Pixel Scroll 12/23/20 It Was The Alfred Bester Of Times, It Was The Bertie Wooster Of Times

Note: A bit light today because I’m off helping celebrate my brother’s birthday.

(1) OUT OF COURT. Mike Dunford of Questionable Authority makes some interesting comments on the decision against ComicMix (see “Dr. Seuss Enterprises Wins Appeal to Ninth Circuit; Seuss-Trek Mashup Violates Copyright”) and promises more on his next QuestAuthority at Twitch. Twitter thread starts here.

(2) A SCAM, BUT WHY? At Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss warns that a “Spooky Phishing Scam Targets Traditionally-Published Writers”.

…The phisher, or phishers, employ clever tactics like transposing letters in official-looking email addresses (like “penguinrandornhouse.com” instead of “penguinrandomhouse.com“) and masking the addresses so they only show when the recipient hits “Reply”. They know how publishing works and appear to have access to inside information, utilizing not just public sources like acquisition announcements in trade publications, but details that are harder to uncover: writers’ email addresses, their relationships with agents and editors, delivery and deadline dates, even details of the manuscripts themselves. 

And they are ramping up their operations. According to the Times, the scam began appearing “at least” three years ago, but in the past year “the volume of these emails has exploded in the United States.”

So what’s the endgame? Publishing people are stumped. Manuscripts by high-profile authors have been targeted, but also less obviously commercial works: debut novels by unknowns, short story collections, experimental fiction. The manuscripts don’t wind up on the black market, as far as anyone can tell, and don’t seem to be published online. There have been no ransom demands or other attempts at monetization. 

[From a New York Times article:] “One of the leading theories in the publishing world, which is rife with speculation over the thefts, is that they are the work of someone in the literary scouting community. Scouts arrange for the sale of book rights to international publishers as well as to film and television producers, and what their clients pay for is early access to information — so an unedited manuscript, for example, would have value to them.”

(3) A CAT WITH A DESK. Timothy the Talking Cat makes “Tim’s Last Minute Gift Suggestions” at Camestros Felapton.

… You worthless and ungrateful humans have probably left all your shopping to the last minute. Well let me help out. Here are some quick and easy gifts you can get together even on a tight budget.

…Surprises. Everybody loves surprises! Go out into the garden. Find a dead bird. Sniff it and maybe wack it about a bit with your paws. Bring it home and drop it somewhere surprising….

(4) LUKER OBIT. A phantom’s beloved and a garden ghost:“Rebecca Luker, a Broadway Star for Three Decades, Dies at 59” reports the New York Times.

Rebecca Luker, the actress and singer who in a lauded three-decade career on the New York stage embodied the essence of the Broadway musical ingénue in hit revivals of “Show Boat,” “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man,” died on Wednesday in a hospital in Manhattan. She was 59. … she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

…Just five years after college, she was on the Broadway stage, assuming the lead female role in “The Phantom of the Opera”— Christine, the chorus girl who is the object of the phantom’s affections.

“Phantom” was her Broadway debut; she began as the understudy to the original star, Sarah Brightman; became an alternate; and took over as Christine in 1989. She remained with the show until 1991.

Ms. Luker moved on immediately to another Broadway show: She played a ghost, the little orphan girl’s dead Aunt Lily, in “The Secret Garden.” 

(5) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • December 23, 1963 — On this night in 1963, Twilight Zone’s “The Night of the Meek” first aired. This was a Christmas-themed story with Art Carney as a Santa Claus fired on Christmas Eve who finds a mysterious bag that gives an apparently unlimited stream of gifts. The script which was written by Rod Serling would be used over in the Eighties version of this series and on the radio program as well. Serling ended the original broadcast with the words, “And a Merry Christmas, to each and all”, but that phrase was deleted in the Eighties and would not be back until Netflix started streaming the series.

