Cats Sleep on SFF: Critical Point

Karen Babich shares a snapshot of a cat using a genre book for a pillow:

I live with some cats who are very fine creatures. One of them, Finn, recently rested on my library copy of the newest Cas Russell novel by SL Huang.

Since the cat had his back to the camera in that photo, I’m also including my favorite recent photo of the Finn, in which he happens to look skeptical. (As one does.)


Photos of your felines resting on genre works are welcome. Send to mikeglyer (at) cs (dot) com

Pixel Scroll 8/10/20
Ancillary Mustache

(1) ADDING A HUGO CATEGORY. Speculative Fiction in Translation’s Rachel Cordasco renews her appeal that “major Anglophone SFF awards should include a separate translation category” in “SFT And The Awards”.

…Really, all of this comes down to a naming problem. If the Hugos are going to be a “World Award,” logically they should include works from around the world, in any language. Since that doesn’t seem likely any time soon, and Anglophone readers generally don’t learn multiple languages unless they have to, then the award should (again, logically) stop calling itself a “World Award” and start acknowledging that, from the very beginning, it has been and still is an award given to English-language SFF by English-language readers.

….And then there’s the whole set of general arguments opposing, or at least not immediately embracing, a separate translation category. I’ve listed a few below:

  • We already have too many award categories.
  • Not enough Anglophone readers read SFT so how could they vote on it?
  • Creating a separate translation category will send the message that SFT is inferior to Anglophone speculative fiction.
  • SFT can win and has won awards without any “help.”
  • But how can we determine if the translation is any good?
  • Changing award rules is too difficult.

I’m going to address each of these points separately, making sure that I reiterate that I am not involved in any of these awards at the executive level, though I did participate in the most recent Locus Awards voting and was able to bring my knowledge of current SFT to the discussion, which I truly appreciated.

You may also know that I started a “Favorite SFT” poll in 2018, which is open to anyone who would like to vote (once!). This approach has its flaws but it’s the best I can do with the resources I have. Just the fact that the poll exists makes me think that more people are becoming aware that SFT does exist.

To the first point that “we already have too many award categories”: so what? And also, is a translated category somehow less important than the “Young Adult” or “First Novel” category? And to the subpoint that some translated work might win in two categories, can’t that happen with other categories? And aren’t there ways to get around that? I freely admit that I’m not cut out for business meetings and deciding rules about rules- which is one of the reasons why I’m not on these committees. This is just me on a website putting forth my opinions, against which everyone is free to argue. (Just be respectful when you rip me to shreds, ok?)….

(2) DAY AFTER DAY. SYFY Wire explores “The Unending Appeal Of Time Loops”. But only once.

…But outside of a stay-at-home crisis, time loops have gained traction in their appeal due to the same themes that made Groundhog Day so popular to begin with. Like the drunken locals that Phil Conners laments to in Punxsutawney, or the fellow wedding guest in the Palm Springs hotel pool talking to Samberg’s Nyles, those existing outside the loop can relate on a visceral level to the experience of feeling like today is the same as yesterday and tomorrow. For Bill Murray, the appeal of Groundhog Day as a script was its representation of people’s fear of change, and how we choose to repeat our daily lives to avoid it. These themes echoed in Russian Doll, which as a bingeable streaming series really allowed audiences to inhabit the repetitive nature of the loops, ironically utilizing the same technologies that have sped our lives up and caused them to feel even more cyclical.

(3) FIYAHCON. I signed up for FIYAHCON (October 17-18) news in time to receive its August Update naming three more guests:

FIYAHCON tweeted additional information: Rebecca Roanhorse: “We suspect you know @RoanhorseBex from all of that constant award-winning she does as a Black + Indigenous writer of many brilliant things.”; Cassie Hart: “is a Maori writer who’s been working intensely behind the scenes to shine a light on SFF from Aotearoa while grinding out an impressive number of works herself.”; Yasser Bahjatt: “chaired the Worldcon bid for Saudi Arabia. And while that didn’t land, we are thrilled to hear more from him about Arabian SFF and other ways we can uplift and celebrate the spec community there.”

The three newcomers join FIYAHCON’s previously announced guests:

There’s also an educational FIYAH Definition T-Shirt that’s new.

(4) THE NEXT MARTIAN. io9 points to today’s trailer drop: “Hilary Swank Is on a Mission to Mars in the Emotional First Trailer for Netflix’s Away.

She’s boldly going where no one has gone before, but doing so means leaving the people she loves the most. We’ve got the first trailer for Netflix’s Away, a new series that sees Hilary Swank joining the first manned mission to Mars—a three-year journey that will test the limits of its crew, as well as the patience of those who were left behind….

(5) JUST SAYIN’. Jay Blanc tweeted his ideas for improving Hugo administration. Thread starts here. Whether or not he has the solution (and CoNZealand Deputy Hugo Administrator Nicholas Whyte responded skeptically in the thread), I had to agree with Blanc’s last tweet about what one of the problems is.

He’s not alone in marveling at how many times in the past decade the Hugos have been hamstrung because someone was writing code from scratch. That doesn’t always happen for the same reason. We didn’t always need or want, in the past, a system that integrates all aspects of a member’s digital interaction with the convention. That’s what they’re moving toward, therefore it would make sense for that software to be created and stabilized. Funding it, having the work done and vetted, and working out licensing to the committees (which are entities of their own) would all be part of the mission.

(6) THE EYES HAVE IT. “Looking Forward on Looking Backwards” at The Hugo Book Club Blog.

… Because they are voted on primarily by people who were born decades after the original publication dates, the Retro Hugos are less likely to recognize work that has not been reprinted. This means that the average Retro Hugo voter inevitably experiences the works they’re voting on through a filter created by the intervening generations. Other than Erle KorshakCora Buhlert, and Gideon Marcus, we’d be hard-pressed to name a Hugo voter who is likely to have read a 1945-era pulp magazine cover-to-cover and experienced the works in something like their original context….

No need to be so “hard-pressed.” You have not because you ask not.

…For the Retro Hugos to be relevant and worthwhile awards, we as members of the World Science Fiction Society need to wrestle with why the awards need to exist. Is their intent to reproduce the racist tastes of the past or can they help focus a critical lens on the history of the genre and help us discover works that might have been overlooked?

(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • August 10, 1951 Tales Of Tomorrow first broadcast the “Blunder” in which a scientist is warned his experiment with nuclear fission could destroy the earth. Written by Philip Wylie who wrote the screenplay for When Worlds Collide.  The primary cast is Robert Allen and Ann Loring. It was directed by Leonard Valenta who otherwise did soap,operas. The original commercials are here as well.  You can watch it here.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born August 10, 1902 Curt Siodmak. He is known for his work in the horror and sf films for The Wolf Man and Donovan’s Brain, the latter  from his own novel. ISFDB notes the latter was part of his Dr. Patrick Cory series, and he wrote quite a few other genre novels as well. Donovan’s Brain and just a few other works are available in digital form. (Died 2000.) (CE)
  • Born August 10, 1903 Ward Moore. Author of Bring the Jubilee which everyone knows about as it’s often added to that mythical genre canon and several more that I’m fairly sure almost no one knows of. More interestingly to me was that he was a keen writer of recipes of which ISFDB documents that four of his appeared in Anne McCaffrey’s Cooking Out of This World: “Kidneys — Like Father Used to Make” and “Pea Soup — Potage Ste. Germaine“ being two of them. (Died 1978.) (CE)
  • Born August 10, 1913 Noah Beery Jr. Genre-wise, he’s best remembered as Maj. William Corrigan on the Fifties classic SF film Rocketship X-M, but he showed up in other genre undertakings as well such as 7 Faces of Dr. LaoThe Six Million Dollar ManFantasy IslandBeyond Witch MountainThe Ghost of Cypress Swamp and The Cat Creeps. I think he appeared in one of the earliest Zorro films made where he’s credited just as a boy, he’d be seven then, The Mark of Zorro which had Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his father, Noah Beery Sr. (Died 1994.) (CE)
  • Born August 10, 1931 – Alexis Gilliland, 89.  Seven novels, six shorter stories and a Feghoot; Campbell (as it then was) for Best New Writer.  Chaired six Disclaves.  WSFA (Washington, D.C., SF Ass’n) met at his house for decades.  One of our finest fanartists.  Four Hugos, three FAAn (FAn Activity Achievement) Awards, Rotsler.  Letters, perhaps three hundred cartoons in AlexiadAlgolAmazingAnalogAsimov’sChungaFantasy ReviewFlagJanusLocusMimosaPulphouseSF EyeSF CommentarySF ReviewSFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) BulletinStar*Line, Worldcon Souvenir Books.  Here is a cover for SF Review.  See hereherehere.  Makes good deviled eggs.  [JH]
  • Born August 10, 1944 Barbara Erskine, 76. I’m including her because I’ve got a bit of a mystery. ISFDB lists her as writing over a dozen genre novels and her wiki page says she has a fascination with the supernatural but neither indicates what manner of genre fiction she wrote. I’m guessing romance or gothic tinged with the supernatural based on the covers but that’s just a guess. What do y’all know about her? (CE)
  • Born August 10, 1955 Eddie Campbell, 65. Best-known as the illustrator and publisher of From Hell (written by Alan Moore), and Bacchus, a most excellent series about the few Greek gods who have made to the present day. Though not genre in the slightest way, I highly recommend The Black Diamond Detective Agency which he did. It’s an adaptation of an as-yet unmade screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell. (CE)
  • Born August 10, 1955 – Tom Kidd, 65.  Eight Chesleys.  Artbooks KiddographyOtherWorldsHow to Draw & Paint Dragons.  Three hundred eighty covers, a hundred forty interiors.  Here is Not This August.  Here is the Oct 83 Fantasy & Science Fiction.  Here is Songs of the Dying Earth.  Here is Overruled.  [JH]
  • Born August 10, 1962 – Horia Gâbea, Sc.D., 58.  Romanian playwright, poet, essayist, novelist, engineer, popularizer of contract bridge.  University of Bilbao prize for poetry.  The Serpent performed by the British Royal Court Theatre.  Translator of Chekhov, Corneille, John D. MacDonald, Machiavelli.  Accused of being “gratuitously bookish…. a pun more important than a murder…. thin and edgy like a razor…. forgives no one no thing.” Worlds and Beings anthology in English.  [JH]
  • Born August 10, 1965 Claudia Christian, 55. Best-known role is Commander Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5, but she has done other genre roles such as being Brenda Lee Van Buren in The Hidden, Katherine Shelley in Lancelot: Guardian of Time, Quinn in Arena, Lucy in The Haunting of Hell House and Kate Dematti in Meteor Apocalypse. She’s had one-offs on Space RangersHighlanderQuantum LeapRelic Hunter and Grimm. She’s Captain Belinda Blowhard on Starhyke, a six-episode series shot in ‘05 you can on Amazon Prime.  (CE)
  • Born August 10, 1971 – Lara Morgan, 49.  Six novels for us.  “Her mission is to rid the world of tea, one cup at a time.  This is going quite well.”  She liked All Our Yesterdays, alas for me not Harry Warner’s but Cristin Terrill’s; ranked Ender’s Game about the same as Lilith’s Brood.  Website here.  [JH]
  • Born August 10, 1985 – Andrew Drilon, 35.  A dozen short stories; Philippine Speculative Fiction 9 with Charles Tan; four covers, three dozen interiors; comics.  Here is Heroes, Villains, and Other Women.  Here is WonderLust.  Here is a sequence from his own Whapak! [JH]

(9) COMICS SECTION.

