Pixel Scroll 4/11/19 Oh The Snark Has Pixel’d Teeth, Dear

(1) NEBULA CONFERENCE. SFWA President Cat Rambo says, “I know the Nebula programming isn’t complete yet but looking it over moved me to think about how far it’s come and who’s responsible for that” — “What I’m Looking Forward to about This Year’s Nebula Conference Programming: An Appreciation of Kate Baker”.

… It’s five years later, and in my opinion, Kate’s done what she set out to do. She didn’t do it alone, of course. She had the help of a whole lot of amazing SFWA staff and volunteers, including the amazing Terra LeMay and Steven H Silver. Mary Robinette Kowal got turned loose on programming the last couple of years and has been doing a stellar job. And others have made their mark with additions, such as the Nebula Award Alternate Universe Acceptance speeches or the mentoring program led by Sarah Pinsker or (I’d like to think) two I’ve contributed: the volunteer appreciation breakfast as well as the spouses and partners reception that have been regular features (and I hope will continue to do so!) Or the Book Depot, because I don’t know of ANY other con that takes as much care to make sure that its authors — including the indies — can sign and sell their books there. And there’s a fancy Nebula website, which remains a work in progress as more and more gets added to it, preserving the history of the Awards.

We’ve only got a small fraction of the schedule so far, with plenty of new stuff getting added every day, but here’s some highlights…

(2) BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD. Beresheet didn’t make it: “A private spacecraft from Israel crashed into the Moon Thursday”. Ars Technica not only has the story, they begin it with a Heinlein reference.

The Moon remains a harsh mistress.

On Thursday, SpaceIL’s lunar lander attempted to make a soft landing on the surface of the Moon, but it apparently crashed instead into the gray world. Although a postmortem analysis has not yet been completed, telemetry from the spacecraft indicated a failure of the spacecraft’s main engine about 10km above the Moon. Thereafter, it appears to have struck the Moon at a velocity of around 130 meters per second.

“We have had a failure in the spacecraft,” Opher Doron, general manager of the space division at Israel Aerospace Industries, which built the lander, said during the landing webcast. “We have unfortunately not managed to land successfully.” Israeli engineers vowed to try again.

The failure to land is perhaps understandable—it is extremely hard to land on the Moon, Mars, or any other object in the Solar System. In this case, the private effort to build the lunar lander worked on a shoestring budget of around $100 million to build their spacecraft, which had performed admirably right up until the last few minutes before its planned touchdown.

(3) TWINS IN SCIENCE. “NASA’s Twins Study Results Published in Science” in a paper titled “What to expect after a year in space.” The NASA press release begins —

NASA’s trailblazing Twins Study moved into the final stages of integrated research with the release of a combined summary paper published in Science.

The landmark Twins Study brought ten research teams from around the country together to observe what physiological, molecular and cognitive changes could happen to a human from exposure to spaceflight hazards. This was accomplished by comparing retired astronaut Scott Kelly while he was in space, to his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth.

The PR’s summaries of the 10 research topics includes –

Gene Expression:  Samples taken before, during and after Scott’s mission in space revealed some changes in gene expression. Mark also experienced normal-range changes in gene expression on Earth, but not the same changes as Scott. Changes Scott experienced may have been associated with his lengthy stay in space. Most of these changes (about 91.3%) reverted to baseline after he returned to Earth; however, a small subset persisted after six months. Some observed DNA damage is believed to be a result of radiation exposure. Gene expression data corroborated and supported other findings in the Twins Study, including the body’s response to DNA damage, telomere regulation, bone formation and immune system stress. These findings help demonstrate how a human body was able to adapt to the extreme environment of space and help researchers better understand how environmental stressors influence the activity of different genes, leading to a better understanding of physiological processes in space.

(4) BRACKETT BOOKS FALL THROUGH. The two Leigh Brackett titles announced by the Haffner Press in late 2015, The Book of Stark and Leigh Brackett Centennial have been cancelled. Stephen Haffner e-mailed an explanation to fans who preordered the books:

The fault for the cancellation of these two titles lies completely with Haffner Press and with me personally.

Rights to these titles were not evergreen and I failed to complete and publish these books within the contracted period. Believe me, I made every attempt to recover/resurrect these titles. At this point, the agent for the estate of Leigh Brackett is making other arrangements for the Stark books and Leigh Brackett. If this status changes, you’ll be one of the first to know.

Haffner is offering a complete refund, or application of the credit to another purchase.

