(1) WASHINGTONIAN WOMBAT. The Washington Post’s Mary Quattlebaum profiles Ursula Vernon, whose comic five-volume Hamster Princess series retells “fairy tales with a strong female hero,” in “Ursula Vernon elevates a rodent to royalty”. The latest, Whiskerella, retells Cinderella but with mice.
‘I always wondered why the girl didn’t save herself,” Ursula Vernon said about the fairy tales she read as a kid. “I mean, why doesn’t Snow White just whack the evil queen instead of relying on the prince?”
Vernon decided to retell fairy tales with a strong female hero. In her popular Hamster Princess series, Harriet eagerly rescues anyone in danger.
Often, though, the high-spirited hamster creates the very situations she must rescue herself and others from.
In “Whiskerella,” the fifth book in this hilarious series, Harriet takes on a bossy fairy godmouse. The godmouse wants Ella, a pretty hamster, to go to royal balls and meet a prince to marry. But Ella doesn’t like any of the rude princes she meets. And she hates wearing the magical glass slippers! They pinch her feet.
(2) GENERATIONAL CHANGE. The Paris Review’s Dara Horn notes that her daughter has a lot of choices that weren’t available to her growing up — “Finding Science Fiction and Fantasy for Female Readers”.
… Something enormous has happened in the years between my childhood and my daughter’s—a shift that might have started somewhere around The Golden Compass series, or with novels by Tamora Pierce and Francesca Lia Block or dozens of other books I had grown too old to read, and then accelerated with the runaway success of the Twilight and Hunger Games series. A young-adult landscape emerged where science fiction and fantasy was no longer targeted only at boys, and girls were no longer expected to read only stories about empathetic middle-school friends. This phenomenon is complex, an elaborate give-and-take between the changing roles of women and the rising demand for stories of the fantastic, and I don’t pretend to understand the many social and commercial forces that brought it into being. But I can’t help but notice the vast difference between my daughter’s bookshelf and mine—the many magical books waiting for her when she finished A Wrinkle in Time, hungry for more—and rue the imagined worlds I missed by being born too soon….
(3) COMMON DENOMINATOR. Stina Leicht makes a wise suggestion in “Sometimes Your Experience is What You Bring”.
Reading is an interactive experience. This is a big part of what makes literature an art form. Writers don’t get to dictate your experience of their work. We’ve never had that level of control–even if sometimes we wish we did. A literary work is always one part what the reader brings to the piece. Readers aren’t passive. Reading engages the imagination. If the piece you’re reading doesn’t do this, the piece in question has failed in its job. That’s the definition of interactive. So, if you’re missing a sense of wonder from all modern SFF, then maybe it’s time for some self-examination? As a therapist once told me: “If every relationship is a failed relationship, maybe it’s time to have a look at the common denominator in all those relationships.” Hint: the biggest common factor is yourself. So, maybe it’s time to admit that maybe the lack of wonder isn’t the author’s fault? Because no author, no matter how talented or how powerful the work, can give you back your childhood.
(4) ERIC FLINT HEALTH UPDATE. There’s good news, as Eric Flint posted yesterday on Facebook.
I saw my oncologist today. The results of a CT scan I took last week have come in and everything looks good. There’s no indication of any kind that the lymphoma has come back. So YAY for medical science and nurses and doctors and everybody who works in hospitals and clinics.
And, okay, a grudging YAY for the poisons that killed the cancer faster than they killed me. They call it “chemotherapy.” This is a bit like calling attempted murder “homicide therapy.” But, what the hell, it seems like it worked, so a grudging YAY for homicide therapy.
(5) RARE BOOK DESTRUCTION. A flood in a bookstore basement ruined some King rarities, among others —“Stephen King ‘horrified’ by loss of his manuscripts in bookstore flooding” in the Bangor Daily News.
Stephen King said Wednesday that he was “horrified” to learn that tens of thousands of dollars worth of rare books — including his own original manuscripts and rare editions — were ruined after a burst pipe flooded the basement of several downtown Bangor businesses.
Gerald Winters’ bookstore, which specializes in rare and limited edition copies of King’s books, was among the handful of businesses damaged by flooding from the broken pipe in front of 46 Main St.
“I’m horrified. As a book lover, my heart goes out to him,” King told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday. “I will eventually reach out and see if I can help in any way.”