(10) DOUBLE-OH BRACKETS. Morgan Jeffery, in “Sean Connery named the best James Bond as thousands of 007 fans vote in our poll” in Radio Times, says that 14,000 James Bond fans voted to see who the best Bond of all time was, with Sir Sean Connery first, Timothy Dalton second, and Pierce Brosnan third.  Sam Heughan from Outlander was named the #1 choice to be the new Bond in the survey,

…Round 1 saw Connery knock out current 007 actor Daniel Craig, coming out on top with 56 per cent of the vote compared to Craig’s 43 per cent, while Pierce Brosnan winning Round 2 with 76 per cent against his opponent George Lazenby’s 24 per cent.

Round 3 saw perhaps the most surprising result yet, as Roger Moore was knocked out of the competition – with 41 per cent of the vote, he lost out to his immediate successor Timothy Dalton, who scored 49 per cent of the vote.

(11) TOP TEN. ScreenRant lists “Star Trek: The 10 Weirdest Official Merch You Can Buy”. After all, nobody wants to buy just plain old Trek merchandise. And one item meets a need of Filers who never have enough of these —

4. Next Generation Spoons

At some point, someone decided that Star Trek fans were fanatical about cutlery and all things fine dining, hence the creations of a series of elegant Next Generation spoons.

The high-quality spoons feature the faces of fan-favorite characters such as Captain Picard and Data on the handle of each implement. While nice its almost impossible to imagine anyone actually using these spoons to eat with and the illogical decisions that led to their creation would no doubt befuddle Spock.

(12) APOLLO 1 INVESTIGATION. Dwayne Day continues his exploration of space history with new details about the Apollo 1 fire of 1967 in The Space Review: “After the fire: a long-lost transcript from the Apollo 1 fire investigation”.

As long as there has been spaceflight, there have been conspiracy theories. There were conspiracy theories about Sputnik in the late 1950s (“their Germans are better than our Germans”) and dead cosmonauts in the early 1960s. Even before some people claimed—on the very day that it happened—that the Moon landing was faked, Apollo had its own conspiracy theories. In those days it was difficult for them to propagate and reach a wide audience, unlike today, when they can spread around the world at the speed of light. One of those Apollo conspiracy theories was about a whistleblower named Thomas Baron, who later died under mysterious circumstances.

Baron worked on the Apollo program in Florida for one of the key contractors. After the Apollo 1 fire in early 1967, Baron testified before a congressional fact-finding delegation that went to Florida. He later died under what some people considered to be mysterious circumstances, fueling speculation that he was killed to shut him up. The transcript of his testimony also could not be found by later researchers, which fueled the speculation that somebody was covering up damaging information.

In 1999, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, radio station WAMU in Washington, DC, aired a program about the role of Washington politics in the lunar landing. “Washington Goes to the Moon” was written and produced by Richard Paul and featured interviews with a number of key figures in the story. Paul had decided that the Apollo 1 fire and the subsequent investigations into its cause would be a key focus of the program. In the course of researching the fire, he stumbled upon a document that many believed was long-lost: a transcript of an interview with Thomas Baron, who alleged that there were numerous improper actions taken by his employer, North American Aviation, which was building the spacecraft.

(13) THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE. “The nuclear mistakes that nearly caused World War Three” – BBC kept count.

From invading animals to a faulty computer chip worth less than a dollar, the alarmingly long list of close calls shows just how easily nuclear war could happen by mistake.

…All told, there have been at least 22 alarmingly narrow misses since nuclear weapons were discovered. So far, we’ve been pushed to the brink of nuclear war by such innocuous events as a group of flying swans, the Moon, minor computer problems and unusual space weather. In 1958, a plane accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb in a family’s back garden; miraculously, no one was killed, though their free-range chickens were vaporised. Mishaps have occurred as recently as 2010, when the United States Air Force temporarily lost the ability to communicate with 50 nuclear missiles, meaning there would have been no way to detect and stop an automatic launch.

(14) BLOCKHOUSE FOR BLOCKHEADS? [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Isaac Schultz, in “For Sale: A Cold War Bunker and Missile Silo in North Dakota” on Atlas Obscura, says that tomorrow auctioneers will sell a 50-acre site in North Dakota that housed a missile base loaded with Sprint missiles that were supposed to be the last line of defense against Soviet ICBM’s.  The missiles are gone but the buildings are still there, and it’s perfect for a slan shack or future Worldcon bid, or would be an ideal place to conduct fan feuds.  What better place to launch verbal missiles than a place that housed real missiles? Plus all the former missile silos are guaranteed to be socially distant from each other!

HALF AN HOUR SOUTH OF the Canadian border, in Fairdale, North Dakota, a hulking concrete structure rises up from the flat fields that surround it. The beige buildings are so prominent on an otherwise pastoral landscape that they could be mistaken for a 20th-century Stonehenge.

It’s a Cold War missile site, and it’s for sale.

(15) I WALK TO THE TREES. In “The Lord of The Rings:  The Two Towers Pitch Meeting” on ScreenRant, Ryan George promises a film with “a whole lot of walking.  Even the trees walk.”

[Thanks to John Hertz, Lise Andreasen, N., Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Porter, James Davis Nicoll, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michal Toman, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Group Sends Letter of Concern To CoNZealand Programming

Alasdair Stuart has published a “Statement of 2020 Hugo Finalists re: Worldcon Programming” on behalf of a group of CoNZealand program participants and award finalists. Stuart, co-owner of Escape Artists podcasts and a 2020 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist, outlined the issues in a Twitter thread starting here.

Stuart told File 770, “The letter was workshopped by the entire group, and wasn’t published before they gave express approval so it very much is a group of co-signees.”

The group includes: Charles Payseur, Benjamin C. Kinney, Jennifer Mace, SL Huang, Shiv Ramdas, SB Divya, Jenn Lyons, Sarah Gailey, Paul Weimer, Sarah Pinsker, Claire Rousseau, Maria Haskins, Tasha Suri, Marguerite Kenner, Alasdair Stuart, Jonathan Strahan, Pablo Defendini, Elsa Sjunneson, Brent Lambert, Freya Marske, Julia Rios, Alix Harrow, Gideon Marcus, Janice Marcus, Lorelei Marcus, James Davis Nicoll, Neil Clarke, Cora Buhlert, Charlie Jane Anders, Brandon O’Brien, Erica Frank, Jen Zink, Adri Joy, Fran Wilde, Suzanne Walker, Chimedum Ohaegbu, Navah Wolfe, John Picacio, and Max Gladstone.

The letter says:

We applaud the courage and conviction of the CoNZealand organisers in pivoting to a virtual Worldcon during an unprecedented global event. Their work has been admirable and — in many aspects — both innovative and successful.

We are a group of Hugo Award finalists who identified concerns with our programming when we received our “final schedules” this week, and came together to help CoNZealand recognize and address these issues.

In brief, our key concerns are:

  • Many Hugo finalists have not been offered programming and panels relevant to their nomination.
  • We believe that many of our panels cannot be adequately performed without more diverse participants and/or a reframing of the topic.
  • Communication with Hugo finalists about the financial requirements for participation has been inconsistent or absent, with contradictory information on whether or not we were able to participate in programming without a full attending membership. This issue particularly impacted Black, Indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”), leaving them more likely than other finalists to receive no programming.

We present our concerns in the hope that these issues represent not intentional choices on the convention’s part but the unavoidable consequences of Worldcon’s discontinuous structure, and the necessary prioritization CoNZealand has had to undertake in order to pivot successfully to a virtual event. 

We have tried to be brief and targeted in our recommendations so as to remain sensitive to the time pressure CoNZealand is under. Accompanying this letter is a spreadsheet containing specific examples of the issues above. We have listed (1) which panel topics we are missing; (2) which panels have problematic design or membership; (3) which panels we finalists want off or are willing to leave to create space; and (4) finalists that were deterred from participation due to lack of membership.

Our data are incomplete because we could only recruit a limited number of Hugo finalists to provide input without further delaying the process. Among our group of finalists, about 25% entirely lack relevant panels, and about 45% are dissatisfied with the fit of the programming they have.

We recognize there is a difficult balance to strike when raising concerns to an overtaxed team less than two weeks before an event, however many of us have repeatedly raised these issues or volunteered only to receive no response. We have intentionally not sought to assume ownership of programming items, but we are committed to assisting where possible and desired by CoNZealand. However, we emphasize that our bringing awareness to these issues does not obligate us to single-handedly resolve them.

As part of our offer to assist, we have begun identifying additional and replacement panelists who could add necessary diversity. If CoNZealand lacks sufficient BIPOC attendees, we hope you will provide free attendance to needed panelists who aren’t members. Moreover, there remain issues we cannot address on our own, especially (1) communicating with all finalists whether paid membership is required for programming; and (2) making sure all finalists with memberships are on relevant programming.

We are not united in what actions we intend to take if our concerns are not addressed. Many have already begun the process of asking to be removed from programming in its entirety, while others are actively working to locate replacements for the programming items they feel need improvement. Our focus at this stage remains taking action to make our concerns known, and to support CoNZealand addressing them in the combined spirit of fostering an environment for all to share in the celebration of our genre.

Although there are some echoes of the representation issues raised before the 2018 Worldcon (which a team led by Mary Robinette Kowal stepped in to address before the con), so far the efforts have been collaborative.

The CoNZealand’s Programming Division Head Jannie Shea emailed this reply to Stuart:

Thank you for sending us your concerns. We are addressing those we can. We encourage indigenous, marginalised and historically underrepresented fans to apply for our Inclusion Initiative, (https://conzealand.nz/blog/2020/07/03/conzealand-chairs-inclusion-initiative) which offers two types of opportunities to join CoNZealand. 

We appreciate your volunteerism in contacting all those people for us. As you know, due to privacy regulations, we cannot contact people more than once without a response from them. We hope they will get in touch with us directly and soon, to see if we can fit them in.

All the best,
Jannie

Shea points to CoNZealand’s inclusion initiative in answer to the letter’s question “whether paid membership is required for programming.” Typically, only people who have bought attending memberships become Worldcon program participants. The introduction to the  inclusion initiative explains what help is available:

Marginalised communities are overrepresented in the group suffering the greatest fallout from this pandemic, and as such, we want to ensure that our community does not suffer a loss of its hard-won diversity. We want to lower the barriers for participation for those from underrepresented communities. 

We want the convention to be a global one, where all communities and viewpoints are represented, and this fund is intended to help those who would otherwise not be able to participate fully in the activities of the Worldcon.

The initiative upgrades eligible members from supporting to attending memberships. …There are a small number of attending passes available.

CoNZealand is especially challenged in its efforts to answer these needs because, as a virtual convention, it isn’t limited to programming people who can afford to come to Wellington, as would have been the case before the pandemic — it could draw people from everywhere. But like most non-U.S. Worldcons it has a smaller membership base from which to draw the financial support needed to make its budget.  

