(1) CORDWAINER GENESIS. Ashley Stimpson and Jeffrey Irtenkauf trace the career of the man behind Cordwainer Smith in “Throngs of himself” for Johns Hopkins Magazine. “Paul Linebarger wrote science fiction as Cordwainer Smith. His multiple selves did not stop there.”
The notebook belonged to Paul Linebarger, who under his own name played many roles: U.S. Army colonel, CIA operative, psychological warfare expert, scholar of Asia, teacher, adviser to an American president. He was a husband twice and a father twice. His godfather was the first president of modern China, Sun Yat-sen. He may have been the central unhinged character in a famous psychiatric case study. But it was his science fiction—published as Cordwainer Smith—that gilds his legacy today.
Smith published about 30 short stories, all of which take place over a 14,000-year future history that Linebarger labored over in a lifetime of notebooks. Smith’s work is startling and violent, remembered for its originality and its weighty subject matter. In a letter to his agent, Linebarger explained that his stories “intended to lay bare the human mind, to throw torches over the underground lakes of the human soul, to show the chambers wherein the ageless dramas of self-respect, God, courage, sex, love, hope, envy, decency, and power go on forever.” Pulpy tales of little green men these were not.
(2) DISNEY’S STREAMING STAR WARS SERIES. When Disney’s new streaming service launches, here’s what one of its offerings will be: “Jon Favreau’s streaming ‘Star Wars’ series is ‘The Mandalorian'” at Engadget.
We still don’t know the name of Disney’s subscription streaming service, but we do have some details for a live-action Star Wars show that will appear on it. Jon Favreau announced on Instagram that The Mandalorian is set “after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order,” with a “lone gunfighter” emerging in the tradition of Jango and Boba Fett on the outer reaches of the galaxy.
(3) SAVING GRACES. James Davis Nicoll admires “Women Who Save Themselves (and Everyone Else)” for reasons explained in his post for Tor.com.
… Having accepted the burden of her late father’s Letter of Marque, Bodacious Space Pirates’ Marika Kato balances the demands of school work with the challenges of commanding a privateer starship. Although years of peacetime has reduced privateering to a tourist attraction, from time to time Kato’s Bentenmaru finds itself in action, including the time Kato and friends set out to rescue Jenny Doolittle from an arranged marriage.
The single flaw in their plan was assuming that Jenny would wait to be rescued, rather than taking matters into her own hands….
(4) ARTIFICIAL CHICKEN INTELLIGENCE. In what the ad writers must think is a hilarious (non-) deception, Burger King’s latest commercials are written by Artificial Intelligence. Well, actually not (The Verge: “Burger King’s ‘AI-written’ ads show we’re still very confused about artificial intelligence”).
Each of Burger King’s new ads starts with an anachronistic burst of noise from a dial-up modem and a solemn warning: “This ad was created by artificial intelligence.” Then, over shots of glistening burgers and balletic fries, a robotic-sounding narrator deploys exactly the sort of clunky grammar and conceptual malapropisms we expect from a dumb AI.
…They’re good ads! And, of course, they’re lies. In a press release, Burger King claims the videos are the work of a “new deep learning algorithm,” but an article from AdAge makes it clear that humans — not machines — are responsible for the funnies. “Artificial intelligence is not a substitute for a great creative idea coming from a real person,” Burger King’s global head of brand marketing, Marcelo Pascoa, told the publication.
Here’s an example –
(5) PARTY CRASHERS. Olga Polomoshnova studies the consequences of “Feasts Interrupted” at Middle-Earth Reflections.
…Tolkien used socially important intrusions into realms, and thus their societies, in The Silmarillion, but his approach was different from Beowulf’s poet’s with an important detail: the most meaningful intrusions were one-time rather than continuous actions, and they took place during prominent feasts, thus increasing their social impact and significance manifold….
(6) CLARION 2019 FACULTY. The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop faculty for 2019 will be — Carmen Maria Machado, Maurice Broaddus, Karen Lord, Andy Duncan, Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer, and Shelley Streeby (Faculty Director).