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born December 23, 1896 Máiréad Ní Ghráda. She’s the author of Manannán, a 1940 novel which is regarded as the first such science fiction work in Irish. Several years previously, she translated Peter Pan into Irish, Tír na Deo, the first time it had been so done. (Died 1971.) (CE) 
  • Born December 23, 1927 – Chuch Harris.  (“Chuch” from ChucHarris.)  Englander who became an adjunct (at least) of Irish Fandom with a letter to Walt Willis of Slant beginning “Dear Mr. Ellis”.  CH submitted a story about a family of werewolves beginning “The family were changing for dinner”.  Persuaded to visit Vin¢ Clarke and Ken Bulmer at their flat the Epicentre (mistaking this for the center, or centre, of an earthquake, has a long history) he helped generate Sixth Fandom, was shot with a water-pistol by James White, wrote for Hyphen, and formed Tentacles Across the Sea with Dean Grennell.  Much later Spike published the Chuck Harris Appreciation Magazine, which only a Johnson fan like me would call the Great Cham, hello Spike.  (Died 1999) [JH]
  • Born December 23, 1928 – George Heap.  Long-time secretary of the Philadelphia SF Society, filker, Tolkien fan before the paperback Lord of the Rings arrived, he moved to Rochester, joined The Cult, and died at the horrid age of 41 just before Noreascon I the 29th Worldcon.  You can see four 1960 issues of his SF Viewsletter here.  (Died 1971) [JH]
  • Born December 23, 1929 Peggy Fortnum. She’s an English illustrator beloved for illustrating Michael Bond‘s Paddington Bear series. She first illustrated him in A Bear Called Paddington. One of Fortnum’s Paddington illustrations is part of a series of stamps that was issued by the Royal Mail in 2006 celebrating animals from children’s literature. Somehow it seems appropriate on Christmas for me to share that stamp here. (Died 2016.) (CE)
  • Born December 23, 1945 Raymond E. Feist, 75. Best known for the Riftwar series. The only novel I’ve read by him is was Faerie Tale, a dark fantasy set in the state of New York, which is one damn scary work. His only Award to date is a HOMer Award for Servant of the Empire which he co-wrote with Janny Wurts. (CE)
  • Born December 23, 1978 Estella Warren, 42. Deena on the Planet of The Apes. She also shows up in Ghost Whisper, the Beauty and the Beast film as Belle the Beauty, TaphephobiaFeel the Dead and Age of the Living Dead. (CE) 
  • Born December 23, 1954 – Susan Grant, age 66.  U.S. Air Force veteran, then commercial pilot; 18,000 hours flight time.  RITA Award – for Contact, an SF romance; there’s cross-genre action for you.  A score of novels, a few shorter stories, several Booklist and Library Journal Books of the Year.  [JH]
  • Born December 23, 1960 – Miyabe Miyuki, age 60.  (Personal name last, Japanese style.)  Six novels, ten shorter stories so far available in English.  Yamamoto Shûgorô Prize, Naoki Prize, two Yoshikawa Eiji Prizes, Nihon SF Taishô Award.  Mystery Writers of Japan Award.  Batchelder Award for the English translation of her Brave Story.  Film, television, manga, video games.  All She Was Worth (English title) called a watershed in the history of women’s detective fiction.  [JH]
  • Born December 23, 1970 – Natalie Damschroder, age 50.  A dozen novels for us, thirty all told, many shorter stories.  Loves the New England Patriots more than anything except her family, writing, reading, and popcorn.  I omit what she thinks her teen fiction kicks.  [JH]
  • Born December 23, 1984 Alison Sudol, 36. She’s known for her role as Queenie Goldstein on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I do so like those titles. She’s also has a recurring role as Kaya in Transparent, a series which is at least genre adjacent for its genre content and certainly SJW in content. (CE)
  • Born December 23, 1985 – Marta Dahlig, age 35.  Digital artist, mostly.  Here is the Jun 05 Revelation.  Here is The Shifter (German edition, translated as The Healer).  Here is Sloth.  In a different vein, here is Mimi and the Brave Magic.  [JH]
  • Born December 23, 1986 Noël Wells, 34. Voice actor on Star Trek: Below Decks where she voices the green-colored Ensign D’Vana Tendi. I so wanted to love this series but was actually repelled by it. I said a year ago that “It should a rather fun time.” Well I was wrong.  So what do y’all think of it? (CE) 

(7) COMICS SECTION.

  • “Shoe” might have this same reaction to some of the book lists I run.
  • “Get Fuzzy” doesn’t treat a famous mathematician with the gravity his deserves.

(8) HIGH CALIBER CANON. Sff gets a fillip of genre recognition in The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story edited by John Freeman, to be released May 4, 2021.

…Beginning in 1970, it culls together a half century of powerful American short stories from all genres, including–for the first time in a literary anthology–science fiction, horror, and fantasy, placing writers such as Usula Le Guin, Ken Liu and Stephen King next to some of the often-taught geniuses of the form–Grace Paley, Toni Cade Bambara, Sandra Cisneros, and Denis Johnson. Culling widely, Freeman, the former editor of Granta and now of his own literary annual, brings forward some astonishing work to be regarded in a new light. Often overlooked tales by Dorothy Allison, Charles Johnson, and Toni Morrison will recast the shape and texture of today’s enlarging atmosphere of literary dialogue.

(9) BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Jason Scott retells a story he says happened in the 1990s. Thread starts here.

(10) REGIME CHANGE. The Washington Posts’s Alexandra Petri finds another leader who has their own reality:“I, the White Witch, am disgusted by anyone who would try to make it always winter and never Christmas” .

Here in Narnia, it is so, so important that we have seasons, as I, the White Witch, have always been the absolute first to say. Lots of seasons, one leading to the next, leading to Christmas. I have always cared the most about seasons, and the second most about being absolutely sure that there will be Christmas. “More Seasons for Narnia!” was actually my slogan, although it was on a bumper sticker covered in ice crystals and hidden on my sledge under a big heap of Turkish delight. But I knew that it was there….