Following the jump is a roundup of Twitter comments from participants.

Continue reading

Pixel Scroll 5/12/20 If Pixels Be The Scroll Of Life, File On

(1) DRAWING A LINE IN THE SILICON.  Tor author S.L. Huang, in “Genre Labels: What Makes A Book More Thriller Than Sci-Fi?” on CrimeReads, says “I’ve been a science fiction and fantasy nerd for as long as I can remember,” and that a book is more of a thriller than sf if “the science-fiction elements feel more realistic,” the book is in a contemporary Earth setting, and the book is written at a thriller pace with many short chapters rather than a sf pace.

4. Making the science fiction a single switch flip.

Lots of science fiction books have a broad array of speculative elements—worldbuilding, culture, technology, language, and advancements in science are just a few elements science fiction writers consider when building intricate other universes. But it’s not the only way to do science fiction. And a lot of the speculative stories that feel more mainstream have that “switch flip” element—that single, isolated “what if” that sets off everything.

What if we could extract viable dinosaur DNA from amber? What if a disease like this got out? What if this person switched bodies?

Then, after that one, singular leap of faith, the rest of the book logic plays out identically to how our real-world logic would work, with only that fundamental beginning change….

(2) STREAMING PLAYGROUND. Of necessity, Escape Room L.A.’s business has gone virtual. They’ve created two Escape Room scenarios for groups to play on Zoom, at $15 per person.

These live-hosted games feature both audio and visual clues. Your host will verbally describe your surroundings while showing you a series of images and puzzles, letting you know how you can interact with everything you see. It will be up to you to work together to solve the fun clues and tricky challenges! Can you escape in one hour or less?

There’s “The Lost Pyramid” and “Escape from Planet X.” The description of the latter is –

A vacation in outer space takes a wrong turn when your spaceship crash-lands on an uncharted alien planet. You discover that all of the crew have disappeared and the aliens are getting restless! In this fun, wacky adventure, it’s up to you to find a way to get the spaceship up and running and escape from Planet X before the aliens attack.

(3) THE BOOKS THEY DECIDED TO DISCUSS. In “Positron 2020 Report: Analyses of Chicagoland Speculative Fiction Book Clubs”, Jake Casella Brookins runs the numbers on Chicago-area sff book club selections, looking at race/gender balance in selected titles, genre changes over time, most-read authors, and how the various clubs’ lists of choices compare. “Pretty niche stuff,” says Brookins, “but SF/F scholars, readers, booksellers & librarians might be interested.”

His introduction to the report begins —

In-person book clubs are necessarily tied to very real and geographic communities. As I write this, Chicago is entering its second month of lockdown due to Covid-19. While many groups and organizations are successfully shifting to online meetings, the future of our clubs, bookstores, and libraries are uncertain. Ironically, this lockdown has given me the first chance to take a deep look at Chicago’s SF book clubs since Positron’s inception.

This report focuses entirely on book club meetings. While data from book sales and library loans would paint a much larger picture of reader behavior and preferences, there are a few advantages to using book club discussions as the unit of analysis, even beyond privacy and logistic concerns. At the most basic level, selection for a book club indicates that the book was definitely read, by at least some members. Furthermore, book club members are a distinct class of readers, committing not only to read books in community, but to share their opinions, a behavior that likely spills beyond the group itself. Through their recommendations, it is likely that book club members have an outsize influence on readers generally.

For me, joining a few SF book clubs was a huge part of adjusting to life in Chicago. They led me to massively important books I might not have otherwise discovered, and introduced me to my spouse and many friends. The clubs certainly have a direct influence on many bookstores and libraries. And, at the level of SF as a culture, the importance of book clubs is easily overlooked, and could provide a window into the specifics of how books, authors, and ideas move through the reading community….

(4) FALLEN SNOW. Entertainment Weekly issues an invitation: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Listen to the first 11 minutes of the Hunger Games prequel’.

Centered on the original trilogy‘s antagonist, the story follows an 18-year-old Snow as he prepares for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the 10th Hunger Games. He’s up against it, though: His family has fallen on hard times, and he’s forced to guide the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Suddenly, their fates are intertwined.

The audio clip is here at Soundcloud.

(5) BEWARE OF FALLING HOUSES. Connie Willis just read a book about the making of The Wizard of Oz movie and is eager to share what she learned about “The Ruby Slippers And The Wizard’s Coat”.

…One of the most fascinating sections was about the ruby slippers, which, in case you’ve forgotten, belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East and which Glinda the Good Witch gives Dorothy after the house falls on her (the Witch, not Glinda) and kills her. The ruby slippers protect Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West (sort of.) At any rate, the only way to take them off her is to kill her, which makes Dorothy quite a target. (You’d think Glinda would have thought about that.)

They also hold the secret to Dorothy’s getting home. All she has to do is click the heels together and say three times, “There’s no place like home” to be magically transported back to Kansas. That means they’re central to the plot and in many ways the heart of the movie. After Toto, of course.

Like everything else involved in the making of the movie, the ruby slippers were more complicated than they looked. In the first place, the book had specified “silver shoes”, but Louis B. Mayer wanted to show off his Technicolor so he decided they should be red–and that they should “sparkle.”…

(6) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

May 12, 1989 The Return Of Swamp Thing premiered.  The follow-up to Swamp Thing, it was directed by Jim Wynorski, with production by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan. The story was written by Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris.  It starred Dick Durock and Heather Locklear who replaced Adrienne Barbeau as the female lead which Barbeau was in Swamp Thing.  Louis Jourdan also returns as a spot-on Anton Arcane. Like its predecessor, neither critics nor the audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes liked it so it had a poor twenty seven rating. The original Swamp Thing series which also Durock in contrast has an eight three Percent rating among audience reviewers! [CE]

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born May 12, 1812 – Edward Lear.  With us in fantasyland for his nonsense poems, he was famous in his day as a painter and illustrator.  First major bird artist to draw from live birds; look at this parrot.  Here are some Albanians.  Here’s Masada.  His musical settings for Tennyson’s poems were the only ones Tennyson approved of.  It may be that a grasp of reality makes his nonsense cohere – it holds together.  We may never see an owl dancing with a pussycat, but they do in his creation – in a hundred languages.  (Died 1888) [JH]
  • Born May 12, 1828 – Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Put his third name first in honor of The Divine Comedy.  Founded the Pre-Raphaelite school of art because he thought Raphael (1483-1520) had ruined things; see how this led him to imagine Proserpine.  His poetry too was fantastic.  He is credited with the word yesteryear.  He loved wombats.  (Died 1882) [JH]
  • Born May 12, 1902 – Philip Wylie.  His novel Gladiator was an inspiration for Superman.  When Worlds Collide (with Edwin Balmer) inspired Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon.  No doubt he was a prolific pulp writer with quite a few of his novels adapted into films such as When Worlds Collide (co-written with George Balmer) by George Pal. Columnist, editor, screenwriter, adviser to the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee for Atomic Energy, vice-president of the International Game Fish Association.  Wrote “Anyone Can Raise Orchids” for The Saturday EveningPost.  In The Disappearance a cosmic blink forces all men to get along without women, all women without men.  (Died 1971) [JH/CE]
  • Born May 12, 1907 – Leslie Charteris.  Born with the surname Yin; his Chinese father claimed descent from the Shang Dynasty emperors.  Passenger on the maiden voyage of the Hindenburg.  A hundred books, also films, radio, television, about his character Simon Templar, the Saint; also “The Saint” Mystery Magazine; others wrote some too, Vendetta for the Saint is by Henry Harrison.  Detective fiction is our neighbor, and both ISFDB and ESF list the series with the latter noting that “Several short stories featuring Templar are sf or fantasy, typically dealing with odd Inventions or Monsters (including the Loch Ness Monster and Caribbean Zombies.” The Last Hero really is SF, with a disintegrator and a scientist who doesn’t care who gets it.  (Died 1993) [JH/CE]
  • Born May 12, 1928 – Buck Coulson.  Applauded by fanziners  – we have costumers and filksingers, don’t we? –  for Yandro, ten times a Best-Fanzine Hugo finalist, winning once, co-edited with his wife Juanita – speaking of filksingers.  Together Fan Guests of Honor at the 30th Worldcon; the Coulsons to Newcastle Fund sent them to the 37th.  With Gene DeWeese, Buck wrote Now You See It/Him/Them loaded with allusions to fans, including Bob Tucker whose doing this himself led to calling the practice “tuckerism”; Juanita is not left out.  Two Man from U.N.C.L.E. books with DeWeese, translated into Dutch, French, Hebrew, Japanese.  Book reviews for Amazing.  Active loccer (letters of comment to fanzines).  Two terms as as SFWA Secretary (first Science Fiction Writers, then Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers, of America).  Mildly described as having an acerbic writing style.(Died 1999) [JH]
  • Born May 12, 1942 Barry Longyear, 80. Best known for the Hugo- and Nebula Award–winning novella Enemy Mine, which became a film by that name as well. Gerrold would later novelize it. An expanded version of the original novella as well as two novels completing the trilogy, The Tomorrow Testament and The Last Enemy make up The Enemy Papers. I’m very fond of his Circus World series, less so of his Infinity Hold series. (CE)
  • Born May 12, 1968 Catherine Tate, 52. Donna Noble, Companion to the Eleventh Doctor. She extended the role by doing the Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures on Big Finish. She also played Inquisitor Greyfax in Our Martyred Lady, aWarhammer 40,000 audio drama, something I did not know existed. [CE]

(8) COMICS SECTION.

(9) SUPERHERO PREVIEW. “DC’s Stargirl: New Images Offer the Best Look Yet at Doctor Mid-Nite and Hourman” at ComicBook.com.

In just under a week, a new generation of justice comes to DC Universe when DC’s Stargirl premieres on the streaming service on Monday, May 18. The series, which follows high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore as she moves to Blue Valley, Nebraska following her mother’s marriage to Pat Dugan and becomes the hero Stargirl and inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to help her stop the villains of the past. Now, ComicBook.com has an exclusive look at two of those young heroes ready to fight for justice in their super suits: Doctor Mid-Nite and Hourman.

(10) HAPPY BIRTHDAY ESCAPE POD. Hugo-nominated sff fiction podcast Escape Pod has reached a major milestone — “Escape Pod Turns Fifteen!” The celebration includes creation of a book — Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology.

Escape Pod has been bringing the finest short fiction to millions all over the world, at the forefront of a new fiction revolution. Specializing in science fiction, the podcast gives its audience a different story each week that’s fun and engaging, with thought-provoking afterwords from its episode hosts.

The anthology, assembled by editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, gathers original fiction and audience favorites from:

  • Maurice Broaddus
  • Tobias Buckell
  • Beth Cato
  • Tina Connolly
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Greg Van Eekhout
  • Sarah Gailey
  • Kameron Hurley
  • N. K. Jemisin
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Mur Lafferty
  • Ken Liu
  • Tim Pratt
  • John Scalzi
  • Ursula Vernon

Preorder now from Titan Books, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and Forbidden Planet.

