[Thanks to Maddie Davis of Enlightened Digital for the infographic.]
By Colleen McMahon: I recently had the privilege of attending a free lecture (via the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library) by Dr. Lisa Yaszek, who is a professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech. She gave a presentation on the history of time travel in science fiction. Not only was it fascinating for itself, it also led me to lots of works in the public domain to mention here. (Bonus: I also met fellow Filer Kirby Bartlett-Sloan there!)
In fact, there are LOTS of interesting time-travel tales in the public domain, and it seems like the more I dig, the more I find. So this will be the first of two back-to-back columns on time-travel themes, with more random installments to come in the future. Because there is a lot to say on this topic, I’ll also be departing from my usual format to focus just on the time-travel topic for these two columns.
One of the most intriguing points is that time-travel fiction as we know it, SF or otherwise, didn’t really exist before the 19th century. There seems to be two main reasons for that.
The first is that one of the main ideas of time travel is visiting historical eras in the past, or bringing people from historical times to the present day and interacting with them. But the sense of historical periods being very different from and foreign to the current day, and thus more interesting to interact with, is relatively recent. For vast swaths of human history, the past looked a lot like the current day, as people stayed in the same places and did the same things. Since much of the narrative interest in time-travel fiction is in the contrast with earlier times, it does not seem to have been as much of an imaginative stimulus.
(However, even in those centuries, there was a sense of a distant past that was different — the days of Moses, Jesus, or the gods of ancient mythologies worldwide. It seems odd to me that there wasn’t much apparent imaginings or discussions of what it would be like to see those times in person or talk to legendary figures like Buddha or Confucius or Hercules.)
The other reason was that, while time as a linear concept existed, the cyclical sense of time, based on seasons and repetitions of holidays and festivals, was far stronger in people’s minds. The rhythms of the agricultural year reinforced this, and even the few who did not directly grow their own food were keenly aware of the annual cycles of food production.
It’s really the standardization of time intervals, time zones, and calendars that began in the 18th century and fully took hold in the 19th, that gave most people a distinct sense of a one-way march of clearly delineated time periods. The fact that more people were becoming detached from the farm and food production, with its cyclical emphasis, and were moving to towns and cities where transit, factories, and stores ran on strict schedules, helped reinforce the rise of linear time sense.
Dr. Yaszek points out that it’s not a coincidence that the first mechanical time-travel stories, where a machine could precisely target and “jump” to a particular era, appear within the same decade as the 1884 International Meridian Conference that established standard time zones worldwide.
However, the earliest time-travel story device is one that is still used, and is more of a fantasy trope than a science fiction one. That’s the “time slip”, where a character interacts with another time period through an unexplained or magical connection. This can be seen as far back as portions of the Indian Mahabarata or the Japanese folk-tale Urashima Taro, where characters magically travel to other dimensions, and return to themselves to find that years have mysteriously passed. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” is a variant of this theme that most of us are familiar with.
Mid-19th-century tales like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court also use this “time slip” device — the authors are not as concerned with how the time travel happens as the experiences that the main characters have as a result.
A less well-known example is “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” by Edgar Allen Poe. This 1844 short story is a rather confusing tale in which an unnamed narrator tells the story of his meeting, years earlier, a mysterious young man named Arthur Bedloe. Bedloe was in his 20s, but seemed far older to the narrator, perhaps because of ill health. He was attended by a physician, Dr. Templeton, who specialized in a form of mesmerism.
Bedloe narrates his strange experience of hiking in a deep mist in the “Ragged Mountains” of Virginia (which appear to be the Blue Ridge Mountains) and suddenly hearing drumming sounds and noticing plants and people that appear to be native to India rather than Virginia. Bedloe ultimately finds himself in an eastern city in the midst of a battle between English soldiers and native people. He is struck by an arrow and dies.
Bedloe insists that it was a real experience, and not a dream, but the narrator points out to Bedloe that he is not dead, so it could not have been real. Bedloe reacts by becoming visibly ill, and Dr. Templeton intervenes to explain that the experience Bedloe narrated sounded much like that of his old friend Oldeb, who had been in India in 1780 and died in a battle there in the way that Bedloe described. What actually occurred with Bedloe is left vague — he was under the influence of both mesmerism and strong drugs when he had his experience, but it’s also strongly implied that Bedloe time-traveled into the mind of Oldeb or was a reincarnation of him. When the narrator later sees Bedloe’s name misspelled on his tombstone as Bedlo, he realizes that Bedlo is Oldeb spelled backwards.