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

Pixel Scroll 8/13/19 It’s Far From Files And Pixels You Were Scrolled

(1) RETRO-HUGOS LIVE. The Hugo Awards site shows where to access live text reports on Thursday. “2019 Retro-Hugo Award Ceremony – Live Coverage”.

(2) LAW PRACTICE.  At Whatever, “The Big Idea: Christopher Brown” tells the history behind Rule of Capture.

…I pitched the idea to my editor—“think Better Call Saul meets Nineteen Eighty-Four”—and he liked it so much he wanted two.

Rule of Capture, out today from Harper Voyager, is the result. The story of Donny Kimoe, a burned out trial lawyer defending political dissidents hauled in front of the special emergency court of an America drifting into totalitarianism. Busy trying to save one client from the death penalty after he’s framed for aiding an attack on the President, Donny gets assigned the unwinnable case of Xelina Rocafuerte, a young journalist and eco-activist who witnessed the assassination of a grassroots political leader and is being prosecuted as a terrorist to silence her.  To get her off, Donny has to extract justice from a system in which due process has been suspended. That means breaking the rules, and risking the same fate as his clients.

Donny practices law in a world where the clients are mostly guilty. It’s the laws they violate that are unjust. In otherwords, it’s a lot like the real world, but uses the tools of dystopian fiction to tell truths more conventionally realist legal thrillers cannot. …

(3) MACHADO IN LA. ”PEN Presents: Carmen Maria Machado” on Thursday, November 21, 7-9 p.m. at Dynasty Typewriter in Los Angeles. Tickets available at the link.

Carmen Maria Machado has been hailed as one of the most talented young writers of our time. With In the Dream House, she reinvents the memoir with a gut-wrenching tale of love gone wrong, exploring her personal history of psychological abuse while bearing witness to the history and reality of violence in queer relationships. Her dark, fantastical short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the 2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.

(4) MASTER CLASS. What Does Not Kill Me presents an “Interview with Ellen Datlow: Queen of Horror, Master Editor”.

QUESTION ONE: What is your process like for Best Horror of the Year? I know you read the big name magazines, and then get all of the top anthologies sent to you, the obvious projects on your radar, but do you have any help with pre-screening stories, or looking outside of the genre (horror) into fantasy and science fiction, for example? And how do you start whittling the work down to your long-list, short-list and final TOC. That’s a daunting task. Must be hundreds of stories a year, if not thousands.

ANSWER ONE: Yes, it’s hundreds of stories. As I read during the year, I create a “recommended” list and if there’s a story I really like, I’ll put an asterisk by the title/author and ask the publisher to send me a word doc file of the story so I can keep it in a separate email folder labeled “considering.”

With regard to where I find the stories, I attempt to keep track of all venues that might publish horror or very dark fiction and request copies of magazines, literary journals, anthologies, collections, and novellas/chapbooks (plus appropriate nonfiction titles). I currently have two readers who help me sift through the material I think unlikely to contain much horror. One reads online/e-zines not specifically geared toward horror. And the other reads print magazines/anthologies that don’t look like they contain dark material. They suggest stories that they judge to be horror or very dark fantasy so I can check them out.

Once in a while (mostly because it’s a story I originally published, I’ll know immediately that I’m going to take a story, so I’ll send out the contract and move the story into my “story” folder, adding it to my Table of Contents.

But usually, I’ll begin rereading the stories I’ve noted toward the end of the year. I know how many words I have to work with—I usually begin the rereading process with twice the word count I’m allowed and read/reread each story until I whittle my choices down to my word limit.

(5) SFF IN THE SUBCONTINENT. “One giant leap for Indian cinema: how Bollywood embraced sci-fi”  — The Guardian has the story.

…Kumar says. “Unfortunately, it’s a genre that hasn’t been explored in Bollywood.”

One reason might be the box office failure of Love Story 2050 in 2008. A frenzied time travel movie, it broke India’s film-budget record, but its mix of Mad Max futurism, slushy romance and traditional Bollywood song-and-dance routines was a flop.

…Then again, last year Kumar played the villain in 2.0, a Tamil-language thriller about Chennai’s mobile phones going berserk and arranging themselves into creatures that devastate the city – a bit like a Vodafone version of The Birds. Reportedly with a budget of $76m – costing more than ISRO’s entire mission to Mars – it was a visual rollercoaster and a big commercial success.

Another key factor over the last decade has been the boom in India’s visual effects industry – to which Hollywood outsources much of its own special effects – that has enabled higher quality film-making…

(6) ALIEN INVASION FLOPS. In contrast, “China’s Latest Big-Budget Sci-Fi Film ‘Shanghai Fortress’ Crashes After Liftoff” says The Hollywood Reporter.

Shanghai Fortress, China’s latest big-budget science fiction tentpole, crashed and burned shortly after liftoff over the weekend.

The expensive film’s flop is a blow to the Chinese industry’s efforts to ramp up production values so that it can begin competing with Hollywood’s effects-heavy blockbusters on more equal footing. After the colossal success of sci-fi tentpole The Wandering Earth earlier this year — it earned $700 and rave local reviews — hopes were high that Shanghai Fortress might be the next big breakthrough.

