2019 Novellapalooza

[Editor’s note: be sure to read the comments on this post for more novellas and more Filer reviews.]

By JJ:

TL;DR: Here’s what I thought of the 2019 Novellas. What did you think?

I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But the last few years, I’ve done a personal project to read and review as many Novellas as I could (presuming that the story synopsis had some appeal for me). I ended up reading:

  • 31 of the novellas published in 2015,
  • 35 of the novellas published in 2016,
  • 46 of the novellas published in 2017,
  • and 38 of the 2018 novellas.
  • (and this year I was waiting for access to a few novellas, so I was reading others, and thus my final total crept up to 55!)

The result of these reading sprees were

I really felt as though this enabled me to do Hugo nominations for the Novella category in an informed way, and a lot of Filers got involved with their own comments. So I’m doing it again this year.

The success and popularity of novellas in the last 5 years seems to have sparked a Golden Age for SFF novellas – so there are a lot more novellas to cover this year. By necessity, I’ve gotten to the point of being more selective about which ones I read, based on the synopsis being of interest to me.

It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book despite not feeling that the jacket copy makes the book sound as though it is something I would like – and to discover that I really like or love the work anyway. On the other hand, It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book which sounds as though it will be up my alley and to discover that, actually, the book doesn’t really do much for me.

Thus, my opinions on the following novellas vary wildly: stories I thought I would love but didn’t, stories I didn’t expect to love but did, and stories which aligned with my expectations – whether high or low.

Bear in mind that while I enjoy both, I tend to prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy – and that while I enjoy suspense and thrillers, I have very little appreciation for Horror (and to be honest, I think Lovecraft is way overrated). What’s more, I apparently had a defective childhood, and do not share a lot of peoples’ appreciation for fairytale retellings and portal fantasies. My personal assessments are therefore not intended to be the final word on these stories, but merely a jumping-off point for Filer discussion.

Novellas I’ve read appear in order based on how much I liked them (best to least), followed by the novellas I haven’t read in alphabetical order.

I’ve included plot summaries, and where I could find them, links to either excerpts or the full stories which can be read online for free. Short novels which fall between 40,000 and 48,000 words (within the Hugo Novella category tolerance) have been included.

Please feel free to post comments about any other 2019 novellas which you’ve read, as well. And if I’ve missed your comment about a novella, or an excerpt for a novella, please point me to it!

(Please be sure to rot-13 any spoilers.)

(fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)


Waterlines by Suzanne Palmer, Asimov’s July-August (full text)

Synopsis: This is a far-future mystery story taking place on a wintry planet colonized by a few hundred descendents of the Earth diaspora, who share the planet by treaty with a race of humanoid-robot symbionts who live under the sea. When the aliens bring three human bodies to the colony administrator, he must figure out who they are (no one is missing) and how and why they were killed – but as he begins to investigate, he is targeted by the killers, who are hiding a very big secret.

What I thought: The author of the Hugo-winning “The Secret Life of Bots” has hit it out of the park again. The worldbuilding is vivid – I felt the surroundings quite keenly, as if I was there – the plot is engrossing, and the characterization is excellent, with the added bonus of the author’s lovely brand of subtle snark. The story, about who gets to be considered as human, granted agency, and treated with respect, touches on themes of racism, xenophobia, and ethnocentrism. This was the only novella out of the 48 I’ve read this year that made me jump up and down. It’s definitely going on my 2020 Hugo ballot.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: +1 to JJ’s rec, fascinating setting and a great story.
Bonnie McDaniel: Thirding Suzanne Palmer’s “Waterlines.” Fascinating setting and story. I’ve only read a few novellas so far this year, but this one’s definitely at the top of the list.
Nina: There’s a good balance between interesting worldbuilding, character moments, action, and investigation. The growing friendship between the two main characters was well-written, and I liked the descriptions of the aliens’ technology.


The Work of Wolves by Tegan Moore, Asimov’s July-August (full text)

Synopsis: This story is told from the viewpoint of an enhanced-intelligence trained K9 Search-and-Rescue dog which has been enabled with the ability to communicate with her trainer more fully than normal dogs. The trainer is uncomfortable with her new, highly-sentient partner, and the dog describes her efforts to win over the affections of her trainer, while also relating the details of their search missions.

What I thought: I thought the worldbuilding of a near-future Earth affected by global warming and the enhanced intelligence of the dog is extremely plausible and well-done (the author is a professional dog trainer, which no doubt contributes to the verisimilitude). And the story itself is not only entertaining, but packs a real punch. Highly recommended; this is on my Hugo Novella ballot.

Filer comments:
Kendall: that was great! I also rec it.


Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: In 2080, at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. In 2028, a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery, but in the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head… an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely.

What I thought: I think this novella is excellent, with an interesting scientific twist and a plausible near future. The exception is that I had a hard time buying the idea that their goal was going to be enough to save them – but I guess that truly desperate people will grasp at the slightest chance for hope, if it’s the only chance they’ve got. This is one of the few 2019 novellas I’ve read that I feel I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: A solid, interesting, and exciting tale of ecological disaster and time travel. This is clever and well-written stuff, with a twisty structure that suits a time-travel tale. Being a novella there’s a lot not explored – the tech and time travel is rather sketched out, and more importantly I wanted to get more of the protagonist’s backstory – but that’s the nature of the novella length.
Bonnie McDaniel: Unfortunately, I was pretty meh about the overall story.
StephenfromOttawa: I… thought it was very, very good. A sophisticated time travel story, brilliantly executed.


Gremlin by Carrie Vaughn, Asimov’s May-June (full text)

Synopsis: This story is sort of a reversal on the famous Shatner Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”: it’s a multi-generational story of a family line of women pilots, stretching from WWII to the Iraq War to the far future, and the supernatural creature which shapes their destinies.

What I thought: Each of the focal characters gets enough screentime for us to get a feel for their personalities, and the author has done her research on real-life pilots, planes, and wars. Themes include respect and kindness for all living things, remorse at the costs and waste of war, and the recognition that other sentient beings are not pets, but full-fledged beings with their own agency and needs. There are some war battles and off-screen deaths, but this is a great feel-good story, and if you’re looking for something that’s interesting, engrossing, and enjoyable, I highly recommend it.


Unauthorized Bread by Cory Doctorow, in Radicalized, Tor Books (full textaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: This is a tale of immigration, the toxicity of economic and technological stratification, and the young and downtrodden fighting against all odds to survive and prosper.

What I thought: This novella is the gem of the quartet in Doctorow’s collection Radicalized. It’s a near-future extrapolation of the present, where the Internet of Things has been unsurprisingly used to prevent poor people from being able to exercise personal agency, followed by the inevitable consequences of hacking an unjust system. This story manages to be both uplifting and depressing at the same time. Highly recommended.

Filer comments:
Olav Rokne: I’ll second Unauthorized Bread. Possibly the best thing Doctorow has written.


Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom by Ted Chiang, in Exhalation, Knopf/Picador

Synopsis: Quantum possibilities have been made reality in a device known as the “prism”, the Plaga interworld signaling mechanism. Once activated, it connects to a parallel universe which gradually starts to diverge from that point on – and people can talk to their “paraselves” in that other universe to see how things have gone differently for them in another life.

What I thought: As with all Chiang stories, this one is excellent, with musing on what makes us uniquely ourselves, how our decisions shape the person we will become in the future, and whether those decisions really matter if all possible variations of each decision are made by us in other universes. It didn’t quite have the “wow” ending I was expecting, but it’s nevertheless satisfying.


The Savannah Problem by Adam-Troy Castro [Andrea Cort / Draiken #5], Analog Jan-Feb (full text)

Synopsis: After decades as a covert operative, Draiken finally saw the light and has dedicated himself to destroying the machiavellian organization for which he once worked, along with its counterparts, all of which are engaged in committing a heinous crime against humanity. Now he is on a mission to capture a deadly enforcer/killer who works for a crime boss on a space station. But who are the mysterious clients waiting for delivery of the hostage on a nearby asteroid, why does him believe that the killer will be willing to cooperate with him, and how will this help him achieve his revenge?

What I thought: Not only is each of the stories in this series a standalone science-fictional mystery, they are so deftly-plotted, featuring intricate twists, that it’s only when the pieces slot into place that the brilliance of the plotting becomes apparent. The author has created compelling, well-fleshed-out characters, and fascinatingly-alien races and worlds, served up with intriguing spycraft and detective work.


Once, Future by Kat Howard, in A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, Saga Press

Synopsis: The students in a literature course at a modern-day university are engaged in a semester-long study of the Arthurian mythos and how its pattern is echoed in many events down through the course of history. As part of their immersion in the story, the students take on the names and roles of the various characters in Arthurian legend. And then something strange starts to happen…

What I thought: I’m not big on Arthurian retellings, but I think that this is a very good, rather unique contemporary take on The Matter of Britain. To say any more would spoil the story, so I won’t, but this is well worth the read.


Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: Uprooted from his hometown by his father’s failures, a young man finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient place of chalk and ash and shadow. The land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says. Growing up in a house that hates him, he finds his only comforts in the land, and he will live or die by the Orme.

What I thought: Set on Great Orme in Wales, this is a mythic fantasy of a young boy and the damage caused by emotional abuse and infidelity. Also, dragons! Ordinarily, this is not what I consider the sort of thing I enjoy, but I found it really well-written and full of vivid imagery.


Glass Cannon by Yoon Ha Lee [Machineries of Empire], in Hexarchate Stories, Solaris

Synopsis: More than a decade after the empire-revolutionizing events of Revenant Gun, Kel Cheris’ quiet existence as a teacher on her home planet is destroyed when Jedao shows up begging for his 400+ years of memories, pursued by a small army of Shuos assassins. As they go on the run, they discover secrets about the empire’s technological tools — servitors and mothships — which mean that everything is about to change drastically once again.

What I thought: Taking place after the events of the final entry in the Hexarchate trilogy, this story is a great new fast-paced, suspenseful adventure. Those who have not read the Machineries of Empire series will be totally lost, but this is a definite must-read for the series’ fans.

Filer comments:
Bonnie McDaniel: I don’t know if Lee intends to write more novels in the Machineries of Empire universe, but if so, this makes for a terrific springboard. It deals with the reveals and aftermath of Revenant Gun, and throws a strategically placed bomb into the status quo. It probably doesn’t stand alone well (or at all), but for me, it was very satisfying to see my favorite undead General get his memories and his groove back.


To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, Harper Voyager (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to journey to neighboring exoplanets which are known to harbor life. A team of four explorers are hard at work on a survey mission, but as they shift through both form and time, the culture back on Earth has also been transformed. Is anyone back home still listening?

What I thought: In a switch-up from the usual colony terraforming stories, this novella features a crew sent from Earth with the ability to adapt themselves biologically to each of the planets they explore, rather than changing planets to suit their biological form and wreaking eco-biological havoc in the process. As with the author’s other books, this one is a quiet, thoughtful exploration of human striving, touching on themes of colonialism and human arrogance and the kind of unintentional devastation which has so often come as a result. Well worth the read.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: It’s a very optimistic view, and also in common it’s got much about the successful social dynamics of the ship. Although it’s never mentioned you get the impression the crew’s dynamics themselves have been engineered to last on years-long missions – the viewpoint character comes over as the glue holding together the rest.
I can see people tripping over the ending – news from home precipitates a major decision, and the solution might seem odd but to me fitted well with the themes of the story. If you are someone who dislikes the Wayfarers series for its cosy nature or unapologetic optimism, then you’ll find nothing here to improve your opinion. On the other hand if you object to her, ahem, loose use of science you may find more pleasing elements here as (at least per her acknowledgements) she’s put in the time and research to get elements of space travel and astrobiology right.
Kyra: A well-written novella and a welcome paean to the concept of science for its own sake. I found the very end a little bit heavy-handed – I had already gotten what was being said without the need for it to be spelled out for me – but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the rest of the book.
Contrarius: Hit my Chambers sweet spot. Her novel-length stories often end up boring me, but this one was just the right length to keep me interested. Yes, a decision made at the end is jarring, but we can also call it thought-provoking.
bookworm1398: Chambers’ writing is really remarkable. Some pretty horrible things happen in this book, but she fills it all with love and hope and it doesn’t seem so bad. If you liked her previous books, you’ll like this one. If you thought the previous ones were too slow, that’s true here also.


Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: In the U.S. in 2030, a man executive-produces “Vigilance,” a reality game show designed to make sure American citizens stay alert to foreign and domestic threats. Shooters are introduced into a “game environment,” and the survivors get a cash prize. The TV audience is not the only one that’s watching though, and he soon finds out what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera.

What I thought: This a well-written near-future story of the “If This Goes On…” sort, in a world where gun violence has been fetishized into a reality show – but it’s far, far too close to current-day reality, and so utterly believable that it makes for extremely unpleasant reading. Definitely not recommended for those who have no spoons available.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: Vigilance is an excellent story that I wish I’d never read. I’ve started a review of it several times, but just can’t express my simultaneous admiration of and revulsion at what Bennett managed to write.


The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde [Gemworld #2], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: Jewels and their lapidaries and have all but passed into myth. Jorit, broke and branded a thief, just wants to escape the Far Reaches for something better. Ania, a rumpled librarian, is trying to protect her books from the Pressmen, who value knowledge but none of the humanity that generates it. When they stumble upon a mysterious clock powered by an ancient jewel, they may discover secrets in the past that will change the future forever.

What I thought: This is a cogent critique of religious fanaticism and persecution, wrapped up in an engaging adventure. Back when I read the first entry in this series, The Jewel and Her Lapidary – twice – I thought that it was too steeped in infodumping and wasn’t convinced that it held together quite well enough to be outstanding. I re-read Jewel before reading this one, and not only did I come away with a better estimation of the first story this time, I felt that this sequel really leveled-up in terms of plot and storytelling. Highly-recommended for fantasy fans, especially those who enjoyed The Jewel and Her Lapidary.


Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor.com Publishing (Prequel story “Precious Little Things“) (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: In yet another of the author’s retellings of folk stories, this take on the E.T.A. Hoffmann story The Sandman and the ballet adaptation Coppelia features a young woman who makes tiny automatons, and the way they are brought to life and become their own little race of people.

What I thought: I found this story far more enjoyable than Walking to Aldebaran. Its length as a novella suits the depth of the story. I would possibly have found a full-length novel more satisfying, but perhaps the author’s judgment was wise in not trying to make more of the story than is supplied by its premise. Recommended as a quick, enjoyable read.

Filer comments:
BravoLimaPoppa: [On] my best list.
Mark-kitteh: An extremely readable and entertaining novella, featuring a young street thief who has acquired some very interesting little friends – the Made Things of the title – who are magically infused little figures. Add in a a very flavourful fantasy city, controlled by a magical oligarchy and survived-in by a criminal underclass, and some interesting worldbuilding, and there’s a lot packed into this novella.
Xtifr: Seconding the rec for Made Things. Very well done, and just about the perfect size for the story it told.


The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: When the djinn king wakes up after millennia of imprisoned slumber, he finds a world vastly different from what he remembers. Arrogant and bombastic, he comes down the mountain expecting an easy conquest: the wealthy, spectacular city state of Kathmandu, ruled by an all-knowing, all-seeing tyrant Artificial Intelligence. To his surprise, he finds that Kathmandu is a cut-price paradise, where citizens want for nothing and even the dregs of society are distinctly unwilling to revolt. Everyone seems happy, except for an old Gurkha soldier who is a convicted murderer and outcast. Together, they discover that this paradise has a dark side.

What I thought: I figured out pretty early on where this story was going, but the author’s dialogue, description, and characterization made it enjoyable. Recommended for those who enjoy science-fictional versions of folktales.

Filer comments:
Sylvia Sotomayor: It was delightful. It knocked my socks off. It is one of those books that leads you down the garden path and you end up in a completely different place than you thought. Even if it doesn’t sound like your thing, I highly recommend it. I don’t want to say too much because of spoilers. It will go on my hugo ballot unless six other things knock it off.


The Lights Go Out In Lychford by Paul Cornell [Witches of Lychford #4], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: The borders of Lychford are crumbling. Other realities threaten to seep into the otherwise quiet village, and the resident wise woman is struggling to remain wise. The local magic shop owner and the local priest are having troubles of their own. And a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer a solution to everyone’s problems. No cost, no strings (she says). But as everyone knows, free wishes from strangers rarely come without a price…

What I thought: The next-to-last installment in the series, this entry deals with the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s disease, with a bit of hopefulness in the way that a dying character is given the opportunity to make their death count for something, as well as a renewal of the alliance of the protectors of the village which sits on the border of the real world and the malign faerie world. A worthy return to this world, well worth reading.

Filer comments:
Kendall: what a great novella! Emma Newman was amazing as narrator, as I expected. I especially loved how she did Judith. One point almost made me want to cry, maybe just because things were building up emotionally in various ways throughout the book and I didn’t expect [rot13] Nhghza gb gel gb fnpevsvpr ure shgher ybir [/rot13]. Other scenes were affecting as well, but for some reason that one hit me very hard in the feels. I’m underwhelmed at yet another end-of-the-book scene that felt like it should just be the first scene in the next book… I mean a cliffhanger’s okay, but this just didn’t feel like that. To me, it didn’t add anything to this book; it just felt like “hey I’m writing another one, here’s the first scene.” Regardless, this is a wonderful series and I recommend it (and the audiobooks)!


The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch [Rivers of London / Peter Grant], Gollancz/Subterranean Press (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: Trier: famous for wine, Romans and being Germany’s oldest city. When a man is found dead with his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. But fortunately this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. Enter an investigator for the Abteilung KDA, the branch of the German Federal Criminal Police which handles the supernatural, and a frighteningly enthusiastic local cop. To solve the case they’ll have to unearth the secret magical history of a city that goes back two thousand years.

What I thought: The plot of this novella is quite similar to previous works in the Rivers of London series, but it features new protagonists and a new location. I can’t speak for the depiction of German culture, but it seemed authentic to me, and the author acknowledges the contributions of his German fans as beta readers and consultants in achieving that. I quite enjoyed it, even if it’s not a revolutionary entry in the series. Recommended for Peter Grant fans and oenophiles.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: Although part of his Rivers of London series, this is a new character and location… While Tobias is differentiated from Peter, and the locale is well-drawn, I’d have liked to see something a bit more different here. Still, an entertaining installment and perhaps a good jumping on point if you’ve never tried the series before.
Red Panda Fraction: I enjoyed [it] too, but it does seem a little too parallel to Peter Grant. I imagine it’s a prelude to more international magical cooperation in the future in the series. I’m also sure that Aaronovitch worked hard to get the details right about Germany based on the questions he asked on Twitter and the responses he got. Great premise for the story too.
Chip Hitchcock: [It} gave us an unbelievably ignorant viewpoint to let the author infodump, but turned into a reasonable story (shorter and not as serious as Rivers of London, but in the same universe, just in the Rhine valley in Germany).


Ragged Alice by Gareth L. Powell, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: Orphaned at an early age, the police detective grew up in a small, restrictive Welsh coastal town. As soon as she was old enough, she ran away to London and joined the police. Now, fifteen years later, she’s back in her old hometown to investigate what seems at first to be a simple hit-and-run, but which soon escalates into something far deadlier and unexpectedly personal.

What I thought: Despite it being more of a ghost story and less of a detective story and therefore theoretically not my thing, I really enjoyed this novella and was emotionally-invested in the main character, who must come to terms with her past and that of others, facing regrets and revenge. Recommended for fans of SFFnal crime mysteries.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: Interesting stuff, and evoked a really good sense of place, but if you write in the more of gritty police procedural you need to get things right, and the lack of intervention from above given an ongoing sequence of enough deaths to be making national news really wasn’t plausible.


Silver In The Wood by Emily Tesh [Greenhollow Duology #1], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of forest, and he listens to the wood. Tethered to the forest, he does not dwell on his past life, but lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads. When the nearby estate acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and he is forced to reckon with his troubled past – both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.