(11) RETRO BLAST. Cora Buhlert continues to review the best of 1944 in “Retro Review: “City” by Clifford D. Simak”.

“City” is a science fiction novelette by Clifford D. Simak, which was first published in the May 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and is a finalist for the 1945 Retro Hugo. The magazine version may be found online here. “City” is part of Simak’s eponymous City cycle and has been widely reprinted….

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point! …

(12) FASHION REPORT. Aliette de Bodard understandably likes this style.

(13) NOT HOME ALONE. In “Creativity in the Time of Shutdown”, Mad Genius Club’s Amanda S. Green tells how everyday life is squeezing her writing time, and the commenters chime in about their own challenges.

…All this has made me wonder how the writers out there who have been used to having their alone time to write have coped with suddenly having their kids and spouses/partners home. With schools and businesses closed, our isolated work styles have been impacted by having people home all the time. A number of us have had to transform into teachers and tech advisors as our kids try to navigate their school classes through Zoom and similar programs. We’ve had to adjust to our spouses/partners invading our work area as they work from home.

Sooo many people in our spaces again.

And we can’t even escape to the library or the coffee shop because they’re closed too….

(14) STILL INFLUENTIAL. The Detroit News explains why “Octavia Butler’s prescient sci-fi resonates years after her death”.

…A revolutionary voice in her lifetime, Butler has only become more popular and influential since her death 14 years ago, at age 58. Her novels, including “Dawn,” “Kindred” and “Parable of the Sower,” sell more than 100,000 copies each year, according to her former literary and the manager of her estate, Merrillee Heifetz. Toshi Reagon has adapted “Parable of the Sower” into an opera, and Viola Davis and Ava DuVernay are among those working on streaming series based on her work. Grand Central Publishing is reissuing many of her novels this year and the Library of America welcomes her to the canon in 2021 with a volume of her fiction.

(15) PUTTING A GOOD FACE ON THINGS. Cheering viewers up while we’re stuck at home.“Lincolnshire make-up artists lifting lockdown spirits” – BBC video.

A group of make-up artists in Lincolnshire are painting themselves as superheroes and cartoon characters to pass the time during the lockdown.

They have been getting together online and setting each other make-up challenges to keep busy.

(16) LEARN FROM THE MASTER. “Studio Ghibli artist teaches anime fans how to draw Totoro” – video.

An anime film producer from Japan’s Studio Ghibli has given fans a quick lesson on how to draw one of its most famous characters: Totoro.

According to Toshio Suzuki – the secret lies in the eyes.

(17) FUN TO BE WITH? BBC introduces us to “The robot that helps before you ask it to” — short video.

A project led by Ocado Technology has developed a robot to work alongside people. Using advanced artificial intelligence, it can follow the motions of its human colleagues, and offer to help them before they even ask for assistance.

(18) STRIKING A PERFECT MATCH. Back in the days of black-and-white TV, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore treated their fans to puppet parody in Superthunderstingcar.

(19) THESE CHAIRS ARE MADE FOR TALKING. Past Aussie Worldcon chairs David Grigg and Perry Middlemiss talk about their favorite sff on the small screen in “TV or not TV?” at their latest Two Chairs Talking podcast. Their favorites include The Expanse, The Outsider, For All Mankind, and Star Trek: Picard.

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Sea You” on Vimeo, Ben Brand finds the backstory of the fish a widow has for dinner.

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

Pixel Scroll 10/26/19 A Møøse Once Bit My Pixel

(1) MORE MCU DEFENDERS, ER, AVENGERS SPEAK OUT. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “The Avengers Respond To Marvel Movie Critics.”

You’re right, Hulk. The “Godfather” films do glorify violence.

(2) HELP IS ON THE WAY. S.L. Huang’s Ask an Author post “Cancelling Contracts and Norms in Publishing” does a full-spectrum post about contract cancellation – its infrequency, significance, how it can be handled badly, how a publisher ought to handle it, and what an author can do.

What makes cancellations worse:

There are two interrelated problems when a publisher has to suddenly cancel multiple contracts. The first is biting off more than they could chew as a press, which obviously isn’t ideal and can be a worrying comment on the state of their business, but it can happen without ill intent. But the second is how the publisher handles it.

Here are some things that can escalate a cancellation from unfortunate to disturbingly unprofessional: …

What a publisher should do in a situation like this:

Clarity. Communication. Transparency. Exploring any possible avenues before taking a route so extreme. If there are no other options, then: Apology, honest dialogue, taking responsibility, an immediate reversion of rights, an admission of the disservice they’ve done to the authors.

Ideally, a kill fee would be offered.

S&%t happens in publishing. How we treat people when it does is important. And yes, this is a business — but businesses have ethics, and norms, and professionalism. Contracts should be treated as if they mean something.

(3) TRICK OR TRICK. Former Horror Writers Association President Lisa Morton clues in the Washington Post about “The frightening history of Halloween haunted houses”.

It is unclear why exactly the pranks got so bad. Irish immigrants had carried over the Halloween tradition of pranking to the United States, but they had been pretty innocent. One of the most popular was to disassemble a neighbor’s front gate and reassemble it on top of a building. That one was so common that some people called Halloween “Gate Night.”But by the 1920s and ?30s, teenage boys had co-opted the pranking tradition, and they were on a Halloween warpath. They broke streetlights. They started fires. They tied wires across sidewalks to trip people….

“They were costing cities millions of dollars even in the early ’30s,” said Lisa Morton, author of “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween,” in an interview with The Post. “There were a lot of cities that were really considering banning the holiday at that point. It was really, really intense.”

Parents and civil groups needed a solution. A distraction. Or a bribe.

And from this cauldron of parental panic, they pulled out an idea that, to this day, is part of what defines American Halloween.

They thought to throw the kids a party, but “because this was the Great Depression, a lot of people didn’t have the money … so one of the first things they did was called ‘house-to-house parties.’”

And the Guardian’s PD Smith devotes an article to Morton’s book in “Trick or Treat by Lisa Morton review – a history of Halloween”.  

(4) ALL OF HISTORY AND MORE Rudy Rucker’s book review “Two Dimensional Time and Annalee Newitz’s 2nd Novel” incorporates a detailed study of the genre’s different approaches to time travel – a virtual candy store of ideas.

The Newitz Option: Two Dimensional Time

Newitz takes an approach to the time paradoxes that’s kind of strange. She allows time travel and timeline editing. But she insists that there’s only one timeline. No parallel timelines, no branching timelines. Just our one timeline: “Our only timeline, whose natural stability emerged from perpetual revision.”

So, somehow, when you travel back in time, you alter the timeline..for everyone. But you yourself remember how it was before the change. This might be viewed as hopping to a different timestream, but Newitz doesn’t want that. She wants to have just one timestream. But the timestream is changing.

(5) FUTURE TENSE. Slate’s latest Future Tense story is Cory Doctorow’s “Affordances”, about how technical restrictions start with powerless people before coming for us all.

…Ninety-Two’s work in Building 34 was as an exceptions—catcher for a Re-Cog facial recognition product. All around the world, millions of people stepped in front of cameras and made a neutral face and waited: for their office door to unlock, for the lift to be summoned, for the gates at the airport to swing open. When the camera couldn’t figure out their face, it asked them to try again, and again, and again. Then it threw an exception, and 92, or someone else in Building 34, got a live view of the feed and tapped an icon: NO-FACE (for anything that wasn’t a face, like a picture of a face, or a balloon, or, one time, a pigeon); BAD SCENE (poor lighting, dirt on the lens); CRIME (once, a decapitated man’s head; once, an unconscious woman; once, a woman in terror, a hand in her hair); and OTHER (for suspected malfunctions).

Nettrice Gaskins, an artist-educator who collaborates with A.I., wrote the response essay “Not Just a Number”.

In “Affordances,” we see various forms of intelligence agents erase people’s names and identities, particularly those who are held back by and are fighting societal barriers. These people are reduced to numbers, to maps of their faces, to their risk scores. Facial recognition software identifies protesters and otherwise serves as a technological gatekeeper. Online filters flag or block video footage of migrants, and racially biased algorithms determine whether alleged perpetrators are taken into custody or released. In our world, the power of Facebook, Google, and other technology companies is so immense that it can feel futile to push back against them, especially for marginalized groups. But that sense of helplessness can also enable a dangerous complacency. It is exactly because these companies are so powerful that we need people to interrogate their work and challenge it….

(6) A BIG SQUEEZE FOR MAKING LEMONADE. James Davis Nicoll shows Tor.com readers “Five Ways To Benefit If Planet 9 Turns Out To Be a Black Hole”.

Finding a five-Earth-mass, ten-centimetre-diameter, 0.004 Kelvin object somewhere in the outer boroughs of the Solar System should be easy—I’m sure that some grad student or professor angling for tenure is hard at work right now! But what would be the use to the rest of us of a five-Earth-mass, ten-centimetre-diameter, 0.004 Kelvin primordial black hole (PBH) orbiting somewhere in the outer boroughs of the Solar System?

OK, sure: if it’s there, it offers us the chance to do some wonderful science; we’d be able to run experiments in regions of intense gravity. But people in general don’t seem to care all that much about pure science. So, what applied applications are there?

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA.

Ray Bradbury did not like the ending of It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! because the Great Pumpkin did not appear.  Chuck Jones was a friend of Ray’s and he did not like the ending either.  Together they wrote a script about Halloween.  They could not sell it to any studio.  So, Ray turned the script into his book, The Halloween Tree.  The book was successful enough, it has never gone out of print, and it was finally sold as a half-hour animation special, which won an Emmy in 1994.  The lead character was voiced by Leonard Nimoy. [Source: John King Tarpinian.]

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • October 26, 1984 — Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron’s The Terminator premiered. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, it was received well by reviewers and audience alike with the notable exception of Ellison who noted successfully that the screenplay was based on a short story and the “Soldier” episode of The Outer Limits he had written. 
  • October 26, 1984  — V finally premiered as a regular weekly series  with “Liberation Day”. There were two previous miniseries.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born October 26, 1942 Bob Hoskins. I’ll insist his role as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is his finest genre role though I suppose Mario Mario in Super Mario Bros. could be said… Just kidding! He’s the Director of The Raggedy Rawney which he also had a role, a strange might be genre film, and he’s Smee in Hook as well. (Died 2014.)
  • Born October 26, 1945 Jane Chance, 74.Scholar specializing in medieval English literature, gender studies, and J. R. R. Tolkien with a very, very impressive publication list for the latter such as Tolkien’s Art: A “Mythology for EnglandTolkien the MedievalistThe Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power and Tolkien, Self and Other: “This Queer Creature”
  • Born October 26, 1954 Jennifer Roberson, 65. Writer of of fantasy and historical romances. The Chronicles of the Cheysuli is her fantasy series about shapeshifters and their society, and the Sword-Dancer Saga is the desert based adventure series of sort, but the series I’ve enjoyed her Sherwood duo-logy that consists of Lady of the Forest and Lady of Sherwood which tells that tale from the perspective of Marian. Her hobby, which consumes much of her time, is breeding and showing Cardigan Welsh Corgis.
  • Born October 26, 1960 Patrick Breen, 59. He’s Redgick, a Squid, a minor character that appeared in Men in Black. In beloved Galaxy Quest, he’s Quellek, a Thermian who forms a bond with Alexander Dane. it’s a wonderful role. 
  • Born October 26, 1962 Cary Elwes, 57. He’s in The Princess Bride as as Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts/The Man in Black. He also shows up in Dr. Lawrence Gordon in the Saw film franchise, and was cast as Larry Kline, Mayor of Hawkins, for the third season of Stranger Things.
  • Born October 26, 1963 Keith Topping, 56. Some of the best Who stories aren’t televised but written. The Hollow Men, his Seventh Doctor novel, is damn good and riffs off a Fifth Doctor story. He’s also written guides to that show plus The Avengers, Trek, Buffy and the X-Files.
  • Born October 26, 1971 Jim Butcher, 48. I really don’t know how far I got in the the Dresden Files, at least though Proven Guilty, and I will go back to it eventually. Who here has read his Cinder Spires series which sounds intriguing? 
  • Born October 26, 1971 Anthony Rapp, 48. Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamets on Discovery. His first role ever was Wes Hansen in Sky High, showed up early in his career as Jeff Glaser in the “Detour” episode of X-Files. He was Seymour Krelbourn in a national tour of Little Shop of Horrors.
  • Born October 26, 1973 Seth MacFarlane, 46. Ok, I confess that I tried watching the Orville which he created and is in and it just didn’t appeal to me. For those of you who are fans, why do you like it? Having it described as trying to be a better Trek I admit ain’t helping.

