2020 Oscar Nominations

Nominations for 92nd Academy Awards were announced January 13. Genre led the way, as Joker received the most nominations with 11, including nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, and Directing.

However, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was the only other genre film to make a splash, nominated for Sound Editing, Visual Effects and Original Score.

The finalists for Best Animated Feature Film are How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link and Toy Story 4.

The full list of nominees follows the jump.

Continue reading

Pixel Scroll 1/5/20 The Third Attempt Was With Canned Pumpkin

(1) FOUND IN SPACE. [Item by Daniel Dern.] Lifehacker’s Brendan Hesse has figure out “How to Explore the Solar System in Google Maps via Hyperspace”. I’ve briefly tried this, and it works. I wonder if [we] can add tags etc. for sf story/video locations, etc…

Note, the article says, “You’ll only be able to use the space feature—and experience the hyperspace tunneling—on desktop versions of Chrome,” but I’m seeing something that seems to be that effect on my (Win 10 desktop) Firefox browser.

You’ll only be able to use the space feature—and experience the hyperspace tunneling—on desktop versions of Chrome, but it’s easy to find and use:

  1. Go to Google Maps.
  2. Click the “Satellite view” button at the lower-left of the screen.
  3. Click the super-tiny “Global view” button at the top of the navigation controls in your browser’s lower-right corner.
  4. Using either the “-” key, your mouse wheel, or the Google Maps zoom controls, zoom out until you’re in the planetary view of Earth.
  5. Select one of the various planets and moons from the list on the left, and you’ll blast through hyperspace to your new destination. Eligible destinations include Mars (to visit Dr. Manhattan), Europa (to recreate the journey of that 2013 sci-fi film), and the International Space Station (to say hello to everyone currently zooming around our planet).

(2) CROSSING THE STREAMS. “Netflix’s Dracula Easter Egg Sets It In The Same Universe As Doctor Who”ScreenRant noticed the hatchling immediately.

A throwaway line spoken early into the first episode of the newly released Dracula places the Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss-produced vampire series within the expansive Doctor Who universe.

…As an oblivious Jonathan rides a rickety carriage towards Dracula’s castle, he pours over a letter from his beloved fiancée, Mina. In it, she writes of life back in England. Whovians were quick to notice that among the details mentioned by Mina was one familiar to watchers of the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who. Doctor Who as run by Steven Moffat has a history of being self-referential itself.

Mina writes to Jonathan of “the adorable barmaid at the Rose and Crown.” The 2012 Doctor Who Christmas special (re)-introduces audiences to Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman). Although the character eventually goes on to become the sharp companion to both Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi’s Doctors, in the 1892-set episode, she is a barmaid-cum-governess once earning her income at the Rose & Crown Inn.

(3) FUTURE TENSE. The December 2019 entry in Slate’s Future Tense Fiction series is “Actually Naneen,” by Malka Older, a new short story about robot nannies from the author of Infomocracy.

There’s also a response essay by Ed Finn on the role technology should play in childhood.

…The question of automating child care is political, economic, and ideological all at the same time. Despite decades of educational research, we still put most children through systems designed a century ago to train factory workers and farmhands. Mountains of psychological studies have done little to prevent me from making parenting mistakes—some of them, inevitably, recapitulating my childhood, while others are totally new mistakes I’m adopting into our family like so many holiday traditions. Parenting is the most intensely personal, long-haul project many humans ever take on. What other task averages so many hours over so many years, with such little external oversight or reliable feedback? There is no one correct way to parent because every parental situation is different, and navigating those differences requires all the intelligence, compassion, patience, and humanity we can throw at it.

But it also requires resources, and the idea of outsourcing parenting has always tempted those who could afford it….

(4) HE CAN TALK TO REPORTERS, TOO. In Parade, “Robert Downey Jr. Opens Up About Life After Iron Man, Kung Fu Fighting and Managing a Menagerie in Dolittle.

When Robert Downey Jr. was preparing for his new role in Dolittle, a movie in which he plays a doctor who lives with a house full of animals—and talks with them—he began to wonder, “How does anyone relate to this guy?” And then he looked out the window of his home in Malibu, Calif., and saw his alpaca Fuzzy looking back at him.

In addition to his wife of 14 years, Susan, and their two kids, son Exton, 7, and daughter Avri, 5, Downey lives with dozens of animals they’ve taken in over the past 10 years. There are pigs (kunekunes, a New Zealand breed), Oreo cows (with that distinctive white belt), pygmy goats, a larger rescue goat named Cutie Boots, a bunch of chickens and two cats, Montgomery and D’Artagnan. “I was like, ‘Oh, yeah,’” he says with a laugh. “‘You’re completely surrounded by animals!’”

(5) BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL. Aaron Bady is thumbs down on the series:“Dr. Manhattan is a Cop: “Watchmen” and Frantz Fanon” at the LA Review of Books.

… I’ve been thinking about why it’s disappointing. In the ’80s, it could seem plausible to “solve” the looming threat of nuclear war by creating the worldwide fear of an alien invader, “a force so dreadful it must be repelled, all enmities aside,” as Veidt declares. But this elegant twist — by which the savior of mankind is also a supervillain who kills millions of people, and gets away with it — was an elegant genre subversion because the antihero really was novel and subversive in the mid-’80s. By making the original Superman a Hitler-sympathizing vigilante literally clothed in KKK iconography, Moore and Gibbons were demonstrating the genre’s disavowed logic, and what Moore says so explicitly in that 2017 interview is pretty easy to find in the comic itself. There’s literally a comic within the comic, in which a shipwrecked sailor tries to save his family and town from pirates and ends up killing his family and town and then joining the pirates, all to hammer the point home: to save humanity from a nuclear holocaust, Veidt kills three million people; because he calculates the inevitability of The Event, he intervenes to bring it about; to be the hero, he becomes the villain. Since 1985, this once-novel idea has been absurdly generative and influential to the point of cliché: from the Watchmen-esque “The Killing Joke” through the Nolan Batman movie through the MCU up to Thanos, the superantihero has been at the heart of the modern post-9/11 revival of the superhero movie. What if the villain is the hero? What if the hero is the villain? “You know how you can tell the difference between a superhero and supervillain?” the comic asked, and then answers, “Me neither!”

(6) NOT EVERYONE CAN DO THIS. A New York Times interviewer found out “How Ursula K. Le Guin Fooled the Poet Robert Hass”.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I tend to binge, so I have to try to avoid genre fiction, but I’m attracted to mysteries, detective novels partly because they come in a series — so I would find myself working through the 10 novels Simenon wrote in 1931 to see what that explosion was about. I had a Patrick O’Brian addiction at one point. When I read Ursula Le Guin, who grew up in Berkeley, I thought that I had discovered that I loved science fiction, and read a lot of it and discovered that I just loved Ursula Le Guin, unless Calvino and Borges count as science fiction.

(7) LESS THREAD, MORE FILLING. N.K. Jemisin will still be on Twitter, just not as much.

(8) MORE PLEASE. In The Hollywood Reporter, “‘Star Wars’ Star Dominic Monaghan Hopes for ‘Rise of Skywalker’ Director’s Cut”.

…Since the release of The Rise of Skywalker, viewers have been divided over their feelings about the film. This came to a head Thursday as an anonymous, unverified Reddit post suggested that the film was subject to a significant amount of studio meddling, prompting the hashtag #ReleaseTheJJCut to trend across social media. While Monaghan didn’t speak to these latest conspiracy theories, he does wish for the release of a director’s cut given the sheer volume of unused footage that Abrams shot.

“Like a lot of Star Wars fans, I’m hoping there will be a director’s cut so we’ll get to see more and more of the stuff that was filmed,” Monaghan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I wasn’t there all the time, but even in the short time that I was there, there was so much stuff filmed that didn’t make it to the theatrical version…. Oh, man, there was so much stuff!”

(9) SHATNER’S CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. ComicBook.com tells how one Captain celebrated the holiday: “Star Trek’s William Shatner Surprised the LAPD on Christmas Day”.

Star Trek‘s William Shatner is famous for playing Captain James T. Kirk. In 2019, he took on the role of local Santa Claus for the Los Angeles Police Department. Sources within the organization tell TMZ that Shatner visited his local precinct’s police station. He didn’t show up empty-handed, reportedly coming with corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, bagels, lox, and cream cheese to help feed the officers on duty on Christmas Day. Shatner reportedly thanked the on-duty officers and left a holiday card behind as well as a few hundred dollars to help feed the officers throughout the remainder of the day.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 5, 1882 Bela Lugosi. He’s best remembered for portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 film Drácula, although Wolfman certainly helped make him famous as wellNow tell me what’s your favorite film character that he played? (Died 1956.)
  • Born January 5, 1914 George Reeves. Yes, he was just forty five when he apparently committed suicide. Best known obviously for being Clark Kent and Superman in the Adventures of Superman which ran for six seasons. It was preceded by two films, Superman and the Mole Men and the now public domain Stamp Day for Superman. Reeves had one long running SFF series prior to this series, Adventures of Sir Galahad, a fifteen-part serial in which he played the lead. This clip is the only English one I found of him in that role. (Died 1959.)
  • Born January 5, 1940 Jennifer Westwood. Folklorist who I’m including on the Birthday Honors List (if the Queen can have such a list, I can too) for one of her works in particular, Albion: Guide to Legendary Britain as it has a SFF connection that’s will take some explaining. Ever hear of the band from Minnesota called Boiled in Lead? Well they took their name from a local legend in that time about a man that was wrapped in lead and plunged in a vat of scalding oil so that he now stands forever in a circle of stones but barely nine to this day. Among the SFF folk that have had a role in the band are Steven Brust, Adam Stemple, Jane Yolen and Will Shetterly. (Died 2008.)
  • Born January 5, 1959 Clancy Brown, 61. I first encountered him as the voice of Lex Luthor In the DC animated universe. All of his voice roles are far too extensive too list here, but I’ll single out his voice work as Savage Opress, Count Dooku’s new apprentice and Darth Maul’s brother, in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Very selected live roles include Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, The Kurgan In Highlander, Sheriff Gus Gilbert in Pet Sematary Two, Captain Byron Hadley in The Shawshank Redemption, Sgt. Charles Zim In Starship Troopers and, one of My best loved weird series, the truly strange Brother Justin Crowe in Carnivàle.
  • Born January 5, 1975 Bradley Cooper, 45. He’d be here just for voicing Rocket Raccoon in the MCU. In fact, he is here just for that role.
  • Born January 5, 1978 Seanan McGuire, 42. Ahhhh, one of my favorite writers. I just finished listening to The Girl in the Green Silk Gown which was quite excellent and earlier I’d read her Chaos Choreography, both of her Indexing books which are beyond amazing and, God what else?, the Wayward Children series which I’ve mixed feelings about. I did read at a few of the first October Daye novelsbut they didn’t tickle my fancy. Not sure why though. 

(11) PICARD RECRUITS. ComicBook.com is keeping an eye open for new Picard promos — “Star Trek: Picard Teaser Spotlights Romulan Agent Narek”.

The latest features the new character Narek, played by Harry Treadaway. Narek is a Romulan agent who joins up with Jean-Luc Picard and his crew to investigate the Romulans’ new interest in Borg drones. You can watch the teaser above. And speaking of Borg drones, last week’s teaser featured Seven of Nine, again played by Star Trek: Voyager‘s Jeri Ryan.

(12) ON TARGET. The GoFundMe to help Virgil Finlay’s daughter met it $5,000 goal. She sent her thanks in an update.

I want to thank everyone who so kindly contributed to help me save my father’s artwork, letters, and poetry. We will continue to work on restoring them piece by piece.
My daughter and I both thank you for your kindness!
Sincerely,
Lail and Brien

(13) RETRO RESEARCH. SF Magazines’ Paul Fraser put together a page on his blog listing nearly all of the Retro-Hugo eligible stories from 1944, with hyperlinks to copies on archive.org, as well as one or two other bits and pieces.

The table below* contains the 1944 fiction eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards, and links to copies of the stories on archive.org. Please use the contact form below to inform me of any omissions.

(* The table includes the contents of Amazing Stories, Astounding Science-Fiction, Captain Future, Fantastic Adventures, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales magazine, plus miscellaneous others—e.g. Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, Robert Graves’ The Golden Fleece. There was no original fiction in Famous Fantastic Mysteries during 1944.)

(14) GETTING THEIR GOAT. “California Cities Turn To Hired Hooves To Help Prevent Massive Wildfires”. In fact, there’s a place in the foothills a few miles from me where they brought in goats – I don’t know whether they still do.

California has gone through several difficult fire seasons in recent years. Now, some cities are investing in unconventional fire prevention methods, including goats.

Anaheim, a city southeast of Los Angeles, has recently re-upped its contract with the company Environmental Land Management to keep goats grazing on city hillsides nearly year-round.