What I thought: This is a folktale retelling which I enjoyed far more than I expected, featuring themes of betrayal and redemption, malice and kindness, wrapped up in descriptive imagery and prose.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: [This] has a really evocative sense of place… It’s a meet-cute of sorts, starting a very long-burning slow romance in amongst finding out exactly who [the main character] is. It falls down a bit with some structural choices towards the end of the story, where it tries to rush through events in a way that doesn’t match the earlier drifting tone, but it’s promising enough that I’d read more by Tesh.


The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsay Drager, Dzanc Books (excerpt)

Synopsis: Breadcrumbing back in time from 2365 to 1378 in 75-year snapshots which coincide with the appearance of Halley’s Comet, siblings reimagine, reinvent, and recycle the narrative of Hansel and Gretel to articulate personal, regional, and ultimately cosmic experiences of tragedy.

What I thought: A gimmick such as this often ends up failing by trying to be too clever – but I think this lyrically-poetic work manages the trick successfully. This is ultimately an examination of whose stories are recorded and remembered, and whose stories get forgotten. I didn’t know Ruth Coker Burks’ story, but I thought that it was melded perfectly into this one, and am glad that this story prompted me to find out more about her.

Kyra: This one is going to appeal only to those fans who still like SF when it’s served up litfic style – this novella is about as litfic as it gets, and the SF elements are only a small part of it. But for those who do like that particular intersection of narrative techniques, it’s a good one.


The Orphans Of Raspay by Lois Mcmaster Bujold [World of the Five Gods / Penric], Spectrum Literary Agency / Subterranean Press (excerpt)

Synopsis: When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon-composite Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold.

What I thought: This is another enjoyable Penric adventure, with some great humor and snark, but the stakes never quite seem high enough to really make it one of the better entries. It’s possibly a good entry point for those who haven’t read the other stories, since it includes enough background to make sense to those who are unfamiliar with the backstory. And Penric fans will definitely want to pick it up.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: A decent instalment in the Penric stories, which means it’s enjoyable and interesting, but not breaking any new ground in this series.
BravoLimaPoppa: [On] my best list.


How Sere Looked for a Pair of Boots by Alexander Jablokov [City of Storms], Asimov’s January-February (excerpt)

Synopsis: A detective in a city populated with a variety of alien races and cultures agrees to try to free a niece’s possibly-wrongly-convicted boyfriend – but when the prisoner declines to be rescued, it’s obvious that there’s something deeper going on.

What I thought: There’s some good humor and worldbuilding in this noirish mystery. It stands alone fairly well, and I found it more enjoyable than last year’s entry. Fans of the author’s ongoing series with this character will enjoy this.


This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, Saga Press (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: This novella is greatly-informed by Fritz Leiber’s Change War series and its descendents: two factions, each working continuously to change elements of history to achieve a more favorable outcome for their side. Instead of Spiders and Snakes, this story features Red and Blue, two time-traveling agents from opposing groups who develop a correspondence through messages left for each other in strange, arcane ways such as bones and lava flow patterns.

What I thought: Every year, there is one work that a lot of people rave about, which I just… don’t. This year, this is that work. The prose is absolutely poetic and lovely, but the worldbuilding and plot are almost non-existent, and what there is of it is not really believable. This story is the literary equivalent of angel-food cake: beautiful and sweet and enjoyable in the moment, but with no actual substance to it. However, those who appreciate lavish prose, such as in Catherynne M. Valente’s works, will likely enjoy this book.

Filer comments:
Kyra: Well, this was fantastic. Both a great time travel story AND a great romance story. I’m also a sucker for epistolary writing, so that was a nice bonus for me. Highly recommended.
Iphinome: Socks knocked off. Socks flew across the room announced they were leaving me and have since taken up with a younger, more-active paladin.
Contrarius: I’m not generally fond of time travel, but very nicely done. I could just feel how much fun the authors had in writing it! In audio: two narrators, one of whom is the excellent Emily Woo Zeller. I’m not familiar with the other one, but she did a mostly fine job, aside from a few gaffes like pronouncing “causality” and “causal” as “casuality” and “casual”.
Contrarius: But seriously – at times I thought the authors were having a little TOO much fun, and allowing the writing to get in the way of the story. But that’s a minor quibble. It isn’t supposed to be realistic – it’s supposed to be atmospheric and evocative and romantic, and it succeeds admirably in all three of those. Definitely going on my Hugo longlist.
Standback: I enjoyed it, but also came out with very mixed feelings. I loved the concept, the writing, the feel, the tone – every page sucks you in and dances around you, laughing. OTOH, I kept feeling bits were missing – just basic groundwork of what’s going on, what the context is. Like, I never get any sense that I know how Red or Blue feel about the Time War or about their own sides before they start writing, and that feels like… something the story kind of needs? The worst for me was, I just didn’t feel like I could tell Red and Blue apart. They just felt the same. Which is… kind of the whole point? That they’re more like each other than their own sides? But it makes for a weird romance, between two characters who are hardly distinguishable from one another. So I came out with, basically, dual feelings – like, if I look at the story from this angle it’s kind of shoddily constructed, but if I look from that angle it’s fantastic and pitch-perfect. Based mostly on what you focus on as you read, I guess.
Peace Is My Middle Name: I read this book last month and was deeply moved. [It] has so much that appeals to me: Time wars and time travel, super-soldiers, spectacle, poetry, luxuriously gorgeous prose, and a sweet f/f romance. Maybe it’s a prose-poetical form that may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s certainly unconventional. If you like a story that unfolds as a series of more and more outlandish communications, if reading love letters is your jam, this might be the book for you. Highly recommended!
Lace: I listened to this one and found it a good fit for the fun with language in the letters.
Mark-kitteh: I found it.a leeeetle bit too much in places but there’s no doubt it was beautifully written and I can see why so many people are loving it – it’ll be a serious contender.
Mister Dalliard: No words on paper have made me squee with joy this much in years. Does it all hold together? Who cares! It is wildly inventive, emotionally satisfying and beautifully written. Taking issue with the story feels like whining about the lack of coherent narrative in the best sex you’ve ever had. (Yes, I have strong feelings about this one.)
Peace Is My Middle Name: I love the sweet poetry of the writing, and the hesitant, almost disbelieving growing awareness of how much these characters care about each other.


The Haunting Of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities – handling a possessed tram car. Soon, however, two of the ministry’s agents are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.

What I thought: As a worldbuilding book – say, for an RPG – this is fairly interesting, with lots of good cultural details. But as a story, the huge amounts of info-dumping make it tedious and slow for at least the first 2/3 of this 140-page novella. At around 100 pages, the story finally picks up some steam and becomes reasonably enjoyable. There are some good themes of anti-colonialism and womens’ rights worked in, but the lengthy info-dumping keeps it from getting to the level of a great story. Recommended for readers looking to expand their cultural reading experience.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: Another triumph of worldbuilding from PDC. This is a vibrant, magical Cairo, but one that is evolving and growing – there’s a subplot around the culmination of a suffrage campaign – and the investigations of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is the perfect vehicle to explore it. (Set in the same world as A Dead Djinn in Cairo but only tangentially connected.) As a procedural investigation it benefits from a stronger structure than last years The Black God’s Drums, but perhaps loses a little of the surprise. I’d happily read more of these.
CeeV: My response to the author’s previous work has ranged from “liked it with caveats” to “meh,” but this novella I loved… The characters are distinctive and engaging, the plot involving, and the writing style generally* smooth and pleasant. I laughed out loud several times while reading this novella and cried happy tears once. It’s a great story in its own right, though I’m also very much hoping to see more stories set in this world.
* Nitpicky kvetching about the writing style goes here. Clark’s fondness for unique dialogue tags has, if anything, gotten worse. At one point he actually uses the word “drolled.” That’s in addition to uncountable other near-synonyms for “said.” There’s also a scene where the sole female character present is referred to as “the smaller woman,” and one in which a character “had the decency” to do something which required no decency whatsoever, and by now I’m seriously wondering if Clark’s formative writing experiences involved writing fanfic. Though if that’s the case, I wish he’d relied on better beta readers while developing his personal writing style.


More Walls Broken by Tim Powers, Subterranean Press (excerpt)

Synopsis: A trio of academics have just entered a deserted California cemetery late at night, bringing with them a number of arcane devices aimed at achieving an equally arcane purpose: to open a door between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and to capture the ghost of their recently deceased colleague. Their experiment, naturally, fails to come off exactly as planned. A door between the worlds does, in fact, open, letting in something – someone – completely unexpected.

What I thought: My first work by Powers was Salvage and Demolition, which I absolutely loved, and to which any of his works read since then inevitably get compared. This is an enjoyable little tale of crossed wires and alternate universes, but it’s a bit predictable. It would make a great Twilight Zone episode. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but Powers fans are sure to appreciate it.


The Test by Sylvain Neuvel, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: This is a disturbing but interesting thought experiment about a future UK where paranoia about immigrants has caused the creation of a system whereby foreign applicants are put through a rigorous psychological process to determine whether their character and ethical traits warrant them being let into the country.

What I thought: This story raises some good questions about the roots of human bias and the way it manifests in peoples’ behavior, and about how we judge the relative value of the lives of others. While an interesting idea, ultimately the story falls down on the fact that no anti-immigration country would invest this massive of a quantity of money and human and technological resources into administering such tests (never mind the futility of trying to keep them secret, as the story claims they have done) – especially when this has the ultimate self-defeating result of leaving those who “pass” the test emotionally-damaged and perhaps no longer able to be good citizens. Such countries would just disallow immigration entirely, or settle for a much less expensive triaging system. This is worth reading, but in my opinion the implausibility renders it not award-worthy.

Filer comments:
Contrarius: Ho – leeee – SHIT. I highly recommend listening to this rather than reading it. It’s a very disturbing read – not gory or anything, but very emotionally taxing. But I STRONGLY recommend it. It’s only 2 hours – well worth the time investment.
Contrarius: I agree that the necessary nuts and bolts (expense and so on) make such a program unrealistic in the Real World – but so are things like the setup for The Hunger Games and a bazillion other sff stories. That isn’t the point. With this story, it’s the emotional impact – the wallop of being hit over the head with “THIS is what you’re doing to people” – that really got to me. It’s not just about literally testing immigrants – it’s about everything we carelessly do in our comfy first-world lives that impacts on people whom we can thoughtlessly label as The Other, and the real cost of that carelessness. And it’s for sure on my longlist. I’ll have to see how the impact holds up on reread, closer to nomination.


Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: A hot new band on the scene has been releasing one track a day for ten days straight. Each track has a mysterious name and a strangely powerful effect on the band’s fans. A curious music blogger decides to investigate the phenomenon up close by following the band on tour across Texas and Kansas, realizing along the way that the band’s lead singer is hiding an incredible, impossible secret.

What I thought: This novella is a bit hard to classify, ranging from science fiction to fantasy to horror to the New Weird. It was interesting enough for me to read the whole thing, but I wasn’t really blown away by the story. There’s lots of atmosphere and fantastical description with a soupçon of futuristic technology, but it’s very light on the character development. Recommended for those who enjoy Lovecraftian or weird fiction; others may find it less to their taste.


Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: A black hole one tenth the mass of the sun is about to enter the solar system on a near-miss trajectory past Earth. A group of eco-minded young people are taking no chances: they board a mobile aquaculture rig, self-sustaining in food, power and fresh water, and decide to sit out the encounter off-shore. But as the object draws nearer, its updated trajectory shows it coming much closer than predicted, and it will change the conditions of life across the globe forever.

What I thought: I’m generally an avid fan of Egan’s stories, but I found this to be fairly basic post-apocalyptic YA which did not really get me emotionally-invested. The plot and characterization are unexceptional, but it’s nevertheless worth reading for his usual rigorous worldbuilding.

Filer comments:
Lorien Gray: This was my favorite thing I’ve read so far this year. It’s not your typical post-apocalypse story as it focuses more on the slow build-up of stress and reaction as our protagonists try to find ways to help before civilization gets overwhelmed. It captured, in an understated way, how difficult it is when you’re just a few people trying to do the most you can but it’s horribly inadequate in the face of a slow motion, but global threat.
Mark-kitteh: I also liked it. It’s about people preparing for, and surviving, extreme climate change, albeit not of the AGW kind. I thought the choice of finale a bit odd though.


In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire [Wayward Children #5], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: A misfit young woman accidentally finds her way into the Goblin Market, spends years living there and bonding with a good friend, and then returns to the real world. Unable to choose between the worlds, both of which hold great attractions for her, she ends up paying a terrible price.

What I thought: I never gained an appreciation for portal fantasies as a child, which probably colors my opinion here. I feel as though this story is just a variation on the same theme as the previous series entries, and does not really bring much that is new to the table. But this backstory for one of the Wayward Children will definitely appeal to fans of folktale retellings, portal fantasies, or the earlier entries in this series.

Filer comments:
Nina: I really enjoyed it – as usual, the world McGuire created for her protagonist to run away to was fascinating. Interestingly, both [it and In the Shadow of Spindrift House] share the theme of a protagonist feeling torn between her biological family and her found family.
Contrarius: We are back to doesn’t-quite-do-it-for-me on this one. McGuire can obviously write effective prose, and it’s a gracefully told story. There’s just… something… about the way she looks at things that I don’t quite get. I can’t describe it. Too preachy, too moralistic, too…something. I dunno. In audio this is read by Cynthia Hopkins, who did a good job.


The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: She lived where the railway tracks met the saltpan, on the human side of the shadowline. In the old days, when people still talked about her, she was known as the end-of-the-line woman. A man with a troubled past comes to seek a favor from a woman who is not what she seems, and must enter the nine hundred and ninety-nine realms of the world of spirits, where gods and demons wage endless war.

What I thought: This novella is a cross between a mystery and a quest fantasy, in a folktale setting. The prose and worldbuilding are vivid, but there’s not a lot that’s innovative here in terms of plot or characterization. Recommended for those who enjoy folk- and fairy-tale retellings.

Filer comments:
Kyra: Weird and wild. I liked it. If you’re fond of fantasy books that throw you in the deep end without explanation so you can enjoy the swim, this one is for you. I’m kind of surprised this one hasn’t attracted more attention, actually.


A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan [The Seven Swords #1], Subterranean Press (excerpt)

Synopsis: It is two hundred years since a deity went mad and destroyed the Kingdom, transforming it into the Execration, a blasted wasteland filled with nameless terrors. For decades, desperate souls have made pilgrimage to the centre of this cursed land to seek the Mad God’s favor, their fate always unknown. Now a veteran warrior known only as Pilgrim, armed with a fabled blade inhabited by the soul of a taunting demon, must join with six others to make the last journey to the heart of the Execration.

What I thought: This is an enjoyable but unexceptional quest fantasy following role-playing tropes, with a group of adventurers possessed of varying skills. It’s apparently the first of 7 novellas, each featuring a sword of different powers.


Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: After the tempest, after the reunion, after her father drowned his books, Miranda was meant to enter a brave new world in Naples with Ferdinand and a throne. Instead she finds herself a captive in her father’s castle in Milan, surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost. And though he promised to give away his power, Milan is once again contorting around Prospero’s dark arts. Miranda must cut through the mystery and find the truth about her father, her mother, and herself.

What I thought: A sequel of sorts to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this novella tells the story of Miranda after her return from the island, when she finds herself prisoner in her father’s castle and must devise a way to escape after being faced with a terrible truth. The prose is beautiful and evocative, but the story itself does not rise above the usual dark family secret fantasy level. Recommended for Shakespeare fans.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: I think it takes a certain level of self-assurance to take Shakespeare’s iconic characters and write your own continuation of their story, but this version works nicely… There’s a nice romance as Miranda finds someone other than her distance prince – I’m often a bit meh on romance but I rather liked this one, as it worked to create a realistic relationship and reveal the characters. This is really nicely written, an interesting concept that takes a different direction from some others I’ve seen but is justified by the source material, and the lead characters grabbed me.


The Gorilla in a Tutu Principle or, Pecan Pie at Minnie and Earl’s by Adam-Troy Castro, Analog Sep-Oct (full text) (full text of prequel Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s)

Synopsis: A young engineer working on the Moon repeatedly encounters a couple of strange astronauts doing bizarre things – but it never happens when one of his co-workers is around. Is he going crazy? Or is he being pranked? And who would have the ability to pull off pranks requiring this level of technological advancement?

What I thought: I really, really recommend reading the Nebula-nominated prequel story (linked above) before reading this one, because that context makes it even better. I think that the prequel is a better story than this one, which seems a bit heavy-handed and takes quite a while to really get to the payoff, but I enjoyed both of them.


A Time to Reap by Elizabeth Bear, Uncanny Magazine November-December (full text)

Synopsis: The cast in a play about a never-solved true-crime murder mystery visits the site of the murders. The actress who plays one of the victims finds herself thrown back in time, with the opportunity to find out what really happened.

What I thought: The premise of this story is really interesting, as is much of the story itself, and I enjoyed it. But I thought that the time-travel paradox of events which did and did not happen due to the main character’s intervention was inconsistent and doesn’t really make sense – which is a shame, because I liked the rest of the story enough to want it to make sense. Content warning for domestic violence and allusions to sexual abuse.


Hope Is Swift by Seanan McGuire [October Daye], in The Unkindest Tide, DAW Books

Synopsis: This novella fleshes out the backstory for Raj, the heir to the Kingdom of Cats, with an adventure involving his changeling girlfriend and his best friend, which may mean the end of him, nine lives notwithstanding.

What I thought: As with all the later October Daye entries, new readers are not advised to start here, but this will be enjoyable for fans of the series.


Instantiation by Greg Egan [3-adica #2], Asimov’s March-April (excerpt) (full text PDF of prequel 3-adica)

Synopsis: The sentient computer personalities who escaped from Sludgenet’s control in 3-Adica now face a different threat; Sludgenet is going out of business, and they’re utterly dependent on its hardware resources to survive.

What I thought: I thought 3-Adica was really good, but this story seems like a bit of a re-tread, and I didn’t think it brought much new to the table, but fans of the first installment may enjoy these further adventures.

The Lost Testament by Allen Steele [Arkwright], Asimov’s March-April

Synopsis: A descendent of long-ago human colonists is seeking artifacts which may unlock secrets of their past, but the planet’s indigenous race is doing everything they can to prevent that from happening.

What I thought: This is another case where I thought the first entry, Starship Mountain, was really good, but didn’t think this sequel brought much new to the table, and it’s more of an installment in the series than a complete story.

Escape from Sanctuary by Allen M. Steele [Arkwright], Asimov’s November-December

Synopsis: This new installment of the story begun in Starship Mountain” and The Lost Testament brings further revelations into the mystery of the ancient human explorers who colonized the planet.


All of Me by R. S. Benedict, Fantasy and Science Fiction March-April

Synopsis: This modern update of “The Little Mermaid” features a sea creature who rescues a man from drowning and ends up being mercilessly exploited for her trouble.

What I thought: I really, really did not care for this story. Theoretically, the main character should be a sympathetic one, but I kind of just wanted every single character in this story to die in a fire. Recommended for readers who enjoy fairytale subversions or dark mermaid stories.

Filer comments:
Standback: A very weird story, and typically of Benedict, sharp and haunting as well.


Frozen Hell by John W. Campbell, Jr. (expansion of Who Goes There?), Wildside Press (excerpt)

Synopsis: Recently discovered at Harvard by scholar Alec Nevala-Lee, long buried in John W. Campbell’s papers, here is the original version of Who Goes There? It adds 3 prequel chapters to the classic story.

What I thought: I can see why these chapters were cut: they put all of the worldbuilding revelations into the front of the story and leave nothing for the reader to gradually figure out. I also doubt that this is a substantial-enough addition to re-qualify this novella for the Hugo Awards; there’s certainly not enough new here to make it a nominee for me. Campbell fans and those who loved The Thing may want to pick this up.


