Pixel Scroll 1/25/19 Eight Files High

(1) SINGING ABOUT PEASPROUT CHEN. Lightspeed Magazine’s interview with Henry Lien brought out a fascinating musical connection —

You’re the first author I’ve interviewed who’s had a Broadway singer perform at the book launch for their debut novel. I watched the promotional video of the one and only Idina Menzel performing the theme song from the first book of your Peasprout Chen series, Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, with you. That’s so cool! What’s the backstory? How did that happen?

We’re represented by the same agency, ICM. She got a hold of the advance reader copy of the first Peasprout Chen book and flipped over it. She asked ICM if they could arrange for her to meet me. After I finished screaming into my pillow, I said, “Oh, well, let me see if I can find a slot in my calendar to squeeze in lunch with Idina Freeggin’ Menzel.” Then I screamed into my pillow some more. We met and really hit it off. She has become a dear friend. So I asked her to sing the theme song for the book at the launch. She said yes. Then I died of shock, and thus am conducting this interview with you from the Beyond.

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites you to gobble goat cheese fritters with Scott H. Andrews while listening to Episode 87 of his Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Scott H. Andrews, founder and editor and publisher of the online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, celebrated the 10th anniversary of that magazine by hosting a party at the recent World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore, Maryland — which made it seem like the right time for us to discuss that first decade. So we raised a pint at Red’s Table in Reston, Virginia.

Well, he raised a pint — of bourbon-barrel aged Gold Cup Russian Imperial Stout from Old Bust Head Brewery in Fauquier County, Virginia — while I downed my usual bottle of Pellagrino. And as we sipped, we chatted about that work on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which has so far earned him six World Fantasy Award nominations and six Hugo Award nominations — and won him a British Fantasy Award. He’s a writer as well, with his own fiction appearing in Weird Tales, Space and Time, On Spec, and other magazines.

We discussed the treatment he received as a writer which taught him what he wanted to do (and didn’t want to do) as an editor, how his time as member of a band helped him come up with the name for his magazine, why science fiction’s public perception as a literary genre is decades ahead of fantasy, what it takes for a submission to rise to the level of receiving a rewrite request, the time he made an editor cry (and why he was able to do it), how he felt being a student at the Odyssey Writing Workshop and then returning as a teacher, the phrase he tends to overuse in his personalized rejection letters (and the reason why it appears so often), the way magazine editing makes him like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian, why writers shouldn’t worry about the ratio of submitted stories to purchased ones, the reason he’ll probably never edit novels, what anyone considering starting a magazine of their own needs to know, and much more.

(3) GET ILLUMINATED. “Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away” – Two University of Pennsylvania scholars are doing a series of videos about the ancient Jedi texts until Star Wars Episode 9 is released on December 20.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker gathered a small library of ancient Jedi texts and placed them in an uneti tree on Ahch-To.

On October 8, 2018, Dr. Brandon Hawk and curator Dot Porter met to talk about these ancient books, and to compare them with manuscripts from the collection of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here are the first two videos:

(4) NEW HORIZONS PHOTOS ARRIVING SLOWLY. “Nasa’s New Horizons: Best image yet of ‘space snowman’ Ultima Thule” – BBC had the story.

The New Horizons probe has sent back its best picture yet of the small, icy object Ultima Thule, which it flew past on New Year’s Day.

The image was acquired when the Nasa spacecraft was just 6,700km from its target, which scientists think is two bodies lightly fused together – giving the look of a snowman.

Surface details are now much clearer.

New Horizons’ data is coming back very slowly, over the next 20 months.

This is partly to do with the great distance involved (the separation is 6.5 billion km) but is also limited by the small power output of the probe’s transmitter and the size (and availability) of the receive antennas here on Earth. It all makes for glacial bit rates.

The new image was obtained with New Horizons’ wide-angle Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) and gives a resolution of 135m per pixel. There is another version of this scene taken at even higher resolution by the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), but this has not yet been downlinked from the probe.

(5) RSR PRO ARTIST RESOURCE. Rocket Stack Rank’s Greg Hullender says, “Based on the discussion on File770, we did the experiment of expanding our Pro Artist list using the ISFDB info. This actually expands it hugely. We ended up not trying to merge the lists for this year, but we posted the ISFDB data separately just so people could have it as a resource. It’s awfully nice data, if a bit overwhelming, and it’d be great to find a good way to use it. We’re hoping people will look at it and offer some ideas for how to make it a bit more manageable.” — “Pro Artists from ISFDB Novels 2018”.

Based on some conversations on File 770 about better ways to find candidates for the Best Professional Artist Hugo Award, we decided to try using the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) as a source.  The result is spectacular, but maybe a bit overwhelming, so we decided not to try to integrate it with our regular Pro Artists page this year. Instead, we’re treating this as an experiment and inviting feedback on how we might best use this wealth of data in the future to help people who’re trying to find professional artists to nominate.