The goats are stationed in places like Deer Canyon Park, a nature preserve with more than a hundred acres of steep hills. Beginning in July, roughly 400 goats worked through the park, eating invasive grasses and dried brush.

The company’s operations manager Johnny Gonzales says that Deer Canyon, with its peaks and valleys, is just the right kind of place to use goats for fire prevention.

“This is the topography that poses challenges during these wildfire events,” Gonzales says. “And we can go ahead and reduce the fuel loads and take out the invasive plants, and establish the native plants on these banks; you’re re-establishing the ecology.”

…What makes the goats important isn’t just their ability to climb steep hillsides. According to Hogue and Gonzales, the animals eat invasive plants and grasses while only minimally grazing on native plants.

(15) SPACE FORCE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Should the Vulcans choose this time to finally drop in on us here on Earth, the US Space Force has a new unit designation ready made for at least one of them. Air Force News press release: “14th Air Force redesignated as Space Operations Command”.

By order of Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, effective Dec. 20, Fourteenth Air Force was officially redesignated as Space Operations Command.

[…] The SPOC directly supports the U.S. Space Force’s mission to protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from and to space; and conduct space operations.

[…] The SPOC provides space capabilities such as space domain awareness, space electronic warfare, satellite communications, missile warning, nuclear detonation detection, environmental monitoring, military intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation warfare, command and control, and positioning, navigation and timing, on behalf of the USSF for USSPACECOM and other combatant commands.

[…] Additional details about SPOC will be available in early 2020 – highlighting Space Operations Command’s critical roles and responsibilities in support of national security objectives.

(16) THESE ARE THE JOKES. If you pooh-poohed this idea – well, the writers beat you to it. “‘Avenue 5’ review: Iannucci’s sci-fi sitcom is the funniest thing on HBO” promises Inverse.

…The best part of an Iannucci show is typically the insults. (I can’t remember the plot of Veep, but when I close my eyes I can still see and hear Julia Louis Dreyfus cursing out Jonah Ryan or calling him an “unstable piece of human scaffolding.”). Avenue 5 cares more about its plot than its barbs. There are twists, turns, big reveals, and cliffhanger endings that will have you impatiently waiting for next Sunday’s episode. It’s still funny, but don’t expect the mile-per-minute foul-mouthed humor that made Veep so great.

The setting of HBO’s new sci-fi comedy is as impressive as the comedy: A massive gleaming vessel — or, as one character describes it, a “giant dildo floating through space.” The interior sets are all curved, shiny white surfaces and huge windows revealing the infinite outer space all around them; this backfires after some unfortunate space debris ends up orbiting the ship, which is somehow large enough to create its own gravity field.

(17) UNINTENTIONAL WAR GAMES. “Pika-Who? How Pokémon Go Confused the Canadian Military” – the New York Times has the story.

Pokémon Go, the augmented-reality game, had soared to the top of the download charts. Within weeks, millions of people were chasing the digital animated creatures all over the world — and going places they should not go.

More than three years later, Canadian military officials have shared internal documents with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News Network that show how the military, both curious and confused, reacted to the wildly popular app.

Maj. Jeff Monaghan, an official based in Kingston, Ontario, wrote in an email: “Plse advise the Commissionaires that apparently Fort Frontenac is both a Pokégym and a Pokéstop. I will be completely honest in that I have not idea what that is.”

At least three military police officers, stationed at different bases, were assigned to wander around with smartphones and notepads in hand to search for Pokémon, Pokéstops and Pokégyms, according to the documents. (Users can find Pokéballs at Pokéstops, use their Pokéballs to capture Pokémon, and train and join teams at Pokégyms.)

“We should almost hire a 12-year-old to help us out with this,” David Levenick, a security expert at a military base in Borden, Ontario, wrote in an email.

Weeks after the app became available, Canadian officials noticed an increase in suspicious activity.

One woman was found on a military base as three children with her climbed on tanks. She was playing Pokémon Go.

(18) THE BEGINNING. In the Washington Post, John Kelly discusses an exhibit at the University of Maryland about Jim Henson’s college years, including sketches and drawings Henson made at college and how Henson created a silk-screening business in school to make money and help perfect his art. “Jim Henson was born gifted. At U-Md., he became even more talented.”

…Though the single-room exhibit is composed of just a few cases, a few walls and a few TV screens, it gives a good sense of the breadth of Henson’s interests and his love of experimentation. In his short animated film “Drums West,” colored shapes dance across a black background in time with a percussive soundtrack. Yellow and orange rectangles make starburst patterns as the (unseen) drummer, Chico Hamilton, plays the high-hat; blue dots pop as he thumps the bass drum. It’s an abstract visual representation of the music.

How was it done? At the end, the camera pulls back to reveal Henson seated at a workbench. In front of him is a black surface about the size of an LP cover. It’s surrounded by bits of colored paper that Henson has been painstakingly arranging with tweezers, then filming a frame at a time.

As for those souvenir Wilkins and Wontkins Muppets, they’re there too, inside a glass case. In 1958 you could have had a pair by sending in $1 and the last inch of winding band from a can of Wilkins Coffee or a Wilkins Instant Coffee label. “Made of soft but durable vinyl,” a newspaper ad explained, “you only need to move your fingers inside to create 1,001 funny faces.”

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Toman, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Daniel Dern, Mike Kennedy, Joey Eschrich, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]

Pixel Scroll 1/2/20 Pixellate In Glorious Scrollovision

(1) NETWORK ANALYSIS OF RWA/MILAN CONTROVERSY. Mikki Kendall did a breakdown for NBC News: “The Romance Writers of America racism row matters because the gatekeepers are watching”.

…Let’s talk about the power of romance. There’s power in the written word, even in a genre that we tend to consider — because of sexism — less intellectual than some others. And it isn’t just about hearts and flowers and candy; this is cold hard cash: Romance as a literary genre represents a quarter of all fiction sales and more than half of all paperback sales, and it brings in over a billion dollars in sales annually.

The impact of romance books on the culture is outsize because everyone is interested in romance, whether they admit it publicly or not.

…But there’s inevitably a small contingent of writers who simply can’t handle being criticized, whether directly or indirectly. Vitriolic responses to critics are hardly limited to well-known writers; those who aspire to become household names are equally prone to them. Having your work dissected, discussed and sometimes even demeaned, however, is part of putting it out into the world. All writers know this — or at least they should — and writing romance novels is no exception.

(2) FOLLOW THE MONEY. Jason Sanford continues releasing interviews he conducted with sff magazine editors in conjunction with his well-researched report #SFF2020: The State of Genre Magazines.

Jason: You said Fireside pays its editors a fee for each issue of the print magazine, with the fee based on Fireside’s word rate and the revenue to pay for this coming entirely from subscribers. Was there a break-even point with subscribers where this started to work? Do you still rely on any fundraising to support the magazine?

Pablo: I think using a word like ‘fundraising’ is misleading. Fireside is not a non-profit, and it’s not a charity – so we’re not ‘raising funds’ for anything. Using vocabulary linked to non-profits and charities implies that the people who support us are doing so out of the kindness of their heart, without receiving any direct value in return. The stories, artwork, and publications that Fireside publishes have value, our customers recognize that, and are willing to pay money for it.

But I digress. To answer your question…

Jason: According to this year’s Locus Magazine survey, Escape Pod has an audience size of 37,000 people, making it one of the largest English-language SF magazines in the world. What percentage of your audience supports the magazine with donations? Any  thoughts on how to convinces more genre readers and listeners to support the magazines they love?

Mur: I believe we have the typical 1% rate of donation. We have no funding but our listeners, and the couple of times we’ve been in trouble, we’ve been honest with saying, hey, we can’t keep delivering the show to you if you don’t support us, and they’ve always stepped up. With Patreon it’s much easier to allow people to donate on a sustaining level and get rewards as well!

(3) ROSE IS STILL MISSING. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the Washington Post, Michael Cavna discusses the controversy over whether Kelly Marie Tran deserved more screen time in The Rise of Skywalker, noting that screewnwriter Chris Terrio has withdrawn his explanation that Tran would have had many scenes with Carrie Fisher had Fisher lived to not much of an explanation at all: “Many Star Wars fans are upset the new movie sidelines Kelly Marie Tran’s character. The writer is trying to explain.”

…On Monday, Terrio walked back that explanation, saying that the real issue with Rose had nothing to do with visual effects.

He told Vulture: “I badly misspoke if in an earlier statement I implied that any cut scenes between Rose and Leia were the fault of our VFX team and the wizards at ILM. In that earlier interview, I was referring to a specific scene in which Leia’s emotional state in ‘Episode VII’ [‘The Force Awakens’] did not seem to match the scene we wrote for use in ‘Episode IX’ [‘Rise’] and so it was cut at the script stage before the VFX work was done.”

Terrio underscored to the Hollywood Reporter on Monday that the issue did not involve “photorealism,” as he earlier stated. “I would sometimes come and sit at the VFX reviews and my jaw would drop at seeing Leia live again.”

(Representatives from the film have not yet responded to a request from The Post to speak with Terrio.)

(4) FAVES OF 2019. Hot off the blocks with the New Year, SF² Concatenation has its team’s annual choice for the Best SF books and films of the previous year. They have advance posted “Best Science Fiction of the Year – Possibly?” ahead of their spring edition of news and reviews (which is slated for mid-January).

Every year, around Christmas and New Year a round-robin is sent to many members of the SF² Concatenation team asking for their favourite SF/F/H books and films of the previous year.  If just two or three nominate the same work then it gets added to a list of Best SF/F/H works of the previous year.  This list appears in the Spring (northern hemisphere academic year) edition’s news page.  It is simply a bit of fun and not meant to be taken too seriously but as a pointer for our regulars to perhaps check out some recent works.  Yet over the years, each year sees a few from these lists go on to be short-listed, and even win, a number of SF awards.

Spooky, huh?

(5) BITES JUST RIGHT. “Dracula: Critics applaud ‘energetic and fun’ revival of vampire classic” – BBC has a roundup.

The BBC’s new take on Dracula is a hit with critics, one of whom says it is “the meatiest, goriest, most energetic and fun version” she has ever seen.

“Previous versions now look anaemic,” writes The Times’ Carol Midgley.

The Mail’s reviewer hailed “a Dracula to delight horror movie fans of all stripes” in his five-star write-up.

The Telegraph’s reviewer, meanwhile, praised Danish actor Claes Bang for his “witty, outrageous and thrilling” portrayal of Bram Stoker’s vampire.

“It might not have been faithful to the original, but it was a scream,” writes the paper’s Anita Singh.

The BBC One mini-series has been written and created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the duo behind the award-winning Sherlock.

(6) BREATHE IN. IGN interviews the midwives…. “Galaxy Quest: How the Thermians Were Born”.

…Parisot remembers Colantoni’s audition inventiveness setting the tone for the Thermians. After a solid read, the direct says he could tell the actor was holding back on his way out the door.

“For some reason I said, ‘Rico, it seems like you’ve got something on your mind,’” recalls the director. “He goes, ‘Well, I have this voice. I don’t know if it works.’ I said, ‘What is it? Try it.’ He did it and I just went, ‘Oh my God, that’s it!’

“The Thermians came out of that voice,” Parisot continues. As more actors were added to the Thermian ranks, that voice became the reference point with every addition, including Missi Pyle (Laliari), Jed Rees (Teb), and Patrick Breen (Quellek).

“We had alien school and we would come up with things like the walk,” Parisot remembers. “Rather than swinging in the direction most people do, we went the opposite direction with the arms, and the posture because they’re basically giant calamari hiding in human shape.

(7) THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN. It might be this year.“Chandrayaan-3: India plans third Moon mission”.

India has announced plans for a third lunar mission, months after its last one crash landed on the Moon’s surface.

The chairman of India’s space agency, K Sivan, said work was going “smoothly” on the Chandrayaan-3 unmanned mission.

He said the country was aiming to launch the mission in 2020 but that it “may spill over” to 2021.

If successful, it would make India the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, and boost its credentials as a low-cost space power.

(8) BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE. “India Announces Plans For Its First Human Space Mission”.

India’s space agency says that four astronaut candidates have been selected for its first human mission, targeted to launch by 2022, but they’ve not been publicly named or identified.

India hopes to join the United States, Russia and China as the world’s fourth nation capable of sending people to space. It has been developing its own crewed spacecraft, called Gaganyaan (or “sky vehicle” in Sanskrit), that would let two to three people orbit the Earth on a week-long spaceflight.

K Sivan, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, held a press briefing on New Year’s Day and told reporters that the four astronauts would start their training in Russia in a few weeks.

(9) NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY. There’s even a Wikipedia entry – unfortunately, one that makes it sound like a big commercial. That attitude would make more sense to me if I’d ever seen a Hallmark card for the occasion.  