(10) GO AWAY OR I SHALL TAUNT YOU SOME MORE. Myke Cole and Sam Sykes got into it again.  Thread starts here (I hope).

And on the sidelines…

(11) THE FULL LID. Alasdair Stuart previews The Full Lid 25th October 2019.

Here’s the opening paragraph from the entry about Clipping.

Clipping are one of the most interesting musical acts on the planet right now. Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson and Daveed Diggs don’t so much embody modern hiphop as surround it. Diggs, best known of course as everybody’s favorite fighting Frenchman, is the crispest MC on Earth, No syllable escapes his sight, no word or metaphor gets free from the specific gravity of his boundless, graceful flow. This is a man who dances with the words, building structures and meaning, narrative and plot out of them and demolishing it just as easily. Snipes and Hutson in the meantime, excel at building audio landscapes for Diggs to bound across and occasionally be pursued through.Vast walls of noise, found audio, field recordings, structural jokes and aural wit. It’s all here and all at the control of these three flat out musical geniuses. And, in There Existed An Addiction to Blood, they’ve produced another genre adjacent work which is both completely in line with their previous work and sees them evolve once again.

(12) GREAT LEAP FORWARD. According to Forbes, “The UK’s First Moon Rover Will Be A Tiny Jumping Spider In 2021”.

Spacebit, a U.K.-based startup, has announced details of its planned lunar mission in 2021 – revealing a spider-shaped rover that will scuttle across the lunar surface.

As we first revealed last month, Spacebit has a contract with U.S. firm Astrobotic to hitch a ride on their Peregrine lunar lander. Originally part of the canceled Google Lunar XPRIZE, this private endeavor will now attempt to reach the Moon after launching on a Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida in late 2021.

(13) WORTHY OF A MUSEUM. Behind a paywall In the October 21 Financial Times, Tom Faber profiles Jenova Chen, whose moody and artistic games have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Chen studied computer programming before moving to California to enrol at the University of Southern California.  It was there that he made Cloud, a game inspired by periods he spent hospitalised as an asthmatic child. Players are cast as a boy who daydreams about flying out of his hospital window and manoeuvering clouds to combat pollution.  For Chen it was wish-fulfillment.  In Shanghai there’s a lot of pollution, but during my childhood everyone said it was mist,’ he says.  ‘I think making the game I was subconsciously trying to clean the city and the air.’

It was an unusual game, with no scores, violence or competition. Still, it went viral, crashing the university servers with more than 600,000 downloads.  Chen received messages from fans all over the world.  ‘They told me they cried while playing, I think because of the deep desire to feel free.  People need to know gaming is not just about guns, soccer, and competition,’ he says.  ‘It can be something healing and positive.’

(14) VARIATIONS ON A THEME. The South China Morning Post tells readers “What cosplay is like in China, where home-grown heroes thrive, ‘play’ is emphasised and it’s not all about copying”

…Having characters that look Chinese matters, especially when the cosplay industry is obsessed with exactly replicating fictional characters, but the irony of cosplay in China is that it is less about copying and more about interpretation. According to Wang Kanzhi’s research for a master’s programme in East Asian Studies at Lund University in Sweden, cosplay in China is more open to interpretation because the “Great Firewall” has isolated the community from not only other cosers but also original source materials.

“Due to the different understanding of the original pieces, local cosplayers tend to add their own ideas and points of view into the activity, which obviously changes the original characters,” Wang says. “In other words, the local cosplayers do not only duplicate fictional characters, but add their own creative points to the original form and content.”

(15) LIGHTEN UP. NPR’s Mark Jenkins reports that “‘The Current War: Director’s Cut’ Shines At Low But Steady Wattage”.

Electricity’s domestication is a triumph of American ingenuity. But The Current War, despite depicting the likes of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, doesn’t feel very American at all. That’s probably one of the reasons the movie was received with so little enthusiasm when it debuted at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. (Another problem is that the film was then a product of the Weinstein Co., which collapsed soon after.)

As its subtitle announces, The Current War: Director’s Cut is the not the same movie that nearly succumbed to critical disdain more than two years ago. For those of us who didn’t see the original, ascertaining any improvement is impossible. But the latest version is not bad at all. It’s just sort of odd.

Of the three central characters, only Westinghouse is played by an American, Michael Shannon. As Edison, Benedict Cumberbatch employs an accent that is, well, not British. Nicholas Hoult’s Nikola Tesla speaks in an indeterminate Eastern European mode that can be heard, symbolically at least, as true to his Austro-Serbian-Croatian origins.

The movie doesn’t mention that Tesla had worked for an Edison-affiliated company in Paris before was he encouraged to move to the U.S. In this telling, he’s hired on a whim by the Wizard of Menlo Park, who’s eager to light American cities with his newly perfected bulbs, powered by direct current.

Edison’s nemesis is Westinghouse, who promotes alternating current — cheaper and more versatile but potentially deadly. The two men are competing for the same prize: a contract to illuminate Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, a full 13 years after the film’s event-packed story begins. Edison wants to win so badly that he’s prepared to electrocute large animals to demonstrate AC’s dangers.

(16) GAMER STRIKES BACK. Not exactly man bites dog: “Gamer buys Fallout 76 add-on domain to criticise Bethesda”.

What would you do if a company did something you didn’t like?

Some people would take to social media to voice their frustrations. Others might consider writing a letter to the business.

But when game developer Bethesda introduced a new subscription to their online game Fallout 76, David Chapman felt he had to do something with more impact.

He made a website.

And not just any website – he pinched the domain from right under the developer’s nose, so anyone looking for information about the subscription would instead be greeted with his critique.

“My motivation stems from a frustration with Bethesda,” he told the BBC. “And in general the current trend of the gaming industry.”

He added: “They said players had been asking for this – players never asked to pay a subscription for features hidden behind a pay wall.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me make this website.”

Wait, what did Bethesda do?

Bethesda Softworks developed and published post-apocalyptic game Fallout 76.

It is an online-only game, meaning that gamers must be connected to the internet to play, and will see other people they don’t know while they’re playing.

There is no monthly cost to play online, but in a sense this is about to change.

Now players will be offered additional features which affect the gameplay, such as the ability to play without strangers or store as many items as they like, for the annual price of £99.99.

The new service, called Fallout 1st, has angered gamers who point out Bethesda promised not to charge for additional features in the past.

(17) THE ADLER SANCTION. “Migrating Russian eagles run up huge data roaming charges”.

Russian scientists tracking migrating eagles ran out of money after some of the birds flew to Iran and Pakistan and their SMS transmitters drew huge data roaming charges.

After learning of the team’s dilemma, Russian mobile phone operator Megafon offered to cancel the debt and put the project on a special, cheaper tariff.

The team had started crowdfunding on social media to pay off the bills.

The birds left from southern Russia and Kazakhstan.

The journey of one steppe eagle, called Min, was particularly expensive, as it flew to Iran from Kazakhstan.

Min accumulated SMS messages to send during the summer in Kazakhstan, but it was out of range of the mobile network. Unexpectedly the eagle flew straight to Iran, where it sent the huge backlog of messages.

The price per SMS in Kazakhstan was about 15 roubles (18p; 30 US cents), but each SMS from Iran cost 49 roubles. Min used up the entire tracking budget meant for all the eagles.

…The SMS messages deliver the birds’ coordinates as they migrate, and the team then use satellite photos to see if the birds have reached safe locations. Power lines are a particular threat for the steppe eagles, which are endangered in Russia and Central Asia.

(18) TASTES LIKE CHICKEN. All That’s Interesting invites you to “Be One Of The First In History To Witness A Supermassive Black Hole Destroy A Star”.

Have you ever wondered what a star looks like as it’s ripped apart by a supermassive black hole? Probably not. But thanks to the diligent eyes at NASA and Ohio State University, you don’t have to wonder, you can see it for yourself.

According to local Ohio radio station WOSU, a NASA satellite and a network of robotic telescopes known as the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae — or ASAS-SN for short — located at the university captured the cosmic battle for the first time on film.

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

Pixel Scroll 5/25/18 The Prospect Of Incontinent Hobgoblins

(1) FANX FLOUNDERS ON. How long will FanX’s Bryan Brandenburg’s “indefinite leave” be?

FanX’s other leader, Dan Farr, now has added his own statement and apology.

I, Dan Farr, apologize fully for any instances in which a participant has felt unsafe. We do not condone these behaviors, from anyone.

It is not our role or responsibility to judge any individual nor to disparage or use inflammatory language about any participant in our conference. It is our role to do all within our power to keep our participants safe. Our conversation with the author resulted in a mutual agreement that he will not be participating in our future events. With this agreement, we consider the matter resolved.

Additionally, my partner and cofounder, Bryan Brandenburg has made a personal and heartfelt apology for his remarks on social media that were insensitive about our attendees’ sexual harassment concerns.

However, continued postings in social media and the press have shown energy and anger to a level that Bryan has decided that his continued participation, for now, is a distraction from the goals we are striving to uphold.

Beginning immediately, Bryan Brandenburg is taking an executive leave that he hopes and believes will help to dispel the negative energy that is taking us away from our greater mission and goals. While he has not suggested a timeframe, this leave may not be permanent. We hope to see Bryan at our September event with his wife and new son.

As for Brandenburg stepping back from social media – well, he’s stepped back from where the public can see it, but he’s still busy posting – see the screencaps in this set of tweets.

Yesterday’s latest Salt Lake Tribune coverage quoted from one of the screencaps that showed Brandenburg justifying how FanX dealt with the Richard Evans harassment complaint:

The comments were later deleted, but not before screengrabs circulated on Twitter.

“We absolutely could not publicly ban [Evans],” Brandenburg wrote. “We had no proof. We would be sued for libel and defamation from Richard. Then it would get out that you would be banned and humiliated from FanX for kissing a guest on the cheek and touching her. We would be out of business. Nobody would care to read the details. We did not see it happen. It would be her word against his.”

