(1) THE ORIGINAL KTF REVIEWER. Humanities revisits “Edgar Allan Poe’s Hatchet Jobs”.
Poe churned out reams of puff-free reviews—the Library of America’s collection of his reviews and essays fills nearly 1,500 dense pages. Few outside of Poe scholarship circles bother reading them now, though; in a discipline that’s had its share of so-called takedown artists, Poe was an especially unlovable literary critic. He occasionally celebrated authors he admired, such as Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But, from 1835 until his death in 1849, the typical Poe book review sloshed with invective.
Tackling a collection of poems by William W. Lord in 1845, Poe opined that “the only remarkable things about Mr. Lord’s compositions are their remarkable conceit, ignorance, impudence, platitude, stupidity, and bombast.” He opened his review of Susan Rigby Morgan’s 1836 novel, The Swiss Heiress, by proclaiming that it “should be read by all who have nothing better to do.” The prose of Theodore S. Fay’s 1835 novel, Norman Leslie, was “unworthy of a school-boy.” A year later, Poe doomed Morris Mattson’s novel Paul Ulric by pushing Fay under the bus yet again, writing, “When we called Norman Leslie the silliest book in the world we had certainly never seen Paul Ulric.”
Attacking better-known writers – a tactic still in use today by several minor sff authors — was also typical of Poe.
The twist, though, is that as a critic Poe often treated ethics as disposably as we do coffee filters. That self-dealing rave review is just one example. Poe plagiarized multiple times early in his career (most notably in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and “Usher”), but still spent much of 1845 leveling plagiarism accusations against Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poe delivered his attacks under his own name, but also anonymously, and through an imaginary interlocutor named “Outis.” But for all of Poe’s bluster, evidence of Longfellow’s thievery was thin, and the poet, wisely, didn’t respond. “Poe’s Longfellow war,” said publisher Charles Briggs, who’d hired Poe at the Broadway Journal, “is all on one side.”
(2) WHAT A REVIEWER IS FOR. New Yorker’s Nathan Heller revisits the American Heart controversy in “Kirkus Reviews and the Plight of the “Problematic” Book Review”.
People make sense of art as individuals, and their experiences of the work differ individually, too. A reviewer speaks for somebody, even if he or she doesn’t speak for you.
To assume otherwise risks the worst kind of generalization. I went to high school in San Francisco at the height of the multiculturalism movement. My freshman curriculum did not include “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Great Gatsby,” or “Moby-Dick.” We read, instead, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “Bless Me, Ultima,” and other books showing the range of American fiction. I’m glad. (One can read “The Grapes of Wrath” anytime.) I remember finding Hurston’s novel brilliant and Anaya’s novel boring. I did not conclude, from these feelings, that African-American literature was interesting and Chicano literature was not. Why would I? The joy of books is the joy of people: they’re individuals, with a balance of virtues and flaws. We are free to find—and learn our way into—the ones that we enjoy the most, wherever they come from.
That specificity of response is what Vicky Smith seems to encourage by opening the full canon of new work to new readers. It’s also, though, the diversity that Kirkus has smothered by issuing a “correction”—the editor’s word—on the political emphasis of a published response. Although it’s easy these days to forget, a politics is a practice of problem-solving, case by case, not a unilateral set of color-coded rules. If certain inputs guarantee certain outputs, what’s in play isn’t politics but doctrine. Kirkus, admirably, is trying to be on the progressive side of a moment of transition in our reading. But its recent choices aren’t about progress, or about helping young people find their way through many voices. They’re about reducing books to concepts—and subjecting individuals who read them to the judgments of a crowd.
(3) AWARD REBOOT. Newly appointed award administrator Tehani Croft announced “Significant changes for the Norma K Hemming Award”.
The Norma K Hemming Award, under the auspices of the Australian Science Fiction Foundation (ASFF), announces significant changes to the Award structure.
Designed to recognise excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in a published speculative fiction work, the Norma K Hemming Award, which has been running since 2010, has had a major overhaul this year, with new categories and a two year cycle.
The award is now open to short fiction and edited anthologies, alongside the previous eligible work of novellas, novels, collections, graphic novels and stage plays. It will also make allowances for serialised work. In addition, entry submissions may be digital or print for all submissions.
Two prizes will now be given, one for short fiction (up to 17,500 words) and one award for long work (novellas, novels, collections, anthologies, graphic novels and play scripts), with a cash prize and citation awarded.
Nominations for the 2018 awards, covering all eligible work published in 2016 and 2017, will open in early November.
(4) THE HORROR. Chloe continues the Horror 101 series at Nerds of a Feather with “HORROR 101: The Uncanny”.
