Pixel Scroll 1/22/21 Enzyme Summer

(1) KEEP YOUR EYE ON THAT PALANTIR. An insurrectionist wants a federal District Court to force the U.S. to adopt an interim government from the history of Middle-Earth: “Paul Davis Cites ‘Lord of the Rings’ in Lawsuit, Declares ‘Gondor Has No King’” – the case is briefed by Law and Crime.

Paul M. Davis, the Texas lawyer who was fired from his in-house counsel job after he recorded himself among a mob at the U.S. Capitol Complex on Jan. 6, has filed legal documents which set a new floor for legal embarrassment in U.S. jurisprudence. The documents employ a series of awkward references to — and ideas from — the temporary government of the Kingdom of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings.

Davis’s lawsuit bombastically attempts to assert that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president and that a rightful heir to that office will someday return. Until then, the case foolishly argues that a federal judge might be able to appoint a group of “stewards” from the cabinet of former President Donald Trump to run most of the government from the White House. That should occur, the lawsuit lawlessly speculates, after the Secret Service escorts Biden and his wife out of the executive residence at the order of a federal judge.

…After a few lines of formalities, a six-page Amended Motion filed Thursday argued yet again for a restraining order.

“Gondor has no King,” the document says in its second paragraph, “to invoke a very appropriate quote from the J.R.R. Tolkien epic classic, ‘Lord of the Rings.’”

A footnote explains the analogy:

During the course of the epic trilogy, the rightful King of Gondor had abandoned the throne. Since only the rightful king could sit on the throne of Gondor, a steward was appointed to manage Gondor until the return of the King, known as “Aragorn,” occurred at the end of the story. This analogy is applicable since there is now in Washington, D.C., a group of individuals calling themselves the President, Vice President, and Congress who have no rightful claim to govern the American People. Accordingly, as set forth in the Proposed Temporary Restraining Order, as a remedy the Court should appoint a group of special masters (the “Stewards”) to provide a check the power of the illegitimate President until this Constitutional Crisis can be resolved through a peaceful legal process of a Preliminary Injunction Hearing and a jury trial on the merits.

(2) INAUGURATION DAY PRESENTS. More examples of the Bernie Sanders meme. First, where he’s dropped into fine art: “Bernie Sanders Stars in Art History’s Greatest Works in New Viral Meme” at ARTnews.

…A cascade of similar images soon followed. The art historian Michael Lobel made a version in which Sanders inside a moody café from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks—itself the subject of one of the more memorable Covid-era memes—and others placed the senator within iconic works by Sandro Botticelli, Vincent van Gogh, ASCO, Joseph Beuys, and Georges Seurat. (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte with Bernie, anyone?) There was even a version where Sanders appeared seated atop a stylite column that appeared first in a 5th century Byzantine manuscript.

But no version of the newest Sanders joke proved more memorable than one created by the writer R. Eric Thomas, who inset him facing Marina Abramovi? for one famous performance that appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. MoMA picked it up, tweeting, “Bernie is present.” Something about Thomas’s rendition may help explain its charm. In most pictures of The Artist Is Present, Abramovi?’s steely eyes meet her viewer, almost daring anyone who sits before to look away. But in the meme version, Sanders looks away from her, his eyes cast toward the floor. In this meme, there seems to be a willful disregard of something that was construed by many as being great—an anti-establishment spirit that befits Sanders’s own views.

Then, StarTrek.com also ginned up some silly ones: “#BernieBeams into the Captain’s Chair”.

(3) COURT DECIDES AGAINST PARLER. “Amazon can keep Parler offline, judge rules” – the Seattle Times has the story.

… On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein said that forcing Amazon to get Parler back online goes against the public interest, given “the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol.”

“That event was a tragic reminder that inflammatory rhetoric can — more swiftly and easily than many of us would have hoped — turn a lawful protest into a violent insurrection,” she wrote. “The Court rejects any suggestion that the public interest favors requiring AWS to host the incendiary speech that the record shows some of Parler’s users have engaged in.”

Amazon welcomed the judge’s ruling. In a statement, the company issued a rejoinder to critics who have said Amazon infringed on Parler’s First Amendment rights when it suspended Parler’s account.

“This was not a case about free speech,” the statement said. “It was about a customer that consistently violated our terms of service by allowing content to be published on their website that actively encouraged violence (and without an effective plan to moderate it).” …

(4) WILL GOOGLE GO? “Google threatens to leave Australia because of new media law” reports the Washington Post.

… The threat is the latest and most intense in a long-running battle that has pitted Australian lawmakers and news organizations against U.S.-based tech giants Google and Facebook. For years, news organizations in Australia have argued they should be paid when Internet companies aggregate news stories on their websites. Google and Facebook say their sites help people find news, and the resulting traffic to news websites is valuable on its own.The proposed media law would force the tech companies to negotiate with media companies on payments for previewing and linking to their content. If they can’t reach a deal, a government regulator would step in to set the rates. That arrangement is untenable, Mel Silva, the head of Google in Australia and New Zealand, said in prepared testimony released ahead of the hearing Friday. …The idea that Google should pay for showing news in its search results is not new. In Spain, Google shut down its news aggregation website in 2014 after the country passed a law requiring online platforms that profit off news links to share their revenue with media companies. Just this week, Google agreed to negotiate payments to French publishers.

In the United States, Google is facing multiple federal and state antitrust lawsuits that allege the company has used its domination of online search to benefit its other businesses and push out competitors.

“It seems very peculiar to me that effectively Google wants to blackmail Australian consumers and policymakers with threats to go ahead and leave this jurisdiction when these discussions are happening all around the world, including in the U.S. itself,” Australian Sen. Andrew Bragg said during the Senate hearing, which was broadcast remotely.

(5) WOTC LITIGATION ENDS. The lawsuit creators Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman filed against Wizards of the Coast last fall was settled without trial in December. “Dragonlance Writers End Lawsuit Against Dungeons & Dragons Maker” reported Comicbook.com.

A surprising lawsuit involving the seminal writers of the Dragonlance novels and the parent company of Dungeons & Dragons has seemingly ended. Last week, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the primary authors behind the popular Dragonlance novels, filed to voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit against Wizards of the CoastWeis and Hickman filed the lawsuit in US District Court earlier this year, alleging that Wizards of the Coast breached a licensing contract to write a trilogy of new Dragonlance books by informing the pair’s publisher that they were no longer moving forward with the books without explanation. The duo, who claimed that a Dragonlance novel was already completed and that substantial work had begun on a second book, sought up to $10 million in damages in the initial lawsuit.

The filing noted that Wizards of the Coast had not formally answered their lawsuit, nor had they filed for a summary judgement. As Weis and Hickman filed for a dismissal without prejudice, the duo could hypothetically re-file their lawsuit at a later date.

(6) QUESTION TIME. Octothorpe is a podcast from John Coxon, Alison Scott, and Liz Batty about science fiction and SF fandom. In episode 23, “A Lot of Foreshadowing”, the three “discuss the recent debate over the Hugo Awards and DisCon III’s approach to the same, before touching on some upcoming fannish events.” One segment is provocatively titled, “Are the Hugos a massive cankerous boil on the Worldcon that just needs to be completely purged?”

(7) FURLAN OBIT. Actress Mira Furlan, who gained fame playing Delenn on Babylon 5 and Danielle Rousseau on Lost, died January 20 at the age of 65. The Variety tribute is here.

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski gave a deeply emotional eulogy:  

… We’ve known for some time now that Mira’s health was failing…I’m not sure that this is the right time or place to discuss the sheer randomness of what happened…and have all been dreading this day. We kept hoping that she would improve. In a group email sent to the cast a while back, I heard that she might be improving.

Then came the call from Peter Jurasik. “I wanted you to know that Goran’s bringing Mira home,” he said.

“Do you mean, he’s bringing her home as in she’s better now, or is he bringing her home as in he’s bringing her home?”

“He’s bringing her home, Joe,” Peter said, and I could hear the catch in his voice as he said it.

And as a family, we held our counsel, and began the long wait, which has now ended.

Mira was a good and kind woman, a stunningly talented performer, and a friend to everyone in the cast and crew of Babylon 5, and we are all devastated by the news. The cast members with whom she was especially close since the show’s end will need room to process this moment, so please be gentle if they are unresponsive for a time. We have been down this road too often, and it only gets harder.

Bruce Boxleitner also mourned on Facebook:

…We have lost a light in our galaxy, but another has gained one. I will miss our talks, our laughs, our deep discussions about Hollywood and life. I will miss our dinners and trips abroad. I will miss the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled. I will miss her captivating voice and contagious laughter. I will miss sharing with her one of the most gratifying experiences of my life: the relationship between Sheridan and Delenn.

(8) SAUNDERS APPRECIATION. The New York Times obituary of the famous fantasy writer has appeared: “A Black Literary Trailblazer’s Solitary Death: Charles Saunders, 73”. He died last May, and as reported here on January 1, had been buried in an unmarked grave until friends raised money for a headstone. The Times has an extensive obituary with photos and book covers.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAYS.

  • January 22, 1984 Airwolf premiered on CBS where it would run for three seasons before moving to USA for a fourth season. Airwolf was created by Donald P. Bellisario who also created Quantum Leap and Tales of The Golden Monkey, two other great genre series. It starred Jan-Michael Vincent, Jean Bruce Scott. Ernest Borgnine, Alex Cord and Jean Bruce Scott. It airs sporadically in syndication and apparently has not developed enough of a following to get a Rotten Tomatoes rating.
  • January 22, 2000 Cleopatra 2525 first aired in syndication. It was created by R.J. Stewart and Robert G. Tapert. Many who aired it do so as part of the Back2Back Action Hour, along with Jack of All Trades. The primary cast of this SF with chicks not wearing much series was Gina Torres of later Firefly fame, Victoria Pratt and Jennifer Sky. (A sexist statement? We think you should take a look at the show.)  it would last two seasons and twenty episodes, six episodes longer than Jack of All Trades. (Chicks rule?) it gets a 100% rating by its audience reviewers at a Rotten Tomatoes though the aggregate critics score is a much lower 40%. 

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born January 22, 1788 – George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron.  Mad, bad, and dangerous to know; but, as George Szell said of Glenn Gould, “that nut is a genius”.  Wrote fantasy among much else, e.g. “Darkness”The Giaour, Manfred.  It could be said that his rhymes were fantastic – “And sell you, mixed with western sentimentalism, / Some samples of the finest Orientalism” (Beppo, Stanza LI).  (Died 1824) [JH]
  • Born January 22, 1906 Robert E. Howard. He’s best remembered for his characters Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane, less so for Kull, and is widely regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre. His Cthulhu mythos stories are quite good. I believe all of these were published in Weird Tales.  If you’re interested in reading him on your slate, you’re in luck as all the usual suspects are deep stockers of him at very reasonable prices. (Died 1936.) (CE) 
  • Born January 22, 1925 – Katherine MacLean.  Five novels, fifty shorter stories.  One Nebula.  Guest of Honor at WisCon 1. Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.  Interviewed in NY Review of SF.  (Died 2019) [JH] 
  • Born January 22, 1934 Bill Bixby. Principal casting in several genre series, first in My Favorite Martian as Tim O’Hara, a young newspaper reporter for the LA Sun who discovers that alien, and then as Dr. David Banner in The Incredible Hulk seriesand in both The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Death of the Incredible Hulk films.  He shows up in a number of other genre series including Fantasy IslandTales of the UnexpectedNight GalleryThe Ghost & Mrs. Muir and The Twilight Zone (original version). He also had the lead as Anthony Blake / Anthony Dorian in The Magician series but as he was a stage illusionist, I couldn’t count it as genre… (Died 1993.) (CE)
  • Born January 22, 1940 John Hurt.  I rarely grieve over the death of one individual but his death really hurt. I liked him. It’s rare that someone comes along like Hurt who is both talented and is genuinely good person that’s easy to like.  If we count his role as Tom Rawlings in The Ghoul, Hurt had an almost fifty year span in genre films and series. He next did voice work in Watership Down where he voiced Hazel and The Lord of the Rings as the voice of Aragon before appearing as Kane, the first victim, in Alien. Though not genre, I must comment his role as Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man — simply remarkable. He had the lead as Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four and had a cameo as that character in Spaceballs. He narrates Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound and will later be one of two of the narrators of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. That role is simply magnificent. Ok, I’m just at 1994. He’s about to be S.R. Hadden in Contact. Did you remember he played Garrick Ollivander In Harry Potter films? You certainly remember him as Trevor Bruttenholm in the Hellboy films, all four of them in total. He’s in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as Dr. Harold Oxley, one of the few decent things about that film. Series wise, he’s been around. I’ve got him in Spectre, a Roddenberry occult detective pilot that I’ve not seen. On the Merlin live action series, he provides the voice of the Great Dragon. It’s an amazing role for him. And fitting that he’s a dragon, isn’t it? And of course he played The War Doctor. It, despite the brevity of the screen time, was a role that he seemed destined to play. Oh for an entire series of stories about His Doctor! Big Finish, the audiobook company, had the singular honor of having him flesh out his character in a series of stories that he did with them just before his death. I’ve heard some, they’re quite remarkable. If I’ve missed anything about him that you feel I should’ve touched upon, do tell me. (Died 2017.) (CE)
  • Born January 22, 1951 – Donna Ball, age 70.  Eight novels for us as D. Boyd, Rebecca Flanders; ninety all told, with other pen names too.  Award-winning dog trainer.  [JH]
  • Born January 22, 1962 – Alison Spedding, Ph.D., age 59.  Author and anthropologist.  Three historical-fantasy novels; one science fiction in Spanish; three other novels in Spanish; shorter stories, a play, nonfiction.  While living in Bolivia criticized the government; imprisoned, many fellow academics thinking it political; released on a surety.  [JH]
  • Born January 22, 1972 – Stephen Graham Jones, Ph.D., age 49.  Nine novels for us (about The Only Good Indians last year, which caught the attention of the NY Times Book Review, note that SGJ is himself Blackfeet), a dozen others; ninety shorter stories for us, two hundred others.  Texas Institute of Letters Award.  Stoker Award.  Professor of English at Univ. Colorado, Boulder.  See this from the ReaderCon 30 Program Book.  Special Guest at World Fantasy Con 2020.  [JH]
  • Born January 22, 1982 – Janci Patterson, age 39.  A dozen novels for us, a score of others; some with co-authors including Brandon Sanderson.  Customizes Barbie dolls, watches “reality” television.  [JH]

(11) SUPER AUCTION ITEM. You have until January 28 to bid on a “Fantastic 1941 Letter Signed by Jerry Siegel, Thanking Sheldon Mayer for Promoting ’Superman’’’. Current bid is $783.

Excellent letter by Jerry Siegel, creator of ”Superman”, thanking comic pioneer Sheldon Mayer for promoting the comic before it was published in ”Action Comics #1” in 1938. Dated 18 September 1941, letter reads in part, ”Dear Sheldon: I may be coming to New York inside a few weeks and I hope we can get together at that time and curse the comic business to our heart’s content.

Again I want to thank you for all you’ve done to help make SUPERMAN what it is. I’m very much afraid that if it weren’t for a chap named Sheldon Mayer, as far as syndication is concerned SUPERMAN might still be gathering dust, and Joe [Shuster] and I would be working for a living…[signed] Jerry”.

Sheldon Mayer was one of the first employees of the McClure Syndicate, headed by comics pioneer Maxwell Gaines. Although many have taken credit for discovering ”Superman”, this letter serves as ultimate confirmation that it was Mayer’s championing of the comic which led to its inclusion in ”Action Comics #1”.

(12) GUNN APPRECIATION. John Kessel has posted some of his correspondence with the late sf author and scholar James Gunn from 2018 on Facebook: showing the advice he gave about a recently published novella.

In the wake of sf writer James Gunn’s death in December, I’ve been thinking of him and what he meant to me. The publication of my novella “The Dark Ride” in this month’s F&SF reminded me that I had sent him a draft of the story and we had this correspondence about it, which helped me to shape the final version.

I thought I’d post these emails just to show how generous and engaged he was even in his late 90s. I’m so glad that I knew him….

(13) CHUCKED OUT THE AIRLOCK.  [Item by James Davis Nicoll.] “The queen’s rep in Canada calls it quits after probe into toxic workplace” in Politico. If the Queen is not in Canada, the Governor General is our head of state. Not SFnal in itself but what makes this SF-adjacent is Payette is getting the heave ho over permitting a culture of harassment that included —

Allegations [dating] to the earliest days of her tenure when she would reportedly put staff on the spot to quiz them on outer space, demanding they name every planet or correctly state the distance between the sun and the moon….

Payette was an astronaut before being appointed GG.

…And last year, CBC News reported that Trudeau’s office failed to check with Payette’s former employees during its vetting process. As it turned out, Payette had resigned from the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 following complaints of mistreatment of employees, according to the news outlet. She also left the Canadian Olympic Committee in 2017, the year she became governor general, after two internal probes into claims she had verbally harassed staff members.

(14) FINN DE SIECLE. MEL Magazine joins its voice to the continuing uproar: “Finn Deserved Better — And So Did Black ‘Star Wars’ Fans”.

…Later on, in perhaps the most exciting shot of the trailer (at least for me), we see Finn standing in a frozen forest. His eyes are steely, determined. He looks every inch the hero — defiant, ready. He turns on his lightsaber. Its blue glow leaps to life just as we see the villain Kylo Ren and his red lightsaber spitting hot energy from its hilt. All of that tension, all of that conflict, absolutely crackling with dramatic potential. Only for all of it to fizzle away in the three films that followed.

We started with a Black stormtrooper who becomes a conscientious objector, follows his moral compass and joins the rebels to risk his life in order to save the galaxy. Somewhere along the way, though, the filmmakers made that character boring. That’s why Star Wars fans are still so pissed at the great betrayal of Finn. It’s why his name was trending on Twitter on Tuesday, a full year after the final film of the newest trilogy was released in theaters.

That last point is key: Finn deserved better. Hell, we all deserved better. The “we” in this instance is Black sci-fi fans. We’ve had to live on some thin soup from Hollywood for far too long. (Although we do have to give a shout out to Star Trek for Capt. Sisko.) For Blerds like me, we held out a small hope that it might be different this time. That Star Wars might finally move on from its Victorian-Nazi melodrama past and embrace the diversity of our moment. Specifically, by creating a credible Black hero.

The first time Star Wars added a Black character, we got a space pimp. Lando Calrissian felt like he’d escaped from a Blaxploitation film or a 1970s malt liquor commercial. But at least he was cool — paper thin, but undeniably cool….

(15) DRAGON APATHY. Declan Finn complains that no one wants to talk about the Dragon Awards on his blog, in “Emerging Dragons”.  

…But I am no longer going to ask for more suggestions. I’m not even going to try for a discussion this year. Why? Because every time I’ve done this, no one WANTS a discussion. Almost everyone who comes by drops a link in the comments going ME ME ME, and disappears.

With the exception of three or four people who are genuinely trying to have a conversation, the authors don’t even read the post. Literally. Two years ago, when I last tried this, I had people who came by, asking me to to add them to the list … and they didn’t realize they were already on it.

It was worse last year when I said “We’re not playing this game,” and people made the same request– proving that they didn’t bother to read the post.

(16) BENEFIT FROM EXPERIENCE. More encouragement to get the vaccine from the Governator. Followed on FB by comments from a legion of anti-vaxxers, naturally.  

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The monologue on last night’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, starting around the 10:15 mark, has Colbert telling disillusioned Q-anon conspiracy theorists how to fill the void by taking up his own enthusiasm for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

(18) VIDEO OF A MUCH EARLIER DAY. “Steve Martin and Kermit The Frog In Dueling Banjos” on YouTube is a Funny or Die sketch from 2013, and come on, who doesn’t like Kermit The Frog or Steve Martin?

