Pixel Scroll 3/20/18 If You Are Stuck In A Kerfuffle, Pixel A Trench And Scroll Your Way To Freedom

(1) #METOO. Pat Cadigan opened up about her #metoo experiences in a public post on Facebook.

Heard Germaine Greer on BBC Radio 4 this morning, disparaging #metoo

Germaine should also talk about welding, engineering, astrophysics, and brain surgery, because she knows as much about them as #metoo

And just for the record: #metoo

I’ve talked about the first job I ever had after I graduated from high school. I lasted a week cold-calling people, trying to sell the photographic packages for a photography company. My supervisor was a woman struggling to be a single parent after her divorce. Her supervisor, who was onsite almost all the time literally chased me around the office, trying to get his hands on me.

When I complained to my supervisor, she said, “You better keep running, because if he catches you, it will be your fault.”…

(2) THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED. National Air and Space Museum will mark the 50th Anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey with an immersive art exhibit celebrating the film’s impact on culture and technology.

This spring, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will host a special temporary exhibition of the immersive art installation “The Barmecide Feast,” a fully realized, full-scale reflection of the iconic, neo-classical hotel room from the penultimate scene of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C. Clarke’s landmark film, 2001: A Space OdysseyOpen to the public April 8 – May 28, the installation will be the centerpiece of the Museum’s celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. Museum visitors will be able to enter the re-created room in small groups for short periods to experience the surreal environment depicted in the film. The public will get its first chance to see the installation as part of the Museum’s Yuri’s Night celebration, a ticketed, 21-and-over evening event presented with Brightest Young Things Saturday, April 7

National Air and Space Society members will get a special sneak peak of the exhibition on April 5. There is no charge for this members-only event, but advance reservations are required.

(3) SIAM SOUVENIRS. A Filer’s relative actually attended the Siam Sinfonetta concert!

She said, “It was a great concert – ran about 3 hours. During the various pieces they had different characters wandering through the concert hall and sometimes lightsaber fighting. They all came out at the end (except the little ones who had probably already left to go home to bed).”

(4) STEM, STEP BY STEP. BBC reports a study: “Children drawing more women in science”, from 1% in 1960’s and 70’s to 28% today.

Children in the US are drawing more women scientists than in previous decades, according to a new study.

The “Draw A Scientist” test has been administered by sociologists in various studies since the 1960s.

Researchers at Northwestern University, US, analysed five decades of the test.

When asked to draw a scientist, less than one per cent of children in the 1960s and 1970s drew a woman. This rose to 28% between the 1980s and present day.

However, children are still far more likely to draw a traditionally male figure when asked to depict a scientist.

…Yet, the study highlights, by 2013 women were 49% of biological scientists, 35% of chemists, and 11% of physicists and astronomers in the United States.

(5) IN THE MIX. Camestros Felapton gives us a “Review: Black Lightning”.

I’m up to episode 8 of a 13 episode season and I think I can pull apart what I like and don’t like about it.

I’ll start negative. I don’t think it has yet managed to find the right mix of humour, gritty crime drama, family drama, superhero-antics. That’s not a surprise, as all superhero shows and movies struggle to find that sweet spot (and the right spot is going to vary among viewers). At times the show is quite violent (or suggestive of extreme violence) but within a show that feels more like it has been written for a more general audience. Like the Marvel Netflix shows, the central character regularly beats up criminals to get information but unlike those shows, the behaviour feels at odds with Black Lightning’s non-superhero persona.

However, there is also a lot to like about this show. The central character, Jefferson Pierce, is unusual for a superhero. He is an older man with a successful career as a high school principal. He has a family and responsibilities and ‘Black Lightning’ is something from his past. By having him as a superhero who is coming out of retirement (due to gang violence initially) is a clever way of avoiding a protracted origin story, while giving viewers an introduction to the character. We have not, as yet, been given an explanation for the source of his electrical powers – although there are hints in a subplot around the death of his journalist father some years ago.

(6) SENSITIVITY. The Washington Post’s Everdeen Mason looks at how Keira Drake changed her forthcoming Harlequin Teen novel The Continent in response to sensitivity readers, which included changing the name of one clan from “Topi” to “Xoe”  to remove any comparisons to the Hopi, making another clan less Asian-looking, and eliminating “savage,” “primitive,” and “native” from the text. The article includes many examples contrasting the original and revised text.

Drake and Wilson maintain that the book was never supposed to be about race. “The main theme of ‘The Continent’ is how privilege allows us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others,” Drake said in a phone interview in February.

Wilson explained that when she originally edited the novel, she was looking for potential problems with pacing, plot and dialogue. “I was simply not thinking about things like racial stereotypes,” she said. “It’s almost mortifying to say that because it was so blatantly obvious when it was pointed out.”

The Washington Post compared the old advance copy with a newly revised copy received in 2018 and spoke with Drake about changes she made.

(7) BLOCK AROUND THE CLOCK. The Paris Review quotes Ray Bradbury: “On Writer’s Block: Advice from Twelve Writers”.