Costing an estimated $57 million (RMB 400 million), Shanghai Fortress was developed and produced over a period of five years. The movie is an adaptation of a 2009 novel of the same name, about a group of young people hiding out in Shanghai, which has become humanity’s last redoubt against a devastating alien invasion. It stars Taiwanese actress Shu Qi and pop star-turned-actor Lu Han (the latter previously Disney’s marketing ambassador for the Star Wars franchise in China).

Shanghai Fortress briefly opened at the top of China’s box office during the first half of Friday, but its ticket sales quickly plummeted as negative reviews and harsh word of mouth began to course through local social media…

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • August 13, 1942 — The Walt Disney classic, Bambi, premiered on this day at Radio City Music Hall.
  • August 13, 1953 The War Of The Worlds was premiered in New York City.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born August 13, 1422 William Caxton. He was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. Its widely thought that he was the first British individual to work as a printer and also the first to introduce a printing press into England. He published The Historye of Reynart the Foxe (from the Dutch, 1481) which is sort of genre. (Died 1491.)
  • Born August 13, 1899 Alfred Hitchcock. If he’d only done Alfred Hitchcock Presents, that’d be enough to get him Birthday Honours. But he did some fifty films of which a number are genre such as The Birds and Psycho. Though I’ve not read it, I’ve heard good things about Peter Ackroyd’s Alfred Hitchcock. (Died 1980.)
  • Born August 13, 1909 Tris Coffin. I’d say he’s best known for being Jeff King in King of the Rocket Men, a late Forties production, the first of three serials that he did starring the Rocketman character, who would later be paid homage to through the Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer character.  He would show in two episodes of Batman as The Ambassador, “When the Rat’s Away, the Mice Will Play” and “A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away”. (Died 1990.)
  • Born August 13, 1932 John Berkey. Artist whose best-known work includes much of the original poster art for the Star Wars trilogy. He also did a lot of genre cover art such as the 1974 Ballantine Books cover of Herbert’s Under Pressure (I read that edition), and the 1981 Ace cover of Zelazny’s Madwand which I think is the edition I read. (Died 2008.)
  • Born August 13, 1945 Patricia McNulty, 74. She played Yeoman Tina Lawton in the “Charlie X” episode of Trek. Like many performers on Trek, she had a brief acting career at time, barely six years. 
  • Born August 13, 1950 Jane Carr, 69. Most current genre role is the recurring one as Tabitha the Fairy God Mother on The Legends of Tomorrow.  She also appeared as Malcolm Reed’s mother, Mary Reed in the “Silent Enemy” episode of Enterprise, and was Timov, one of the three wives of Londo Mollari in the “Soul Mates” episode of Babylon 5.
  • Born August 13, 1971 Heike Makatsch, 38. Dr. Lisa Addison in Resident Evil, and Alicia Wallenbeck in A Sound of Thunder. The latter being loosely based on the short story of the same name by Ray Bradbury. On Rotten Tomatoes, it got a six percent score! 
  • Born August 13, 1972 Crystal Allen, 47. Green skinned Orion slave girl D’Nesh on the “Bound” episode of Enterprise. These characters originally showed up in “The Cage” episode of Trek. She went to be one of many Trek performers from all series appearing in Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, the non-canon and not Paramount-sanctioned fan mini-series where she played Conqueror Navigator Yara.
  • Born August 13, 1990 Sara Serraiocco, 29. She’s Nadia Fierro/Baldwin, a mysterious assassin from the Prime world in Counterpart. She was nominated for the Autostraddle TV Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress Playing an LGBTQ+ Character in a Sci-Fi Series.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Bizarro shows some really devoted music fans.

(10) POTTER CHOW. WCYY says A Perfect Spell, “A reservation-only wizarding restaurant in the theme of Harry Potter”, will open in Pownal, Maine is September – then after a year, will magically disappear…

The Perfect Spell will do just that. When customers show up, they’ll be put into wizard training by the head master of the restaurant. In order to eat, you’ll have to pass your first class. From there, diners will enjoy a delicious meal while the performance takes place in front of them. Each “show” will be for a maximum of 30 people, and performances will only take place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

The Eventbrite description adds —

THE PERFECT SPELL … A POP UP MAGICAL THEATRICAL RESTAURANT! 

ONLY OPEN 1 YEAR & ONLY TAKING 3,744 TABLE RESERVATIONS!

If you Love HARRY POTTER, WIZARD’S, WITCHES, MAGIC, THEATER then you’re going to love this magical theatrical restaurant. Let our leading Head Master Wizard guide you through a magical Theatrical Dinner experience with Wizards, Witches, Magic and much more!

A very magical theatrical feel right from the candle entrance designed to bring magic to life. This restaurant is packed full with the art of Magic, Singing, Dancing, and Acting. All while having a delicious meal.

Location is in a small cute country setting going with the whole awesome magical theme of the restaurant in North Pownal.