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Rose, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael J. Walsh, Mike Kennedy, Michael Toman, John Hertz, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Jennifer Hawthorne, James Davis Nicoll, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 1/19/21 Good Gollum Miss Molly

(1) MANDO ABOUT TOWN. Yahoo! Entertainment says people have seen “A Mandalorian and Baby Yoda spotted speeding through Los Angeles streets”.

For several weeks, a masked Mandalorian and his Baby Yoda has been zooming around the streets of Los Angeles, spreading some good cheer during the pandemic.

…The man behind the homemade mask is comedian Tim Brehmer, who told NBC he’s out of work and his goal was simply to make people laugh during a tough time.

“This whole thing got started because I’m a big box of stupid and I love making people laugh,” he told NBC. “…with some people with depression, a pill can help, with some people therapy can help, with me, this is my therapy.”

(2) FANTASY FORERUNNER. In “Why George MacDonald Matters” at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Timothy Larsen gives an introduction to the great Victorian fantasist who was a major influence on the Inklings.

…MacDonald’s grandmother decided that the musical interests of one of her sons were becoming idolatrous and so she threw his violin into the fire.  Likewise, MacDonald’s own father confiscated a copy of a novel by Sir Walter Scott that the future author had managed to get his youthful hands on.

George MacDonald is a central figure in the generation that changed all this. One possible way for children to escape from relentlessly didactic and moralizing literature was to find a portal into fairyland. When MacDonald’s mother died, his father remarried.  The family patriarch also mellowed with age and regretted his Puritanical decision regarding the Waverly novel.  As a young adult, MacDonald insured that his little half-sister, Bella, received a copy of Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

In 1858, George MacDonald published his novel, Phantastes. He called it “a sort of fairy tale for grown people.”  On his twenty-first birthday, Anodos is transported into his fairyland….

(3) RANSOMWARE. Essence of Wonder with Gadi Evron hosts “Ransomware Negotiators: Professionals Talk” on Saturday, January 23 at 3 p.m. US Eastern. Register for the Zoom session at the link.

Ransomware gangs demand millions, from millions of victims. Then there are specialized negotiators that talk to them on behalf of organizations. In this episode, Gadi and Karen will host two such masters, Christoph Fischer and Moty Cristal, who will share their experience with incident response, negotiation, and communication with criminal organizations.

(4) FIRESIGN THEATRE. In an interview with two surviving members of the troupe, Wisconsin Public Radio recalls “How The Firesign Theatre Predicted The Future”.

…And the Firesigns did not shy away from social commentary. Their work predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union, the undoing of a president, the computer revolution, and a modern-day plague.

Ossman puts it this way: “I think at heart, although we loved mystery, we were really science fiction writers in that big genre, it holds everybody from futurists to fantasists to surrealists. Over the course of our entire career, we developed all kinds of worlds and characters and universes. I mean, it was fantasy combined with science fiction, combined with comments about what was going on at that moment.”

The Firesign Theatre has just released their first new record in 35 years — “Dope Humor of the Seventies.” It’s a two-disc set that includes 83 minutes of freeform radio mayhem, and madness from 1970 to 1972…. 

(5) SOME REALLY SMALL BITES. ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination’s series Science Fiction TV Small Bite presents “short films from talented creators that invite us to explore a range of possible futures.” The next one on February 4 features a short sf film about genetically engineered mosquitoes followed by a discussion. Register here.

Our latest Small Bite is Akoota, a science fiction film about genetically engineered mosquitoes and social control written and directed by Dilman Dila. We’ll screen the 20-minute film, and then have a conversation with Dilman, an award-winning filmmaker, speculative fiction author, and storyteller based in Uganda, and Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, professor and associate dean in the College of Global Futures, and author of the books Films from the Future and Future Rising.

We’ll also feature a segment on future cuisine by Corey S. Pressman, an educator, anthropologist, poet, and member of CSI’s Imaginary College.

This virtual event is free and open to everyone. Register today!

(6) YOU’RE NOT FROM AROUND HERE, ARE YOU. It’s like one of those Ancestry.com DNA searches that finds you a whole new set of parents. James Davis Nicoll discusses “Classic SF in Which Humans Come From ‘Beyond the Stars’”.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Stories

Ages ago, humans evolved on Hain. The Hainish exuberantly settled a large number of worlds in our galactic neighbourhood before apparently abandoning interstellar travel for long enough that worlds like Earth forgot they were Hainish colonies. When a new era of interstellar contact began, terrestrial humans discovered worlds already occupied by their cousins.

On the plus side, even though time and evolution—or alternatively, an ancient Hainish fad for genetic engineering—led to considerable diversity between the various branches of humanity, the communications gap is still less than that which exists between any group of humans and the truly alien entities found elsewhere, such as on Vaster than Empires and More Slow’s World 4470. On the minus side, human vices manifest in diverse native forms on each world: thus, the interstellar civil disorders seen in Rocannon’s World, the political strife featured in The Dispossessed, and brutal exploitation in The Word for World is Forest.

(7) GODFALLSTALK.  [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Game Trailers: Godfall,” Fandom Games says that Godfall is the sort of low-imagination game for times when “you just want to hit a bunch of guys with a big sword until they fall over” and has characters so generic they look like “sketches from a fifth-grader’s science notebook.”

This episode dropped today.  It is dedicated to Brad Venable, long time voice for Honest Game Trailers, who died on January 7 at 43.

(8) CONSTANTINE (1956-2021). David Barnett has written an excellent appreciation of the late Storm Constantine for The Guardian: “’A force to be reckoned with’– fantasy world pays tribute to Storm Constantine”.

… Constantine was never less than wildly enthusiastic about all her books, including the three of mine that Immanion published. If her imprint had started as a way to get her own work back into print, it quickly evolved into a personal mission to bring books to readers that the mainstream publishers often overlooked.

Donna Scott, now a writer, editor and standup comedian, was assigned by Storm to edit Hinterland. “It’s no exaggeration to say she changed my life. She was so encouraging and supportive to new writers, and fan fiction writers, which is rare among writers held in similar esteem,” said Scott. “The heart of fantasy literature is going to ache from the loss of Storm. Not only was she one of the most powerfully unique and creative voices we had, but also a welcoming friend to new talent.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • January 19, 1990 Tremors premiered in theaters. It was directed by Ron Underwood, and produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Brent Maddock, and S. S. Wilson, and written by Maddock, Wilson, and Underwood off the story by Brent Maddock, S. S. Wilson and Ron Underwood. It starred Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire. Five direct-to-video sequels followed, plus a series. The first film was well-received by critics for its story, special effects and acting alike, it currently has an eighty-six percent rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. Later films and the series are more varied in their audience ratings. (CE)
  • January 19, 2016 DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow premiered.  It was developed by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Phil Klemmer, who are also executive producers along with Sarah Schechter and Chris Fedak; Klemmer and Fedak serve as showrunners. The cast is is sprawling but Rip Hunter (portrayed by Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who fame) was at the centre for the first few seasons. The time travel, multiverse premise, and it’s now been renewed for a sixth season, allows for everything from Greek Mythology to Jonah Hex to show up. It holds a rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes of seventy percent. (CE)

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born January 19, 1924 Dean Fredericks. Actor best known for his portrayal of the comic strip character Steve Canyon in the television series of the same name which aired from 1958–1959 on NBC. His first genre role is in Them! followed by appearances in The Disembodied and the lead in The Phantom Planet which you can watch here. (Died 1999.) (CE)
  • Born January 19, 1925 Charles Aidman. He makes the Birthday Honors for having the recurring role of Jeremy Pike on The Wild Wild West, playing him four times. Other SFF appearances include Destination SpaceThe InvadersTwilight ZoneMission: Impossible and Kolchak the Night Stalker to name but a few of them. (Died 1993.) (CE) 
  • Born January 19, 1934 Audrey Dalton, 77. I’ve first got visiting the SFF genre in the Fifties monster flick The Monster That Challenged the World where she was Gail MacKenzie. She’ll make three more SFF appearances in Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaThe Wild Wild West and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. before retiring in her late Forties from acting.  (CE)
  • Born January 19, 1940 Mike Reid. He’s a curious case as he’s been in a number of SFF roles, usually uncredited, starting with a First Doctor story, “The War Machines” and including one-offs for The SaintThe Champions and Department S.  He is credited as playing Frank Butcher in Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time which you can watch here. (Died 2007.) (CE)
  • Born January 19, 1956 Geena Davis, 65. Her first genre was as Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife In The Fly reboot followed by her widely remembered roles as Barbara Maitland in Beetlejuice and Valerie Gail In Earth Girls Are Easy. She also plays Morgan Adams in the box office bomb Cutthroat Island before getting the choice plum of Mrs. Eleanor Little in the Stuart Little franchise.   She has a lead role in Marjorie Prime, a film tackling memory loss in Alzheimer’s victims some fifty years by creating holographic projections of deceased family members that sounds really creepy. Who’s seen it?  Her major series role to date is as Regan MacNeil on The Exorcist, a ten episode FOX sequel to the film. (CE)
  • Born January 19, 1962 Paul McCrane, 59. Emil Antonowsky in RoboCop whose death there is surely an homage to the Toxic Avenger.  A year later, he’d be Deputy Bill Briggs in the remake of The Blob, and he played Leonard Morris Betts in the “Leonard Betts” episode of the X-Files. (CE)

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Lio warns us about a new reason for alien abductions.
  • “Spaceman Spiff” (Calvin) learns that evading alien Zarches is much like evading your parents at Calvin & Hobbes.
  •  The Far Side tells how an alien invasion will be stopped.

(12) DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. A.V. Club describes DC’s new plan: “DC launches DC Universe Infinite with massive library of comics”.

With its movies and TV shows moving to HBO Max, DC Comics is taking its remaining assets (the comics, guys, it’s the comics) over to a brand-new platform. DC Universe Infinite launches this Thursday, January 21, and boasts over 25,000 comic books and graphic novels—including several frequently-requested titles that weren’t available on the previous app, like Grant Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and Brian Azzarello’s Joker. Described as a “premium digital comic book service and community,” DC Universe Infinite will offer a library of the largest collection of DC Comics anywhere, with plans to “continuously add selections from DC’s iconic labels, Vertigo, DC Black Label and Milestone Media.” New comic books will be available on the platform six months after release. The platform is available directly online, as well as on iOS and Android devices. Subscriptions cost $7.99 a month or $74.99 per year, billed annually.

(13) PROVING AUTHENTICITY. The Huntington’s article “Securing Election Results in 1640” shows how it was done old-school, with photos of the kind of specialized document involved.

…The need to ensure accurate reporting of election results is nothing new. In 17th-century England, local officials used documents called “indentures” to report the winning candidate in parliamentary elections.

The earliest use of the word “indenture” dates to the 1300s, when it described a feature of the document itself. Long before the widespread use of paper in the western world, scribes wrote contracts or deeds on parchment (treated animal skins). Then, as now, documents typically were executed by more than one party, so scribes wrote mirroring copies of the agreement on a single piece of parchment.

Using a pen knife, the scribe then sliced the parchment in two with vertical cuts that resulted in a pattern that looked like either jagged jack-o-lantern teeth fitted together or rolling, interlocking, scalloped edges. The word “indenture” derives from the Latin dentatum (toothed) because the cut along the top of each of the documents resembled teeth.

Parties would affix their wax seal to one copy of the indenture. If the contents of the document were ever disputed later, the parties could retrieve their copies and set them together. If the indents along the edges of the documents fit together like puzzle pieces, they knew neither of the halves had been forged. The indents served as a security measure….

(14) TITAN TALK. The American Museum of Natural History will livestream “Toxic Titan: Life on Saturn’s Moon?” on January 27. Ticket purchase information at the link.

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is unique in our solar system: below its thick organic haze layer, rivers of methane carve channels into an icy bedrock and flow into large hydrocarbon seas. Could this moon’s lake-mottled surface and thick, organic rich atmosphere be an ideal setting for life as we do not know it?

Planetary scientist Sarah M. Hörst explores this question and all that’s left to be discovered about our own home from studying a moon worlds away. 

(15) I’LL TAKE DONOVAN’S BRAIN FOR $100. Daniel Dern says he’s reminded of Niven’s story “The Coldest Place.” In “Superconducting Microprocessors? Turns Out They’re Ultra-Efficient”Slashdot reports an IEEE Spectrum news item: 

Computers use a staggering amount of energy today. According to one recent estimate, data centers alone consume two percent of the world’s electricity, a figure that’s expected to climb to eight percent by the end of the decade. To buck that trend, though, perhaps the microprocessor, at the center of the computer universe, could be streamlined in entirely new ways.

One group of researchers in Japan have taken this idea to the limit, creating a superconducting microprocessor — one with zero electrical resistance. The new device, the first of its kind, is described in a study published last month in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits 

(16) RAMPANT MUPPETRY. Seems like every day brings a new selling point for Disney+ that I can’t ignore. “Muppet Show coming to Disney Plus in February 2020” reports A.V. Club.

Oh, The Muppet Show15 seconds to curtainThe Muppet Show! Or, make that one month: Disney+ has announced that all of five seasons of Jim Henson’s pioneering variety show will join its library February 19—the show’s streaming debut, if you don’t count all the YouTube rips we’ve been watching while waiting for the show to come to streaming.

And speaking of YouTube rips, how about Gilda Radner doing a G&S Pirates of Penzance bit on the original Muppets series?

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Lise Andreasen, Michael Toman, Andrew Porter, John Hertz, JJ, Mike Kennedy, Cat Eldridge, Daniel Dern, Darrah Chavey, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 1/4/21 She’s Got
A Pixel To Scroll, And She Don’t Care

(1) KGB. Fantastic Fiction at KGB virtual reading series hosts Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel present Lauren Beukes and Usman T. Malik on Wednesday, January 20 at 7 p.m. Eastern. Check back at their website or social media to get the link when it drops.

Lauren Beukes


Lauren Beukes is a South African novelist, ex-journalist and sometime documentary maker who has written five novels, a pop history, a short story collection and New York Times best-selling comics. Her novel Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award, The Shining Girls is soon to be a tv show for Apple with Elisabeth Moss, and won the University of Johannesburg Prize and the Strands Critics Choice Award among others. Her new book Afterland, about a world (almost) without men, is currently in development. She lives in Cape Town with her daughter.

Usman T. Malik
 

Usman T. Malik is a Pakistani-American writer and doctor. His fiction has been reprinted in several year’s best anthologies, including The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy series, and has won the Bram Stoker Award and the British Fantasy Award. Usman’s debut collection, Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan, will be out in early 2021.

(2) COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER. In search of prospects to nominate for the video game Hugo, Camestros Felapton explores another game he hopes will meet his criteria of “look[ing] like they might be interesting/notable from the perspective of science fiction & fantasy as a broad genre” — “Review: Spiritfarer (Nintendo Switch)”.

…However, the game I will nominate in this category isn’t Hades but a game set in a quite different afterlife: Spiritfarer. The two games couldn’t be more different and yet both borrow Charon the Ferryman and Hades as characters from Greek mythology and both use (different) genres of game play to lead you to interact with a series of characters from whom you learn about their lives (and deaths) and your own characters back story. Spiritfarer has fewer murderous, laser firing crystal things though.

The genre of gameplay is resource management and exploration. You have a ship with a small number of passengers and you sail between islands collecting resources and improving your ship. It’s all presented as 2D animation largely moving horizontally.

(3) ELDRITCH FOR MILLIONS. IGN Southeast Asia tells “How Cosmic Horror Went Mainstream”. (You didn’t know that, did you?)

…Alternately called cosmic horror or Lovecraftian horror, this brand of story is focused on unknowable and ancient terrors. While the genre’s most iconic monster, Cthulhu, slumbers in a lost underwater city, cosmic horror just as often directly lives up to its name and comes from the cold of space or is lurking in isolated areas like Antarctica. The genre has few real heroes, mostly focusing on people who are already deeply flawed or struggling before they confront these horrors. While they may be killed, the protagonists are just as likely to be rendered insane or somehow fundamentally transformed into something as equally unknowable and terrible as the unspeakable creatures they have encountered.

But how did cosmic horror seep into the mainstream of movies, TV, and games? Let’s trace that history from D&D to True Detective to Nicolas Cage and beyond…

(4) ELLISON REFERENCE. In the discussion of other things,Scientific American’s “Hellscapes” column “A Quick Look at Underpaid Female Docs, Unethical Ethicists and Frogs with Intestinal Fortitude” ends with the following:

Speaking of hell, a study in the August 3 issue of the journal Current Biology revealed that the vast majority of members of a species of beetle, Regimbartia attenuata, perform a literally death-defying feat after being swallowed by various species of frogs. The beetle apparently swims its little heart out till it pops out of the frog’s derriere. Because, as another axiom has it, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

To find out whether the insect’s passage was active or passive, researchers immobilized some beetles by coating them with wax before going into the mouth of hell, or rather, frog. None of these beetles survived. To paraphrase science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison (who definitely would have come up with this experimental protocol if he’d lived long enough): they really don’t want to open their mouths, and they must scream.

(5) NO FORWARDING ADDRESS. “Is anybody out there? All the intelligent aliens in our galaxy could be dead…”SYFY Wire distills a scientific article about the chances.

…The Milky Way has been around for billions of years. In that time, life has not only had had plenty of time to evolve to an advanced level and achieve heights of technology even our wildest sci-fi dreams couldn’t fathom, but also to destroy itself.

“We found [self-annihilation of complex life] to be the most influential parameter determining the quantity and age of galactic intelligent life,” the physicists said in a study recently published in Astrophysics of Galaxies.

There were three types of limitations for the existence of aliens that the team studied. They considered the possibilities of abiogenesis, how long it might have taken (or be taking) for an intelligent civilization to evolve, and chances of such a civilization crushing itself. Abiogenesis is the idea of life spawning from things that are definitely not alive. 

(6) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. Here’s someone who’s theorizing is not discouraged by the preceding study: “Harvard Professor Says Alien Technology Visited Earth in 2017”Yahoo! has the story.

…Loeb says there are two big details that suggest Oumuamua wasn’t just a comet, but rather a piece of alien technology. The first detail is the object’s dimensions, as it was determined to be “five to 10 times longer than it was wide.” Loeb argues the cigar-like shape isn’t typical for a natural space object.

But the theoretical physicist says the biggest detail that supports his theory is Oumuamua’s movement.

“The excess push away from the sun, that was the thing that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Loeb explains that the sun’s gravitational force would cause a natural object to move faster as it approaches, and eventually push the object back, causing it to move slower as it moves away. Loeb points out that this didn’t occur with Oumuamua, which accelerated “slightly, but to a highly statistically significant extent” as it moved further and further away.

“If we are not alone, are we the smartest kids on the block?” Loeb asked. “If there was a species that eliminated itself through war or changing the climate, we can get our act together and behave better. Instead, we are wasting a lot of resources on Earth fighting each other and other negative things that are a big waste.”

(7) HEADLONG RETREAT. R.S. Benedict has posted a new episode of the Rite Gud podcast.”I talk to writer/artist Sloane Leong about SFF’s retreat into childhood nostalgia, and the beauty of mature fiction.” Listen here.

As the world looks grimmer and grimmer, Millennials and Gen Xers retreat deeper and deeper into childhood nostalgia. Adults dominate fandoms meant for children, like Steven Universe, Young Adult fiction, and My Little Pony. Within SFF, many writers, readers and editors have begun to treat all media as though it were meant for children: It must be didactic and escapist and safe. But there are still some of us who want art to treat us like adults.

In this episode, writer and artist Sloane Leong joins us to talk about the power of embracing your inner grownup.

(8) ROBERTS STILL ALIVE. People sent links to articles reporting the actress death, however, actress Tanya Roberts is still alive at this writing according to TMZ.

(9) JAEL OBIT. Artist Jael died November 17 reports Locus Online Jael (1937-2020). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says Jael did covers for Baen and DAW, as well as magazines. Jael’s work received eight Chesley Award nominations between 1995 and 2002.