Applications for the 2019 Workshop reopens December 1.
The Workshop runs June 23, 2019 – August 3, 2019.
(7) OVER THE MOON. Astronomers at Columbia University think they have evidence of the first moon orbiting an exoplanet (The Verge: “Astronomers may have discovered the first moon ever found outside our Solar System”).
A pair of astronomers believes they’ve found a moon orbiting a planet outside our Solar System — something that has never before been confirmed to exist. Though they aren’t totally certain of their discovery yet, the find opens up the possibility that more distant moons are out there. And that could change our understanding of how the Universe is structured.
The astronomy team from Columbia University found this distant satellite, known as an exomoon, using two of NASA’s space telescopes. They first spotted a signal from the object in data collected by the planet-hunting telescope Kepler, and then they followed up with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is in orbit around Earth. Thanks to the observations from these two spacecraft, the team suspect this moon orbits around a Jupiter-sized planet located about 4,000 light-years from Earth. And this planet, dubbed Kepler-1625b, orbits around a star similar to our Sun.
(8) SLOWING DOWN. Mary Robinette Kowal discusses her health and a reduction in her schedule: “On why I’m cancelling some events…”
…I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been home. I was in the middle of twenty days of travel and hand been home for a single day before that, with only three days at home at the end. I was leading a workshop of 150 students.
He stopped me and said, “You have to slow down.”
So, I am. We’re canceling some events and nothing else goes on my calendar for next year. Because the show doesn’t actually have to go on.
And to reassure you, we caught the shingles early so it stayed pretty mild. I got the anti-virals. Yes, I’ll do the vaccine when this is cleared up to stave off a recurrence. If you see me, please don’t hug me. I’m in the super-sensitive skin phase right now, which means contact with my back feels somewhere between a sunburn and a cheesegrater….
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]
- Born October 3, 1889 – William Elliott Dold, Jr., Artist. In the early years of SF right through the 70s, he did cover art for such magazines as Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories and Cosmic Stories. Between 1923 and 1975, he also contributed hundreds of interior art pieces to magazines and books, ranging from Harold Hersey’s poetry collection Night to work for the weekly British comic magazine 2000 A.D. I don’t see that his art has been collected yet.
- Born October 3, 1927 – Donald R. Bensen, Writer and Editor. He is credited with a genre novel, And Having Writ…, which received an Honorable Mention for the Campbell Award, and created a couple of The Unknown anthologies for Pyramid Books, but his work as a consulting editor for Dell Books and The Dial Press from 1976 until 1981, where works by Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Gregory Benford, Joan Vinge and John Varley were published, is I think his true contribution to the genre. He also contributed editorially to Dell’s paperback science fiction and fantasy publications during those years.
- Born October 3, 1931 – Ray Nelson, 87, Writer, Cartoonist, and Member of First Fandom who did many cartoons and articles for fanzines but is perhaps most known for his 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” which was used by John Carpenter as the basis for the 1988 film They Live. He also co-authored The Ganymede Takeover with Philip K. Dick. Blake’s Progress, in which the poet William Blake is a time traveler, is claimed by Clute to be his best work. His novel The Prometheus Man received a Philip K. Dick Special Citation, and he was a finalist for the 1951 Retro Hugo for Best Fan Artist in 2001, and the winner of the Rotsler Award in 2003. He is credited with the invention of the infamous SF fan propeller beanie.
- Born October 3, 1944 – Katharine Kerr, 74, Writer best known for the 15 novels in her Deverry Cycle, and recipient of World Fantasy and BSFA Award nominations. Author of many series including Westlands, Dragon Mage and the Silver Wyrm. I’d be remiss not to note her Urban Fantasy series entitled Nola O’Grady which is a great deal of fun and which leads off with, I kid you not, License to Ensorcell. She’s done a number of essays, including one with the intriguing title of “The Hedgehog’s Lair”.
- Born October 3, 1950 – Pamela Hensley, 68, Actor who played Princess Ardala in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century movie and TV series, starred in the original Rollerball movie, and had guest roles in several episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man.