Edward Bellamy’s 1884 novel Looking Backward is another time-slip tale, although this time the narrator has a dream-vision of the future rather than the past. Bellamy’s main purpose was to write a political utopian tale to illustrate possible resolutions to the contemporary political and economic conflicts in the United States, but his book has the distinction of becoming the third best-selling American novel of the 19th century after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur, which I believe would make it the first SFF best-seller.
The time-slip trope remains alive and well down to the present day, and drives the plot in stories ranging from the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day to the best-selling Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon.
(In fact, while time travel in science fiction gets most of the attention, the romance genre has a strong tradition of time-travel romance stories, nearly all of which use the time-slip trope, as the hero or heroine is thrown backward or forward in time by devices ranging from standing stones to family curses to mysterious pendants and more).
Librivox has recordings of most of the above-mentioned works:
- “The Story of Urashima Taro, the Fisher Lad” is included in the audiobook of Yei Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales.
- Rip Van Winkle (4 versions)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (2 versions)
- A Christmas Carol (12 versions, including a dramatic reading version and the condensed version that Dickens used for his live readings)
- “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” is included in Short Ghost and Horror Collection 025
- Looking Backward
Internet Archive has the 1910 one-reel Edison adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
There are no extant complete copies of the 1921 film of Connecticut Yankee, but the trailer for the very hokey 1949 version is in the public domain!
In the next column, I’ll look at the H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine, which popularized the mechanical time-travel plot device, and the many tales that followed.
As you know, 300 competing titles have now been split into batches of 30 and assigned to one of the ten participating blogs. Here’s the tough part: we can’t keep them all. It’s a bit like being asked to foster a small herd of kittens, then being told you’re only allowed to adopt one of them. We try hard not to become too attached, but it proved very difficult last year and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if the same were true again this time.
(2) SPACEBALLS. Profiles in History will be auctioning “Rick Moranis hero ‘Dark Helmet’ helmet from Spaceballs.” At the end of the month reports Invaluable.
Rick Moranis hero “Dark Helmet” helmet from Spaceballs. (MGM, 1987) This articulating oversized signature helmet was worn by Moranis as Dark Helmet throughout the Mel Brooks classic Sci-Fi spoof. Consisting of 20 in. round by 14 in. tall cartoonish “Darth Vader” -stylized helmet constructed of heavy vacuum formed plastic component shell affixed to internal construction worker’s hard-hat liner to fit the actor. With screw-hinged movable faceplate section featuring vents, metalized shower drain mouth piece and triangular embedded tinted see-through lenses. Exhibiting only minor production wear and age. In vintage very good to fine condition. $8,000 – $12,000
(3) M. BANKS. Sam Reader at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog honors the late author — “With The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks Perfected His Space Opera”.
The Scottish author Iain Banks famously led a double life in publishing. Some of his books — the ones published under the name Iain Banks — were sold to readers as “literature,” and shelved as such in bookstores. The rest — the ones that applied his talent for creating boldly unlikeable characters and enormously complex plots to the tropes and trappings of science fiction — were published under the name “Iain M. Banks,” that middle initial serving as a beacon to genre readers across the world, telling them: this one. This is the Banks you’re looking for.
The Algebraist is peak Iain M. Banks. It’s also the only book he ever wrote to be nominated for the Hugo Award, a fact that seems almost unbelievable in retrospect.
The late, great SF pioneer, who died on this day in 2013, spent most of his life experimenting with space opera …
(4) ANY SUFFICIENTLY ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY. Yesterday, you didn’t care about this. But today you will passionately brawl about it. Natalie Zutter asks “Is Time Travel Science Fiction or Fantasy?” at Tor.com.
Even though you would expect time travel to require hard rules, it seems to most often appear in both science fiction and fantasy stories that require a certain amount of handwaving on the details. We’re given some sense of how the TARDIS operates — the chameleon circuit, and the sometimes-isometric, sometimes-telepathic controls — but it’s best just to jump in and hang on. Similarly, there’s no clear explanation for the time travel in Kindred or Outlander aside from supernatural forces working outside of our understanding or control, forces that cause certain events to occur as part of some larger cosmic plan.
(5) NEVERMORE. Maybe there’s a more subtle reason Noah’s raven didn’t come back? The Verge reports “If you wrong a raven, it will remember”.