(10) SHELLEY OBIT. Hammer Films star Barbara Shelley has died at the age of 88 according to The Sun: ”’Queen of Hammer’ who starred in horror films and Doctor Who dies after surviving Covid”.

She also appeared in the Doctor Who episode Planet Of Fire, starring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor.

Her agent, Thomas Bowington, said: “She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer.

…Shelley was also known for TV roles in series including The Saint, The Avengers, The Borgias, Blake’s 7 and Crown Court, and later played Hester Samuels in EastEnders.

Robert J. Sawyer praised Shelley’s performance in Quatermass and the Pit (1967) on Facebook in which she”played a completely professional scientist, paleontologist Barbara Judd, the female lead, in one of the best science-fiction films ever made.”He also posted a great quote from Shelly:

“I adored science fiction. When I was a very little girl my father used to have all these science fiction magazines and we used to go through them together. My mind had been opened up to science fiction by my father so when I got these scripts it wasn’t `What’s this rubbish?’ It was ‘that’s interesting.'”

(11) MEMORY LANE.

1971 — Fifty years ago,  Larry Niven’s Ringworld would win the Hugo for Best Novel at Noreascon I over Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass, Wilson Tucker‘s The Year of the Quiet Sun and Hal Clement’s Star Light. It would also win the Locus, Nebula and Ditmar Awards, and Locus would later include it on its list of All-Time Best SF Novels before 1990.  It would spawn three sequel novels and a prequel series as well which was co-written with Edward M. Lerner. One film and three series have been announced down the decades but none to date have been produced.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born January 4, 1882 – P.J. Monahan.  Newspaper cartoonist, illustrator in the “pulp” days (when our and other magazines were printed on cheap pulp paper).  Thirty covers, twenty interiors.  Here is Semi Dual, the Occult Detector.  Here is Thuvia.  Here is the 26 Jun 20 All-Story Weekly – weekly!  How’d you like to be the editor of that?  To show PJM’s range, here is the 1 Sep 12 Leslie’s, and here is a portrait of Pope Pius X.  (Died 1931) [JH]
  • Born January 4, 1882 – Violet Van der Elst.  Twoscore short stories, half a dozen collections, for us.  Starting as a scullery maid, she developed cosmetics including the first brushless shaving cream – don’t say we’ve made no progress – and grew rich; fought against the death penalty, threw her money and her mind into it, lost both, barely lived to see it abolished.  (Died 1966) [JH]
  • Born January 4, 1890 Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Creator of the modern comic book by publishing original material in the early Thirties instead of reprints of newspaper comic strips. Some years later, he founded Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications which would eventually become DC Comics. (Died 1965.) (CE)
  • Born January 4, 1904 – Dale Ulrey.  Four covers, a dozen interiors.  Also a comic-strip artist, notably Apple Mary, famous during the Depression, still running today as Mary Worth.  Here is her Wizard of Oz.  Here is an interior for Jaglon and the Tiger Fairies.  (Died 1989) [JH]
  • Born January 4, 1927 Barbara Rush, 94. She won a Golden Globe Award as the most promising female newcomer for being Ellen Fields in It Came From Outer Space. She portrayed Nora Clavicle in Batman, and was found in other genre programs such as the revival version of Outer LimitsNight GalleryThe Bionic Woman and The Twilight Zone. (CE)
  • Born January 4, 1930 – Ruth Kyle.  Founding member of the Lunarians (New York club, famous in song and story).  Hard-working Secretary of NYCon II the 14th Worldcon; married its chairman Dave Kyle; his tale of their honeymoon flight to Loncon I the 15th is here.  Good cook, gracious hostess.  Part of an adventure I had with Dave, see here (bottom of three).  (Died 2011) [JH]  
  • Born January 4, 1933 – Phyllis Naylor, age 88.  A dozen novels for us; a hundred thirty all told; some 2,000 articles.  Newbery Medal.  Sequoyah Children’s Book Award.  Mark Twain Readers Award.  William Allen White Children’s Book Award.  Kerlan Award.  “What spare time?  If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.”  [JH]
  • Born January 4, 1946 Ramsey Campbell, 75. My favorite novel by him is without doubt The Darkest Part of the Woods which has a quietly building horror to it. I know he’s better known for his sprawling (pun full intended) Cthulhu mythology writings but I never got into those preferring his other novels such as his Solomon Kane movie novelization which is quite superb. (CE) 
  • Born January 4, 1958 Matt Frewer, 63. His greatest role has to be as Max Headroom on the short-lived series of the same name. Amazingly I think it still stands thirty-five years later as SF well crafted. Just a taste of his later series SF appearances include playing Jim Taggart, scientist and dog catcher on Eureka, Pestilence in Supernatural, Dr. Kirschner in 12 Monkeys and Carnage in Altered Carbon.  His film genre appearance list is just as impressive but I’ll single out Supergirl,  Honey, I Shrunk the KidsThe StandMonty Python’s The Meaning of Life (oh do guess where he is in it) and lastly Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, a series of films that I really like. (CE) 
  • Born January 4, 1960 Michael Stipe, 61. Lead singer of R.E.M. which has done a few songs that I could argue are genre adjacent such as “Losing My Religion”. But no, I’ve got him here for being involved in a delightful project called Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. Lots of great songs given interesting new recordings. His contribution was “Little April Shower” from Bambi which he covered along with Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, Mark Bingham and The Roches. Fun stuff indeed! (CE)
  • Born January 4, 1981 – Sarah Crossan, age 40.  Two books for us, seven others.  Has read four each by Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, two by George Eliot.  [JH]
  • Born January 4, 1985 Lenora Crichlow, 36. She played Cheen on “Gridlock”, a Tenth Doctor story. She also played Annie Sawyer on the BBC version of Being Human from 2009 to 2012, and she appeared as Victoria Skillane in the “White Bear” episode of Black Mirror. (CE)
  • Born January 4, 1985 – Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe, age 36.  A dozen covers.  Here is Desert Stars.  Here is The Sentinel.  Here is Omni.  Here is his page at ArtStation.  [JH]

(13) THE SIGN OF THE Z. In the Washington Post, Michael Sragow notes the centennial of THE MARK OF ZORRO, the first Zorro movie.  He notes that both Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger and Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster say that Zorro’s twin identity as the masked crimefighter and the foppish Don Diego as a precursor to Batman and Bruce Wayne and Superman and Clark Kent.  In addition, Sragow sees Zorro’s secret lair as a precursor of the Batcave and Lolita Pulido’s ditching Don Diego for Zorro as Lois Lane favoring Superman over Clark Kent. “On Zorro’s 100th birthday, the father of swashbucklers and superhero movies is still relevant”

…Like Tennyson’s Sir Galahad, Zorro has the strength of 10 because his heart is pure. He’s also irreverent and mischievous. His sparkle exudes hipness: He embraces the New World’s egalitarian ethos while his enemies defend the feudal past.

Zorro lifted spirits in the 1920s. In the 2020s, his ebullience can generate ecstatic highs.

During Fairbanks’s previous run as the parody hero of contemporary action comedies like “His Picture in the Papers,” fans came to think of him as “Doug,” a tribute to his offhand elegance — like Fred Astaire’s, a triumph of talent and willpower. Doug transports this knockabout grace into “The Mark of Zorro.” With his light heart and “can-do” demeanor — qualities the world embraced as quintessentially American — Zorro soon dominated action-film iconography. Cinema would never be the same.

(14) ZOOMIN’ DOWN THE ROAD. “Movin’ Right Along With Kermit The Frog and Fozzie Bear” on YouTube has Kermit and Fozzie welcoming the new year with dreams of a road trip and showing they know how to use Zoom.

(15) THANKS, MY GOOD COUNTRYMAN. James Davis Nicoll surveys “Canadians in SF as Written by Non-Canadians” at Tor.com. (Is that allowed?)

Canada! Perhaps best known to fans of British soap operas, for whom it serves as that mysterious land to the west to which characters vanish after their purpose on the show has been served. Of course, all that is needed to learn far more about Canada than you would ever need or want to know is to get trapped in a conversation with a Canadian, uninvited exposition concerning their homeland being as natural to the average Canadian as it is any given inhabitant of a fictional utopia confronted by a woken sleeper from the pre-utopian past.

One might reasonably expect that most SF touching on Canada was written by Canadians and the Canadian-adjacent. Perhaps it is. Quite a lot of it is not. Here are five examples of Canada and Canadians in science fiction, as seen by foreign eyes.

First on the list is Bob Shaw, who’s challenging because he lived and worked in Canada for a period.

(16) HOPE HE GETS HIS MD. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] The first baby of 2021 in one Alabama town has a possibly-unique name, Anakyn Gene Strange. Yeah, they changed the spelling of the first name a bit, but wouldn’t it be lovely if the young lad went into medicine. Think of it  — Dr. Anakyn Strange. “‘The Force is Strong’ with Florence’s first baby in 2021”

Star Wars fans immediately know the reference when hearing the name Anakyn.

While it may not be spelled the same as it was in the series, Hope and Dusty Strange used the name on Florence’s first birth of 2021. Anakyn Gene Strange was born at 1:04 a.m. on January 1 at North Alabama Medical Center.

According to our news partners at the Times Daily, Anakyn was 5 pounds, 12 ounces and was 19 3/4 inches long with brown eyes and curly brown hair.

“There actually was a feeling of relief because 2020 was a horrible and challenging year,” she said. “It was the most pure way to start out the year.”…

(17) RAVENCON ANTHOLOGY KICKSTARTER. Michael D. Pederson, RavenCon 2022 chair, explains:

Being an April convention, we were forced to announce this year’s [2020] cancellation three weeks before the convention. Needless to say, after having spent 11 months buying supplies and paying fees for the con we didn’t have much (read: any) capital left after refunding the vendors. And we still needed to refund about a third of our attendees that wanted money. And now that we’ve had to cancel for 2021 as well, we’re really stuck for funds. So, we created an anthology, with story donations coming from many of our regular programming guests as well as a few of my old Nth Degree contributors. We’re using the anthology to raise funds through Kickstarter. We funded the entire project on our first day and hit our first stretch goal a week later. We’re working on a second stretch goal and expect to announce a third stretch goal later this week.

You can find the fundraiser at: CORVID-19 — Kickstarter. The stories in CORVID-19: A RavenCon Anthology are:

  • “Windows to the Soul” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
  • “Raven’s Sacrifice” by Heather Ewings
  • “The Cruelest Team Will Win” by Mike Allen
  • “Jenny” by Debbie Manber Kupfer
  • “Daughter of the Birds” by Maya Preisler
  • “Kvetina and the Crows” by Rhys Schrock
  • “Corvus Monitus” by Cass Morris
  • “If the Moon is Real” by Samantha Bryant
  • “Life in a Moment” by James Maxey
  • “Crows’ Feet” by Diana Bastine
  • “A Warning of Crows” by Jennifer R. Povey
  • “Wet Birds” by Elizabeth Massie
  • “Heart Truth” by Jenna Hamrick
  • “Table for One” by Joan Wendland
  • “Dominion” by Margaret Karmazin
  • “The Gore-Crow” by Meryl Yourish
  • “The Song of the Raven” by Toi Thomas
  • “Fledging” by Kathryn Sullivan
  • “Feather Fall” by Kara Dennison

(18) ESCHEW SURPLUS CONSONANTS. A whole collection of tweets from people who seem qualified to join File 770’s crack proofreading staff: “People Who Don’t Know How to Spell ‘Cologne’ Are Hiralous” at Sad and Useless.

Who would have thought that “cologne” is such a complicated word to spell correctly? Or it just might be that many people really are enjoying the smell of large intestine…

(19) LONG PLAYING. And long ago. This interesting discovery is available at Archive.org – “A Child’s Introduction To Outer Space: Jim Timmens” (1959) – with songs performed by The Satellite Singers, and dramatic readings, and a credit on the album cover to Scientific Advisor Willy Ley who won one of the first Hugos in 1953.  

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Wonder Woman 1984 Pitch Meeting” on Screen Rant, Ryan George says that the reasons why Steve Trevor appears in Wonder Woman 1984 have really creepy implications and that it’s highly unlikely that Wonder Woman could make an escape from the Smithsonian by stealing a fully fueled airplane from the Air and Space Museum.

[Thanks to John Hertz, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Jeff Smith, Darrah Chavey, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]

Pixel Scroll 12/17/20 For He To-Day That Scrolls His Pixel With Me, Shall Be My Sibling; Be He Ne’er So File

(1) INSIDE STORY. In “Why I Write”: Samuel R. Delany scrolls through the reasons. This conversation appears in the Winter 2020 print issue of The Yale Review.

… I remember sitting on the steps of the embalming room at the back of the chapel in my father’s Harlem funeral parlor, watching Freddy, my father’s embalmer, working on the corpse of a tan woman with reddish hair stretched on her back on the white enamel surgical table with its drain and clamps…

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Twenty-­five,” Freddy told me, at work in his rubber gloves with the bottles of pink embalming fluid.

“What did she die from?” I asked.

Freddy picked up the tag on the woman’s wrist. “Sugar diabetes is what it says here.”

“Does everybody have to die?” I asked.

“Eventually.” Freddy smiled. “But you won’t have to worry about that for a long time…”

“But I will have to die, won’t I?”

Freddy laughed. “Not for a long, long time…”

I think his firmness was supposed to be reassuring, but suddenly I felt a dizzying chill. I didn’t know what to say or do, but I stood up and said softly, “I’m going upstairs.” Halfway through the funeral chapel, I began to move quickly, and at the stairwell up to the first floor where we lived, I started running. My mother was in the bathroom, scrubbing the floor. “I’m gonna die!” I burst in, screaming, and threw myself into her arms. “I’m gonna die, Mommy! I’m gonna die!” I think she was bewildered.

“You’re not gonna die,” she said.

“No! No! Not now. But I’m gonna die…!”

She pooh-­poohed my terror, and for almost forty minutes while I screamed and thrashed and hugged her and sobbed, she tried to find out what was wrong. She couldn’t quite believe that, really, this was all it was. I had seen dozens of corpses before, but it never occurred to me to tell her that it was the reality of a dead body that had initiated my panic….

(2) LODESTAR 2020. Naomi Kritzer tweeted a photo of her Lodestar Award trophy.

(3) A SAUCER WITHOUT CREAM. Timothy the Talking Cat says what needs to be said – then, characteristically, keeps on talking: “Tim’s Hot Take: Discworld is Terrible” at Camestros Felapton.

Good evening everybody, it is I, your favourite feline provocateur, raconteur and secateur aka Timothy the Talking Cat. In every community there must be somebody who is brave enough, far-sighted enough and clever enough to speak to mindless herds and lay down the cold, hard truth about their clumsy sheep-like opinions…

(4) SOUND ADVICE. The creation of the Mexican Gothic audiobook is discussed in the AudioFile Magazine’s “Behind the Mic” podcast: “In Conversation with Narrator Frankie Corzo”. There’s also a partial transcript:

Jo Reed: I’m curious, and we can use MEXICAN GOTHIC as an example, because there’s quite a range of characters, I’m curious about what’s your process for determining the voice for any given character?

Frankie Corzo: You know, I think, very early on when I started doing audiobooks, I learned that there were the kind of giants among us who have a preternatural ability, supernatural ability, at being able to make these really distinct, crazy character voices, and I was like, “Okay.  If I go that way, it’s going to feel like a caricature,” and I never wanted anything, even when I do a children’s book, I don’t want it to feel performative. As much as it is a performance, you want it to feel as grounded and as relatable and as in the skin of these people as possible, so with every character, I always go from the entryway of their characteristics.  How are they described as how they carry themselves? 

You know, once we get past accents, once we get past anything that is really concrete that the author has informed us about, what are the characters saying about them, and what do they say about themselves, and how do they carry themselves in the world, and how does that affect their voice? I think going that route for me personally allows me more to play with when we’re in different acts of the book, when we’re in different places in their journey. You know, especially with a younger protagonist, or a lot of the books that I’ve gotten to do this year, like Natalia Sylvester’s RUNNING, our protagonist begins not really sure of her voice yet and figuring out all of these things, and at the end she’s like this revolutionary, and how does that affect your voice? So I always try to go in from the route of character as far as personality and physicality more than I go from a place of purely what they would sound like.

(5) KIND OF LIKE THE OPENING CHALLENGE OF BEAT BOBBY FLAY. What do you do with that odd ingredient? Sarah Gailey assembles the recipes they published earlier in the year to help readers cope with pandemic-limited cupboards: “Year In Review: Stone Soup” at Here’s the Thing.

…In the end, from March all the way through July, I wrote thirty-seven recipes. Some of them are kind of bonkers, because they’re designed to use a particular tricky ingredient. Some of them are pretty straightforward. All of them were written with the express intention of helping people weather a really fucked-up time in their lives, and for that, I’m proud of them.

Here’s the full list:

#1 – Comfort Broccoli
Recipe: Flavorful Roasted Broccoli
What do you do with the vegetables you’d normally cook as a Virtuous Side Dish, when all you want to eat is a really shitty burger? I don’t care how much you love fresh produce: when the thing you want is some garbage-food that’s designed in a lab to please your monkey-brain, broccoli feels like a thing to be endured. That ends today.

(6) SCALING DOWN. Former HWA President Lisa Morton joins in a discussion about Close Encounters Of The Third Kind miniature effects.

David Jones, Greg Jein, Mark Stetson, and Lisa Morton talk about the miniatures made for the original film, and the special edition. Extended segment from my Sense of Scale documentary.

From the transcript:

And you know there was the usual uh dropping stuff on the floor and things breaking little small pieces and and it was always at the most crucial time. I remember requesting that they put carpeting on the floor in our model shop because I think I was prone to dropping stuff a lot

(7) BULLOCH OBIT. “Jeremy Bulloch Dead: Boba Fett Actor in Star Wars Dies at 75”Variety profiled him.

Jeremy Bulloch, the British actor who starred as bounty hunter Boba Fett in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, died on Thursday in London of complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to his representatives. He was 75.

… Bulloch took on the role of Boba Fett in 1978 while he was starring in the television comedy series “Agony.” He had previously starred in the BBC soap opera “The Newcomers.” Other credits included the James Bond movie “Octopussy” and the TV series “Doctor Who” and “Robin of Sherwood.” He also had a cameo in 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.”

(8) TRIVIAL TRIVIA.

In Season 3 Episode 4 of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale a tribute is given to Ray Bradbury — at around 41 minutes one of the Handmaids exits a house with the address of 451.

(9) TODAY’S DAY.

December 17 – Wright Brothers Day

Wright Brothers Day on December 17 recognizes the first time Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew their heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled aircraft in 1903.

(10) MEDIA ANNIVERSARY.