(6) FRANKENSTEIN AND ROBOTS. In the Winter 2019 Beloit College Magazine, Susan Kasten (“Why Frankenstein Will Never Die”)  discusses how an English professor, an anthropologist, a physicist, and a professor of cognitive science team-taught Frankenstein in a class called “Frankenstein 200:  Monster, Myth, and Meme.”

Robin Zebrowski, a professor of cognitive science, pointed out that the themes of Frankenstein — of creation, difference, empathy, monstrosity, and control–are the memes of artificial intelligence.  Zebrowski pointed out that early robot stories are about Frankenstein.  ‘They’re about building something no one can control once it’s unleashed,’ she said.  She noted that the first work of literature ever written about robots–a 1923 Czech play called R.U.R.–is a story about a robot uprising.

(Incidentally, Professor Zebrowski believes she is not related to sff author George Zebrowski.)

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

January 25, 1915 — First transcontinental telephone call was made, between New York and San Francisco; Alexander Graham Bell and Dr. Thomas A. Watson exchanged greetings.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 25, 1918 King Donovan. His first first SF film have him as Dr. Dan Forbes in the 1953 The Magnetic Monster and as Dr. Ingersoll In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The very next year, he plays James O’Herli in Riders to the Stars. And now we get to the film that you know him from — Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which he playsJack Belicec. After that, I show him only in Nothing Lasts Forever which has never been released here in the States. (Died 1987.)
  • Born January 25, 1943 Tobe Hooper. Director of such such genre films as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original of course), Poltergeist (damn scary film) Invaders from Mars and Djinn, his final film. He directed a smattering of television episodes including the “Miss Stardust” of Amazing Stories, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” of Freddy’s Nightmares, “Dead Wait” of Tales from the Crypt and the entire Salem’s Lot miniseries. He also wrote a horror novel with Alan Goldsher,  Midnight Movie: A Novel, that has himself in it at a speaking engagement. (Died 2017.)
  • Born January 25, 1958Peter Watts, 61.Author of the most excellent Firefall series which I read and enjoyed immensely. I’ve not read the Rifters trilogy so would welcome opinions on it. And his Sunflower linked short stories sound intriguing. 
  • Born January 25, 1963 Catherine Butler, 56. Butler published a number of works of which the most important is Four British fantasists : place and culture in the children’s fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Another important work is Reading History in Children’s Books, with Hallie O’Donovan. Her website is here.
  • Born January 25, 1970 Stephen Chbosky, 49. Screenwriter and director best-known I’d say for the Emma Watson-fronted Beauty and the Beast. But he also was responsible for the Jericho series which was a rather decent bit of SF even if, like Serenity, it got killed far too quickly. (Yes, I’m editorializing.) 
  • Born January 25, 1973 Geoff Johns, 46. Where to begin? Though he’s done some work outside of DC, he is intrinsically linked to that company having working for them for twenty years. My favorite work by him in on Batman: Gotham Knights, Justice League of America #1–7 (2013) and 52 which I grant which was over ambitious but really fun. 
  • Born January 25, 1985 Michael Trevino, 34. Performer, Tyler Lockwood on The Vampire Diaries and now Kyle Valenti on the new Roswell, New Mexico series whose premises I’ll leave you to guess. His first genre appearance was in the Charm episode of “Malice in Wonderland” as Alastair. He also shows up on The OriginalsThe Vampire Diaries spin-off. 
  • Born January 25, 1985 Claudia Kim, 34. Only four film films but all genre: she played Dr. Helen Cho Avengers: Age of Ultron followed by voicing The Collective In Equals which Wiki manages to call a ‘dystopian utopia’ film to which I say ‘Eh?!?’, and then Arra Champignon in the 2017 version of The Dark Tower and finally as  Nagini, Voldemort’s snake which I presume is a voice role (though I’ve not seen the film so I could be wrong) in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Hulk’s last words? Bizarro has them.

(10) ASIMOV REFERENCE. Yesterday on Late Night With Stephen Colbert (at about the 1:50 mark) the host said during a sketch —

“My self-driving car has stopped taking me to Taco Bell…citing the first law of Robotics.”

(11) RE-DEEP. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] press release from Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Spain addresses the latest “deep image” from the Hubble Space Telescope. The original Hubble Deep Field was assembled in 1995, only to be exceeded by the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field in 2004 and the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field in 2012. Each imaged galaxies further away and thus further back in time. Now there’s a new version of the Ultra-Deep Field that recovers “additional light” not included in earlier versions and showing thus additional information about the included galaxies.

To produce the deepest image of the Universe from space a group of researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) led by Alejandro S. Borlaff used original images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST taken over a region in the sky called the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF). After improving the process of combining several images the group was able to recover a large quantity of light from the outer zones of the largest galaxies in the HUDF. Recovering this light, emitted by the stars in these outer zones, was equivalent to recovering the light from a complete galaxy (“smeared out” over the whole field) and for some galaxies this missing light shows that they have diameters almost twice as big as previously measured.