(11) THOUGHTS HE CAN’T GET OUT OF HIS HEAD. Timothy the Talking Cat finds much to admire in the fiction of Hewlett Packard Lovercraft as the feline explains in “Timothy Reads The Call of Cthulhu” at Camestros Felapton.

By far his greatest work is The Call of Cthulhu. Now you might think this is about a phone call from somebody called Cthulhu or you might thing this is about the sound a cthulhu makes when it is lost in the woods after maybe you had got a pet cthulhu for Christmas but then decided you didn’t want it after all because you can’t handle the responsibilities of keeping a pet, so you take it out into the woods and abandon it and afterwards you here it’s plaintive cry as you run back to the car and tell you driver to drive away but when you get home you can still here the lonely cry in your sleep but no. That would be too obvious and that’s why I didn’t think those things, particularly not the last one. Lovercraft is just messing with your head with that title because that is how good a writer he is.

(12) ANOTHER SWATTING INCIDENT. BBC reports “Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf: Fortnite world champion ‘swatted’ mid-game”.

Newly crowned Fortnite world champion Kyle Giersdorf has been confronted by police in the middle of a game.

Giersdorf, who plays under the name Bugha, disappeared for 10 minutes while the game was live-streamed on Twitch.

He later said he had been “swatted” – where someone makes a hoax report so the special weapons and tactics (Swat) police raid a target’s house.

Giersdorf, 16, won the $3m (£2.4m) top solo prize at the Fortnite World Cup in New York last month.

Twitch is a streaming site where fans can watch gamers play live. More than 38,000 people were watching Giersdorf’s game when he was interrupted by the police.

(13) BEARIVERSARY. If you haven’t made up your mind whether Paddington – now you can decide by the flip of a coin: “New Paddington Bear 50p coins enter circulation”.

They may not be enough to buy a decent jar of marmalade, but new 50p coins featuring Paddington Bear have entered circulation.

Two new coins – featuring the bear from darkest Peru at the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral – have been released by The Royal Mint.

On Tuesday, they filled the tills at the Mint’s museum in Llantrisant, South Wales, and will be circulated more generally in the coming weeks.

The coins mark 60 years of Paddington.

The first Paddington book was published in October 1958 and the series following his adventures have become classics of children’s literature. Last year, the Mint released 50p coins depicting the fictional bear visiting other London landmarks – the train station after which he was named, and the guards outside Buckingham Palace.

(14) PARTS WELL-KNOWN. Culinary adventurer John Scalzi goes the distance —

(15) FOR ESME, WITH LOVE AND TABLETS. BBC reveals “JD Salinger novels finally to be published as ebooks”.

The works of The Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger are finally being published in ebook format, nearly 10 years after his death.

Salinger’s work has remained offline because the writer hated computers and technology, his son Matt told the New York Times.

But he said he now wanted his father’s work to be more accessible.

Matt Salinger said a letter from a disabled fan, who found it difficult to read print, changed his mind.

“Ebooks and audiobooks are tough… he clearly didn’t want them,” said Matt, who helps run the JD Salinger Literary Trust.

…”My father always did what he could to keep his books affordable and accessible to as many readers as possible, especially students,” said Matt.

(16) BUT COULD HE WITHSTAND ADMANTIUM? [Item by Mike Kennedy.] The source of this article is the New York Post tabloid, so use the largest grain of salt possible. That said, pay attention to the final sentence below. Headline: “Ozzy Osbourne is a genetic mutant, DNA research proves”

Lede: “In 2010, when scientists at Knome Inc. were looking to study a remarkable human’s DNA, they didn’t ring up Steve Jobs or Beyoncé. Instead, the Cambridge, Mass.-based human genome company reached out to Ozzy Osbourne. They wanted to know what genes had kept the rocker alive through decades of heavy drug and alcohol abuse.”

(17) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. “Amazon quizzed over ‘Choice’ ratings” – BBC tells why.

Amazon is being told to reveal how it decides which products get the “Amazon’s Choice” label in its online store.

Two US senators have written to Amazon asking it to say whether people or algorithms are making decisions about what gets the label.

They are worried that the Choice category can be manipulated via fake reviews and can mislead customers.

Amazon has been given until 16 September to respond to the letter.

Sales jump

The letter was written following an investigation by news site Buzzfeed which claimed many products in the “Choice” category are of poor quality or have their ratings boosted by fake reviews.

Research suggests products getting the Choice label sell better. OC&C Strategy Consultants found that products awarded the Choice label see a sales jump of about 300%.

This is partly because anyone using their Amazon Echo smart speaker to buy products in a category in which they have never shopped before, will get a product bearing the Choice label.

“We are concerned the badge is assigned in an arbitrary manner, or worse, based on fraudulent product reviews,” wrote Democrats Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal.

(18) YOUR NARRATOR, ADAM SELENE. BBC reports that in China “AI used to narrate e-books in authors’ voices”. A skeptical Chip Hitchcock sent the link with a comment: “I’ll believe this is worthwhile when they can mimic someone who can read well — e.g., Gaiman.”

