(1) A DOG STORY. The Verge has released the latest installment in its multimedia science fiction project about hope, Better Worlds. Don’t tell me – John Scalzi wrote a story about a Sad Puppy?
Today, we published one of the original short stories that we’re most excited about, “A Model Dog,” from prolific science fiction writer and Hugo Award-winner John Scalzi. Scalzi is a familiar name to most science fiction readers, best known for his novels Old Man’s War, Redshirts, The Collapsing Empire, and, most recently, The Consuming Fire.
In Scalzi’s hilarious new story story “A Model Dog” and the video adaptation from animator Joel Plosz, an eccentric tech billionaire’s frivolous project to “engineer a solution” to a dying dog takes a surprising and heartwarming turn.
There’s also a Q&A — “John Scalzi on machine learning and remembering our favorite pets”.
It does seem like this type of experimentation would have a downstream effect. I know Neil deGrasse Tyson is fond of saying that going to space brought with it a number of other things you wouldn’t expect.
Absolutely. It’s the whole Velcro effect. You go into space, so you had to invent Velcro. It’s weird when you think about it. I’m not necessarily a proponent of the idea that you do a big thing because you get a few small, ancillary things out of it because it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get anything out of it. But it’s certainly not wrong. Anything you do is going to have failures and spinoffs and dead ends. But those failures, spinoffs, and dead ends aren’t necessarily things that are going to be bad or useless. It might be an unexpected thing. You do see this. A guy wanting to make a more powerful adhesive ended up creating the sticky note at 3M. Even if something doesn’t work the way you expect it to, you still get something beneficial out of it. And, to some extent, that’s what this story also nets: they aimed for one thing, and they ended up getting another.
(2) NUSSBAUM STATUS REPORT. Winner of the 2017 Best Fan Writer Hugo, Abigail Nussbaum, took herself out of contention in 2018. I asked what her plans were for 2019. She replied —
I really hadn’t thought about the issue this year. I suppose my feeling is that one year of telling people what to do with their vote is enough. I’m not officially taking myself out of the running, but I don’t expect to be nominated again. If it does come up, I’ll decide what to do then.
(3) AMERICAN GODS. The epic war of the gods begins when American Gods premieres March 10 on STARZ.
(4) ROSWELL AWARD. The submission deadline for The Roswell Award sci-fi writing competition is Monday, January 28.
The UCLA Extension Writer’s Program is sponsoring a free 10-week or shorter online class for the 1st Place winner with the option of three (3) UCLA credits.
1st, 2nd, and 3rd place Roswell Award prizes!
Special prizes awarded for the Women Hold Up Half the Sky Award feminist sci-fi story and the Best Translated Sci-Fi Story Award.
Full details and guidelines here.
(5) FREE READ. A story by Kary English made the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot and she’s made it available as a free read in a Facebook public post — “Cold, Silent, and Dark” from Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath.
Here’s the story in its entirety. Please enjoy it while I have a sip of port and a bite of chocolate to celebrate. The chocolate, like the story, is deliciously dark.
(6) HALL OF FAME CALLS TROY L. WIGGINS. The Darrell Awards jury has chosen the next inductee to the Dal Coger Memorial Hall of Fame:
It gives us great pleasure to announce that the winner is TROY L. WIGGINS, who was chosen for his outstanding contributions to Midsouth literacy, both as a writer of SF/F/H short stories and for his role in founding Fiyah Lit Mag, a relatively-new SF/F/H magazine (now in its third year).
Mr. Wiggins joins 16 previous inductees, including Nancy Collins, Eric Flint, Justin Cronin, Howard Waldrop, and a dozen more worthies.
There’s more information on the Coger Memorial Hall of Fame here.
(7) THE BEST POLICY. Virgin Money wants people to pay attention to their life insurance offerings so they’ve increased the scope of their coverage. ScienceFiction.com has the story — “Insurance Company Will Cover Wacky Deaths, Including Death By Dalek”.
Here is the entire list of what Virgin Money will cover:
- Engulfed by a sharknado
- Attacked by a 100 ft tall Stay Puft marshmallow man
- Dalek invasion
- Attack by a world terraforming engine (ie: Superman)
- Injury caused being pursued by a Giant from a cloud-based castle
- Getting trampled by Godzilla
- Attack by Decepticon (ie: Transformers)
- Attack by heat ray from Martian tripods
- Attack by the Loch Ness monster
- Being given the cruciatus curse by Lord Voldemort
(8) TODAY IN HISTORY.