A scientific paper on the image and analysis is on ArXiv at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1810.00002.pdf (technically a preprint, but it has been accepted for publication by Astronomy & Astrophysics). The data itself is at http://www.iac.es/proyecto/abyss.

(11) NOW BOARDING. James Davis Nicoll knows how we love the number 5 here — “5 SFF Stories About Surviving the Dangers of Boarding School” at Tor.com.

As a setting, boarding schools allow for the construction of thrilling narratives: concerned parents are replaced by teachers who may well prioritize student achievement over student welfare, e.g. maximizing points for Gryffindor over the survival of the students earning those points…

Are there any SFF novels featuring boarding schools? Why yes! I am glad you asked—there are more than I can list in a single article. Here are just a few….

(12) BETTER TECH, MARK 0. Scientists have now deduced that “Neanderthals ‘could kill at a distance'”.

Neanderthals may once have been considered to be our inferior, brutish cousins, but a new study is the latest to suggest they were smarter than we thought – especially when it came to hunting.

The research found that the now extinct species were creating weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance.

Scientists believe they crafted spears that could strike from up to 20m away.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lead researcher Dr Annemieke Milks, from UCL Institute of Archaeology, said: “The original idea was that Neanderthals would have been very limited using hand-delivered spears, where they could only come up at close contact and thrust them into prey.

“But if they could throw them from 15m to 20m, this really opens up a wider range of hunting strategies that Neanderthals would have been able to use.”

Extension of the above — “Why we still underestimate the Neanderthals”.

Prof Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, explains why some old assumptions about the intellectual capabilities of our evolutionary relatives, the Neanderthals persist today. But a body of evidence is increasingly forcing us to re-visit these old ideas.

A paper out this week in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reports the early arrival of modern humans to south-western Iberia around 44,000 years ago.

Why should this be significant? It all has to do with the spread of our ancestors and the extinction of the Neanderthals. South-western Iberia has been claimed to have been a refuge of the Neanderthals, a place where they survived longer than elsewhere, but the evidence is disputed by some researchers.

The latest paper, which is not about Neanderthals, has been taken by some as evidence of an arrival into this area which is much earlier than previously known.

By implication, if modern humans were in south-western Iberia so early then they must have caused the early disappearance of the Neanderthals. It is a restatement of the idea that modern human superiority was the cause of the Neanderthal demise. Are these ideas tenable in the light of mounting genetic evidence that our ancestors interbred with the Neanderthals?

(13) LOST ART? This certainly seems symbolic of the government shutdown: “Shutdown Leaves Uninflated Space Sculpture Circling in Orbit” in the New York Times.

…“Orbital Reflector,” a sculpture by Trevor Paglen that was recently launched into orbit.

The sculpture is not lost in space as much as stuck in a holding pattern before activation, pending clearance by the Federal Communications Commission. According to the artist, it might not survive the wait while F.C.C. workers are on furlough.

A 100-foot-long mylar balloon coated with titanium oxide, “Orbital Reflector” was designed to be visible to the naked eye at twilight or dawn while in orbit for a couple of months. It would then incinerate upon entering the Earth’s thicker atmosphere.

But although it was sent to space, the balloon was never inflated as planned.

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

Pixel Scroll 9/22/17 How Can You Tell If An Elephant Has Been On Your Scroll? By The Footprints On The Pixels

(1) EBOOKS FOR HURRICANE RELIEF. Fireside Fiction has teamed up with other small presses, authors, and editors to offer e-books to raise money for hurricane relief through the Hurricane Relief Bookstore.

Fireside Fiction Company has put together the Hurricane Relief Bookstore to raise funds for disaster relief and rebuilding for Houston, the Caribbean, and Florida.

100% of profits from sales on this store will go toward the following three relief organizations:

• For Houston: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund

• For the Caribbean: Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Fund

• For Florida: ShelterBox

The ebooks on this store are intentionally priced high—the more money we raise, the better. If you want to increase your donations, simply increase the quantities in your shopping cart before checking out.

Each ebook consists of a Zip file that includes a Mobi file for your Kindle and an Epub file for iBooks, Nook, Kobo, or any other reader (some publishers also include a PDF file). All files are DRM-free (because come on, it’s 2017).

(2) THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS SATURN. E.R. Ellsworth presents the bittersweet “Lost Letters From Cassini” on Medium.

January 1st, 2001

My Dearest Geneviève:

I hope this missive finds you well. As far as my travels have taken me, you remain ever in my thoughts.

Huygens and I celebrated the new year with the majestic visage of Jupiter full in our sights. I’m enclosing several photographs of that celestial marvel for you and the kids to enjoy. I am no Ansel Adams, however, and I fear my skills with the lens cannot capture the true beauty of this place.