Hale has questioned whether organizers attempted to talk to people who may have witnessed the interaction, and whether Brandenburg’s statement means that allegations won’t be looked into if they weren’t witnessed by FanX employees.

FanX’s new harassment policy promises that every report of harassment will be investigated.

Howard Tayler’s Twitter thread deconstructs the Brandenburg rationale, quoted in the Tribune. The thread starts here:

And includes these comments:

(2) OH, THE NONHUMANITY! Here’s an admirable idea for a listicle: “The 12 Most Gratuitous Robot Deaths in Sci-Fi” at Tor.com.

Sometimes it feels like robots only exist to be abused, you know? We love them and the window they provide on the human condition, but science fiction is usually pretty mean to them overall. It loves to torment robots (and when we say “robots” we’re really talking about any form of android or A.I. or sentient toaster or what-have-you) with the constant threat of obsolescence or deactivation or destruction. And some of these deaths are just plain gratuitous, leaving us betrayed, bewildered, and otherwise bereaved.

Here are the worst of them….

(3) MORE POOH. Here’s is Disney’s Christopher Robin Official Trailer. In theaters August 3.

In the heartwarming live action adventure Disney’s “Christopher Robin,” the young boy who shared countless adventures with his band of lovable stuffed animals in the Hundred Acre Wood is now grown up and living in London but he has lost his way. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin rediscover the joys of family life, the value of friendship and to appreciate the simple pleasures in life once again.

 

(4) NEWSLETTER SIGNUP INCENTIVE. Get to know seven authors and fill a shelf with science fiction and fantasy — The SFF Grand Newsletter Giveaway is a chance to win a dozen signed books. The seven writers in this international group range from debut to established, and from near-future thrillers to high fantasy — Aliette de Bodard, SL Huang, Beth Cato, Kate Heartfield, Jim C. Hines, Kate Elliott, and JY Yang.

Between May 25 and June 25, readers can enter the giveaway once for each author, for up to seven entries. For each author, entrants will have the choice of subscribing to that author’s newsletter to enter (signing up for the newsletter is not required to be entered in the giveaway). Existing subscribers to an author’s newsletter can simply choose the giveaway-only option to receive an entry for that author.

The contest is open worldwide. One winner (chosen at random) will receive signed, physical copies of all the books:

  • The first three Tensorate novellas by JY Yang
  • The complete Court of Fives trilogy by Kate Elliott if the winner has a U.S. address, or a choice of one of the following by Kate Elliott if the winner has a non-U.S. address: Court of Fives, Cold Magic, Black Wolves, or Spirit Gate
  • Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines
  • Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
  • Zero Sum Game by SL Huang and The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist (novelette) by SL Huang
  • The Tea Master and the Detective and The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
  • Armed in Her Fashion and Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Everyone who uses this page to sign up for ANY of our newsletters before June 25 will be entered into the giveaway! You can enter once for each author, for up to 7 entries. From among ALL entries we’ll draw ONE lucky winner — who will receive SIGNED BOOKS from every one of us! A chance to win a dozen or more signed books — a whole shelf of new SFF!

(5) WRITER V. CHARACTER. Ian Sales, in “His master’s voice”, defends his criticism of a Clarke Award finalist.

So, a couple of days ago I tweeted a short quote from the book I was reading, one of this year’s Clarke Award finalists, and remarked that I was surprised to find the position expressed in the quote in a genre novel published in 2017. Most people who saw my tweet were as dismayed as I was – although, to be fair, they saw only my quote.

Which changes things. Apparently.

The book in question is Sea of Rust by C Robert Cargill, and the exact quote was “Gender is defined by genitalia”, which is spoken by the book’s narrator, Brittle, a robot, in a paragraph in which “she” admits that robots have no gender, it is not something “she” has ever thought about, but she henceforth chooses to define herself as female.

Two people I consider friends – very smart people both, and genre critics whose opinions I respect* – decided to insult my intelligence by questioning by understanding of how narrative works. Because the offending phrase – and it is offensive – was spoken by a character, they stated, that does not mean it reflects the author’s sensibilities. As another friend pointed out, I have myself written fiction featuring Nazis – and I have: ‘Wunderwaffe’ – but that obviously does not make me a Nazi. This is indeed true. Cargill has written a novel about robots, in which the first person narrator is a robot… but obviously he is not a robot himself. I never claimed this.

But the people arguing against my comment were themselves making the same assumption about me they were accusing myself of making against Cargill. Except, I think my position is backed up by the narrative.

…So yes, I do understand how narrative works. I also understand how writing works. And while I may not be as accomplished at writing as others… and I may place a higher value on narrative rigour than most people… I stand my original position:

Unless the narrative evidences a foundation for a sensibility or attitude, then it’s reasonable to assume it is a sensibility or attitude of the author that has leaked through into the narrative.

(6) MARY SHELLEY BIOPIC. NPR’s Mark Jenkins says “‘Mary Shelley’ Is Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts”

Given the familiarity of the material, the makers of Mary Shelley would have been smart to find a new approach. Philosophically, they sort of do, giving Mary more credit than usual for both her work and her choices.

Stylistically, though, the movie is all too typical of the 19th-century British literary/romantic drama. It presents London circa 1815 as misery for the poor, the young, the female, and the liberal-minded — and yet picturesque enough for a tourist brochure, suffused with dappled sun-, lamp- and candlelight and swathed in yearning music.

(7) BAIN OBIT. Meredith marks the passing of “John Bain, also known as TotalBiscuit, the Cynical Brit, who died yesterday after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 2015. He was a popular gaming YouTuber and started out by covering the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion before moving on to wider coverage, including a lot of indie games. He championed games on the PC and was always honest about his opinions of games, beginning in a time when that was far less common.”

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • May 25, 1953 It Came From Outer Space appeared in theaters, a movie based on a story by Ray Bradbury.
  • May 25, 1977Star Wars premiered.
  • May 25, 1983Return of the Jedi opened in theaters.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY MUPPETEER

  • Born May 25, 1944 – Frank Oz

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Cat Eldridge says “I’ve had dozens of emails telling me about the organization and how it’s complying with GDPR.” And now Xkcd is getting in on the act.

(11) NATAL DAY. Steven H Silver celebrates: “Birthday Reviews: Vera Nazarian’s ‘Salmon in the Drain Pipe’” at Black Gate.

Nazarian was nominated for a WSFA Small Press Award for her short story “Port Custodial Blues” in 2007. The following year she received a nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “The Story of Love.” She also received a Nebula nomination in 2009 for her novella The Duke in His Castle. In addition to writing, Nazarian has worked as the editor and publisher of Norilana Books since the company’s founding in 2006.

(12) KNOWS ALL, HEARS ALL, TELLS ALL. The Guardian asks “Alexa, when did the Church of England become so tech-savvy?”

The Amazon assistant can now help you with your Anglican needs. Just don’t expect answers to the really big questions…

Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was well ahead of its time when in 1549 it addressed “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be opened, all desires known, and no secrets hid” – but it would take nearly five centuries for the church to turn this vision into technology. For now there is a Church of England “skill” – a set of canned responses – on , Amazon’s virtual assistant which can give its answer to 30 religious questions. It doesn’t answer the interesting ones though. “Alexa, ask the Church of England how can I be saved?” produces a silence easily interpreted as baffled, and I don’t think this is because the Church of England long ago decided that I couldn’t be….

(13) SFF IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. Here’s another list to pick apart, BBC Culture’s “The 100 stories that shaped the world”. Homer’s Odyssey is number 1.

Chip Hitchcock celebrates that “SFF cracked the top 5,” and he tentatively identifies the stories with these rankings as SFF: 3, 4, 15, 16, 44, 67?, 71, 72, 73? 83?

(14) THEY WERE THERE. “How ancient DNA is transforming our view of the past” the “pots not people” (cultural exchange) view is giving way to knowledge that there were huge population shifts, e.g. Stonehenge builders disappearing under flood of Beaker People.

…Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, studies of ancient DNA from our own species were highly contentious because of observations that skeletal remains were easily contaminated by the DNA of living people.

As such, there were always nagging doubts about whether a genetic sequence belonged to the long-dead individual being studied or to an archaeologist involved in excavating the remains, a museum curator who had handled them, or a visitor to the lab where they were being analysed.

However, crucial progress in overcoming these obstacles began in the late 90s with the effort to sequence DNA from Neanderthals, which was led by Professor Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Pääbo’s group developed a set of protocols to prevent contamination slipping through, including having the same samples sequenced in two laboratories by different teams….

But the field experienced a revolution with the emergence of so-called next-generation sequencing technology. When an organism dies, the DNA in its cells begins to break down – over time it splits into smaller and smaller chunks, as well as accumulating other forms of damage.

It also gets contaminated with vast amounts of microbial DNA from the wider environment. The new sequencing machines could be used to isolate the human genetic material from bacterial DNA and then stitch together the tiny fragments into a readable sequence….

(15) ROADBLOCK. Traffic came to a standstill when….

(16) SFWA GAME CHAT. The inaugural episode of SFWA Game Chat aired this week on YouTube, hosted by Cat Rambo with Monica Valentinelli.

Did you know that SFWA now admits science fiction and fantasy game writers? Cat Rambo introduces a new show that discusses sci-fi/fantasy game writing!

 

(17) GAMING PIONEER. The Great Big Story has released a piece on the woman behind the design of the early 80’s text-based computer/adventure game, The Hobbit. Veronika Megler fell out of contact with the company that developed the game and went for many years without knowing how successful it was and how many lives it touched: “The Hunt for ‘The Hobbit’s’ Missing Hero”.

The six and a half minute video is great and the story of how (now) Dr. Megler has seized upon the lasting power of the game to help address gender balance in computer science is affecting.

 

(18) NOT AGENT 86. Missed out on this shoephone revival:

T-Mobile’s Sidekick gets a remake! Inspired by the past but stepping boldly into the future, it has revolutionary AI, headphones that double as chargers, personalized GPS guidance by John Legere, and more!

 

(19) SECOND OPINION. NPR’s Justin Chang calls Solo “A High-Speed, Low-Energy Intergalactic Heist”:

It was a good sign when Alden Ehrenreich, the terrific young actor from “Tetro” and “Hail, Caesar!” was cast as Han and also when Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the merry comic daredevils behind “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street,” were hired to direct. But then Lord and Miller were fired last year due to apparently irreconcilable creative differences. And you could sense the iron will of Lucasfilm asserting itself. God forbid anyone should try to inject a little wit or personality into this surefire cash cow.

The directors were replaced by the much more risk-averse Ron Howard. And as a consequence, what might have once been a fresh and funny tour de force has devolved into bland, impersonal hackwork.

(20) CANTINA CHOW. Extra Crispy’s Tim Nelson was not impressed with the Solo/Denny’s promotional campaign, launched in April, that included trading cards and (not so) special menu items.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi warns Luke Skywalker that “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” than Mos Eiseley, home to the cantina where viewers first meet smuggler and scoundrel Han Solo. It’s also a fitting way to describe any Denny’s located within stumbling distance of a bar after 11 p.m.