The uncanny to me is a crucial element of horror: not being able to pinpoint exactly what makes us scared. While the extreme can be terrifying (the xenomorph in Alien is a category crisis—its something we can’t classify/is not instantly knowable—but it’s not uncanny because we shouldn’t be able to know it/classify it as its something completely new to the human experience). However, even more terrifying is that which is just a little off: pod people who may look like your lover, but they smile in just a slightly different way. A man with fingers just a little too long. Women with hair in front of their faces so that their expressions are unknowable.
In technology, we refer to the “uncanny valley” (a term coined by Masohiro Mori in the 70’s) when dealing with robots and computer designed images of people. A robot who looks human-like but not realistically so (think Bender in Futurama) wouldn’t trigger the uncanny valley but a robot who looks extremely close to human, but has some tiny bit of offness, such as the more and more realistic robots we have currently, would fall into it and create a sense of slight fear, revulsion, or distrust. In the film Ex Machina (which on its surface is a film about a Turing test going very wrong, but in its heart is a take on the tropes of Gothic literature and the Bluebeard fairy tale), Alicia Vikander portrays Ava brilliantly by making the robotic elements include both Ava’s movements (more perfect than an average person’s) and speech (carefully clipped and enunciated)—this heightens the uncanny valley feeling while going against the entirely human looks of her face (which wouldn’t necessarily fall into the uncanny valley).
(5) WHEN WILL YOU MAKE AN END? Alastair Reynolds writes a whole post – “Gestation time” — around a term that also came up in a discussion of Zelazny here earlier this week.
In the previous post I mentioned that my new story “Night Passage” – just out in the Infinite Stars anthology – was one I was glad to see in print because it had taken about five years to finish. I thought that was approximately the case, but when I checked my hard drive I saw that I opened a file on that story at the end of November 2009, so the better part of eight years ago. That wasn’t an attempt at the story itself, but as per my usual working method, a set of notes toward a possible idea. I rarely start work on a story cold, but instead prefer to brainstorm a series of rambling, sometimes contradictory thoughts, out of which I hope something coherent may emerge. This process can take anything from a morning to several days or weeks, but I never start a story in the first fire of inspiration.
(6) INITIAL QUESTION. At Nerds of a Feather, The G interviews Shadow Clarke reviewer Megan AM – “FIRESIDE CHAT: Megan AM of Couch to Moon”.
MEGAN AM: … My own personal goal was to demonstrate that good, interesting, literary SF does exist; that it can come from anyone, anywhere, and in any language; and that it can compete with the basic, Americanized, TV-style SF I keep encountering on shortlists. Unfortunately, the 2017 Clarke submissions list didn’t give me much to work with on that front–a lot of the choices were very formulaic, very bland, not to mention very British, white, and male– but I did manage to find some champions I’m grateful to have read: Joanna Kavenna, Martin MacInnes, Lavie Tidhar, Johanna Sinisalo. As for my experience as a contributor… I mean, eight people I have admired in this field–most of whom I had never interacted with before– read and talked books with me. It was the coolest thing ever. I’m curious what you thought of the whole thing. Watching you watch it from the outside was interesting: You seemed genuinely interested in bridging gaps between contentious parties, communicating good faith in all sides, and withholding judgment until it was all said and done. So, now that it is done, what do you think? …
THE G: …. I’d also extend these observations to criticism itself. So I try to have a thick skin anytime I press “publish.” Someone is bound to think my ideas are rubbish, and that’s fine. At the same time, authors and fans are often guilty of violating the text/person distinction–taking depersonalized comments on a text personally and lashing out at the person who made them. The effect is to police what critics, bloggers and other reviewers can say in public, and that’s bullshit.
I could go on, but let’s get back to the Sharke project! Or rather, back to awards. One thing that’s come up a lot in discussions is the concept of “award worthiness,” i.e. that there is some objective-ish bar that works of fiction must live up to in order to be proper candidates. I’ve bandied this term about a few times, generally when talking about the Hugos. I have a very clear sense of what, for me, constitutes award worthiness in science fiction and fantasy–some combination of ideas, execution, emotional resonance and prose chops. Not always the same combination, but hitting all four to a significant degree, and hitting one or two out of the park….
MEGAN AM: ….This comes back to questioning the idea of an objective kind of “award worthiness.” You mention “comfort SF,” which is just as subjective, because I don’t find that kind of SF comforting at all. We’re living in a Trumpnado, where critical reading and thinking skills are devalued, fake news accusations are flying from all directions, nazism is being given a platform in centrist media, and yet progressive SF fans feel threatened by the idea that it might be necessary to sharpen up on difficult, rigorous, uncomfortable novels? I’m not sure it’s appropriate right now to award anything less than radical and complex. And even setting politics aside, the these ‘comfort food books’ are aesthetically old and crusty. Reading award-nominated novels from different decades really helps to put that into perspective: Not a lot has changed in the styling of SF and its “coding” of metaphors, so I’m confused by why we keep awarding the same styles and thoughts… seventy. years. later.