Yours always,

Cassini

(3) ABOVE AND BEYOND. It is the nature of we humans to be more interested in someone’s opinion of Amazon Author Rankings if he or she happens to be speaking from the top of the pile. Take John Scalzi, for example.

Yesterday nine of my novels were on sale for $2.99 in ebook format, across a bunch of different retailers, but most prominently on Amazon, because, well, Amazon. Amazon has a number of different ways to make authors feel competitive and neurotic, one of which is its “Amazon Author Rank,” which tells you where you fit in the grand hierarchy of authors on Amazon, based (to some extent) on sales and/or downloads via Amazon’s subscription reading service. And yesterday, I got to the top of it — #1 in the category of science fiction and fantasy, and was #4 overall, behind JK Rowling and two dudes who co-write business books. Yes, I was (and am still! At this writing!) among the elite of the elite in the Amazon Author Ranks, surveying my realm as unto a god.

And now, thoughts! …

  1. This opacity works for Amazon because it keeps authors engaged, watching their Amazon Author Rankings go up and down, and getting little spikes or little stabs as their rankings bounce around. I mean, hell, I think it’s neat to have a high ranking, and I know it’s basically nonsense! But I do think it’s important for authors to remember not to get too invested in the rankings because a) if you don’t know how it works, you don’t know why you rank as you do, at any particular time, b) it’s foolish to be invested in a ranking whose mechanism is unknown to you, c) outside of Amazon, the ranking has no relevance.

(4) NEEDS MEANER VILLAIN. Zhaoyun presents “Microreview [book]: Babylon’s Ashes (book six of The Expanse), by James S.A. Corey” at Nerds of a Feather.

…And this is where, in my opinion, Babylon’s Ashes missteps.

It turns out Inaros just isn’t that compelling a villain, and perhaps as a consequence of this, the good guys’ inevitable victory over him isn’t particularly cathartic. In one sense that shouldn’t matter, since of course it’s entirely up to Daniel Abraham and Ty Francks what sort of villain to create, and nothing mandates a “tougher than you can believe” archetype. The problem, as I see it, is that they fell into this narrative trope without having the right sort of villain for it. Inaros is simply a megalomaniac with a flair (sort of) for PR, but his ridiculous behavior and blunders end up alienating many of his erstwhile supporters. This leeches the catharsis right out of the mano y mano confrontation at the end, since in a manner of speaking Inaros has already been beaten, in small ways, numerous times before this….

(5) HOBBIT FORMING. The 80th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit prompted Vann R. Newkirk II to recall when right made might, in “There and Back Again” for The Atlantic.

Modern fantasy and its subgenres, as represented in [George R.R.] Martin’s work, might be positioned as anti-art in relation to Tolkien. In that way, Tolkien still dominates. While the watchword of the day is subversion—twisting tropes, destroying moral absolutes with relativism, and making mockeries of gallantry and heroism—subversion still requires a substrate. So although fantasy creators in all media have devoted most of their energies in the past eight decades to digesting Tolkien, so in turn Tolkien has become part of the fabric of their works. There’s a little Bilbo in Tyrion, a bit of Smaug in Eragon’s dragons, a dash of Aragorn in Shannara’s Shea Ohmsford, and a touch of Gandalf in the wizards of Discworld.

That’s why, on this week’s anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit and of the entrance of Tolkien into the fantasy genre, it’s important to reread and reconsider his works, and his first especially. Although the short and whimsical book is considered lightweight compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s still in many ways the best that literature has to offer. Tolkien is first a linguist, and it’s not only his creation of elvish, dwarvish, and orcish languages out of whole cloth that impresses, but also the way he toys with English and illustrates the power of language itself to create. Ever a good author surrogate, Bilbo’s true arms and armor aren’t his trusty half-sword Sting or his mithril shirt, but—as Gollum would find out—his words and riddles.

(6) NOT THE DIRECTOR’S CUT. Matthew Vaughn, director of Kingsman 2, wouldn’t have put the film’s biggest surprise in the damn trailers, he told IGN:

Trailers revealed that Colin Firth’s Harry Hart – who seemed to have died in the course of the first film – would return in the sequel.

Speaking to IGN, Vaughn was forthright about his feelings on that particular promotional choice: “Well, I’m not in charge of marketing. The thinking about that was stupidity, to be blunt.

“I begged the studio not to reveal it. Because it’s the whole driving force of the first act and if you didn’t know that scene it would’ve made the whole audience gasp. So you have to ask the lovely marketing guys because I think their job is to open the movie and don’t really care about the experience of the movie.”

(7) TODAY’S DAY

Hobbit Day

The birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

 

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 22, 1968 — Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants aired “The Crash,” its first episode.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRL

  • September 22, 1971 – Elizabeth Bear

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Was Mark-kitteh surprised to find an sf reference in xkcd? No more than you will be.
  • Nor should anyone be surprised by the sports reference Mike Kennedy found in a comic called In the Bleachers. But its Star Wars component, maybe?