- Born October 3, 1964 – Clive Owen, Actor from England who starred in the Oscar- and Hugo-nominated Children of Men, the not-so-acclaimed Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Sin City, and the upcoming time travel movie Gemini Man.
- Born October 3, 1967 – Denis Villeneuve, 51, French-Canadian Writer and Director who turned Ted Chiang’s short “The Story of Your Life” into the Oscar- and Hugo-winning film Arrival, garnered more Oscar wins and a Hugo nomination with the sequel Blade Runner 2049, and is currently working on a remake of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
- Born October 3, 1973 – Lena Headey, 45, British Actor and Producer who is well-known to genre fans as Cersei Lannister in the Hugo-winning series Game of Thrones. She also played the titular character in the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, and had roles in The Brothers Grimm, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the 300 movies, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, and one of JJ’s favorite so-bad-it’s-good horror films about subterranean scuba diving, The Cave.
- Born October 3, 1975 – Jason Erik Lundberg, 43, Writer and Editor. He’s published several collections of his own short stories, edited several anthologies, and has edited Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction for the last 5 years. Writer of such critical essays as “The Old Switcheroo: A Study in Neil Gaiman’s Use of Character Reversal” and “Embedded Narrative in the Fiction of Kelly Link”; he also wrote the nonfiction work Embracing the Strange: The Transformative Impact of Speculative Fiction.
- Born October 3, 1978 – Shannyn Sossamon, 40, Actor in the TV series Sleepy Hollow, Wayward Pines, Moonlight, and genre films One Missed Call, Catacombs, and Ghost Light.
- Born October 3, 1983 – Tessa Thompson, 35, Actor, Singer, and Producer. She had an early guest role in 3 episodes of Heroes, and has played main roles in Thor: Ragnarok, Annihilation, and the TV series Westworld. She co-starred in Janelle Monáe’s 49-minute genre musical film Dirty Computer.
- Born October 3, 1986 – Joonas Suotamo, 32, Actor from Finland who has played Chewbacca in the newest Star Wars trilogy and associated videogames.
- Born October 3, 1988 – Alicia Vikander, 30, Swedish Actor and Producer who starred in Ex Machina, Seventh Son, and the newly-rebooted The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Tomb Raider films, as well as providing a character voice for Moomins and the Winter Wonderland.
(10) COMICS SECTION.
- Yoda’s SJW credential makes a confession: Half Full.
(11) EXOMOON. Yahoo! News reports “In a surprise, first alien moon discovered is big and gaseous”. (Wait a minute, didn’t I already report this item?)
Astronomers have pinpointed what appears to be the first moon detected outside our solar system, a large gaseous world the size of Neptune that is unlike any other known moon and orbits a gas planet much more massive than Jupiter.
The discovery, detailed by researchers on Wednesday, was a surprise, and not because it showed that moons exist elsewhere – they felt it was only a matter of time for one to be found in another star system. They were amazed instead by how different this moon was from the roughly 180 known in our solar system.
“It’s big and weird by solar system standards,” Columbia University astronomy professor David Kipping said of the moon, known as an exomoon because it is outside our solar system.
(12) ARPANET. Slate dubs it “The Very First Social Network”. And I think it’s entirely likely someone reading this blog is acquainted with whoever started this….
That is, until 1979.
That fall, [Vint] Cerf logged on to his workstation to find an unopened message from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. It had been sent over the network using the recently developed “electronic mail” system. Because more than one person was using each computer on the network, the scientists had conceived of “e-mail” (now commonly styled email) so they could share information directly from one person to another, rather than just between computers. As with regular mail, they realized they needed a system of addresses to send and receive the messages. Thus the @ symbol was born: It served to separate the mailbox identifier from the serving host, and the single character saved typing time and scarce computer memory, an early version of what one might think of as a “hack.”
But the message sent to Cerf’s email wasn’t a technical request. And it hadn’t been sent just to him. Instead, an email with the subject line “SF-LOVERS” had been sent to Cerf and his colleagues scattered across the United States. The message asked all of them to respond with a list of their favorite science fiction authors. Because the message had gone out to the entire network, everybody’s answers could then be seen and responded to by everybody else. Users could also choose to send their replies to just one person or a subgroup, generating scores of smaller discussions that eventually fed back into the whole.