A Wasteland Of My God’s Own Making by Bradley P. Beaulieu [The Song of Shattered Sands], Quillings Literary Agency (Overdrive excerpt)

Synopsis: A renowned warrior left the grasslands of her homeland long ago and rose to prominence in the fighting pits in the big city. What she revealed to no one, however, is the terrible secret that drove her to leave her home in the first place. That secret is brought back to the fore when her sister tribeswoman comes to the city unannounced and tells her that if she fights one final bout in the killing pits, both their demons will be excised. How can she start a new life with her beloved when the terrible acts she committed in her homeland still haunt her?

What I thought: As with the other novellas in the Shattered Sands universe, this one provides the back story for one of the ancillary characters. This one stands less on its own, I think, than the other novellas; without a basic knowledge of the universe, I do not think it can be truly appreciated. Recommended for completists, but not required reading for the series.


Escaping Amnthra by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Asimov’s September-October / WMG Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: When the captain and senior crew abandon their ship which is stranded millions of light-years from home, the ship’s linguist assumes command. She needs to get the ship and remaining crew home despite her lack of leadership abilities and technical training. As the ship comes under attack from the planet below, she must figure out how to operate the ship’s weaponry while battling her own past to become captain in more than just name alone.

What I thought: This short novella is a backstory side-trip which did not fit into the novel The Renegat. It will likely be of interest to fans of the Diving Universe series, but is not likely to make much sense to anyone who has not read The Renegat. Recommended only for Diving Universe completists.


Radicalized by Cory Doctorow, in Radicalized, Tor Books (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: A darkweb-enforced violent uprising against insurance companies is told from the perspective of a man desperate to secure funding for an experimental drug that could cure his wife’s terminal cancer.

What I thought: This is an all-too-plausible story of a good person whose devastating personal experiences send him down the slippery slope into radicalism and terrorism. It’s interesting, but I didn’t rate it as exceptional. Readers who study social media may especially find it of interest.


Masque of the Red Death by Cory Doctorow, in Radicalized, Tor Books (audio excerpt)

Synopsis: This story hearkens back to Doctorow’s Walkaway, taking on issues of survivalism versus community.

What I thought: This is the story of a small group of selfish, self-absorbed survivalists and the way that their advance preparations fail to ensure their survival after the collapse of civilization. It’s good, but doesn’t quite rise to the level of great. Humanists will appreciate the ending.


Model Minority by Cory Doctorow, in Radicalized, Tor Books (audio excerpt)

Synopsis: A Superman-like figure attempts to rectify the corruption of the police forces he long erroneously thought protected the defenseless… only to find his efforts adversely affecting their victims.

What I thought: This is a darker take on some recognizable superhero tropes and the downside of vigilantism. The obvious-but-not-named-franchise superhero characters didn’t do much for me, but fans of superhero stories will likely appreciate it.


The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald [Luna], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: A young woman growing up on the Moon has a new sister who is everything she is not: tall, beautiful, confident. They’re unlikely allies and even unlikelier sisters, but they’re determined to go on an adventure to find the moon’s first footprint, even if the lunar frontier is doing its best to kill them before they get there.

What I thought: This is, unsurprisingly, a Heinlein homage set in the author’s Luna universe and written from a slightly different angle. Those who enjoyed the childish jealousy and competitive stupidity of the original will likely enjoy this as well. Those who are not into angsty teenage angst may have less appreciation for it. I found the first part rather annoying and tedious, but the story does get better as it goes along, and there is some nice imagery and adventure for those who stick it out.


Her Silhouette, Drawn In Water by Vylar Kaftan, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: All she has ever known is darkness. She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet with only a fellow prisoner for company. The other prisoner says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. She has no reason to doubt her companion – until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.

What I thought: This novella is a take on the “virtual reality as a prison” story, with some interesting worldbuilding but a rather predictable plot. The story is far too much sex and personal relationship for my taste and not enough of the other story elements. It reads a bit as if it’s a transcript of a roleplaying game. Recommended for those who enjoy SFFnal stories about relationships, such as Karen Memory.


Longer by Michael Blumlein, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: A married couple who are R&D scientists for a pharmaceutical giant on an orbiting station are wealthy enough to participate in rejuvenation: rebooting themselves from old age to jump their bodies back to their twenties. Rejuvenation will “take” two times, but never a third. After one of them has juved for the second and final time but the other refuses to do so, questions of life, death, and morality test their relationship.

What I thought: This novella uses life rejuvenation and extension as a mcguffin to explore the marriage of two scientists which is imploding due to growing apart and having different needs and goals. There’s a lot of bickering and internal monologuing, which I found tedious. Recommended for those who enjoy lengthy relationship autopsies.


The Undefeated by Una McCormack, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: This is a story of a retired journalist and her journey back to her home planet, and of persons who are artificially-created for slavery, and the accounting which eventually comes to the slave owners for their crimes.

What I thought: I thought that the backstory of this novella was really interesting, but the story itself mostly consists of narrative relating events which occurred in the past rather than taking the reader along for the ride as they occur, which has a disappointing distancing effect and makes it difficult to get emotionally invested in the main characters. [I think that the choice of “jenjer” as a designation for the slave race was unfortunate in that it kept making me think that the slaves were all redheads, and pulling me out of the story. Given the author’s apparent haircolor, this may have been an intentional dig at childhood tormentors.]


Macsen Against The Jugger by Simon Morden, NewCon Press

Synopsis: Two centuries after the Earth fell to enigmatic alien machines known as the Visitors, humanity survives in sparse nomadic tribes. An adventurer undertakes hazardous quests; quests that have made him a hero. He never fails, but this time he crosses the path of one of the deadliest of all the Visitors. Can he find a way to defeat the alien and survive?

What I thought: I’ve read several novellas and novels by this author now, and I feel that they’re pretty consistently strong in terms of worldbuilding but less so in terms of plot and character development. This one reads like a transcript of a role-playing game to me, but is worth reading for the worldbuilding.


Auberon by James S.A. Corey [The Expanse], Orbit Books (excerpt)

Synopsis: Auberon is one of the first and most important colony worlds in humanity’s reach, and the new conquering faction has come to claim it. A Governor has been sent to bring civilization and order to the far outpost and guarantee the wealth and power of the Empire. But Auberon already has its own history, a complex culture, and a criminal kingpin with very different plans.

What I thought: This is an interesting bit of backstory for one of the colony worlds of the Expanse novels. Fans of the series should enjoy it, but readers who are unfamiliar with the universe may find something to appreciate here as well.


The Man Who Would Be Kling by Adam Roberts, NewCon Press

Synopsis: When two strangers ask the manager at Kabul Station to take them into the Afghanizone he refuses. What sane person wouldn’t? Thought to be the result of an alien visitation, the zone is deadly. Nothing works there. Electrical items are your enemy; they malfunction or simply blow up. The pair go in anyway, and the biggest surprise is when one of them walks out again. Nobody survives the zone, so how has she?

What I thought: This homage to the Strugatskys’ Roadside Picnic is a rather caustic takedown of the naivety, colonialism, and privilege inherent in the worldbuilding of Star Trek. Trek fans may find it either annoying, or food for thought; I got a little of both. Ultimately, however, I think the story suffers from trying to be too clever (note the bad pun in the title, for example), and I don’t think it’s successful.


Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: When a probe sent out to explore the Oort Cloud finds a strange alien rock, an international team of scientists and astronauts is put together to go and look at it. When disaster hits and the team is split up, scattered through the endless cold tunnels, one astronaut somehow survives. But there is something terrible in the tunnels with him.

What I thought: This is a mythic retelling, translated to a science-fictional horror setting, with a subversion similar to that in Peter Watts’ The Things, but less compelling (I was rolling my eyes at the end). This story would possibly be enjoyable for fans of classic myth.


Angels of the Silences by Simon Bestwick, And Cannot Come Again, ChiZine Publications / Simon Bestwick

Synopsis: Emily and Biff are seventeen and best friends. They have been dead for nine months…

What I thought: This is a rape-revenge horror fantasy, and it pretty much follows the usual tropes. Content warning for rape, mutilation, violence and death.

The School House by Simon Bestwick, And Cannot Come Again, ChiZine Publications / Simon Bestwick

Synopsis: A man who works at a psychiatric home must confront his past, after a childhood friend is committed for burning down their old school, and dark memories start to resurface.

What I thought: This is a dark take on the long-excused “boys will be boys” bullying and abuse, and its aftermath. Content warning for bullying, sexual assault, suicide, violence and death.

And Cannot Come Again by Simon Bestwick, And Cannot Come Again, ChiZine Publications / Simon Bestwick

Synopsis: The events of a long-ago summer and first love return with lethal consequences for four childhood friends.

What I thought: I really didn’t need to read about any more cruelty or abuse; these 3 novellas are probably the last I’ll read of this author. Content warning for bullying, murder, mutilation, mental illness, and suicide.


Aeota by Paul Di Filippo, PS Publishing

Synopsis: On the trail of a missing con man, a private eye uncovers a vast conspiracy that stretches from the dawn of time to the Omega Point – and finds himself central to the whole enigmatic game.


Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield [Alice Payne #2], Tor.com Publishing (audio excerpt)

Synopsis: After abducting Arthur of Brittany from his own time in 1203, thereby creating the mystery that partly prompted the visit in the first place, Alice and her team discover that they have inadvertently brought the smallpox virus back to 1780 with them. Searching for a future vaccine, they find that the various factions in the future time war intend to use the crisis to their own advantage.


Ark by Veronica Roth, Amazon Forward Collection

Synopsis: It’s only two weeks before an asteroid turns the Earth to dust. Though most of the planet has already been evacuated, it’s one woman’s job to catalog plant samples for the survivors’ unknowable journey beyond. Preparing to stay behind and watch the world end, she makes a final human connection. As certain doom hurtles nearer, the unexpected and beautiful potential for the future begins to flower.


The Ascent To Godhood by Jy Yang [Tensorate #4], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: For fifty years, the Protector ruled, reshaping her country in her image and driving her enemies to the corners of the map. For half a century the world turned around her as she built her armies, trained her Tensors, and grasped at the reins of fate itself. But now, the Protector is dead, and her greatest enemy can only mourn her loss, immersed in memories of how it all began.


The Bone Shaker by Edward Cox, NewCon Press

Synopsis: In the heart of the Great Forest, nothing is as it should be. Sir Vladisal and her Knights of Boska are lost and far from home. The son of their Duchess has been kidnapped, spirited away to a nameless place within these dark and endless woodlands.


Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise, Broken Eye Books (excerpt)

Synopsis: The Royce family has been a plague on their small Southern town for generations. Rumors about the family circulate in that small town, as do rumors about a monstrous creature known as Catfish John living in the swamp. When the Royce house burns down, the sheriff takes in the sole survivor, a young girl who becomes friends with his son. Years later, the sheriff’s son has now become the sheriff himself, and the monsters of his childhood return.


Chivalry by Gavin Smith, NewCon Press

Synopsis: When a knight follows his chivalric hero to war, he soon discovers that heroes are often better worshipped from afar. Betrayed, badly injured, left for dead, he is nursed back to half-life by a ghoul necromancer. Joining forces with a taciturn professional murderess, he returns to the war, determined to set the record straight.


The City of Lost Desire by Phyllis Eisenstein [Tales of Alaric the Minstrel], Fantasy and Science Fiction January-February

Synopsis: The caravan that Alaric joined as an entertainer has finally completed its desert crossing and arrived at the ancient city that was always its goal, bringing trade goods that include fine furniture, salt from the mines of the desert, and a potent, addictive drug that the rich and royal of the city crave. Alaric is drawn by the mystery of the tower that stands outside the city and by the secrets that seem to pervade the royal palace and its inhabitants.


Cruel Fate by Kelley Armstrong [Cainsville], Subterranean Press (excerpt)

Synopsis: Three years after discovering that her biological parents are convicted serial killers, Olivia finally has her life back. She loves her new job, as investigator for her partner who is a notorious defense attorney, and her role as the legendary Mallt-y-Nos to Cainsville’s fae population. She’s finally seeing her father freed from jail, where he’s been wrongly imprisoned for over twenty years. But someone has arranged for a victim’s body to appear, with clues leading back to her father.


Dangerous People by Ursula K. Le Guin [Kesh / Always Coming Home], Library of America

Synopsis: The story of one missing woman and the people around her who may or may not be implicated in her death or disappearance, this novella explores larger questions about what – in relationships, in society – make a person “dangerous”; and in giving us the Kesh perspective, the author ultimately shines a light on our own society’s perceptions of truth, gender, and relationships.


The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Hodder & Stoughton (excerpt)

Synopsis: Yetu holds the memories for her people – water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners – who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one – the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu, but the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.


Desdemona And The Deep by C.S.E. Cooney, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: The spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below. On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers, while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: [Features] a great character, very much flawed – impulsive, not considering others enough, but also determined and with a sense of morals. The fantastical elements are great – this isn’t a twee faerie, or an unremittingly evil one, but one that acknowledges that its inhabitants are just very very different. The conclusion that the real monsters are at home is perhaps a bit on the nose but I think it was well-earned. This is a lyrical, atmospheric story with a complex main character.


Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin, Amazon Forward Collection

Synopsis: An explorer returns to gather information from a climate-ravaged Earth that his ancestors, and others among the planet’s finest, fled centuries ago. The mission comes with a warning: a graveyard world awaits him. But so do those left behind – hopeless and unbeautiful wastes of humanity who should have died out ages ago. After all this time, there’s no telling how they’ve devolved.


The Esteemed by Robert Reed [Veritas], Asimov’s January-February

Synopsis: It’s the mid-1970’s, Gerald Ford is President, and a time traveler arrives with dire warnings about the future – and the evidence to convince the masses that he’s telling the truth. The people of the world make changes to avoid the horrible future he predicts. But the time traveler keeps returning, each time with new warnings which must be heeded.


Gabriel’s Road by Laura Anne Gilman [The Devil’s West], Book View Cafe (excerpt)

Synopsis: Most folk in the Territory never think about the magic around them. They’ve never encountered a magician, fought a spell-beast, or bargained with the devil. But Gabriel is not most folk. A year spent mentoring the woman who is the Devil’s Left Hand has brought him closer to the Territory’s magic than he’d ever wanted. But now he is on his own again, free of all obligation. Except the Territory – and his own destiny – isn’t quite done with him yet…


A Hazardous Engagement by Gaie Sebold, NewCon Press

Synopsis: A young woman’s brother presents her with a challenge. If she wants to join his gang, she and her team have to steal a magical belt that’s locked to the waist of a bride, on her wedding night, in a fortified castle, on a rock in the middle of the sea. She takes him up on it. But when she discovers just how much her brother didn’t know, the job proves even more hazardous than she bargained for…


How Alike Are We by Bo-Young Kim, translated by Jihyun Park and Gord Sellar, Clarkesworld October (full text)

Synopsis: After being diverted from their original destination to assist with an emergency at a colony on Titan, a transport ship is subjected to demands by a mysterious AI.


In The Shadow Of Spindrift House by Mira Grant, Subterranean Press (excerpt)

Synopsis: A young woman who was raised by her grandparents after a mysterious cult killed her parents has become part of a tight-knit teen detective agency which agrees to investigate the mystery behind a decrepit house of uncertain ownership. But the house may have its own ideas…

Filer comments:
Nina: [It] was really good too, though that’s straight-up horror rather than fantasy or sci-fi. Interestingly, both [it and In An Absent Dream] share the theme of a protagonist feeling torn between her biological family and her found family.


Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold [Sharing Knife], Spectrum Literary Agency / Subterranean Press (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: After a two-year stint on patrol, a Lakewalker returns only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of his mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.


The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay, Amazon Forward Collection

Synopsis: Imagine you’ve woken up in an unfamiliar room with no memory of who you are, how you got there, or where you were before. All you have is the disconnected voice of an attentive caretaker. Dr. Kuhn is there to help you – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. She’ll help you remember everything. She’ll make sure you reclaim your lost identity. Now answer one question: Are you sure you want to?


Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade [Conversation Pieces #70], Aqueduct Press

Synopsis: All our monsters are mirrors. And when Mary Shelley’s monster – built from her life rather than her pen, born out of biography instead of blood – outlives its mother, that monster goes looking for a substitute. But all the monster really knows of women is that women write, and so the search for a replacement takes it first to Katherine Mansfield, and then to other women who know what mutilated things can be made from ink and mirrors…


The Monster Of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht, Tor.com Publishing (excerptaudio excerpt)

Synopsis: The city sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats – a monster who cannot die. The monster and its master will have their revenge on everyone who wronged the city, even if they have to burn the world to do it.


Morpho by Philip Palmer, NewCon Press

Synopsis: When the corpse on the mortuary slab sits up and speaks to a woman, asking for her help, she thinks she’s losing her mind. If only it were that simple. She discovers a secret society through which the privileged govern from the shadows, that immortality is being bought at a horrific price, and that a rebellion threatens to undermine the social order of the entire world.


New Atlantis by Lavie Tidhar, Fantasy and Science Fiction May-June

Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic utopia where the few survivors of the climate change collapse now live in harmony with their environment, an elderly woman tells the story of her adventure to a ruined city to see the remaining marvels left behind by the ancient ones.


Nomads by Dave Hutchinson, NewCon Press

Synopsis: Are there really refugees from ‘elsewhere’ living among us? If so, what cataclysmic event are they fleeing? When a high speed car chase leads a police sergeant to a farm, he finds himself the focus of unwanted attention from Internal Affairs, and is faced with the prospect of things being unearthed that he would far rather stayed buried.

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: Does a good job on maintaining a sense of mundanity before delivering a nice SFnal twist. Interesting but felt like it had more ideas than it could fit into the length, and the end was rather inconclusive.


Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness by Aliette de Bodard [Dominion of the Fallen], in Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Subterranean Press

Synopsis: This is a comedy of manners set in the Dominion of the Fallen universe, where a Fallen angel attempts to throw a relaxing birthday party for her lover, and everything goes wrong in all the worst possible ways.


The Rampant by Julie C. Day [Conversation Pieces #69], Aqueduct Press

Synopsis: Two 16-year-old young women have spent most of their lives enduring the nightmare of the never-ending rapture. It’s been a decade since the ancient Sumerian gods descended on Indiana, promising that the chosen people would ascend to Nibiru, but the terrifying entity called the Rampant – the last of the Evil Messengers heralding the destruction of civilization – seems to have missed the memo. Until he shows up, the rapture can’t happen.


Randomize by Andy Weir, Amazon Forward Collection

Synopsis: An IT whiz at the casino is enlisted to upgrade security for the game of keno and its random-number generator. The new quantum computer system is foolproof. But someone on the inside is no fool. For once the odds may not favor the house – unless human ingenuity isn’t entirely a thing of the past.


Recrossing Brooklyn Ferry by John Richard Trtek, Asimov’s May-June

Synopsis: This homage to Walt Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is a near-future story of a time-travel agent and his lost love, in which they are part of a resistance group attempting to undermine the current totalitarian government.


Serpent Rose by Kari Sperring, NewCon Press

Synopsis: Camelot: there are four sons of Lot at court and Sir Gaheris knows himself to be the least of them. Yet the charismatic and headstrong young knight Sir Lamorak looks up to him in particular, despite more obvious choices. When Lamorak catches his mother’s eye, Gaheris knows there’s trouble brewing. Soon he finds himself at the centre of family tensions, deceit and tragedy. Can he prevent the bloodshed that seems inevitable?

Filer comments:
Mark-kitteh: A tale of family feuds and personality clashes in a nicely gritty-feeling version of Arthurian Britain, with no fantastical elements as such (except for being a non-existence history, of course). The plot rather depends on the main character being clueless, which was frustrating at times, and it didn’t quite stick the landing, but I enjoyed it all the same.


Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own. When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care are in danger… and not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.