These nine ravens were raised in captivity, growing to become familiar with the researchers. Then came the test.
The ravens were put in a cage along with two trainers on each one. The first trainer gave the raven a piece of bread. The raven then carried the bread to the other trainer on the other side, and exchanged it for cheese.
The second time, the raven was soundly rejected. Instead of getting the cheese, it had to watch as the trainer just ate the cheese in front of it.
Two days later, the researcher rounded up up seven of the birds and presented them with three trainers: the fair one who gave them the bread, the unfair one who ate food in front of them, and a neutral one. Six out of seven birds chose the fair one. One chose the neutral one. Nobody wanted to play with the mean one.
(6) I FORGOT. The City, Awake by Duncan Barlow was released in March by Stalking Horse Press.
Barlow’s metaphysical noir The City, Awake is a novel of chemically induced amnesia, doppelgangers, fanatics, and killers. Saul, a man without a history, awakes in a hotel room with a note in his pocket. Hunting for answers, he must survive rival assassins, a millionaire with an axe to grind, a shape-shifting femme fatal, a silent hit man, and a psychotic who is only looking for an exit. Barlow evokes a vast mid-century modernist cityscape in prose that is by turns hard-boiled, then unexpectedly psychedelic and delicate. With temporal and spatial distortions reminiscent of A. E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A, the novel that inspired Godard’s Alphaville, this is a vivid investigation of identity, scientific speculation, and Biblical Apocrypha. The City, Awake is a mirror maze of dark streets and darker secrets.
(7) FEAR OF THE ARTS. Omni’s Joshua Sky asks the questions in “Where X Marks the Spot: An Interview with Steve Barnes”.
Walk me through it. I’ve read about you, but I haven’t been able to find much on your childhood. Can you give me a recap of your youth?
Steve Barnes: Born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles. I was interested in science fiction, fantasy, films and stories from a very early age. My mother and sister raised me; there wasn’t a father in the home. So I was always very interested in macho adventure.
First book that I can remember clearly reading was called Space Cat. I was in second grade, before then, I loved monster movies and stuff like that. It’s always been apart of my life. The first real sci-fi novel I’ve ever read was probably Robert Heinlein’s, Have Spacesuit Will Travel, in the fifth grade.
When did you start making attempts at writing?
The first story I remember ever writing, was in like, third grade. It was called, The Yeti. It was about an abominable snowman in a Canadian lumber camp. After that, I wrote a lot of sci-fi action adventure, space ship monster stuff. I was doing that from third to fourth grade, up through college.
(8) NOTED FUTURIST. Joshua Sky also did an “Interview with Trina Phillips, Chief Futurist at SciFutures” for Omni.
Describe what SciFutures is. I’ve read about it, I know about it, but I’d like to hear it from you.
TRINA: We do a range of things, but our main idea is that a lot of companies don’t do well with changing their ways and staying up to date with new and near future technology. This isn’t just using new systems. We’re talking about thinking forward. Some of these companies have been around for over a hundred years; being forward thinking and moving fast are not their specialty. The idea behind it is that not only do you use science fiction ideas to help propel them into the future, but we use storytelling to help them understand it, to help them comprehend this new information better. Because someone can sit there and say, I’m doing projections, and with all the graphs and charts and this and that. And we don’t do that. We go further out than those are realistic for, you know, guessing at. We’re not going to tell you what you should do next year; we’re going to tell you what you should be looking to do in five to ten years, or more — if you prefer the long view.
But it’s all theoretical in a sense, because it’s from a science fictional standpoint, right?
TRINA: Yes, except it is based on the tech that’s available now, and we have a really good handle on modern technology. Half of our staff consists of tech people — a little more than half, actually. So we have a real grounding in where the tech is, where it’s going. We know what’s feasible, and we base our suggestions on that information. But that doesn’t mean we’re not inventing things that don’t quite exist yet. In fact, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
(9) NO FUTURIST. Meantime, John Scalzi was shocked to discover that his go-to soda, Coke Zero, is on its way out: “Is This the End of Our Hero, Coke Zero?!??!!??!?”