  • 1999 — In 1999, the very first Endeavour Award for Distinguished Novel or Collection would go to Greg Bear for Dinosaur Summer. The Award is given annually at OryCon for a work written by a Northwest author or authors published in the previous year. Runner-ups that year were John Varley’s The Golden Globe, Kate Wilhelm‘s The Good Children, Steve Barnes’ Iron Shadows and Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic. He would win the same Award the next year with Darwin’s Radio. Oddly enough that would be the last Endeavour Award that he would win. 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born December 17, 1702 – Marie-Madeleine de Lubert.  Author of folk tales, or perhaps we should say stories in the style of folk tales, much admired; many fantastic.  Corresponded with Voltaire.  A novella and three shorter stories in Princess Camion (2018, i.e. in English); Cornichon et Toupette tr. as “A Fairy’s Blunder” in The Grey Fairy Book.  (Died 1785) [JH]
  • Born December 17, 1873 – Ford Madox Ford.  Among much else, a children’s fantasy The Brown Owl, science fiction co-authored with Joseph Conrad The Inheritors, five more novels and three shorter stories for us.  Ladies Whose Bright Eyes, which FMF said was “what would really happen”, has been called a reverse of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee – but not by me.  (Died 1939) [JH]
  • Born December 17, 1884 – Alison Uttley, D.Litt.  More than a hundred books.  For us A Traveller in Time, later made a BBC TV series; a score of tales collected in Moonshine and Madness; four more magical collections; stories about a fox (half a dozen), a mouse (a dozen), rabbits (twoscore), a pig (a dozen; the pig is named Sam).  Honorary Doctor of Letters from Univ. Manchester.  (Died 1976) [JH]
  • Born December 17, 1929 Jacqueline Hill. As the history teacher of Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter, she as Barbara Wright was the first Doctor Who companion to appear on-screen in 1963, with her speaking the series’ first lines. (No, I don’t know what they are.) Hill returned in a Fourth Doctor story, “Meglos” as the Tigellan priestess Lexa. She also appeared on two genre anthologies, Out of This World and Tales of The Unexpected. (Died 1993.) (CE)
  • Born December 17, 1930 Bob Guccione. The publisher of Penthouse, the much more adult version of Playboy, but also of Omni magazine, the SF zine which had a print version between 1978 and 1995.  A number of now classic stories first ran there such as Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” and “Johnny Mnemonic”, as well as Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata” and even Harlan Ellison’s novella, Mephisto in Onyx which was on the Hugo ballot at ConAdian but finished sixth in voting. The first Omni digital version was published on CompuServe in 1986 and the magazine switched to a purely online presence in 1996.  It ceased publication abruptly in late 1997, following the death of co-founder Kathy Keeton. (Died 2010.) (CE)
  • Born December 17, 1944 Jack L. Chalker. I really, really enjoyed a lot of his Well World series, and I remember reading quite a bit of his other fiction down the years and I’d loved his short story collection, Dance Band on the Titanic. Which of his other myriad series have you read and enjoyed?  I find it really impressive that he attended every WorldCon except one from 1965 until 2004. One of our truly great members of the SF community as was a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association and was involved in the founding of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. (Died 2005.) (CE) 
  • Born December 17, 1945 Ernie Hudson, 74. Best known for his roles as Winston Zeddemore in the original Ghostbusters films, and as Sergeant Darryl Albrecht in The Crow. I’m reasonably sure his first SF role was as Washington in Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, a few years before the first Ghostbusters film.  Depending on how flexible your definition of genre is, he’s been in a fair number of genre films including LeviathanShark AttackHood of HorrorDragonball Evolution, voice work in Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial, and, look there’s a DC animated movie in his resume! as he voiced Lucius Fox in the superb Batman: Bad Blood. He’s in the forthcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife. (CE) 
  • Born December 17, 1950 – J.R. “Mad Dog” Madden, age 70.  Chemical engineer and Red Cross volunteer.  Hosted Swampcon II at his house.  Letters, con reports in SF ChronicleSF Review, and even File 770 which, who knows, might appear on paper again.  Fan Guest of Honor at Coastcon ’81 and IX, DeepSouthCon 35.  Rebel Award.  [JH]
  • Born December 17, 1973 – Rian Johnson, age 47.  Wrote and directed Looper and The Last Jedi.  “A Paragraph on PKD” in Journey Planet.  Introduction to The Time Traveller’s Almanac.  Plays banjo.  [JH]
  • Born December 17, 1973 Rian Johnson, 47. Director responsible for the superb Hugo nominated Looper, also Star Wars: The Last Jedi which was Hugo nominated and Knives Out. I know, it’s not even genre adjacent. It’s just, well, I liked Gosford Park, so what can I say about another film similar to it? He has a cameo as an Imperial Technician in Rogue One, and he voices Bryan in BoJack Horseman which is definitely genre. (CE)
  • Born December 17, 1975 Milla Jovovich, 45. First SFF appearance was as Leeloo de Sabat in The Fifth Element, a film which still gets a very pleasant WTF? from me whenever I watch it. (It has a superb seventy rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes.) She was also Alice in the Resident Evil franchise which is six films strong and running so far. I see she shows up as Milady de Winter in a Three Musketeers I never heard of which is odd is it’s a hobby of mind to keep track of those films, and plays Nimue, The Blood Queen in the rebooted Hellboy which I’ve no interest in seeing.(CE)
  • Born December 17, 1985 – Greg James, age 35.  With Chris Smith, three Kid Normal novels and a shorter story; a short story in The Time Collection.  Radio, television; presented I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse.  Cricket and rugby fan.  Powerful charity fund-raiser cycling, climbing mountains, lip-synching “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.  [JH]

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • The Duplex shows why bean-counters and Seuss don’t mix.

(13) NEXT BATMAN. “DC Comics Sets The Stage For The First Black Batman” reports Black Information Network.

DC Comics set the stage for a groundbreaking development in their iconic Batman series. This week, the character of Tim “Jace” Fox took on the role of Batman. By doing so, he becomes the first Black character to hold the title.

“Even before the announcement of DC Future State and Future State: The Next Batman by John RidleyNick Derington and Laura Braga, the news that a person of color could be the next to don the cape and cowl as Gotham City’s protector sent tongues wagging inside and outside the comic book community about who it could possibly be,” DC Comics wrote.

Gizmodo has more: “DC Comics Reveals New, Black Batman Tim Fox for Future State”

After teasing that the upcoming Future State event would bring some bold, sweeping changes to a new generation of its legacy heroes, DC has confirmed the identity of the event’s Batman: Tim Fox, the estranged son of longtime Batman ally Lucius Fox, and brother of Batwing himself, Luke.

Tim has had a long, if relatively quiet, history out of the cowl in DC’s Batfamily books, first appearing back in 1979 during a terse dinnertable discussion between him and Lucius over his college grades in the pages of Batman #313. More recently, talk of what he’s been up to has been woven in and out of the Joker War arc in the pages of the Batman ongoing. Meanwhile, the Fox family had been brought “in-house” to help Bruce Wayne through FoxTech—with Lucius deciding that now is the time to attempt to reconnect with his distant son.

(14) SOMETIMES IN GOOD TASTE. But often not. Jennifer Szalai reviews Reid Mitenbuler’s Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation for the New York Times: “‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation”.

By the time Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” premiered at Manhattan’s Broadway Theater on Nov. 13, 1940, what had started out as an animated short to revive Mickey Mouse’s flagging career had become a feature-length extravaganza. Images in the movie channeled evolutionary theory and abstract art, depicting roaring dinosaurs, vibrating shapes and dancing brooms. Everything was set to classical music and blasted over the new Fantasound system, whose volume could apparently reach 165 decibels — enough, The New Yorker reported at the time, to “kill many elderly members of the audience, knock the others cold and deafen the survivors for life.” The magazine continued: “Don’t worry about it, though. You’re safe with Walt Disney.”

The combination perfectly encapsulated what Disney Studios was becoming: a determined wielder of awesome power, leavened by Disney’s assurances that he was a really nice guy. (This happened to mirror the self-image of the country at large, which assiduously coupled its impending dominance on the world stage with repeated avowals of benign intentions.) According to “Wild Minds,” Reid Mitenbuler’s lively history of the first half-century of animation, “Fantasia” marked a turning point in American culture, an attempt to reconcile the refinement of artistic ambition with the demands of mass consumption. To work on the project, Disney had tapped the conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was so proudly pretentious that the studio’s cartoonists wanted to call the movie “Highbrowski by Stokowski.”….

(15) REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS RIGHT NOW. “Stephen Colbert Answers a Series of Revealing Questions (While Drinking Whiskey)” to answer Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire. (Plenty of genre references in his answers to #27 and #28.)

Through its origins as a parlor game made popular by Marcel Proust, the 35 questions are designed to reveal the nature of Stephen’s true self. What is his idea of perfect happiness? Who are his favorite writers? What is his biggest regret?

(16) VANISHED WORLD. In his “Graphic Content” column “Into the Crime-Riddled 1980’s Los Angeles of Ethan Reckless” on CrimeReads, Alex Segura interviews Ed Brubaker about his new graphic novel Reckless illustrated by Sean Phillips and “set in the wild world of 1980s Los Angeles.”

[Brubaker] .. The crazy part was realizing that because we had so much lead time, we could put out three of these books in one year. I was reading about how the first three Travis McGee books came out just a few months apart from each other, and I thought… we could do that. Since we’re switching away from monthly comics to graphic novels, lets try and keep them on a tight schedule, so our readers don’t have to wait a year for the next one. So far we’re on track and it hasn’t killed us, but we’re both back in lockdown where we live, so that’s been good for productivity, I guess.

(17) FASTING. “Faster Than Light? How About Faster Than Thought?—a Film Review” at Mind Matters.

Anyhow, here’s a short film about it, “Hyperlight” by Adam Stern: “FTL”: “A lone astronaut testing the first faster-than-light spacecraft travels farther than he imagined possible,” attempting to establish communications with a colony on Mars:

(18) JEOPARDY! Say, those Jeopardy! sff questions are getting tougher! Here’s what Andrew Porter witnessed in tonight’s episode.

Category: First Words

Answer: “A screaming comes across the sky”, begins this 1973 Thomas Pynchon novel.

Wrong question: What is “The Crying of Lot 49”?

Correct question: What is “Gravity’s Rainbow”?

(19) CHARTING THE MUPPETS. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the December 12 Financial Times, Helen Brown discusses the Muppets song “Mah-Na Mah-Na,” which was originally written by “prolific Tuscan jazz composer Piero Umiliani” for “an Italian soft-core exploitation film, Sweden:  Heaven And Hell.”

The puppets first performed the song on the show (Sesame Street) on November 27, 1969, sung by two wool-plated Muppets (voiced by Frank Oz and Loretta Long) and beatnik character Bip Biuppadotta, voiced by (Jim) Henson himself.  The loveable comedy of the scat lay in the way Henson often began his scats with enthusiasm, only to lose his thread.  A follow-up performance on the primetime -The Ed Sullivan Show- took it mainstream.  The female back-up singers were reimagined  as fluorescent twin monsters with massive  eyelashes called Snowths:  a combination of snout and mouth.  The beatnik’s scat odysseys grew increasingly deranged until he literally broke the fourth wall by running into the camera and smashing it…

…The Snowths and Bip Bippadotta performed the song in a 1976 episode of -The Muppet Show-, intoducing it to a new audience.  In 1977, it was released as a single (“Mahna Mahna”) which peaked at number eight in the UK charts, while -The Muppet Show- soundtrack album on which it appeared knocked The Beatles’s -Live At Hollywood Bowl- from the top of the charts.

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

Pixel Scroll 11/5/20 007 Of Nine

(1) TO PATREON, OR NOT TO PATREON. Artist Emily Hare gives creators a lot to think about in “Should You Start A Patreon Page?”

Where To Start

Here are some questions I think would be useful for someone starting their Patreon page to ask themselves: 

Do I have a consistent style or theme?

Do I have a project to share?

Am I comfortable being held accountable for my output?

Have I got an engaged online following (small or large)

Do you want this to be full time or part time?

Are you a good teacher?

1. I believe number 1 is an important one. If you have a recognisable look to your work or always choose specific themes (like I nearly always stick with fantasy and fairytale type things) then this will help enormously. People who are paying you regularly will want to be paying for the thing they sign up for. So for instance, if they sign up for cute fluffy bunny art and then when they’re signed up you occasionally post erotic horror for example, then they will not stay a patron unless they happen to be interested in both those things. This is a very silly and extreme example, but you get my meaning! This doesn’t mean that someone doing more than one thing can’t have success with Patreon, but it is going to be much harder. Know your audience and be aware of why they are following you. Humans like the familiar and predictable. We are creatures of habit!…

(2) KGB. Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series hosts Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel present William Gibson and Cat Rambo in a YouTube livestreamed reading on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 7 p.m. Eastern. Link forthcoming.

William Gibson

William Gibson is the author of Neuromancer and other novels, most recently Agency, a sequel to The Peripheral. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo is the author of over two hundred stories and four novels, including upcoming space opera, You Sexy Thing, from Tor Macmillan in 2021. Her novelette Carpe Glitter won a Nebula Award earlier this year. She lives, writes, and teaches in Seattle.

(3) NATURALLY. “‘Some Version of the Apocalypse Is Inevitable’” – Kara Swisher interviews Jeff VanderMeer for an episode of the New York Times’ “Sway.”Transcript available.

Kara Swisher

This is a perfect way to get into your books because you sort of are creating your own Area X there, I guess.

Jeff Vandermeer

Well, people have varying ideas about what Area X is. At the end of the day, Area X is a very natural, nice, beautiful place as long as you don’t stay there too long. But I think what it is that in Area X, at least by the rules of that fictional construct, people who are more attuned to their environment and more already integrated with it have less of an issue. So it’s just like almost a metaphorical or a more direct embodiment of what we see in the real world because what is somebody — like a few streets down, I saw someone the other day doing something very disturbing. They were spraying herbicide across all their dead leaves under their pine trees. Well, they’re also increasing their own possibility of cancer. So by not living in harmony, they’re also killing themselves to some degree. So that’s kind of what I’m getting at in part there, but I also think that it’s important for Area X to have its own ultimately unknowable purpose to the point where, even though I know most of it, there are things I don’t know too.

(4) RECUSAL. Horror Writers Association President sends a message:

(5) SMILING IN THE PUBLIC EYE. Men’sHealth may not be known for its comedy, but they have unfurled “99 Star Wars Jokes That Would Even Make Darth Vader Laugh”. I don’t promise the other 97 are as good as these —

Why didn’t any of Luke Skywalker’s marriages last?
He always followed Obi-Wan’s advice: “Use divorce, Luke.”

What was Lando’s nickname before he became a skilled pilot?
Crashdo.

(6) A BIRD IN THE HAND. Heroes & Icons reminds fans that “The Original Romulan Bird Of Prey Model From Star Trek Was Trashed”.

“Balance of Terror” remains one of the most important episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series. After all, this was the tale that first introduced us to the Romulans. In the adventure, a Federation outpost located in the Romulan Neutral Zone comes under attack by a Romulan warship.

When filming began on “Balance of Terror,” producer Bob Justman placed a call to his ace up the sleeve — special effects designer Wah Chang. The uncredited artist was the brilliant creative mind behind the communicator, the Salt Vampire, the Tribbles and other iconic Trek costumes and props. Justman asked Chang to fabricate a new alien ship with a twist. He wanted something like a bird swooping down upon its enemy to wipe them out.

Chang did just that, decorating the underbelly of his Romulan Bird of Prey with a graphic fit for the hood of a vintage Pontiac Firebird. The model was put into action and became a vital part of the standout episode.

However, in a subsequent season, when another script called for the model to be pulled out of mothballs, a tragic fate had taken the bird from us.

Wah Chang was a non-union contractor. The Bird of Prey prop was returned to him after the production of “Balance of Terror.” Thinking it was a one-off use, Chang had disposed of the ship. After much back and forth, producers came to the revelation and determined the budget could not afford to rebuild the prop.

(7) HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Disney+ dropped a trailer for the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.Begins streaming November 17.

“The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special” reunites Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewie, Rose and the droids for a joyous feast on Life Day. Rey sets off on a new adventure with BB-8 to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force. At a mysterious Jedi Temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure through beloved moments in Star Wars cinematic history, coming into contact with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan and other iconic heroes and villains from all nine Skywalker saga films. But will she make it back in time for the Life Day feast and learn the true meaning of holiday spirit?

(8) MEDIA ANNIVERSARY.

  • November 1985 — Thirty-five years ago this month, Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: A Comedy of Manners was first published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons. (There’s a limited edition of fifty copies done at the same time.) The cover art for the trade edition is by Michael Whelan. It might be considered a sequel to The Number of the Beast. Or not. David Langford in his White Dwarf review said, “ it’s Heinlein self-indulgence time again.” 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born November 5, 1938 Jim Steranko, 82. His breakthrough series  was the Sixties’ “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” featured in Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales and in the subsequent debut series. His design sensibility is widespread within and without the comics industry, affecting even Raiders of the Lost Ark and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as he created the conceptual art and character designs for them. He was inducted into the comic-book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006. (CE)
  • Born November 5, 1940 – Butch Honeck, 80.  Sculptor.  Guest of Honor at Archon 27, Capclave 2004, DucKon 13, Lunacon 48, ConClave XXX.  Archon Hall of Fame.  Magic Mountain bronze (with wife Susan Honeck), 1987 Chesley for Best Three-Dimensional; see here.  [JH]
  • Born November 5, 1942 – Frank Gasperik.  Singer and storyteller.  With Leslie Fish a novella and a short story.  This FG memorial page from a Larry Niven Website produced by LN fans has a note by Jerry Pournelle, a portrait by Kelly Freas, and several links of which some worked when (4 a.m. PST, 5 Nov 20) I tried them; about filk music, see here.  (Died 2007) [JH]
  • Born November 5, 1944 Carole Nelson Douglas, 76. Although she has two inarguably genre series In the Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator and the Sword and Circlet novels, I’m here to pitch to you her Social Justice Warrior credential series instead (and dissenters can now go elsewhere) in the form of her Midnight Louie series.  Each novel is told in part from the point of view of Midnight Louie, the cat himself in a style some say is like that of a Damon Runyon character. Great dearies, lovely premise. (CE) 
  • Born November 5, 1946 – Barry Gold, 74.  Famed among filkers, more widely active in Los Angeles fandom e.g. his 2017 Evans-Freehafer award (for service to LASFS the L.A. Science Fantasy Society, in his case over five decades).  With wife Lee Gold, Along Fantasy Way (Tom Digby Fan Guest of Honor Book for ConFrancisco the 51st Worldcon), Alarums and Excursions (role-playing-game apa), Xenofilkia (filkzine).  Both in the Filk Hall of Fame, Interfilk Guests at OVFF 16 (Ohio Valley Filk Fest), Featured Filkers at Boskone 44.  [JH]
  • Born November 5, 1949 Armin Shimerman, 71. Quark on Deep Space Nine. And Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer who if I remember correctly came to a very bad end.  He had the recurring role of Pascal on Beauty and the Beast. He also played Professor George Edward Challenger in the later Nineties Lost World film. (CE)
  • Born November 5, 1952 – Frankie Bailey, Ph.D., 68.  Professor, School of Criminal Justice, State University of NY at Albany.  Two novels for us; next door she has an essay in R. Lupoff’s One Murder at a Time, seven novels, shorter stories, nonfiction.  “The first speech I ever memorized was Patrick Henry’s fiery ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death’ – which I later recalled with some irony when I learned the truth about the founding fathers and slavery.  However, I am still a proud Virginian.”  Website here.  [JH]
  • Born November 5, 1958 – Gary Farber, 62.  Indispensable outspoken fan in the 1970s-1990s; fanzine Drift (“Have you got Gary Farber’s Drift?”).  See him as he was then (YouTube; special bonus appearances by other well-known fans of the time).  Today by his own statement largely gafiated although occasionally appearing here.  [JH]
  • Born November 5, 1960 Tilda Swinton, 60. Her take as Rosetta/Ruby/Marinne/Olive in Teknolust might be the most weird genre role she’s done but I like her take as The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as her best role to date. Mind you her Gabriel in Constantine was frelling strange… (CE)
  • Born November 5, 1961 Sam Rockwell, 59. First in our area of interest as the Head Thug in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve got him next being Francis Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not a role I knew. Ahhh Guy Fleegman on Galaxy Quest. And lastly, he was Zaphod Beeblebroxin The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (CE)
  • Born November 5, 1966 – Erik V. Olson, 54.  Chaired SMOFcon 21 (SMOF for “secret masters of fandom” as Bruce Pelz said a joke – nonjoke – joke; SMOFcon draws people who often do the work at SF conventions and want to do it better), Capricon 31.  See him in this story of how the (eventually successful) bid for Aussiecon IV the 68th Worldcon started (and note that the author K. Buehler, in much the same way, later chaired CoNZealand the 78th).  [JH]

(10) COMICS SECTION.