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • January 2, 1996 The Demon Headmaster aired the first episode of its three seasons. Based on the children’s series by Gillian Cross of the same name, the later books were based off the screenplays for the series which Cross wrote. The cast included Terrence Hardiman, Frances Amey, Gunnar Atli, Cauthery and Thomas Szekeres. A sequel series was done. 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 2, 1920 Isaac Asimov. I can’t possibly summarize him here so I won’t. My favorite novels by him are the original Foundation novels followed very closely by his Galactic Empire series and I, Robot. I know I’ve read a lot of his short fiction but I’ll be damn if I can recall any of it specifically right now. (Died 1992.)
  • Born January 2, 1940 Susan Wittig Albert, 80. She’s the author of The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, a series of mysteries featuring that writer. Really. Truly. Haven’t read them but they bear such delightful titles as The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood. She has non-genre series involving an herbalist and a gardening club as well. 
  • Born January 2, 1948 Deborah Watling, Best known for her role as Victoria Waterfield, a companion of the Second Doctor. She was also in Downtime, playing the same character, a one-off sequel to a sequel to the Second Doctor stories, The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. No Doctors were to be seen. If you’ve seen the English language dubbed version of Viaje al centro de la Tierra (Where Time Began, based off Verne’s Journey to the Center of The Earth), she’s doing the lines of Ivonne Sentis as Glauben. (Died 2017.)
  • Born January 2, 1952 Caitlín Matthews, 68. Fiction writer. Well she sure as Odin’s Beard isn’t a scholar in any meaningful sense. With her husband John, she’s written such works as King Arthur’s Raid on the Underworld: The Oldest Grail Quest, The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures and on her own, Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain: An Exploration of the Mabinogion. They’re entertaining as long as you accept that they’re really mostly fiction. 
  • Born January 2, 1959 Patrick Nielsen Hayden, 61. Wiki in a fit of exuberance list him as a “editor, fan, fanzine publisher, essayist, reviewer, anthologist, teacher and blogger”. Which is true. He’s won three Hugo Awards for Best Editor Long, and he won a World Fantasy Award for editing the Starlight 1 anthology. 
  • Born January 2, 1967 Tia Carrere, 53. Best remembered for her three-season run as Sydney Fox, rogue archeologist on Relic Hunter. She’s been in a lot of one-offs on genre series including Quantum Leap, Hercules, Tales from The Crypt, Airwolf, Friday the 13th and played Agent Katie Logan for two episodes on Warehouse 13.
  • Born January 2, 1979 Tobias S. Buckell, 41. I read and enjoyed a lot his Xenowealth series which he managed to wrap up rather nicely. The collection he edited, The Stories We Tell: Bermuda Anthology of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, is well worth reading, as is his own Tides from a New World collection.
  • Born January 2, 1983 Kate Bosworth, 37. She’s Barbara Barga in the SS-GB series done the superb Len Deighton novel. She’s both a producer and a performer on The I- Land Netflixseries where she’s KC, a decidedly not nice person. For a more positive character, she portrayed Lois Lane in Superman Returns.

(12) SOLAR TO BLAME. Mark Lawrence’s “Star one stars!” features bad reviews that Amazon customers gave books, complaining about things that aren’t in the writer’s control. His first example —

I was recently the lucky recipient of this 1* review on Amazon. It struck me as worthy of note because not only is it not a review of the book, it’s not even a criticism of Amazon. It’s more of a critique of the customer’s own life skills…

“1*: Can’t remember ordering these books. Not my type of subject. Unable to find a method of cancelling the transaction”

(13) LIGHT ‘EM UP. Cora Buhlert tells how she celebrated a “Happy New Year 2020” in Germany, where fireworks are part of the tradition – but for how long?

…However, this year some organisations are calling for a complete ban on private fireworks. The initial reasons given were environmental – fireworks release smoke and microparticles, but then other reasons like animal welfare and health and safety were also given. Plus, there is a call – echoed by various charities – that fireworks are a waste of money and that the people should rather donate the money spent on fireworks to charity. One figure that’s often bandied about is that in 2018, 130 million Euros were spent on fireworks in Germany. That sounds like a lot – until you do the calculations and realise that this figure means that every person in Germany spent 1,57 Euros per year on fireworks on average. And 1,57 Euros per person is not a lot of money, especially if you consider that the total figure of 130 million Euros also includes money spent on professional fireworks.

So why are fireworks suddenly so controversial, especially since they are limited to one night of the year – with the occasional firecracker going off a few days before or after? IMO, the underlying reason is just that some people find fireworks annoying, because they are noisy, frivolous and the wrong kind of people (teenagers, immigrants, poor people) are having fun. In recent times, there has been a resurgence of the kind of joyless moralism that dominated the 1980s. And not coincidentally, the “Give to charity rather than buying fireworks” campaign originally also dates from the 1980s.

(14) IN TIMES TO COME. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Nature points out “The science events to watch for in 2020”. This includes… 2020 will see a veritable Mars invasion as several spacecraft, including three landers, head to the red planet. NASA will launch its Mars 2020 rover, which will stash rock samples that will be returned to Earth in a future mission and will also feature a small, detachable helicopter drone. China will send its first lander to Mars, Huoxing-1, which will deploy a small rover. A Russian spacecraft will deliver a European Space Agency (ESA) rover to the red planet — if issues with the landing parachute can be resolved. And the United Arab Emirates will send an orbiter, in the first Mars mission by an Arab country. Closer to home, China is planning to send the Chang’e-5 sample-return mission to the Moon.

Attached is a pic of the forthcoming Mars lander being tested.

(15) ONLY 3600-SOME-ODD SHOPPING DAYS ‘TIL. In “The 2030 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide” on Vice, Tim Maughan foresees what the hot holiday items of ten years from now will be, including Barron Trump’s rap albums and Marvel Vs. Star Wars VI: The Final Conflict.

…Want to take a low flying helicopter ride over the Texas Refinery District Toxic Exclusion Zone? Try urban scuba deep under what was once the Miami waterfront? Or maybe you want to take a leaf out of your favorite influencer’s book, and get your photo taken on the rim of the crater that was once the Space X test facility? The Unlimited Dream Company can make it happen, with its range of exclusive, customizable tourist trips. You’ll be given full safety training and orientation—including an entry level handgun course for trips in disputed states—and will be accompanied by medical staff*, Darklake certified security agents, and tour guides with unmatched local knowledge.

(16) RESOLUTIONS. At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova selects “Elevating Resolutions for the New Year Inspired by Some of Humanity’s Greatest Minds” (2016). A long Ursula K. Le Guin excerpt crowns the middle of the list – but the Vonnegut is short enough to quote —

In 2005, Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922–April 11, 2007) — a man of discipline, a sage of storytelling, and one wise dad — penned a short and acutely beautiful remembrance of his friend Joseph Heller, who had died several years earlier. Originally published in the New Yorker, it was later reprinted in John C. Bogle’s Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life (public library).

JOE HELLER

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!

(17) ART LARP. “One Night In An Edward Hopper Hotel Room? It’s Less Lonely Than You Might Think”.

It isn’t hard to imagine yourself inside an Edward Hopper painting — having a coffee at a late-night diner, or staring out the bedroom window at the bright morning sun.

Now, for $150 a night, you can sleep in one — or a reproduction of one — at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Designers have constructed a 3D version of Hopper’s 1957 Western Motel, and invited Hopper fans to sleep over.

It feels a little funny getting undressed for bed in a museum. (There are plenty of nudes on the walls, but you don’t expect to be one yourself.) But suddenly there you are, in your jammies — a guard outside in the hallway — turning off the goose-neck lamp on the bedside table, tucking yourself under a deep burgundy bedspread, and looking out the big picture “window” at a green Buick parked outside.

(18) THE NEXT MARVEL FIRSTS. “Marvel to get first transgender superhero”. And that’s not all.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to get its first transgender superhero.

“And very soon. In a movie that we’re shooting right now,” Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige said during a Q&A at the New York Film Academy.

Asked by a fan whether there were any plans for more LGBT characters in Marvel’s films, “specifically the T, trans characters”, Kevin said: “Yes, absolutely. Yes.”

This year, The Eternals will introduce Marvel movies’ first gay character.

There have been reports since 2019 that Phase 4 of the MCU – the films following the Avengers Infinity saga – would star a trans character.

Marvel has also said it will introduce its first deaf superhero in The Eternals and its first Asian-American superhero, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

“You look at the success of Captain Marvel and Black Panther. We want the movies to reflect the audience and we want every member of our global audience to see themselves reflected on the screen,” Kevin Feige previously said.

(19) DIY. “Invasion Planet Earth: Sci-fi filmed in Birmingham” — video, with clips and interviews.

Since being a teenager Simon Cox loved science fiction, especially Star Wars.

He wanted to make his own blockbuster, and he has finally realised his dream to write and direct his own film, which is called Invasion Planet Earth.

It’s taken 20 years, crowd funding and several campaigns to fund the small budget film.

Much of the sci-fi epic was filmed in Birmingham with 900 Brummies acting as extras.

The movie, which has been shown in mainstream cinemas, is available on DVD and available to download.

(20) LOOKING AHEAD. Sounds like they’re not going with Jubal Harshaw’s solution. BBC covers “Writing a ‘national anthem’ for Mars” — video, with performance.

An Indian former software analyst who’s now a rising star in the opera world has written a new “national anthem” for Mars.

Oscar Castellino was commissioned to give the Red Planet its own anthem by the UK’s Mars Society – to promote the idea that if humans ever live there then they will need their own musical identity.

(21) THESE ARE THE DROIDS I’M LOOKING FOR. Philadelphia channel 17 captured the highly stfnal “Fralinger String Band at the 2020 Mummers Parade” on video.  

Love the Fralinger String Band?  Then you came to the right place.   We’ve got Fralinger’s 2020 Mummers Parade performance video of their “Lunar Effect” theme and some photos below.

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michael J. Walsh, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ingvar.]

Pixel Scroll 12/31/19 God Stalk Ye Merry Gentle Kzin

(1) PREACH IT! As the decade comes to an end, Cat Rambo comments on the writers driving the changes she aspires to keep pace with — “The New Rude Masters of Fantasy & Science Fiction – and Romance”.  One segment addresses “The Weaponization of Civility” —

As I’ve said, one cudgel used in this fight is a demand for civility, and I’m seeing it raised again in the debate surrounding the RWA ejecting Courtney Milan for speaking up. Courtesy becomes weaponized, a way of silencing. A way of forcing others to wait for the conversational turn that never gets ceded. Note Silverberg calling Jemisin’s speech “graceless and vulgar” and Spinrad weighing in to call Ng “swinish.” I cannot help but think that these men are less upset by what was said, than that it was not delivered with the deference that they felt Campbell, a proxy for themselves, deserved.

Hegemonic structures replicate themselves, continually pretending to reinvent and innovate but doing so in the same old forms. Traditional publishing is as prone to this as any other social structure. Indie writers get treated as though they were the nouveau riche, obsessed with money, when many of them are actually making a living at writing in a way our forebears—Chaucer, Shakespeare, Gilman—would have totally approved of. The truth is being a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean one is rolling around on moneypiles like Scrooge McDuck unless you’re part of a very very small group. For things to truly change, publishing must bring in new voices and not just allow them, but encourage them to speak.

Those voices are a diverse group, but one thing they often share is a lack of economic privilege, the sort that allows one to work as an unpaid intern, or pay for the grad school that gives one time enough to write or resources for focusing on craft rather than survival. That’s part of the undercurrent in those cries about vulgarity: an unease with people who haven’t undergone the same social shaping features, who may not have been signed off on by society with a standardized degree. To ignore the ways otherness has been used to justify discouraging those others is to be complicit in that act of silencing. And that, I would argue, is about as rude as it gets.

(2) SHORT STORY MARKET. Heather Rose Jones’ Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast will be open for short story submissions for audio publication during the month of January 2020.

Stories should be set in an identifiable pre-1900 time and place but may include fantastic elements that are either consistent with the setting or with the literature of that setting. And, of course, stories should center on a female character whose primary emotional orientation within the context of the story is toward other women.

Payment is the current SWFA rate of $0.08 per word. For full details, see the “Call for Submissions”.

(3) BE ON THE LOOKOUT. At Dragonmount: A Wheel of Time Community, JenniferL gets the logs rolling with “How Wheel of Time can Win a Hugo Award”.

Wheel of Time’s last chance

Despite its popularity and far-reaching impact on the fantasy genre, Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time have never won a Hugo Award. 

In 2014 the entire WoT series was nominated for (but did not win) the “Best Novel” award. The “Best Series” category did not exist at the time. WoT’s nomination caused a controversial stir, as some people didn’t feel it was appropriate to consider the entire 15-book Wheel of Time series as one single work. This helped prompt the World Science Fiction Society, which awards the Hugos, to add a new category in 2017, the “Best Series” award. 

At the time, it didn’t mean much for The Wheel of Time, but it did enable several other long-running and popular series (including Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive) to be recognized with nominations and awards. 