It’s that “no sugar” part that’s apparently important, because these days, or so the news reports suggest to me, sugar is in bad odor as being the worst possible thing you can put in your body short of heroin, a proposition I’m not convinced of, but then I’m kind of a sugar fiend, so I may be biased. By calling the new product Coke No Sugar, Coke is making it clear there’s, uh, no sugar in it. So, good for hyper-literal branding, I guess. I think “Coke No Sugar” is kind of terrible as a brand name, and suspect that if consumers didn’t know Coke Zero had, you know, zero sugar in it, the problem was marketing, and not the branding per se. Mind you, if memory serves, the whole point of Coke Zero marketing in the early days was to hide from dudes with fragile masculinity the fact that they were drinking a diet beverage, which is why the word “diet” was never put anywhere near the product dress. So again, I’m not sure consumers are 100% to blame here if they didn’t catch on about the zero sugar thing.
(10) MORE ON BOOKEXPO. Shelf Awareness insists the cup is half-full: “BookCon Draws 20,000; Trade Attendance Up at BookExpo”.
BookExpo drew 7,425 non-exhibiting attendees–primarily booksellers, librarians, retailers and media members — while BookCon brought in 20,000 readers, up 2,000 from two years ago, when the consumer event was last held in New York, ReedPOP announced this week. According to Brien McDonald, event director for BookExpo and BookCon, trade attendance was significantly up this year compared to last year’s show in Chicago, Ill., and in particular, attendance at the show’s author talks and educations sessions was “exceptionally high.” McDonald also noted that for 2017, ReedPOP implemented a review process for all non-buying categories of trade attendees, including self-published authors, bloggers and consultants, in an effort to curate more “high-quality attendance.”
(11) TODAY IN HISTORY
- June 9, 1965 — Ursula Andress stars with Cushing and Lee in Hammer Films’ She
- June 9, 1978 — Walt Disney’s seminal science fiction classic *coff* The Cat From Outer Space premieres.
- June 9, 1989 — Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was first seen in theaters.
(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS
- Born June 9, 1925 — Keith Laumer
- Born June 9, 1930 — Lin Carter
- Born June 9, 1943 — Joe Haldeman
(13) ON THEIR WAY OUT. If you’re trying to make sense of the British elections, actively avoid Camestros Felapton’s “Exit Poll”. But if you need a laugh, click away.
(14) INCONSISTENCY. J.K Rowling calls out a problem I’ve often observed — critics of misogyny who decide to give themselves a pass whenever they have an opportunity write an insult about a politically conservative woman. If someone values human respect, that should control their choices all the time.
Just unfollowed a man whom I thought was smart and funny, because he called Theresa May a whore. 1/14
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 9, 2017
I’m sick of ‘liberal’ men whose mask slips every time a woman displeases them, who reach immediately for crude and humiliating words 3/14
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 9, 2017
(15) ZOMBIES TO THE RESCUE. In the May 25 Financial Times Charles Clover and Sherry Fei Ju note that China, which has long banned any film with ghosts or the supernatural (such as the Ghostbusters remake or the acclaimed South Korean film Train to Busan) has relented and allowed the latest Resident Evil film and Logan to be shown in China, possibly as a way to stimulate slumping box office sales. (“China unleashes zombie films to boost the box office” , behind a paywall.)
(16) GHOSTING CONS. Kara Dennison says “Let’s Talk About Lobbyconning”.
I was very confused by a comment left on Facebook concerning a convention I work for. A potential attendee asked if the con would be “open” or “closed.” No one really had any idea what this meant, until it was clarified: do you have to buy a badge to enter the convention space at all, or can you chill in the hotel lobby without buying a badge? The practice is known as “lobbyconning,” and I had never heard of it until within the last year or so. Essentially, rather than buying a membership to a convention, the lobbyconner just hangs out in the non-convention spaces of the hotel, seeing friends, showing off their cosplay, using Street Pass, etc. They see it as harmless and a way to save money. Now, quickly up front. I have sped by hotels where a convention is going on to say hi to a friend. Like. If the con is in the area. Usually if I want to see a friend at a nearby convention I’m not attending, we go get lunch or something, or if I go to the hotel we’ll meet for a drink in the bar or I go to their room. But if I’m going to see the friend, we generally leave the convention space. If I’m going to the convention to see the friend, I buy a day pass. Why? Because I am using the convention as a way to pass time with my friend, because it means they can still enjoy all parts of the con without having to abandon me for panels, and because dammit, supporting a con.
(17) A MATCH MADE IN HECK. A newsflash from Cattimothy House — “Jon Del Arroz hires Timothy the Talking Cat as his Publicist”.