(11) ALL IN COLOR FOR ALL THE MARKET WILL BEAR. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] I saw Secret Origin: The History Of DC Comics, a 2010 documentary narrated by Ryan Reynolds and directed by Mac Carter.  This is a corporate history celebrating DC’s 75th anniversary.  Like a lot of corporate histories, the best part of it is the documentation. I didn’t realize so much footage of Siegel and Shuster from the 1930s survives.  The role of editors Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz is accurately described, including their origins in sf fandom of the 1930s.  There’s even an uncredited photo of L. Sprague de Camp.

Best line:  Neil Gaiman says that he told his high school guidance counselor, “I want to write American comics” and the counselor said, “Have you ever considered accountancy?”

I didn’t really learn anything from this documentary but I thought it was well-made and interesting and a good use of 90 minutes.

(12) PHONE HOME. [Item by Daniel Dern.] Saw it earlier today while there, took a picture of the cover, decided to borrow it… Hope Rides Again (Obama Biden Mysteries, #2)  by Andrew Shaffer:

“In the sequel to the New York Times best-selling novel Hope Never Dies, Obama and Biden reprise their roles as BFFs-turned-detectives as they chase Obama’s stolen cell phone through the mean streets of Chicago–and right into a vast conspiracy.”

(13) TALKING ANIMALS. Netflix dropped a trailer for Beastars Season 2.

Next year, BEASTARS returns with a brand-new season full of mystery, suspense, and never before seen beasts. Are you ready?

(14) KRAMER NEMESIS LOSES ELECTION. The Georgia county District Attorney who prosecuted Ed Kramer on various charges over the past decade, including child molestation, lost his re-election bid this week. (Kramer is a co-founder of Dragon Con, but has not been a co-owner since 2013.)

“After nearly 30 years in office, Danny Porter is out as Gwinnett County elects its first Black DA” reports the Gwinnett (GA) Daily Post.

DA Danny Porter had held the office for nearly 30 years, going back to 1992. His bid to serve one more term in the office came up short on Tuesday, however, after he was defeated by his Democratic challenger Patsy Austin-Gatson.

… Austin-Gatson, who is one of several Democrats and people of color who were ushered into office by voters on Tuesday, will make Gwinnett history as the county’s first Black district attorney.

The county also elected its first Black sheriff.

Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader, a co-defendant with Ed Kramer in a computer trespass case, had already been turned out of office by an election held in August

(15) POWER CHORD. “Great Scott! This Custom BACK TO THE FUTURE Bass Guitar Rocks” says Nerdist.

Back to the Future is, fittingly, quite timeless. It’s a perfect movie with an amazing premise. It also rocks. Not only does Marty bust out an amazing version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” but the film features two of the best songs in the history of cinema: Alan Silvestri’s theme and Huey Lewis’s “Power of Love.” And we want to hear all three tracks performed with one of the coolest instruments ever made. Because great Scott! This Time Machine Bass guitar inspired by Doc Brown’s DeLorean is heavy.

And it was built to help out Michael J. Fox’s charity.

(16) ARCHEOMUPPETRY. “The Land of Gorch: The Forgotten Muppets Sketch That Ran During SNL’s First Season”. Forgotten is right. I watched that first season when I was in college, and sure don’t remember this.

When NBC executives decided to take a chance on Lorne Michaels’s live sketch comedy show in 1975, they were a little wary about what the budding young producer might actually end up airing. So they worked some safe territory into the contract—namely, Jim Henson and the Muppets.

Henson and Michaels shared a manager (Bernie Brillstein), and the collaboration seemed promising at first. Henson was looking to broaden his work beyond Sesame Street; and Michaels, already a Henson fan, “wanted as many different styles of comedy as [he] could possibly have.”

For his weekly sketch, Henson dreamed up “the Land of Gorch,” a mystical, craggy kingdom populated with creatures that scholar Jennifer Stoessner later described as “scaly, bloated, and licentious.” Among them were: the bombastic King Ploobis; his simpering wife, Queen Peuta, and their ne’er-do-well son, Wisss; a mistress named Vazh; a bumbling henchman named Scred; and the Mighty Favog, an omnipotent god-like oracle. Together, they tackled sex, drugs, and other adult themes.

Video linked from the article.

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “STAR WARS Meets INDIANA JONES in Epic Fan Film”Nerdist points the way.

George Lucas drew upon two distinct styles of classic Saturday matinee serials when creating his two epics, Star Wars and Indiana JonesStar Wars’ inspiration is straight from the Flash Gordon outer space adventures, while mostly forgotten films like Secret of the Incas inspired Indy. Now, one fan has found a way to bring those two distinct worlds together. Filmmaker Phil Hawkins has created the most expensive fan film yet, with Star Wars: Origins. Blending the styles and storylines of both worlds, it’s the mashup you never knew you needed until now.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Nancy Collins, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Michal Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, N., John Hertz, Cat Eldridge, Olav Rokne, Daniel Dern, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 10/28/20 No Mr. Bond, I Expect You To Scroll Pixels!

(1) FRENCH LOCKDOWN. Utopiales, the International Science Fiction Festival of Nantes (France), scheduled for this weekend, was cancelled following today’s announcement by the French president of a new nationwide lockdown.

BBC explains:

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a second national lockdown until at least the end of November.

Mr Macron said that under the new measures, starting on Friday, people would only be allowed to leave home for essential work or medical reasons.

Non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and bars, will close, but schools and factories will remain open.

Covid daily deaths in France are at the highest level since April. On Tuesday, 33,000 new cases were confirmed.

Mr Macron said the country risked being “overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first”.

The Utopiales committee said:

…Maintaining a cultural offering is essential. That’s why we made a commitment to the end and if we had it do over we would do it again. However, everyone’s health is at the moment a top priority we must implement the decisions of the authorities.

(2) EXPLICATE!  Camestros Felapton created a photo gallery of “Some buildings that look like Daleks”

…So is it worth pointing out that the NZ parliament building has a distinct resemblance to a Dalek and surely that tells you a lot about that nation? 

(3) REVERSE THE POLARITY. Fast Company explains how “This incredible Google experiment lets you time travel to your hometown 200 years ago” – always assuming there was a there there two hundred years ago. Quite likely in 1820 there was nothing but bushes in my California neighborhood.

In the 20 years he’d lived in New York, Raimondas Kiveris had seen the city change immensely. “It was a completely different place, a different town,” says Kiveris, a software engineer at Google Research. This got him wondering what his neighborhood looked like even before that—before he’d lived there, before he’d even been born. “There’s really no easy way to find that information in any organized way,” he says. “So I was starting to think, can we somehow enable this kind of virtual time travel?”

Three years later, his attempt at virtual time travel is taking shape as an open-source map that can show, in both a bird’s-eye view and a pedestrian-level view, the changes that happen to city streetscapes over time. With a slider to control the year, the map displays a historically accurate representation of development in almost any U.S. city dating back to 1800. Automatically generated 3D models of buildings rise from the landscape as the slider moves forward through time. It can even show a rough estimation of what a city would have looked like from the pedestrian’s view, like a low-res Google Street View.

… The map was created using historical fire insurance maps, a rich source of information for the built environment that includes precise information about building ages, sizes, heights, roof shapes, and even materials. The map creates simplified 3D models of these buildings, and the time slider allows a user to see, for example, Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle nearly devoid of buildings in the 1870s and almost fully developed in the 1920s….

(4) CAMPAIGNING IN A SWING SHIRE. At McSweeney’s, Keith Rubin serves up a stack of “Political Fundraising Emails From Middle-Earth”.

Hi Bungo,

Have you heard the good news??? Will Whitfoot is SURGING in the latest polls! This is our chance to FINALLY elect a hobbit who TRULY loves banquets as Mayor of the Shire…. 

(5) HORROR TO TAKE YOUR MIND OFF THE ELECTION. The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda suggests some things to read over the next few days: “For Halloween: a critic’s pick of macabre treats for your library” .

…Consider, for example, “British Weird: Selected Short Fiction, 1893-1937,” edited by James Machin, which features not only classic stories — including Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” and E.F. Benson “Caterpillars”— but also less familiar ones such as Mary Butts’s “Mappa Mundi.” As an extra treat Machin reprints Butts’s four-part 1933 essay, “Ghosties and Ghoulies: Uses of the Supernatural in English Fiction,” likening it to H.P. Lovecraft’s pioneering monograph, “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”

(6) DEATH WILL NOT RELEASE YOU. Despite the title, “Richard Lupoff: A Remembrance”, Ted White’s piece for the Comics Journal is mainly about his own place in fanhistory, and a chance to rehearse his unhealed wounds.

… Dick had typed up the stencils for the first issue of his new fanzine, Xero. At his request, I took the subway to Pacific Avenue in Brooklyn, to a warehouse business called Pace Paper, and bought the required reams of mimeo paper for Xero. The first issue of Xero was thin, compared to subsequent issues, and memory tells me that the Lupoffs wrote most of it. Certainly the centerpiece of the issue was Dick’s piece of comic-book nostalgia about “The Big Red Cheese,” the original Captain Marvel.

No one then realized the subsequent impact of that piece. It didn’t create comics fandom – which already existed – but it helped galvanize it. It sparked a wave of nostalgic interest in comics, mostly as relics of childhood, now fondly remembered, in SF fandom. SF fans had broad interests. Music was one, and comics turned out to be another.

In 1960, some of us had been comics fans for years. My friend Bhob Stewart created EC fandom with his fanzine, The EC Fan Bulletin. Bhob joined forces with Larry Stark and me to publish Potrzebie during the latter days of EC. EC fandom overlapped a lot with SF fandom, with some EC fans like Mike May becoming SF fans. Don and Maggie Thompson were SF fans who became comics fans around 1960.

This was the pot that Dick Lupoff stirred up.

I wrote the comics piece for Xero #2, “The Spawn of M.C. Gaines,” an overly broad overview of the creation of comic books and superheroes. (I totally rewrote it for its book publication, focusing only on Superman and Batman.) The comics pieces in Xero were published under the running head, “All In Color For a Dime” and the series took off, with many fans clamoring to write pieces about their childhood favorite comics. One of them was Harlan Ellison, who was living just up my block at the time.

I mimeographed at least the first three issues of Xero, and had at Dick’s request purchased the paper for the next issue when Dick did something I have never understood. Covertly, secretly, he arranged with friends living on Staten Island to mimeograph that and subsequent issues. I found out only when presented with a copy of the new issue.…

(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

October 28, 1994 Stargate premiered. It’d be a runner-up at Intersection to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s  “All Good Things…” which won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. It was directed by Roland Emmerich and produced by Dean Devlin, Oliver Eberle and Joel B. Michaels. It was written by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin.  Principal cast was Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson and Viveca Lindfors.  It was a box office success despite the critics generally not being overly fond of it. Currently it holds a rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes of an excellent 73%. 

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge ad John Hertz]

  • Born October 28, 1818 – Ivan Turgenev.  This great Russian master (most noted for Fathers and Sons) left a dozen short stories for us.  Even Tolstoy – who once challenged IT to a duel, but withdrew – left five.  See e.g. The Mysterious Tales of IT (R. Dessaix tr. 1979).  (Died 1883) [JH]
  • Born October 28, 1903 – Evelyn Waugh.  Two novels, a dozen shorter stories for us, by another author famous otherwise, possibly great.  Here is his own cover for Vile Bodies.  Here is his cover for a chapbook of “Love Among the Ruins”.  Was his best the biographies of Helena (248-330) and Ronald Knox (1888-1957)?  (Died 1966) [JH]
  • Born October 28, 1939 Jane Alexander, 81. She’s resistance fighter Virginia in Terminator Salvation, and has shown up in a number of genre series including playing C. on Elementary, Nora Morgan in an episode of Forever, and a recurring role as Klara on the intriguing sounding Tales from the Loop web series. She has several horror creds to her name as well, including Dr. Grasnik in The Ring and Sofi Kozma in The Unborn. (CE) 
  • Born October 28, 1951 Joe Lansdale, 69. Writer and screenwriter whose DCU Jonah Hex animated screenplays are far superior to the live action Hex film. Bubba Ho-Tep, an American comedy horror film starring Bruce Campbell, is his best known genre work though he has done a number of another works including The God of The Razor and Reverend Jedidiah Mercer series which are definitely Weird Westerns.  (CE)
  • Born October 28, 1952 Anne Potts, 68. Janine Melnitz in the still best Ghostbusters and in Ghostbusters II as well. She has a cameo as Vanessa the hotel clerk in the Ghostbusters reboot. She listed as reprising her original role in the forthcoming Ghostbusters Afterlife which I’ll freely admit I know nothing about but which apparently has most of the original cast. (CE) 
  • Born October 28, 1958 Amy Thomson, 62. Writer of four novels over a decade some twenty years ago including Virtual Girl. She won the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. She published one piece of short fiction, “The Ransom of Princess Starshine”, in 2017 in Stupefying Stories edited by Bruce Bethke. (CE)
  • Born October 28, 1962 – Jean-Jacques Chaubin, 58.  Jewelry stylist with Van Cleef & Arpels; then comics, video games (including the 1992 Dune), computer graphics; fifty book covers.  Here is The End of Time, and After.  Here is A Hint of Nothingness.  Here is Galaxies 5.  Here is The Armies of Daylight.  [JH]
  • Born October 28, 1967 – Christopher Ecker, 53.  Author, translator, teacher, critic.  For us two novels, ninety shorter stories, a hundred sixty poems.  Friedrich Hebbel Prize, Saarland Art Prize.  His thousand-page novel Fahlmann (not “the pale man”, it’s the protagonist’s name) is “one of the most excessive reading adventures that contemporary German literature has to offer” – the Hebbel jury really said exzessivsten, I can’t help it.  Ulrich Commerçon, Saarland Minister of Education & Culture, said Ecker wonderfully combines fantasy and a philosophical world view, not forgetting wit.  [JH]
  • Born October 28, 1967 Julia Roberts, 53. How can I resist giving Birthday Honors to Tinker Bell in Hook? Not to mention she was in the seriously weird Flatliners that I saw at a virtually empty theater. Of course, there’s the ever weirder Mary Reilly with her in the title role. For something more charming, she voiced Charlotte the Spider in Charlotte‘s Web. I’m going to skip her as a Smurf I think… (CE)
  • Born October 28, 1974 – Ruth Ann Nordin, 46.  Almost a hundred books by now.  “One day, while browsing through the library, it suddenly occurred to me that if I wanted to read the book I had in mind, I was going to have to write it.  I’ve been writing ever since.”  Mostly romances, Western, Regency, modern.  Ann’s Quest to Be Queen and sequels (she becomes queen of the distant planet Raz), and five others, are ours.  When RAN apologized “I did not do as thorough a job of editing as I do today with my editor and three proofreaders.  I can’t go back and edit those books … I lost control of them,” she drew a comment “As always, you underestimate your talent.”  [JH]
  • Born October 28, 1982 Matt Smith, 38. The Eleventh Doctor, my third favorite of the modern Doctors, and he’s also Alex in Terminator Genisys, a film I’ve not seen. He’s also Jim in the quite excellent Sally Lockhart Mysteries: The Ruby in the Smoke based off the Philip Pullman novels.(CE) 
  • Born October 28, 1989 – Heather Frost, 31.  Her Seers and two sequels are for us, plus a prequel in her collection Asides.  She owns two typewriters and holds Lord of the Rings movie marathons.  Mansfield Park and Harold and the Purple Crayon are two of her favorite books, so we agree there (not meaning the typewriters).  [JH]

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • The Far Side witnesses an alien spacecraft’s distress call.

(10) WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT? Leading off AbeBooks’ “Most Expensive Sales from July to September 2020” is a copy of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World – which went for $25,000!

An unread, as new first edition complete with its dust jacket. The book is signed by Steven Spielberg, special effects director Stan Winston, and 10 actors from the film adaption of this novel – Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter Stormare, Harvey Jason, Richard Schiff, Arliss Howard, Vanessa Chester, and Thomas F. Duffy. Published in 1995, the novel was the sequel to Crichton’s 1990 bestseller Jurassic Park. The Lost World was adapted for cinema in 1997.

(11) WINNING THE PLANET SERIES. I’m a lifelong Dodger fan (I remember hearing “We’re going to Milwaukee!” on TV in 1959) yet I never knew ‘til this morning that pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s Uncle Clyde discovered Pluto: “Clayton Kershaw Still Isn’t As Cool As His Great-Uncle” at Central Track.

…It was a hell of a moment for sure — a coronation fit for a king, and an accomplishment Kershaw’s extended family will surely brag on for generations to come.

On the other hand: Kershaw’s great-uncle Clyde Tombaugh is the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, so maybe a World Series win isn’t such a huge deal in the great scheme of things for the Kershaw family tree?

For his part, and to his credit, Kershaw is quite proud of his ancestor’s achievement. After Tombaugh passed in 1997, Kershaw has used his considerable platform to celebrate his great-uncle’s discovery — and to keep championing Pluto’s designation as a full-on planet despite its 2006 downgrading to a “dwarf planet.”

Kershaw first publicly touted his familial connection to Pluto — and his dedication to its former status — in a 2009 online fan Q&A with ESPNLosAngeles. Then, in 2015, he discussed it during an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, doubling down on his stance and even sharing a little insight into his family’s thoughts on the matter.

“It’s something that’s been a huge problem in the Kershaw/Tombaugh family for a couple of years now,” he said when Kimmel broached the subject. “My great uncle discovered Pluto. I know that sounds like a joke when it comes out, but it’s true. Clyde Tombaugh, [my] great uncle, discovered Pluto. And they took it away from us — said it’s a dwarf planet now. What scientists just decide to just get in a room one day and say, ‘Oh, you know, we’re out with Pluto’?”

(12) AIN’T EASY BEING MRS. GREEN. The Nerdist shows examples as “Artist Turns THE MUPPETS Into Famous Horror Movie Characters”.

The collection includes:

–Gonzo as Jason Voorhees, with Camilla as Mrs. Voorhees
–Fozzie as Freddy Krueger
–Miss Piggy as Carrie White
–Kermit as Norman Bates
–Beaker as Michael Myers, with Dr. Bunson Honeydew as Dr. Loomis
–Swedish Chef as Leatherface
–Animal as Buffalo Bill
–Rowlf as Hannibal Lecter
–Sam the Eagle as Pinhead
–Scooter as Chucky
–Electric Mayhem as Capt. Spaulding and the Firefly Family
–Statler and Waldorf as The Grady Twins

(13) GROAN UPS. Polygon’s Emily Heller knows what these books are about: “A Series of Unfortunate Events and the horror of adults being absolute dummies”.

…A Series of Unfortunate Events is often described as surreal and absurdist. Handler has listed Roald Dahl, another children’s author with a darkly whimsical style, as an influence on his work. But while the novels’ world is certainly weird, it’s important that it makes sense within kid logic.

When I was a kid, there were plenty of things that mattered so much to me, but adults just didn’t get it. There were also things that adults seemed to understand implicitly, but didn’t make any sense to me. I was fortunate to grow up in a comfortable, loving home, so those things were very low stakes, but they were very real — and frustrating and anxiety-inducing — in the moment.

A Series of Unfortunate Events reflects that dichotomy back to its young readers. The Baudelaires don’t understand why Justice Strauss can’t just adopt them and are frustrated when no one else seems to recognize Count Olaf under his obvious disguises. It’s an exaggerated version of the truth that every child eventually starts to suspect: adults may not always know what they’re doing.

Lemony Snicket lets children feel like they’re in on a secret. That allows A Series of Unfortunate Events to do what so much good horror fiction does — explore and validate our deepest fears. It also gives readers the tools to deal with that horrifying reality….

(14) UNSATISFIED CUSTOMER. “Kellogg’s Minecraft Creeper Crunch Cereal, Reviewed” at Serious Eats.

…For today’s video, I tried Kellogg’s Minecraft Creeper Crunch cereal. Not only am I old enough to have never played Minecraft, but I had no idea there was this much Minecraft merchandise and branded content. It appears, however, that kids are still crazy about the property, enough so that they’ll want to have a little Minecraft iconography with their breakfast.