(11) END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. Surely something called “Read For Pixels 2017 (Fall Edition)” needs a mention here?

Read For Pixels 2017 (Fall Edition) raises funds to help end violence against women in collaboration with award-winning bestselling authors.

The Pixel Project‘s “Read For Pixels” 2017 (Fall Edition) campaign features live readings+Q&A Google Hangout sessions with 12 award-winning bestselling authors in support of the cause to end violence against women. Participating authors include Adrian Tchaikovsky, Alafair Burke, Genevieve Valentine, Ilona Andrews, Isaac Marion, Kass Morgan, Ken Liu, Kristen Britain, Paul Tremblay, Sara Raasch, Soman Chainani, and Vicki Pettersson.

These awesome authors have donated exclusive goodies to this special “Read For Pixels” Fall 2017 fundraiser to encourage fans and book lovers to give generously to help tackle VAW. Additional goodies come courtesy of Penguin Random House’s Berkley and Ace/Roc/DAW imprints, acclaimed Fantasy authors Aliette de Bodard, Charles de Lint, Christopher Golden, Dan Wells, Jacqueline Carey, Kendare Blake, Steven Erikson, bestselling mystery/thriller author Karen Rose, and more.

(12) AN ANIMATED GROUP. Crave would like to tell you their picks for “The Top 15 Best Chuck Jones Cartoons Ever” and you may want to know – but I warn you in advance it’s one of those click-through-the-list posts. If you’re not that patient I’ll tell you this much – ranked number one is “Duck Amuck” (1953).

Few filmmakers could ever claim to have brought as much joy into our lives as Charles M. Jones, better known to many as Chuck Jones, who worked for Warner Bros. on their classic Looney Tunes shorts for 30 years. Afterwards, he directed shorts for MGM, co-directed the family classic The Phantom Tollbooth, and also directed one of the best Christmas specials ever produced, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

His career was varied – he won four Oscars, including a lifetime achievement award in 1966 – but Chuck Jones was and still is best known as one of the comic and cinematic geniuses who made Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepé Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner the pop culture staples they are today. Along with his team of skilled animators, writers and fellow directors, Chuck Jones brought biting wit and visual wonders to the cartoon medium, and most – if not all – of the cartoons we love today owe him a direct debt of gratitude, in one form or another.

(13) AN APPEAL. A GoFundMe to “Save Rosy’s Inheritance” has been started for his wife by Guy H. Lillian III to fund these legal expenses –

Nita Green, Rose-Marie Lillian’s mother, passed away in April. 2015. Her intent, as stated in her will, was to have her only daughter inherit a logical percentage of her worldly goods. In person she was promised Nita’s collection of original paintings by Frank Kelly Freas, a renowned artist and long-time personal friend of them both. Rose-Marie lived with and cared for her mother and her stepfather for the last two years of her mother’s life. Since Nita’s death, however, she has been denied her inheritance, despite the stated wishes of her mother and an agreement arrived at a legal deposition taken in December, 2016. She has no recourse but to sue.  Though her husband is an attorney, he is licensed only in another state and Rosy’s cause of action is in Florida. All attorneys rightly require retainers before beginning representation and have every right to be paid. Rose-Marie turns to you for help. The retainer required will fall between $5000 and $7500…. Can you help?

(14) ENDOWED CHAIR. PZ Myers contends, “Only a conservative twit would believe he’s entitled to a speaker’s slot at a con”.

By the way, I have a similar example: I was a speaker at Skepticon multiple times. One year they decided they needed new blood, so they invited some other people, instead of me. If I were like Jon Del Arroz, I would have made a big stink over the violation of tradition — they invited me once (actually, a couple of times), so now they must invite me every time. Every year. Over and over. Until attendees are sick of me, and even then they aren’t allowed to stop.

That isn’t the way this works. I approve of diversity in the line-up. I think it’s great that they have enough people with interesting things to say that they can have a different roster of speakers every year. I’m perfectly willing to step aside, especially since it means I can just attend and enjoy the event without having to give a talk.

(15) DOTARD Alan Baumler sees a link between today’s headlines and The Lord of the Rings which he elaborates in “North Korea in the News-Trump is a dotard”.

So what does this tell us? Is the North Korean propaganda apparatus filled with Tolkien fans? Or is their understanding of modern idioms based on an idiosyncratic selection of foreign texts? I would guess that it is the latter, but the former would be cooler and more optimistic.

(16) ANOTHER SERVING OF SERIAL. Our favorite breakthrough author, Camestros Felapton, proves once again why books need maps – to keep the author from losing his place: “McEdifice Returns: I can’t remember which Chapter Number this is”.