And now The Wheel of Time will have one more chance to potentially earn a Hugo Award. 

Earlier this year, in 2019, Brandon Sanderson published “A Fire Within the Ways”, a short story that was included in the Unfettered III anthology from Grim Oaks Press. This written sequence contained a lng set of “deleted scenes” from A Memory of Light. With Harriet’s permission, the scenes were lightly edited and submitted for publication in the Unfettered III anthology, with proceeds going to support health care needs for writers in need.  According to the WSFS bylaws, any new installment to a written series, regardless of length, makes The Wheel of Time eligible for the Best Series award. Therefore, A Fire Within the Ways makes WoT eligible for the first–and likely only–time.

(4) AUSTRALIAN FIRES CLAIM FAN’S HOME. BBC has been reporting all day on the fate of the Australian resort town of Mallacoota as the east Victoria bush fires overtook it. Moshe Feder reports, “I just heard from Carey Handfield that longtime fan Don Ashby has lost his home to the fire.”

(5) CHANGE BACK FROM YOUR DECADE. Andrew Liptak’s “Reading List, December 30th, 2019” sums up the decade in 8 news stories.

…Plus, I think that there’s a better way to look at the decade: how did science fiction and fantasy storytelling change in the last ten years? Why? After consulting with a number of authors, editors, and agents, it’s clear that the entertainment industry and SF/F have experienced major changes in the last ten years, from the introduction of streaming services, to Disney’s franchise domination, gender and politics within SF/F, self-publishing, and a growing acceptance of SF/F content within mainstream culture. This list is broken down into those categories, with a representative example or two from each section.

Here’s how the decade changed in 8 stories.

(6) FUTURE TENSE. Slate has put up a list of the sff stories they published this year as part of the Future Tense Fiction series: “All of the Sci-Fi Stories We Published This Year”.

Future Tense started experimenting with publishing science fiction in 2016 and 2017, but we really invested in it in 2018, publishing one story each month. That year was capped off by Annalee Newitz’s quirky and urgent “When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis,” which won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short science fiction of the year. Our hope was that these glimpses into possible futures could provide a thought-provoking parallel to our coverage of emerging technology, policy, and society today, inviting us to imagine how the decisions we’re making today might shape the way we live tomorrow, illuminating key decision points and issues that we might not be giving enough attention.

(7) MEN IN THE RED. “The greatest work of science fiction I’ve ever been involved with – my Men in Black profit statement” — “1997 hit ‘Men In Black’ is still yet to make a profit says screenwriter”.

Men In Black, the 1997 sci-fi comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, remains in the red despite making $589 million (£448 million) at the global box office over 20 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, that translates to $944 million (£718 million) in 2019 money, not taking into account extra ticket prices for 3D or IMAX.

This is according to the film’s screenwriter Ed Solomon, who adapted Lowell Cunningham’s comic book seriews for Sony Pictures, who then turned it into a mega-blockbuster with a $90 million (£68 million) budget that spawned three sequels and an animated series, not to mention shifting piles of merchandise.

Solomon, who also wrote all three Bill & Ted films, Now You See Me, and Charlie’s Angels (2000), shared on Twitter that he had received his “Men In Black profit statement” from the studio over the festive period which said that the film had lost “6x what it lost last period”, linking back to a previous tweet from June this year that said the film was “STILL in the red”….

(8) MEAD OBIT. In sadder news, Syd Mead, an artist who worked on Blade Runner, Aliens, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, has passed away. Variety has the story.

…Mead started his design career in the auto, electronics and steel industries working for Ford Motor Co., Sony, U.S. Steel and Phillips Electronics. He then transitioned to film. His career began as a production illustrator working with director Robert Wise (“West Side Story”) to create Earth’s nemesis V’Ger in the 1979 “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

He continued fusing technology with creativity, bringing to life some of the biggest films in science fiction. In 1982, he served as a visual futurist on “Blade Runner,” before collaborating as a conceptional artist with director Steven Lisberger  on the 1982 “Tron.”

He explained his inspiration for “Blade Runner” to Curbed in 2015, “For a city in 2019, which isn’t that far from now, I used the model of Western cities like New York or Chicago that were laid out after the invention of mass transit and automobiles, with grids and linear transport. I thought, we’re at 2,500 feet now, let’s boost it to 3,000 feet, and then pretend the city has an upper city and lower city. The street level becomes the basement, and decent people just don’t want to go there. In my mind, all the tall buildings have a sky lobby, and nobody goes below the 30th floor, and that’s the way life would be organized,” Mead said.

(9) INNES OBIT. Neil Innes, best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Rutles and in collaboration with Monty Python, has died at the age of 75.

…A spokesperson for the Innes family said he had not been suffering from any illness and had passed away unexpectedly on Sunday night.

…In the 1970s, Innes became closely associated with British comedy collective Monty Python, contributing sketches and songs like Knights of the Round Table and Brave Sir Robin, as well as appearing in their classic films The Holy Grail and Life of Brian.

He wrote and performed sketches for their final TV series in 1974 after John Cleese temporarily left, and was one of only two non-Pythons to be credited as a writer, alongside The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams.

A film about Innes called The Seventh Python was made in 2008.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 31, 1958 The Crawling Eye premiered. In the U.K, it was called The Trollenberg Terror. Directed by Quentin Lawrence, it stars Forrest Tucker, Laurence Payne, Jennifer Jayne, and Janet Munro. Les Bowiec who worked on Submarine X-1 did the special effects. The film is considered to be one of the inspirations for Carpenter’s The Fog. Critics found it to be inoffensive and over at Rotten Tomatoes, it currently a thirty percent rating among reviewers. 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 31, 1937 Anthony Hopkins, 82. I think one of his most impressive roles was as Richard in The Lion in Winter but we can’t even call that genre adjacent, can we? He was, during that period, also King Claudius in Hamlet. I’ll say playing Ian McCandless in Freejack is his true genre role, and being Professor Abraham Van Helsing In Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a plum of a genre role. It’s a better role than he as Odin has the MCU film franchise. What else have I missed that I should note? 
  • Born December 31, 1943 Ben Kingsley, 76. Speaking of Kipling, he voiced Bagherra in the live action adaptation that Disney did of The Jungle Book. He was also in Iron Man 3 as Trevor Slattery, a casting not well received. He’s The Hood in Thunderbirds (directed by Frakes btw), Charles Hatton in A Sound of Thunder and Merenkahre in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, the third of three great popcorn films.
  • Born December 31, 1945 Connie Willis, 74. She has won eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebula Awards for her work, a feat that impresses even me, someone who isn’t generally impressed as you know by Awards! Of her works, I’m most pleased by To Say Nothing of the Dog, Doomsday Book and Bellwether, an offbeat novel look at chaos theory. I’ve not read enough of her shorter work to give an informed opinion of it, so do tell me what’s good there.
  • Born December 31, 1945 Barbara Carrera, 74. She is known for being the SPECTRE assassin Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again, and as Maria in The Island of Dr. Moreau. And she was Victoria Spencer in the really awful Embryo, a film that that over five hundred review reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give a sixteen percent rating. 
  • Born December 31, 1949 Ellen Datlow, 70. Let’s start this Birthday note by saying I own a complete set of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror which yes , I know it was titled The Year’s Best Fantasy for the first year. And I still read stories for them from time to time. If that was all she had done, she’d have been one of our all-time anthologists but she also, again with Terri Windling, did the Fairy Tale and Mythic Fiction series, both of which I highly recommend. On her own, she has the ongoing Best Horror of Year, now a decade old, and the Tor.com anthologies which I’ve not read but I assume collect the fiction from the site. Speaking of Tor.com, she’s an editor there, something she’s also done at Nightmare MagazineOmni, the hard copy magazine and online, and Subterranean Magazine. 
  • Born December 31, 1953 Jane Badler,  66. I first encountered her on the Australian-produced Mission Impossible where she played Shannon Reed for the two seasons of that superb series. She’s apparently best known as Diana, the main antagonist on V, but I never saw any of that series being overseas at the time. She shows up in the classic Fantasy Island, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Bitch, Popcorn & Blood and Virtual Revolution.
  • Born December 31, 1958 Bebe Neuwirth, 61. She’s had but one television SF credit to her name which is playing a character named Lanel in the “First Contact” episode of the Next Gen series during season four, but I found a delightful genre credential for her. From April 2010 to December 2011, she was Morticia Addams in the Broadway production of The Addams Family musical! The show itself is apparently still ongoing. 
  • Born December 31, 1959 Val Kilmer,  60. Lead role in Batman Forever where I fought he did a decent job, Madmartigan in Willow, Montgomery in The Island of Dr. Moreau, voiced both Moses and God in The Prince of Egypt, uncredited role as El Cabillo in George and the Dragon and voiced KITT in the not terribly we’ll conceived reboot of Knight Rider. Best role? Ahhh, that’d be Doc Holliday in Tombstone.
  • Born December 31, 1971 Camilla Larsson, 48. Therese in the first series of Real Humans on Swedish television. She was Jenny in the Mormors magiska vind series which is definitely genre given it’s got a ghost and pirate parrots in it! 

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • Lio warns us that pocket universes can pop up unexpectedly.
  • Scroll down to the third cartoon – a classic from The Far Side as cops deduce what killed these cats…

(13) THE LONELINESS OF GENERAL HUX. [Item by Olav Rokne.] Nobody really understands the motivations of General Hux in the most recent Star Wars movie, so Slate Magazine’s Dan Kois (@DanKois) gets into Hux’ head with excerpts from the General’s private diaries: “The Lost Diaries of General Hux”. The results are laugh-out-loud funny: 

Kylo Ren loves making little comments about Starkiller Base. “I sense a great regret in your heart about the failure of your planet-sized death machine,” he says. It hurts my feelings. I spent years managing that project, prime years of my career, and I only got to blow up one star system before the whole thing was destroyed. Which, incidentally, was the fault of those horrid contractors, not me. I can’t complain to Ren, obviously. I wish there was someone I could talk to! I ordered a therapist droid from the medical bay but Snoke had them all reprogrammed to say “Your problems are inconsequential, focus only on crushing the Resistance.” No one knows how to reboot them. It’s too bad—therapy is supposed to be covered in the medical plan, and a lot of our nameless young stormtroopers could stand to talk things out about their kidnapping, parents being killed, etc.

(14) BACKSTAGE. NPR’s Petra Mayer finds out that “‘Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’ Makes Its Magic The Old-Fashioned Way”.

When the creators of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were working on adapting the wizarding world for the stage, they knew a lot of people have seen the Harry Potter movies. And they didn’t want to reproduce the things most people have already seen.

The result is a spectacle that relies much more on human-powered magic than special effects trickery. And the show’s creators have documented that process in a lavish new coffee-table book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey. So I went on my own journey, backstage at the current Broadway production, to see how that magic is made.

Around and under the stage of Manhattan’s Lyric Theater, there’s a warren of corridors and staircases so complex you almost expect to pop out in Hogsmeade. But instead, I end up in a rubber-floored workout room where today’s cast is warming up for the show, directed by movement captain James Brown III (who also plays the magisterially surly Bane the Centaur).

It’s pretty intense. There’s yoga, stretching, and some hard-core calisthenics. Grunts and groans ripple around the room as Brown leads everyone through their paces. This isn’t usual for a Broadway show, but then not that many shows are this physical. The actors in Cursed Child create effects that would have been done digitally onscreen with their own bodies, and with the help of some special crew members.

(15) PAST GAS. BBC posted its collection of “The best space images of 2019”.

With some blockbuster space missions under way, 2019 saw some amazing images beamed back to Earth from around the Solar System. Meanwhile, some of our most powerful telescopes were trained on the Universe’s most fascinating targets. Here are a few of the best.

Up in the clouds

Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has been sending back stunning images of Jupiter’s clouds since it arrived in orbit around the giant planet in 2016. This amazing, colour-enhanced view shows patterns that look like they were created by paper marbling. The picture was compiled from four separate images taken by the spacecraft on 29 May.

(16) FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE. Oscar and Grammy-winning film composer Hans Zimmer wrote the theme music for the BBC podcast 13 Minutes to the Moon. He shares how Nasa’s historic Apollo 11 mission influenced his work in the BBC video “Hans Zimmer: What inspired 13 Minutes to the Moon’s music?”

“The problem is when you write about space, [as] we all know, there is no sound in space.”

Click the link to hear the full theme music from 13 Minutes to the Moon.

(17) UNDEAD SUPERHEROES. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] The LARGE majority of this list had me mentally screaming, “Noooooooo.“ In my very loudest mental voice. I’ve left out the reasons cited for wanting to bring each of them back in reproducing the list below. It’s kinder that way. CBR.com lists “10 Saturday Morning Cartoon Superheroes That Need To Be Resurrected”

Saturday morning cartoons. Before the advent of 24-hour cartoon networks and streaming services, this was the only way for kids to get their fill of both animated fare and sugary cereals. It was a Golden Age filled with characters that ran or drove past the same scene several times, animals that talked, and scrappy puppies that saved older cartoon franchises.