“I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!” —Ray Bradbury

(8) PARTY MAVEN. The website Gastro Obscura records Stephen Hawking’s champagne-laden effort to prove whether time travel exists or not:

It was a little unusual that when he threw a party in 2009, not a single guest attended.

A film of the event depicts a dismal cocktail party. Three trays of canapes sit uneaten, and flutes filled with Krug champagne go untouched. Balloons decorate the walls, and a giant banner displays the words “Welcome, Time Travellers.”

…By publishing the party invitation in his mini-series Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking, Hawking hoped to lure futuristic time travelers. You are cordially invited to a reception for Time Travellers, the invitation read, along with the the date, time, and coordinates for the event. The theory, Hawking explained, was that only someone from the future would be able to attend.

(9) COOLEY OBIT. Texas fan Earl Cooley III died March 20, his sister announced on Facebook:

Earl Cooley III

I am Earl’s sister, Dot Cooley. Earl left this world early this morning. He moved back to the San Antonio area 3 years ago when his health started getting worse and because of that Earl got to spend so much more time with me and our brother, Paul. Mom recently discovered Skype, so she got to visit with him more. We would love for you to share any thoughts or stories with us. Rock on ArmadilloCon!

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian encountered a Biblical joke in Shoe.

(11) MARVEL AT MOPOP. The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle unveiled the official poster artwork for its upcoming exhibition Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes.

Designed by Marvel artist Nick Bradshaw, the illustration depicts some of the most iconic characters created during Marvel’s nearly 80 year history including Spider-Man, Thor, Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, and others. Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes is the first and most extensive exhibition celebrating the visual and cultural impact of Marvel Entertainment. The exhibition will debut at MoPOP on April 21, 2018. Tickets are on sale now at MoPOP.org.

Organized by the Museum of Pop Culture, SC Exhibitions and Marvel Entertainment, Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes will feature more than 300 original artifacts, including some of Marvel’s most iconic and sought-after pages, costumes and props, many of which have never-before been seen by the public. The exhibition will tell the Marvel story through comics, film and other media, taking place as it celebrates 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ahead of the 80th anniversary in 2019.  The exhibition will trace the story of the company and its influence on visual culture – including how it’s responded to historical events and addressed wider issues such as gender, race and mental illness – as well as uncovering the narratives of individual characters such as Captain America, Spider-Man, Black Panther and Doctor Strange. Immersive set pieces will bring the comic book world to life, and the exhibition will be accompanied by an immersive soundscape created by acclaimed composers Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer.

(12) DO-IT-YOURSELF. Lucy A. Snyder’s satirical “Installing Linux on a Dead Badger: User’s Notes” appeared on Strange Horizons in 2004, but it’s news to me. Very funny!

Reanimation puts most creatures in a foul mood, and the test badger woke up murderously angry, requiring a hasty launch of FleshGolem to get the beast under control. It is highly recommended to have the computer close at hand during the incantation.

(13) VACUUMING UP THE BITS. Via today’s Boston Globe: “Data storage beyond the clouds: Wasabi promises a super-secure system in space”. “…Which sure sounds like the start of a ‘what where they thinking/yeah sure’ techno-heist thriller,” says Daniel Dern.

In space, no one can steal your data.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway — one that the Boston data storage company Wasabi Technologies Inc. hopes to help prove.

Wasabi is partnering with a California company to create a database from outer space. The system, called SpaceBelt, will feature orbiting data centers capable of storing thousands of terabytes of information. SpaceBelt will be marketed to businesses and corporations that need instant access to their most valuable data, but who are also desperate to keep that data from being stolen or corrupted.

(14) ALL STROSS CONSIDERED. Joe Sherry describes a mixed bag in “Microreview [book]: Dark State, by Charles Stross” at Nerds of a Feather.

My experience of reading Charles Stross is a persistent struggle between the quality of his ideas and my perception of the quality of his writing, which is to say that I seldom find that the writing lives up to the promise of the ideas.

When I wrote about Empire Games (my review), I noted “the level of Stross’s writing is actually beginning to rise to the level of his ideas” and that once Stross got the story rolling, nothing distracted from the cool ideas of the world walking between the worlds we’ve already known and the opening up of new worlds and the drama of the how the United States interacts with the world walkers from a parallel universe.

Dark State picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Empire Games, and despite the increasingly breakneck pace of the second half of that novel, Dark State suffers from some of the same issues that Empire Games did. Stross spends at least a third of Dark State resetting the playing field and planting the seeds for where the rest of the novel and trilogy will go. That’s fine, as far as narrative conventions go, but Stross is not at his best as a writer when working with a more deliberate pace.

(15) CHARACTER IN CRISIS. Adrienne Martini reviews The Genius Plague by David Walton at Locus Online.