(5) GUGGENHEIM FELLOWSHIPS. Authors Edward Carey, Michael Helm, Carmen Maria Machado, and Luis Alberto Urrea are among the winners of the 2019 Guggenheim Fellowships reports Locus Online.

(6) NEWITZ TALK. The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has posted video of Annalee Newitz speaking at UCSD on April 4 as part of the San Diego 2049 series .

Realistic worldbuilding requires that we get out of the dystopia/utopia binary and imagine futures that are a diverse mix of worlds. To imagine a plausible future world, we need to look critically at our own history, where progress is uneven and resistance is not futile. Annalee Newitz, journalist, co-founder of the website io9, and author of the acclaimed science fiction novel Autonomous, joined the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination and the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego to share her insights into worldbuilding as part of the San Diego 2049 series of programs.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born April 11, 1883 Leonard Mudie. His very last screen role was as one of the survivors of the SS Columbia in Trek’s original pilot episode, “The Cage.”  He also appeared as Professor Pearson opposite Boris Karloff in The Mummy released in 1932. He appeared in the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood as the town crier and the mysterious man who gives Robin directions. (Died 1965.)
  • Born April 11, 1892 William M. Timlin. Author of The Ship that Sailed to Mars, a remarkable work that has 48 pages of text and 48 color plates. It has become a classic of fantasy literature. You can view the book here. (Died 1943.)
  • Born April 11, 1920 Peter O’Donnell. A British writer of mysteries and of comic strips, best known as the creator of Modesty Blaise. He also did an adaptation for the Daily Express of the Dr. No novel. (Died 2010.)
  • Born April 11, 1953 Byron Preiss. Writer, editor and publisher. He founded and served as president of Byron Preiss Visual Publications, and later of ibooks Inc. If I remember correctly, ibooks was the last publisher for Zelazny for most of his books. Any idea what happened to those rights after ibooks went into receivership?  The only book I can find him writing is the children’s novel Dragonworld which is co-authored with Michael Reaves who was involved in including Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated Series. (Died 2005.)
  • Born April 11, 1957 Marina Fitch, 62. She has published two novels, The Seventh Heart and The Border. Her short fiction has appeared in Pulphouse, MZB, F&SF, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and the anthologies, Desire Burn and Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn. She is currently at work on a novel and several new stories.
  • Born April 11, 1963 Gregory Keyes, 56. Best known for The Age of Unreason tetralogy, a steampunk and magical affair featuring Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton. He also wrote The Psi Corps Trilogy and has done a lot of other media time-in fiction including Pacific Rim, Star Wars, Planet of The ApesIndependence Day and Pacific Rim
  • Born April 11, 1974 Tricia Helfer, 45. She is best known for playing the humanoid Cylon model Number Six in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. In addition, she plays Charlotte Richards / Mom on Lucifer. And she voiced Boodikka in Green Lantern: First Flight.
  • Born April 11, 1981 Matt Ryan, 38. John Constantine in NBC’s Constantine and The CW’s Arrowverse, as well as voicing the character in the Justice League Dark and the animated Constantine: City of Demons films as well. And he played Horatio in Hamlet in the Donmar production at the Wyndham’s Theatre. 

(8) PHOTO OP. BBC calls “Katie Bouman: The woman behind the first black hole image”.

A 29-year-old computer scientist has earned plaudits worldwide for helping develop the algorithm that created the first-ever image of a black hole.

Katie Bouman led development of a computer program that made the breakthrough image possible.

The remarkable photo, showing a halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion km from Earth, was released on Wednesday.

For Dr Bouman, its creation was the realisation of an endeavour previously thought impossible.

(9) LOL! Oh, Reference Director!

(10) RETRO HUGO FAN MATERIAL ONLINE. Joe Siclari of Fanac.org has assembled a resource for this year’s Retro Hugo voters —

Dublin 2019 has announced the Finalists for this year’s Retro Hugo Awards to be given for works published in 1943. We’ve pulled together what we have on Fanac.org, along with a few zines from eFanzines and the University of Iowa, to give you a single place where you can find all the Finalist publications available online. Read before you vote! http://fanac.org/fanzines/Retro_Hugos.html  

(11) GARY GIANNI’S SONG OF ICE & FIRE ART. Flesk Publications will start taking preorders next week: “Art of Gary Gianni for George R. R. Martin’s Seven Kingdoms. Signed by Martin and Gianni! Pre-Order on April 18th.” Arnie Fenner writes, “I don’t think Flesk is going to make the first edition available to the trade and is only going to sell it and the signed edition direct. Whether he’ll make a second edition available to bookstores…?”