In the 1960s and 70s, it was also the place where superheroes came to life. Not only familiar ones like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. But also ones created for that precious five hours of time on Saturday’s. Some would continue on beyond this era. Others would vanish around the same time they premiered. Yet, they all have a space in our dusty and aging hearts. To honor these pioneers, here are 10 Saturday morning cartoon superheroes that need to be resurrected.

10 Captain Caveman

9 Superstretch and Microwoman

8 Frankenstein, Jr.

7 Web Woman

6 The Galaxy Trio

5 Freedom Force

4 Blue Falcon

3 Super President

2 Birdman

1 Space Ghost

(18) THIS IS THE CARD YOU’RE LOOKING FOR. Baby Yoda’s trading card — “Star Wars: The Mandalorian TOPPS NOW” — you have only five days left to order it.

TOPPS NOW celebrates the greatest moments… as they happen!

(19) CLEVER COMMERCIAL. “Not genre but will put a smile on your face,” promises John King Tarpinian.

[Thanks to Michael Toman, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Olav Rokne, Darrah Chavey, Mike Kennedy, N., Heather Rose Jones, Nina Shepardson, Chip Hitchcock, Moshe Feder, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 12/26/19 Demotic Space Opera

(1) HUGO VOTER ELIGIBILITY. The CoNZealand committee reminds fans:

If you would like to make a nomination for the Hugo Awards, you must purchase your CoNZealand membership by 31st December 2019, 11.59pm PST.

(2) PODCAST FINDER. The Cambridge Geek compiled a great tool for podcast listeners: “All of 2019’s Audio Drama/Fiction Podcast Debut Releases”. The various tabs include several for genre, such as Science Fiction – over 100 entries – plus Superhero and Urban Fantasy.

Right, here’s the big list of every new Audio Drama/Fiction/RPG show I found that debuted in 2019, sorted by genre. I think it contains 660 shows. It’s probably a fair chunk of data, so I’ve taken the embedded episodes out – you’ll have to look at a show itself to have a listen.

(3) ANOTHER FAILED PREDICTION. According to Vox, “The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came.”

Instead, at the other end of the decade, ebook sales seem to have stabilized at around 20 percent of total book sales, with print sales making up the remaining 80 percent. “Five or 10 years ago,” says Andrew Albanese, a senior writer at trade magazine Publishers Weekly and the author of The Battle of $9.99, “you would have thought those numbers would have been reversed.”

And in part, Albanese tells Vox in a phone interview, that’s because the digital natives of Gen Z and the millennial generation have very little interest in buying ebooks. “They’re glued to their phones, they love social media, but when it comes to reading a book, they want John Green in print,” he says. The people who are actually buying ebooks? Mostly boomers. “Older readers are glued to their e-readers,” says Albanese. “They don’t have to go to the bookstore. They can make the font bigger. It’s convenient.”

Ebooks aren’t only selling less than everyone predicted they would at the beginning of the decade. They also cost more than everyone predicted they would — and consistently, they cost more than their print equivalents. On Amazon as I’m writing this, a copy of Sally Rooney’s Normal People costs $12.99 as an ebook, but only $11.48 as a hardcover. And increasingly, such disparities aren’t an exception. They’re the rule.

(4) TOP SFF BY POC FROM 2018. Rocket Stack Rank catches up with its annual “Outstanding SF/F by People of Color 2018”, with 65 stories that were that were finalists for major SF/F awards, included in “year’s best” SF/F anthologies, or recommended by prolific reviewers in short fiction.

Eric Wong says, “Included are some observations obtained from pivoting the table by publication, author, awards, year’s best anthologies, and reviewers.”

(5) HEAD OF THE CLASS. The Oxford Mail, while spotlighting a photo gallery about the famed sff author, typoed his name in the headline. And you thought that kind of thing only happens at a certain well-known news blog…

(6) SMOOCHLESS IN SINGAPORE. That history-making kiss in a galaxy far, far away? Well, that history hasn’t been made everywhere in a galaxy close, close to us: “Disney Removes Same-Sex Kiss From ‘Star Wars’ Film in Singapore”.

The scene, which Disney cut to preserve a PG-13 rating in the conservative nation, was the first overt appearance of gay characters in the “Star Wars” franchise.

A brief kiss between two female characters was removed from screenings of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in Singapore, a country with restrictive laws against gay people.

Though lasting just a few seconds and hardly a major plot point, the kiss between two minor characters was notable as the first overt appearance of gay characters in a “Star Wars” film. Disney cut the kiss to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating in Singapore, according to reports.

(7) MEMORIES, CAN’T GET RID OF THOSE MEMORIES. At The Cut, Hannah Gold wails that “‘Cats’ Has Plunged Us All Into a Horrifying, Ceaseless Fever Dream”.

Apparently the people who made this infernal movie are having to digitally retouch it as it’s in theaters, due to some last-minute suggestions, like that Judi Dench’s character Old Deuteronomy (unquestionably a cat) should not suddenly, for a single shot, have a human hand with a wedding ring on it.

(8) SHINY. BBC gives you a peek at Doctor Who’s remodeled ride: “Look inside the Series 12 TARDIS!”. Photo gallery at the link.

(9) FOILED AGAIN. People Magazine: “Martin Scorsese’s Daughter Trolls Her Dad by Wrapping His Christmas Gifts in Marvel Paper”.

Martin Scorsese‘s daughter is poking fun at the filmmaker following his comments about the Marvel franchise.

On Christmas Eve, Francesca Scorsese showed off the many gifts she got for her dad, which she hilariously wrapped in Marvel wrapping paper.

“Look what I’m wrapping my dad’s xmas gifts in,” Francesca wrote over the Instagram Story photo of the presents, which are adorned with comic book images of The Hulk, Captain America and many other super heroes.

Francesca’s timely joke comes a month after Scorsese, 77, made headlines for saying Marvel films are “not cinema.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 26, 1954 — The very last episode of The Shadow radio serial aired.  It was the program’s 665th installment and the episode was “Murder by the Sea” with Bret Morrison as The Shadow (Lamont Cranston) and Gertrude Warner as Margot Lane. This is the final episode of The Shadow to be aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System.
  • December 26, 1959 — In Japan, Battle In Outer Space premiered. It was produced by Toho Studios, best known for Godzilla. Directed by Ishiro Honda and featuring the special effects of  Eiji Tsuburaya, the film  had a cast of Ryo Ikebe, Koreya Senda and Yoshio Tsuchiya. It was released in the Stateside in an English-dubbed version by Columbia Pictures a year later where it was a double feature with 12 to the Moon. Reception in the States as usual praised the special effects and panned the acting. Rotten Tomatoes reviewers currently deciedly don’t like it giving a 37% rating. 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 26, 1791 Charles Babbage. Y’ll likely best know him as creator of the Babbage Machine which shows up in Perdido Street Station, The Peshawar Lancers, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage webcomic, and there’s “Georgia on My Mind“ a novelette by Charles Sheffield which involves a search for a lost Babbage device. The latter won both a  Nebula and a Hugo Award for Best Novelette. (Died 1871.)
  • Born December 26, 1903 Elisha Cook Jr. On the Trek side, he shows up as playing lawyer Samuel T. Cogley in the “Court Martial” episode. Elsewhere he had long association with the genre starting with Voodoo Island and including House on a Haunted Hill, Rosemary’s Baby, Wild Wild West, The Night Stalker and Twilight Zone. (Died 1995.)
  • Born December 26, 1926 Mark R. Hillegas. ESF claims that he was one of the first to teach a University level course in SFF which he did at Colgate in 1961. The Future as Nightmare: H G Wells and the Anti-Utopians and Shadows of Imagination: The Fantasies of C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien and Charles Williams are his two works in the field. The former is listed in Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder as part of a core collection of genre non-fiction. SFRA awarded the Pilgrim Award. (Died 2000.)
  • Born December 26, 1929 Kathleen Crowley. She retired from acting at forty so she has a brief career. She appeared in only a limited number of genre roles, one being as Nora King in in early Fifties Target Earth, and Dolores Carter in Curse of The Undead, a Western horror film. She also played Sophia Starr twice on Batman. (Died 2017.)
  • Born December 26, 1951 Priscilla Olson, 68. She and her husband have been involved with NESFA Press’s efforts to put neglected SF writers back into print and has edited myriad writers such by Chad Oliver and Charles Harness, plus better-known ones like Jane Yolen.  She’s chaired a number of Boskones.
  • Born December 26, 1953 Clayton Emery, 66. Somewhere there’s a bookstore with nothing but the novels and collections that exist within a given franchise. This author has novels in the Forgotten Realms, Magic: The Gathering and Runesworld franchise, plus several genre works including surprisingly Tales of Robin Hood on Baen Books. Must not be your granddaddy’s Hood.
  • Born December 26, 1960 Temuera Morrison, 59. Ahhhh clones. In Attack of the Clones, he plays Jango Fett. In Revenge of the Sith, he came back in the guise of Commander Cody. See no spoilers? 
  • Born December 26, 1961 Tahnee Welch, 58. Yes the daughter of that actress. She’s in both Cocoon films as well in Sleeping Beauty which was filmed in the same time. Black Light in which she’s the lead might qualify as genre in the way some horror does.
  • Born December 26, 1970 Danielle Cormack, 49. If it’s fantasy and it was produced in New Zealand, she’s might have  been in it. She was in Xena and Hercules as Ephiny on recurring role, Hercules again as Lady Marie DeValle, Jack of All Trades, one of Kage Baker’s favorite series because, well, Bruce was the lead, as she was Raina in recurring role, Samsara on Xena in amother one-off and Margaret Sparrow in Perfect Creature, an alternate universe horror film.

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) ARMORED SJW CREDENTIALS. Yeah, I think I missed this one last month — “This company makes cardboard tanks to help your cat conquer the world”. Upworthy’s profile includes pictures.

“Sit back and have a giggle at your cat ‘doing human things’ and help keep them away from clawing your favorite sofa!”

“These cardboard playhouses come in various humorous designs; the Tank, the Catillac, the Fire Engine, Plane, and for those kitties with a bit more style, the Cabin and Tepee.”

(14) RARE MEMORIAL. NPR reports “Hero Killed In UNC-Charlotte Shooting Immortalized As ‘Star Wars’ Jedi”

Riley Howell, 21, was praised as a hero by police officials, who said “his sacrifice saved lives.” Howell charged and tackled the gunman who opened fire in a classroom on campus in April. Police said his actions stopped the gunman from shooting more people. Ellis Parlier, 19, was also killed in the attack, and four other students were wounded.

Howell, who was a Star Wars fan, is now being honored by Lucasfilm with an entry in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — The Visual Dictionary, which was published this month.

According to The Charlotte Observer, the newly released book named a character after him: “Jedi Master and historian Ri-Lee Howell,” who is credited with collecting “many of the earliest accounts of exploration and codifications of The Force.” Jedi Master Howell also has an entry on Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki.

(15) NOT EVEN SO-SO, OR LESS HASTE, MORE SPEED. “Cats: Lame opening for Cats at US and UK box office”

The movie version of Cats has failed to live up to expectations at the box office, taking just $6.5m (£5m) at the North American box office.

The $100m (£77m) film, which was expected to make double that amount, debuted fourth on the US chart, with the new Stars Wars movie on top.

In the UK and Ireland, it grossed £3.4m, having been panned by critics.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, an updated print of Cats was sent out to cinemas on Friday.

The trade paper reported that the film’s director, Tom Hooper, had ordered re-edits to his film with “some improved visual effects”.

…Hooper, who made Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, has been open about the fact that he only just managed to finish his CGI-heavy movie before its world premiere in New York.

At the event, Hooper told Variety it was completed in a 36-hour sprint on the Sunday.

(16) FROM BLANK TO DARK. “His Dark Materials: How we animated Iorek Byrnison” – BBC takes you inside, with several shots showing buildup from virtual skeleton or real reaction model to finished picture.

Click looks at the visual effects involved in the hit BBC show His Dark Materials.

Russell Dodgson of visual effects company Framestore spoke with Al Moloney about how technology is used to create some of the most memorable scenes from the series including a dramatic bear fight.

(17) PUTINTERNET PREMIERES. “Russia ‘successfully tests’ its unplugged internet” – BBC has the story.

Russia has successfully tested a country-wide alternative to the global internet, its government has announced.

Details of what the test involved were vague but, according to the Ministry of Communications, ordinary users did not notice any changes.

The results will now be presented to President Putin.

Experts remain concerned about the trend for some countries to dismantle the internet.

“Sadly, the Russian direction of travel is just another step in the increasing breaking-up of the internet,” said Prof Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey.

(18) WHERE THE TEMPERATURE IS ZIP, NOT THE CODE. “‘Christmas with the penguins will be bliss’” a BBC followup to a Pixel about the most extreme post office.