Prominent local author, Jon Del Arroz entered into extensive negotiations with Cattimothy House yesterday to massively boost his profile by recruiting the services of Timothy the Talking Cat. Timothy, who is notable for his work with John C Wright, Declan Finn, Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, is one of the leading editors of modern science fiction and is at the forefront of what he calls “the Pulp Revolution” (Timothy’s Jarvis Cocker cover band).
Timothy is alread taking proactive steps to boost Mr Del Arroz’s profile including new cover design concepts …
Naturally (or perhaps unnaturally), Jon was thrilled to realize “The File 770 Crowd Loves Me, Quite Literally”.
Today, Camestros Felapton upped the game of having a crush on me by making a full on book cover based on For Steam And Country — which is releasing next Thursday. This looks like a pretty time consuming effort, maybe even more so than the File 770 commenter who purchased and distributed convention ribbons for a full weekend homaging me …
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, Jon Del Arroz, Peer Sylvester, Carl Slaughter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ken Richards.]
By Carl Slaughter:
(1) 3-D printer robot constructs building. “MIT researchers create a robot that can 3-D-print a building in hours”.
The future of construction just got a little bit more real. Researchers at MIT have created a mobile robot that can 3-D-print an entire building in a matter of hours — a technology that could be used in disaster zones, on inhospitable planets or even in our proverbial backyards.
Though the platform described in the journal Science Robotics is still in early stages, it could offer a revolutionary tool for the construction industry and inspire more architects to rethink the relationship of buildings to people and the environment.
(2) Time travel is “mathematically possible.” It’s all in the curve. “Building a real-life TARDIS is mathematically possible, say physicists”.
Tippett and colleague David Tsang from the University of Maryland have used Einstein’s theory of general relativity to come up with their mathematical model for time travel. They claim that the division of space into three dimensions, with time in a separate dimension by itself, is incorrect. Their model instead conceptualizes space-time as a continuum, whereby different directions are connected within the curved fabric of the universe.
Tippett reminds us that time is curved in the same way that space is: “The time direction of the space-time surface also shows curvature. There is evidence showing the closer to a black hole we get, time moves slower. My model of a time machine uses the curved space-time — to bend time into a circle for the passengers, not in a straight line. That circle takes us back in time.”
(3) NASA is running out of spacesuits. (This better be a hoax.) “NASA Is Running Out of Space Suits”.
(4) Mystery excuse. Elon Musk we know, but what’s the National Reconnaissance Office? “SpaceX delays launch of secretive satellite for U.S. Intelligence agency”.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has pushed back its launch of a mysterious satellite for the U.S. intelligence community because of a sensor issue.
(5) “Our laser beam is better than your laser beam.” “Straight Out of ‘Star Wars’: This ‘Death Star’ Laser Actually Works”.
If it has a beam and if it can destroy an enemy spaceship, it’s a laser. And a laser is a laser is a laser. But it seems there’s always one more laser that operates differently than the others. “Yes, but our laser uses energy transmission.” “Yes, but our laser uses directed energy.” “Yes, but our laser uses X-rays.” “Yes, but our laser is more destructive than your laser.” “Yes, but out laser is portable.” And now, “Yes, but out laser uses convergence.” If your laser can destroy a terrorist bomb without detonating the bomb, then you’ve got something. Me, I’ll settle for a laser in a doctor’s office if it can eliminate the mole on my face so I don’t cut it open when I shave.
(6) Why Living On The Starship Enterprise Would Actually Be Awful.
(7) Scientist celebrities. “‘Genius’ director Ron Howard reveals why he’s on a mission to turn scientists into celebrities”.
Ron Howard’s new television series “Genius” continues the filmmaker’s decades-long love affair with science.
“Look at what Silicon Valley has meant to our economy and our ongoing influence around the world. … What we don’t want to do is cede that position to other countries, other nations, other cultures,” Howard told Business Insider.
Howard was born in 1954, was around for the first moon landings, the rise of personal computing, and the advent of the internet — but he’s also seen the missed opportunities.
“We could have had the [Large] Hadron Collider. But 15 years ago we decided not to fund that. So I’ve always lamented the fact that we didn’t stay in that pole position on that front of exploration,” he said.
(8) Fortune magazine interviews Bill Nye. “‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye’s New Mission”.
How big a danger is fake science and science denial?