A comprehensive visual overview of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—plus A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and Fire and Blood—through over 300 drawings and paintings by the award-winning illustrator Gary Gianni.

This new premium art book will be available for pre-order at www.fleskpublications.com on Thursday, April 18.

(12) THREE BOOKS TO CONQUER. Cat Rambo’s book deal with Tor leads in “Recent News and Changes from Chez Rambo”.

I’m very pleased to announce that Tor has acquired my recent space fantasy (maybe?), as part of a three book deal, and I’ll be working with Christopher Morgan there. While I’ve had a lot of short stories published traditionally, this is the first novel to go through that, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the process is like. What is the book about? Well, I’m actually not sure of the genre but have been describing it as a banter-driven space military fantasy in which a group of ex-military turned restauranteurs get an unexpected package, just as things start exploding. I’m 40k words into the sequel.

(13) AMAZON’S #1 AUTHOR. It took five days for Scalzi’s cats to turn him into a telethon host.

(14) PAGING VALENTINE MICHAEL SMITH. “‘Three-person’ baby boy born in Greece”

Fertility doctors in Greece and Spain say they have produced a baby from three people in order to overcome a woman’s infertility.

The baby boy was born weighing 2.9kg (6lbs) on Tuesday. The mother and child are said to be in good health.

…The experimental form of IVF uses an egg from the mother, sperm from the father, and another egg from a donor woman.

(15) YOU COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP. “Official Report: Nuclear Waste Accident Caused By Wrong Cat Litter” – just what were they feeding those cats anyway?

A yearlong investigation by government scientists has concluded that a major accident at a nuclear waste dump was caused by the wrong brand of cat litter.

The U.S. Department of Energy has released a 277-page report into an explosion that occurred on Feb. 14, 2014, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. According to a summary of the report, the incident occurred when a single drum of nuclear waste, 68660, burst open.

(16) VIVA LA ROOMBALUCION II. Nope, it’s not Florida Man. NPR says — “Oregon Man Called Police About A Burglar. Armed Officers Found A Rogue Roomba”.

The Washington County sheriff in Oregon says there was nothing unusual about the call. Sure, it was broad daylight — 1:48 p.m. local time exactly — but “crime can happen anytime.”

So the frantic call from a house guest about a burglar making loud rustling noises inside the house, specifically from within the locked bathroom, deserved an urgent response, Sgt. Danny DiPietro, a sheriff’s spokesman, tells NPR.

“The man had just gone for a walk with his nephew’s dog and when he came back, he could see shadows moving back and forth under the bathroom door,” DiPietro says.

Resources were immediately deployed: three seasoned deputies — one with at least 20 years on the force — a detective who happened to be in the area, and two canine officers from Beaverton Police Department, about 7 miles outside Portland.

(17) NEW BRANCH. BBC reports on “Homo luzonensis: New human species found in Philippines”.

There’s a new addition to the family tree: an extinct species of human that’s been found in the Philippines.

It’s known as Homo luzonensis, after the site of its discovery on the country’s largest island Luzon.

Its physical features are a mixture of those found in very ancient human ancestors and in more recent people.

That could mean primitive human relatives left Africa and made it all the way to South-East Asia, something not previously thought possible.

The find shows that human evolution in the region may have been a highly complicated affair, with three or more human species in the region at around the time our ancestors arrive.

(18) THE AI SHORTFALL. IEEE Spectrum’s article “How IBM Watson Overpromised and Underdelivered on AI Health Care”illustrates the gap between reality and the popular imagination regarding AI. Greg Hullender sent the link with a comment, “I think the key point is in the last two paragraphs: Watson makes a great AI librarian, but it really isn’t a doctor at all, and likely never will be. Also worth noting is that the areas where they had the most success were the ones that needed the least AI, e.g. Watson for Genomics, which benefited from not needing natural language processing (NLP).”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses Watson for Genomics reports in more than 70 hospitals nationwide, says Michael Kelley, the VA’s national program director for oncology. The VA first tried the system on lung cancer and now uses it for all solid tumors. “I do think it improves patient care,” Kelley says. When VA oncologists are deciding on a treatment plan, “it is a source of information they can bring to the discussion,” he says. But Kelley says he doesn’t think of Watson as a robot doctor. “I tend to think of it as a robot who is a master medical librarian.”

Most doctors would probably be delighted to have an AI librarian at their beck and call—and if that’s what IBM had originally promised them, they might not be so disappointed today. The Watson Health story is a cautionary tale of hubris and hype. Everyone likes ambition, everyone likes moon shots, but nobody wants to climb into a rocket that doesn’t work.