In Walton’s hands, what could be a straight­forward “we must save humanity with science” thriller (not that there’s anything wrong with that), becomes, at times, a meditation on what makes us human and why that alone is a survival advan­tage. Those moments offer a chance to catch your breath before the next calamity, some of which our hero brings on himself. Walton makes Neil into a layered character, one who is frequently torn between family bonds and saving the world – and, frequently, making the situation worse because he is still working out that other people are also torn by their own layers. He’s also still learning that NSA security is never f-ing around.

(16) JEOPARDY! Andrew Porter was gazing at the tube during Jeopardy! and spotted this stfnal clue:

Answer: “Kardashians are reality TV stars; Cardassians are an alien culture in this sci-fi universe.”

No one got the question, “What is Star Trek”?

(17) YOU CAN GET THERE FROM HERE. You can now get to Gotham City, the Emerald City, Neverland, Middle Earth, and other places via roundabouts on the A4130 in Didcot, Oxfordshire reports the BBC.

A county council statement read, in part:

“We will investigate as soon as the weather improves. While on the surface amusing, it is vandalism and a potential distraction for drivers.”

The story also mentions:

Local resident Charlotte Westgate said she saw a hooded man in his 20s adding “Gotham City” to a sign on Friday afternoon.

She said: “He was on his own, and didn’t seem worried that anyone might be looking at him, but no one driving past did anything to stop him.”

(18) BARRAYAR BOY. Miles Vorkosigan posted the lyrics to “Dendarii’s Privateers” on Facebook. The first verse is —

Oh the year was 2978
(How I wish I’d stayed on Barrayar!)
When I flunked my military test
By breaking my legs, as I do best

(19) HOW IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLAYED FOR LAUGHS. From the folks at HISHE, “A Comedy Recap / Review of Pacific Rim voiced by How It Should Have Ended.”

[Thanks to JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Daniel Dern, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael J. Walsh, Carl Slaughter, and MT Davis for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Elisa.]

 

Pixel Scroll 3/19/18 Scroll Miner’s Data

(1) READ FOR LIFE. Inc. tells “Why Reading Books Should be Your Priority, According to Science”.

People who read books live longer

That’s according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. Apparently, the practice of reading books creates cognitive engagement that improves lots of things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.

(2) SOMTOW. The Thailand Tatler covers Somtow Sucharitkul’s fundraising concern for a U.S. orchestral tour: “Siam Sinfonietta Takes To The States”.

As the local music scene continues to thrive and as Thai musicians of all ages and styles gain increasing recognition both at home and abroad, the talented youths of Siam Sinfonietta are getting ready to play at Carnegie Hall in the Big Apple for the third time this April as part of the New York International Music Festival.

Siam Sinfonietta is a scholarship orchestra that aims to provide local prodigies with the great opportunities to perform professionally, regardless of background or income. In order to ensure that all 70 musicians and orchestral staff can have a smooth tour of the States in April, Opera Siam is holding a series of fundraising events, such as a recent Star Wars-themed concert on March 15. Find out how you can still support them here.

Listen to the opening of their Star Wars marathon concert – and see his lightsaber conductor’s baton!

(3) SOCIETY PAGE. Congratulations to Catherynne Valente!

(In case it’s a bit obscure, the ultrasound pic is a clue.)

(4) ANOTHER CLUELESS ATTENDANT. Author Fran Wilde was lectured on a plane that her cane could be a weapon.

(5) BLUE MAN GROUP. Expedition 55 sets new standards in space fashion. Or as David Klaus ad libs, “Are we not Astromen? We are DEVO! Also, if you tailor those uniform coveralls to fit, you have the uniforms of the Starfleet of the NX-01 Starship Enterprise.”

(6) BRIAN ALDISS, CURMUDGEON. Kim Huett had to take a short hiatus from Doctor Strangemind which he is determined to make up with a new 3,400 word article “about a story that Brian Aldiss assures me is only 3300 words long. Still, is 3400 words too many for what Brian also assures me is the WORST SCIENCE FICTION STORY EVER!!!”

You’ll have to read the article and decide for yourselves: “Brian Aldiss & the Worst Story Ever!!!”

It is my impression that Brian Wilson Aldiss was generally considered to be a stern but fair elder statesman until he passed away in 2017. I, on the other hand, considered him to be far more curmudgeonly than that (he would never have made a passable member of the Beach Boys for example). It also my opinion that Brian Aldiss adopted his curmudgeonly persona relatively early in his career. Oh, but Doctor Strangemind I hear you all cry, Brian Aldiss was never a curmudgeon, at least not until he was old enough to carry the title with a suitable level of gravitas! Ah ha, my poor innocent audience! You have fallen into my cunningly constructed audience trap and now while you lay squirming in the metaphorical mud at the bottom of the pit of unwarranted assumption I’ll just sit here on the lip above and tell you all about how in Australian Science Fiction Review #15 (published by John Bangsund in April 1968) that young curmudgeon, Brian Aldiss, did go so far as to accuse two fellow British authors of writing as he put it the, ‘WORST SCIENCE FICTION STORY EVER!!!’ To quote from Aldiss himself:

There was one story in particular in Authentic which, ever since I read it on its first appearance in 1954, had impressed me as reaching a really impressive level of badness. To my great delight, I found on reading it again that it has grown even worse over the intervening fourteen years. I therefore would like to nominate as the worst sf story ever published:

The Lava Seas Tunnel, by F.G. Rayer and E.R. James, (Authentic SF, edited by H.J. Campbell, Vol.1, no.43, March 1954.)