Science denial is a big concern right now. Carl Sagan wrote about this 40 years ago—that if you had a society that is increasingly dependent on technology and you have fewer and fewer people who know how it all works, that’s a formula for a disaster. If we have people who refuse to get vaccinated, they become petri dishes for mutating germs. Soon we are going to have 9 or 10 billion people in the world, and those people are going to have to eat, they are going to have to get along, and they all are going to want clean water. And that depends on science—depends on technology that’s derived from science. So if you have people who don’t accept the process by which we create all this wonderful stuff, you’re going to have trouble.
(1) NEXT STEP. Sigrid Ellis responds to the Orlando attack with a series of autobiographical notes in “The road to murder is paved with microaggressions”.
- I was horrified to hear the news out of Orlando. But I wasn’t surprised. I wish I found murders of LGBTQIA folk to be surprising. But I have been found guilty of being gay my entire life. I know how much, how casually, how thoughtlessly I am hated. Hated not because I am evil, but because I am merely the most horrible disgusting thing people can imagine.
- The shooter went to a place of refuge, of joy, of celebration. He went to a place where queers go when we are told we are too queer to be seen anywhere else. He went to the place where all the shoving and flaunting of queer would have been hidden away from him. He sought it out, this crusader vigilante, this one good man with a gun we hear so much about. He took his righteousness and hunted down the gay he hated and feared.
- So how do we go on. How do we live in a world that hates and fears us?
I cannot stop anyone from murdering anyone else. I don’t have that power. But I am … done. I am done with letting the jokes and remarks slide by. I cannot continue to passively agree that I am a punchline, a threat, a bogeyman, a cautionary tale. I just, … I am done.
I can’t stop the Orlando murders, or any other murders of queers.
But I am done being complicit.
(2) HELPING. Stephanie Burgis researched a list of links about ways to help Orlando victims, and community LGBTQ organizations.
This is not the post I wanted to write today. Today, I was planning to announce a fun new project up for pre-order. I was going to talk about other stuff, the normal, small incidents of life. But I’m still reeling. So I’ll post about all those things another day. Today, I just want to pass on the things I’ve seen that might help a bit:…
(3) DIAMOND TIME. Alastair Reynolds’ story “Diamond Dogs” will be on stage in Chicago this season.
An adaptation by Althos Low (the pen name for Steve Pickering and creatives from Shanghai Low Theatricals) of Alastair Reynolds sci-fi story “Diamond Dogs” will complete The House Theatre’s 2016-17 season.
The production, set in the future, follows characters caught in an alien tower and will be third in the company’s season, running Jan. 13-March 5. Artistic director Nathan Allen will direct.
(4) TIME TRAVELERS PAST. The Economist discusses“Time-travel from H.G. Wells to ‘Version Control’”.
MUCH of what is good in science fiction is not about the future. Rather, the genre uses the future as a canvas on which to imprint its real concerns—the present. Counterintuitively, perhaps, time travel stories are often those tales that are most anchored in the present. As Sean Redmond argues in “Liquid Metal: the Science Fiction Film Reader”, time travel “provides the necessary distancing effect that science fiction needs to be able to metaphorically address the most pressing issues and themes that concern people in the present”.
One of the earliest time-travel novels, H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine”, can, for example, be read as reflecting contemporary anxieties about the effects of the industrial revolution on Britain’s rigid class system. The elfin “upper class” Eloi are seemingly content, but are in fact easy prey for the ape-like “working class” Morlocks. The fear that a strong but supposedly inferior working class, empowered by industrialisation, could come for them would have resonated with many of Wells’s Victorian readers.
Robert Heinlein’s time and dimension-hopping novels featuring Lazarus Long, who lives for over 2,000 years, are rooted in the author’s rejection of the social norms of his times. With their enthusiasm for nudism and free love, the novels, which must have seemed provocative in the 1950s and 60s, can now feel dated.
(5) REYNOLDS WOULD STAY. Alastair Reynolds tells “Why I’m for the UK remaining in the EU” at Approaching Pavonis Mons by balloon.
Many of the arguments for and against membership of the EU seem to revolve around economics, which seems to me to be an extremely narrow metric. Even if we are better off out of the EU, which we probably won’t be, so what? This is already a wealthy country, and leaving the EU won’t mend the widening inequality between the very rich and almost everyone else. More than that, though, look at what would be lost. Friendship, commonality, freedom of movement, a sense that national boundaries are (and should be) evaporating.
(6) THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD. SF Gate reveals the crime of the millennium — “The great city of San Francisco no longer has a center”.
A brass surveyor’s disk, recently installed on an Upper Market-area sidewalk to mark the precise geographic center of San Francisco, has been stolen.