Summer Frost by Blake Crouch, Amazon Forward Collection

Synopsis: The minor non-player character in the world Riley is building was made to do one thing: die. But when the NPC makes her own impossible decision – veering wildly off course and exploring the boundaries of the map, Riley gets curious and extracts her code for closer examination, and an emotional relationship develops between them. Soon Riley has all new plans for her spontaneous AI, including bringing her into the real world. But what if the NPC has real-world plans of her own?


Surfers at the End of Time by Rudy Rucker and Marc Laidlaw, Asimov’s November December (full text)

Synopsis: These are the continuing mad antics of accidental mathematicians Zep and Del, who take to the waves after inventing a surfboard that can surf through time.


The Survival Of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson [Molly Southbourne #2], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)

Synopsis: Who was Molly Southbourne? What did she leave behind? A burnt-out basement. A name stained in blood. Bodies that remember murder, one of them left alive. A set of rules that no longer apply. Molly Southbourne is alive. If she wants to survive, she’ll need to run, hide, and be ready to fight.


Winter Wheat by Gord Sellar, Asimov’s Sep-Oct (full text)

Synopsis: This story of gene-hackers and small-farmer resistance begins in the dead of winter and progresses through a twelve-year cycle in a near-future Saskatchewan.


You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles, Amazon Forward Collection

Synopsis: When his wife first tells him about a twenty-first-century fertility lab, a man sees this as the natural next step in trying to help their future child get a “leg up” in a competitive world. But the more he considers the lives that his child could lead, the more he begins to question his own relationships and the choices he has made in his life.


You Must Remember This by Jay O’Connell, Analog November-December (full text)

Synopsis: When she’s resurrected into a post-catastrophe world 13 years after dying, Maura finds herself in a changed society, and she must re-invent herself to survive while trying to find the person who brought her back.


Pixel Scroll 2/14/20 Requires Much More Work Before It Can Be Submitted

(1) VOTE ON BOOK SUPER LIST. A bit of genre seasons the stew: “British Book Awards 2020: Nibbies unveils #30from30 super list” at The Bookseller. [Via Locus Online.]

Books by J K Rowling, E L James, Peter Kay, Stephenie Meyer, Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith will battle it out to be crowned the overall book of the past 30 years at this year’s British Book Awards (a.k.a. the Nibbies), as part of a unique celebration of the three decades of publishing championed at the annual awards, which were founded in 1990.

The longlist of titles—from Brick Lane to Longitude to Dreams From My Father—is made up of past winners at the British Book Awards, the book and trade awards founded in 1990 by Publishing News, and run since 2017 by The Bookseller. The longlist makes for a compelling history of the book trade and 30 years of successful publishing, with books such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by Rowling, The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Northern Lights by Pullman, and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown going on to become huge backlist bestsellers, and spawning many imitators.

See the full list and ballot here.  The winner will be announced May 18, 2020.

The Bookseller now invites readers and the trade to share their memories of these books, make the case for titles to make it through to the next round, and suggest wildcard entries. A shortlist of ten will be announced in March. The winning author will be invited to the British Book Awards on 18th May to pick up their prize.

Which 10 books would make up your shortlist?

Vote below, tweet using #30from30 or email 30from30@thebookseller.com and share your memories of the longlist.      

(2) IT JUST GOT STRANGER. Netflix has dropped a trailer for Season 4 of Stranger Things.

(3) WHEN GREEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER. [Item by Dann.] Corey Olsen is an English professor with at PH.D. in medieval literature. His classes cover a broad range of medieval mythologies; including Arthurian legends and faerie stories. His course offerings include the obvious children of those mythos; J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He has adopted the sobriquet of The Tolkien Professor.

In addition to his work in academia, Professor Olsen has also participated in many cons and symposiums (symposia?) focused on LOTR and medieval literature. He currently serves as the president of Signum University; an online university.

Back in 2011, Professor Olsen recorded a series of classes at Washington University on the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It may be useful to listen to some of his earlier classes on faerie in medieval literature to acquire a broader context of faeries within that period.

There are one, two, three, four episodes covering the Green Knight story.

(4) SLF TAKING GRANT APPLICATIONS. The Speculative Literature Foundation is accepting applications for the 2020 Older Writers Grant and A.C. Bose Grant for South Asian Speculative Literature through March 31st, 2020.

The $1,000 Older Writers Grant is awarded annually to a writer who is fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application, and is intended to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level. Grant funds can be used as each writer determines will best assist his or her work. For more information about the Older Writers Grant, or how to apply, click here.

The $1,000 A.C. Bose Grant for South Asian Speculative Literature, co-sponsored by the SLF and DesiLit, is awarded to a South Asian or South Asian diaspora writer developing speculative fiction. The grant is named in memory of Ashim Chandra Bose, a lover of books, especially science fiction and fantasy, and was founded by his children, Rupa Bose and Gautam Bose. For more information about the A.C. Bose Grant, or to how to apply, click here.

The SLF is also currently accepting applications for the 2019 Working Class Grant until February 29, 2020.  For more information, or how to apply, click here

(5) SLF HONORS ART. Sofiia Melnyk’s “Sir Spacediver 3020” is the Speculative Literature Foundation’s 2020 Illustration of the Year.

The Speculative Literature Foundation has chosen its 2020 Illustration of the Year, for a piece of artwork that combines elements of science fiction and fantasy as well as incorporating the SLF’s literary focus. The 2020 Illustration of the Year, entitled “Sir Spacediver 3020, is by artist and animator Sofiia Melnyk. Melnyk has a degree in animation from the Animationsinstitut of the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Melnyk’s winning piece is now featured n the Speculative Literature Foundation’s website and will be on its social media and marketing material throughout 2020. 

(6) FANDOM IN THE SHADE. The Rite Gud podcast has posted Part 2 of their discussion — “The Dark Side of Fandom Part 2: Friendship Simulator”. It’s all about parasocial relationships.

Why do people love the Disney corporation? Why do people watch other people play video games? Can fans influence creatives’ work for the worse? Does the mainstreaming of geek culture represent a triumph for social outcasts, or is it all just a capitalist plot?

In part two of our discussion on the dark side of fandom, RS Benedict talks to Tim Heiderich about parasocial relationships, Twitch streamers, Nazis, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and fans who want to watch their idols burn.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • February 14, 1963 The Day Mars Invaded Earth premiered. Directed by produced and directed by Maury Dexter, it stars Kent Taylor, Marie Windsor, and William Mims. Dexter named the film in hopes it’d remind film goers of The Day The Earth Stood Still. The storyline is merging of the story lines in The War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Strangely enough, it was the bottom half of a double feature with the Elvis Presley‘s Kissin’ Cousins. The NYT critic at the time  called it a “pallid, pint-sized exercise” and the audience score at Rotten Tomatoes is a rather poor 18%.  You can see the film here.
  • February 14, 1986 Terrorvision premiered. It was directed by Ted Nicolaou, produced and written by Albert and Charles Band. It starred  Diane Franklin, Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov, Chad Allen and Jonathan Gries. Wiki notes that “several songs (including the movie’s theme) were contributed by Los Angeles art rock band The Fibonaccis. TerrorVision was hoped to bring more attention to the group, but the movie (and ultimately the soundtrack) failed.” Pop Matters called TerrorVision “a truly wretched movie.”  It holds a decent 43% audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Of course you can judge the film by seeing it here.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born February 14, 1919 David A. Kyle. He chaired the 1956 Worldcon, was a leader in First Fandom, and wrote innumerable fanhistorical articles for Mimosa. Along with Martin Greenberg, he founded Gnome Press in the late Forties. He also penned two illustrated SF histories, A Pictorial History of Science Fiction and The Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas and Dreams. He wrote three novels set in the Lensman universe: The Dragon Lensman, Lensman from Rigel and Z-Lensman. So has anybody read these? (Died 2016.)
  • Born February 14, 1925 J. T. McIntosh. Scottish writer at his best according to Clute in his early work such as World Out of Mind and One in Three Hundred. He’s deeply stocked at the usual digital sources at very reasonable rates. (Died 2008.)
  • Born February 14, 1942 Andrew Robinson, 78. Elim Garak on Deep Space Nine. He wrote a novel 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, 1951 John Vornholt, 69. I was musing on the difference between fanfic and profic (if such a word exists) when I ran across this writer. He’s written in a number of media properties with the most extensive being the Trek ‘verse where he’s written several dozen works, but he’s penned works also in the Babylon 5, Buffyverse, Dinotopia, Earth 2, Marvel metaverse… Well you get the idea. All authorized, but really no different than fanfic on the end, are they? Other than they pay a lot better. 
  • Born February 14, 1952 Gwyneth Jones, 68. 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 as it now certainly is, and her twenty year-old Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality polemic is still worth reading.
  • Born February 14, 1963 Enrico Colantoni, 57. 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 the most excellent animated Justice League Dark as the voice of Felix Faust where 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, 50. Best known for playing Montgomery Scott in the new Star Trek franchiseHis 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 ongoing Mission: Impossible franchise.
  • Born February 14, 1975 M. Darusha Wehm, 45. New Zealand resident writer who was nominated for the Nebula Award and won the New Zealand Sir Julius Vogel Award for The Martian Job novel. She says it’s interactive fiction. You can read the standalone prequel novella, Retaking Elysium, on her website which can be found here.

(9) DEMONSTRATING APPLIANCES. That doesn’t mean what it used to. “Why ‘Star Trek’ Star Jeri Ryan Had a Tough Time Returning for ‘Picard'”The Hollywood Reporter found out. BEWARE SPOILERS, dammit.

“The scale of the show. The scale of these sets, the costumes, it’s crazy. It’s like you’re doing a feature film every week.” Ryan says with a big smile. What impressed her most was the advances in set design and tech from her days on Voyager

“In one of my scenes, where I had to go in and work a console, we go in for the first rehearsal and I had to touch buttons and the screen actually does something! And I totally flipped out, like: ‘Oh my god, actually having buttons that work!” 

There was another change from working on Voyager that surprised her.

“What’s funny is that they actually added time to my ready time. They made [Seven’s] prosthetics more complicated to put on. So now I actually do have prosthetic makeup to add, outside of the full Borg suit and makeup, that I didn’t have on the old show.” (And yes, fans, she still has Seven’s original facial appliances somewhere in her house. “Though it’s pretty crunchy at this point,” she says. She also got to keep her first new set of appliances from Picard.)

(10) UNMAKING BOOK. Publishers Weekly reports “In 2021 Budget Proposal, Trump Once Again Seeks to End Federal Library Funding”.

For a fourth straight year, the Trump administration has once again proposed the permanent elimination of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and with it virtually all federal funding for libraries.

…In a statement, IMLS officials confirmed the Trump Administration will once again propose the elimination of the agency, with $23 million reportedly proposed in the 2021 budget proposal to wind the agency down.

The good news for library supporters: for the last three years, the library community has not only successfully countered the administration’s proposal to axe the IMLS—the agency through which most federal library funding is distributed in the form of grants to states— but IMLS has actually seen increases in each of the last three years. The FY2020 budget, which Trump signed in January, included a $10 million increase to the IMLS budget, including $6.2 million for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), the largest increase in LSTA funding in over a decade.

(11) FAKIN’ BACON. FastCompany tells how they’re doing it: “This bacon looks like the real thing as it sizzles—but it’s made from fungus”.

Most fake meat products get protein from a small group of plants. In the case of the Beyond Burger or Nestle’s Awesome Burger, the main ingredient is pea protein; the Impossible Burger gets protein from soy and potatoes. Kellogg’s “Incogmeato” line is made with soy. But one new Bay Area startup relies on fungus instead—specifically, koji, the fungus used to make sake.

The startup, called Prime Roots, launched limited sales of its first product—a fungi-based bacon—online today. Bacon “is a very underserved meat alternative,” says Prime Roots cofounder Kimberly Le. “There’s a lot of ground beef out there. But there isn’t as much in the way of whole-muscle meat or a more formed product like bacon or chicken breast, which is something that koji does really well at replicating.”

(12) ALONG CAME JONES. Harrison Ford is making the rounds to promote the next Indy film. The Hollywood Reporter got an article out of his appearance on Ellen: “‘Indiana Jones 5’ Will Begin Filming This Summer, Harrison Ford Says”.

The 77-year-old actor told host DeGeneres that filming would begin late this summer. 

“it’s going to be fun,” Ford said. “They are great fun to make.” 

The upcoming film’s title has yet to be revealed. 

Ford has a TV interview about the production that will air on Sunday – here’s a teaser.

In this preview of a conversation with correspondent Lee Cowan to be broadcast on “CBS Sunday Morning” on February 16, Harrison Ford, the actor who has played iconic characters in the “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones franchises, talks about returning to familiar roles.

(13) I’VE BEEN THINKING. Maltin on Movies visited with Craig Ferguson.

Craig Ferguson is one of the funniest men on the planet, as he proves yet again in his multi-episode web series Hobo Fabulous, a hybrid of stand-up comedy and documentary on the Comedy Dynamics network. It’s no surprise that the former late-night host is a master of conversation, leaving Leonard and Jessie to marvel at his rapid-fire mind. He has significant film credits, as well, not the least being his voice-over work in the How to Train Your Dragon animated features. Be sure to listen if you’re in need of cathartic laughter.

(14) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Hair Love–Oscar Winning Short Film” on YouTube is the animated feature by Matthew A. Cherry that won this year’s Oscar for best short animated film.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to PJ Evans with an assist from Anna Nimmhaus.]

Pixel Scroll 1/23/20 No-One Expects The Scrollish Pixelation!

(1) THE DOCTOR IS STILL IN. Entertainment Weekly confirms “Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker will play time traveler for at least one more season”.

… “I’ve seen loads of fan art, which I always love,” she says. “But it’s never been that great for me to immerse myself in noise that you can’t control, good or bad. I think both are a rabbit hole that you shouldn’t necessarily go down. We know that we work really hard for the show to be the best it can be in this moment. Once it’s out in the ether, how people feel, in a way, is kind of irrelevant.”

But Whittaker isn’t going anywhere. The length of time an actor has played the Doctor has varied over the years — back in the ’70s and ’80s, Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor piloted the TARDIS for seven seasons; in the aughts, Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor survived just one. So, will Whittaker return for a third run of shows? “Yes, I’m doing another season,” she confirms. “That might be a massive exclusive that I’m not supposed to say, but it’s unhelpful for me to say [I don’t know] because it would be a massive lie! [Laughs] I absolutely adore it. At some point, these shoes are going to be handed on, but it’s not yet. I’m clinging on tight!”

(2) GUINAN. Patrick Stewart, while appearing on The View, extended an invitation to host Whoopi Goldberg to appear in Picard’s second season. See 4-minutue video here. Stewart said —

“I’m here with a formal invitation, and it’s for you, Whoopi.  Alex Kurtzman, who is the senior executive producer of Star Trek: Picard, and all his colleagues, of which I am one, want to invite you into the second season.”

The crowd delivered a standing ovation as Goldberg and Stewart hugged, and Goldberg replied, “Yes, yes, yes!” 

(3) THE PEOPLE ALL RIDE IN A WORMHOLE IN THE GROUND. The New York Post tells readers “Here’s where to get ‘Star Trek: Picard’ MetroCards featuring Patrick Stewart”.

“Star Trek: Picard” is beaming to a subway station near you.

For three weeks starting Thursday, when the show premieres on CBS All Access, the series will be promoted on special MetroCards available at six MTA stations in Manhattan.

In the drama, Sir Patrick Stewart, 79, reprises his “Star Trek: The Next Generation” role of Jean-Luc Picard, the retired Starfleet admiral and former captain of the Starship Enterprise who is living out his latter days on his family’s vineyard in France. Fittingly, the subway promotion will showcase two different cards — one featuring Picard on the front and his family’s sweeping vineyard on the back, the other with Picard’s dog, No. 1, on the front and several planets on the flip side.

(4) IS PICARD MESSAGE-HEAVY? The Daily Beast argues “‘Star Trek: Picard,’ With Its Refugee Crisis and Anti-Trump Messaging, May Be the Most Political Show on TV”.

…At the crux of the Picard premiere is a devastating monologue Stewart delivers recounting a catastrophic event that happened years before, triggering a refugee crisis and driving Picard to quit his position in the Starfleet, disgusted by what the organization and the Federation now stood for. 

It might sound in the weeds if you’re not a Trekkie, but the basics of the plot are refreshingly simple. 

A supernova blast threatened the planet Romulus. Despite their antagonistic relationship, the Federation agreed to rescue the Romulan people. But in the midst of the rescue mission, synthetic lifeforms like Data, who helped Picard pilot his ship, went rogue and destroyed the Federation’s base on Mars, killing over 90,000 people. In the wake of the incident, synthetic lifeforms were banned, a decision that appalled Picard and caused him to quit before he carried out his Romulan rescue mission. 

“It has always been part of the content of Star Trek that it will be attempting to create a better future with the certain belief that a better future is possible if the right kind of work and the right kind of people are engaged in that,” Stewart told reporters. “And my feeling was, as I look all around our world today, there has never been a more important moment when entertainment and show business can address some of the issues that are potentially damaging our world today.” 

(5) CLONE WARS TRAILER. The final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars starts streaming Feb. 21 on DisneyPlus.

One of the most critically-acclaimed entries in the Star Wars saga will be returning for its epic conclusion with twelve all-new episodes on Disney+ beginning Friday, February 21. From Dave Filoni, director and executive producer of “The Mandalorian,” the new Clone Wars episodes will continue the storylines introduced in the original series, exploring the events leading up to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

(6) HAVE SPACEWORTHY 3D PRINTER, WILL TRAVEL. Daniel Dern looks into “NASA’s 3D Printing Space Initiatives” in an article for GrabCAD.

…The SLS [Space Launch System] is intended to be the primary launch vehicle of NASA’s deep space. By manufacturing as many of the engine’s parts as possible (like the fuel injectors, turbo pumps, valves, and main injectors) with 3D printing, NASA can significantly reduce time and money spent.

“NASA is on track to reduce the number of individual parts by an order of magnitude — from hundreds to tens — and reduce the cost of the entire engine by 30% and later by 50%, and the build time by 50%,” John explains.

Dern notes, “This is the 3rd or 4th NASA-related article I’ve gotten to do over the past six months. I had a lot of fun researching and writing this, and hope find more assignments on this stuff over the coming year.”

(7) WHAT IT TAKES. “Oscar-nominated filmmaker Chris Butler’s top animation tips” – BBC video.

Film writer and director Chris Butler, who has been nominated for an Oscar, has said anyone who wants to be an animator needs to be prepared for “hard work”.

His film Missing Link is up against Toy Story 4 in the Animated Feature category, but Butler, from Maghull, Merseyside, has already beaten it – and Frozen II – to a Golden Globe.

He said he was “shell-shocked” when it was announced as the winner earlier this month – so much so that he cannot remember going on stage to collect the award.

Butler said making animated films was “not easy” and warned that budding filmmakers have to “put in long hours” to make it in the industry.

(8) STONE AGE. First Fandom Experience not only remembers when — “In 1939, Lithography Came To Fanzines — But Why?”. Zine scans at the link.

Beginning in 1932, Conrad H. Ruppert reshaped the world of fan publications with the printing press he bought with money saved by working in his father’s bakery. He printed issues of the most prominent fanzines of the period, including The Time Traveller, Science Fiction Digest, and Charles D. Hornig’s The Fantasy Fan. It’s not unreasonable to assert that the professional appearance of Hornig’s leaflet-sized ‘zine contributed to his ascension to the editorship of Wonder Stories at the age of 17….

(9) THOSE DARN FANS. RS Benedict posted a new episode of the Rite Gud podcast — “This is the first of a two-part series about the dark side of fandom. Why does fandom turn toxic? Can over-investment in fandom stunt your social and artistic growth?” The first episode is here: “The Dark Side of Fandom, Part 1: Have You Accepted Spider-Man as Your Lord and Savior?”