The problem is that this cereal, cinnamon-flavored with marshmallows, is not good. It barely tastes like cinnamon, and the marshmallows are flavorless. If Minecraft is a video game about building with digital blocks, then this cereal is like eating those blocks except, I imagine, far less satisfying. These aren’t good as a snack, and the milk isn’t particularly good either. They are, as far as cereal goes, a total failure.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Rich Lynch, Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, N., Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Contrarius, Michael J. Walsh, and John Hertz for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Olav Rokne.]

Pixel Scroll 7/23/20 Flat Scrolls And Geocentric Pixels

(1) HIS DARK MATERIALS TRAILER. Decider has eyeballs on Comic-Con@Home where this new trailer was aired today.

HBO is celebrating Comic-Con@Home with a first look at Season 2 of His Dark MaterialsDuring today’s virtual panel for the show, HBO unveiled the trailer for the upcoming season of the drama, which introduces some fresh faces.

The YouTube description adds –

His Dark Materials stars Dafne Keen, James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Adapting Philip Pullman’s award-winning trilogy of the same name, which is considered a modern masterpiece of imaginative fiction, the first season follows Lyra, a seemingly ordinary but brave young woman from another world. Her search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children, and becomes a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. As she journeys through the worlds, including our own, Lyra meets Will, a determined and courageous boy. Together, they encounter extraordinary beings and dangerous secrets, with the fate of both the living?—?and the dead?—?in their hands.

(2) DO IT YOURSELF. There’s only one of me so I can’t write a post about every one of these items – darn it! Here is programming for Thursday, July 23, 2020, for Comic-Con International – much of it available for replay on YouTube.

(3) COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE? A second trailer for Bill & Ted Face the Music. Available On Demand and in theaters September 1.

(4) SCARES THAT CARE. Brian Keene and friends have done a few 24-hour telethons to raise funds for Scares That Care.  The most recent event was canceled due to Covid.

They are opting to do a virtual fundraiser on August 1st.  It’s only 13 hours, but it looks like it will be packed with lots of interesting panels. See the FAQ and schedule at the Scares That Care Virtual Charity Event link. Say, they get the same kind of questions as the Worldcon!

Q: I’m a celebrity who works in the horror genre. Why wasn’t I included in programming?
A: We tried to accommodate as many horror professionals as we could, but unlike our physical Scares That Care Weekend charity events, we are limited by the technological restrictions and time constraints of this virtual event. However, you can still help the cause by sharing the event with your fans and encouraging them to donate.

(5) HOLY SH!T. The New York Times shared a discovery — “How to Sell Books in 2020: Put Them Near the Toilet Paper” .

If you want to sell books during a pandemic, it turns out that one of the best places to do it is within easy reach of eggs, milk and diapers.

When the coronavirus forced the United States into lockdown this spring, stores like Walmart and Target, which were labeled essential, remained open. So when anxious consumers were stocking up on beans and pasta, they were also grabbing workbooks, paperbacks and novels — and the book sales at those stores shot up.

“They sell groceries, they sell toilet paper, they sell everything people need during this time, and they’re open,” said Suzanne Herz, the publisher of Vintage/Anchor. “If you’re in there and you’re doing your big shop and you walk down the aisle and go, ‘Oh, we’re bored, and we need a book or a puzzle,’ there it is.”

Big-box stores do not generally break out how much they sell of particular products, but people across the publishing industry say that sales increased at these stores significantly, with perhaps the greatest bump at Target. In some cases there, according to publishing executives, book sales tripled or quadrupled.

Dennis Abboud is the chief executive of ReaderLink, a book distributor that serves more than 80,000 retail stores, including big-box and pharmacy chains. He said that in the first week of April, his company’s sales were 34 percent higher than the same period the year before.

“With the shelter in place, people were looking for things to do,” he said. “Workbooks, activity books and just general reading material saw a big increase.”

(6) PROMOTION TOOLS. C.E. Murphy gives readers a look behind the curtain in “Writing Career: Running The Numbers”.

…And then the other reason we’re never sure how much we should talk about it is because rolling this information out in numbers can sort of feel like it’s…IDK. Attempting to lay on a guilt trip, or something, which is honestly not the goal! Because, like…there are always reasons people aren’t gonna buy a book! It’s not their genre! They don’t have any spare money right now! They already have a copy! There’s a million reasons! So talking about this is never meant to make people feel badly for not buying a book right now! Okay? Okay! 🙂

So let’s talk about numbers. Newsletter numbers, specifically, because the people who have chosen to be on my newsletter are my captive audience, and presumably are the most likely to buy any given book. (Join my newsletter! :))

Right now I have about 1630 newsletter subscribers, and in any given month, about 100 people—7% of the subscribers—buy the book I’m promoting that month. That’s pretty reliable.

(7) US IN FLUX. The latest story for the Center for Science and the Imagination’s Us in Flux project launched today: “Even God Has a Place Called Home” by Ray Mwihaki, a story about environmental health, witchcraft, technophilia, and transcendence.

On Monday, July 27 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, they wll host another virtual event on Zoom, with Ray and science fiction author Christopher Rowe.

(8) CLARKE AWARD LOWDOWN. On Five Books, Cal Flyn interviews Arthur C. Clarke Award director Tom Hunter about this year’s nominees for the prize: “The Best Science Fiction of 2020”.

…In terms of who the audiences are for these books, on the one hand, if you like science fiction, you’ll find much to enjoy here but if you haven’t really tried the genre before, or if you might have been put off, I’d stress that these are all books published in 2019, for a 2020 prize, so they’re very contemporary-feeling in terms of their characterisation, quality of prose, plotting and so forth. You can definitely trace their lineage through the different eras of science fiction as it has evolved as a genre, and all of these books interrogate and tease and play with that tradition in different ways, but are also respectful of it. That’s the difference between, say—insert name of mainstream author—who has discovered a science fiction concept and written a book about it, then does a press tour where they try and convince you they’ve somehow invented robots, or space travel or parallel universes, or whatever. You know: ‘Before me science fiction was just cowboys in space, but my book is about real futures…’

(9) RENDEZVOUS WITH JOHN CLUTE. In “Arthur C. Clarke’s Scientific Romances Eschew Spectacle for Dumbstruck Wonder”, John Clute takes Rendezvous with Rama as the text to explore his views for LitHub readers.

… In his rendering of the 2001 story, Clarke may be marginally more emollient than Kubrick when it comes to assessing humanity’s chances of genuine uplift at the hands of a transcendent superbeing, but compared with contemporary in-house American SF visions of the future, both novel and film are baths of cold water.

Both were tortuously understood by many genre viewers as optimistic paeans to technological progress, with a bit of hoo-ha at the end; and Clarke himself never directly contradicted Kubrick’s dramatic rendering of his own exceedingly measured presentation of his clear message—also articulated in Childhood’s End, and hinted at strongly in Rendezvous with Rama—that as a species we may simply not quite measure up.

But this calm magisterial verdict, couched smilingly, mattered little to his own career, even when understood correctly. The huge success of 2001 had both made him rich and transformed him into a world gure; an addressable, venerated guru whose declarations on the shape-of-things-to-come were now given to the world at large. The best of this nonfiction work was collected years later as Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! (1999), a huge volume whose title perfectly sums up the coign of vantage from which he wrote: which is to say, as though from the future itself, from somewhere on the far side of the slingshot ending….

(10) MORE UK FANHISTORY ONLINE. Rob Hansen has expanded THEN’s 1961 coverage of the SF Club of London. And “I’ve also added a link to a report by George Locke on the 1960 Minicon in Kettering. I didn’t think any report beyond a couple of sentences in Skyrack existed for that con so I was quite surprised to stumble across it.” Scroll down to 1960s section for links on the THEN index.

Then there’s the 1967 London Minicon, with photos. All part of filling in the history.

(11) BACK TO BASICS. “It’s Time to Re-Re-Re-Meet the Muppets”, and the New York Times makes the introductions.

At the dawn of “The Muppet Show” in the late 1970s, a visit to the Muppet Labs consisted of watching its nebbishy proprietor, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, demonstrate misbegotten inventions like an exploding hat or a self-destructing necktie with a brief burst of pyrotechnics, a canned explosion sound and a puff of smoke.

Today, a return visit to those labs on the Disney+ series “Muppets Now” features Honeydew and his agitated assistant, Beaker, using a homemade device called the Infern-O-Matic to reduce everyday items — a carton of eggs, a wall clock, a guitar — to smoldering piles of ashes.

If this scene from “Muppets Now” feels manic and combustible — and even a bit familiar — that is by design: as Leigh Slaughter, vice president of the Muppets Studio, explained recently, she and her colleagues are hopeful that this series will conjure up “that true Muppet anarchy — that complete chaos.”

She added: “If they’re going to take on real-world science, we thought, we have to burn things. We have to drop things. We have to blow things up.”

“Muppets Now,” a six-episode series that debuts on July 31, is both Disney’s attempt to bring those familiar, fuzzy faces to its streaming service and a parody of internet content. Its segments feature characters like Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef in rapid-fire comedy sketches that lampoon popular online formats.

The new series also strives to reconnect the Muppets with the disorderly sensibility they embodied in the era of “The Muppet Show” and get back to basics after other recent efforts to reboot the characters fizzled out.

“The thinking is to stop trying so hard to be like everybody else and just be the Muppets,” said Bill Barretta, a veteran Muppet performer and an executive producer of “Muppets Now.” “Let’s celebrate the fact that they all have to deal with each other and just be silly and play and entertain again.”

(12) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • July 23, 1995 The Outer Limits aired “I, Robot”. This is a remake of the November 14th, 1964 episode that aired during the second season of the original Twilight Zone. This is not based on Asimov’s “ I, Robot” but rather on a short story by Eando Binder that ran in the January 1939 issue of Amazing Stories. The script was by Alison Lea Bingeman who also wrote episodes of RobocopFlash GordonForever KnightBeyond Reality and The Lost World at that time. Adam Nimoy was the director and Leonard Nimoy, his father, was in it as he been the earlier production playing a different character. (CE)

(13) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born July 23, 1889 – Yuri Annenkov.  Illustrator, portraitist, theater and cinema designer.  Zamyatin said he “has a keen awareness of the extraordinary rush and dynamism of our epoch.”  Here is a Synthetic landscape.  Here is the photographer M.A. Sherling.  Here is Zamyatin.  Here is a frog costume.  Here is Miydodir, an animated washstand that eventually makes the boy at left wash.  (Died 1974) [JH]
  • Born July 23, 1910 Ruthie Tompson, 110. An animator and artist. Her first job was the ink and paints, uncredited, on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She was involved in every animated from film Disney for three decades, stating with Pinocchio (Retro Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form). Some she was an animator on, some she was admin on. She worked on Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, too. (CE)
  • Born July 23, 1914 – Virgil Finlay.  Pioneering illustrator.  Hugo for that in the first year we gave them; five Retrospective Hugos.  First sale, the Dec 1935 Weird Tales; probably 2,600 works of graphic art; fifty poems, mostly published after his death.  Here is a cover for The Stars Are Ours.  Here is the Dec 56 Galaxy.  Some of his marvelous monochrome: The Crystal Man“Flight to Forever”; I haven’t identified this, can you?  SF Hall of Fame.  First Fandom Hall of Fame.  See the Donald Grant and the Gerry de la Ree collections.  (Died 1971) [JH]
  • Born July 23, 1926 Eunice Sudak, 94. Novelizer of three early Sixties Roger Corman films: Tales of TerrorThe Raven and X, the latter based of The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. She wrote a lot of other novelizations but they weren’t even genre adjacent.(CE)
  • Found Fandom July 23, 1937 Cyril M. Kornbluth. Wikipedia says July 2 is his birthday — 1940 Who’s Who in Fandom says July 23 is the date he discovered fandom. I certainly read and liked The Space Merchants and The Syndic which are the two I remember reading these years on. Given his very early death, he wrote an impressive amount of fiction, particularly short fiction which Wildside Press has all of n a single publication, available at the usual digital suspects. (Died 1958.) (CE)
  • Born July 23, 1947 – Gardner Dozois.  Three novels, five dozen shorter stories, some with co-authors, translated into Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian.  Two Nebulas.  Editor of Asimov’s 1984-2004; two dozen Asimov’s anthologies, many with Sheila Williams.  Four years editing Best SF Stories of the Year, thirty-five of The Year’s Best SF (no, I shan’t explain, and I shan’t tell the jelly-bean story, either).  Four dozen more anthologies; one Nebula Showcase.  Fifteen Hugos as Best Pro Editor; one as Best Pro Editor, Short Form.  Skylark Award.  SF Hall of Fame.  (Died 2018) [JH]
  • Born July 23, 1948 – Lew Wolkoff, 72.  Long-time laborer in fanhistory and the workings of our conventions.  Some highlights: co-chaired ArtKane IV, an art-focussed con in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1979; assembled Phoxphyre, a fanzine anthology of the 1936 Philadelphia convention, with reminiscences by Baltadonis, Goudket, Kyle, Madle, Newton, Pohl, Train, 1983; Program Book appreciation of Barbi Johnson, a Guest of Honor at Lunacon 26, 1983; helped design the base for the 1951 Retro-Hugo trophy, 2001; chaired PSFS (Philadelphia SF Soc.) Young Writers’ Contest, 2018; got 120 audiotapes of Philcon proceedings to the SF Oral History Ass’n; founded, or purported to found, the SF Union of Unpublished Authors (“ess-eff-double-U-ay”, i.e. taking off SFWA the SF Writers of America).  [JH]
  • Born July 23, 1949 – Eric Ladd, 71.  Twenty covers for us.  Here is The Falling Torch.  Here is Convergent Series.  First suggested to Bob Eggleton that BE should exhibit in our Art Shows.  [JH]
  • Born July 23, 1954 – Astrid Bear, 66.  One of the great entries in our Masquerade costume competitions was The Bat and the Bitten, Karen Anderson and her daughter Astrid at the 27th Worldcon.  In 1983 Astrid married Greg Bear; they have two children.  Here is AB at the 76th Worldcon on a panel discussing the 26th (L to R, Astrid, Tom Whitmore, Mary Morman, Ginjer Buchanan, Suzanne Tompkins, Gay Haldeman).  For the 71st, since Jay Lake whom she and all of us loved had contrived to obtain whole-genome sequencing, and AB had become a fiber artist, she made Jay Lake Genome Scarves in time to give him one, as you can see here.  Fanzine, Gallimaufry.  It’s not true that this book is about her.  [JH]
  • Born July 23, 1970 Charisma Carpenter, 50. She’s best remembered as Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. She was also Kyra on Charmed and Kendall Casablancason Veronica Mars.  She was Sydney Hart in Mail Order Monster and Beth Sullivan in the direct to video Josh Kirby… Time Warrior! Franchise. (CE)
  • Born July 23, 1982 —  Tom Mison, 38. He is best-known as Ichabod Crane on Sleepy Hollow which crosses-over into Bones. Currently he’s Mr. Phillips in The Watchmen. It’s barely (if at all) genre adjacent but I’m going to that he Young Blood in A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets. (CE)

(14) COMICS SECTION.

  • Fresh from his Hugo voter reading, Dann writes, “In light of Charlie Jane Anders’ The City in the Middle of the Night, I thought this xkcd might be useful.  Check out the mouse-over/alt text.”

(15) WORLDCON TIME OUT OF JOINT. Bill Higgins started out teasing David Levine about CoNZealand’s July 16 “Wild Cards” panel, then his imagination ran away with him:

(16) THIS JUST IN…THE ONION. “Disaster: Luigi Left His Space Heater Plugged In For 3 Days And The Entire ‘Paper Mario’ Kingdom Burned Down”.

For years, Luigi’s kindhearted nature and well-meaning oafishness have endeared him to millions of fans who were willing to look past his lengthy history of incompetence. But it seems like the iconic Nintendo character might have just passed the point of no return: The big guy in green apparently left his space heater plugged in for three days straight, and now the entire Paper Mario kingdom has burned to the ground….

(17) STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. CBS All-Access dropped a clip today.

Get an exclusive look at a hilarious scene from the upcoming series premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks, an all-new animated comedy featuring the voices of stars Jack Quaid (Ensign Brad Boimler) and Tawny Newsome (Ensign Beckett Mariner).

(18) LONG MARCH TO MARS. NPR reports “China Launches Ambitious Mission To Mars”

A heavy-lift Long March-5 roared off a launch pad on Hainan Island Thursday, carrying China’s hopes for its first successful Mars mission – an ambitious project to send an orbiter, lander and rover to the red planet in one shot.

If everything goes according to plan, Tianwen-1 will be China’s first successful mission to Mars, after a previous attempt failed in 2011 — gaining it membership in an elite club including only the U.S. and Russia, of nations who have successfully landed on the planet. (Even so, the Soviet Union’s Mars 3 lander, which touched down in 1971, transmitted for mere seconds before contact was lost.)

…The goals of the mission are to map surface geology, examine soil characteristics and water distribution, measure the Martian ionosphere and climate and study the planet’s magnetic and gravitational fields.

The BBC adds details: “China’s Tianwen-1 Mars rover rockets away from Earth”.

China has launched its first rover mission to Mars.

The six-wheeled robot, encapsulated in a protective probe, was lifted off Earth by a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang spaceport on Hainan Island at 12:40 local time (04:40 GMT).

It should arrive in orbit around the Red Planet in February.

Called Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”, the rover won’t actually try to land on the surface for a further two to three months.

This wait-and-see strategy was used successfully by the American Viking landers in the 1970s. It will allow engineers to assess the atmospheric conditions on Mars before attempting what will be a hazardous descent.

…The targeted touchdown location for the Chinese mission will be a flat plain within the Utopia impact basin just north of Mars’ equator. The rover will study the region’s geology – at, and just below, the surface.

Tianwen-1 looks a lot like Nasa’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers from the 2000s. It weighs some 240kg and is powered by fold-out solar panels.

A tall mast carries cameras to take pictures and aid navigation; five additional instruments will help assess the mineralogy of local rocks and look for any water-ice.

This surface investigation is really only half the mission, however, because the cruise ship that is shepherding the rover to Mars will also study the planet from orbit, using a suite of seven remote-sensing instruments.

(19) THERE WLL BE SPACE WAR. Or so Jerry Pournelle might have said.“UK and US say Russia fired a satellite weapon in space” – BBC has the story.

The UK and US have accused Russia of launching a weapon-like projectile from a satellite in space.

In a statement, the head of the UK’s space directorate said: “We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.”

The statement said actions like this “threaten the peaceful use of space”.

The US has previously raised concerns about this Russian satellite.

In his statement, Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth, head of the UK’s space directorate, said: “Actions like this threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends.

“We call on Russia to avoid any further such testing. We also urge Russia to continue to work constructively with the UK and other partners to encourage responsible behaviour in space.”

(20) FIRST PEOPLE. “Earliest evidence for humans in the Americas”.

Humans settled in the Americas much earlier than previously thought, according to new finds from Mexico.

They suggest people were living there 33,000 years ago, twice the widely accepted age for the earliest settlement of the Americas.

The results are based on work at Chiquihuite Cave, a high-altitude rock shelter in central Mexico.

Archaeologists found thousands of stone tools suggesting the cave was used by people for at least 20,000 years.

(21) DIH-DIH-DIH-DAH. “Secret Morse code tune sees game removed in China”.

A popular mobile game has been taken offline in mainland China for “rectification work”, after netizens discovered its musical director had written a song containing Morse code with a hidden Hong Kong pro-democracy message.

According to China’s Global Times newspaper, the Cytus II musical rhythm game, produced by Taiwan’s Rayark Games, has been removed from China’s mainland app stores.

This was done after netizens discovered a controversial song by Hong Kong musical director ICE, real name Wilson Lam, on his Soundcloud account.

The piece, Telegraph 1344 7609 2575, was actually posted on his page in March, but after netizens discovered it contained in Morse code the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times”, many in the mainland called for him to be sacked.