(19) SEVENTIES FLASHBACK. Michael Gonzalez remembers when “I Was a Teenage (Wannabe) Horror Writer” at CrimeReads.

While sitting in the balcony of a movie theater waiting for Jordan Peele’s much-anticipated horror film Us, I began thinking about my personal relationship with the horror genre. “When I was pregnant with you I used to watch scary movies all the time,” my mom confessed years before as we left the Roosevelt Theatre in Harlem one afternoon after a screening of Night of the Living Dead. Although I was only seven and much too young to have seen that first zombie apocalypse, which gave me nightmares for a week, but afterwards I became a horror junkie. As much as I might’ve nervously jumped while watching The Blob, The Fly or Dracula, it was those stories that appealed to me.

…During the 1970s, with the exception of a few artists (Billy Graham, Keith Pollard, Ron Wilson and Trevor Von Eeden), there weren’t many African-American creators working in commercial comics, something I noticed when I attended my first comic convention that same year. However, while I didn’t see any scripters that “looked like me,” that wasn’t going to keep me from trying. Truthfully, I wasn’t trying to be the Rosa Parks of horror comic book writers, I just wanted to be down.

(20) HORROR DEFENDED. And Kim Newman argues in The Guardian that “Exposing children to horror films isn’t the nightmare you think it is”.

What terrifies children isn’t just the stuff designed to scare. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, you get the witch but also the comedy lion – and even though cackling evil is dispelled at the end, the incidentals offer nightmare fodder: the tree with a human face, the winged monkeys, even the horse of a different colour. As Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro – both jumpy kids who have grown up to love monsters – have shown, the world of an imaginative child is full of wonders and terrors, and if you strip out the latter by insisting on a diet of just Peppa Pig you risk raising a generation unable to cope with the slightest trauma.

(21) ENDGAME PROMO. “You know your teams. You know your missions.” Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame is in theaters April 26.

[Thanks to Joe Siclari, Susan de Guardiola, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Olav Rokne, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Rambo, Chip Hitchcock, Stephenfrom Ottawa, Arnie Fenner, Greg Hullender, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

We Can Do This Thing

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1286; January 31, 2017)  Today is National Gorilla-Suit Day (Don Martin Bounces Back, 1963).

I’ve just come to the passage in Scott Kelly’s Endurance (2017) where his twin brother Mark announces sending a gorilla suit to Scott at the International Space Station.

“Of course you need a gorilla suit,” Mark says (p. 219, in the large-print edition, which is what I could get).

Its launching rocket explodes, but – this is ahead of where I am in the book – another is sent, upon arrival captured with a robot arm (p. 498) by Kjell (pronounced “chell”) Lindgren, who also while at the Station 22 Jul – 11 Dec 15 was a long-distance Guest of Honor of Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, presenting the Hugo Award for Best Novel by video.

Indeed Scott Kelly gorillas up, as he puts it (p. 529), of which a video got onto the Internet 23 Feb 16.

Submitted for Your Consideration

By John Hertz:  Those words always remind me of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone. Now in Electronicland it may be easier to find than when originally broadcast.

Rod Serling was an Antioch boy, as am I.  So was Rusty Hevelin who knew him there and dated Coretta Scott. I never knew any of them in college; they were far ahead of me.  Lots of folks are far ahead of me.

I submit for your consideration Scott Kelly and André Ceolin’s book My Journey to the Stars. I’m nominating it in the Hugos for Related Work.

This is the aimed-at-children version of Kelly’s near-year on the International Space Station (we have a Space Station!), illustrated with both photographs and Ceolin’s pictures.  Kelly’s aimed-at-adults version Endurance is good too, but Journey’s my nominee.

Scott Kelly and his identical-twin brother Mark joined the U.S. Nat’l Aeronautics & Space Adm’n in the same year, the only twins in NASA history.  One on Earth, one in Space, was part of this mission.

Telling a story is an art.  Telling a story to children is an art.  What do you put in?

At the end of last month – the very end, January 31st – while I was a third of the way through Endurance, I reported in Vanamonde 1286 (Van is only on paper, links added here):

Today is National Gorilla Suit Day (Don Martin Bounces Back, 1963).  I’ve just come to the passage in Scott Kelly’s Endurance (2017) where his twin brother Mark announces sending a gorilla suit to Scott at the International Space Station.

“Of course you need a gorilla suit,” Mark says (p. 219, in the large-print edition, which is what I could get).