January 21, 1972 — NYC hosted the first Star Trek Convention.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born January 21, 1923 – Judith Merril. Author of four novels, Shadow on the Hearth, Gunner Cade, Outpost Mars and The Tomorrow People of which the last three were with C. M. Kornbluth. She also wrote twenty six stories which can be found in The Best of Judith Merril. She was an editor as well of both anthologies and magazines. Her magazine editorship was as Judy Zissman and was Science*Fiction in 1946 and Temper! In 1945 and 1947. May I comment that ISFDB notes Temper! has a header of The Magazine of Social Protest which given its date may make it the earliest SJW citation known in our genre? Oh and between, 1965 and 1969, she was an exemplary reviewer for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She was also a much lauded Books Editor there at the same time. Yes, I know she had a complicated personal life but that’s not for here. (Died 1997.)
- Born January 21, 1924 — Dean Fredericks. Actor best known for his portrayal of the comic strip character Steve Canyon in the television series of the same name which aired from 1958–1959 on NBC. His first genre role is in Them! followed by appearances in The Disembodied and the lead in The Phantom Planet. (Died 1999.)
- Born January 21, 1956 – Diana Pavlac Glyer, 63. Academic whose work centers on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings. She has a number of published works to date with two of interest to us, Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings and The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. The third in case you’re wondering is Clay in the Potter’s Hands.
- Born January 21, 1956 – Geena Davis, 63. Her first genre was as Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife In The Fly followed by her by widely remembered roles as Barbara Maitland in Beetlejuice and Valerie Gail In Earth Girls Are Easy. She next plays Morgan Adams in the theatrical bomb Cutthroat Island before getting the choice plum of Mrs. Eleanor Little in the Stuart Little franchise. She has a lead role in Marjorie Prime, a film tackling memory loss in Alzheimer’s victims some fifty years by creating holographic projections of deceased family members that sounds really creepy. Her major series role to date is as Regan MacNeil on The Exorcist, a ten episode FOX sequel to the film.
- Born January 21, 1958 – Michael Wincott, 61. Guy of Gisbourne In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was his first genre role. Oh well. He did much better playing the truly evil Top Dollar in The Crow next, and his Comte de Rochefort in the 1993 The Three Musketeers wasn’t that bad. He played Philo Grant in Strange Days, and was Captain Frank Elgyn In Alien Resurrection. His latest film role was as Dr. Osmond In Ghost in the Shell. He shows up as the Old Bill character in the “The Original” and “Contrapasso” episodes of Westworld.
- Born January 21, 1970 – Ken Leung, 49. Best known for playing Miles Straume in Lost, Admiral Statura in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Kid Omega in X-Men: The Last Stand. His latest role is as Karnak, a member of the Inhumans on the series Inhumans. His first genre appearance was I think was as Syatyoo-Sama in A.I. and he later has a recurring role on Person of Interest, a show where AIs play a prominent role.
(10) COMICS SECTION.
- The problems of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Graduated: Rhymes With Orange.
- For Over the Hedge’s RJ, there’s just too much good stuff on TV.
- Lucas could have made a fortune with custom editions if he’d followed the advice implicit in this classic FoxTrot.
(11) REACTIONARY COMPS. Laura B. McGrath, in “Comping White” at LA Review of Books, makes the case that a publishing industry technique for projecting a book’s success, comp titles, is biased against people of color, and further, tends to neutralize the effect of having more people of color working behind the scenes.
…Instead, I decided to study the most important data that no one outside of publishing has ever heard of: Comp Titles. “Comps are king in this business,” an editor told me. (She works for a major house, and spoke under the condition of anonymity.) Comps, short for “comparable” or “comparative” titles, are the basis of all acquisitions. By predicting profits and losses, comps help editors determine if they should acquire a book or not. Comps are a sort of gatekeeper, determining what — and who — gets access to the marketplace.
The logic is straightforward: Book A (a new title) is similar to Book B (an already published title). Because Book B sold so many copies and made so much money, we can assume that Book A will also sell so many copies and make so much money. Based on these projections, editors determine if they should pre-empt, bid, or pass on a title, and how much they should pay in an author advance. Above all, comps are conservative. They manage expectations, and are designed to predict as safe a bet as possible. They are built on the idea that if it worked before, it will work again…
And if there’s no comp to be found? If a book hasn’t ever “worked” because it hasn’t ever happened? If the target audience for a book isn’t considered big or significant enough to warrant the investment? “If you can’t find any comps,” one editor explained, grimacing, “It’s not a good sign.” While intended to be an instructive description (“this book is like that book”), some editors suggested that comps have become prescriptive (“this book should be like that book”) and restrictive (“…or we can’t publish it”).