(7) BUJOLD AT RIVENDELL. The Rivendell Discussion Group of the Mythopoeic Society will host Lois McMaster Bujold at its April 7 meeting in Minneapolis.

(8) NEED SHARPER HEARING? Cnet says “Spock’s ‘Star Trek III’ ear tips can be yours”.

An iconic set of pointy ears worn by Leonard Nimoy in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” are up for auction through Lelands.com and they look pretty funky when you see them up close. You’ll notice pits and wrinkles in the flesh-colored appliances. On film, they were artfully blended with make-up to match Nimoy’s own ears.

(9) CLARKE CENTER. A bonus podcast by the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination’s associate director sharing his personal reminiscence on Stephen Hawking, who passed away on March 14, 2018. Viirre was the medical director for Hawking’s trip into weightlessness on a zero gravity flight in 2007.

Only last December, he accepted the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Lifetime Achievement (his citation and acceptance speech can be seen here), during which he said, “It is no small task to be judged as having met with what would have been Arthur’s expectations for intellectual rigor powered by imagination, insatiable curiosity, and concern for our planet and its inhabitants.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 19, 1999 Farscape premiered on Syfy.

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Cat Eldridge sent along xkcd’s suggestion for multiplying internet outrage.
  • Mike Kennedy sent Non Sequitur’s not exactly funny theory about a trend in closing bookstores.

(12) PRISONER COMICS. First shown on Canadian and UK TV screens in 1967, The Prisoner was co-created, written, directed and starred Patrick McGoohan (Scanners, Braveheart). Titan’s new comic series is released for the 50th Anniversary of the first US broadcast in 1968.

Titan Comics are excited to announce that they are partnering with print and poster house Vice Press to create a Diamond UK exclusive cover for The Prisoner Issue #1. This first-ever Vice Press exclusive cover for The Prisoner Issue #1 – designed by Star Wars movie concept artist, Chris Weston – is based on his original silk-screen poster created for Vice Press to mark the 50th Anniversary of The Prisoner hitting US TV screens.

Titan’s new The Prisoner comic series, licensed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, is set in the world of The Prisoner – based on the celebrated cult TV series – from writer Peter Milligan (X-Statix, The Mummy) and artist Colin Lorimer (The Hunt, Harvest)…

“I’ve made no secret about how The Prisoner is my favourite television show of all time,” said Vice Press cover artist Chris Weston, “I have always wanted to create my own artistic tribute to The Prisoner. Fortuitously, my friends at Vice Press offered me the chance to fulfil my lifelong ambition to create a loving artistic homage, timed to coincide with the show’s 50th anniversary.”

(13) OSCAR’S LOVECHILD C3PO. Joal Ryan, in “Let’s revisit the spacy ‘Star Wars’ Oscars from 40 years ago” at Yahoo! Entertainment, has several clips from the 1978 Oscars, in which Star Wars was the only film of this series to be nominated for Best Picture and when Bob Hope, in his last time as Oscars MC, made some groaning Star Wars jokes.

Bob Hope, as he had done 17 times before, hosted the ’78 Oscars. The icon was 74, and this would be his last show as emcee. But he was as quick as ever with the lecherous gag, and the rat-tat-tat monologue that had been punched up with current events. (“1977 will be known as the year of Star Wars, which has grossed over $200 million,” one Hope line began. “That’s more than even some baseball players make.”)

(14) PLATYPUS NEWS. If you thought milking a cow was dangerous…. “Platypus milk: How it could combat superbugs”

Platypus milk could help combat one of humanity’s looming problems, antibiotic resistance, scientists say.

The weird creatures have a duck’s beak, venomous feet and are one of only two mammals able to lay eggs.

Australian scientists discovered in 2010 that the semi-aquatic animal’s milk contains a potent protein able to fight superbugs.

They’ve now identified why, and say it could lead to the creation of a new type of antibiotic.

(15) ALEXA BASHING. Paris Martineau at The Outline says “Hey Alexa, shut up”. My question is: would Paris say that if it was a man’s voice?

Why do voice assistants need to talk so much? If you’ve ever used one of Amazon’s ridiculous, yet rather addictive (I have two) Echo products, you know what I’m talking about: Whether you’re setting a timer, or asking her to play a podcast, Alexa just won’t shut the fuck up. Even when you give it a relatively simple command (like, “Alexa, set an alarm for 6 a.m.,” or “Alexa, set timer for five minutes”) it always responds with either a partial or total repetition of your phrase (“Okay, alarm set for 6 a.m. tomorrow,” or “Timer set for five minutes”), which can be more than a little annoying when it’s two in the morning and you don’t exactly want a booming robot voice waking your roommates up a wall over.