(7) TODAY IN HISTORY
Amazingly, Clemens photographed 117 of the 156 episodes of the series. His crisp black-and white photography is well featured in the Blu-ray format – so crisp that a freeze-frame sometimes reveals details that even the art directors didn’t want you to see. For instance, in the Donald Pleasence episode “Changing of the Guard” (the final episode of the third season), the diploma on the wall of Professor Ellis Fowler’s office should feature his name. It doesn’t. Thanks to George Clemens’ crystal-clear photography, we see that it belongs to another man.
- October 29, 1998 – John Glenn returned to outer space.
(8) THINKING ABOUT MOOLAH. Franklin Templeton Investments gives a rundown about AI “Science Fiction To Science Fact: The Rise Of The Machines”.
By Mat Gulley, CFA, Executive Vice President, Head of Alternatives and Co-Head IM Data Science, Fintech & Rapid Development; Ryan Biggs, CFA, Research Analyst
The rapid expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) has generated a lot of excitement, but also some (perhaps justified) paranoia. Will computers replace-or even overtake-human beings? Mat Gulley, executive vice president and head of alternatives at Franklin Templeton Investments, and Ryan Biggs, research analyst at Franklin Equity Group, explore the ramifications of “the rise of the machines” in the realm of asset management. They say the full implications of the new machine age will likely take decades to fully play out, but will likely be staggering.
We have been anticipating their arrival for decades. As far back as 1958 the New York Times wrote a story about a machine developed at Cornell University called the Perceptron. The device was said to be “the embryo of an electronic computer … expected to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce itself and be conscious of its own existence.” In 1958!? That would have been an astonishing achievement in a time even before the microwave oven graced our kitchen countertops.
For the past half century, humanity has been eagerly anticipating the age of artificial intelligence (AI); imagining it in Hollywood and reporting on its progress in the media. Perhaps at times our optimism has gotten ahead of itself. Not any longer. This time, the machines are not just coming-they are already here….
(9) SPEAKING UP. The Washington Post’s Todd C. Frankel looks at the career of the video game voice actor, who can spend four hours straight practicing ways of screaming death scenes and who went on an eight-month strike to get better working conditions and residuals: “In $25 billion video game industry, voice actors face broken vocal cords and low pay”.
Yet voice actors in this industry are not treated like actors in television and movies. This led voice actors to go on strike last year against 11 of the largest video game developers over bonus pay and safety issues such as vocal stress. The bitter labor dispute dragged on for 11 months, making it the longest strike in the history of Hollywood’s largest actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA. Burch was forced to give up a critically acclaimed role she loved. Gaming fans feared delays for their favorite titles before a tentative deal was reached late last month. A vote by the full union is going on now.
The lengthy strike highlighted how video games have emerged as the scene of a tense clash between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Voice actors want to be treated more like TV and film actors, who are viewed as central to the creative process. Tech firms often see the developers and engineers as the true stars of the show.
“They keep saying, ‘Games are different,’?” said J.B. Blanc, a well-known voice actor and director who has worked with Burch several times. “But that’s no longer true. Because games want to be movies, and movies want to be games. These are basically 100-hour-long movies.”
(10) EASY PICKINGS. Abbie Emmons has now taken her Twitter account private after absorbing a thorough and professional internet beating. The punishment began after she tweeted the opinion belittled by Foz Meadows in “Dear Abbie: An Open Letter”. Foz begins with the admission “I don’t know where your hometown is” but doesn’t let that keep her from making assumptions about it, or from working in “white” and “Christian” four times in her opening paragraph, and not in a positive way.
You’re quite right to say that you, personally, will not encounter every type of person in your small corner of the world. But “small” is the operative word, here: wherever your hometown might be, the fact that it’s the basis of your personal experience doesn’t make it even vaguely representative of the world – or even America – at large.
You claim that you “love everyone” regardless of their background, and I’m sure you believe that about yourself. Here’s the thing, though: when you say you wish people would stop being “correct” and “just write books that actually… reflected the kind of thing we encounter in real life,” you’re making a big assumption about who that “we” is. There might be very few black people in your hometown, but if one of them were to write a novel based on their memories of growing up there, you likely wouldn’t recognise certain parts of their experience, not because it was “incorrect,” but because different people lead different lives. And when you claim that certain narratives are forced and unrealistic, not because the writing is badly executed, but because they don’t resemble the things you’ve encountered, that’s not an example of you loving everyone: that’s you assuming that experiences outside your own are uncomfortable, inapplicable and wrong.
