darkside, Beyond the Stars (an Apollo 11 film), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryInterview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles and the voice of Deadshot in various animated Justice League productions.
  • Born August 18 – Sarita Choudhury, 52. The alternate history series The Kings noted here before, the Hunger Games film franchise and the Blindspot series.

(5) ARMORED LIVING. Engadget takes a look at a FoMoCo program to equip some of its factory workers with passive exoskeleton vests (“Ford thinks exoskeletons are ready for prime time in its factories”). Though the upper-body machines do not do anything to make the workers stronger, they are said to enhance endurance. Though not entirely clear, part of the intent seems to be to reduce injuries.

The EksoVests (built by Ekso Bionics) are available for employees that have to reach overhead multiple times a day. The exoskeleton vest doesn’t have a motor or battery pack to make its wearer stronger. Instead, it’s a mechanical device that offers passive arm support from five to 15 pounds.

As the person reaches up, the vest offers their arms additional assistance. The higher they reach, the more support the system adds. “It’s not a strength enhancer, it’s an endurance enhancer,” Marty Smets, Ford’s technical expert of human systems and virtual manufacturing, told Engadget.

…Smets was quick to note that those using the vest are only a small portion of the assembly line. The company will issue a total of 75 exoskeletons, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that many. “Today, it’s only the passive upper-arm support skeleton that helps with overhead work,” Smets said. However, it’s just the beginning

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

Pixel Scroll 8/16/18 Ralph12FifthC41+

(1) MUNDANE COVERAGE. The San Jose Mercury-News tells how “WorldCon brings science fiction’s best to San Jose”.

Thousands of fans and creators will celebrate science fiction and fantasy at the “World’s Fair of fandom,” which includes presentation of the prestigious Hugo Awards.

(2) WORLDCON 76 FASHION NOTES. I like these hats.

(3) MEXICANX INITIATIVE. Photo from W76 Opening Ceremonies:

(4) BIG HEART AWARD. Here’s Mike Glyer finding out from Greg Hullender that he won the Big Heart Award – at the File 770 meetup at the Forager. Photo by Eric Wong.

Greg Hullender and Mike Glyer

(5) IT’S ALIVE! Electric Lit features “Jeff VanderMeer and Nick Mamatas on the Death and Rebirth of the Short Story”. The occasion is the release of Nick Mamatas’ latest book, the story collection The People’s Republic of Everything.

Jeff VanderMeer: Short fiction was dead. Then it wasn’t. Let’s assume it’s alive. Why is it alive, if so?

Nick Mamatas: It’s alive for a couple of reasons. One is that just over a decade or so ago, bookstores finally understood that they could sell anthologies of short fiction by treating them as though they were non-fiction. People really do wander into bookstores and say things such as “I love The Walking Dead. Got any books about zombies?” or “I’ve been hearing a lot about steampunk?—?got anything that’ll explain it to me?” and a big anthology with reprints by prominent authors and new or at least obscure material by less well-known authors is basically a textbook designed to answer those questions. Phonebook-sized anthologies by you and Ann VanderMeer, or by John Joseph Adams, really grew a generation of readers.

(6) MARVEL, ESPN TEAM UP. These are pretty good. From CBSSports.com, “Look: ESPN, Marvel create College Football Playoff comic covers”. The headline is misleading. Not playoffs… opening weekend.

(7) COMICS SECTION.

Some cat humor (or is it?) at Maximumble.

(8) POUL ANDERSON ESTATE SALE. Karen Anderson passed away earlier this year, and all of Poul’s and her household items, books, pictures, etc., are on sale this weekend. Public notice on Facebook. Tons of pictures of items on sale here.

ESTATE SALE OF POUL ANDERSON

HUGO & NEBULA AWARD WINNING SCI-FI/FANTASY AUTHOR

SAT. & SUN. AUG 18 & 19

8:00am – 2:00pm

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SATURDAY AUGUST 18TH

SUNDAY AUGUST 19TH

8:00AM – 2:00PM

(SUNDAY 1/2 OFF EVERYTHING)

SUNDAY AT 2:00PM I WILL BE TAKING OFFERS FOR THE REST OF THE UNSOLD ITEMS (BUT MUST BE REMOVED BY 3:00PM MONDAY 20TH)

7129 SAMOA PLACE
TUJUNGA CA 91042

(9) TODAY IN THEOLOGY. The Guardian — among other sources — has noted that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not recognized as, well, as a church in the Netherlands (“Spaghetti injunction: Pastafarianism is not a religion, Dutch court rules”).

The Dutch council of state has ruled that Pastafarianism is not a religion, denying a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster the right to wear a colander on her head in her passport and driving licence photo.