Tim Heiderich of Have You Seen This took the time to talk to us about the creative perils of fandom. Fandom can be fun, but it can also turn ugly too, or it can keep us so busy focusing on someone else’s work that we fail to develop our own talents.

This was a huge conversation, so we split it into two parts. In the first installment, we talk about toxic fandom, simulacra, and the siren song of nostalgia.

(10) EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT. “Orange Mike” Lowrey’s TAFF win attracted local media attention: “From Chester County High School to Stockholm and Birmingham (England)” in the Chester County Independent.

…Lowrey has been attending these conventions since 1975 and loves it. He said he loves how the conventions are filled with interesting, intelligent people. The interaction of science fiction fans overseas is awesome as well he said.
“I got people I consider good friends that I never met before,” he said.
He actually met the woman whom he would spend his life with and marry, C.K. “Cicatrice” Hinchliffe of Bertram, Iowa, at the local Milwaukee science fiction convention in 1981.
Lowrey graduated from Chester County High School in 1971 and earned a magna cum laude degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In addition to his job with the State of Wisconsin, he’s been working as a writer and editor since 1984.
He is also a bookseller, serves as a local president and state executive board member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and acts as a volunteer administrator for Wikipedia. He has had book reviews published and also Dungeon and Dragon articles published in Dragon magazine.

(11) KARLEN OBIT. John Karlen , the actor who played multiple roles (Willie Loomis, Carl Collins, William H. Loomis, Desmond Collins, Alex Jenkins and Kendrick Young) on the ABC serial Dark Shadows died January 22 at the age of 86.

(12) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • January 23, 1954Killers From Space made it to your local drive-in. It was produced and directed by W. Lee Wilder, brother of Billy Wilder. It has a cast of Peter Graves, Barbara Bestar and James Seay. We should note that Killers From Space came about as a commissioned screenplay from Wilder’s son Myles Wilder and their regular collaborator William Raynor. How was it received? Not well. There was, in the opinion of critics, way too much too talk, too little action, poor production values… you get the idea. Though they liked Graves. Who doesn’t? Reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give it a decidedly unfavourable rating of just 24%. 
  • January 23, 1974 The Questor Tapes first aired on NBC. Created and written by Roddenberry himself with Gene L Coon as co-writer, it was by Richard Colla. It starred Robert Foxworth, Mike Farrell and John Vernon. (Fontana’s novelisation would be dedicated to Coon who died before it aired.) though it was intended to be a pilot fir a series, conflict between Roddenberry and the network doomed the series. It would place fifth in the final Hugo balloting the following year at Aussiecon One with Young Frankenstein being the Hugo winner.
  • January 23, 1985 — The Rankin-Bass version of ThunderCats premiered in syndication. Leonard Starr was the primary writer with the animation contracted to the Japanese studio Pacific Animation Corporation, with Masaki Iizuka as the production manager. It would run for four years and one and thirty episodes. Need we note that a vast media empire of future series, films, comics, t-shirts, statues, action figures and so forth have developed since then?

(13) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 23, 1923 Walter M. Miller Jr. He’s best remembered  for A Canticle for Leibowitz, the only novel he published in his lifetime. Terry Bisson would finish off the completed draft that he left of Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, a sequel of sorts to the first novel. He did a fair amount of short fiction as well. He’s poorly represented both digitally and in the dead tree sense as well beyond A Canticle for Leibowitz. (Died 1996.)
  • Born January 23, 1932 Bart LaRue. He was the voice of The Guardian  of  Forever in the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode of Trek as well as doing voice roles in “Bread and Circuses” (on-screen too) “The Gamesters of Triskelion” as Provider 1 (uncredited) “Patterns of Force” as an Ekosian newscaster (Both voice and on-screen) and “The Savage Curtain” as Yarnek. He did similar work for Time Tunnel, Mission Impossible, Voyage to The Bottom of The Sea, The Andromeda StrainWild Wild West, Land of Giants and Lost in Space. (Died 1990.)
  • Born January 23, 1939 Greg and Tim Hildebrandt. Greg’s aged eighty one years, and Tim passed in 2006. I’d say best known for their very popular and ubiquitous Lord of the Rings calendar illustrations, also for illustrating comics for Marvel Comics and DC Comics. They also did a lot of genre covers so I went to ISFDB and checked to see if I recognized any. I certainly did. There was Zelazny’s cover of My Name is Legion, Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham and Poul Anderson’s  A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows. Nice.
  • Born January 23, 1942 Brian Coucher, 78. He appeared in three genre series — first  the second actor to portray Travis in Blake’s 7 and also as Borg in the Fourth Doctor story, “The Robots of Death”. Finally genre wise he appeared in a Doctor Who spin-off that I’ve never heard existed, Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans. No Who characters appeared though Sophie Alfred played someone other than Ace here. 
  • Born January 23, 1943 Gil Gerard, 77. Captain William “Buck” Rogers in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century which I fondly remember as a really a truly great SF series even if it really wasn’t that great. He also shows up in the very short lived E.A.R.T.H. Force as Dr. John Harding, and he’s General Morgenstern in Reptisaurus, a movie title that proves someone had a serious lack of imagination regarding titles that day. In Bone Eater, a monster film that Bruce Boxleitner also shows up in as Sheriff Steve Evans, he plays Big Jim Burns, the Big Bad. Lastly I’d like to note that he got to play Admiral Sheehan in the “Kitumba” episode of fan created Star Trek: New Voyages. 
  • Born January 23, 1950 Richard Dean Anderson, 70. Unless you count MacGyver as genre which I can say is open to debate, his main and rather enduring SF role was as Jack O’Neill in the many Stargate Universe series. Well Stargate SG-1 really as he only briefly showed up on Stargate Universe and Stargate Atlantis whereas he did one hundred and seventy-three episodes of SG-1. Wow. Now his only other SF role lasted, err, twelve episodes in which he played Enerst Pratt alias Nicodemus Legend in the most excellent Legend co-starring John de Lancie. Yeah, I really liked it. And damn it should’ve caught on. 
  • Born January 23, 1976 Tiffani Thiessen, 44. Better known by far by me at least her role as Elizabeth Burke on the White Collar series which might be genre adjacent, she did end up in three films of genre interest: From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th (a parade of the Friday the 13th films) and Cyborg Soldier. They’re average rating at Rotten Tomatoes among reviewers is fifteen percent in case you were wondering how good they were. 
  • Born January 23, 1973 Lanei Chapman, 47. She’s most remembered as Lt. Vanessa Damphousse on Space: Above and Beyond, a series that ended well before it should’ve ended. She made her genre debut on Next Gen as Ensign Sariel Rager, a recurring character who was a conn officer. 
  • Born January 23, 1977 Sonita Henry, 43. Her very first was as President’s Aide on Fifth Element. She was a Kelvin Doctor in the rebooted Star Trek film, and she’s Colonel Meme I the Eleventh Doctor story, “The Time of The Doctor”.  Her latest is playing Raika on Krypton.

(14) COMICS SECTION.

(15) AND SPREAD HIM OUT THIN. Adweek says “Rest in Peace, Mr. Peanut—Planters Kills Off Iconic Mascot in Lead-Up to Super Bowl”.  

… In a shocking move, Planters, the Kraft-Heinz-owned snack brand, has killed off its iconic mascot in a teaser for its Big Game spot. Mr. Peanut’s untimely demise began with a Nutmobile crash, followed by falling off a cliff and ending in an explosion.

… And when will the classic mascot be memorialized? During Super Bowl 2020, naturally.

…The loss of Mr. Peanut is a major moment for the brand. Planters first introduced Mr. Peanut to audiences in 1916, meaning that the mascot has been around since the midst of World War I, making him of the longest-standing brand mascots of all time.

The spot, which will air during the third quarter of the Big Game on Feb. 2, was produced by VaynerMedia. Planters also has several promotions and activations to honor Mr. Peanut’s life, including commemorative pins for fans who spot the Nutmobile on the streets and a hashtag, #RIPeanut, for fans to share their sympathies.

(16) POMPEII AND CIRCUMSTANCE. “Mount Vesuvius eruption: Extreme heat ‘turned man’s brain to glass'” – BBC has the story.

Extreme heat from the Mount Vesuvius eruption in Italy was so immense it turned one victim’s brain into glass, a study has suggested.

The volcano erupted in 79 AD, killing thousands and destroying Roman settlements near modern-day Naples.

The town of Herculaneum was buried by volcanic matter, entombing some of its residents.

A team of researchers has been studying the remains of one victim, unearthed at the town in the 1960s.

A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, said fragments of a glassy, black material were extracted from the victim’s skull.

Researchers behind the study believe the black material is the vitrified remains of the man’s brain.

(17) YOUR PAL IN SPACE. “Meet Vyom – India’s first robot ‘astronaut'” – BBC video.

India’s space agency has unveiled a robot that will travel to space later this year as part of an unmanned mission

Scientists hope that it will be able to later assist astronauts in a manned space mission called Gaganyaan, which is scheduled for December 2021.

Isro will conduct two unmanned missions – one in December this year and another in June 2021 – before the Gaganyaan mission.

The robot, which has been named Vyom Mitra (which translates from the Sanskrit to friend in space) is designed to perform a number of functions including responding to astronaut’s questions and performing life support operations.

(18) DO IT FOR SCIENCE. Public spirited citizens arise! “Wanted – volunteers to monitor Britain’s growing slug population”.

Citizen scientists are being sought to help carry out the first survey in decades of Britain’s slug populations.

To take part, all that’s required is curiosity, a garden, and a willingness to go out after dark to search for the likes of the great grey or yellow slug.

The year-long research project will identify different slug species and the features that tempt them into gardens.

The last study conducted in English gardens in the 1940s found high numbers of just nine species of slug.

Many more have arrived in recent years, including the Spanish slug, which is thought to have come in on salad leaves. Less than half of the UK’s 40 or more slug species are now considered native.

(19) TRANSMUTING GOLD TO LEAD. Iron Man never had days like this. GQ asks “Does Dolittle’s Box Office Flop Spell Trouble for Robert Downey Jr.?”

For over a decade, Robert Downey Jr. played MCU pillar Tony Stark, a billionaire superhero who would almost certainly consider Dolittle’s abysmal opening weekend earnings to be little more than pocket change.

Despite opening on a holiday weekend, RDJ’s Dolittle made just $29.5 million over the four-day period, and only an additional $17 million internationally. Dolittle cost a jaw-dropping $175 million to make, so those box office numbers are kind of catastrophic, with Universal expected to lose $100 million on the movie, according to The Wrap. Universal, it should be noted, also took a bath last month when the furry fever dream that is Cats flopped, but at least Cats only cost $90 million to make, so the loss isn’t quite as terrible.

The only slim hope for Dolittle’s prospects is a higher than expected haul in the international markets where it hasn’t opened yet—including China—but maybe don’t hold your breath.

It took the strain of wielding all six Infinity Stones to kill him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so Robert Downey Jr. will probably survive Dolittle’s bomb. Still… yikes.

(20) I SPY, AGAIN. “Twitter demands AI company stops ‘collecting faces'”

Twitter has demanded an AI company stop taking images from its website.

Clearview has already amassed more than three billion photographs from sites including Facebook and Twitter.

They are used by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security and more than 600 other law-enforcement agencies around the world to identify suspects.

In a cease-and-desist letter sent on Tuesday, Twitter said its policies had been violated and requested the deletion of any collected data.

…US senator Ron Wyden said on Twitter Clearview’s activities were “extremely troubling”.

“Americans have a right to know whether their personal photos are secretly being sucked into a private facial-recognition database,” he said.

“Every day, we witness a growing need for strong federal laws to protect privacy.”

(21) PYTHON PASSPORT. [Item by Hampus Eckerman.] A fitting (and unintentional) tribute to Terry Jones. I’d vote for a Brexit for this one if I could.

Original:

Sad to say, the Express graphic is fixed now — “Britons will fly to 2020 summer holiday destinations on classic BLUE passport”.

(22) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Model Citizen” on YouTube, David James Armsby portrays what seems to be the perfect nuclear family–but why is it controlled by evil robots?

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

Pixel Scroll 1/3/20 Please Vasten Your Seatbelts

(1) A CENTURY OF THE GOOD DOCTOR. This week Asimov would have been 100. James Gunn marked the occasion in an article for Science “Asimov at 100”.

A case can be made that, like H. G. Wells, Asimov came along at the right time. (Wells once commented that he made his writing debut in the 1890s, when the public was looking for new writers.) But Asimov also had a restless and productive mind. His early experience of reading, and then writing, science fiction gave his popular science writing a rare narrative model, while his fiction similarly benefited from his scientific training.

(2) NOW A JOURNALISTIC TECHNIQUE. [Item by Olav Rokne.] The Columbia Journalism Review, in “Journalism and the foreseeable future”, takes note of the trend in mainstream publishing to look at contemporaneous and emerging issues through the lens of science fiction. It’s a welcome trend that is producing excellent work we’ve seen featured on the Pixel Scroll several times, and I’m very glad to see this getting attention within journalistic circles. 

Despite its dangers, [Sam] Greenspan sees the value of speculative journalism’s mix of the true and the fanciful. “I think the goal should be to use fiction or sci-fi to tell a better true story,” he says. “And I’m taking seriously the kind of emotional impact these stories have on people. By introducing even just the slightest amount of something fantastical, it gives your audience permission to have their minds wander a bit from what we know to be true, and really opens up this window into possibility and hope.”

(3) GUD LISTENING. On the latest Rite Gud podcast R.S. Benedict’s guest is Stephen Mazur, associate editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They talk about whether or not originality really matters in writing. Stephen also gets into a bit of inside baseball regarding F&SF publishing: the recent history of the magazine, how many submissions they get, what kind of submissions they get, the process, etc.

(4) ROMANCE WRANGLERS BEWARE. Who but Chuck Tingle would add “no sex” as a selling point? Or need to?

Gorblin Crimble is an aspiring romance author with a brand new novel that could be his first breakthrough hit. Of course, Gorblin is going to need some help getting his work out there, and starts by seeking likeminded creatives.

After attending a local writer’s group, Gorblin makes a new friend, Amber, who points him towards Romance Wranglers Of America. It sounds like this community is exactly the helpful, loving, supportive group that Gorblin is looking for, but when him and Amber arrive at the Romance Wranglers Of America headquarters, they quickly realize something is wrong. This once loving group has been taken over by a dark and mysterious force; lead by a man named Demon and his chanting coven of board members in jet-black robes.

Something horrible from the depths of the cosmic Void has taken hold, but is it too late to prove that romance is about love, not hate?

This important no-sex tale is 4,300 words of reasonable writers looking for a kind and supportive romance community that respects its members and treats them fairly.

(5) SFF ZINES. Jason Sanford today posted three more interviews with editors done in conjunction with his fine “#SFF2020: The State of Genre Magazines” report.

Jason Sanford: I suspect most people in the SF/F genre don’t understand the difficulties of publishing a magazine. What’s one aspect of running a genre magazine you wish more readers and writers knew about?

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas: We think it’s important that people know the financial margins for magazines to stay in the black are razor thin, and that most of the magazines are unable to generate income for their publishers. (And many aren’t able to pay the editors.) Almost all of the income generated by magazines are going to the writers and artists….

Jason Sanford: Amazing Stories was the first science fiction magazine, and helped launch the pulp fiction era of the 1920s and ’30s. What is it like publishing a magazine with such history? Has that history presented any difficulties to your relaunch of the magazine?

Steve Davidson: Well, you get unexpected support and assistance;  a lot of people in the field are still very fond of both the magazine and its place in Science Fiction’s history.  But that brings with it two difficulties.  One, most younger fans among our potential market seem to assume that we’re publishing reprints of older works or new works in a golden-age style, despite the fact that promotion and discussion of the magazine – let alone our contributor’s own statements – clearly say otherwise.  We’re an old, venerable name in the genre publishing new, ground-breaking science fiction from the current era. …

Jason: In many ways Clarkesworld helped birth the current movement in online and genre magazines. How have things changed since the founding of Clarkesworld? Would you say it’s harder or easier to run a genre magazine these days?

Neil: It was a very different world for magazines in 2006. Online fiction wasn’t particularly respected. I remember having established authors tell me point-blank they wouldn’t publish online because it was the domain of “newbie writers and pirates.” The year’s best anthologies and various genre awards rarely featured works from those markets. With two-to-three years, that started changing and today, the awards have heavily swung the other direction – something you could reasonably argue is just as problematic….

(6) BURNED OUT. Australian fan Don Ashby, who lost his home to one of the fires now raging Down Under, was interviewed by The Age: “The sky turned black. The beast had arrived in Mallacoota”. (Via Irwin Hirsh.)

When Don Ashby caught a lift through town on Tuesday afternoon, he counted as many as 20 properties destroyed. One was his mother-in-law’s mudbrick cottage. Another was his own home of 20 years.

Ashby had evacuated his family to Melbourne and spent Monday night helping a friend to defend her house.

It had been an exhausting night and morning, punctuated by the rapid combustion of gas cylinders at a nearby storage business.

“It was like we were in the middle of the battle of the Somme,” he said.

When he returned to his own home, it looked unscathed. Then he realised it was just the facade that had been untouched by fire. The rear of the house was a blazing ruin. With no CFA tankers nearby and no water pressure left to fight the fire, he could only stand and watch it burn.

“It is all a bit grim really,” he said. “We really copped it.

“I have been in a few bushfires before but nothing like this. Nothing like this has happened before. The whole of Gippsland was on fire.”

(7) BABY IT’S GOLD OUTSIDE. Plagiarism Today reports from the front in “The Battle Over ‘Baby Yoda’”.

…However, those were just the first drops of a tidal wave that came crashing down on the internet. Etsy, for example, is swarming with unauthorized Baby Yoda merchandise of all types and eBay is much the same way.

This has become the subject of a lot of media coverage as well, such as this article on The Nerdist highlight a Baby Yoda plush toy.

This glut of unauthorized toys isn’t due to a lack of effort on Disney’s part. Several artists have reported receiving takedown notices after selling Baby Yoda merchandise on such sites and even the toy referenced above was also removed. Still, it’s clear that the Baby Yoda craze has outpaced even Disney’s capacity for control.

And the issues aren’t just related to physical items. Back in November, the popular gif website Giphy pulled all of its Baby Yoda gifs. Though Disney was initially blamed for this, it turned out it was a proactive move by Giphy that aimed to head off potential legal action by Disney. Disney hadn’t done anything.

(8) 2020 SIR JULIUS VOGEL AWARD NOMINATIONS OPEN. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand (SFFANZ) is taking nominations for the 2020 Sir Julius Vogel awards until 11.59 pm NZT on March 31.

The awards recognise excellence and achievement in science fiction, fantasy, or horror works created by New Zealanders and New Zealand residents, and first published or released in the 2019 calendar year.

…A nomination made by a SFFANZ member carries a weight of two nominations, where non-members’ nominations carry a weight of one.

Full information about the awards, including the rules and criteria for the Sir Julius Vogel Award, can be found here. Eligibility list is here.

(9) PRO-ROWLING. Megan McArdle’s opinion piece in the Washington Post “Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture?” says that Rowling’s defense of Maya Forstater and her refusal to back down after social media protests shows that “the opinions of officious strangers, possibly thousands of miles away, who swarm social media like deranged starlings over and over again” can be safely ignored.