(22) RIGHT OUT FROM UNDER YOU. Floors that can scare you – a gallery of wild images at Imgur.

(23) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Fandom Games’ Honest Game Trailers:  SpongeBob Square Pants–Rehydrated on YouTube says that “children and extremely inebriated adults” will enjoy this new version of a classic SpongeBob SquarePants game featuring “Rube Goldberg machines that require a Ph.D. in SpongeBob to complete.”

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

Pixel Scroll 7/14/20 No Space Suit? No Service!

(1) WHERE TO FIND WHO. HBO Max did this video meetup to promote that they are now the exclusive outlet for Doctor Who Seasons 1-11. (Future season/specials will premiere on BBC AMERICA.)

Moderated by Terri Schwartz of IGN, HBO Max, in partnership with BBC America, presents the first-ever, historic meeting of The Doctors: Jodie Whittaker, Matt Smith, and David Tennant.

(2) LIKE YOU NEED TEENY TINY BRANDING IRONS. [Item by Rob Thornton.] Remember the Cordwainer Smith story with the laminated mouse brain? here is a picture of a mouse brain slice that won a prize: “Extreme closeup of mouse-brain slice wins top Life Science Microscopy prize” at Ars Technica.

Spain’s Ainara Pintor snagged the top honor from over 400 submissions with her gorgeous image of an immunostained mouse-brain slice, titled Neurogarden. The image focuses on the hippocampus area of a single slice, but there are more than 70 million neurons in the mouse brain as a whole, according to Pintor.

(3) THE MAINSTREAM GOES FILK. [Item by Rob Thornton.] A new musical genre named “bardcore” has emerged, in which musicians create medievalized versions of pop tunes reports The Guardian: “Never mind the ballads! How bardcore took over pop music”.

Is [it] a big thing? Where on earth have you been for the past two months? Bardcore is booming online, swarming all over YouTube and Reddit, and appealing to what i-D Magazine calls Generation Z’s ‘existential humour’.

Here is a bardcore version of Radiohead’s “Creep” as done by the musician Hildegard von Blingin’.

(4) OLD GUARD REVIEW. NPR’s Linda Holmes reports that “‘The Old Guard’ Is A Smart Blend Of Action And Emotion”.

…Here’s a quandary: How do you make a compelling movie — one with a good measure of fairly graphic violence, by the way — about a group of heroes who can’t be killed? Don’t they always have the upper hand? Won’t they always win? There are clever ways that the story itself gets around this problem, but it’s also absolutely critical that it’s in the hands of a director who understands, and can convey on film, that link between physical vulnerability and humanity. Because one of the things this story is about is that even if you do not die, the pain of cycling through injury after injury, recovery after recovery, reconstitution after reconstitution of your being, is a hard way to exist.

It’s a story that’s partly about the attrition of your spirit that can come from being, very literally, a “survivor.” And particularly because new recruit Nile (KiKi Layne, whom you know from If Beale Street Could Talk) is a black woman and two of her teammates are men who fell in love after being on opposite sides of The Crusades (which is a witty idea, let’s be honest), there is additional subtext here about the churn of violence and the costs of enduring it. Moreover, in a world seized with emergencies that activists are scrambling to address, it is frustrating enough when you feel like years have passed and all the attempts you have made to improve the world have come to nothing. What would it be like to feel that for centuries? For longer? Would you really want the long view? How much perspective could you stand to have about humanity?

More immediately, the plot is this: Andy (Theron) has been doing this the longest. She wants out of the hero business, really, but she can’t escape. She’s pulled into a job with teammates Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). The job, conveyed to them by a man named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is to rescue a group of kidnapped girls in South Sudan. How can they say no? When it turns out there’s more to the job than meets the eye, she’s confronted by the fact that there are people out there who know about her and her team and wish them no good.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Nile is a young soldier consumed with the wars of the present, and shortly after she discovers that something is very unusual about her response to injury, she winds up in the company of the Old Guard. (They don’t go around calling themselves that, by the way; it would be very corny. And they don’t do it.)

This is the first film I’ve seen in quarantine that felt to me like a proper big summer movie — and yet it transcends so much of what’s sometimes been disappointing about that category. Yes, it’s a comic book movie. Yes, it’s an action movie. Yes, it’s about a team of good-doers. And it’s exciting and satisfying and tense and all those things. But everything from its queer couple to its leading women to its director to its thoughtfulness to its point of view about violence makes it such a welcome addition….

(5) A SHORTER REVIEW OF SOMETHING EVEN OLDER. Brooke Bolander has a concise take. Thread starts here.

(6) THE CUPBOARD IS SEMI-BARE. Variety says transforming San Diego Comic-Con into an online experience has an extra challenge – how to bake a cake without all the usual ingredients: “Comic-Con ‘At Home’ Aims to Rescue Fandom’s Biggest Week — Even If Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm Are No-Shows”.

Indeed, almost no feature films announced panels for Comic-Con@Home. Paramount, Sony, and Universal are sitting out the convention entirely, while WarnerMedia’s DC Entertainment elected to launch their own virtual fan convention — DC FanDome on Aug. 22 — to promote its suite of film, TV and comic book properties.

The biggest blow for Comic-Con@Home, however, is arguably the lack of participation from marquee Comic-Con participants Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, which aren’t bringing any of their features or live-action scripted TV series to Comic-Con@Home. Fans had been especially anticipating first looks at Marvel Studios’ upcoming slate, including theatrical releases “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Disney Plus series “Falcon and the Winter Solider” and “WandaVision.”

(7) SFWA DEI. The members of SFWA’s newly-formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee are:

  • Alaya Dawn Johnson – traditional novelist
  • Alex Acks – traditional novelist 
  • Crystal Watanabe – freelance editor
  • James Beamon – SFWA director-at-large, short fiction writer
  • Jane Pinckard  – writer, game designer, researcher, teacher
  • Kyle Aisteach  – short fiction writer
  • Michi Trota – SFWA Editor-in-Chief, critical and creative nonfiction writer
  • Tao Roung Wong – indie novelist
  • Whitney “Strix” Beltrán – game writer

The committee is developing procedures, and setting its action and scope, and will update the membership soon. 

(8) IMAHARA OBIT. Grant Imahara, host of MythBusters’ and White Rabbit Project, has died at the age of 49. The Hollywood Reporter story is here.

…While as part of the MythBusters team he sky-dived and drove stunt cars, on film sets he came into contact with some of the most iconic characters in screen history, installing lights onto Star Wars‘ R2-D2, creating the robot Geoff Peterson for The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and working on the Energizer Bunny.

…In his nine years at Lucasfilm, he worked for the company’s THX and Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) divisions. In his years at ILM, he became chief model maker specializing in animatronics and worked on George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, as well as The Matrix ReloadedThe Matrix RevolutionsGalaxy QuestXXX: State of the UnionVan HelsingThe Lost World: Jurassic ParkA.I. Artificial Intelligence and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

In 2000, Imahara also competed in Comedy Central’s BattleBots with a robot he built himself called “Deadblow” that won two Middleweight Rumbles, was the first season’s Middleweight runner-up and became the third season’s first-ranked robot.

He was also an actor on The Guild and Star Trek Continues (as Sulu in the latter.)

John Scalzi, who knew him from a JoCo Cruise, wrote a short farewell.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • July 14, 1989 Muppets From Space premiered. It is the first film since the death of Jim Henson to have an original Muppet-focused plot, and is a breakaway from other Muppet films as it is the only non-musical Muppets film to date. Directed by Tim Hill, it was produced by Brian Henson and Martin G. Baker off a script written by Jerry Juhl, Joey Mazzarino and Ken Kaufman. It starred Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Frank Oz (in his last Muppet role), Jeffrey Tambor, F. Murray Abraham,  David Arquette, Josh Charles,  Hollywood Hogan, Ray Liotta and Andie MacDowell. Some critics really loved it, some really despised it and mourned the passing of Henson. It bombed at the box office. At Rotten Tomatoes, audience reviewers give it a not bad 58% rating.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born July 14, 1918 – Ingmar Bergman.  Director, writer, producer of film, television, theater, radio; questioning, perhaps re-creating, the human condition.  Five dozen films, fifteen dozen plays, half a dozen ours; one is Mozart’s Magic Flute; perhaps not The Magician, whose characters prove to be engaged in theatrical, not supernatural, magic.  Three Academy Awards, Golden Bear at Berlin, Palme des Palmes at Cannes, many more. (Died 2007) [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1926 – Jef De Wulf.  For us two dozen covers for works in French, like this and this; also this; five hundred all told.  Had his own photography studio, in the end worked with the photo department of a regional newspaper.  (Died 1994) [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1926 Harry Dean Stanton. My favorite genre role for him? The video for Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. No, I’m not kidding.  He also played Paul of Tarsus in The Last Temptation of Christ, Harold “Brain” Hellman in Escape from New York, Detective Rudolph “Rudy” Junkins in Christine, Bud in Repo Man, Carl Rod in Twin Peaks twice, Toot-Toot in The Green Mile, Harvey in Alien Autopsy and a Security Guard in The Avengers. He didn’t do a lot of genre tv, one episode of The Wild Wild West as Lucius Brand in “The Night of The Hangman” and a character named Lemon on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the “Escape to Sonoita” episode. (Died 2017.) (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1939 – George Slusser, Ph.D.  Eight books of SF criticism; anthologies of papers at U. Cal. Riverside’s Eaton Conference; Professor of Comparative Literature, first Curator of the Eaton Collection, Director of the Eaton Program for SF Studies.  “Clarke, along with Asimov and Heinlein … human dramas determined by advances in science and technology… to blend two otherwise opposite activities.”  Pilgrim Award.  (Died 2014) [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1943 Christopher Priest, 77. This is the Birthday of the One and True Christopher Priest. If I was putting together an introductory reading list to him, I’d start with The Prestige, add in the Islanders and its companion volume, The Dream Archipelago. Maybe Inverted World as well. How’s that sound?  (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1949 Nick Bantock, 71. This is a bit of a puzzler for me. He’s the creator of The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy and The Morning Star Trilogy, a series of faux letters and postcards telling a story between two individuals. ISFDB lists it as genre but I’ve never heard it described as such before, and it certainly isn’t shelved as such in bookstores that I’ve frequented. Who’s read it here? (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1960 – Michèle de Laframboise, 60.  A dozen novels for us, as many shorter stories in Abyss & ApexGalaxiesTesseract (“Women Are From Mars, Men Are From Venus”); others too.  For one of her books she did this cover with Jean-Pierre Normand.  Translated into German, Italian, Russian.  Three Auroras, Prix Cécile-GagnonPrix Solaris.  Website (in English and French, of course) here.  [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1960 – Larry Segriff, 60.  Two novels of Tom Jenkins, a young adult who finds adventure in the stars.  Ten shorter stories.  Three Tom Clancy Net Force tie-ins.  Ten anthologies with Martin H. Greenberg.  Productive and competent.  [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1964 Jane Espenson, 56. She had a five-year stint as a writer and producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer where she shared a Hugo Award at Torcon 3 for her writing on the “Conversations with Dead People” episode, and she shared another Hugo at Chicon 7 for Games of Thrones, season one. She was on the the writing staff for the fourth season of Torchwood and executive produced Caprica. And yes, she had a stint on the rebooted Galactica. (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1966 Brian Selznick, 54. Illustrator and writer best known as the writer of The Invention of Hugo Cabret which may or may not be genre. You decide. His later work, Wonderstruck, definitely is. The Marvels, a story of a travelling circus family is magical in its own right though not genre.  (CE)
  • Born July 14, 1979 – Yukiko Montoya, 41.  Novelist, playwright and theatrical director, radio and television host.  Akutagawa, Noma, Mishima, Ôe Prizes; Nanboku and Kishida Drama Awards.  Recent collection in English, The Lonesome Bodybuilder.  The New York Times says she wins over her audience by pushing the absurd to extremes.  For example, in “The Straw Husband” the narrator’s husband is –    [JH]
  • Born July 14, 1989 Sara Canning, 31. Major roles in A Series of Unfortunate Events,  Primeval: New World and The Vampire Dairies, she also appeared in Once Upon a TimeWar for the Planet Of The ApesAndroid EmployedSupernatural and Smallville to name some of her other genre work. (CE) 

(11) COMICS SECTION.

TwistedDoodles translates parenting into genre:  

(12) MR. RICO GOES TO WASHINGTON. David Gerrold told Facebook readers “Starship Troopers is the single most misunderstood book in the entire SF genre.” An excerpt:

….Now, to be fair — Heinlein stacked the deck. Not the first time, not the last time. In this book, the enemy exist as a relentless, unending horde of mindless giant insects. Bugs. There is nothing there to empathize with. They are killing machines — chitinous terminators. The only response is kill or be killed. And in that context, Heinlein’s assertin is justifiable.

Now, consider if the enemy was not some kind of alien bug — but instead, another branch of humanity. Or even just another nation with a shared border. And consider that the battle is not so much a fight to the death, but an argument over whether eggs should be broken at the big end or the little end. At that point, the whole discussion of military service breaks down with one simple question, “Are you fucking kidding me? You want me to die on that fucking hill?”

Second question? How well did Heinlein do it? Well, we’re still talking about the book 60 years later, so I would say that he did a damn good job. Except that we’re not just talking about the book, we’re arguing ferociously about it. So maybe his point wasn’t as clear as he intended it to be. The accusations of fascism have pretty much obscured the more interesting point, which is worth discussion even if we’re not at war:

What is the obligation of a citizen toward the nation in which he lives? If the citizen benefits from their participation, what is their obligation — but also if the citizen does not benefit, what are their options?…

(13) STAR WARS IN THE NEWS. From the New York Times article, “Headed to the Convention? No I, More Republicans are Saying”:

…Everyone in the media wants to act like it’s some big deal that Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander aren’t going to the convention,” said Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. “The reality is the number of delegates craving the octogenarians and septuagenarians of the Senate are surely lower than the number who have purchased their third Star Wars costume….

(14) A HIPPER FLIPPER. “Robot dolphins: the cruelty-free £20m ‘animal’ you can’t tell from the real thing”The Guardian will tell you call about it.

…They can respond to questions, swim happily in shopping mall display tanks, and withstand close contact that would usually be harmful to real animals – without any ethical problems. And they could soon be coming to aquariums in China.

Entrepreneurs in New Zealand are working with American creators of some of Hollywood’s most famous creatures to develop animatronic dolphins that look almost identical to their living counterparts.

A robotic dolphin that can nod an answer to a child – thanks to the human controlling it by remote – might sound unappealing or disconcerting. But as marine parks around the world face increasing pressure to abandon exhibitions featuring real whales and dolphins, the creatures provide an appealing alternative, their creators say.

(15) THE PICTURE OF HEALTH. “The new tattoo: Drawing electronics on skin:” Tagline: “MU engineers discover the possibility of using pencils to draw bioelectronics on human skin.”

… Since its invention, pencils — made of lead including various levels of graphite, clay and wax — have often been used for writing and drawing. In the study, the researchers discovered that pencils containing more than 90% graphite are able to conduct a high amount of energy created from the friction between paper and pencil caused by drawing or writing. Specifically, the researchers found pencils with 93% graphite were the best for creating a variety of on-skin bioelectronic devices drawn on commercial office copy paper. Yan said a biocompatible spray-on adhesive could also be applied to the paper to help it stick better to a person’s skin.

(16) THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY. HBO Max dropped a trailer for the animated series Close Enough, which premiered on the channel last week.

(17) THE LIGHTS IN THE STY ARE NOT STARS. Elly Griffiths speculates about “Why Marshes Capture Our Imaginations—And Inspire Some Of Our Most Unsettling Folklore” at CrimeReads.

…I first came across this legend when I was researching a book, which was subsequently called The Lantern Men. I soon found out that there are many myths and legends about mysterious lights appearing on marshland at night. One version links them to a wicked blacksmith called Jack who tricks the devil and so escapes hell but can never be allowed into heaven. Jack is condemned to walk the earth forever, carrying a single coal from hell inside a pumpkin. The tradition of putting lighted candles into pumpkins at Halloween, also known as jack o’ lanterns, probably comes from this fable.

Jack is not the only creature abroad at night. Sometimes the blacksmith is called Will and, in English folklore,  marsh lights are often called will o’ the wisps, wisp meaning a bundle of twigs tied together to make a torch.  There are some regional variations, hobby lanterns in the north and pixie lights in Devon and Cornwall, where hapless travelers are said to be ‘pixie led’.

(18) HOPE AND GLORY. BBC says “‘Hope’ and ambition drive UAE’s Mars mission”.

The United Arab Emirates will despatch a satellite to Mars to study its weather and climate this week.

Hope, as the 1.3-tonne probe is called, is launching on an H-2A rocket from Japan’s remote Tanegashima spaceport.

The 500-million-km journey should see the robotic craft arrive in February 2021 – in time for the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation.

Lift-off is scheduled for 05:43 local time on Friday (20:43 GMT; 21:43 BST on Thursday).

An earlier attempt on Wednesday was called off ahead of time because of expected poor weather conditions over Tanegashima.

…Why is the UAE going to Mars?

The UAE has limited experience of designing and manufacturing spacecraft – and yet here it is attempting something only the US, Russia, Europe and India have succeeded in doing. But it speaks to the Emiratis’ ambition that they should dare to take on this challenge.

Their engineers, mentored by American experts, have produced a sophisticated probe in just six years – and when this satellite gets to Mars, it’s expected to deliver novel science, revealing fresh insights on the workings of the planet’s atmosphere.

In particular, scientists think it can add to our understanding of how Mars lost much of its air and with it a great deal of its water.

The Hope probe is regarded very much as a vehicle for inspiration – something that will attract more young people in the Emirates and across the Arab region to take up the sciences in school and in higher education.

(19) UNWRAPPED BOXING DAY. “Rare Super Mario becomes highest-selling video game”.

A rare version of the classic 1985 Super Mario Bros has sold at auction for $114,000 (£90,000), the most ever paid for a video game.

The cartridge, still in its original packaging, sold to an anonymous bidder.

And the US auctioneer said demand “was extremely high”, partly because this particular packaging had been used for a short while only.

The previous record for an auctioned game was $100,000 – for a different copy of Super Mario.

(20) NOT ZERO YET. In Godzilla:  King of the Monsters Pitch Meeting on ScreenRant, Ryan George explains that the film has lots of characters who utter “science words” and Snarky Countdown Guy, who is snarky when he isn’t counting things down.

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

Pixel Scroll 3/10/20 We Are The Pixels, My Friend, And We’ll Keep On Scrollin’, To The End

(1) BULLISH ON JOCK. PropStore is holding an auction of alternate movie posters by Jock. In “Poster Boy”, “Mondo artist Jock talks us through five of his most impressive posters, all of which are part of the Prop Store Movie Poster Auction on March 26.”

Guardians of the Galaxy

This was an idea-led design choice. That technique of cutting out the bodies was more common in old ’50s and ’60s American magazine illustration. The goal with doing that was to elevate what would just be a drawing of the characters standing there into something that’s more design-led and more interesting.

There’s also a “Jock Q&A – In conversation with celebrated Mondo poster artist Jock”

How does your poster-design process start?
I think posters often work best if there’s an idea behind them, rather than just being an illustration of the characters in a cool position. For my most recent Star Wars posters, for example, I chose a scene from the films that we all know and love, but tried to present it from an angle that we haven’t seen before. The only thing about trying to come up with an idea is you can’t force it. You’ve just gotta kind of noodle and doodle until you maybe have an idea for something.

(2) A LITTLE NUDGE. The discussion here is an example of one of the social dynamics at work on the Hugo Awards. It begins with this tweet —  

(3) LIU ADAPTATION TO SMALL SCREEN. AMC has given a two-season pickup to Pantheon,  a sff drama from Craig Silverstein. The series is based on short stories by Ken Liu.