Sub-zero temperatures, dinner from a tin, an icy shower for emergency use only – Kit Adams is all set for Christmas in Antarctica.

Forget chestnuts roasting by an open fire. Not for him hot water or mains electricity.

But Kit, 26, from Newcastle, County Down, cannot believe his luck.

Spending Christmas in a hut thousands of miles from home is bliss…even when top of the chores is scrubbing penguin poo from the doorstep.

The County Down man and his friends are overwintering in remote snowy wastes on an island the size of a football field.

But when that remote piece of earth is home to a colony of Gentoo penguins, it’s paradise.

…Kit is one of a team of five – two Britons, an Irishman; a Scot and a Finn – from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) who are spending five months at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, Antarctica.

He is a mountaineer and adventurer by inclination but in Port Lockroy, he is also a postmaster.

…As well as stamp duties, the intrepid volunteers are also observing the penguins, how they meet; find a mate; build a nest, hatch and dispatch their chicks.

They will make an important contribution to a long-term scientific study of the penguin colony to better understand the impact of environmental changes on the site.

Guidelines state they must stay five metres from the penguins, but Kit said: “On an island the size of a football pitch this isn’t always possible.”

(19) A GALAXY DIVIDED. Annalee Newitz tells New York Times readers “‘Star Wars’ Fans Are Angry and Polarized. Like All Americans” in an opinion piece.

… “The Rise of Skywalker,” released last week, is a muddled and aimless homage to previous films in the series. Its countless callbacks to the older films feel like an effort to “make ‘Star Wars’ great again,” though it does manage to deliver a few liberal-sounding messages. Call it the Joe Biden of “Star Wars” movies.

To continue the analogy, you might say that “The Last Jedi,” “The Force Awakens,” and “Rogue One” are in the Barack Obama tradition. They gave fans truly diverse casts and grappled in a relatively nuanced way with the class and race conflicts that have hovered at the margins of every “Star Wars” story.

They also made fans of the early movies livid. Some used social media to demand that Disney stop with the politically correct storytelling, while others launched racist attacks on the Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Tran, who plays the engineer Rose Tico in two of the films….

(20) FUN WITH YOUR OLD HEAD. Popular Mechanics boldly equivocates “Head Transplants Could Definitely Maybe Happen Next Decade”.

…The secret, Mathew believes, is to separate the brain and the spinal column in one piece that will be introduced into a new body. This cuts out, so to speak, what Mathew considers the most daunting obstacle. If you never have to sever the spinal cord at all, you don’t have to solve any of the thorny problems created by all of the different proposed solutions before now.

There’s an inherent downside to Mathew’s idea, even if it were to become feasible in the next 10 years. If a surgery can only successfully be performed on people with intact spinal columns, that rules out one of the major suggested goals of such a transplant, which is to restore mobility to people with disabling spinal injuries who are trying to reverse them….

 (21) FOUND ON TUMBLR. Anne Francis on the set of Forbidden Planet.

Also, other publicity stills from the film here.

(22) GETTING INSIDE OF HEAD OF C-3PO. In the Washington Post, Thomas Floyd has an interview with Anthony Daniels about his autobiography I Am C-3PO.  Daniels talks about how he didn’t use a ghostwriter and how much of Return of the Jedi was directed by George Lucas “by proxy” because Richard Marquand couldn’t control the set. “C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels talks ‘The Rise of Skywalker,’ his new memoir and four decades of Star Wars”.

Q: The book also confirms long-standing speculation that “Return of the Jedi” director Richard Marquand struggled to command the set, leading Lucas to direct much of the film “by proxy.” Why did you want to share your perspective on that situation?

A: Because there has been so much speculation over the years. I am giving my point of view, and hopefully not in an over-elaborated way. Marquand was an unfortunate experience because, really, he should have had the courage to leave the set. It was an uncomfortable situation. He was a man who was clearly out of his depth with responsibility for other people. I didn’t put this in the book, but I remember hearing Harrison Ford was reportedly amazed, and in fact rather angry, to hear that Marquand claimed to have helped him with his performance of Han Solo, and that’s just ridiculous.

(23) OTHER BRAINS FROM A LONG, LONG TIME AGO. SYFY Wire springs a paleontological surprise. “500,000-year-old fossilized brain has totally changed our minds”.

… This is kind of a big deal when humans have known about the brain’s tendency to break down after death for so long that even the ancient Egyptians knew it had to go during the mummification process. There was no point in trying to preserve it like some other organs (never mind that the heart was believed to be the epicenter of thinking back then). It seems that an organ that can’t be mummified would never stay intact long enough to fossilize, but what appeared to be a stain on the Alalcomenaeus fossil that was recently dug up was found to be its brain.

…An Alalcomenaeus brain doesn’t exactly look like a human brain. It really has no resemblance to a human brain at all, but is more of a central nervous system that mirrors those of many extant arthropods, with an elongated brain structure that runs from its head to its upper back. Neural tissue connects to the creature’s four eyes and four pairs of segmented nerves. More nerves from the brain extend all the way down its back.

(24) MUSIC OF THE SPHERES. Since the Scroll took yesterday off there wasn’t a chance to share this clever bit, the “Star Wars Epic Christmas Medley | Carol of The Bells & Imperial March.”

[Thanks to Olav Rokne, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Eric Wong, Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Porter, Contrarius, John King Tarpinian, StephenfromOttawa, Bill, Steve Davidson, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]

Pixel Scroll 12/23/19 Sincerity And Affection, In Cat

(1) FAME OVERDUE. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Robbins says: “Every book lover should know John Crowley. Get to it already. He’s waited long enough.”

This has been a banner year for John Crowley fans — not one but two new collections published, and the ink still wet on 2017’s enchanted “Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr.” Alas, the banner is likely to read “Who is John Crowley?” Championed by heavyweights — Ursula Le Guin, Harold Bloom, Michael Chabon, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman — Crowley inspires devotion among a fortunate but modest readership.

Crowley’s “Little, Big,” published in 1981, is my favorite novel. It is, I think, a lot of people’s favorite novel. I’ve owned several copies in various editions and conditions over the decades, most of which have found their way into the hands of friends whom I hoped to convert. I’ll never surrender my original copy, a dilapidated mass market paperback from 1987 now barely held together by packing tape. Its back cover reads:

This is the saga of the remarkable Drinkwater family, the sparkling inhabitants of Edgewood, and the ever-changing house that sits on the border between what we know is real and what we’ve always hoped is real. To this alluring place a young man comes to be wed.

No mention of fairies. The title page reads “Little, Big,” and it is not until the table of contents is reached that we learn of the novel’s alternative title: “Or, The Fairies’ Parliament.” Upon learning that fairies were involved, one reader of my acquaintance read no further. “If we put fairies on the cover,” the original publisher told Crowley, as the author recounts in his new collection of essays and reviews, “Reading Backwards,” “this book’s going right down the toilet.”…

(2) SFWA NEBULA CONFERENCE. Twelve days left to get the earlybird rate.

(3) ROCK-A-BYE-BABY-YODA. Get busy and it could be done in time to hang on your Christmas tree – Geekologie’s “Simple DIY Papercraft Baby Yoda In Floating Pod Christmas Tree Ornament”.

…This is the very simple print-and-fold-and-cut-and-tape The Child tree ornament created by one of the artists working on The Mandalorian and shared on Twitter by series creator Jon Favreau. Simple enough. I guess maybe Disney feels kinda guilty (LOLOL) about not getting the Baby Yoda merchandise machine up and running in time for Christmas. *shrug* Maybe Mickey chewed through an ignition wire or something.

Keep going for several example of Baby Yoda hanging out in trees like an Ewok.

(4) INTERIOR DECORATION. “Take a look behind the ‘small doors to imaginary spaces’ within bookshelves” – pictures at the link.

How did a “book nook” capture the imagination of people worldwide from Louisiana to Omsk?

You might have seen the words book nook popping up on social media in recent days, along with images of crafted alleyways, and structures acting as dividers on bookcases.

The concept became popular on Reddit, with the r/booknooks subreddit going from zero to 7,900 members in just two days.

The website defines book nooks as “mini worlds created within your bookshelf”, usually as a diorama of an alley.

The idea seems to have originated in 2018 from a Japanese artist called Monde.

They created a “back alley bookshelf” made to fit alongside paperback books. The tweet has been liked 179k times since.

(5) FROZEN MINIFIGS. CNET: “Scientists chilled Lego bricks to near absolute zero to see what happens”. “That’s 2,000 times colder than deep space.”

A team at Lancaster University subjected some Lego to ultra-cold temperatures…mostly just to see what happened. It turned out the ABS plastic bricks were good thermal insulator in the microKelvin range—something which may be useful in designing future generations of ultra low temp refrigerators.

(6) ONLY SO-SO. “The Rise of Skywalker: Another hit for Star Wars despite falling sales” – BBC has the numbers.

The latest Star Wars blockbuster raked in $374m (£288m) in global ticket sales in its opening weekend, falling short of prior films in the trilogy.

The Rise of Skywalker’s US sales were down nearly 30% on the first movie in the saga, The Force Awakens.

Still, the latest instalment ranked as one of the best December openings in North America.

(7) CATS AUTOPSY. In “How ‘Cats’ Became A Calamity At The Box Office With $6.5M Opening” on Deadline, Anthony D’Allesandro explains why Cats was a failure, including bad special effects and no plot.

…Universal wanted to get a trailer out for the film timed to the release of The Lion King, which was opening over Comic-Con weekend, to appeal to mass family audiences. Note overall it was a challenge for Uni to market this movie because Cats footage was never ready. In fact, Hooper was still working on the film up until the night of the pic’s world premiere in NYC on Dec. 16 and exhibition received a note over the weekend that future prints with better VFX are on the way. So, the proper lead-up time to campaign was never on Uni’s side, heck the new Lloyd Webber song performed by Swift “Beautiful Ghosts” didn’t even make the Oscar shortlist, though it received a Golden Globe nom. I understand that while VFX were improved following the social media backlash to the 100M-plus viewed trailer back in July, the whole notion of dancing actor-felines continued to divide, if not freak out audiences. I hear that even Cats EP Steven Spielberg didn’t get a chance to see a final cut of Cats given the pic’s down-to-the minute post production. Still, I don’t care what anyone says about how awful the cats look in the movie, it’s a damn improvement upon the stage show’s tacky disco fluff collar costumes.

(8) CRITICAL DIFFERENCE. The BBC’s Stephen Kelly writes The Witcher review: this isn’t Game of Thrones.

Netflix’s The Witcher is a TV show born from the most bitter of marriages. Starring Henry Cavill as grizzled monster hunter Geralt of Rivia, it is adapted from the fantasy books of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski – yet the Witcher franchise is undoubtably known to most people through the non-canon video game sequels. This is a quirk that famously infuriates Sapkowski, who never foresaw what a success the games would become. Hence why, when he sold the licence in the early 00s, he demanded a one-off lump sum rather than a percentage of the profits. 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, considered by many to be one of the greatest role-playing games ever made, has to date sold 20 million units alone. There has since been legal action.

This tension between the legitimacy of the source material and the popularity of the video games is something that showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, known for her work on Netflix’s Marvel shows Daredevil and The Defenders, has played down in interviews. If you’re a fan of the games, she argues, then there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be a fan of the TV show adapting the books that inspired the games. And this is true. The Witcher’s problem is not to do with the richness of Sapkowski’s books, nor the baggage it carries from being associated with an RPG. It is that while the books ground you in Geralt’s head, and the video games ground you in Geralt’s world, the TV show does neither. That’s due to both a jarringly paced, convoluted script, and a colourless lead performance from Cavill, which often leaves the impression that he’s the handsomest cosplayer at Comic Con.

(9) SUESS OBIT. The New York Times reports “Randy Suess, a computer hobbyist who helped build the first online bulletin board, anticipating the rise of the internet, messaging apps and social media, died on Dec. 10 at a hospital in Chicago. He was 74.”