…The hyper-specialism of the galactic civilisation has inexorably led to planets that were just-one-thing: the desert planet of Sandy, the lumpy planet of Lumpus, the planet that just looks like Amsterdam all over of Damsterham, and the Sydney Opera House planet of Utzon-Jørn to name but a few. To resist the planetary monoculture creating a fundamental fragility to galactic civilisation, the ruling Galactical Confederation of Galactic Imperial Republics had instigated a controversial “Come on, Every Planet Has to Have at Least Two Things Guys” law, that mandated that every planet had to have at least a pair of signature things….

(17) WATCHMEN. HBO has given a formal pilot green light to and ordered backup scripts for Watchmen, based on the iconic limited comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that had previously been adapted as the 2009 film, Deadline reported. The new project will be Damon Lindelof’s followup to his HBO series The Leftovers. Warner Horizon TV, which also was behind The Leftovers, is the studio as part of Linderlof’s overall deal at Warner Bros. TV.

(18) ALAN MOORE TAKES QUESTIONS. At ComicsBeat, Pádraig Ó Méalóid has posted two sessions of Alan Moore Q&As from 2015 and 2016.

In what may or may not become a long-standing tradition, Alan Moore has answered questions at Christmas set by the members of a Facebook group called The Really Very Serious Alan Moore Scholars’ Group, who are, as the name might suggest, a bunch of people who are interested in his work. At least, Moore answered 25 questions for the group in December 2015, which were later published here on The Beat over four posts towards the end of 2016. Those four posts can be found here:

And I can only apologise for the faux-clickbait titles. At the time I thought they were hilarious. What a difference a year makes…

Anyway, Moore once again answered a number of questions for the group at the end of 2016 and, having allowed the group to savour these on their own, the time has once again come to share them with the wider public. They cover subjects from Food to Fiction, but we’re starting with various aspects of Magic and Art.

Mark Needham: Do you like Tim-Tams, Hob-Nobs, Chocolate Digestives or any other kind of biscuit with your tea?

Alan Moore: These days, I find that my love of biscuits is increasingly abstract and theoretical, like my love for the comic medium, and that much of the actual product I find deeply disappointing on an aesthetic level. While the chocolate malted milk biscuit with the cow on the back is of course a timeless classic and a continuing source of consolation, why oh why has no one yet devised the glaringly obvious dark chocolate malted milk? We have a spacecraft taking close up pictures of Pluto, for God’s sake, and yet a different sort of chocolate on our cow-adorned teatime favourites is apparently too much to ask.

(19) LEGO MOVIE REVIEW. Glen Weldon of NPR sees Lego Ninjago as running in third place in its own genre: “Plastic Less-Than-Fantastic: ‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie'”.

  1. Constantly undercutting the film’s deliberately overblown genre trappings with surprisingly naturalistic dialogue that explicitly questions those trappings? Check.

The film’s stellar supporting cast gets not nearly enough to do — so little that viewers are left to impute the nature of many of the relationships among them. (Nanjiani’s Jay is meant to have a crush on Jacobsen’s Nya, I think? Based on one line?) That’s the bad news, and given the talent on hand, that news … is pretty bad.

But what’s shunting all those very funny actors into the background is the relationship between Franco’s aching-for-connection Lloyd and Theroux’s blithely evil Garmadon. And Theroux — deliberately channeling, he has stated in interviews, Will Arnett — is so fantastic here you almost forgive Garmadon’s hogging of the spotlight. Almost.

Watching him — or, more accurately, listening to him — is when you truly begin to appreciate how much of the load these vocal performances are carrying, how totally the success of a given Lord/Miller LEGO movie lives or dies in the specific execution of that breezy, naturalistic humor.

Because here, just three movies in, the Lord/Miller LEGO genre is showing signs of exhaustion.

(20) NEANDERTHALS GET ANOTHER BOOST. “Did Robert J. Sawyer have a point?” Chip Hitchcock, who sent the link to the BBC’s article “Neanderthal brains ‘grew more slowly'”. The gist of the article is that slow-growing brains were associated with the ‘most advanced species’ (i.e., homo sapiens sapiens); discovery further knocks the idea that Neanderthals were brutes.

A new study shows that Neanderthal brains developed more slowly than ours.

An analysis of a Neanderthal child’s skeleton suggests that its brain was still developing at a time when the brains of modern human children are fully formed.

This is further evidence that this now extinct human was not more brutish and primitive than our species.

The research has been published in the journal Science.

Until now it had been thought that we were the only species whose brains developed relatively slowly. Unlike other apes and more primitive humans, Homo sapiens has an extended period of childhood lasting several years.

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, Mark-kitteh, Alan Baumler, Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Love, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Robert Whitaker Sirignano.]

Pixel Scroll 3/8/17 And Then The Murders Began

(1) THE SMOOCH ASSUMPTION. The Washington Post knows sexy cavedellers sell, hence the headline “Neanderthal microbes reveal surprises about what they ate – and whom they kissed”.

If it’s true that “you are what you eat,” then there is perhaps no better way to understand someone than by looking at his or her teeth. Especially if that person has been dead for more than 40,000 years.