(16) DRIVING WHILE BETAZOID. From Marina Sirtis’ appearance at Dublin Comic Con last year.

Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi) tells the hilarious story about driving the Enterprise as well as burning the bridge.

 

[Thanks to David K.M. Klaus, Mark Hepworth, John King Tarpinian, Danny Sichel, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Andrew Porter, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, rcade, Brian Z., and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Somtow’s Star Wars Concert

Somtow Sucharitkul will conduct the Siam Sinfonietta in The Ultimate Star Wars Symphony Concert with music from all nine already-released Star Wars films on March 15 in Bangkok at the Cultural Center, Thailand’s prestige auditorium. Author Alan Dean Foster will make a special guest appearance, and Thailand’s local 501st Legion  garrison will provide Storm Troopers,

Somtow and the Siam Sinfonietta will perform all the favorites – the Imperial March, Duel of the Fates, The Jedi Steps, Luke and Leia, the Cantina Band – and music from all eight main sequence Star Wars movies using the full-scale John Williams Signature Series scores, with full symphony and chorus, plus excerpts from the Rogue One score by Michael Giacchino.

Special guest Alan Dean Foster, author of The Force Awakens and ghost writer of the first Star Wars novelization, will provide narration during the concert.

The concert is a fundraiser for Siam Sinfonietta’s April tour to Carnegie Hall, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Thai-American relations.

Conductor Somtow Sucharitkul was in the audience at the Uptown Theater in Washington DC at the very opening show in 1977. The next year, he sold his first science fiction story to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. In 1981, Somtow was with Gary Kurtz, producer of The Empire Strikes Back, at the Hugo Awards ceremony when Empire won for Best Dramatic Presentation and Somtow won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Somtow Wins European Cultural Achievement Award

Somtow Sucharitkul at Carnegie Hall in 2016.

Congratulations to Thai composer, conductor and sff writer Somtow Sucharitkul, winner of the 2017 European Award for Cultural Achievement given by the Kultur-Forum Europa (KFE).

The KFE announced:

KulturForum Europa / Europe Culture Forum has decided to award composer, conductor and novelist Somtow Sucharitkul for his services (and also in the spirit of international diversity) — as cultural ambassador between East and West, overcoming national borders and cultural-historical barriers from and to Europe, and establishing meaningful collaborative connections in Thailand and Europe — the 2017 European Award for Cultural Achievement / KulturPreis Europa.

“I’m thrilled and humbled by this award,” he said. He is the first Thai and the first East Asian to receive the award, and only the second composer, the other being Hans Werner Henze, one of Germany’s most celebrated 20th-century musicians.

KFE was founded in 1992 on the initiative of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German statesman who shepherded Germany’s foreign ministry through the years of reunification, promotes European thought in all areas of culture.

The President of the KFE will travel to Thailand and present the award on December 18, the UN International Migrants Day, at a concert in the Thailand Cultural Center. Sucharitkul will conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – and he told File 770 he hopes to have it livestreamed.

Past winners have included actor Georges du Fresne, American writer Doug Wright, and Elzbieta Penderecka, creator of the Krakow Beethoven Festival. The initial winner in 1993 was Annemarie Renger, the first woman to serve as president of a German Parliament and the first woman to be nominated for President by a major party in Germany.

[Somtow] credits the widespread attention in the international media for his DasJati project, a series of ten linked music dramas based on the iconic last ten lives of the Buddha, which when completed will constitute the “largest classical work of all time” in the words of London’s Opera Now.  Part of the work toured in Europe last year, and was an eye-opener for European audiences, positioning Thailand in the cultural limelight.

“It’s important to me that the KFE’s website’s headline is ‘2017 Award to Thailand.’” Somtow added.  “Exciting things are happening here artistically.  I firmly believe that we are heading toward a realignment of the world’s cultural map and that Thailand is going to be a regional center of such a map.  This is why, after a half-century of a career in the west, I came back to Thailand.  This is where it is truly happening now.   I am gratified to be a small part of this revolution.  I am proud to accept the award on behalf of all the artists and the people of this country.”

He still maintains connections with American fans: in 2015 a group attended the premiere of his opera The Snow Dragon at the Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee.

Somtow’s New Opera Debuts in Thailand December 5

Suwana Sama – The Faithful Son, a new opera in Somtow Sucharitkul’s series “Das Jati – Ten Lives of the Buddha,” will be performed for the first time on December 5 at the Suryadhep Music Sala in Rangsit, Thailand.

His work is based on the third of the iconic ten jataka tales, parables about the previous lives of the Buddha which decorate the walls of temples all over Southeast Asia and which are object moral lessons in Buddhist philosophy.

This is actually the fourth opera he has written in the series — “We had a bit of a Star Wars problem in that the idea of creating all ten did not come until I was already well into the Bhuridat, which is technically No. 6 of the ten lives,” Somtow explains.