…It is now a simple process to use text-to-speech technology to quickly generate an audio version of a book, using digitised, synthetic voices.

But most people prefer audiobooks that are “professionally narrated” by authors, actors or famous public figures.

And now, advances in machine learning and speech-to-text technologies mean that digitised voices are becoming more lifelike.

For example, the company Lyrebird allows clients to create custom “vocal avatars” from just a one-minute recording of their voices.

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

Pixel Scroll 2/14/19 Scot Hunk, Cyber Punk, Even If It’s Old Junk

(1) HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY. I found my holiday inspiration at SYFY Wire: “Debate Club: The 5 best romances in sci-fi movies”.

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Week! And even if you’re not out with your significant other on Thursday night, you can still appreciate a good love story, particularly one that’s surrounded by the genre trappings we’ve all come to appreciate. We need love stories to humanize all the theatrics, to make sure human beings aren’t lost among the stars.

Skipping all the details, the movies (and couples and actors, where applicable) Grierson and Leitch choose are:

Upstream Color (2013) — Jeff (Shane Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) — Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

Edward Scissorhands (1990) — Edward (Johnny Depp) and Kim (Winona Ryder)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) — Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet)

WALL-E (2008) — WALL-E and EVE

(2) THE TMZ OF THE MCU. And yes, love is in the air, even after 50% of humanity is gone (Inverse: “Who’s Dating Who in the MCU? After Thanos’ Snap, Here’s the Complete Guide”).

This Valentine’s Day, there’s no better place to look for love than in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which boasts more than 80 characters in 20 movies with stories spanning across various countries, realms, galaxies, and even timelines. And only half of them are dead!

Many characters are now gone. We get it. But hey, love is complicated! Love is patient. Love is kind. Time travel Love can fix anything.

(3) BEWARE THE IDEAS OF MARCH. John Scalzi tweeted, “Oh, hey, here’s a trailer for you, he said, with no personal vested interest at all.” I wonder what he meant by that? Love Death + Robots debuts on Netflix on March 15.

Sentient dairy products, werewolf soldiers, robots gone wild, garbage monsters, cyborg bounty hunters, alien spiders and blood-thirsty demons from hell – all converge in eighteen NSFW animated stories. Presented by Tim Miller & David Fincher.

(4) WAKE-UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE. Um, can you even do that in the vacuum of space? The promoters of Space Roasters say that’s where they’ll perfect your cup of coffee.

TrendHunter Marketing has the details — “Re-Entry from Space Heats Space Roasters’ Coffee Beans”.

Space Roasters is looking to “revolutionize coffee roasting” by taking the process to outer space. Space Roasters plans to send green coffee into space and allow the heat from its re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere to take care of the roasting—and in the process, address many of the pitfalls of conventional coffee-roasting practices. Since gravity interferes with coffee beans tumbling and breaking, Space Roasters aims to create a zero-gravity setting for roasting that creates evenly distributed heat and perfectly roasted beans.

Daniel Dern notes: “This makes me think of the Tom Swift Jr book where he sends up rockets holding cargoes of solar batteries so they can charge in space, and then come back to earth.”

(5) GEORGE PAL. Arnold Leibovit’s GoFundMe “Fantasy Worlds of George Pal Film Preservation” hope to raise $9,850 to preserve a series of historic rare archival videotape interviews – many never released –  from The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal  (1986).

In the annals of Hollywood, Academy Award winner George Pal will always be remembered as a titan, a brilliant visionary who profoundly shaped the art of motion pictures. As an animator, Pal was a pioneer of stop-motion animation known as Puppetoons ™ and a peer of Walt Disney and Walter Lantz. In the 1950’s as a producer and director of live-action films, he brought to the screen such classics as “The War of the Worlds”, “The Time Machine”, “When Worlds Collide”, “Destination Moon”, “Tom Thumb”, “Houdini”, “Atlantis the Lost Continent” “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm”, “7 Faces of Dr. Lao”, “The Power”, “Doc Savage: Man of Bronze” and others.  Pal’s cinematic legacy can be traced in the works of Walt Disney, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Gene Roddenberry, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Peter Jackson and dozens of others.

The original 1 inch ‘B’ NTSC video format used in the production of “The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal” are long out of use. To make matters worse, only 2  working ‘B’ NTSC machines exist that can aid in the digitization process.  There is no telling how long these machines will last or their working parts as they are also no longer in existence!

… Talent interviews to preserve includes: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Tony Randall, Tony Curtis, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Gene Roddenberry, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Russ Tamblyn, Barbara Eden, Ann Robinson, Roy E. Disney, Ward Kimball, Robert Wise, George Pal, Mrs. George Pal,  David Pal, Gae Griffith, Walter Lantz, Gene Warren Sr., Wah Chang, Jim Danforth, Robert Bloch, Chesley Bonestell, Albert Nozaki, William Tuttle, Duke Goldstone, Bob Baker and Phil Kellison….