The censorious power of Mrs. Grundys always depends on the cooperation of the governed, which is why their regime collapsed the moment the baby boomers shrugged off their finger-wagging. If Rowling provides an unmissable public demonstration that it is safe to ignore the current crop, we can hope others will follow her example, and the dictatorship of the proscriptariat will fall as quickly as it arose.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • January 3, 1970 Doctor Who’s “Spearhead from Space” serial started airing. The Third Doctor as played by John Pertwee first appears in this episode. It would also be the first appearance of companion Liz Shaw who’s played by Caroline John. She only lasted a season because the next showrunner decided she was too intelligent to be a proper companion.
  • January 3, 1993 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered in television syndication. As you know, it would have a seven-year run with one seventy-six episodes in total. S.D. Perry wrote a sort of authorized ninth season in her Avatar novels. She’s written a number of Trek universe novels including a Section 31 one.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 3, 1892 J. R. R. Tolkien. I’m not going to waste my time detailing Tolkien to this group. My go-to book for him for him after over forty years of reading him remains The Hobbit. The book that still annoys me? The Two Towers. Best Tolkien experience? Seeing The Father Christmas Letters read live. (Died 1973.)
  • Born January 3, 1898 Doris Pitkin Buck. She’s got my feline curiosity aroused. Wiki says “She published numerous science fiction stories and poems, many of them in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.” That’s fine but there’s little said about her or how she came to be a SF writer. ESF notes her “still unpublished tale “Cacophony in Pink and Ochre” has long formed part of the announced contents of Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions.” So what do y”all do about her? (Died 1980.)
  • Born January 3, 1930 Stephen Fabian, 90. He specializes in genre illustration and cover art for books and magazines such as H. Warner’s The Werewolf of Ponkert which you can see here. I see he got a World Fantasy Award—Life Achievement, and was nominated seven times for Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Is that the most times for being nominated without winning? His collected works include Ladies & Legends and Women & Wonders. Of course, they’re genre. 
  • Born January 3, 1937 Glen A. Larson. Triple hitter as a producer, writer and director. Involved in Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 1980The Six Million Dollar Man, ManimalBuck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Knight Rider. He also was responsible for Magnum, P.I. which I love but I’ll be damned if I can figure any way to claim that’s even genre adjacent. He also did a lot of Battlestar Galactica novels, some with Ron Goulart. (Died 2014.)
  • Born January 3, 1940 Kinuko Y. Craft, 80. She is a Japanese-born American painter, illustrator and fantasy artist. True enough. So why is she here?  Because she had an amazing run of illustrating the covers of the Patricia McKillip novels until quite recently. I’m linking here to our review at Green Man of The Bards of Bone Plain for a favorite cover she did. There’s a slim volume on Imaginosis called Drawings & Paintings which collects some of her work.
  • Born January 3, 1956 Mel Gibson, 64. I know the first thing I saw was genre wise involving him was The Road Warrior in a cinema which would be some forty years ago. Likewise I saw Mad Max 2 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in cinemas, but I admit have mixed feelings about both of those films, though less about the latter as it’s at least fun. He’s in FairyTale: A True Story, a look at the the Cottingley Fairy photographs of the 1920s, and voices John Smith in Pocahontas. He plays Hamlet in Hamlet but I really don’t think I can call that genre, but I know some of you will. 
  • Born January 3, 1975 Danica McKellar, 45. From 2010–2013 and since 2018, she’s voiced Miss Martian in Young Justice. It’s just completed its third season and it’s most excellent! She’s done far, far more voice work than I can list here, so if you’ve got something you like that she’s done, do mention it. 
  • Born January 3, 1976 Charles Yu, 44. Taiwanese American writer. Author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and the short-story collections, Sorry Please Thank You and Third Class Superhero. His novel was ranked the year’s second-best science fiction novel by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas — runner up for the Campbell Memorial Award. 

(12) ALL ROBOT DOGS GO TO THE CLOUD. BuzzFeed: “While Americans Worry About The AI Uprising, People In Japan Are Learning To Love Their Robots — And Be Loved Back”.

It was before 10 a.m. on a gray summer Sunday, but already a small crowd had gathered outside Penguin Café at the end of a block in residential Tokyo. A woman named Kyoko, dressed in a white T-shirt and apron, unlocked the doors and motioned for everyone to come inside.

Half a dozen or so people filed in, several with signature pink dog carriers slung over their shoulders. As more entered, the group clustered at the center of the café. Carefully, they unzipped the mesh panels of their carriers and removed the small white and silver dogs inside, setting them down on the wooden floor. One owner peeled back a yellow blanket over a baby carrier strapped to her chest where she held her dog, still asleep.

Some of the owners fussed with the dogs’ outfits before putting them down — straightening a necktie or pulling up the elastic band on a pair of shorts. One owner had dressed their dog in a Hawaiian shirt, while another was wearing aviator goggles and had a strong resemblance to Snoopy. Several had tiny straw hats affixed between their ears. All the dogs were plastic, powered by facial recognition and artificial intelligence….

(13) BOOKMARKS. Nerds of a Feather features “6 Books With Yoon Ha Lee”.

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome? 

Thor: Metal Gods
is a Serial Box serialized novel by Aaron Stewart-Ahn (the lead writer), Jay Edidin, Brian Keene, and myself.  It features Thor and Loki, both coming to terms with old sins and old friends, a Korean tiger goddess, and a genderfluid space pirate and astronomer.  There are black holes, eldritch abominations, heavy metal, and mayhem.  We had terrific fun writing it and we hope you’ll enjoy it too.

(14) CLEANER OR MEANER? Daily Beast writer David Axe contemplates whether “It’s the First Orbiting Garbage Collector—or a New Kind of Space Weapon”.

… The European Space Agency is about to pull one of the bigger hunks of garbage from orbit. But there’s a problem: The same tech that could help make space cleaner might, in the long run, also make it more dangerous.

That’s because the ESA’s ClearSpace-1 orbital garbage truck, as well as other spacecraft like it, could double as a weapon. 

Swiss startup ClearSpace designed the ClearSpace-1 vehicle to intercept a chunk of debris, latch onto it, and drag it back into Earth’s atmosphere where it can safely burn up. The ESA has scheduled the clean-up mission for 2025 and has even identified its target: a 265-pound piece of an old rocket orbiting 310 miles above Earth’s surface.

The 2025 mission will involve what ClearSpace CEO Luc Piguet called “non-cooperative capture.” That is to say, the targeted piece of debris wasn’t designed with an interface or any other system that might help a clean-up craft grab onto it. 

(15) AMAZONS! A growing body of archaeological evidence shows that legends about the horseback-riding, bow-wielding female fighters were almost certainly rooted in reality. The Washington Post has the story: “Amazons were long considered a myth. These discoveries show warrior women were real. “

…In a landmark discovery revealed this month, archaeologists unearthed the remains of four female warriors buried with a cache of arrowheads, spears and horseback-riding equipment in a tomb in western Russia — right where Ancient Greek stories placed the Amazons.

The team from the Institute of Archaeology at the Russian Academy of Sciences identified the women as Scythian nomads who were interred at a burial site some 2,500 years ago near the present-day community of Devitsa. The women ranged in age from early teens to late 40s, according to the archaeologists. And the eldest of the women was found wearing a golden ceremonial headdress, a calathus, engraved with floral ornaments — an indication of stature.

(16) WORDSMITH ALSO TUNESMITH. Don’t say you never got the chance to hear Norman Spinrad sing. Today on Facebook he reminded people about the time he performed at the Cirque Electrique in Paris.

Not that I’m planning to ever give up my day job, but I’ve had a long slow minor career with music, something around a dozen songs written or co-written, something less than that creating and recording, occasional live performances too such as this one, my best I think.

(17) 2019. Joe Sherry explains his choices for the “Top 9 Books of the Year” at Nerds of a Feather.

7. Middlegame: Middlegame is perhaps the most ambitious novels from Seanan McGuire and is a showcase for her skill at telling a good and complex story. Twins, math, alchemy, murder, time-bending, family, secret organizations, impossible powers, and just about everything McGuire can throw into this wonderous novel. Seanan McGuire has blended together as much as she possibly could stuff into one novel and she makes the whole thing work. It’s impressive. McGuire goes big with Middlegame. Doubt Seanan McGuire at your peril. (my review)

(18) IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE HONOR OF THE THING. Publishers Weekly declared “Dav Pilkey Is PW’s Person of the Year for 2019”.

Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers, the ninth book in his popular children’s novel series, published in 2012, features a comic strip made by the book’s incorrigible pranksters George and Harold, the stars of the series. This comic-within-a-novel marks the first appearance of Dog Man, Pilkey’s lovable crime-fighting superhero, who is surgically constructed from the body of a cop and the head of his police dog companion after they were both injured in a typically Pilkey-style zany accident.

(19) VIDEO OF THE DAY.  From Savag Entertainment, “Timelapse Reveals How Clever This Billboard Ad For The BBC’s ‘Dracula’ Is.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Michael Toman, Olav Rokne, Contrarius, Daniel Dern, Chip Hitchcock, R.S. Benedict, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 12/13/19 All These Scrolls Are Yours, Except Tsundoku. Attempt No Pixels There

(1) MARVEL SNAPSHOTS. Kurt Busiek is overseeing a Marvel showcase series featuring history-making characters.

This March, prepare to see the greatest moments of Marvel’s 80-year history told like never before! In MARVEL SNAPSHOTS, industry legend Kurt Busiek will bring together incredible creative teams for eight standalone, double sized issues showcasing Marvel’s most beloved characters from the golden age to today. Like 1994’s critically acclaimed MARVELS series, MARVEL SNAPSHOTS will be tales told through the eyes of ordinary people, offering unique insights on the legendary mythos of the Marvel Universe. MARVELS SNAPSHOTS also reunites Busiek with renowned MARVELS co-creator Alex Ross who will be providing the series with his iconic painted covers.

It all begins with SUB-MARINER: MARVELS SNAPSHOT #1 when best-selling novelist and Emmy Award-winning TV writer Alan Brennert (L.A. LAW, TWILIGHT ZONE) and superstar artist Jerry Ordway (ALL-STAR SQUADRON, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS) unite to tell an unforgettable story about Marvel’s original antihero: Prince Namor!

Set circa World War II, things kick off with an action-packed tale featuring Namor, Betty Dean, and the All-Winners Squad–a dream come true for Brennert. “I can honestly say that I enjoyed working on this story more than any comics story I’ve done in years. I grew up reading (and loving) Marvel’s Golden Age heroes in the 1960s, in reprints in FANTASY MASTERPIECES. But I never thought I’d have a shot at writing them–especially the All-Winners Squad!–and I’m grateful to Kurt Busiek and Tom Brevoort for providing me the opportunity, and to Jerry Ordway for bringing it all to glorious life,” Brennert says. “I’m enormously proud of ‘Reunion’ and honored to be the first story published in MARVELS SNAPSHOTS.”

Artist Jerry Ordway is just as passionate about bringing this tale to life. “When I was offered this project, I jumped at it, being a big fan of the original MARVELS book by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. Getting to draw a Sub-Mariner story set in the 1940s, with appearances by the All-Winners Squad, lets me connect with Marvel’s World War II era history, and the work of Subby’s creator, Bill Everett,” says Ordway. “I’ve been a Marvel maniac from the age of 10, so this is pretty cool! Alan Brennert wrote a great script which fits neatly into the bigger tapestry that is the Marvel Universe. I’m thrilled to get to play in this sandbox after so many years as an artist.”

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Listeners are invited to join host Scott Edelman and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry for lunch in Little Italy on Episode 111 of the Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

My guest this time around is Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, who was a winner of the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award earlier this year for her work as a Guest Editor of Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue. She was also a 2019 Hugo Award finalist for Best Fan Writer. Her fiction has appeared in such magazines as Fireside and Uncanny, as well the anthologies Ghost in the Cogs and Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. She’s written non-fiction for The Boston Globe, Barnes & Noble, Tor.com, and other venues. She is a feminist scholar and disability rights activist (which I knew), but also a burlesque historian (which I did not know).

We lunched at La Tavola, where I’d previously joined Marv Wolfman during the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con. We discussed her roller coaster of emotions the night she won a Hugo Award earlier this year during the Dublin Worldcon, how that editorial gig increased her empathy, the way writing roleplaying games and being a Sherlock Holmes nerd taught her about world-building and led to her first professional fiction sales, the dinosaur-themed Twitter feed that gave birth to her most recently published short story, the novel she’s working on which she describes as The Conjuring meets The Stand, her expertise in obscenity law and fascination with the history of burlesque, why she felt the Bird Box novel handled blindness better than the movie, her background in competitive improv and the way that helped her within science fiction, advice on how not to let Internet trolls get you down, and much more.

(3) PILE PELION ON OSSA. John Scalzi chronicled the results of his Twitter poll which asks: “Would Baby Yoda eat a porg?” (Is it cannibalism if one cute thing eats another cute thing?) Thread starts here.

(4) JUST PLAIN FOLKS TALES. RS Benedict has released another episode of the Rite Gud podcast, “No More Heroes with JR Dawson”. In this interview with sff short fiction author JR Dawson, they talk about writing fiction that doesn’t focus on Big Important Heroes of Destiny. It’s called No More Heroes.

Much of speculative literature focuses on superheroes and Chosen Ones. But what about ordinary people or flawed people who don’t save the world? Do they matter?

Sci-fi/fantasy author JR Dawson joins us to talk about why she writes about ordinary people, and how privilege and inequality warp our idea of whose story deserves to be told. She also talks about being a Midwestern writer, her favorite literary losers and that time Hans Christian Andersen got really weird with Charles Dickens’ family.

(5) BEST SFF. Andrew Liptak chimes in with “The best science fiction and fantasy books of 2019” at Polygon. (It’s interesting to see that several of the year’s most-discussed books only made his Honorable Mentions.)

Here’s one that made the list —

The Waste Tide by Chen Quifan

Cixin Liu might have become the best-known science fiction writers to come out of China, but he’s far from the only one. Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide is a far cry from Liu’s epic science fiction tales, taking a grim look at the near future of China, where impoverished workers struggle to make a living from the world’s electronic waste.

Waste Tide follows a series of people who come together in Silicone Isle: Mimi, a worker who heads there for work; Scott Brandle, an American who is trying to arrange a contract; and Chen Kaizong, a translator, all of whom find themselves wrapped up in a greater plot for control. It’s a book that reminded me quite a bit of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, with a pointed commentary on class warfare and the lifecycle of the devices we use.

(6) HAPPY BLANDINGS. At Tor.com, James Davis Nicoll wryly claims “SFF Needs More Incompetent Autocrats”. This turns out to be a Wodehouse tribute as much as anything.

One of SFF’s grand traditions is carefully filing the serial numbers off historical events (the American Revolutionary War, perhaps, or the Napoleonic Wars), or famous and classic works (Lord of the Rings, the Hornblower series, Zulu), and re-purposing the result as SFF. This is usually known as “research” (See Tom Lehrer on this point). Examples abound—my disinclination to deal with crowds of irate authors protesting at my door precludes naming them here….

(7) HOLLYWOOD HISTORY. Profiles in History’s “Hollywood: A Collector’s Ransom Auction” has all kinds of genre movie props, models, and figurines. It even has examples of correspondence between director Sam Peckinpah and Ray Bradbury. “Ray and Sam would lunch (hoist a few pints) at the Formosa Café,” recalls John King Tarpinian.

(8) A PYTHON SPEAKS. Leonard and Jesse interviewed Terry Gilliam for their Maltin on Movies podcast.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote completes a quest that has consumed Terry Gilliam for thirty years, but as Leonard and Jessie learned, he bears his burdens lightly. He made his name supplying unique animated sequences for   Monty Python’s Flying Circus and his films include Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, and The Fisher King. He’s a delightful man with stories to tell (about everyone from Robin Williams to Heath Ledger) and a great outlook on life.

(9) MICROLOAN. Rachel Swirsky signal-boosted an “Opportunity to Support a Palestinian Library” and so will we.

I’ve been making microloans through Kiva.org through years, and this project caught my eye. A Palestinian woman is looking to convert an old house into a library and bookshop: 

Check it out at Kiva: https://www.kiva.org/lend/1893559

Duha is a nice girl who lives with her family in a small humble house near Ramallah. Duha has an amazing idea: she decided to restore an old house to make it a library and a place to sell books and other stationery.

She went to Palestine for Credit and Development (FATEN) to request a loan to help her to cover all restoration expenses to convert the old house into a library. Duha hopes that all the students and residents of the area will benefit from the library.

(10) OVERCOMING REJECTION. Alex Woolf advocates “Seven Ways to Grow Your Resilience as a Writer” at the SFWA Blog.

Study the nuances of rejection
In the miserable miasma of reading a fresh rejection, it can be easy to miss the nuggets of positivity and constructive feedback that are often contained in the message too. Some messages are form rejections, but it’s well-known that many venues have form messages that vary according to their take on the writer. A writer a venue wishes to encourage, for example, may get a standard message that’s quite different from the standard message that’s sent to a writer that for whatever reason they are never likely to publish.

So once the initial disappointment has subsided, make a point of going back to the message and seeing what you can learn from it for your next project or submission. Sometimes there is a valuable nugget in there (e.g. Try to use fewer adverbs or We felt we wanted to know more about what was happening from the protagonist’s perspective.) These are valuable insights that you can work with.

However disappointing the message, always send an acknowledgment – stay polite and professional. And if a venue says you should submit again, then do so, once or twice more at least. They didn’t have to say that, after all.

(11) YIKES! Bloomberg confirms “Silicon Valley Is Listening to Your Most Intimate Moments”.

Amazon declined interview requests for this story. In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman wrote, “Privacy is foundational to how every team and employee designs and develops Alexa features and Echo devices. All Alexa employees are trained on customer data handling as part of our security training.” The company and its competitors have said computers perform the vast majority of voice requests without human review.

Yet so-called smart devices inarguably depend on thousands of low-paid humans who annotate sound snippets so tech companies can upgrade their electronic ears; our faintest whispers have become one of their most valuable datasets. Earlier this year, Bloomberg News was first to report on the scope of the technology industry’s use of humans to review audio collected from their users without disclosures, including at Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. Few executives and engineers who spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek for this story say they anticipated that setting up vast networks of human listeners would be problematic or intrusive. To them, it was and is simply an obvious way to improve their products.

… Several of the big tech companies tweaked their virtual-assistant programs this year after a steady drip of news reports. While Google has paused human transcriptions of Assistant audio, Apple has begun letting users delete their Siri history and opt out of sharing more, made sharing recordings optional, and hired many former contractors directly to increase its control over human listening. Facebook and Microsoft have added clearer disclaimers to their privacy policies. And Amazon has introduced a similar disclosure and started letting Alexa users opt out of manual reviews. “It’s a well-known thing in the industry,” Amazon’s Limp recently said about human transcription teams. “Whether it was well known among press or customers, it’s pretty clear we weren’t good enough there.”

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Cat Eldridge emailed that he needed urgent care for some physical problems – I hope they are able to get him feeling better soon. Go ahead and mention birthdays you know about in the comments.]

(13) STAR TREK SHIP IN A BOTTLE. So is there a teeny-tiny Kirk and Spock in there somewhere?

On this episode of Ben’s Worx I make a ship in a bottle with epoxy resin and Australian burl.

(14) RABID IN THE NORTHWEST. Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, was referenced by the Guardian in a story about a Washington state representative: “Report on far-right Republican Matt Shea in hands of Washington legislators”

Outside investigators have submitted a report to the Washington state house about the activities of the far-right Republican state representative Matt Shea, but legislators on both sides of the aisle remain tight-lipped about its contents.

…Last Monday the independent investigator, the Rampart Group, presented their findings to the chief clerk of the Washington state legislature . He in turn delivered the findings to the executive rules committee, composed of leaders of both parties in the house.

…Shea, meanwhile, was interviewed last week on Infowars’ David Knight Show, where he attacked perceived critics.

Shea then quoted Theodore Beale, whom the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes as a “champion of the alt right movement”, and whose blog is described as a home of “misogynistic, white supremacist diatribes”.

“Social justice warriors always lie, they always double down on their lie, and they always try to project on to you how they really are themselves,” Shea said.

(15) HIGH-STAKES COMICS AUCTION. Heritage Auctions brought home the bacon again: “Marvel Comics #1 Brings Record $1.26 Million to Lead Heritage Auctions’ Comics & Comic Art Auction Beyond $14.9 Million”.