He is also pleased to point to the scoreboard, which shows his series now contains as many operas as one by another historic composer. “Wagner’s Ring Cycle contains four operas. Now that the DasJati cycle also contains four operas, we’ve reached at least a kind of numeric parity. But of course, The Ring is 16 hours long … the entire DasJati cycle won’t be more than about 18,” he adds, “because it’s designed for modern audiences with movie-length attention spans.” When the entire cycle debuts in 2020, he says, “It’ll feel about like watching all the Star Wars one after another.”

Somtow points out that it is the most intimate and idyllic of the ten tales. In it, the Bodhisattva grows up in a forest looking after his ascetic parents, dedicating his entire life to their welfare after they are struck blind by an angry serpent. A passing king who wants to capture the golden-skinned youth for his collection kills the boy with a poison dart, but his filial piety is so powerful that his parents’ tears bring him back to life.

This is a magical story with legendary creatures, gods, a giant snake, a virgin birth, a madcap king, and a statue that comes to life.

***

Incidentally, here’s a link to the full video of Somtow’s The Snow Dragon, premiered last March in Milwaukee.

[Based on the press release. Thanks to Brian Z. for the story.]

Operacon Report

Cassandra Black as the Snow Dragon. (Photo: Dragon Media Photo)

Cassandra Black as the Snow Dragon. (Photo: Dragon Media Photo)

By Martin Morse Wooster: Operacon (Hilton Center City Milwaukee, March 12-15, 2015)

I’ve loved classical music for as long as I have loved science fiction. So when I saw a flyer for Operacon at Capclave, I knew I had to go, and I was very glad I did. This was an excellent small convention and I had a very good time.

Dick and Leah Zeldes Smith organized Operacon so that fans could get together and attend The Snow Dragon, an opera by Somtow Sucharitkul that premiered at the Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee in March. Attendees received a ticket to the opera, a copy of the libretto signed by Somtow and artist Mikey Jiraros, and admission to a very well run consuite run by Alan Rosenthal and Jeanne Bowman.

Even though Operacon was small, we had most of the features of larger conventions. There was a dealer’s room, run by Greg Ketter. Leah Fisher brought a bag full of games, and some of us spent a pleasant evening playing Yahtzee and Clue.

Attendance was about 60, of whom half were from the Chicago or Milwaukee areas and the rest from all parts of the country. There was one international attendee, British journalist Michael Proudfoot, on assignment for opera magazines in Great Britain and Germany. Two Canadians tried to come, but were thwarted by bad plane connections.

Among the attendees was Elizabeth Anne Hull of Palatine, Illinois, Fred Pohl’s widow. I had several long conversations with Hull, and told her how much I enjoyed Pohl’s novel Narabedla Ltd., a 1988 work in which aliens kidnap second-tier opera singers and have them perform to appreciative aliens who love opera but can’t replicate human voices. Hull explained that she and her husband had been subscribers to the Chicago Lyric Opera for many years, and she still is an avid opera and theatregoer to events in the Chicago area.

When you have a group of fans intensely interested in classical music, the talk turns to musical ideas. Among them: what’s your local classical music station like? What’s your local opera like? And how cool is it to hear Renee Fleming? (Very cool indeed.)

We even got into some highly specialized topics. I had a good discussion about Regietheater, where egomaniac European directors think any operas can be improved with the addition of gorillas and nudity. I even had a discussion with a fellow oldphart about the great Milton Cross, the Vin Scully of opera broadcasters, who was the host of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts until his death in 1975.

Somtow Sucharitkul arrived with an entourage of five, including a personal assistant and his mother, Thaitow. Somtow has not been to a science fiction convention since L.A.Con III in 1996, because he isn’t a science-fiction writer any more. He is a composer, conductor, and creator and manager of the Siam Philharmonic and Bangkok Opera. Somtow has written five symphonies and nine operas; his most important operas include Mae Naak (2003) the first grand opera based on Thai themes, and the Japanese-inspired Dan No Ura (2012). When Somtow began composing, his work was brutal and atonal. But after a spiritual crisis in 2001 (which led to his becoming a Buddhist monk for an extended period), he decided to become a “neo-Asian, neo-romantic” composer.

One afternoon, Somtow told stories about his life in Thailand. He prides himself on introducing Gustav Mahler’s symphonies to the Thais. (The performances are on YouTube.) His efforts led him to receive a treasured relic from the International Mahler Society — the baton Leonard Bernstein had used the last time he had conducted Mahler. The baton, Somtow noted, had yellowed, because of Bernstein’s decades of chain smoking.

Somtow also told about the time he tried to bring an elephant for a performance of Aida. He didn’t know that elephants in Bangkok had to be licensed, and was surprised when the pachyderm police showed up and arrested the elephant, taking him to the elephant impoundment lot or wherever it is that unlicensed elephants in Bangkok go. The resulting performance of Aida was elephant-free.

Fandom assembled for the March 13 premiere by going to the Milwaukee Ale House for a good old Wisconsin Friday fish fry. Then we went to the Skylight Theatre.