Winters estimates he lost about 2,000 books, and as many as seven of King’s original typed manuscripts, including, “Dolan’s Cadillac,” “Maximum Overdrive,” and “The Eyes of the Dragon.” Dozens of first- and limited-edition King books, galleys, signed copies and prints in different languages are among the items believed to be damaged.
(6) THE ARTIST’S OWN COLLECTION. The Society of Illustrators in New York is hosting “Under the Influence: The Private Collection of Peter de Sève” through March 17.
This very special exhibit offers guests the unique opportunity to view the personal collection of Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame recipient, Peter de Sève, and to learn what pieces in it inspire (and intimidate!) him. Spanning over 200 years, the show includes gems by legendary artists including: Edmund Dulac, Vivienne Flesher, Frank Frazetta, A.B. Frost, Carter Goodrich, Ana Juan, Moebius, T.S. Sullivant and many more.
Peter de Sève has created some of the most beloved images in the worlds of print and animation over the course of his 40-year career. From his design of the neurotic, saber-toothed “Scrat,” to his many unforgettable New Yorker magazine covers, de Sève has been producing classic images that continue to provoke and delight.
(7) GENRE HISTORY BOOK EXHIBIT. A Conversation larger than the Universe will be on view at The Grolier Club in New York City from January 25 through March 10.
A Conversation larger than the Universe is a history of science fiction in 70 literary artefacts and a highly personal tour through the bookshelves of Henry Wessells. The books—many signed or inscribed by their authors—magazines, manuscripts, letters, and artwork date from the mid-eighteenth century to the present and will allow the viewer to explore the ideas and people that have defined the literatures of the fantastic, from Mary Shelley and H. G. Wells to Philip K. Dick, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Jr., and William Gibson…
Beginning with the origins of science fiction in the Gothic, this ‘Conversation’ contemplates topics such as the End of the World (and After), Imaginary Voyages, Dystopia, Women Authors, Literary Innovation, Humor, the Sixties, Rock ’n’ Roll, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, and what’s happening in science fiction and the fantastic right now. The exhibition adopts a broad description of Science Fiction encompassing Fantasy and Horror as well as bibliography and scholarship in the field.
In connection with the exhibition, a one-day Symposium on Science Fiction with a panel of distinguished authors, editors, and scholars will be held on Tuesday 6 March, 6-7:30 p.m.
Henry Wessells is an antiquarian bookseller in New York City and author of Another green world (2003) and Extended Range (2015). A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Science Fiction, his work has appeared in Nature, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Wormwood, Interzone, The Washington Post Book World, and other publications. He is also editor and bibliographer of American science fiction author Avram Davidson.
(8) WHO’S IN THE SUIT? Scott Edelman hopes a File 770 reader can solve these mysteries:
(9) THE COMING THING IN POETRY. The SPECPO blog interviews Holly Lyn Walrath, SF&F Poetry Association member and editor of Eye To The Telescope’s Time issue, in “Lone Stars, Abstractionism and Other Thoughtcrimes: Talking with Holly Lyn Walrath”
What are some of the trends you see in speculative literature that are really exciting you? Is there anything that’s boring you or that you see potentially as a literary dead-end?
I get really excited about experimental forms now appearing in speculative literature—hybrid works, erasures, and stories that cross genres. I’m thinking of the early work of Ken Liu using faux-erasure, as well as writers like Bogi Takács exploring hypertext poetry, Michael Janairo’s video poem from Mithila Review. Speculative literature is exploring more and more the definition of what we consider speculative literature. Another example is Riddled with Arrows, a new literary journal that focuses on writing about writing. It’s great to see so many venues and editors willing to showcase these new forms.
(10) POSSUM SPRINGS ETERNAL. Abigail Nussbaum discusses the pervasive pop culture influence of the game Night in the Woods.
You’ve probably heard about Night in the Woods even if you haven’t played it, or have only a vague idea what it is. Released by indie studio Infinite Fall last year after a highly-successful kickstarter campaign, the game, an adventure-slash-ghost-story starring anthropomorphic animals who live in a dying Rust Belt town, is an irresistible combination of cute and spooky. Its story, in which twenty-year-old college dropout Mae returns to her home of Possum Springs, reconnects with her friends and family, and slowly begins to realize that there are dark doings afoot, seems designed to appeal to a certain type of young fan, with its themes of early-adulthood aimlessness, coming of age, and mental illness. Graphics from the game have been cropping up on my twitter feed and tumblr dash for months, almost instantly iconic due to the game’s simple yet evocative (and expertly-executed) design. What surprised me, however, when I finished the game last week and went looking for in-depth discussions of it, is how little talk there seems to have been about Night in the Woods‘s politics. To me, they feel not just important, but like the key to the entire exercise.