Mienke de Wilde is now considering taking her case to the European court of human rights.

The Netherlands’ highest court said de Wilde, a law student from Nijmegen, could not be exempted on religious grounds from a ban on headwear in official identity photographs, because Pastfarianism was essentially a satire and not a serious faith.

…De Wilde said the church was humorous but that did not mean it was not “very serious in what it stands for”. She was disappointed by the decision, which backed Nijmegen authorities’ rejection of her ID photos.

“I can imagine that it all looks very odd if you don’t believe,” she told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. “But that’s the case with many faiths if you don’t believe in them – people who walk on water or divide themselves in two, for example. I find other religions unbelievable.”

(10) MYSTERY AUTHOR. Wait, we’re not talking to JDA here?

(11) NO, THIS IS WHERE WE’RE HEARING FROM JDA. If you want to see footage of JDA wandering around the San Jose Convention Center today until he found somebody to kick him out, he’s happy to oblige:

(12) GROENING’S NEW SHOW. NPR’s Glen Weldon says: “In Matt Groening’s Fantasy Series ‘Disenchantment,’ The Humor Is Elf-Referential”

Disenchantment, Matt Groening’s new animated series that hits Netflix on Friday, August 17th, does for our mythical past what Futurama did for our imagined future, but it does so in a manner so closely reminiscent of that other show’s wryly cynical sci-fi hi-jinks that it could have just as easily been called Pastarama, if that didn’t sound quite so much like a seasonal promotion at Olive Garden.

(13) ANCIENT MIXOLOGY. Take 2 tbsp. myrrh… “Ancient Egyptian mummification ‘recipe’ revealed”. Major finding: mummification in Egypt is much older than was thought.

Examination of a mummy has revealed the original ancient Egyptian embalming recipe – first used to preserve bodies.

A battery of forensic chemical tests carried out on a mummy that dated from 3,700-3,500 BC revealed the recipe and confirmed that it was developed far earlier and used more widely than previously thought.

The Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, is now home to the mummy in question.

The findings are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Dr Stephen Buckley, an archaeologist from the University of York, told BBC News that this mummy “literally embodies the embalming that was at the heart of Egyptian mummification for 4,000 years”.

(14) WINGS OVER PANEGEA. “Winged reptiles thrived before dinosaurs”.

Palaeontologists have found a new species of pterosaur – the family of prehistoric flying reptiles that includes pterodactyl.

It is about 210 millions years old, pre-dating its known relatives by 65 million years.

Named Caelestiventus hanseni, the species’ delicate bones were preserved in the remains of a desert oasis.

The discovery suggests that these animals thrived around the world before the dinosaurs evolved.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Kendall, and James Davis Nicoll for some of these stories. Lots more material, but I’m tired tonight! Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

Review: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

Review by Mike Glyer:  Three of the four short novels in Joe Hill’s Strange Weather merge nightmarish technology and mythic predicaments in a way bound to fascinate sff fans, while the fourth is rooted in gun-related horrors the daily news won’t let us escape. All four tales are radically enriched by Hill’s exploration of the characters’ interior lives and relationships.

Joe Hill takes questions before signing at Vroman’s in Pasadena on May 25, 2016.

Years ago I lamented the fact that while a commercially-successful author like James Michener filled his epic bestsellers with heart-tugging characters, science fiction remained exclusively populated by the same two-dimensional figures that had marked it from the beginning, possessing just enough heroism and sentiment to explore the idea that was the reason for the story. That changed a generation ago, but I always appreciate a writer like Joe Hill, who’s ready to explore why someone makes the choices he or she does when plunged into the crucible of a science fictional crisis.

George Alec Effinger once explained that if you had a certain goal – like writing an sf novel that was also a mystery — you had to “budget” the wordage needed to honor the tropes of each genre. Similarly, for Joe Hill to drill into his characters’ backgrounds and emotional lives as he does in these short novels requires more wordage to unfold than it would to isolate on the sf/horror ideas underlying them had they been written in the days of sf’s pulp origins.

Snapshot

In Snapshot, a 13-year-old nerd finds himself the only force standing between an elderly couple and the menace of “The Phoenician,” a tattooed thug with a mysterious Polaroid-style camera that erases memories snap by snap.

The nerd, named Mike, tinkers on all kinds of projects, his latest being a confetti-firing party gun which obligingly obeys Chekov’s Law by the end of the story.

The wife in the couple once was a younger Mike’s caregiver, someone who helped raise him and now seems mentally ravaged by age. Although the “real” reason is an otherworldly camera in the hands of an evildoer, Hill takes full advantage of the opportunity to explore the end of human life, memory, and the loss of relationships in the face of frailty and illness.