…With proceeds from trading card purchases going to help fund nonprofit organization No Kid Hungry, the whole thing seems inoffensive enough. But if some leaked information posted on a Star Wars forum is true, some of the Solo-themed menu items seem a bit silly.

There’s the “lightspeed slam,” a healthy dish that looks more like something from a depressed nutritionist’s Instagram than a meal fit for the Star Wars universe. While Denny’s earns some points for the inclusion of “Crystal Crunch Rocks” in a milkshake and a stack of pancakes, that looks to be the closest the menu gets to anything outside the universe of the diner chain’s typical fare.

As with past Star Wars-food tie-ins, one has to wonder what purpose putting ghost pepper sauce on a bacon cheeseburger and passing it off as something Han Solo might eat ultimately serves. Why not at least serve pancakes shaped like Chewbacca’s face?

(21) NO RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? Mad Genius Club’s Peter Grant made the point that “Writing books is not like frying shrimp”, inspired by the hilarious commercial linked below.

Trouble is, some new entrants into the book-writing and -publishing business think that their ambitions can be realized in a very similar fashion.  Just set up everything, add pre-set ingredients according to some arcane recipe, strike a spark, and voila!  It’s done!

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Meredith, Chip Hitchcock, SL Huang, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, JJ, IanP, and Daniel Dern for some of these stories, Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Elisa.]

Pixel Scroll 3/7/16 Burning Down the Scroll

(1) MILLION WORDS (IN) MARCH. Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors, curated by SL Huang and Kurt Hunt, is available as a free download at Bad Menagerie until March 31.

This anthology includes 120 authors—who contributed 230 works totaling approximately 1.1 MILLION words of fiction. These pieces all originally appeared in 2014, 2015, or 2016 from writers who are new professionals to the science fiction and fantasy field, and they represent a breathtaking range of work from the next generation of speculative storytelling.

All of these authors are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. We hope you’ll use this anthology as a guide in nominating for that award as well as a way of exploring many vibrant new voices in the genre.

(2) MANLY SF. And then, if you run out of things to read, the North Carolina Speculative Fiction Foundation has announced the preliminary eligibility list of 116 titles for the 2016 Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Or you could just look at all the pretty cover art in the “2016 Manly Wade Wellman Award cover gallery” at Bull Spec.

(3) ALPINE PARABLES. An overview of “The Swiss Science Fiction” at Europa SF.

„Swiss science fiction? Never heard of it !

Yet for a long time, the Swiss SF has engaged in speculative fiction game.”

(4) TOO SOON TO REGENERATE? Radio Times has the scoop — “Peter Capaldi: ‘I’ve been asked to stay on in Doctor Who after Steven Moffat leaves’”.

Now, RadioTimes.com can reveal that the BBC has asked Capaldi to stay on as the Doctor after Moffat’s departure — but the actor himself isn’t sure whether he’ll take up their offer.

“I’ve been asked to stay on,” Capaldi told RadioTimes.com, “but it’s such a long time before I have to make that decision.

“Steven’s been absolutely wonderful, so I love working with him. Chris is fantastic, and I think he’s a hugely talented guy.

“I don’t know where the show’s gonna go then. I don’t know. I have to make up my mind, and I haven’t yet.”

(5) ASTRONAUT SHRINKS. Scott Kelly had reportedly grown taller while at the International Space Station, but he’s back to normal now.

US astronaut Scott Kelly said Friday he is battling fatigue and super-sensitive skin, but is back to his normal height after nearly a year in space.

Kelly’s 340-day mission — spent testing the effects of long-term spaceflight ahead of a future mission to Mars, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko — wrapped up early Wednesday when they landed in frigid Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

One of the effects of spending such a long time in the absence of gravity was that Kelly’s spine expanded temporarily, making him grow 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters), only to shrink as he returned to Earth.

His twin brother, Mark Kelly, said they were the same height again by the time they hugged in Houston early Thursday.

According to John Charles, human research program associate manager for international science at NASA, any height gain “probably went away very quickly because it is a function of fluid accumulation in the discs between the bones in the spinal column.”

(6) AUTHOR’S PERSPECTIVE. Rose Lemberg provides “Notes on trans themes in ‘Cloth…’”

Grandmother-na-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” is a Nebula nominee. As such, it is getting a lot of attention.

I usually let my stories stand on their own. When this story came out, I had written brief story notes focusing on Kimi’s autism in the context of the Khana culture. Even that felt too much for me. I want readers to get what they need from my work, without my external authorial influence.

But as this story is getting more attention, I’d like to write some notes about the trans aspects of this story…..

Many of us are pressured by families. Especially trans people. Especially trans people (and queer people) who are from non-white and/or non-Anglo-Western cultural backgrounds, and/or who are immigrants. Many trans people I know have strained relationships with their families, and many had to cut ties with their families or were disowned.

This story came from that place, a place of deep hurt in me, and in many of my trans friends. It came from a place of wanting to imagine healing.

It also came from a place of wanting to center a trans character who comes out later in life. For many trans and queer people, coming out later in life is very fraught. Coming out is always fraught. Coming out later in life, when one’s identity is supposed to be firmly established, is terrifyingly difficult. This is my perspective. I am in my late thirties. There’s not enough trans representation in SFF; there’s never enough representation of queer and trans elders specifically. I write queer and trans elders and older people a lot.

(7) DEVIL IN THE DETAILS. The historianship of Camestros Felapton is on display in “Unpicking a Pupspiracy: Part 1”.

I’m currently near to finishing an update to the Puppy Kerfuffle timeline. The update includes Sp4 stuff as well as some extra bits around the 2013 SFWA controversies.

One issue I thought I hadn’t looked at what was a key piece of Puppy mythology: basically that their enemies are being tipped off by Hugo administrators to enable shenanigans of a vague and never entirely explained nature. A key proponent of this Pupspiracy theory is Mad Genius Dave Freer. In particular this piece from mid April 2015 http://madgeniusclub.com/2015/04/13/nostradumbass-and-madame-bugblatterfatski/

Freer’s piece has two pupspiracies in it; one from Sad Puppies 2 and one from Sad Puppies 3. I’m going to look at the first here and the second in Part 2. However, both use a particular odd kind of fallacious reasoning that we’ve seen Dave use before. It is a sort of a fallacy of significance testing mixed with a false dichotomy and not understanding how probability works.

(8) CLASS IN SESSION. “’You can teach craft but you can’t teach talent.’ The most useless creative writing cliché?” asks Juliet McKenna.

So let’s not get snobbish about the value of craft. Without a good carpenter’s skills, you’d be using splintery planks to board up that hole in your house instead of coming and going through a well-made and secure front door. Let’s definitely not accept any implication that writing craft is merely a toolkit of basic skills which a writer only needs to get to grips with once. I learn new twists and subtleties about different aspects of writing with every piece I write and frequently from what I read. Every writer I know says the same.

Now, about this notion that you cannot teach hopeful writers to have ideas, to have an imagination. The thing is, I’ve never, ever met an aspiring author who didn’t have an imagination. Surely that’s a prerequisite for being a keen reader, never mind for taking up a pen or keyboard to create original fiction? Would-be writers are never short on inspiration.

(9) DONE TWEETING. Joe Vasicek comes to bury, not praise, a social media platform in “#RIPTwitter”.

All of this probably sounds like a tempest in a teapot if you aren’t on Twitter. And yeah, it kind of is. In the last two weeks, I’ve learned that life is generally better without Twitter than it is with it. No more getting sucked into vapid tit-for-tat arguments in 140-character chunks. No more passive-aggressive blocking by people who are allergic to rational, intelligent debate. No more having to worry about being an obvious target for perpetually-offended SJW types who, in their constant efforts to outdo each other with their SJW virtue signaling, can spark an internet lynch mob faster than a California wildfire.

The one big thing that I miss about Twitter is the rapid way that news disseminates through the network. I can’t tell you how many major news stories I heard about through Twitter first—often while they were still unfolding. But if the #RIPTwitter controversy demonstrates anything, it’s that Twitter now has both the means and the motive to suppress major news stories that contradict the established political narrative. That puts them somewhere around Pravda as a current events platform.

Am I going to delete my account the same way that I deleted my Facebook account? Probably not. I deleted my Facebook account because of privacy concerns and Facebook’s data mining. With Twitter, it’s more of an issue with the platform itself. I don’t need to delete my account to sign off and stop using it.

(10) OR YOU CAN ENGAGE. When Steven A. Saus’ call for submissions to an anthology was criticized, here’s how he responded — “Just Wait Until Twitter Comes For You: Addressing and Fixing Unintended Privilege and Bigotry”

TL;DR: When a social justice criticism was brought to us, we acknowledged the mistake, engaged with those criticizing, and fixed the problem instead of doubling down or protesting that wasn’t what we meant. It worked to resolve the problem and helped us clarify the message we meant to send….

So why have I written a thousand words or so about it?

Partially to acknowledge the mistake honestly, and to note how it was fixed.

Partially to demonstrate that there are people in publishing that will listen to your concerns, and that voicing them honestly may effect real change.

Mostly it’s for those people who warned me about Twitter coming for me. It’s for those people who get angry or scared because they’re afraid they’ll use the “wrong” term. It’s for those people who think the right thing to do is to double-down about what they intended and just saw things get worse.

Because they told me that listening to and engaging others would not be useful.

And they were wrong. You can act like a bigot and never mean to. Privelege can be invisible to you – but still lead you to cause real, unintended harm.

I’m here to tell you that if you’re willing to really listen, if you’re willing to put your ego to the side, to forget what you meant and focus on what was heard, if you’re willing to acknowledge the damage you did and willing to try to fix it…

…then you only have to fear making yourself a better person.

(11) ADVANCE NARRATIVE. io9’s Katherine Trendacosta gets a head start on disliking the next Potterverse offering in “JK Rowling Tackles the Magical History of America in New Harry Potter Stories”.

The idea that Salem cast a long shadow over American wizarding history is one that drives me crazy, by the way. First of all, there was a whole thing in the third Harry Potter book about witch burning being pointless because of the Flame-Freezing Charm. But thanks for showing people screaming in fire in the video anyway! Second of all, not to get all “America, fuck yeah!” on people, but please let’s not have the a whole story about the amazing British man saving America from its provincial extremists. Third of all, skin-walkers are a Native American myth, so let’s hope the white British lady approaches that with some delicacy.

 

(12) WORKING FOR A LIVING. Mindy Klasky adds to the alphabet for writers in “J is for Job” at Book View Café.

Other aspects of “job culture” bleed over into the life of a successful writer.

For example, writers maintain professional courtesy for other writers. They don’t savage other writers without good reason. (And even then, they make their attacks in the open, instead of lurking “backstage” in corners of the Internet where their victims can’t follow.) This doesn’t mean, of course, that all writers always must agree with all other writers at all times. Rather, disagreements should be handled with respect and professionalism.

Even more importantly, writers maintain professional courtesy for readers, especially reviewers. It’s impossible to publish a book and get 100% positive reviews. Some reviewers—brace yourself; this is shocking—get things wrong. They might not understand the fine points of the book an author wrote. They might mistake facts. They might have completely, 100% unreasonable opinions.