(11) COOK OBIT. Southern fan Don (Dea) Cook, an active Southern fan who also sent many stories for File 770, has died of cancer. (I haven’t seen the date yet.) He shared the Rebel Award with Bob Shaw in 1994. Don and his wife, Samanda Jeude, were Fan GoHs at the 1997 Balticon. He chaired an Atlanta bid for the 1995 Worldcon (losing to Glasgow). He also served for a time on the Worldcon’s Mark Protection Committee.
(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY
- Born January 19, 1809 – Edgar Allan Poe, in Boston, MA.
(13) COMICS SECTION.
- John King Tarpinian recognized we needed to see this “how many X does it take” joke in Bizarro.
(14) STAR-CROSSED FELAPTON. In “Captain Bob and the Space Patrol”, Camestros Felapton makes a foredoomed attempt to write a completely apolitical sff story.
Captain Bob marched towards the silver-chrome rocket ship.
Did I say ‘captain’? That won’t do. I really don’t want anything political in this story. ‘Captain’ that suggests a rank and a rank suggests all sorts of thing. I mean sure, you can be captain of a civilian ship – it just means you are the one in charge but even that assumes Bob lives in a society in which hierarchal chains of command are the norm. Because this story must have no politics, I don’t want to suggest that his ship is necessarily run as some sort of anarcho-syndicalist commune of like-minded space travellers but I also don’t want to rule out the possibility by calling Bob ‘captain’. Mind you, if I don’t call him ‘captain’ does that rule out possibility that Bob lives in a society like ours? I guess even if he is a captain then ‘Bob’ is still his name.
I’ll stick with just plain Bob. The reader can add ‘captain’ or ‘daily short-term decision maker decided by lot’ accordingly.
(15) PORK PRODUCT. If you enjoy reading negative things about McDonald’s McRib sandwich, this 2011 article is for you: “A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage”. And there’s more! — an appealing conspiracy theory.
The physical attributes of the sandwich only add to the visceral revulsion some have to the product?—?the same product that others will drive hundreds of miles to savor. But many people, myself included, believe that all these things?—?the actual presumably entirely organic matter that goes into making the McRib?—?are somewhat secondary to the McRib’s existence. This is where we enter the land of conjectures, conspiracy theories and dark, ribby murmurings. The McRib’s unique aspects and impermanence, many of us believe, make it seem a likely candidate for being a sort of arbitrage strategy on McDonald’s part. Calling a fast food sandwich an arbitrage strategy is perhaps a bit of a reach?—?but consider how massive the chain’s market influence is, and it becomes a bit more reasonable.
Arbitrage is a risk-free way of making money by exploiting the difference between the price of a given good on two different markets?—?it’s the proverbial free lunch you were told doesn’t exist. In this equation, the undervalued good in question is hog meat, and McDonald’s exploits the value differential between pork’s cash price on the commodities market and in the Quick-Service Restaurant market. If you ignore the fact that this is, by definition, not arbitrage because the McRib is a value-added product, and that there is risk all over the place, this can lead to some interesting conclusions. (If you don’t want to do something so reckless, then stop here.)
(16) STREET SMARTS. If you’ve fallen behind on Sesame Street – say, by two to four decades – this article in The New Yorker will catch you up: “The Evolution of “Sesame Street” on HBO”.
“Sesame Street” perpetually evolves as guided by trending theories of education: when the game-show host Guy Smiley ambushes Bert into a round of “Estimation Crustacean,” which is a math quiz contested by a shellfish, the scene reflects current thinking on teaching arithmetic. Also, this noble program tailors its tone and content for its audience as elastically as the most craven network talk show. Because fewer adults actually pay attention to “Sesame Street” these days, the series has turned down the dial on pop-culture parodies, such as one spoofing “Mad Men,” from 2009, with an advertising executive thanking his staff for making him happy. (“Good work, sycophants,” the Muppet Don Draper says.) And “Sesame Street” responds to media technology at a deliberate pace. Last year saw the début of Smartie, an animated yellow phone, as a new sidekick for Elmo. “Look it up” is her catchphrase. Elmo, of course, converses with Smartie in his distinctive falsetto, a voice that, with practice, an adult can train himself not to really hear. Smartie, too, is slightly annoying. But I would trust her to babysit.