Snapshot summoned the same emotional response from me as Keith Laumer’s “Long Remembered Thunder,” which is about a student who has to master an alien weapon to save his teacher and the person she loves. But I would add that while Laumer worked within a narrower frame of archetypes and sentiment, Hill frequently hits on compelling psychological, ethical and spiritual truths about his characters.

If Snapshot has any weakness, it’s that the story has more than one ending. Somebody needed to tell the author the story was over. Not that the extra wordage did any harm to my enjoyment of what had gone before – and maybe Hill just needed me to see what happened later on to an interesting family, the way Tolkien planned to do at the end of The Lord of the Rings until his friends talked him out of it.

Loaded

Loaded, the second short novel, is inspired by America’s gun culture, racial injustice, and the routine bloody sacrifice of fact-based truth at the altar of patriotic mythology. It’s painful to read, with a constant flow of tragedy, not just a tragic ending.

This is horror. Just keep waiting for the people you like to die. They will.

Aloft

Aubrey Griffin doesn’t really want to jump out of an airplane, he just wants to impress Harriet, and is on the verge of backing out until fate intervenes in the form of a strange-looking cloud.

He’s yet another of Joe Hill’s fat, farting heroes whose self-indulgence and denial must be explored on the way to unraveling the protagonist’s one-sided romantic aspirations, before he finally realizes he won’t be missed from the world any more than the guy in Bruce Jay Friedman’s Steambath.

Aubrey Griffin’s abortive parachute jump lands him on an impossibly solid cloud, where his human willingness to yield to delusions and wish-fulfillment may cost him his life. Aloft revolves around an idea that’s a classic sf mix of myth and mystery, made science fictional by repeated hints that it might all be a product of alien technology. Hill effectively draws on traditions like Shakespeare’s Caliban, the trials of Psyche in classical literature, and doubtless even more things than I recognized.

What is the cloud really made of? Will Aubrey survive? Having just read Loaded, I was feeling that was unlikely, and was marking time til the author arbitrarily decided which of the many dumb decisions Aubrey was making ought to be the one that killed him. Instead, Hill surprised me, and in the end it’s a new life, not the afterlife, that Aubrey is headed for.

Rain

The final of these four novels is Rain. On a seemingly ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of crystal spikes that tear apart everyone who can’t quickly get to cover. The first casualties include the protagonist’s girlfriend. The protagonist, Honeysuckle Speck, is a black lesbian and the girlfriend was in the middle of moving in on that fateful day.

And the neighborhood she was moving to is loaded with characters —

  • Russian expat dope dealers
  • a kid who likes to pretend to be a vampire
  • a house full of cultists and their leader

— not to mention loving mothers and absent fathers.

The crystal rain is not a single Fortean event — Hill pays Vonnegut a brief homage – this climate calamity is spanning the world and might be irreversible, reminiscent of Ice-9.

Honeysuckle wants to tell her girlfriend’s family what has happened, but can’t raise them on the phone, so she decides it’s her duty to walk to Denver and tell them, despite the risk of further shard-filled stormclouds. This quest also gives Hill his wanted opening to view the human race breaking down under the strain, to honor those who unexpectedly prove to be remaining pillars of social order, and to show how quickly the jackals come out.

Hill is very inventive and sometimes has trouble “killing his darlings,” getting rid of a really clever bit of wordplay that breaks character or throws you out of the narrative. (Like a reviewer who refuses to strike a gaudy phrase like “climate calamity.”) However, most of them remain carefully embedded in the flow of the story and ring true as insights the characters discover about themselves.

The quest and the view of many different people under pressure would seem like the point of the story – and it really is. Maybe Rain is another story with more endings than it needs, because before it concludes Hill also reveals how the weather crisis was caused, in a rather Twilight Zone-married-to-the-X-Files kind of way. But no harm was done, I didn’t become any less interested as he worked through the denouement, so neither I nor Hippocrates have reason to object.

Joe Hill, of course, is known as one of America’s leading horror writers. I come away from this collection rethinking my notions about the horror genre – which I not only identify with dark events and toxic emotional experiences, but with portentous and slow-as-molasses reveals. Strange Weather’s four short novels all move right along, quickly dispatching characters to meet their trouble or doom, and mapping the way with a personal history that needs to be solved just as much as the monster/invention/disaster that may end everyone before they can. I don’t know whether this book has made me a fan of horror, but it’s certainly made me a fan of Joe Hill.

Joe Hill meets Ray Bradbury for the first time at 2009 Comic-Con. Photo by John King Tarpinian.