In the late 1970s and on into the ’80s, as word of their system spread through trade magazines and word of mouth, hobbyists across the country built their own online bulletin boards, offering everything from real-time chat rooms to video games. These grass-roots services were the forerunners of globe-spanning social media services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“Everything we do in terms of communicating with other people online can be traced back to Randy and his bulletin board,” said Jason Scott, a computer history archivist who made an online documentary about the creation of C.B.B.S. “The only difference is that now it is all a little slicker.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 23, 1947 Beauty And The Beast Which was released in Paris in 1946 premiered in NYC. It was directed by Jean Cocteau, and stars Josette Day as Belle and Jean Marais as The Beast, it was generally well-received by the critics and audiences alike. Beauty and the Beast is now recognized as a classic of French cinema. The film has an amazing 90% rating among reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes! 
  • December 23, 1958 The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad premiered.  The feature starred Kerwin Mathews and Kathryn Grant, and was directed by Nathan H. Juran. It was produced  by Charles H. Schneer and  Ray Harryhausen, one of three such Sinbad films. This film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. 
  • December 23, 1960 Twilight Zone’s “The Night of the Meek” first aired. This was a Christmas themed story with Art Carney as a Santa Claus fired on Christmas Eve who finds a mysterious bag that gives an apparently unlimited stream of gifts. The script would be used over in the Eighties version of this series and on the radio program as well. Serling ended the original broadcast with the words, “”And a Merry Christmas, to each and all”,  but that phrase was deleted in the Eighties and would not be back until Netflix started streaming the series.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 23, 1896 Máiréad Ní Ghráda. She’s the author of Manannán, a 1940 novel which is regarded as the first such science fiction work in Irish. Several years previously, she translated Peter Pan in Irish, Tír na Deo, the first time it had been done. (Died 1971.)
  • Born December 23, 1919 Peggy Fortnum. She’s an English illustrator beloved for illustrating Michael Bond‘s Paddington Bear series. She first illustrated him in A Bear Called Paddington. One of Fortnum’s Paddington illustrations is part of a series of stamps that was issued by the Royal Mail in 2006 celebrating animals from children’s literature. Somehow it seems appropriate to Christmas to me to share that stamp here. (Died 2016.)
  • Born December 23, 1919 Robert McCall. He was an illustrator for Life magazine in the 1960s, created the promotional artwork for 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was also production illustrator on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And he was one of the art directors on The Black Hole (along with John B. Mansbridge and Al Roelofs). (Died 2010.)
  • Born December 23, 1927 Chuck Harris. A major British fan, active in fandom from the Fifities until his passing. He ran the infamous money laundering organization Tentacles Across the Sea with Dean Grennell, and was a well-loved British member of Irish Fandom. He was involved in myriad Apas and fanzines; he indeed got nominated multiple times for the Best Fanzine Hugo in the Fifties but never won. (Died 1999.)
  • Born December 23, 1945 Raymond E. Feist, 74. Best known for the Riftwar  series. The only novel I’ve read by him is was Faerie Tale, a dark fantasy set in the state of New York, which is one damn scary work. 
  • Born December 23, 1949 Judy Ann Strangis, 70. She’s one of the leads, Judy / Dyna Girl, on a Seventies show I never heard of, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which was a Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf) live action SF children’s television series from 1976. She had one-offs on Twilight Zone and Bewitched, and appeared twice on Batman courtesy of her brother who was a production manager there.  She’s also done voice work in The Real Ghostbusters and Batman: The Animated Series.
  • Born December 23, 1958 Joan Severance, 61. She’s on the Birthday list because she was Darcy Walker, the Black Scorpion in Roger Corman’s Black Scorpion. She then starred in and co-produced Black Scorpion II: Aftershock and The Last Seduction II.
  • Born December 23, 1984 Alison Sudol, 35. She’s known for being Queenie Goldstein on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I do so like those titles. She’s also has a recurring role as Kaya in Transparent, a series which is at least genre adjacent for its genre content and certainly SJW in content. 
  • Born December 23, 1986 Noël Wells, 33. Solely here as I’m excited that she’s one of the voice on Star Trek: Below Decks, the forthcoming animated series on CBS All Access being that of Ensign Tendi. It should rather fun time. She was also Theresa in Infinity Baby, an SF comedy.

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • Holiday reading from Incidental Comics’ Grant Snider.

(13) HANDWAVIUM. “Inventing sign language for space” – a BBC video.

British sign language is receiving an astronomical update thanks to a unique collaboration between a space scientist and a group of deaf astronomers.

The University of Leeds based astrophysicist found that there were no signs for terms describing the latest discoveries in the world of astronomy. So she has decided to help create them.

(14) DEEPER MEANINGS. “I was a teenage code-breaker at Bletchley Park” – another BBC video.

Helen Andrews was one of the youngest at Bletchley Park when she arrived from South America.

A brilliant mathematician at 17, her family had been told that she had a place at Cambridge.

She travelled back to the UK on a lightly guarded Atlantic convoy of ships which took almost four weeks.

Three ships in the convoy were sunk by U-boats – as the convoy was not allowed to stop, she witnessed many women and children drowning.

When she docked at Tilbury, she was invited to the captain’s quarters, where she was told: “A man is waiting for you. Get in his car and don’t ask any questions”.

She was driven to Bletchley, not Cambridge. At 92 she has only just started talking about her experiences.

(15) OUR ROBOT SANTALORDS? BBC will tell you about“The robots trying to spread Christmas cheer”.

Robots are demonstrating their abilities in the festive windows at Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York this year.

Eleven machines in three of the stores windows are performing tasks such as playing instruments and serving coffee, as well as offering karaoke carols.

The collaboration between store, ABB robots and robot animator Andy Flessas aims to demonstrate how robots could be used in retail in the future.

(16) EVERYBODY’S DOING IT. Birds do it, bees do it, even the UAE dood it: “Google and Apple remove alleged UAE spy app ToTok”.

Google and Apple have removed an Emirati messaging app called ToTok amid claims that it is used for state spying.

Not to be confused with China’s TikTok, ToTok markets itself as an easy and secure way to chat by video or text.

However, The New York Times (NYT) has reported allegations that the WhatsApp-lookalike is a spy tool for the United Arab Emirates government.

ToTok has told users that it will be back in the app stores soon.

In a blog, it wrote that it is “temporarily unavailable” on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store because of a “technical issue”.

Citing American officials as sources, the NYT reported that ToTok gives UAE spies access to citizen’s conversations, movements, and other personal information like photos.

Google removed the app last Thursday and Apple pulled it the following day. However, ToTok users, who already have the app on their phone, can carry on using it.

…The NYT reports that the app’s publisher, Breej Holding Ltd, is affiliated with DarkMatter, which is an Abu Dhabi-based intelligence and hacking firm that is allegedly under investigation by the FBI for possible cyber-crimes.

DarkMatter employs Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives, according to the NYT.

ToTok, DarkMatter, and the Embassy of United Arab Emirates in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(17) GRINCH. NPR finds a silver lining: “Boeing’s Starliner Lands Safely Back To Earth After Aborted Space Station Mission”.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returned to Earth on Sunday, landing safely in the New Mexico desert.

The journey is being hailed as a major achievement despite failing to complete a core objective: docking at the international space station.

Engineers and scientists are now analyzing data from the trip ahead of a plan to send U.S. astronauts to space in 2020. It would mark the first American-launched space travel since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

The Sunday landing of the test flight – which did not include any crew members – concluded with three red, white and blue parachutes opening up and gliding into the Army’s White Sands Missile Range.

It, however, did not go without a hitch.

The capsule was carrying holiday presents, clothes and food, cargo that was supposed to be dropped off at the International Space Station.

Because of an internal clock snafu that made the spacecraft operate as if it were at a different point in its journey, it went on the wrong orbit and never docked at the space station as planned.

Nonetheless, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the test flight was an overall success — including a rare ground landing. All other U.S. capsules have ended in the ocean

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Rule Britannia on Vimeo is a steampunk take on Brexit by Jeroen Kofferman and Ernest Jan van Melle.

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

Pixel Scroll 12/21/19 This Could Involve Thiotimoline

(1) STABBY TIME. Reddit’s r/Fantasy is taking nominations for the Stabby Award until December 28. See the complete guidelines at the link.

Nominations will continue to take place here on /r/Fantasy. Nomination rules are below. Please read them and ask any questions under the comment pinned at the top of the thread.

The method for voting will be explained when the voting thread goes live. The nominations thread will close December 26 at 12:30 p.m. PST. The voting thread will go live no later than about 10 pm on Saturday, December 28.

(2) DIZZYLAND. For your maximum confusion, the Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest presents its Top 10 Finalists. First prize goes to “Dual Axis Illusion.”

This spinning shape appears to defy logic by rotating around both the horizontal and vertical axis at the same time! To make things even more confusing, the direction of rotation is also ambiguous. Some visual cues in the video will help viewers change their perception.

(3) MEDICAL UPDATE. Eric Flint has posted on Facebook a fully detailed account of the medical problems that caused him to be hospitalized during NASFiC, and the course of treatment since, leading up to —

….Within a few weeks, my condition has improved drastically. My 02 saturation levels are back to normal and I’ve stopped having to use oxygen supplements. I spent the past weekend engaged in a long overdue cleansing of the basement – think “scouring of the shire” –which had me going up and down stairs for hours carrying heavy stuff without getting short of breath right away. Granted, after a few hours I’d get a little fatigued and need to rest a bit, but gimme a break. See “almost 73,” above. When I was a teenager, I spent a whole summer once digging ditches. Those days are behind me.
(Happily. It’s not like I enjoyed it at the time any more than I would today. It’s just that at the age of 17 I was ABLE to do it.).

Okay, enough. This turned into a very long post so I’ll wait a day or so before posting a progress report on how my work is coming along. The gist is: “Quite well, actually.” As I said earlier, as long as I was sitting on my butt or lying down I was able to keep working despite the hypoxemia – and, o joyous day! – my current (and hopefully last) profession involves sitting on my butt or lying down pretty much 100% of the time.

(4) MARRIAGE MASH. Comicbook.com points the way as “Funny or Die Mashes Up Marvel and Star Wars With Marriage Story”.

…The new clip from the site cuts up footage from Marriage Story as well as both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars sequel trilogy to tell a similar story, but with Black Widow and Kylo Ren trapped in a relationship that has since become poisoned.

While both Driver and Johansson are earning buzz for their portrayal of the estranged couple undergoing divorce proceedings in Marriage Story, many fans are interested in their roles in their respective franchises.

(5) BROOKER OBIT. Tony Brooker (1925-2019), mathematician and computer scientist who designed the programming language for the world’s first commercial computer, died on 20 November 2019 aged 94. See the New York Times tribute.

Mr. Brooker had been immersed in early computer research at the University of Cambridge when one day, on his way home from a mountain-climbing trip in North Wales, he stopped at the University of Manchester to tour its computer lab, which was among the first of its kind. Dropping in unannounced, he introduced himself to Alan Turing, a founding father of the computer age, who at the time was the lab’s deputy director.

When Mr. Brooker described his own research at the University of Cambridge, he later recalled, Mr. Turing said, “Well, we can always employ someone like you.” Soon they were colleagues….

(6) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 21, 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood, California
  • December 21, 1963 — During Doctor Who’s first season, the first part of “The Daleks” aired. Written by Terry Nation and directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin. The Daleks which are created and co-owned by Terry Nation will make their first appearance in this story.  The below image is Dalek free so that I don’t spoil your appreciation of their first appearance.
  • December 21, 1979 C.H.O.M.P.S. premiered. Hoping to take bite out of the kid-friendly box office, it was produced by Burt Topper and Joseph Barbera (yes, that Barbera as it was a Hanna-Barbera film), and a cast headed by Wesley Eure, Valerie Bertinelli and Conrad Bain. Critics found it mediocre at best, and reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes really don’t like it as it has Currently a 32% rating there.  
  • December 21, 1979Disney’s The Black Hole premiered. Intended as The Mouse’s Reponse to Star Wars, it was directed by Gary Nelson.  A cast of Joseph Bottoms, Maximilian Schell, Yvette Mimieux, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, and Ernest Borgnine were to be found here, while the voices of the primary robot characters were provided by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens who both were uncredited. Special effects were developed in-house as apparently were most of the matte paintings used. Critics for the most part didn’t like it, and it holds a 40% rating among reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. And it bombed at the box office.
  • December 21, 2010 Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus premiered. Robert Picardo was the sole performer of genre interest in it, and it was directed by Christopher Ray, son of noted exploitation director Fred Olen Ray. Is it genre? Is it sci-fi?  No one liked it, the critics gave it scathing reviews, and currently it has a 19% score among reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. It has, alas, at least two sequels. 