(12) DISCO VOLANTE. Motherboard thinks “Mysterious ‘Planet Nine’ Might Actually Be a Gigantic Disk of Space Objects”.
The mysterious “Planet Nine,” which is theorized to be 10 times larger than Earth and lies somewhere in the outer reaches of our solar system, might not be a planet at all, says a new study.
It may really be a gigantic disk made up of smaller objects lying just beyond Neptune exerting the same gravitational force as a super-Earth-sized planet, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge and the American University of Beirut.
(13) IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND THERE LIVED A MARTIAN COLONIST. Dwayne Day reviews season 2 of National Geographic’s Mars in “Mars: Bringer of ennui (Part 1)” at The Space Review.
The first season, consisting of six episodes, featured some excellent and insightful documentary segments and commentary, but the drama segments, which were closely tied to the documentary stories, were grim and depressing. Now, two years later, season two has aired. Unfortunately, that same dynamic was repeated: often stunning documentary segments and intelligent commentary interspersed with tedious and uninspiring drama. If National Geographic has a message about the human exploration of Mars, it is that nobody will have any fun.
(14) UNEXPECTED HOMECOMING. A piece of history will go on display: “Black Arrow: UK space rocket returns home from Australia”.
The UK’s only rocket to successfully launch a satellite into orbit is to be unveiled in Scotland after a 10,000-mile journey back home.
The Black Arrow projectile had lain at its crash landing site in the South Australian outback for 48 years.
Over time it was damaged by extreme weather and vandalism before space technology firm Skyrora stepped in.
The historic rocket is set to go on display in Penicuik, Midlothian, later this month.
Daniel Smith, director at Skyrora, said: “This is quite feasibly the most important artefact linked to the UK’s space history.
“While our engineers have been working on our own launches, our STEM ambassadors have been arranging all of this in the background.”
(15) SHOWBOATING. “He Jiankui: China condemns ‘baby gene editing’ scientist”.
China says the scientist who claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies last year acted illegally and in pursuit of fame and fortune, state media report.
He Jiankui’s claim to have altered twin girls’ genes so they could not get HIV was met with scepticism and outrage.
Investigators say the researcher faces serious punishment after acting on his own and forging ethical review papers.
Professor He, who is reportedly under house arrest, has defended his work.
In November, he told a genome summit in Hong Kong he was “proud” of his gene-editing work, a practice which is banned in most countries, including China.
His announcement was met with condemnation from hundreds of Chinese and international scientists, who said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was unethical
(16) ANOTHER PIECE OF HISTORY. “How migration formed the English language”
The interconnectedness of Europe has a long history, as we’re reminded when we explore the roots of the English language – roots that stretch back to the 5th Century. Anglo-Saxon England “was connected to the world beyond its shores through a lively exchange of books, goods, ideas,” argues the Medieval historian Mary Wellesley, describing a new exhibition at the British Library in London – Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War – that charts the genesis of England.
“Something like 80% of all surviving Old English verse survives in four physical books… for the first time in recorded history they are all together,” she tells BBC Culture. “The period that is represented by Old English is about 600 years, which is like between us and back to Chaucer… imagine if there were only four physical books that survived from that period, what would that say about our literature?”
(17) CRETACEOUS PERAMBULATOR. (Well before that era, actually, but I couldn’t resist the Barfield reference.) A recent issue of Nature tells how “SF/F cinematic and scientific techniques combine to show how a long-extinct creature moved”.
The trolls and orcs in The Lord of the Rings films aren’t real. The dragons and dire wolves on the hit television show Game of Thrones are simulated. The dinosaurs that rampaged through a string of Jurassic Park films don’t exist outside a computer. Or do they?
These days, it can be hard to tell from the screen, given that computer-generated characters in films and video games now seem so realistic down to every tooth and claw. The realism comes from the long and fruitful interaction between science and the cinema that can be traced back to the pioneering work more than a century ago of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge (the eccentric spelling of his first name was a deliberate homage to Anglo-Saxon style).
The blending of cinematic and scientific techniques continues today. In a paper in this week’s Nature, researchers describe how they used animation techniques to reconstruct the motion of a long-extinct animal….
(18) LOOKING FOR A LAIR. A new trailer for SHAZAM! — in theaters April 5.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Liptak, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson.]