On Wednesday, city surveyors and Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru visited the spot in the 700 block of Corbett Avenue to call attention to the disk and to the work of the surveyors who had established the spot as the precise center of town.
It wasn’t technically the center of town — that spot is under a bush on a nearby hillside — but it was close, and it was publicly accessible.
At the time, surveyor Michael McGee predicted that the small brass disk — attached to the concrete with heavy-duty glue — would suffer the fate of similar markers and be stolen by vandals.
“I’d give it about six weeks,” McGee said.
He was off by five weeks and six days.
On Thursday, an orange arrow and shakily written “Geographic Center of City” were still on the sidewalk. A circular patch marked the spot where the disk had been, briefly.
(7) YOU SHOULD WEAR A HELMET. “Could a satellite fall on your head?” BBC follows German scientists’ efforts to find out.
“There are a lot of satellites in orbit and they will come down sooner or later,” he says. “They’ll probably break up and the question for us is: what is the chance of an impact?”
In other words, could sections of dead satellites survive re-entry to hit something or, worse, someone?
The wind tunnel being deployed for Willems’ experiment resembles a giant deconstructed vacuum cleaner attached to a pressure cooker, arranged across a concrete floor. The gleaming machine is covered in a mass of pipes and wires. Capable of producing air currents of up to 11 times the speed of sound, the wind tunnel is used for testing the aerodynamics of supersonic and hypersonic aircraft designs.
(8) GENRE DINERS. Lawrence Schoen presents — Eating Authors: Naomi Novik, the June 13 edition of his Q&A series.
I’m preparing this week’s post from New Mexico, where I am ensconced at a writers’ retreat and working hard to up my craft (while also enjoying great company, fabulous meals, and some truly awesome leisurely walks through nature). But such things cannot stop the juggernaut that is the EATING AUTHORS blog! Which is about as much of a segue as you’re going to get this week by way of an introduction for my latest guest, Naomi Novik, who should already be known to you for her Temeraire series which blends fantasy and alternate history (or, as it’s more commonly described, the Napoleonic Wars with dragons!).
(9) SEND ONE BOOK. Throwing Chanclas pleads the case for a Nevada high school library looking for book donations. Cat Rambo says SFWAns are pitching in.
I live in a town of 1200 people in the Northern Sierra Nevada –where it meets the Cascade Range near Mt. Lassen National Park and about two hours drive northwest of Reno, NV. Two hundred of that population is students. Over the years as the population dwindled after mines closed, then mills–nothing except tourism and retirement have emerged as ‘industries.’ Many businesses have closed down and with it many things we take for granted—like libraries….
What we’re lacking is pretty much everything else.
We need racially diverse books. We need graphic novels. We need women’s studies. We need science. We need series. We need film. We need comics. We need music. We need biographies of important people. Looking for Young Adult. Classics. We want zines! Contemporary. Poetry. Everything that would make a difference in a young person’s life. Writers send us YOUR BOOK. We have many non-readers who we’d love to turn on to reading. We need a way to take this tiny area and bring it into the 21st century. We have a whole bunch of kids who don’t like to read because all they’ve ever been given is things that are either dull , dated, or dumbed down.
The students who are excelling are doing so because they have supportive parents at home and access to books and tablets elsewhere. But most students are without.
So here’s what I’m asking. Will you donate a book? A real book. Something literary or fun—something that speaks to your truth, their truths. Something that teaches them something about the world. Makes them feel less alone?
I’m not asking for money. I’m asking for you to send a new book or film or cd to us to help us build a library we can be proud of. Just one book.
So who is with us?
Send us one book.
Greenville High School/Indian Valley Academy
Library Project Attn: Margaret Garcia
117 Grand Street
Greenville, CA 95947
Thank you for your support.
If sending during the month of July (when school is closed) please send to
Library Project/Margaret Garcia
PO Box 585
Greenville, CA 95947
(10) SFWA. Today was the second SFWA Chat Hour. Streamed live and saved to video, you can listen to Operations Director Kate Baker, member Erin Hartshorn, Volunteer Coordinator Derek Künsken, President Cat Rambo, and Chief Financial Officer Bud Sparhawk talk about the organization’s new member experience, game writer criteria, the state of SFWA finances, volunteer opportunities, Worldcon plans, the 2017 Nebulas, awards for anthologies, what they’re reading, and more.