The finest known copy of Marvel Comics No. 1, sold for $1,260,000 to lead Heritage Auctions’ record-setting Comics & Comic Art auction to $14,936,295 Nov. 21 in Dallas, Texas.

The second-largest comic auction of all time, trailing only the $15,121,405 realized in Heritage Auctions’ Chicago Comics & Comic Art Auction in May 2019, this sale included 15 lots that sold for at least $100,000.

…The issue, with famous cover art by Frank R. Paul and interior art by a group of illustrators that included Bill Everett, Carl Burgos and Paul Gustavson, was purchased by a Pennsylvania postal carrier who bought every No. 1 issue he could of both comic books and magazines, beginning in the 1940s. It’s grade of 9.4 on a scale of 1-10 makes it the best copy of the issue ever found, according to Certified Guaranty Company (CGC).

More than two dozen collectors made bids for Robert Crumb Your Hytone Comix #nn “Stoned Agin!” Inside Back Cover Original Art (Apex Novelties, 1971) before it closed at $690,000, breaking the record for the most ever paid for an interior piece of comic art. Created at the height of the artist’s popularity, the image is instantly recognizable, even by many who don’t know the work of Crumb, who is revered for his contribution to the underground comics movement in the 1960s. This iconic image was reproduced countless times, including on a blacklight poster, on pinback buttons, postcards and t-shirts.

Neal Adams Batman #251 Cover The Joker Original Art (DC, 1973) sold for $600,000, the most ever paid through Heritage Auctions for a piece of DC art. The spectacular image of one of the most famous Joker covers of all time debuted a new version of the villain, trumpeting the return of the Joker after a four-year hiatus from Batman comics….

(16) HE CREATED THE UBIQUITOUS MARKS. NPR reports “IBM Engineer Who Designed The Universal Product Code Dies At 94”.

On a June morning in 1974, a Marsh Supermarket cashier in Troy, Ohio, rang up a 67-cent pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum using something novel — the black and white stripes of a universal bar code.

The Universal Product Code is now a packaging mainstay on everything from cereal boxes and produce to electronics and airplane tickets, but it might not have worked without IBM engineer George Laurer.

Laurer, who died this month at 94 in North Carolina, had been given an assignment by his manager: Write a proposal for grocery executives explaining how IBM would take a previously invented bar code pattern, in the shape of a bull’s-eye, and make it work in supermarkets across the country.

But when that manager returned from a vacation, Laurer was there to meet him. “I didn’t do what you asked,” he said.

Instead, Laurer had created something else — the bull’s-eye was gone and in its place was a linear bar code. Laurer had deemed the bull’s-eye design unworkable. The circular code, inspired by Morse code and patented by N. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1952, was too small, and it would smear when run through the poor-quality printing presses used for most food labels at the time.

(17) SIMMERING. Kotaku discovered that “Baby Yoda Can Be Bought In The Sims 4”.

Because EA owns The Sims, and because EA also has the rights to Star Wars video games, we finally have a digital tie-in with the new live-action Mandalorian series. It’s not a Carl Weathers outfit. It’s not a “Bounty Hunter” job for your Sim. It’s a Baby Yoda statue you can buy and put in your yard.

(18) IN SEARCH OF REPRODUCIBLE RESULTS. They hope a tool will make them easier to come by. “Can A Research Accelerator Solve The Psychology Replication Crisis?”

In 2008, psychologists proposed that when humans are shown an unfamiliar face, they judge it on two main dimensions: trustworthiness and physical strength. These form the basis of first impressions, which may help people make important social decisions, from whom to vote for to how long a prison sentence should be.

To date, the 2008 paper — written by Nikolaas Oosterhof of Dartmouth College and Alexander Todorov of Princeton University — has attracted more than a thousand citations, and several studies have obtained similar findings. But until now, the theory has been replicated successfully only in a handful of settings, making its findings biased toward nations that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — or WEIRD, a common acronym used in academic literature.

Now, one large-scale study suggests that although the 2008 theory may apply in many parts of the world, the overall picture remains complex. An early version was published at PsyArXiv Preprints on Oct. 31. The study is under review at the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The study is the first conducted through the Psychological Science Accelerator, a global network of more than 500 labs in more than 70 countries. The accelerator, which launched in 2017, aims to redo older psychology experiments but on a mass scale in several different settings. The effort is one of many targeting a problem that has plagued the discipline for years: the inability of psychologists to get consistent results across similar experiments, or the lack of reproducibility.

(19) THEY LIE, YOU KNOW. “How ‘dark patterns’ influence travel bookings” – BBC will explain.

If you’ve wondered whether there were actually 30 people trying to book the same flight as you, you’re not alone. As Chris Baraniuk finds, the numbers may not be all they seem.

Ophir Harpaz just wanted to get a good deal on a flight to London. She was on travel website OneTravel, scouring various options for her trip. As she browsed, she noticed a seemingly helpful prompt: “38 people are looking at this flight”. A nudge that implied the flight might soon get booked up, or perhaps that the price of a seat would rise as they became scarcer.

Except it wasn’t a true statement. As Harpaz looked at that number, “38 people”, she began to feel sceptical. Were 38 people really looking at that budget flight to London at the same exact moment?

Being a cyber-security researcher, she was familiar with web code so she decided to examine how OneTravel displayed its web pages. (Anyone can do this by using the “inspect” function on web browsers like Firefox and Chrome.) After a little bit of digging she made a startling discovery – the number wasn’t genuine. The OneTravel web page she was browsing was simply designed to claim that between 28 and 45 people were viewing a flight at any given moment. The exact figure was chosen at random.

Not only that, the website’s innards were surprisingly blatant about what was going on. The bit of code that defined the number shown to users was even labelled “view_notification_random”.

(20) MECHANICAL BULLS***. “General Election 2019: How computers wrote BBC election result stories”.

For the first time, BBC News published a news story for every constituency that declared election results overnight – all written by a computer.

It was the BBC’s biggest test of machine-generated journalism so far.

Each of nearly 700 articles – most in English but 40 of them in Welsh – was checked by a human editor before publication.

The head of the project said the tech was designed to enhance the service provided rather than to replace humans.

“This is about doing journalism that we cannot do with human beings at the moment,” said Robert McKenzie, editor of BBC News Labs.

“Using machine assistance, we generated a story for every single constituency that declared last night with the exception of the one that hasn’t finished counting yet. That would never have been possible.”

VIDEO OF THE DAY. In Quail on Vimeo, Grant Kolton explains that if you want to be a quail, it’s hard work!

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

Pixel Scroll 7/15/19 There Are More Scrolls In Heaven And Earth, Horatio, Than Are Dreamt Of In Your Pixelology

(1) OLD HOME PLANET WEEK. ScienceFiction.com reports “LeVar Burton Expects Geordi La Forge To Pop Up On ‘Star Trek: Picard’”.

LeVar Burton says that he expects to be invited to appear as Geordi La Forge on the upcoming CBS All Access series ‘Star Trek: Picard’ starring his old ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ captain Patrick Stewart.  Furthermore, Burton expects other cast members to return as well.  But not all at the same time.

“Each of us, I would say certainly, right?  It is unreasonable to assume that he doesn’t know those people anymore, or that he stopped talking to them. And if he did there’s good storytelling in why.  Are you gonna see all of us together, again, in a scene or episode? I don’t know.  There’s a lot of paper that needs to be papered, before we get there.”

(2) GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED. The latest Two Chairs Talking podcast with Perry Middlemiss and David Grigg is a discussion of fanzines highlighted by an interview with Bruce Richard Gillespie: “Episode 7: All this I speak in print, for in print I found it”.

(3) FOLLOW THE MONEY. The Bank of England reveals the new face on its £50 note: “Alan Turing to feature on new £50 note”

Alan Turing, the scientist known for helping crack the Enigma code during the second world war and pioneering the modern computer, has been chosen to appear on the new £50 note.

The mathematician was selected from a list of almost 1,000 scientists in a decision that recognised both his role in fending off the threat of German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic and the impact of his postwar persecution for homosexuality.

The announcement by the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, completes the official rehabilitation of Turing, who played a pivotal role at the Bletchley Park code and cipher centre.

(4) FILLING THE INTELLECTUAL PANTRY. The latest Kittysneezes podcast episode concerns a topic that Filers might find very provocative. It’s called Reed Gud, Part 1, or Other Books Than ‘Harry Potter’ Exist:

In this week’s episode, R.S. Benedict is joined by Gareth and Langdon of Death Sentence, a podcast about books for people who hate books, podcasts and capitalism but like metal. And in order to Rite Gud, you’ve got to Reed Gud — in particular, why you need to read books other than Harry Potter

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with reading and enjoying Harry Potter. But you also need to read other books. Cultural intake is like a diet. There’s nothing wrong with eating chicken fingers and fries sometimes, but to be healthy you really need a variety of foods, and as an adult you probably should develop a more refined palate than just eating the same tater tots and spaghettiOs you lived on as a kid.

(5) SHORT SFF RECS. Rocket Stack Rank’s Eric Wong says, “RSR’s monthly ratings for July 2019 has been posted with 10 RSR-recommended stories out of 70 reviewed.” — “July 2019 Ratings”.

Here are some quick highlights by pivoting the July Ratings by story length, new writers, and authors. (Click links to see the different views.)

  • Length: 4 novellas (2 recommended), 21 novelettes (5 recommended, 3 free online), 45 short stories (3 recommended).
  • New Writers: 9 stories by Campbell-eligible writers (1 recommended, free online).
  • Authors: 5 authors out of 65 had more than one story here: Leah Cypess, Tegan Moore, Dominica Phetteplace, Natalia Theodoridou, and Nick Wolven.

(6) LIU AND KOWAL IN NYT. [Item by Daniel Dern.] The Sunday July 15, 2019 NY Times dead-tree edition has a special section, The Next Leap — articles and photos on space exploration, including two by sf’ers:

Lots of pages of pix, not sure whether all will be online.

(7) DC IN 2021 DISSENT. Nick Larter, who identifies himself as a Dublin 2019 member, tweeted the following message about a  motion he may submit to the business meeting:

I am extremely disquieted by the idea that in a few weeks, we, the international science fiction community, will probably be rubber-stamping a Worldcon in the United States for 2021.

If the 2021 Worldcon goes ahead in Washington DC, then it is going to transpire that some science fiction fans who would like to attend are going to be prevented from doing so, because of their nationality, religion, or ethnicity, on account of the current immigration policies of the US.  More still will run the risk of intrusive personal inconvenience or other unacceptable disruption to their travel plans, during the immigration process.

As evidence of this I cite the recent news that last year, Star Wars actor Riz Ahmed, was prevented by the US authorities from attending a US event relating to the movie.  If this can happen to a public figure like Ahmed, how many ordinary fans are going to get caught up?

In all honesty, I don’t understand why the Washington DC bidders haven’t looked at the current situation in the US and said, “Y’know what, this won’t do, so we’re just going to put on plans on hold for a few years, until the open, welcoming America we once knew and loved, has come back again.”

For these reasons, I believe that our community, which has an excellent record of embracing diversity and inclusivity of all kinds, has a duty to reject Washington DC as the venue for the 2021 Worldcon.  It would be grossly delinquent of us to act in any other way.

The WSFS Constitution provides for what to do if members reject the eligible bids, but as I recall, it doesn’t authorize the business meeting to refuse to seat a bid picked by site selection voters. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me in five… four… three…

(8) DRAGON AWARDS DEADLINE. The Red Panda Fraction reminds everyone that the deadline for the nominations for the 2019 Dragon Awards is this Friday, July 19. Here’s the link to the nominations page. The Pandas have also borrowed an idea from Renay and created an eligible works spreadsheet:

We also had many more people work on the Dragon Awards Google Docs spreadsheet (Dragon Awards Eligible Works 2019) this year since we got it up much earlier than last year. The anonymous contributors did a lot of work and even added extra information about possible nominees that I hadn’t thought of. It should make it easier for folks to find nominees. 

(9) SHECHTER OBIT. Andi Malala Shechter died this morning, at the end of a months-long battle with an aggressive cancer called a glioblastoma, stage 4, otherwise known as glioblastoma multiforme.

Andi Shechter

Shechter lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Seattle over the years. Her time in fandom dates at least to the New York Star Trek conventions of the Seventies. Toward the end of that decade she married Alva Rogers (1923-1982), who had co-chaired the 1968 Worldcon. In the Eighties, she moved to Boston, was active in Boskones, and served as a division head for Noreascon 3, the 1989 Worldcon. In the Nineties, she moved to Seattle with her long-time partner, Stu Shiffman (1954-2014).

Shechter was a powerful force in both sff and mystery fandom. She wrote numerous mystery reviews, and twice chaired Left Coast Crime, in 1997 and again in 2007. She was named fan guest of honor of LCC in 2001.

In 2013 Andi and Stu, who had been together for 25 years, announced their engagement. At the time Stu was trying to recover from a stroke. On June 18, 2014 they married in a ceremony at University of Washington’s Burke Museum with nearly 100 in attendance. Very sadly, Stu passed away before the end of the year.

Many of Andi’s friends are leaving tributes on her Facebook page – some are set to public, others are set to closer accessibility.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born July 15, 1769 Clement C. Moore. I know it’s High Summer, but it’s His Birthday. Author of the Christmas poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, first published anonymously in 1823 which led to some bitter dispute over who wrote it. It later became much better known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (Died 1863.)
  • Born July 15, 1796 Thomas Bulfinch. Author of Bullfinch’s Mythology, which I’m certain I had in at least several University courses taught by older white males. They are the classic myths without unnecessary violence, sex, or ethnographic background. And heterosexual of course as Bullfinch was an ardent anti-homosexual campaigner. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology would mercifully supersede it. (Died 1867.)
  • Born July 15, 1918 Dennis Feltham Jones. His first novel Colossus was made into Colossus: The Forbin Project. He went on to write two more novels in the series, The Fall of Colossus and Colossus and the Crab, which in my opinion became increasingly weird. iBooks and Kindle have the Colossus trilogy plus a smattering of his other works available. (Died 1981.)
  • Born July 15, 1927 Joe Turkel, 92. I first noticed him as Lloyd, the ghostly bartender in The Shining followed by his being Dr. Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner. He’s the Sheriff in Village of the Giants based somewhat off on H.G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, Malcolm (uncredited) in Visit to a Small Planet and Paxton Warner in The Dark Side of the Moon. Series wise, he’s been on Fantasy Island, Tales from the Dark Side, Land of the Giants and One Step Beyond.
  • Born July 15, 1931 Clive Cussler, 88. Pulp author. If I had to pick his best novels, I’d say that would be Night Probe and Raise the Titantic, possibly also Vixen 03. His real-life National Underwater and Marine Agency, a private maritime archaeological group has found several important wrecks including the Manassas, the first ironclad of the civil war.
  • Born July 15, 1944 Jan-Michael Vincent. First Lieutenant Jake Tanner in the film version of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley which somehow I’ve avoided seeing so far. Is it worth seeing? Commander in Alienator and Dr. Ron Shepherd in, and yes this is the name, Xtro II: The Second Encounter. Not to mention Zepp in Jurassic Women. (Don’t ask.) If Airwolf counts as genre, he was helicopter pilot and aviator Stringfellow Hawke in it. (Died 2019.)
  • Born July 15, 1957 Forest Whitaker, 62. His best known genre roles are such as in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Saw Gerrera and in The Black Panther as Zuri. He’s had other genre appearances including Major Collins in Body Snatchers, Nate Pope in Phenomenon, Ker in Battlefield Earth for which he was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor, Ira in Where the Wild Things Are, Jake Freivald In Repo Men (anyone see this?) and he was, and though I’ve somehow managed not to see any of it, Host of Twilight Zone
  • Born July 15, 1963 Brigitte Nielsen, 56. Red Sonja! What’d a way to launch your film career. Mind you her next genre films were 976-Evil II and Galaxis
  • Born July 15, 1967 Christopher Golden, 52. Where to start? The Veil trilogy was excellent as was The Hidden Cities series co-authored with Tim Lebbon. The Menagerie series co-authored with Thomas E. Sniegoski annoyed me because it never got concluded. Straight On ‘Til Morning is one damn scary novel.
  • Born July 15, 1979 Laura Benanti, 40. Her foremost genre role was was a dual one as Alura Zor-El and Astra In-Ze on Supergirl. Interestingly she took on that role on CBS just before assuming the role as Melania Trump on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, another CBS property. She also has a long theatrical career including playing The Goddess in The Tempest and Cinderella in Into the Woods

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Bizarro researchers pursue the nuclear typo.

(12) YMMV. According to Food & Wine, “Twinkies Cereal Could Be Part of Your Balanced Hostess Snack Cake-Themed Breakfast”.  

The idea of turning a Hostess snack cake into cereal isn’t totally insane. That was proven by the first two Hostess products that were introduced in bowl-worthy form courtesy of Post last year: Honey Bun Cereal and Donettes Cereal. Both honey buns and mini-donuts can be breakfast. Are they the healthiest breakfasts? Obviously not. But probably most everyone reading this has eaten one of those things for breakfast in the past — and at the very least, if someone told you they ate a Hostess Honey Bun or a pack of Donettes for breakfast, you wouldn’t stare them down in disgust. However, if someone told you they ate a Twinkie for breakfast…

(13) TONIGHT’S JEOPARDY! Andrew Porter reports the game show’s latest stfnal reference. (Photo by Brett Cox.)

Final Jeopardy – Women Authors

Answer: An award for works of horror, dark fantasy & psychological suspense honors this author who came to fame with a 1948 short story.

Wrong question: “Who is Ayn Rand?”

Correct question: “Who is Shirley Jackson?”

(14) THE NEW NORMAL? NPR observes that “Climate Change Fuels Wetter Storms — Storms Like Barry”.

People across southern Louisiana are spending the weekend worried about flooding. The water is coming from every direction: the Mississippi River is swollen with rain that fell weeks ago farther north, and a storm called Barry is pushing ocean water onshore while it drops more rain from above.

It’s a situation driven by climate change, and one that Louisiana has never dealt with, at least in recorded history. And it’s raising questions about whether New Orleans and other communities are prepared for such an onslaught.

“It is noteworthy that we’re in our 260th day of a flood fight on the Mississippi River, the longest in history, and that this is the first time in history a hurricane will strike Louisiana while the Mississippi River has been at flood stage,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in response to a question about climate change at a Friday news conference.

(15) WORKS BEST WHEN YOU DON’T USE YOUR BIRTHDAY. “Computer password inventor dies aged 93” – BBC has the story.

Computer pioneer Fernando Corbato, who first used passwords to protect user accounts, has died aged 93.

…Dr Corbato reportedly died as a result of complications caused by diabetes.

…He joined MIT in 1950 to study for a doctorate in physics, but realised during those years that he was more interested in the machines that physicists used to do their calculations than in the subject itself.

Using computers during the 50s was an exercise in frustration because the huge, monolithic machines could only handle one processing job at a time.

In a bid to overcome this limitation, Dr Corbato developed an operating system for computers called the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS).

…Passwords were introduced to CTSS as a way for users to hide away the files and programs they were working on from others on the same machine.

(16) BASTILLE STORMED BY FLYBOARD. BBC video shows “Bastille Day: Flyboard takes part in military display”.

The annual Bastille Day parade, marking the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, has been taking place in Paris.

Over 4,000 military personnel and more than 100 aircraft took part in ceremonies, with crowds entertained by inventor Franky Zapata and his futuristic flyboard.

(17) DISTRACTED DRIVING. BBC is there for “Monsters and power-ups in new go-kart experience” (video).

An experience which allows go-kart drivers to race against each other while shooting virtual monsters and picking up power-ups has been developed.

Drivers wear a Magic Leap headset which allows them to see the augmented reality elements of the track.

(18) A HUNK OF BURNIN’ LOVE. NPR says the Feds have found another place to put a wall: “Federal Clampdown On Burning Man Imperils Festival’s Free Spirit Ethos, Say Burners”.