But the professional writer never engages reviewers. That interaction is never going to work in the author’s favor. The author might be considered a prima donna. He might attract much more negative attention than he ever would have received solely from the negative review. Even if the reviewer is completely absurd, engaging solely in ad hominem attacks, the writer is better off letting the absurdity speak for itself. The cost of interaction (especially including the time to engage) are just too high.

(13) RECURSIVE FILES. Camestros Felapton knows the thing fans are most interested in is…themselves.

I predict his graph of File 770 comment topics, “Trolling With Pie Charts”, will get about a zillion hits.

(14) THEY STUCK AROUND. The Washington Post’s “Speaking of Science” feature reports “Lizards trapped in amber for 100 million years may be some of the oldest of their kind”.

F2_large

Tree resin can be bad news for a tiny animal: The sticky tree sap can stop small creatures in their tracks, freezing them forever in time. But that’s good news for scientists. If you’ve ever seen “Jurassic Park,” you have some idea of how great tree resin is at preserving finicky soft tissues. The hardened amber can keep specimens remarkably intact for millions of years.

Now, scientists have examined a flight of lizards locked away in the stuff about 100 million years ago. Among the specimens is a tiny young lizard that could be the oldest chameleon ever found — a staggering 78 million years older than the previous record breaker. One of the geckos may be the most complete fossil of its kind and age. These and 10 other fossilized lizards are described in a paper published Friday in Science Advances.

(15) THE TATTOOINE BRASS. The Throne Room march from the original Star Wars movie as performed by a mariachi band!

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Andrew Porter, and Will R. for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]

Soylent Green Is Puppies 5/11

aka Don’t ask for whom the puppy barks, it barks for thee.

Today’s roundup brings you K. Tempest Bradford, David Gerrold, Redneck Gaijin, Spacefaring Kitten, SL Huang, Brandon Kempner, Alexandra Erin, and Robert J. Bennett. (Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editors of the day James H. Burns and John King Tarpinian.)

K. Tempest Bradford

Unintended Consequences – A Post About The Hugos – May 11

There’s a fun irony in the fallout from the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies Hugo thing.

There are now over 8,000 members of Sasquan (WorldCon). The con gained over 2,600 supporting memberships since March 31st of this year and about 350 attending memberships. I think it can be safely assumed that several of the 1,948 people who bought supporting memberships before March 31st were slate voters and GamerGators. Not a majority, perhaps, but a sizable chunk. And some of the post-March 31st folks might be puppy supporters. However, I’m fairly sure that an overwhelming majority of these new members are anti-slate or anti-puppy.

That’s thousands of people who don’t think that diversity is a dirty word, who don’t consider the larger number of women and authors of color on previous year’s ballots to be affirmative action or diversity for the sake of diversity or political correctness gone wrong.

That’s thousands of people eligible to nominate for next year’s Hugos, and with a big incentive to do so.

Uh oh. *giggle*

 

David Gerrold on Facebook – May 11

If we see 3000 or 4000 or even as many as 6000 (or more) Hugo votes and no sad-rabids win, then that will have to be seen as a very aggressive smackdown not only of the slate nominees, but also of the thinking behind the slates.

Seeing as how people on both sides are now saying, “Read the nominees, vote your conscience,” if such a smackdown occurs — even to the point of a couple “No Award” categories — then what?

(The day after the ceremony, it’s traditional for the committee to release the vote tallies. It will make for some very interesting reading and there will likely be a great deal of discussion and analysis.)

There are several possibilities:

1) The sad-rabids could acknowledge that people voted their consciences and the best works won. Because some of them have claimed they are for diversity and inclusion (insert eye-roll here) they might then pat themselves on the back for at least getting some of their candidates on the ballot and promise to come back next year.

2) Also possible, the sad-rabids could double down and claim that the voting was somehow unfair and that the secret cabal of leftist Social Justice Warriors had gamed the vote. (Insert another eye-roll here. Anyone who’s ever tried to organize fans knows that herding cats is easier. With cats, you only need an open can of tuna. With fans, you need pizza, beer, and a sneak preview of the next SF blockbuster, and the results still aren’t guaranteed.)

….If we have 3000 or more fans nominating for the 2016 awards, then it means that anyone trying to run a slate and game the nominations is going to have a much harder task.

So the unintended consequence of the sad-rabid exercise will have been to put more money in the Worldcon treasury and energize fandom to be more engaged in nominating and voting for Hugos. This is a good thing. (The analogy of white blood cells rushing in to fight an infected wound might be appropriate.)

 

Adult Onset Atheist

“Post Nuclear SNARL” – May 10

I personally don’t think the No Award option is nuclear enough. I would kinda like a refund on the purchase price of the books, and I would certainly like to prevent people in the future from being hoodwinked into purchasing any of these novellas by reading the endorsement implied by seeing “Nominated for a 2015 Hugo Award” on the cover. I would like these novellas to have never been nominated, and I believe that could be done. I almost would like for these novellas to have never been written, but I am afraid that is not possible.

Because Worldcon owns the Hugo trademark intellectual property they can manipulate it in order to maintain its value. They have done this incrementally in the past by adjusting the rule-set needed to be nominated for, or win, a Hugo. They can do it again by removing nominees that loose to “No Award” from the list. This would prevent unscrupulous publishers from realizing an increased prestige or profit as a result of stuffing the nominating ballot boxes.

I have no idea how to go about creating such a rule, or even proposing such a rule for that mater, but I do think it would be a good move. It may even be necessary, as the puppy thought police are not the only ones who might gain from a critically injured Hugo award process. The puppies are not the only ones who have the wherewithal to corrupt the nominating process for their own gain, and they are not even the ones who could do it best.

 

Redneck Gaijin on Redneck Gaijin’s Pitiful Little Life

“A post, in which I waste time and annoy Puppies” – May 11

It’s entirely possible to obey all the rules and still take an unfair advantage. It happens all the time in real life, which is why children of rich people get richer and children of poor people generally stay poor. It’s why black people in America are generally confined to slums and low-paying jobs and considered as criminals until proven otherwise.

Obeying the rules doesn’t mean you played fair. It might just mean you’re a very successful weasel.

“It’s your fault we won, because you didn’t bother to vote, because you didn’t organize your own slates, so nyah!”

Maybe so. As I said in my prior post, the Hugos themselves are not really important. I’ve never voted in the Hugos because I have better uses for my money, and also because I haven’t much interest in reading 90% of what gets nominated.

Neither I, nor anybody else, thought the Hugos were so important that it was necessary to devote the time and energy into campaigning for people to spend $40 or more simply to ram through a super-slate of politically acceptable works- until now.

Now that it’s happened, a lot of people are appalled- but the most appalling thing is that it was done with less than 20% of the vote.

Or, to put it another way, over 80% of voters casting Hugo nomination ballots did not vote for a single Sad/Rabid Puppy recommended work or creator.

So the 20% get to rule over the 80%, and in the minds of the Puppies, this is fair… because it’s them doing the ruling.

 

Spacefaring Kitten on Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Kittens

“Preliminary Thoughts Before Embarking on an Expedition to Planet Wright” – May 11

I’ve decided to read — or try reading — everything on the Hugo ballot this year, and that means there’s more than one novel’s worth of fiction by Wright I have to slog through. There’s a human experiment aspect to all this, as well: it will be interesting to see a) if I can make it at all, b) if I can give a sensible account of the experience and c) if I can do a more-or-less balanced review of this stuff knowing what kind of a person has written it.

I don’t hold any delusions of being completely objective, of course, because there’s no such thing as complete objectivity outside mathematics. Acknowledging Wright’s beliefs probably affects my judgment of his fiction in some way. What the effect will be exactly, remains to be seen.

 

Reading SFF

“Review: On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli (2015 Hugo Nominated Short Story)” – May 11

On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli is the second story from this year’s Hugo Awards ballot that I have read. I did not have high expectations of this year’s short story ballot because all nominees were nominated because of their presence on the sad and/or rabid puppy slates. (I did not like a single one of last year’s sad puppy nominees.) Totaled, the first story I read, was not a great story, but at least it had some positive moments. In contrast, On a Spiritual Plain fits right in with last year’s sad puppy nominees.

The story’s protagonist is the chaplain of a small human outpost on an alien planet. This is a bit familiar. One of last year’s sad puppy Hugo nominees by Brad R. Torgerson also featured a chaplain of a small group of humans on an alien planet. Now, this year Brad Torgerson put together the Sad Puppies slate. I guess he has a thing for chaplains in the  military. Hm. I don’t have to understand this, do I?

 

Cirsova

“Post-mortem of A-to-Z challenge & Hugo Awards” – May 11

Based on some of the nominating numbers I’ve seen and taking into account a large section of the sci-fi blogosphere’s determination to nuke the Hugos from space, I have some worry for the smaller categories. From what I understand of how No Award works, if it gets a plurality in a category simply because of people who are voting a straight No Award ticket, it will knock out all of those works in minor categories voted on by folks who were actually approaching each category in earnest and trying to vote out of the five based on individual merit. Hopefully the number of jerkass ideologue who REALLY want to spend $40 just to vote a no award straight temper tantrum ticket and smash the trophies so that no one can have them constitutes such a small fraction of the Hugo voters that they won’t edge out even the most obscure categories.

 

SL Huang on Bad Menagerie

“Statistics of Gender on the Hugo Writing Nominees: Probabilities and Standard Deviations” – May 11

This will tell us whether a given gender distribution is within what we’d consider an expected year-by-year fluctuation from 50/50, or whether, assuming a 50/50 gender split, it would be…well, an extreme outlier.

 

Brandon Kempner on Chaos Horizon

“Hugo Award Nomination Ranges, 2006-2015, Part 3” – May 11

Even though the number of ballots are soaring, the % ranges are staying somewhat steady, although we do see year-to-year perturbation. The top nominees have been hovering between 15%-22.5%. Since 2009, every top nominee has managed at least 100 votes. The bottom nominee has been in that 7.5%-10% range, safely above the 5% minimum. Since 2009, those low nominees all managed at least 50 votes, which seems low (to me; you may disagree). Even in our most robust category, 50 readers liking your book can get you into the Hugo—and they don’t even have to like it the most. It could be their 5th favorite book on their ballot.

 

Alexandra Erin on Blue Author Is About To Write

“Sad Puppies Review Books: Corduroy” – May 11

corduroy-300x239

Reviewed by John Z. Upjohn, USMC (Aspired)….

I take it back. This bear isn’t even a delta male. He’s a full-on gamma. His sad little quest ends in a pathetic anticlimax as the night security guard—a proper man—literally puts him back in his place, where he stays until the girl comes for him.

And then the little girl does come back and buys him, and sews a button on him anyway. The Feminazis talk about agency, but where’s his agency in all of this? He never found his button. He never got a chance to be a man. Instead he needed the girl to “fix” him, playing mind games on him all the while.

“I like you just the way you are,” the temptress coos, “but I’m sure you’d be more comfortable if you let me, oh, I don’t know… change everything about you.”

 

Hush Puppies  community created on Facebook – May 11

Hush Puppies is for fans of science fiction, fantasy & other geeky pursuits who do not want the drama generated by Sad or Rabid Puppies.