(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY
- Born June 13, 1943 — Malcolm McDowell
(12) TSF&HF. Leonard Pierce experiments with placing the emphasis on each different word in this six-word phrase, and ends up with a column called “Third Booth on the Left”.
“So, what do you guys sell?”
“Traditional science fiction and high fantasy.”
“Your average author isn’t 83 years old and nearly dead, then?”
“Traditional science fiction and high fantasy.”
“Oh. Okay. But, I mean, you don’t just do space operas based on the technical education of someone who was an undergraduate when Eisenower was in the White House, right?”…
(13) TEH FUNNY. John King Tarpinian recommends today’s Reality Check cartoon by Dave Whamond.
(14) CHINA SF AWARD. “The Chinese Government is Setting Up Its Own Major Science Fiction Award” reports the Lifeboat Foundation.
This is pretty interesting: during the latest national congress of the China Association for Science and Technology, chairman Han Qide announced that the country would be setting up a program to promote science fiction and fantasy, including the creation of a new major award.
Throughout much of its genre’s history, China’s science fiction has had a legacy of usefulness, often promoted to educate readers in concepts relating to science and technology. This new award will be accompanied by an “international sci-fi festival” and other initiatives to promote the creation of new stories.
(15) HE BITES. A deliberately harmful robot named “First Law” has been built to hype discussion about the risks of AI.
A robot that can decide whether or not to inflict pain has been built by roboticist and artist Alexander Reben from the University of Berkeley, California.
The basic machine is capable of pricking a finger but is programmed not to do so every time it can.
Mr Reben has nicknamed it “The First Law” after a set of rules devised by sci-fi author Isaac Asimov.
He said he hoped it would further debate about Artificial Intelligence.
“The real concern about AI is that it gets out of control,” he said.
“[The tech giants] are saying it’s way out there, but let’s think about it now before it’s too late. I am proving that [harmful robots] can exist now. We absolutely have to confront it.”
(16) VERY LATE NEWS. Appropriate to the previous item, Bill Gates was named 2015 Lifeboat Foundation Guardian Award Winner – in January.
January 3, 2016 — The Lifeboat Foundation Guardian Award is annually bestowed upon a respected scientist or public figure who has warned of a future fraught with dangers and encouraged measures to prevent them. The 2015 Lifeboat Foundation Guardian Award has been given to Bill Gates in recognition of his fight against infectious diseases, his warnings about artificial intelligence, and his funding of improvements in education since a smarter civilization is one that is more likely to survive and flourish.
About Lifeboat Foundation
The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards the Singularity.
(17) PLAY BALL. “Chewbacca Mom and some special ‘Star Wars’ friends threw the first pitch at the Rays game”, as major league baseball blogger Chris Landers told Cut4 readers.
Over 150 million Facebook views later, “Chewbacca Mom” was born. She sang with James Corden. She was offered a full scholarship to Southeastern University in Florida. She started charging $20 for an autograph. And finally, on Saturday, the cherry on top: Payne threw out the first pitch before the Rays’ 4-3 loss to the Astros.
But, befitting a woman who was brought happiness to so many, it wasn’t just any first pitch. It was a “Star Wars” first pitch — featuring the cantina song, another Wookiee, and of course, Taylor Motter at catcher wearing a Chewy mask.
[Thanks to Cat Rambo, Jim Henley, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day JJ.]
Having decided that time travel stories are guilty of “treating serious history in a frivolous way,” China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has issued guidance that critics predict will stifle future productions of that kind. A story in The Hollywood Reporter explains:
This sort of guidance, while not a black-and-white ban, commonly acts as an effective catalyst for filmmakers’ self-censorship. In a country that has no film law on the books, what SARFT says often goes…
Since China’s ruling party bases much of its doctrine and strict media management on scientific Marxism, the fantasy of time travel – which potentially gives the individual the freedom to reorder reality – conflicts with politically correct thought completely ruled by the CPC.
Journalist Raymond Zhou Liming is quoted in the article as saying:
Most time travel content that I’ve seen (in literature and theater, that is) is actually not heavy on science, but an excuse to comment on current affairs.
Which is by no means an unfamiliar concept to fans, many of whom agree with the axiom that “science fiction is never about the future, it is always about the present.” Or as Ray Bradbury expressed the idea in poetic imagery – “Perseus, looking forward into his mirrored shield, reaches behind and decapitates Medusa.”
[Thanks to Craig Miller for the link.]