Burning Man started three decades ago as a low-key gathering of friends who celebrated summer solstice on a West Coast beach by setting a wooden man aflame.

Now, event organizers say the counterculture gathering of arts, music and communal living is eyeing attendance in the six figures, leading to a months-long struggle with federal regulators over whether its swelling size will cause long-term harm to the environment and even make the event vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The battle is heating up as Burning Man officials attempt to secure a new 10-year permit to allow the August gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to jump from its current capacity of 80,000 to 100,000. But the Bureau of Land Management is clamping down.

In a recent report assessing Burning Man’s environmental impact, the BLM capped the festival population at 80,000, citing an abundance of trash generated by the thousands of revelers and a host of safety concerns for eventgoers as well as for the federally protected land.

A preliminary report from the BLM called for new regulations, including an attendance cap, mandatory security screenings and a concrete barrier to encircle the perimeter. Federal officials have since eased those controls for now, except for the population cap.

Still, longtime participants say the government tightening its grip on the growing event threatens the anarchic principles that underpin the festival.

(19) AREA 51 WARNING. All those of you who never watch Fox News should shut your eyes at this point:

Officials warn public of dangers at secretive Nevada base and signal that the Air Force stands ready; national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin report from the Pentagon.

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

Pixel Scroll 5/8/19 Only The True Pixel Denies His Scrollability!

(1) KAY Q&A. “A Collision of History and Memory: Guy Gavriel Kay Discusses His New Novel A Brightness Long Ago at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

In a letter you wrote that was attached by the publisher to advance copies of A Brightness Long Ago, you note that we are psychologically and neurologically programmed to internalize the memories from our teens until our mid-twenties more intensely than any other time of life, a fact that is an underpinning to this book. Do you care to expand on that thought?
There’s a wry aspect to this, as my psychoanalyst brother (to whom this book is dedicated) mentioned this to me 15 or so years ago! When I started writing this novel, using as one of the point of view characters—a man looking back on events form his twenties that loom large for him—that conversation came back from my memory! I asked my brother and he sent some scholarship on the subject.

(2) WATCHMEN TEASER. Time is running out – but for what?

Tick tock. Watchmen debuts this fall on HBO. From Damon Lindelof, Watchmen is a modern-day reimagining of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel about masked vigilantes.

(3) NEW RUSS PROFILE. Gwyneth Jones, winner of two World Fantasy Awards, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the SFRA Pilgrim award for lifetime achievement in SF criticism, will have a new book out in July — Joanna Russ (University of Illinois Press).

Experimental, strange, and unabashedly feminist, Joanna Russ’s groundbreaking science fiction grew out of a belief that the genre was ideal for expressing radical thought. Her essays and criticism, meanwhile, helped shape the field and still exercise a powerful influence in both SF and feminist literary studies.

Award-winning author and critic Gwyneth Jones offers a new appraisal of Russ’s work and ideas. After years working in male-dominated SF, Russ emerged in the late 1960s with Alyx, the uber-capable can-do heroine at the heart of Picnic on Paradise and other popular stories and books. Soon, Russ’s fearless embrace of gender politics and life as an out lesbian made her a target for male outrage while feminist classics like The Female Man and The Two of Them took SF in innovative new directions. Jones also delves into Russ’s longtime work as a critic of figures as diverse as Lovecraft and Cather, her foundational place in feminist fandom, important essays like “Amor Vincit Foeminam,” and her career in academia.

(4) ORIGINAL QUESTIONS. The Powell’s City of Books site scored an interview with Ted Chiang about his new collection — “Powell’s Q&A: Ted Chiang, Author of ‘Exhalation'”

What do you care about more than most people around you?
In the context of speculative fiction, I think I’m atypically interested in the question of how do the characters in a story understand their universe. I’ve heard some people say that they don’t care about the plausibility of an invented world as long as the characters are believable. To me these aren’t easily separated. When reading a story I often find myself thinking, Why has no one in this world ever wondered such-and-such? Why has no one ever asked this question, or attempted this experiment? 

(5) ALL ALPHABETS ARE OFF. R.S. Benedict, who’s made several quality appearances in F&SF, has a new podcast, Rite Gud, talking about writing issues. The first episode is: “This Garbage Brought to You By the Letters S-E-O: How Google Is Ruining Writing”.

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you may have heard about SEO, or “Search Engine Optimization.” But do you know what SEO really is — and the effect it has on writing? While some SEO tips are good — like citing your sources with added external links! — others make writing stilted and awkward. (For example, have you noticed how many times “SEO” has appeared in this paragraph?)

We all want to be seen. One of the most important ways is via Google, is it worth it if it makes your writing stiff? And do you have any other options? Or are we all stuck on the same hamster wheel, using the same techniques to try to rise above the din?

(5b) TOP OF THE POLL. Congratulations to Michael A. Burstein, who has been re-elected to the Brookline (MA) Board of Library Trustees for a sixth term. He notes, “Although the race was uncontested, the unofficial results indicate that I came in first among the four of us running this year, for which I thank everyone who voted for me.”

(6) RUSCH KICKSTARTER. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Kickstarter appeal for The Diving Universe funded the first day, now they’re raising money to meet the stretch goal. JJ got me reading these, so I had to chip in —

…Two years ago, I realized that before I could write the next book about Boss, though, I needed to figure out what happened in the past, long before any of my current characters were born. 

So…I started what I thought was a short story. It became a 260,000 word adventure novel called The Renegat, because I can’t do world-building without telling a story.

…Everyone who backs this Kickstarter at the $5 and above will receive an ebook of The Renegat

The Kickstarter also gave me an excuse to assemble two books of extras—unfinished side trails, some from The Renegat, and many from earlier books, along with some essays about the entire project.

Of course, backers at the higher levels will get the hardcovers of the series as we complete them. And there are some other fun things here as well. You can get some of the lectures I’ve done for WMG Publishing about writing, or you can join the monthly Ask Kris Anything sessions. Those are live webinars, and you can ask questions about Diving to your heart’s content.

If we make our $5,000 stretch goal, every backer will get a copy of the novella, “Escaping Amnthra,” which is a side story that couldn’t fit into the novel. (“Escape” stands alone as well.)

(7) ROMANCE AWARDS. An array of Romance Writers of America awards have been announced. The award recipients will be recognized at the 2019 RWA Conference in New York.

2019 RWA Award Recipients

  • RWA Lifetime Achievement Award: Cherry Adair
  • RWA Emma Merritt Service Award: Dee Davis
  • RWA Service Awards: Courtney Milan, Gina Fluharty, Barbara Wallace
  • RWA Vivian Stephens Industry Award: Mark Coker, Founder & CEO, Smashwords
  • RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year: Stephen Ammidown, Manuscript & Outreach Archivist, Browne Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University
  • RWA Steffie Walker Bookseller of the Year: Michelle Mioff-Haring, Owner, Cupboard Maker Books
  • RWA Veritas Award:Meet The Women Who Are Building A Better Romance Industry” by Bim Adewunmi

Hey – I actually used the pop culture library at BGSU when I went there eons ago!

(8) ANCIENT CLONE. The Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination hosts “Neanderthal Among Us? Science Meets Fiction: A Discussion of the Motion Picture William” on May 13 at UCSD from 5:30-8:30 p.m. RSVP Required – full details here.

Join the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program, the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny, OnePlace, and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination for a free screening of the film William, which tells the story of what happens when two scientists clone a Neanderthal from ancient DNA and raise him in today’s world. Following the film, a panel will explore the scientific and ethical questions the film raises.

About the Film William

Star academics Doctors Julian Reed and Barbara Sullivan, fall in love with each other and with the idea of cloning a Neanderthal from ancient DNA. Against the express directive of University administrators they follow through on this audacious idea. The result is William: the first Neanderthal to walk the earth for some 35,000 years. William tries his best to fit into the world around him. But his distinctive physical features and his unique way of thinking–his “otherness”–set him apart and provoke fear. William’s story is powerful and unique, but his struggle to find love and assert his own identity in a hostile world is universal–and timeless.

(9) TWO SCOOPS OF ALASDAIR STUART. Alasdair Stuart’s latest column for Fox Spirit, “Not The Fox News: Don’t Be Nelson”, talks about how emotional engagement, especially when so many major story cycles are starting to end, is both a good thing and to be encouraged.

About once a decade, everything lines up. A half dozen major cultural juggernauts all come into land at about the same time and some poor soul is paid to write the ‘GEEK CULTURE IS OVER. WE SHALL NEVER SEE ITS LIKE AGAIN’ piece. Hey if the check clears and the piece doesn’t hurt anyone, go with God. We’re in one of those times now. Game of Thrones has under half its super short final season to go. Avengers Endgame is all over theaters everywhere and the ninth core Star Wars movie has been confirmed as the end of the Skywalker saga. If this was a concert, we’d officially be into the ‘Freebird’, ‘Hotel California’, ‘Thrift Shop’, ‘Single Ladies’ phase of the night.

These are emotional times….

Stuart has also joined the Ditch Diggers team with a new monthly column. The first one takes a look at the massive ructions in podcasting at the moment and the lessons writers can take from that. “Welcome to the Montage, Now Stare at a Test Tube”

…So let’s break this down. First off, Luminary is a new podcast streaming platform that launched a few months ago with a ton of exclusive titles and a ton of money, very little of which they seem to have spent on a public relations department. The idea is that they are ‘the Netflix of podcasts’, which presumably doesn’t mean:

‘We’re sustained by the physical library system that no one expected to live this long and it takes two years for us to get the new season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’.

Instead, the idea is that Luminary will feature forty or so podcasts which are only available through it’s app, most of which are fronted by celebrities.

How you feel about this really depends on how you feel about ‘famous person has some thoughts’ style shows.

(10) COHEN OBIT. The SFWA Blog announced that scientist Jack Cohen (1933-2019) died May 6.

Cohen primarily worked in the field of reproductive biology….  

As a science fiction fan, Cohen found himself advising many authors, including Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, David Gerrold, Jerry Pournelle, and Harry Harrison.  He teamed with Ian Stewart and Terry Pratchett wrote four volumes in the Science of Discworld series, the first of which earned the three authors a Hugo Nomination for Best Related Book.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born May 8, 1937 Thomas Pynchon, 82. Ok I’m confused. I’ve not read him so I’m not at all sure which of his novels can be considered genre. Would y’all first enlighten to which are such, and second what I should now read. ISFDB certainly doesn’t help by listing pretty much everything of his as genre including Mason & Dixon which though post-modernist isn’t genre.
  • Born May 8, 1938 Jean Giraud. Better to y’all as Moebius. He contributed storyboards and concept designs to myriad science fiction and fantasy films including Alien, The Fifth Element, The Abyss and the original Tron film. He also collaborated with avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky for an unproduced adaptation of Dune. Oh, I would’ve loved to have seen that!  And no, I’m not forgetting his work on both Heavy Metal and Marvel Comics, but I’ll let you detail those endeavours. (Died 2012.)
  • Born May 8, 1940 Peter Benchley. He’s known for writing Jaws and he co-wrote the film script with Carl Gottlieb. His novel Beast is genre and was adapted into a film, as was White Shark, which has absolutely nothing to do with sharks. Another novel, The Island, was also turned into a film and it’s at least genre adjacent. (Died 2006.)
  • Born May 8, 1947 Susan Casper. Editor and author, married to Gardner Dozois until her death.  Her fiction is first collected in Slow Dancing through Time which includes one collaboration with Dozois and one with Jack M Dann. Rainbow: The Complete Short Fiction of Susan Casper which was edited just after her death by her husband is as its title states a complete collection of her short fiction. She was co-editor with him of the Ripper! and Jack the Ripper anthologies. (Died 2017.)
  • Born May 8, 1954 Stephen Furst. The saddest part of doing these Birthdays is discovering how many folks have died that I reasonably expected were still living. He died of complications from diabetes at a far too young age. You know most likely Centauri diplomatic attaché Vir Cotto on Babylon 5, a decent being way over his head in a job he was ill prepared for. He also directed three low-budget movies for the Sci Fi Channel: Dragon Storm, Path of Destruction, and Basilisk: The Serpent King; he additionally co-starred in the last two films. And he produced Atomic Shark which aired during Sharknado Week on Syfy. (Died 2017)
  • Born May 8, 1963 Michel Gondry, 56. French director, screenwriter, and producer of such genre as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  (love that film), The Green Hornet (on the other hand, I deleted this from my .mov files after watching fifteen minutes of it) and The Science of Sleep (which I had not heard but sounds interesting.) 
  • Born May 8, 1981 Stephen Amell, 38. He’s known for portraying Oliver Queen / Green Arrow In Arrowverse. Ok I have a confession. I can either read or watch series like these. I did watch the first few seasons of the Arrow and Flash series. How the Hell does anybody keep up with these and set aside a reasonable amount of time to do any reading?  Seriously the amount of genre on tv has exploded. I’m watching Star Trek, Young Justice and Doom Patrol which is quite enough, thank you.

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • Brevity crams several horrendous puns into this one-frame, LOTR-inspired cartoon.

(13) SPOILERS ASSEMBLE! The putative Endgame spoiler ban has been lifted by the Russo brothers, and Yahoo! Entertainment has a roundup of special tweets from the cast: “‘Avengers: Endgame’ cast reveals treasure trove of behind the scenes footage as spoiler ban lifts”.

The cast of Avengers: Endgame have had to sit on a ton of spoilers for years, with much of the filming on the Marvel mega-blockbuster dating all the way back to 2017.

Directing duo Joe and Anthony Russo have now lifted the ban on discussing spoilers from the film, so many of the cast members have been unveiling some of their illicit behind-the-scenes pictures and videos.

There are, of course, Avengers: Endgame spoilers ahead…

(14) ATWOOD. Tyler Cowen had Margaret Atwood on his Conversations With Tyler podcast: “Margaret Atwood on Canada, Writing, and Invention”. Atwood discusses Hag-Seed, her take on The Tempest, at the 10 minute mark.  She explains why she started writing The Handmaid’s Tale in West Berlin in 1984, and her love of H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Audience questions coming in at the 55-minute mark about her Handmaid’s Tale sequel The Testaments, coming in September, why she likes the YouTube video “At Last, They’ve Made A Handmaid’s Tale for men,” and how readers figured out Offred’s last name.

(15) THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON POKÉMON. Ars Technica reports players have unexpected anatomical development: “Pokémon characters have their own pea-sized region in brain, study finds”.

…It’s well known that human beings are remarkably adept at visually recognizing faces, words, numbers, places, colors, and so forth thanks to a constellation of regions—small clusters of neurons about the size of a pea—in the temporal lobe, located just behind the ears. Those regions show up in the same place in most people, despite differences in age, sex, or race. There’s even a so-called “Jennifer Aniston neuron,” (aka the “grandmother cell“) discovered by a UCLA neuroscientist in 2005, whose primary purpose seems to be to recognize images of the famous actress. Similar neurons have also been found for other celebrities like Bill Clinton, Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, and Kobe Bryant.

“This is quite remarkable, and it’s still an open mystery in neuroscience why these regions appear exactly where they do in the brain,” said co-author Jesse Gomez, a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, who conducted the experiments while a grad student at Stanford University. One way to answer this question, and determine which of several competing theories is correct, is to study people who, as children, had a unique experience with a new type of visual stimulus. If those people were shown to have developed a new brain region dedicated to recognizing that new object class, that would offer useful insight into how the brain organizes itself.

The catch: it would take many hours of laboratory practice with any new visual stimulus for there to be any measurable effect. But “I realized that the 1990s had already done it for me,” said Gomez. “I grew up playing Pokémon. The game rewards kids for individuating between hundreds of similar-looking Pokémon.” The game is also played primarily during childhood, a “critical window” period where the brain is especially plastic and responsive to experience. He reasoned it might be possible that passionate Pokémon players like his childhood self would have developed a new brain region in response to that experience. So he applied for a seed grant to test that hypothesis.

(16) BDP PLAYOFFS. Time is out of joint in Camestros Felapton’s review post, “Hugo 2019 Best Dramatic Long etc Round-up”.

…Bless its mega-crossover heart but Avengers: Infinity War is not a serious contender for the best science-fiction film of 2018. It is a notable bit of film making but it’s rather like what ends up on your plate when you* visit a really nice buffet — lots of tasty things but not a carefully constructed dining experience. I get why it’s here instead of Thor: Ragnarok but Thor 3 was a better contender as a sci-fi movie.

That leaves a face-off between Black Panther and Spider-Man. Both are visual treats. Spider-verse pulls off the remarkable feat of creating yet another reboot of Spider-Man as a film character in a way that makes me genuinely excited (doubly remarkable as the MCU version of Spidey was pretty good too)….

(17) HUGO REVIEWS, Here are links to three more sets of 2019 Hugo nominee reviews.

Steve J. Wright’s Best Novella Hugo Finalist reviews are online:

Bonnie McDaniel has completed her Best Novel Hugo Reviews at Red Headed Femme.

Peter Enyeart has posted a set of “2019 Hugo picks: Short stories” at Stormsewer.

(18) RISK. “Think Women Aren’t Big Risk Takers? These Chinese Girls Buck The Stereotype”NPR has the story.

Many studies have found that women aren’t as willing as men to take risks. And so they may shy away from riskier investments or career choices, missing out on the rewards that can come from taking big chances.

The perennial question: Why? Is it nature or nurture?

…Elaine Liu, an economist at the University of Houston, …and co-author Sharon Xuejing Zuo at Fudan University in Shanghai found that young girls from the Mosuo community in China, one of the few societies in the world run by women, were bigger risk-takers than boys from the same community. But after the Mosuo girls spent years in schools with boys and girls who came from patriarchal communities, the trend reversed: Older Mosuo girls took fewer chances.

(19) THE HOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT. BBC reports a “Missing part of Stonehenge returned 60 years on”.

A missing piece of Stonehenge has been returned to the site 60 years after it was taken.

A metre-long core from inside the prehistoric stone was removed during archaeological excavations in 1958.

No-one knew where it was until Robert Phillips, 89, who was involved in those works, decided to return part of it.

English Heritage, which looks after Stonehenge, hopes the sample might now help establish where the stones originally came from.

In 1958 archaeologists raised an entire fallen trilithon – a set of three large stones consisting of two that would have stood upright, with the third placed horizontally across the top.

During the works, cracks were found in one of the vertical stones and in order to reinforce it, cores were drilled through the stone and metal rods inserted.

The repairs were masked by small plugs cut from sarsen fragments found during excavations.

(20) BEST FOOT FORWARD. I’m telling you, this reminds me of a John Sladek story: “Botswana gives leaders stools made from elephant feet”.

Stools made from elephant feet have been presented to three African leaders by their host in Botswana during a meeting on the future of the mammals.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi handed over the gifts, covered in a blue patterned cloth, to his counterparts from Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The countries, along with South Africa, are calling for the ban on the sale of ivory to be lifted.

They argue that money from the trade can be used for conservation projects.

Elephant poaching is a big issue across Africa and some estimates say 30,000 are killed every year. There are thought to be 450,000 left.

(21) ROCK OF AGES. In Air & Space Magazine’s article “Claimed Signs of Life in a Martian Meteorite” the tagline seems an understatement — “Like other previous claims, this one may not hold up.” Another scientist has claimed that a meteorite that originated on Mars contains signs of life. You may recall such a claim previously made based on analysis of ALH84001 (ALH stands for Allan Hills in Antarctica, where the rock was found) with the announcement made in 1996. The evidence was eventually judged inconclusive by most scientists.

Now a new paper by Ildikó Gyollai from the Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, and colleagues, claims that there might be clues to Martian life in another Allan Hills meteorite, this time ALH77005. They base their conclusions on morphological and geochemical indicators—including the presence of organic material—which lead them to speculate on the past presence of iron bacteria in this Martian rock. […]

[Thanks to Standback, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, Jim Meadows, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributor of the day Kip Williams.]