We were encouraged to dress up for the event, and about half of us did. Amy Axton, for example, showed up in full steampunk regalia, including goggles, a blaster, and various pieces of watches used for decoration. But the clear winner in the costume contest was Greg Rihn, whose outfit replicated a famous one worn by Giuseppe Verdi, including top hat, tails, a cane, a long flowing white scarf, and a white waistcoat underneath his tux. It was a magnificent effort, and Rihn seemed a time traveler from the sunny part of the past where it is always 1895.

The Skylight Theatre is a very pretty place that seats about 500. It has three tiers and curved light-brown walls. The theatre was meant to be a pastiche first of the nearby Pabst Theatre, second of nineteenth-century opera houses generally. The architects did a very fine job.

The fans were introduced to the crowd. The management also knew what fans liked, and we all enjoyed the little bags of chocolates given us as a present.

The opera is based on Somtow’s short story “The Fallen Country,” which he later expanded to a YA novel. Billy Binder is the victim of an abusive stepfather, who at one point beats him so badly he goes to the hospital. Dora Marx, a social worker who quickly recognizes that Binder is a victim of child abuse, treats him. To mentally escape his plight, Binder, with the Snow Dragon as his guide, uses his anger to travel to The Fallen Country, ruled by the Ringmaster, an avatar of his stepfather who uses a whip instead of a belt. The Fallen Country is a land of perpetual emotional and physical cold. Can Binder beat the Ringmaster—and use his victory in an imaginary world to fight back against his stepfather in our world?

The cast was all good, but 12-year-old Luke Brotherhood as Billy Binder was excellent. The Snow Dragon was played by Cassandra Black, a Wagnerian soprano in good voice. Her costume was a silver lame dress, complete with a bustle, silver boots, and a helmet with spikes and bells. The women I talked to admired Black’s dress and said that costumers would faunch after it.

As for the music, I asked Michael Proudfoot, the British music critic. He detected traces of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Der Rosenkavalier, and thought the trio that concludes The Snow Dragon was very Straussian. But he also saw a lot of Benjamin Britten in Somtow’s work, particularly The Turn of the Screw. Somtow wrote in the program notes that many of Dora Marx’s arias were atonal, symbolic of Marx’s Freudian beliefs.

After the opera, there was a post-concert reception, and I saw Thaitow Sucharitkul sitting quietly at a table. “You must be very proud of your son,” I said.

Mrs. Sucharitkul smiled. “I am,” she said.

The following day there was a discussion of the opera with Somtow and Skylight Artistic Director Viswa Subbarman. I missed the discussion, because I was in Milwaukee, and I had to drink beer.

That evening Dick and Leah Zeldes Smith held a special reception honoring their 30th wedding anniversary. They had Kiddush cake, a Jewish delicacy, and a special cake congratulating the Smiths on their anniversary. Of course the cake had a snow dragon on top.

Somtow showed up briefly, as he had given talks at a performance that night and had to prepare for a matinee the next day. But he decided to bring his personal copy of The Laughing Dead, a 1989 gorefest that Somtow wrote, directed, provided the music for, and acted as Dr. Um-Tzec, a villain who cackles, ”I want to bring a new age — of death!”

Somtow suggested we look at the reviews on Amazon, and the critics there had such comments as “very clumsy and slow,” “this movie is so, so bad” and “Amazon really needs to add minus numbers to the ratings.” These critical comments are quite accurate. The film is best known for the large number of pros in the cast, with Tim Sullivan in the lead, with substantial supporting roles for Gregory Frost as a tourist and Ed Bryant as a bus driver. Those of us who think of Ray Ridenour as a debonair Baltimore fan will be surprised to see him here wearing a tacky yellow leisure suit. A lot of other pros showed up to play corpses and zombies, including Tim Powers and Forrest J Ackerman, who can be glimpsed for two seconds near the film’s conclusion.

How could one man write The Snow Dragon and The Laughing Dead? I’ve known Somtow for 35 years and I don’t know the answer to this question. The paradox of Somtow Sucharitkul is that a man who can write arias fit for the gods once had feet of cheese.

The Snow Dragon is an important artistic achievement and Operacon was one of the most pleasant weekends I have ever had in fandom.

Sucharitkul’s Snow Dragon Premiere Attracts Fans To Operacon

Colleen Brooks and Luke Brotherhood perform in “The Snow Dragon.” Photo by Kevin Pauly.

Colleen Brooks and Luke Brotherhood perform in “The Snow Dragon.” Photo by Kevin Pauly.

Congratulations to Leah and Dick Smith who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary at Operacon, an event synchronized with the world premiere of Somtow Sucharitkul’s “The Snow Dragon” last weekend in Milwaukee.

Quite a number of fans attended and Martin Morse Wooster has promised a conreport for File 770.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gave the opera a fine review:

In the opening moments of “The Snow Dragon,”Skylight Music Theatre’s world premiere opera, firefighters rescue a frostbitten boy clinging to the steeple of an old church — in Florida, during a heat wave.