This is the philosophy of Keith Dobney, a professor of human paleoecology at the University of Liverpool and a co-author of a new study that draws some remarkable conclusions about the lives of Neanderthals by peering beneath their dental enamel.

Teeth are the hardest parts of the human body, and are more likely than any other tissue to survive centuries of corrosion and decay. And dental calculus — that mineralized plaque you get admonished about at the dentist — is particularly good at preserving the bits of food, bacteria and other organic matter that swirl around inside our mouths.

… Weyrich pointed to one eyebrow-raising discovery from the new study: a near-complete genome sequence for a strain of Methanobrevibacter oralis, a simple, single-celled organism that is known to thrive in “pockets” between modern humans’ gums and our teeth (often with not-so-pleasant results).

Weyrich says this is the oldest microbial genome ever sequenced, and it suggests that humans and Neanderthals were swapping spit as early as 120,000 years ago. The find supports the growing consensus that prehistoric hanky-panky was not uncommon between Neanderthals and ancient humans. But it also suggests that these interactions were intimate, consensual affairs.

I may not be a paleoecologist or even a good kisser but I have produced a lot of spit in my time and I can think of some other ways one person’s spit might wind up in another person’s mouth. Like, what if a Neanderthal ate some meat off a bone then handed it to the next person to finish?

(2) YOUR TYRANNOSAURICAL DUNGEON MASTER. Speaking of bones that have been eaten clean (I love a great segue) — “Fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex starts D&D campaign on Twitter”.

That’s right, SUE the Tyrannosaurus, the oldest female apex predator ever unearthed and sold at auction, has begun leading her own Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Using her surprisingly popular Twitter account, SUE is taking willing adventurers on an epic quest to free the land from brigands, evil mages and the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

With a bright yellow 20-sided die, 58 “dagger-like teeth” and her 5th edition Dungeon Masters Guide to… guide… her, SUE is weaving a tale of intrigue and treachery.

Here’s an example of a move:

(3) WHEN WORLDS DON’T COLLIDE. Just coming on my radar, though given for the first time last year, are the Planetary Awards. And if Declan Finn hadn’t mentioned them today I still wouldn’t have heard about them.

The inaugural awards for 2015 work were posted in May 2016 –

  • Best Novel: Torchship by Karl Gallagher
  • Best Short Story: “Something in the Water” by C.S. Boyack

Although any book blogger, podcaster, or “booktuber” is eligible to nominate, I detected a strong puppy flavor to this year’s Planetary Awards shortlist (for 2016 works), which proved to be the case. The names of nominators include Jeffro Johnson, Jon  del Arroz, Brian Niemeier and The Injustice Gamer.

Short Stories / Novellas

  • “Athan and the Priestess” by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in Thune’s Vision
  • “Awakening” by Susan Kaye Quinn
  • “Edge” by Russell Newquist, found in Between the Wall and the Fire
  • “The Gift of the Ob-Men” by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in Cirsova #1
  • “The Glass Flower” by George RR Martin, found in Volume 2 of Dreamsongs  [DISQUALIFIED]
  • “Images of the Goddess”by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in Cirsova #2
  • Paper Cut by Aeryn Rudel, found in Issue 1 of Red Sun Magazine
  • “Purytans” by Brad Torgersen, found in the July-August issue of Analog Magazine

Novels

  • Arkwright by Allen Steele
  • Babylon’s Ashes by James SA Corey
  • The Girl with Ghost Eyes by MH Boroson [DISQUALIFIED]
  • Hel’s Bet by Doug Sharp
  • The Invisible City by Brian K Lowe [DISQUALIFIED]
  • Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani
  • Murphy’s Law of Vampires by Declan Finn
  • The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier
  • Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright

The awards are administered by the “Planetary Defense Commander” whose real name is – surprise! – shrouded in secrecy.

Although the nominees were chosen by the book bloggers, any blogger, podcaster, or youtuber may vote for the winners.

(4) SHADOW CLARKE JURY ACTIVITY. Three new entries —

This is a color-coded table of all the jurors plotted against each other, with the color scheme giving how many books each juror had in common with the others. The blue diagonal set of boxes running from top left to lower right shows that every juror has 100% overlap with their own shortlist. Also, the table is symmetric about that line, i.e., you can look at either the rows or the columns to see how each juror overlapped with the others, as they contain the same information. So, for example, Nina had 3 books in common with Megan, none with Victoria, 1 with Nick, 2 with Maureen, etc.

And there’s two book reviews –

Matthew De Abaitua’s third novel The Destructives is the final part in a loose trilogy begun in 2008 with The Red Men and continued in 2015 with If Then. Although each of the three novels can happily be read in isolation from the others, the parallels and resonances between them – not to mention a few continuing characters – make for fascinating contemplation. Above all, it is the world shared by the three – De Abaitua’s vision of catastrophic digital meltdown in the year 2020, leaving the world’s ecosystems lethally compromised and the human species stripped of its agency – that makes these novels significant in terms of their science fiction.