(6) REBEL AND WRITE CLEARLY. Benjamin Dreyer, vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief, of Random House, and the author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style asserts in a Washington Post opinion piece: “I’m not the grammar police. But writing well is an act of resistance.”.

…I might also urge you to kondo your prose of what I call the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers® — the “very”s and “quite”s and “rather”s and “actually”s in which many (most?) of us bury our writing like so many packing peanuts. Because once you’ve stripped those away, I insist, you’ll find yourself looking at sentences that are bolder in their spareness.

And perhaps be less eager to grab up the latest bit of jargony businessspeak — is it not enough to orient new employees? Must we onboard them, and is that not prohibited anyway by the Geneva Conventions?

As a copy editor I find myself frequently asked to weigh in on an array of language peeves and crotchets: “Is it okay to use ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’?” “What about ‘begs the question’?” “What do I do about supermarket signs that read ‘Ten Items or Less’?” (Respectively: If I say no, is that going to stop you? I plead the Fifth. Get a hobby.)

(7) PRIME PADDINGTON. He looks pretty good for 50. Paddington Bear passed the half-century mark last last year but apparently isn’t retired yet (BBC News: “Paddington returns as a TV series with the voice of Ben Whishaw”).

The actor has already provided the voice for the bear for two films that were critical and box office hits. 

The series for pre-schoolers will be a 3D CG-animated series, which follows the adventures of a younger Paddington.

[…] “It is a joy to bring this uniquely life-enhancing bear to a whole new audience of younger children. We are thrilled that the inimitably brilliant Ben Whishaw will continue to voice Paddington,” [executive producer David Heyman] said. 

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born February 14, 1929 Vic Morrow. I usually avoid dealing in death here but this time I can’t. He and two child actors were killed in 1982 by a stunt helicopter crash during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. It was his first big budget SF film having done only two low-budget ones before that, Message from Space (Ucyuu karano messeiji), a Japanese film where he was cast as General Garuda, and as Hank Slattery in Humanoids of the Deep. (Died 1982.)
  • Born February 14, 1933 Robert Shea. Author with Robert Anton Wilson of The Illuminatus Trilogy (The Eye in the PyramidThe Golden Apple and Leviathan). Weird shit. Is it really genre? Or just the ravings of two insane writers? (Died 1994.)
  • Born February 14, 1942 Andrew Robinson, 77. Elim Garak on Deep Space Nine. He wrote a novel based based on his character, A Stitch in Time  and a novella, “The Calling” which can be found in Prophecy and Change, a DS9 anthology edited by Marco Palmieri. Other genre credits include Larry Cotton in Hellraiser, appearing in The Puppet Masters as Hawthorne and playing John F. Kennedy on the The New Twilight Zone
  • Born February 14, 1948 Teller, 70. Performed on Babylon 5 in the episode scripted by Neil Gaiman titled “Day of The Dead” as part of Penn & Teller who portrayed comedians Rebo and Zooty. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the series. 
  • Born February 14, 1952 Paula M. Block, 67. Star Trek author and editor; but primarily known for working in Paramount Pictures’ consumer licensing division and then with CBS Consumer Products. Remember that novel I noted by Andrew Robinson? Yeah that’s her bailiwick. She’s also written with her husband Terry J. Erdmann, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion and Star Trek: Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier. It looks like she did some Trek fanfic as well including “The Girl Who Controlled Gene Kelly’s Feet”.
  • Born February 14, 1952 Gwyneth Jones, 67. Interesting person the she is, let’s start with her thoughts on chestnuts. Just because I can. Now regarding her fiction, I’d strongly recommend her Bold As Love series of a Britain that went to pieces, and her twenty year-old Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality polemic is still worth reading.
  • Born February 14, 1963 Enrico Colantoni, 56. Any excuse to mention Galaxy Quest is one I’ll gladly take. He played a delightful Mathesar on that film and that was his first genre role, lucky bastard. up next for him was A.I. Artificial Intelligence as The Murderer followed by appearing in Justice League Dark as the voice of Felix Faust where (SPOILER!) his fate was very, very bad. He had an amazing role on Person of Interest as Charlie Burton / Carl Elias. Not genre, but his acting as Sgt. Gregory Parker on Flashpointa Canadian police drama television series is worth noting
  • Born February 14, 1970 Simon Pegg, 49. Best known for playing Montgomery Scott in Star TrekStar Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond (with a co-writing credit for the latter). His first foray into the genre was Shaun of the Dead which he co-wrote and had an acting role in. Late genre roles include Land of the Dead where he’s a Photo Booth Zombie, Diary of the Dead where he has a cameo as a Newsreader, and he portrays Benji Dunn in the present Mission: Impossible franchise.
  • Born February 14, 1978 Danai Guirira, 41. She’s best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead, and as Okoye in the MCU franchise starting with Black Panther, and later reprising that role in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Her first genre film was Ghost Town in which she’s listed as playing assorted ghosts, and she’s got some role in the forthcoming Godzilla vs. Kong

(9) COMICS SECTION.