Written by Silverstein (Turn: Washington’s Spies, Nikita), Pantheon is set in a world where uploaded consciousness is a reality. The first season centers on Maddie, a bullied teen who receives mysterious help from someone online. The stranger is soon revealed to be her recently deceased father, David, whose consciousness has been uploaded to the Cloud following an experimental destructive brain scan. David is the first of a new kind of being: an “Uploaded Intelligence” or UI, but he will not be the last, as a global conspiracy unfolds that threatens to trigger a new kind of world war.

(4) SFF SHOW AXED. YouTube is moving away from scripted originals, and Impulse is a casualty.

…YouTube has canceled the sci-fi series Impulse after two seasons, making it the latest casualty in the video platform’s changing strategy for original programming. …

Impulse, developed by Jeffrey Lieber (Lost, NCIS: New Orleans) and with a pilot episode directed by executive producer Doug Liman, premiered in June 2018. It centers on 16-year-old Henrietta “Henry” Coles (Maddie Hasson), who has the ability to teleport but can’t control where she ends up. It’s based on a novel of the same title by Steven Gould.

(5) AND THESE TWO NEVER GOT ON THE AIR. Meanwhile, Disney has changed its mind about a planned Muppets revival, and scrapped a Tron adaptation before anyone even knew they were doing one. The Hollywood Reporter has the story in “Bob Iger’s Next Priority? Streamline Disney+ Development”.

In a sign of the challenges, Disney+ has developed then scrapped three original series in the past year: scripted comedy Muppets Live Another Day from Adam Horowitz, Eddy Kitsis and Josh Gad; Disney villains drama Book of Enchantment from Michael Seitzman; and, per sources, a never-announced Tron adaptation from John Ridley. Two other projects — TV series based on High Fidelity and Love, Simon — were moved to Hulu over their adult thematic content that executives weren’t comfortable showing on the family-friendly Disney+.

(6) YOU’RE FROM THE SIXTIES. One doesn’t have to travel too far back in time to run into certain problems: “Old episodes of Doctor Who streaming on BritBox stir up controversy” at Fansided.

Doctor Who is unique among current popular genre series in that it’s technically been around for nearly 60 years, officially kicking off on November 23, 1963….

And that can cause issues, because 1963 was a very different time, for television and the world in general. So was 1977, when Tom Baker was starring as the Fourth Doctor. That’s when the show aired the serial “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” starring John Bennett acting in yellowface as villain Li H’sen Chang, a stage magician aided by Mr. Sin, a cyborg from the 51st century known as the Peking Homunculus.

Yeah, it’s bad. And did we mention that, in the serial, Chinese people are referred to as “inscrutable ch**ks”? It’s very bad.

“It is really hard to watch because yellowface is so unacceptable now,” said Emma Ko, a screenwriter and spokeswoman for British East Asians in Theatre and on Screen. “When you are somebody who was called a “ch**k” in your childhood, as I have been, it is so hard to hear that word and not feel immediately a trigger reaction of how wrong it is.”…

(7) DOING WHAT COMES SUPERNATURALLY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Michael Koryta and Alma Katsu on Horror, Craft, and Reinvention” at CrimeReads, horror novelists Koryta and Katsu interview each other on their new novels, Katsu’s The Deep and Koryta’s The Chill (written as by Scott Carson), as they ask each other about their backgrounds and how they ended up writing horror. Alma Katsu has lived in the Washington D.C. area and has been a guest at Capclave.

Alma Katsu: After establishing yourself in mystery and crime, I have to ask, what drew you to horror for The Chill? What was the appeal? Does everyone secretly—or openly—love horror? 

Michael Koryta: Love of the storytelling world where the past is encroaching on the present. A ghost story invites the past right in and treats it as if it never left. In my experience, that’s really how we live our lives—every move made in the present is shaped by memory, right? On individual and societal levels. The idea of kicking open a door that allows the past to wander in and be active is always appealing to me. For some reason, I’m particularly drawn to this when the natural world is involved in the story. The idea of turning on a faucet in Queens and receiving water that comes from a reservoir in the Catskills where once a town existed is both intriguing to me and fundamentally eerie. Drink up!

I don’t think everyone loves horror, which is a shame, because they should. A little paranoia is good for the soul. It seems so unimaginative to not be afraid of the dark.

What about you? Why are you writing for the warped minds like mine?

Katsu: I lived in a strangely Gothic world as a child. I grew up in a very spooky house in a spooky town in Massachusetts. The house was an old Victorian, long neglected, which meant it had all these period details that, being a Service brat, I’d never seen before. Pocket doors that disappeared into the walls, twisty stairs leading up to an attic filled with old trunks left by previous occupants. Overrun by mice, so the walls talked to you every night. Growing up in a house like that definitely cements the notion that the past is a frightening place.

(8) BLACK WIDOW FINAL TRAILER. Black Widow arrives in theaters May 1.

“At some point we all have to choose between what the world wants you to be and who you are.”

(9) POMERANTZ OBIT. Earl Pomerantz, a two-time Emmy winner who wrote and produced for such comedies as The Mary Tyler Moore ShowThe Cosby ShowTaxi and The Larry Sanders Show, has died. “Earl Pomerantz, Producer and Emmy-Winning Screenwriter, Dies at 75”. He wrote two episodes of Amazing Stories — “Fine Tuning” and “Mummy Daddy”.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • March 10, 1978 Return from Witch Mountain premiered. The sequel to Escape to Witch Mountain, it was written by Malcolm Marmorstein and is based on were characters that created by Alexander Key who also wrote the novelization of the film. Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, and Denver Pyle reprise their roles from the first with Bette Davis and. Christopher Lee being the baddies here.  Neither critics (40% rating) or audience (50% rating) at Rotten Tomatoes were particularly fond of it. You can see it here.
  • March 10, 1995VR.5 premiered on Fox. It featured a cast of David McCallum, Anthony Head, Lori Singer and Louise Fletcher. It was created by Jeannine Renshaw. Executive producer Thania St. John stated that in press releases, “VR.5 will try to capture that same, creepy feeling of the X-Files” which was the lead-in to this series. It lasted a total of thirteen episodes with only ten shown in its first run. There is no audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes but the aggregate critic rating is very high 75%. You can see the pilot here.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 10, 1891 Sam Jaffe. His first role was in Lost Horizon  as the High Lama and much later in The Day the Earth Stood Still  playing Professor Jacob Barnhardt. Later on we find him in The Dunwich Horror as Old Whateley, voicing Bookman in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, playing The Old-Man in The Tell-Tale Heart, and in his last film, appearing in Battle Beyond the Stars as Dr. Hephaestus. John Sayles wrote the script oddly enough. (Died 1984.)
  • Born March 10, 1905 Richard Haydon. He’s here as he was in The Lost World, the 1960 film version, as Prof. Summerlee. He showed up in the same year in The Twilight Zone in “A Thing About Machines” as Bartlet Finchley. And he’d be Solicitor Herr Falkstein in Young Frankenstein. (Died 1985.)
  • Born March 10, 1918 Theodore Cogswell. He wrote almost forty science fiction stories, most of them humorous, and was the co-author of a Trek novel, Spock, Messiah!, with Joe Spano Jr. He’s perhaps best remembered as the editor of the Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies in which writers and editors discussed their and each other’s works.  A full collection of which was published during 1993 except, as EoSF notes “for one issue dealing with a particularly ugly controversy involving Walter M. Miller”. (Died 1987.)
  • Born March 10, 1938 Marvin Kaye, 82. Currently the editor of Weird Tales, he has also edited magazines such as H. P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.  The Fair Folk anthology which is most excellent and which he edited won a World Fantasy Award.
  • Born March 10, 1958 Sharon Stone,  62. Damn, she’s the same age I am. She’s been in three genre films, her first being Total Recall where she played the ill-fated Lori Quaid. Her next was Sphere where she was cast as Dr. Elizabeth “Beth” Halperin, and last was in, errr, Catwoman where she was Laurel Hedare, an assassin. 
  • Born March 10, 1969 Paget Brewster, 51. She was Jenny Spy on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and most of her genre roles have been voice roles: Lana Lang on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Lois Lane on Justice League: Gods and Monsters and Poison Ivy on Batman and Harley Quinn.
  • Born March 10, 1977 Bree Turner, 43. She’s best known for her role as Rosalee on Grimm. She also starred in the pilot episode (“Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”) of Masters of Horror. She was in Jekyll + Hyde as Martha Utterson. Confession time: I got through maybe three seasons of Grimm before giving up as it became increasingly silly.
  • Born March 10, 1979 Fonda Lee, 41. Her Jade City novel was a finalist for a Nebula Award for Best Novel and won a World Fantasy Award. Its sequel. Jade War, was published last year. And her Cross Fire novel was named Best YA Novel at the 2019 Aurora Awards for best Canadian speculative fiction. 

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • Macanudo is making perfect sense interpreting a Philip Dick title!
  • Today’s Bizarro has everyone’s dream of heaven.

(13) LIVE LONGER, AND PROSPER. An AP newswire article about Congress trying to cope with the coronavirus situation included this interesting sidelight: “Lawmakers race to respond to outbreak; Trump comes to Hill”.

[…] Meanwhile, lawmakers were given new instructions on how to protect themselves at the Capitol, with the House’s attending physician asking them to stop shaking hands or touching people during greetings — he recommended the split-fingers Star Trek greeting instead.

(14) AMAZON’S LOTR ADAPTATION. Don’t let Yahoo! fool you – they don’t know when it’s going to air. They know some other facts, however — “The Lord of the Rings TV show release date, cast, trailer and everything we know so far about the Amazon Prime series”.

Slowly but surely, we’re starting to find out more about the Lord of the Rings TV show. Amazon’s series – the rights for which are rumoured to have cost the streaming service $250 million – may not yet have a release date, but there’s plenty of information out there: cast members, filming location, and news of a second season renewal have all been revealed.

Whether you’re a Tolkien diehard or someone who’s just eager to head back to Middle-Earth after watching the movies, we’ll break down what to expect from the Lord of the Rings TV show below. To Mordor!

(15) GET AN EARFUL. The GraphicAudio trailer makes Wasted Space, Vol. 1 sound pretty appealing.

Billy Bane is a prophet who got it all wrong, and the galaxy has been burning ever since. All he wants is to waste away in the darkest corner of space with his best pal Dust, a supercharged Fuq bot. But when a new prophet comes calling, Billy is summoned to save the galaxy he’s at least partially responsible for destroying.

Too bad he couldn’t care less.

Michael Moreci (Roche Limit, Wonder Woman, Black Star Renegades) and Hayden Sherman (The Few, Cold War, John Carter: The End) have thrown Philip K. Dick in a blender with Preacher. Take a sip and get wasted.

(16) AHMED’S LATEST. Coming from Marvel in June:

MARVELS SNAPSHOTS: CIVIL WAR #1

Written by SALADIN AHMED; Art by RYAN KELLY; Cover by ALEX ROSS

In the heart of the Civil War event, a human story unfolds. A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, doing his best to do the job with honor—but is that even possible? A young, low-level Super Hero, trying to help his neighbors—but that’s not even legal any more. The two come together in a story that’ll test their commitment, ideals, hopes, and dreams.

Featuring Captain America, Giant-Man, Maria Hill, and more, Kurt Busiek recruits Hugo-Award-winning writer Saladin Ahmed and all-star Ryan Kelly to uniquely retell this iconic Marvel story.

(17) DON’T LOSE THAT NUMBER. [Item by Rob Thornton.] Evidently, speculative fiction is gaining traction within many music communities. William Gibson was asked by Wire Magazine, which is one of the leading underground music magazines (behind a paywall), to take part in the Invisible Jukebox and identify a series of recordings by ear alone.

Invisible Jukebox: William Gibson: Can the visionary science fiction author hack The Wire’s mystery record selection? Tested by Emily Bick…

Steely Dan

Kid Charlemagne

[(from The Royal Scam [ABC 1976]).  

“Kid Charlemagne. I have it on my iPhone.

You’re a real Steely Dan fan, right?

Yeah, I was a Steely Dan fan from the day the 45 “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” came out and continue to be this day. Lyrically, it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and it continues to be. Back in the later  80s I would be in the supermarket shopping. Sometimes I’d be the only male shopper, and “Hey Nineteen” would come on the Muzak. And so I’m listening to this, and looking around me are all these lovely young mothers, and I’m thinking holy shit, does nobody scan the stuff for what the lyrics mean, because this is the most deliberately sexually perverse and shocking material. Sometimes I hear younger people say, “Oh, Steely Dan. Everything’s been sanded off. It’s all smooth, it doesn’t sound like human beings are making it.” And then when you listen to the lyrics….

They got their name from a double-headed dildo, so you really can’t expect much else.

Yeah, that’s true. 

(19) DINO SAVINGS TIME. Gizmodo held a shell up to their ear, and guess what they heard?“Days on Earth Used to Be 30 Minutes Shorter, Ancient Shell Suggests”.

….That days were shorter tens of millions of years ago is hardly a revelation. The new study is important in that it improves the accuracy of pre-existing estimates, while providing a new way of studying the past.

“Previous estimates were based on counting daily laminae [growth layers] similar to the ones we did chemical analyses on,” de Winter told Gizmodo. “This [previous] counting yielded roughly the same number of days per year, but with different countings yielding differences up to 10 days due to human error and the difficulty in recognizing daily layers by eye.”

Key to the research was a single fossil shell belonging to Torreites sanchezi, a rudist clam. Now extinct, rudists were shaped like boxes, tubes, and rings, and they filled an ecological niche currently occupied by coral reefs. T. sanchezi grew very quickly as far as hinged, or bivalve, mollusks are concerned, exhibiting thin layers of daily growth rings.

(20) EVOLUTION IN ACTION. The satellite Pixel’d yesterday for its movie camera also does hot stills: “Anak Krakatau: Finnish radar satellite eyes tsunami volcano”.

Here’s a new view of Anak Krakatau, the collapsed Indonesian volcano that generated the 22 December tsunami that devastated local coastlines.

The picture was assembled from radar images acquired on Wednesday by the ICEYE-X2 satellite.

This is a small innovative spacecraft from Finland that will soon be part of a large orbiting network of sensors.

The volcano continues to evolve, following the cone’s catastrophic failure.

Its original height of 340m was reduced to just 110m in the disaster, but further eruptions have since begun to re-model the remnant structure.

“This image indicates the edifice is in a building phase, with the crater no longer connected to the sea as it was in images from a week or so ago,” observed Prof Andy Hooper from Leeds University, UK.

(21) ANOTHER STEP. “Second patient cured of HIV, say doctors”.

A man from London has become the second person in the world to be cured of HIV, doctors say.

Adam Castillejo is still free of the virus more than 30 months after stopping anti-retroviral therapy.

He was not cured by the HIV drugs, however, but by a stem-cell treatment he received for a cancer he also had, the Lancet HIV journal reports.

The donors of those stem cells have an uncommon gene that gives them, and now Mr Castillejo, protection against HIV.

(22) GENRE L.A. At CrimeReads, Katie Orphan goes to one of the last roadhouses in the L.A. area and visits the house where Mildred Pierce was filmed in“Searching for James M. Cain’s Los Angeles”, an excerpt from her book Read Me, L.A.: Exploring L.A.’s Book Culture.

… In The Postman Always Rings Twice, for example, the fictional Twin Oaks Tavern is at the center of much of the action. The story in Cain’s debut novel revolves around the tavern’s owner, Nick Papadakis (“the Greek”), his younger wife, Cora, and Frank Chambers, a drifter they hire to help out at the place; Cora and Frank get involved and conspire to kill the Greek. The Twin Oaks is a roadhouse in the mountains above L.A., with a gas station and motel joining a restaurant to make Papadakis’s little empire. Places like that were common in the 1930s and ’40s but aren’t today, so the few that are left are treasures. Newcomb’s Ranch is one of them.

Newcomb’s opened in what is now the Angeles National Forest in 1939, only a few years after Cain wrote Postman. It’s a cheery, ranch-style wooden building set among pines, on winding Angeles Crest Highway about an hour north of Glendale, where the Papadakises would travel to do their shopping.

Newcomb’s Ranch is a popular weekend destination for motorcyclists who stop for lunch after roaring up Angeles Crest Highway, and I enjoyed the drive up as much as they do. It’s a gorgeous journey into the San Gabriel Mountains; if you go in winter, you might be fortunate enough to encounter trees flocked with snow and low-hanging clouds settling around the peaks.

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

Another Henson Exhibit Exists!

By Rich Lynch: My friend Martin Morse Wooster’s February 3rd File 770 post about visiting the Jim Henson exhibit at the University of Maryland has inspired me to write about my own Jim Henson exhibit experience.  Only this one was up in New York City, not over in College Park, Maryland.  It was part of a four-day mini-vacation in NYC that Nicki and I did back in early January which also included a theatrical performance (which I’ll describe in part 2 of this essay) that was very much in the science fiction/fantasy genre.

Part 1: It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights.

The Museum of the Moving Image is a gem of a place that I can hardly believe Nicki and I have missed seeing until now.  MMI is out in Queens next to the Kaufman Astoria Studios, and according to the museum’s website its intent is to “advance the understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television and digital media”.  And from what we saw there was ample evidence that it was succeeding.

There’s not a whole lot of space available (just two floors), but what they had was used intelligently.  The upper floor was set up as a walk through the history of the moving image, beginning with a collection of magic lanterns dating back to the end of the 19th Century.  A lot of it was hands-on — the core exhibition, Behind the Screen, provides a simplified immersive experience, as the museum’s website describes it, “in the creative and technical process of producing, promoting, and presenting films, television shows, and digital entertainment”.  This included small studios for demonstrating various post-production techniques such as adding foley sound effects to a recorded video.  It was all pretty fascinating to observe, and just by itself was worth the visit to the museum.

But that’s not what we had come there to see.  The other floor of the museum, since 2017, has been home to The Jim Henson Exhibition.  MMI describes it as a “dynamic experience [which] explores Jim Henson’s groundbreaking work for film and television and his transformative impact on culture.”  In all there are about 300 items on display for what is really a quite inclusive retrospective of Henson’s career as a puppeteer, animator, actor, inventor, and filmmaker.  This includes many of the Muppets, and the museum had obviously arranged them with the assumption that they would be part of countless numbers of selfies and photo ops.  Ours included.

Nicki Lynch, Big Bird and Cookie Monster

The exhibition consisted of more than just static displays.  There were also video screens which showcased some of Henson’s earliest involvement in television, including the Sam and Friends show for WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. which aired for several years starting in the mid-1950s.  That was where Kermit the Frog made his first appearance.

Henson and his fellow puppeteer Frank Oz gained national popularity in the early 1960s when one of their Muppets, Rowlf the Dog, had a continuing role as a sidekick of sorts on The Jimmy Dean Show.  And then international popularity in the late 1960s when their Muppets became featured performers on the public television show Sesame Street.  But for me and Nicki, we became fans of the Muppets when they got their own syndicated television series in the mid-1970s.

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge

The Muppet Show was ostensibly a variety show, hosted by Kermit, and featured some very entertaining sketch comedy as well as a plethora of famous guest stars.  So it was really a pleasure to spend half an hour, in the exhibition’s screening room, re-watching an episode which had originally aired more than 40 years ago.  The one they were showing featured Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge as musical guests, but the Muppets themselves had the most amusing bits: Resident daredevil The Great Gonzo recited a multiplication table while standing on a hammock and balancing a piano (with predictably disastrous results).  Mad scientist Dr. Bunsen Honeydew debuted his latest invention, atomic elevator shoes.  Weight-conscious Miss Piggy ordered up a watercress sandwich on whole wheat with four ounces of rhubarb juice, otherwise known as the ‘Fatso Special’.  Feral rock band drummer Animal ate a TV dinner, which turned out to be an actual TV.  And the show’s resident stand-up comic, Fozzie Bear (accompanied by Rowlf), sang “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, An Actor’s Life for Me”.  More than 40 years on, it was all just as enjoyable as the first time we’d seen it.  Ah, nostalgia!

Next:  Livin’ it up on top with Hadestown.