Written in a tight first-person perspective with neither sub-plots nor inserts to break psychological continuity Whiteley’s novel begins by introducing us to a precocious young woman on the verge of adulthood. Born to an ambitious land-owner and educated to a standard then uncommon in farmers’ daughters, Shirley Fearne is a young woman with firm opinions and a confidence that allows her to express them quite openly. In the novel’s opening section, she often holds forth on subjects such as the importance of education, the backward opinions of fellow villagers, and the important role that women will play in helping to rebuild the country after the horrors of war.

(5) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 8, 1972  — Tales from the Crypt makes its screen debut.

(6) AUDIO BRADBURY. Phil Nichols’ site dedicated to Ray Bradbury includes a page listing radio shows based on Bradbury stories produced anytime from the 1940s til just ten years ago. Many are free downloads from Archive.org.

(7) ODE TO THE UNSUNG. Annalee Newitz of Ars Technica says “Fireside Fiction Company is science fictions best-kept secret”. Her praise even extends to an unsung hero who keeps their website working smoothly.

You may not have heard of Fireside Fiction Company, but it’s time you did. Packed with excellent free science fiction stories, the Patreon-supported publication has been going strong for five years. There are many reasons you need to start reading Fireside, not the least of which is its recent upgrade to GitHub Pages.

You could spend days immersed in Fireside’s back content. Editors Brian White and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry curate quality work from well-known writers and rising stars, including Chuck Wendig, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Daniel Abraham (one half of the Expanse writing team known as James S.E. Corey), Cassandra Khaw (whom you may know from Ars), Ken Liu, Daniel José Older, and more. But it’s not just White and Sjunneson-Henry’s good taste that has earned Fireside a sterling reputation among writers. Unlike many small publications, Fireside pays good rates for fiction. It spends almost all the money it gets from Patreon on its authors and artists.

Fireside Fiction Company also publishes a limited number of books and hosts special projects. One these projects was #BlackSpecFic, a special report on black voices in science fiction. #BlackSpecFic fits into Fireside’s overall commitment to inclusivity, publishing stories by people from a diversity of backgrounds and places.

Another way that Fireside is different from your average publication is its commitment to good code. Design and Technology Director Pablo Defendini, who helped launch Tor.com, has kept Fireside’s back-end as spiffy as what you see in front….

(8) WHIZZING THRU SPACE. Plans for a trip to Mars include scienceing the piss out of problems, too. “Why a German lab is growing tomatoes in urine”.

A fish tank brimming with urine is the first thing you see when you enter Jens Hauslage’s cramped office at the German space agency, DLR, near Cologne. It sits on a shelf by his desk, surrounded by the usual academic clutter of books, charts and scientific papers.

Rising from the centre of the tank are two transparent plastic cylindrical columns – around a metre in height. Spreading from the top of each tube is a bushy, healthy-looking tomato plant with green leaves, flowers and even a few bright red tomatoes.

(9) FROM HARRY POTTER TO HARRY THE KING? The BBC discusses a former Harry Potter star’s latest turn on the live stage in “After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, is Daniel Radcliffe ready for Hamlet?” Or if not Hamlet, why not Henry V?

Daniel Radcliffe says he is really keen to be in a Shakespeare play – although he admits he’s no expert on the Bard.

The Harry Potter star has been praised for his latest role in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at London’s Old Vic.

Tom Stoppard’s comedy, first performed in 1966, centres around two minor characters from Hamlet.

The article quotes several critics’ opinions of Radcliffe’s performance, and one’s opinion of the audience — “The Daily Mail‘s Quentin Letts … noted, some Harry Potter fans who have bought tickets may struggle with the play as a whole.” About that Chip Hitchcock, who sent the link, asked, “I wonder if he’s heard about growing up.”

(10) COMIC SECTION. And making for a smoother segue than the one that started this Scroll is an installment of Frank and Ernest, submitted by John King Tarpinian, which asks what if Shakespeare had been a baseball umpire?

(11) LISTEN. It’s a Vintage News story, which means it’s been floating around the internet for awhile, but never before have I encountered this bit of history — “Before Radar, they used these giant concrete ‘Sound Mirrors’ to detect incoming enemy aircraft”.

Dr. William Sansome Tucker developed early warning systems known as ‘acoustic mirrors’ around 1915, and up until 1935, Britain built a series of concrete acoustic mirrors around its coasts. The acoustic mirror was the forerunner of radar, and it was invented to help detect zeppelins and other enemy aircraft by the sound of their engines.

The British used these devices and with their help, they managed to detect many enemy raids. The acoustic mirrors could detect an incoming aircraft up to 15 miles away, which gave English artillery just enough time to prepare for the attack of the German bombers.

A number of these structures still exist.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Steven H Silver, JJ, and Mark-kitteh for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day – Soon Lee.]