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 21, 1929 James Cawthorn. An illustrator, comics artist and writer who worked predominantly with Michael Moorcock. He had met him through their involvement in fandom. They would co-write The Land that Time Forgot film, and he drew “The Sonic Assassins” strip which was based on Hawkwind that ran in Frendz. He also did interior and cover art for a number of publications from the Fifties onwards including (but not limited to) Vector 3, New Worlds SF, Science Fantasy and Yandro. (Died 2008.)
  • Born December 21, 1937 Jane Fonda, 82. Sure everyone here has seen her in Barbarella? Her only other genre appearances are apparently by voice work as Shuriki in the animated Elena of Avalor series, and in the Spirits of the Dead, 1968 anthology film based on the work of Poe. She was the Contessa Frederique de Metzengerstein in the “Metzengerstein” segment of the film. 
  • Born December 21, 1943 John Nance. Let’s just say he and David Lynch were rather connected. He’s Henry Spencer in Eraserhead, he had a small role as the Harkonnen Captain Iakin Nefud in Dune and he’s Pete Martell in Twin Peaks. He’s also a supporting role as Paul, a friend of Dennis Hopper’s villain character in Blue Velvet but even I couldn’t stretch that film to be even genre adjacent. (Died 1996.)
  • Born December 21, 1944 James Sallis, 75. He’d be getting a Birthday today if only for his SJW cred of giving up teaching at a college rather than sign a state-mandated loyalty oath that he regarded as unconstitutional. But he also does have a short SFF novel Renderings, more short fiction than I can count, a book review column in F&SF and he co-edited several issues of New Worlds Magazine with Michael Moorcock.  Worthy of a Birthday write-up! 
  • Born December 21, 1948 Samuel L. Jackson, 71. Where to start? Did you know that with his permission, his likeness was used for the Ultimates version of the Nick Fury? It’s a great series btw. He has also played Fury in the Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War and showed up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. too! He voiced Lucius Best (a.k.a. Frozone)in the Incredibles franchise, Mace Windu in The Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars, the Afro Samurai character in the anime series of the same name and more other genre work than can be listed here comfortably so go ahead and add your favorite role by him. 
  • Born December 21, 1966 Kiefer Sutherland, 53. My he’s been in a lot of genre undertakings! I think that The Lost Boys was his first such of many to come including Flatliners, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, The Three Musketeers,  voice work in Armitage: Poly-Matrix, Dark City, more voice work in The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration,  Marmaduke and Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Mirrors, and yes, he’s in the second Flatliners as a new character. 

(8) COMICS SECTION.

(9) TOP COMICS. The Hollywood Reporter’s “Heat Vision” reporter Graeme McMillan names “Heat Vision’s Top 10 Comics Of the Decade”. Anchoring the list is — 

Smile (A Dental Drama) by Raina Telegmeier (Scholastic, 2010)
Telegmeier is, simply put, likely the most important figure in comics of the last decade; after a string of adaptations of the Babysitters Club novels for Scholastic, she’s spent the last ten years creating more comic readers than arguably any other creator with a series of graphic novels for publisher Graphix that mix autobiography with pure fiction, combining clear, easy to understand, visuals with writing that’s accessible and consistently smart and (perhaps most importantly) respectful of its target audience. Smile, Telegmeier’s first book this decade, remains perhaps the finest example of her work, with her story of dental problems as a kid able to win over any audience.

(10) GIFT IDEAS. If you have any last-minute shopping needs, then why not consider Brit Cit published SF/F? SF² Concatenation has a news page with the season’s science fiction and also fantasy book releases from the major UK genre imprints, not forgetting nonfiction SF and popular science. Titles available from large genre bookshops in N. America as well as some online peddlers.

(11) BEEN TO THE MOVIES. John Scalzi says the baker didn’t give the ingredients time enough to rise — “Review: The Rise of Skywalker”.

There are a lot of moments in Skywalker that, while affecting, could have been even more so if they hadn’t been so gosh darn rushed. The prequel trilogy had excellent actors who weren’t utilized fully because as a director Lucas didn’t know what to do with people; the Disney trilogy has excellent actors who aren’t utilized fully because they simply don’t have the time to process, onscreen, the overwhelming emotions they’re supposed to be having. Abrams the director steps on several of those moments because apparently he’s got another plot point he’s gonna cram in. It’s deeply rare, especially these days, that I say a film should be longer — Jesus, they really don’t need to be any longer — but Skywalker genuinely could have benefited from an extra ten or fifteen minutes, just to let its actors do their jobs.

(12) PUNCH PULLED. Leonard Maltin declined to throw his popcorn box at the screen – after all, says he, other people will like the excess: “Star Wars: Variations on a Theme”.

I had a good time watching J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, even though I felt sucker-punched more than once. The filmmaker knows that this is the last time he (or possibly anyone) will get to play with George Lucas’s original concept and characters and his giddiness gets the better of him. Without spoiling any surprises, let’s just say that elements of identity, the powers of the Force and matters of life and death are toyed with in the name of “gotcha” entertainment.

At the same time, Abrams knows that diehard fans share his sentimental longing to spend a little more time with the people who first won our hearts in the initial installments of the Star Wars saga. He milks this for all it’s worth, and if he errs on the side of excess I bet there are lots of folks who won’t mind.

(13) SALUTE TO THE SEVENTIES. Tim Kreider’s New York Times op-ed “What if ‘Star Wars’ Was Just a Movie?” is full of pronouncements about things that are obvious – if you agree with the analysis.

…Lots of critics pointed out that the coda of “Star Wars,” when three heroes march up a corridor between columns of massed soldiers, is a visual quote of the wreath-laying at Nuremberg in “Triumph of the Will,” but everyone seems to assume this is a random allusion, devoid of historical context. It’s not as if Lucas was oblivious of the source. His film is full of fascist iconography — all, up until this moment, associated with the Empire. Assuming this final image is deployed intentionally, it might be most hopefully interpreted as a warning: Don’t become the thing you’ve fought against. The intimation of a hidden kinship between our hero and his enemy was right there in Darth Vader’s name all along — the dark father.

(14) MORE DISSENT FROM ROWLING’S TWEET. “‘Harry Potter’ Helped Me Come Out as Trans, But J.K. Rowling Disappointed Me” is a New York Times op-ed. (Site limits free articles.)

… As a devoted Harry Potter fan who also happens to be transgender, it was like a punch in the gut.

For the past decade, I’ve been an active player in the Harry Potter fan community, serving as the spokesperson for an independent nonprofit inspired by the boy wizard, sitting on the brain trust for a prominent Harry Potter fan conference and making videos about the impact the series has had on my life. I’ve seen the mind-blowing creativity of fans — from wizard rock music to cosplay to fan fiction that will make you weep — as well as their unparalleled capacity for positive change. Fans have organized in Harry’s name to donate over 400,000 books around the world, campaign in support of marriage equality and even convince Warner Bros. to switch to ethical sourcing for its Harry Potter-branded chocolates.

It was this community of loving, passionate people who accepted me with open arms when I came out as transgender at the age of 25. While I was nervous about coming out to some relatives and acquaintances, I never doubted that the Harry Potter fan community would accept me for who I was. After all, we all adhered to the values we learned from the books about being yourself, loving those who are different from you and sticking up for the underdog….

(15) A PAIR OF SCIENCE ROUNDUPS. Science has just published its round-up of top science of the year. In the mix is the biological recovery at the dinosaur asteroid impact site, a look at the human precursor Denisovan species, quantum computing breakthroughs and new Horizons Kuiper belt object encounter.

Also, what went wrong for scientists in 2019, including the Amazon burning.

Forest fires consumed thousands of square kilometers of the Amazon this year, and many blame the policies of Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, for fanning the flames.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) estimates the number of fires in the Amazon increased by 44% compared with 2018. One factor was an increase in deforestation, to about 9700 square kilometers in the 12 months through July, the largest area since 2007–08, INPE reported in November. Ranchers and farmers cut down and sell valuable trees and then burn the forest to make space for planting crops or raising cattle. Remote sensing indicated that this year’s fires tended to be far away from where crops are grown, suggesting ranchers were probably responsible….

(16) MEOW MIX. A cat with representation! The Hollywood Reporter invites you to “Meet CAA’s Million-Dollar Cat Client”.

It’s been a tough year for viral cats. Grumpy Cat passed away May 14 at age 7 following a urinary tract infection, and, on Dec. 1, Lil Bub, a special-needs perma-kitten with an ever-dangling tongue, died in her sleep at age 8. Going strong, however, is Nala Cat, a Siamese-tabby mix with 4.3 million Instagram followers, who happens to be the sole feline client of powerhouse agency CAA….

(17) ANOTHER STAR ON THE HORIZON? “Bionic cat Vito becomes ‘superstar’ with his prosthetic legs” – BBC has the story. Photos at the link.

A six-year-old cat has become an internet “superstar” as the first in Italy to receive two prosthetic hind legs following a serious road accident.

Vito, or Vituzzo, had both rear legs amputated after they were crushed by a vehicle in Milan while his owners were away on their honeymoon.

The couple, former basketball player Silvia Gottardi and her wife Linda Ronzoni, returned home immediately.

Vito’s story has been widely shared with the hashtag #vituzzosuperstar.

His surgery to attach two prostheses by inserting them directly into his remaining upper leg bones has reportedly never before been achieved successfully in Italy.

(18) SEUSS-COOKED MEAL. What’s this wrapped up in breakfast-scented paper for you from Sam? Surprise reveal, there’s a second serving of Green Eggs & Ham on Netflix.

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

“Star Wars…Nothing
But Star Wars”

By Steve Vertlieb: The moment that I’d dreamt of and imagined for decades had at last arrived. Nicchi Rozsa, Miklos Rozsa’s lovely granddaughter, said that she’d never seen me look so happy. Here was the moment that I’d longed for … to meet my last living, life-long hero at last. When he smiled at me, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, I thought that I’d died and gone to Heaven. It was so unforgettably sweet.

John Williams, at the tender age of 87 years, remains the most important motion picture composer on the planet. This weekend marks the release of his final score for Star Wars, and it is truly a momentous event.

Simply one of the greatest moments of my life… Meeting John Williams for the very first time in his dressing room at The Hollywood Bowl in late August, 2010.

Among the many highlights of my pilgrimage to Hollywood in 2017 was an entirely unexpected, nearly miraculous, accidental “close encounter” with the current star of one of the most lucrative and beloved movie franchises in motion picture history. I’m still amazed, two years after this most astonishing occurrence, that our meeting actually occurred, as this remarkable photograph will happily attest to.

While waiting backstage to speak with composer John Williams at the venerable Hollywood Bowl, I noticed that Daisy Ridley’s name was posted on one of the dressing room doors. She hadn’t appeared on stage with Maestro Williams during the Star Wars concert selections, and so I wondered why. I turned to my brother to mention the strangeness of the occurrence when I inwardly gasped at the realization that the young star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and, currently, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, was standing just inches in front of me.

Listening to her British accent in conversation with the director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, I nudged my brother Erwin, and whispered “I think that Daisy Ridley is standing right in front of me.” Hearing my admittedly excited observation to my little brother, she turned toward me with a big smile and said “Hello.”

She was as delightfully adorable in person as she is as “Rey” on the big screen in the spectacular continuation of the cherished science fiction franchise. I couldn’t help but recall John Williams’ own wonderfully charming admission, upon receiving his A.F.I. Life Achievement Award in 2016, that he didn’t want any other composer but himself writing music for this lovely young actress. I completely understood his feelings upon meeting Miss Ridley.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #49

**BEWARE SPOILERS**

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – A Review 

By Chris M. Barkley:

Star Wars – Episode Nine: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, 142 minutes, ****) with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Billy Dee Williams, Keri Russell, Ian McDermid AND Carrie Fisher. Screenplay by Chris Terrio and J. J. Abrams, Story by Derek Connelly, Colin Trevorrow, Directed by J. J. Abrams.

“NEVER underestimate a droid.”
General Leia Organa

Last month, I had the privilege of meeting actor Anthony Daniels when his book tour in support of his memoir, I Am C-3PO, stopped at my old place of employment, Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As Mr. Daniels personalized my book, I gave him a brief re-telling of my first viewing Star Wars in May of 1977:

While attending Disclave in Washington D.C., I fairly stumbled into discovering that a new movie, Star Wars, was showing at the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Avenue, just a half a mile from the Sheraton Park Hotel. On that Saturday evening, it was one of only 30 places in the entire United States showing the movie. (It rolled out to several hundred more after that weekend.) 

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Saturday’s midnight showing. And when I emerged, dazed and deliriously happy two hours and a minute later, I ran into one of my new fannish friends, future Worldcon chair Michael Walsh. When we spotted each other, we simultaneously and spontaneously started dancing on the sidewalk outside the theater making a spectacle of ourselves.

When I finished my story, Mr. Daniels had a look of utter surprise on his face. After reading the first chapter of his book (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way), he has stated that he is always surprised and amazed by how many people have been touched in some way by this series of films.

When I first saw what eventually became Episode IV: A New Hope, I was almost twenty-one years old. And amazingly, here I am now, forty-two years later, writing a review of the final film in what is now known as the Skywalker Saga. And what a wild ride it has been over nine feature films, spin off films, several television series and hundreds of novels and comics.

There has been been an immense wave of backlash from detractors of J.J. Abrams and haters of the previous two Star Wars films in advance of the premiere of The Rise of Skywalker. As for myself, I try to stay away from both the hype and the churn of internet spite, least anything disrupt or bias my enjoyment of this film. 

Does anyone out there remember the good old days, when personal beefs and flame wars were either settled within the confines of printed, mimeographed fanzines or in person at sf conventions on panels (or, in some cases, the hallways or the consuite)? Nowadays, all it takes is just a smartphone and two minutes of idle brain farts.   

But alas, I have digressed a bit too much. On with the show… 

[The main review follows the jump]

Continue reading