About 40 years later, Cerf still recalls this as the moment he realized that the internet would be something more than every other communications technology before it. “It was clear we had a social medium on our hands,” he said.
(13) IN ACTION. “Nobel Prize In Chemistry Honors Work That Demonstrates ‘The Power Of Evolution'” – “If I read the tables in Wikipedia correctly,” says Chip Hitchcock, “this is the first year that women have gotten even a piece of two of the three tech Nobels.”
American Frances H. Arnold has won half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work in changing how chemists produce new enzymes, sharing the prize with another American, George Smith, and Sir Gregory Winter of the U.K. for research that has led to new pharmaceuticals and cancer treatments.
“This year’s prize is about harnessing the power of evolution,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in announcing the winners. This year’s laureates have “re-created the process in their test tubes … and make evolution many times faster.”
Arnold is only the fifth woman to win the prize in its 117-year history. She conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Enzymes produced through “directed evolution” in laboratory settings are used to manufacture everything from renewable fuels to pharmaceuticals.
(14) ACROBOTIC. “Hayabusa 2: German-led lander drops to asteroid’s surface” — this one flips instead of bouncing like the Japanese-built rovers.
Japan’s space agency (Jaxa) has put another lander on the surface of asteroid 162173, or Ryugu.
The Hayabusa-2 probe ejected the German-French Mascot “rover” on Wednesday for its 20-minute journey down to the space rock.
Contact was confirmed in the early hours, Central European Summer Time.
Mascot is designed to move across the surface of Ryugu and analyse its surface properties, including its mineral composition and magnetic field.
… Mascot has a swing arm inside to generate a torque that will throw the lander to a new location.
(15) TAGGERS REJOICE. Another thing sff failed to predict — “Disney ‘graffiti drone’ tags walls”.
Disney is known for its clean and tidy theme parks so it may come as a surprise to see it has developed a graffiti-spraying drone.
Its research and development division has been working on a drone equipped with a spray-paint gun that can tag walls and even paint 3D objects.
The researchers hope the idea will result in drones that can paint walls quickly and accurately.
(16) CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN BLACK MIRROR. “Netflix Is Planning a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure ‘Black Mirror’”. Bloomberg has the story.
Netflix Inc. is about to let you decide how your favorite show will end.
The streaming service is developing a slate of specials that will let viewers choose the next storyline in a TV episode or movie, according to people familiar with the matter. The company expects to release the first of these projects before the end of this year, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are still private.
Viewers will get to choose their own storylines in one episode of the upcoming season of “Black Mirror,” the Emmy-winning science-fiction anthology series. The show is famous for exploring the social implications of technology, including an episode where humans jockey to receive higher ratings from their peers. The fifth season of the show is expected to be released in December.
(17) PLANET NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] A newly discovered minor planet—nicknamed the Goblin—is one of only three known minor planets in certain extremely distant, highly elliptical orbits… and in some ways it’s the most extreme of the bunch (Smithsonian: “New Discovery Stirs Up Signs of the Elusive Planet 9”).
The new object, officially called 2015 TG387, orbits with a special class of celestial bodies known as Inner Oort Cloud objects, or extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs). The body of rock and ice, nicknamed “the Goblin” by the discovery team, is currently about 80 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, or about twice as far as Pluto’s average distance. However, the Goblin travels on a highly elongated orbit that takes it to the extreme outermost reaches of our solar system, looping out as far as 2,300 AU during its 40,000-year journey around the sun.
Like the other two objects in the class (Sedna and 2012 VP113), it does not come close enough to the outer planets to really be influenced by Jupiter and its lesser kin. But, if the mooted Planet 9 (aka Planet X) exists and is as massive as some astronomers believe, it could be an influence.
When considered together, these three objects start to produce a tantalizing picture of their distant realm. They are decoupled from the rest of the solar system, immune to its influence, and yet they all appear in the same part of the sky.
Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, who was on the team that discovered the Goblin, believes in Planet 9. Mostly. Others are more convinced.
How likely the existence of an undiscovered massive planet is, slowly circling the sun every tens of thousands of years at extreme distances, depends on who you ask. For his part, Sheppard, who has discovered dozens of minor planets, comets and moons, would place the odds of Planet 9 existing at about 80 or 85 percent—and he’s not even the most optimistic.
“My confidence is about 99.84 percent,” says Konstantin Batygin, a planetary astrophysicist and assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology. Batygin creates theoretical models of the outer solar system to search for hints of Planet 9, crunching the numbers on numerous minor planets that cluster into various groups and the influences of dozens of orbital factors. His 2016 paper with Caltech colleague Michael Brown laid out perhaps the strongest case for Planet 9 yet, concluding that there was only a fraction of one percent probability that the groupings of these objects occurred randomly.
Not everyone is convinced, of course, even those on the Goblin team/
“[…] There are conflicting lines of evidence,” says David Tholen, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii who was part of the team that discovered the Goblin. He points to the Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn for more than 13 years, measuring the dynamics and forces of the outer solar system. “That serves as a very sensitive detector of other things out there, and the analysis of that data suggests that we don’t see any evidence for [Planet 9].”
Are there more objects like Goblin (and Sedna and 2012 VP113) out there? Well, if they aren’t near their closest approach to the Sun we probably couldn’t find them.
The only reason we have been able to find smaller distant objects like the Goblin is because they are near their closest approach, visible for just an instant of stellar time before they sling back out into the shadows.
“Ninety-nine percent of their orbit, we would not find them,” Sheppard says. “So, we just find the tip of the iceberg.”
And, if Planet 9 exists it may well be too far out and too dim for us to see.
If the minor planets are in a gravitational dance with Planet 9, however, it could mean that the big planet is far, far away—near the aphelion of its orbit roughly 1,000 AU from the sun. We have only a rough idea of Planet 9’s size—between two and four times that of Earth, if it exists—and no way to determine its how much light it reflects, which makes it incredibly difficult to search for.
(18) GIRL IN A LAKE DISTRIBUTING SWORDS. Courtesy of Hampus Eckerman, translated from the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan, October 2. Headline: “Eight-year-old took a bath – found iron age sword.”
An eight-year-old girl made an unexpected find when she bathed this summer. A bit out into the water, she trampled on what proved to be an unusually well-preserved iron age sword.
“I thought, ok, so a sword, it could be anything, but then I got the pictures and then I got goose bumps,” says Archeologist Annie Rosén to TT [Newspapers Telegram Service].
The girl’s family contacted Annie Rosén at Jönköping County Museum. She found that the sword was surprisingly well-preserved with, among other things, a sheath in wood and leather. That so much organic material is preserved is very rare.
– It’s 1,000 years, maybe up to 1,500 years old. At the same place we found a dress ornament dating back to the 300’s or 400’s, says Annie Rosén.
The girl, aptly named Saga, found the sword at a half-meter depth at the bathing area in Lake Vidöstern, south of Värnamo, which SVT News Jönköping was the first to report.
…The sword is still at the conservator and they have as yet not been able to make a proper age determination. How it got into the lake is unknown to the archaeologists. It could be graves that eroded into the lake, sacrifices in water or that someone simply lost it. There are no known settlements nearby, but archaeologists are now looking for more objects in the lake.
“It would be cool to find something more that’s from the 4th century,” says Annie Rosén.”
(19) USE THE DELOREAN LUKE. Movieweb spots an “Amazing Empire Strikes Back to the Future Mashup Shared by Mark Hamill”.
The worlds of Star Wars and Back to the Future collide in a new mashup photo that Mark Hamill posted on social media, which he calls The Empire Strikes Back to the Future. Hamill uses social media often to engage with fans, and he’s pretty good at it. The Luke Skywalker actor often takes time out of his day to share things that he deems important or humorous, and even answers the burning questions of hardcore Star Wars fans pretty often.
[Thanks to JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael J. Walsh, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, Susan de Guardiola, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]