The most recent renovation of the Sesame Street courtyard, which is properly called the Arbor, involves one bold reconfiguration of the landscape. There now exists a view of a bridge. The shape of its tower suggests the Verrazano-Narrows, but its color apes the “international orange” of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it angles into the background as if Hooper’s Store is selling milkshakes in Dumbo. I find the bridge slightly disconcerting, and I can point to textual evidence that Oscar the Grouch shares my concerns. And yet it opens up a hospitable space. The bridge reaches out to expand the sense of place and extend a generous welcome. This land is your land, to the New York Island.
(17) HOLD ONTO YOUR… SEAT. Bored Panda has photos of “30+ Epic Toy Design Fails That Are So Bad, It’s Hilarious”. I don’t know if I want to run any of the photos as an excerpt, since so many are unintentional dick jokes, but they are hilarious as advertised.
We’ve seen our share of crappy design, but store shelves are so abundant with them, there’s always more to poke fun at. For example, toys. They’re usually designed and made by adults, so you’d expect a considerable amount of consideration before manufacturing them, right? Well, not so much. Bored Panda has collected some of the most questionable toys to prove that some designers have no clue what they’re doing.
From a doll head, used as an actual pony tail to a psychotic Elmo, it seems ridiculous someone actually greenlighted these ideas.
(18) WHO SAID CATS DON’T LIKE WATER. Atlas Obscura fills us in on “The Little-Known History of Seafaring Pets”.
When researchers conducted the first global study of ancient cat DNA they found that our feline friends were domesticated in the Near East and Egypt some 15,000 years ago, and later spread to Europe thanks in part to mariners, from the Phoenicians to the Vikings, who often took them on board to ward off rodents (another frequent human companion at sea, though not by design). A few thousand years later, the Romans took chickens on board military ships to predict the outcomes of battles—if the hens ate, victory could be expected. Roman general Publius Claudius Pulcher tried this trick before the Battle of Drepana against the Carthaginians in 249 B.C. He ignored the bad omen and threw the birds overboard. The Roman fleet was nearly wiped out. Despite this anecdote, the roles played by our maritime animal companions rarely make the history books. It is only recently that cultural institutions around the world have begun to pay attention to the history of animals at sea.
(19) COULD BE. Once he read Emma Straub’s “My Father Supported My Career—Until He Didn’t” in Real Simple, Andrew Porter decided, “This likely explains why, when I went into the bookstore she owns here in Brooklyn, and offered the people there (she was not present) scans of the many photos of Peter Straub (her father) I’d taken over the years, I never heard back from her.”
But this scenario happened again and again. I wrote books; my father read them and pronounced them wonderful, surefire hits…and then they wouldn’t sell. Still, my dad’s faith in me never wavered, even as I worked a host of other jobs—for a fancy cookbook publisher, at a clothing store for teens and tweens, as a personal assistant to a musician, in a bookstore. I even taught writing classes in my living room. Some of the jobs, like being a bookseller, were great and contributed to my writing life. Some, like selling overpriced jeans to 12-year-olds, were only good insofar as they were fodder for future stories. And they were—because it finally happened. I sold a book! I was going to make it big!
Sort of. My first book, a collection of stories, sold for a very modest amount of money—about enough to buy half of a fancy handbag. I was beyond thrilled. My parents came to every single event I did in New York City, always in the front row, laughing loudly in all the right spots. And then shortly thereafter I sold a novel for what felt like a lot of money, enough for my husband and me to turn the dank basement of our house into an actual office space, complete with the hot pink cabinets of our dreams.
That’s when things got weird. I was getting lots of press—magazines took my photograph and wrote articles about me, and I got asked to do zillions of events. Whenever I would call my dad to tell him about the new bits of press or things on the schedule, he would say, “Why didn’t they ask me to do that?” As if it made sense for Vogue to ask him to write a short story inspired by one of the new fall trends. At first, it seemed funny, but then I realized that he was serious—he was actually jealous. “Why didn’t they ask me to do this [any number of silly events at bars in Brooklyn that he wouldn’t have wanted to do in the first place]?” I think one of the problems was that my dad saw everything I did—he had Google Alerts set up for my name, so he’d often call to tell me that he’d seen something before I had.
(20) STAR WARS REBELS. The end begins when Star Wars Rebels returns with its final episodes. Monday, February 19 on Disney XD.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Janice Gelb, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, mlex, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories, Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]