(10) LOOKING BACKWARD. At the Dublin 2019 site Ian Moore does a category overview: “Retro Hugos: dramatic Presentations in 1943”.

…Science fiction pictures as we know them now were still relatively rare in 1943. However, horror films provide a rich vein of Retro Hugo eligible material, admittedly of variable quality. Universal brought out another version of The Phantom of the Opera, with Arthur Lubin directing Claude Rains in the title role. Somewhat unusually for horror films of the era, this film was awarded Academy Awards in the cinematography and art direction categories. At just over 90 minutes it is eligible for the long form dramatic Retro Hugo.

Universal also brought out the short Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, directed by Roy William Neill. This was the first of their films to feature an encounter between two of their monsters. Lon Chaney Jr. reprised his role as the Wolf Man while Bela Lugosi finally played Frankenstein’s Monster, a role he had famously turned down when the 1931 Frankenstein was being cast. Chaney also appeared in the Universal short films Calling Dr. Death (directed by Reginald LeBorg), a lost memory murder mystery, and Son of Dracula (directed by Robert Siodmak), in which he took on Lugosi’s Dracula role. By 1943 Lugosi meanwhile was ageing, but he still managed to play another vampire role in Columbia’s short Return of the Vampire (directed by Lew Landers) and The Ape Man (a short for Banner Pictures, directed by William Beaudine), in which he plays a scientist who transforms into an ape-man hybrid following some ethically dubious experiments….

(11) VALENTINE’S DAY BURRITO. John Scalzi reached 160,000 Twitter followers yesterday. By popular acclaim he celebrated by making a burrito. A thread with the recipe starts here. He’s also published it as a Whatever blog post.

(12) PERSPECTIVES ON SFF HISTORY. SYFY Wire’s “Fangrrls” takes a look at, “How genre has failed and served queer representation.”

Two years ago, during my annual pilgrimage to the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ book sale, I stumbled across Kindred Spirits, the first anthology of gay and lesbian science fiction stories ever, to my knowledge, published. First published in 1984 by Alyson Publications, one of the oldest LGBTQ publishing houses in operation, the anthology boasted twelve queer science fiction stories written by authors of varying identities, ranging from legendary lesbian author Joanna Russ to openly gay Star Trek screenwriter David Gerrold, who wrote the iconic episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

[…] [Editor Jeffrey M.] Elliot clearly hoped that anthologizing these stories would engender empathy and acceptance in his readers, but he was also cognizant of the limitations of fiction, citing the clear and urgent work of queer activists as moving the goalposts forward. Turning away from the darkness of the past, Elliot looks hopefully to a future where speculative fiction both reflects increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community and can be used to increase acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

It’s been 35 years since Kindred Spirits was published in that hope. Have we lived up to it?

(13) SOMETHING WICKED. Flavor Wire quotes from Frank Skinner’s introduction to the Folio Society’s new edition of a Ray Bradbury classic, which contemplates what exactly makes this story so scary: “Book Excerpt: On the Potent Fear of ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’”.

…Bradbury, it seems, is something of a student of fear. It is, he suggests, much more complex than we might think. It is certainly not just one thing. I once lived in an apartment overlooking the Thames. Seeing so much of the old river made me realise how different it could be from day to day, from hour to hour. It swirled and settled, it grew darker, it sparkled, it seemed, sometimes, almost to stop flowing. It feels as if Bradbury, through his writings, has similarly studied fear on a daily basis, noting its ebbs and flows, recognising its surprising variety. Thirteen-year-old boys can be a strange mix of high energy and deep languor. Their fear, Bradbury shows us, is subject to similar peaks and troughs. Having been near-paralysed with foreboding for a sustained period, Will and Jim become ‘starchy with boredom and fatigued with sameness’ and consider giving themselves up to the carnival just for something to do….

(14) IT’S A DRY HEAT. So far, Dune has pretty firmly resisted adaptation to the silver screen. Director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) is lining up talent for the next attempt (IGN Entertainment: “Dune Movie: Every Actor in the Sci-Fi Reboot”). Actors listed in the article as signed (or in talks) include:

  • Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) — Paul Atreides
  • Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) — Lady Jessica
  • Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) — Duke Leto Atreides
  • Stellan Skarsgård (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) — Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
  • Dave Bautista (Blade Runner 2049) — Glossu Rabban
  • Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) — in talks to play Chani
  • Charlotte Rampling (Red Sparrow) — Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam
  • Javier Bardem — in talks to play Stilgar
  • Josh Brolin (Deadpool 2) — Gurney Halleck
  • Jason Momoa (Aquaman) — reportedly in talks to play Duncan Idaho

(15) ASKING FOR A TIME REFUND. Think Story deems the TV production of Nightflyers to be “A Hot Mess in Space.”

Were you as disappointed in Netflix’s “Nightflyers” as I was? Join me as we take a look at what could have been a great series but was thrown out the airlock.

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