That boy, Billy Binder (Luke Brotherhood), is referred to a school counselor, Dora Marx (Colleen Brooks). Billy is frozen with rage at the physical abuse he regularly endures. Marx, on the other hand, feels burned out and talks often about the suffocating heat. Her sleeveless blouse does more than reinforce her struggle with the temperature. It also emphasizes her long, wiry arms, likening her visually to the wiry Billy. They appear destined to take a journey together…

Brotherhood’s voice is smaller and quieter than the opera professionals around him, but the experienced young actor nails his portrayal of Billy, skittish and traumatized but also defiant and angry after internalizing so much abuse. Brooks communicates beautifully in her singing. Her performance suggests that the heat her character feels comes from a failure, professional or personal, to love fully.

Local TV feature reporter Julie Collins has posted several short videos about the opera, including brief interviews with Sucharitkul and the lead singers.

To learn more about the opera and the relaxacon read these two progress reports, Flavor Forecast 1 and Flavor Forecast 2.

Operacon Celebrates Milwaukee Performance of New Work By Sucharitkul

ThaiOrch-750x497

Somtow conducting orchestra in 2013.

Operacon, an unusual relaxacon, is scheduled to coincide with the performance of Somtow Sucharitkul’s new work “The Snow Dragon” in Milwaukee. Rendezvous for this cultural event at the Hilton Milwaukee Center the weekend of March 12-15, 2015.

“The Snow Dragon” is the Thai-American composer and author’s seventh opera, based on his 1982 short story, “The Fallen Country.”

The opera’s plot centers on young Billy Binder, who escapes from his painful life to a fantastic world of eternal snow, where he rides a dragon, fights monsters and rescues princesses. Yet the world is ruled by the evil and omnipresent Ringmaster. Defeating the Ringmaster in the fantasy kingdom is key to overcoming Billy’s real-world problems, but that’s easier said than done.

After its Milwaukee world premiere, the opera will head to Thailand for a special performance in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Memberships: $90 (includes opera ticket); $50 (without opera ticket); $25 supporting, until November 1, 2014.

The organizers are composer Somtow Sucharitkul, hotel liaison Dina Krause, and “everything else” Dick & Leah Smith.

Somtow says this will be his first con in 20 years.

[Thanks to Leah Smith for the story.]

Somtow To Conduct in LA, San Diego

ThaiOrch-750x497Somtow Sucharitkul will be conducting the Siam Sinfonietta in LA at Disney Hall on June 18 as part of the Los Angeles International Music Festival.

And he’ll be leading the orchestra at another performance in San Diego on June 22 at the Birch North Park Theatre. There, the audience is promised “a wild program of music including two U.S. premieres plus music by Rossini, Strauss, [and] Prokofiev.”

The San Diego concert is a benefit for Toys for Thailand.

Toys for Thailand, Inc. is a non-profit public benefit corporation in San Diego, California. Its international volunteers provide instructional, vocational, and agricultural resources to residential hill tribe schools in northern Thailand.

Many fans also know the conductor from his time in the U.S., when he wrote sf as S. P. Somtow.

Today’s Thought Experiment

The Official Royal Wedding website launched last week with promises to tell an eager world the latest developments in Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding plans.

I saw nothing on the website offering the faintest glimmer of hope that anyone from the sf community will attend the Royal Wedding on April 29. That’s just not right!

SF Crowsnest revealed last November that the bride-to-be is a Buffy fan. If that counts I volunteer Ben Yalow as our representative. He’s the biggest Buffy fan I know — and he does own a black tie. 

But I don’t think we should put all our eggs in one basket.

So I challenged myself: Who do I know who could get me invited to the Royal Wedding?

The most famous Englishman I know is Dave Langford. Dave is a literary lion. What’s more, Sir Terry Pratchett sends him news for Ansible and we know Sir Terry’s met the Queen at least once. Unfortunately, Dave answered that he didn’t think he could be much help:

[My] kind of extremely limited fame doesn’t translate into any kind of influence in the British establishment, but then I don’t suppose Terry’s encounter with the Queen helps either. (He’s not the only one in the UK sf community — Chris Priest has been to at least one Buckingham Palace garden party, I think as a reward for services to the Society of Authors, and I’d be surprised if Brian Aldiss hadn’t done the same at some stage.)

Probably best to blackmail a Tory of at least junior-minister rank, or a member of the Palace protocol staff. I assume that quickly marrying a close relative of bride or groom would be inconvenient since you’re already spoken for.

You’re quite right, Dave, that would be tough to arrange between now and April 29. 

I think my next inquiry will be to sf author and composer Somtow Sucharitkul, who is himself related to Thai royalty, as it says in his bio:

In 1999, he was commissioned to compose…  Madana, inspired by a fairytale-like play written by King Rama VI of Siam and dedicated to his wife, Queen Indrasaksachi, who was also the composer’s great-aunt.

If I hear back from him I’ll be surprised report further.