(11) EXOTIC NATTER. NextBigFuture declares “Teleportation and traversible wormholes are all real”. You wouldn’t doubt Han Solo would you?
Einstein-Rosen or “ER” bridges, are equivalent to entangled quantum particles, also known as Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen or “EPR” pairs. The quantum connection between wormholes prevents their collapse without involving exotic matter.
The quantum-teleportation format precludes using these traversable wormholes as time machines. Anything that goes through the wormhole has to wait for Alice’s message to travel to Bob in the outside universe before it can exit Bob’s black hole, so the wormhole doesn’t offer any superluminal boost that could be exploited for time travel.
Researchers are working towards lab tests of quantum teleportation to verify their theories…
(12) POT. KETTLE. BLACK. Camestros Felapton, in “Reading Vox Day So You Don’t Have To: The last essay on Chapter 6”, thinks the way to refute Vox Day’s characterization of alleged SJW organizational tactics is to show how Republicans have done the same thing to each other. True as that may be, the trouble is tit-for-tat casemaking isn’t entertaining – and usually, Camestros is very entertaining.
These are the terrible things SJWs are supposed to do to organizations. Vox lists seven and he manages to set up a deeply insightful analysis of how an organization can be destroyed by political extremists. The only problem is that as an analysis it fit bests how the right have wrecked the Republican party. Again, I’ve changed the order to show the sequence of events better.
“The Code of Conduct: Modifying the organization’s rules and rendering them more nebulous in order to allow the prosecution or defense of any member, according to their perceived support for social justice.”
Lobbying organizations on the right like the NRA or “Americans for Tax Reform” have systematically created an extension of the GOP’s actual rules and accountabilities for their politicians. For example the ATR has been pressurizing Republican candidates (at state and federal level) to sign the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”: …
(13) DEAR SIR OR MADAM. SyFy Wire tells about the exhibit where you can read J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter pitch to publishers.
Rowling’s original pitch opens with:
Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car-crash — or so he has been told. The Dursleys don’t like Harry asking questions; in fact, they don’t seem to like anything about him, especially the very odd things that keep happening around him (which Harry himself can’t explain).
The Dursleys’ greatest fear is that Harry will discover the truth about himself, so when letters start arriving for him near his eleventh birthday, he isn’t allowed to read them. However, the Dursleys aren’t dealing with an ordinary postman, and at midnight on Harry’s birthday the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid breaks down the door to make sure Harry gets to read his post at last. Ignoring the horrified Dursleys, Hagrid informs Harry that he is a wizard, and the letter he gives Harry explains that he is expected at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in a month’s time.
The synopsis goes on to discuss Hagrid’s arrival and his revelations about Harry’s forehead scar while also explaining that “Harry is famous among the witches and wizards who live in secret all over the country because Harry’s miraculous survival marked Voldemort’s downfall”.
(14) SPACE VAMPIRES AND THE FUTURE OF “I”. Peter Watts brings a whole new level to the term “self-effacing” – “The Bicentennial 21st-Century Symposium of All About Me”.
This feels a bit weird. Creepy, even. If it makes any difference, I advised them not to go ahead with it.
A couple of weeks from now— Nov 10-11— the University of Toronto will be hosting an academic symposium about me. More precisely, about my writing.
You could even call it an international event. While U of T is providing the venue, the symposium itself is organized by Aussie Ben Eldridge, of the University of Sydney. At least two of the presenters are from the US (although one of them will be Skyping in, doubtless to avoid the mandatory cavity search that seems to be SOP at the border these days).
Friday is layperson-friendly: a round-table discussion of my oeuvre, or omelet, or however you say that; a reading (new stuff, yet to be published); an interview; a bit of Q&A. The schedule only listed 15 minutes for drinks after that, but as Ben reminds me he is an Australian and would never make so rookie a mistake. That 15 minutes is only for warm-up drinking on campus, after which we retire to the Duke of York.
Saturday is the academic stuff….
(15) VISIBLE WOMAN. We probably have more cyborgs than Taylor Swift fans on this site — which still means some of you should be interested in this new recording: “Taylor Swift Turns Cyborg For New ‘Blade Runner’-Inspired Video to ‘…Ready For It?’ Watch”.
As fans of the Blade Runner universe mull over Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral cinematic study of what makes a human, Swift goes full replicant in the new futuristic music video, which dropped at midnight.
Taylor lit up the Internet earlier this week when she teased snippets from the sci-fi clip, in which she appears in a skin-tone thermoptic suit, giving the illusion of actually being her birthday suit. Who needs threads when you’re a machine, right?
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Carl Slaughter, and Elizabeth Fitzgerald for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]