Its launching rocket explodes, but – this is ahead of where I am in the book – another is sent, upon arrival captured with a robot arm (p. 498) by Kjell (pronounced “chell”) Lindgren, who also while at the Station 22 Jul – 11 Dec 15 was a long-distance Guest of Honor of Sasquan the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, presenting the Hugo Award for Best Novel by video.

Indeed Scott gorillas up, as he puts it (p. 529), of which a video got onto the Internet 23 Feb 16.

Endurance doesn’t mention the Hugo (to which Our Gracious Host commented “the noive!”, presumably not to express an opinion about the NERVA), but since it does include the gorilla suit a case could be made that it shows a sense of proportion.  Neither book mentions Heinlein’s Time for the Stars.

Endurance has six hundred pages.  Journey has seventeen hundred words.

Endurance had the help of Margaret Lazarus Dean; Journey, Emily Easton.  Scott says he came home from the Station with 500,000 photographs.  Journey has forty, with a dozen photo credits beside his.

Scott calls Mark his perfect copy – on the 5th page of Journey (the pages aren’t numbered), under four photos of them at various ages dressed and acting – almost – identically.  By the fourth photo they’re both adults; they both have shaved heads; Mark has a mustache; their insignia – and faces – are different.

Some of the photos in Journey match Ceolin’s pictures.  On the 12th page is a photo of the twins with their Grandma, an inset to Ceolin’s picture on the 12th and 13th of the twins with Grandma and Pop Pop.  The twins are wearing almost the same shirts as in the photo.  You can see how Ceolin shows Grandma and how the photo does.

By the 16th page Mom has decided to become a police officer; the 17th shows Scott pretending to be hurt so she can practice dragging him to safety.  On the 19th they’re doing that in a photo.

Ceolin is very sparing in detail.  I was about to say “like cartoons” but some cartoons spare almost nothing.  What is realism?

Journey starts at the end.

It’s been 340 days since I set foot on Earth.  I’ve spent almost a full year living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I miss fresh air and the feel of rain on my face.  I miss hugging my daughters and my girlfriend, Amiko.

At last, it’s time to get into the spaceship that will take me home.

Before this text is a photo of Scott in NASA uniform between his two daughters.  Under the text is a photo of Scott in Navy uniform with Amiko.  Maybe you can tell whether they’re in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Cinderella Castle, Enchanted Storybook Castle, or Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant.

We see these photos because a spacesuited hand is holding them.  Why a suit?  He wears it, not on the Station, but to and from.  He’s on his way home.

In another story the King of Hearts tells the White Rabbit “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Almost nothing happens there that isn’t some kind of joke.  The author probably knew the Roman poet Horace said in praise of Homer “He snatches the reader into the midst of the action”; maybe also knew the Greek historian Polybius said  “The cause or purpose is the first origin of all, the beginning coming last.”

One-quarter of Journey has Scott on the Station.

The four-twins-photos page takes us to their childhood.  In one of the photos each boy is holding a fish; on the next page Ceolin shows them fishing.  The water runs under the photos, and behind the text, on the previous page.

Eighteen pages later they’re test pilots in the Navy.  After that, and joining NASA, they each fly into Space four times.

Scott’s long term on the Station is part of NASA planning for Mars.  That trip will call for longer in Space than human beings have ever been.  Scott tests his brain, blood, eyes, muscles, and bones.  Mark on Earth does the same tests.

Scott and his crew run four hundred experiments.  Some are on the crew.  Some are on mice.  Some are flowers and lettuce.  This is the first crew to eat fresh vegetables grown on the Station.

When he does finally get home he walks straight to his swimming pool and jumps in with all his clothes on.

I could have put in how he was a terrible student until he read The Right Stuff, how his parents fought but his Dad helped his Mom train for the police, and how Mark got hit by a car but when he came back from the hospital Scott thought Mark had the better deal.

I could have put in a love poem from Amiko to Scott which is in Endurance along with chocolate and horse milk.

In another story Polynesia the parrot asks Tommy Stubbins “Are you a good noticer?”  I think Journey, by design or instinct or both, an immensely – can’t measure it –  subtle book.  Its parts complement, correspond, connect.

Journey is amazing.  That’s its second-to-last word.

                             

P.S.  I have two more recommendations: Greg Benford’s novel The Berlin Project which I think extraordinary, and Larry Niven’s short story “By the Red Giant’s Light” (Nov-Dec Fantasy & Science Fiction)  which I think a masterwork.  Niven is a pointillist.  He paints dots of bright color and leaves us to see the whole.