Snapshots 101 Ventura Highway

Here are 10 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Is it steampunk? Restoration Hardware now features (expensive!) furniture that looks like it was made from old steamer trunks.

(2) The work is deadly but never dull. A doctor has made a career of researching human diseases by dissecting mummies:

As a pathologist, Michael Zimmerman was familiar with dead bodies, but when he was asked to autopsy a mummy for the first time, he wasn’t sure what to expect. There were a dozen layers of wrapping, which he peeled off one at a time, “like Chinese boxes,” he said. When he finished, he found the body was dark brown and hard. “It smelled like old books.”

And Ray Bradbury would have been pleased to learn Dr. Zimmerman is a believer in the Nefertiti-Tut railway myth

It’s not hard to find mummies, he said. When modern Egyptians built railroads, so many mummies turned up during the digging that workers burned them for warmth.

— despite Mark Twain casting doubt on the story after he repeated it inThe Innocents Abroad.

(3) Who had the One Ring when? This infographic from the LotrProject Blog tracks all the ringbearers. And answers a tricky question as a bonus.

(4) I hit the replay button again and again! Nic Farey’s “Werewolves of Fandom” –

You hear him howling about your colophon
Or that your page count is too thin
He could spindle, fold or mutilate you anytime
Werewolves of Fandom again

Ah-ooooo, Werewolves of Fandom….

Starring your favorite Vegas werewolves.

(5) This may be news to U.S. readers. Next week the Canadian penny starts its long march to extinction:

On February 4, the Canadian Mint will stop circulating pennies to financial institutions and will also be encouraging them to send back any pennies that they have on hand.

The decision to phase out the penny was due to its excessive and rising cost of production relative to face value, the increased accumulation of pennies by Canadians in their households, environmental considerations, and the significant handling costs the penny imposes on retailers, financial institutions and the economy in general.

The estimated savings for taxpayers from phasing out the penny is $11 million a year.

…It is important to note that the issue of rounding will only apply to cash transactions (not debit or credit) and that there is no legal requirement to round, as the penny is still legal tender.

(6) At AbeBooks, Richard Davies offers a list of the 50 essential science fiction books.

Here are the criteria I used. One book per author, so that was hard on the big three of science fiction – Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, who each have multiple classic titles to their name. Attempt to show as many subgenres of science fiction and plot themes as possible. Include early stories that influenced the genre as a whole and launched popular themes, even if those books appear a bit dated today.

He skips alternate reality novels as not having much science in them. That’s fine, his list after all. But it’s much harder to explain how someone who’s focusing on hard and soft science stories fails to include anything by Poul Anderson. The comments section is overrun with similar complaints. I assume this bothers Davies not at all because while we’re at the AbeBooks site throwing our brickbats he’s showcasing their merchandise.

(7) Once upon a time Ray Bradbury and Gene Roddenberry did a talk at the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention.

(8) Hobnob with your fellow convention runners at Con Com 20, slated for the Seattle area on June 7-9. The event is run the Seattle WesterCon Organizing Committee (SWOC). Its program will be posted in the spring.

(9) SDSU alumnus Edward Marsh, who lives in Escondido and made his fortune in real estate, has donated a collection of science fiction books, letters and manuscripts valued at $2 million to the university. According to KPBS, “He got into science fiction working for the Church of Scientology, whose founder, L. Ron Hubbard, wrote pulp fiction in the 1930s and 1940s. SDSU hopes, one day, to become custodian of Marsh’s entire book collection, valued at over $10 million.”

(10) A movie is being made about the genesis of the Doctor Who tv series. Entertainment Weekly reports:

Hogwarts will meet Who in the forthcoming TV movie An Adventure in Space and Time, which details the creation of the 50-year-old British science-fiction show Doctor Who. It has been announced that Harry Potter actor David Bradley, who played Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch in the beloved film series, will portray “First Doctor” William Hartnell in the TV movie.

Meanwhile, Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity) is set to portray BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman and Jessica Raine has been cast as Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert. BBC America — which is co-producing the film with BBC Cymru Wales — will premiere the movie in the U.S. later this year.

[Thanks for these links goes out to John Mansfield, James Hay, Isaac Alexander, David Klaus, Nancy Hay, Andrew Porter, Michael J. Walsh and John King Tarpinian.]

Taral’s Martian Ice

By Taral Wayne: Here’s something odd for you. While downloading photos from NASA’s Curiosity site (some 200 from Sol 137), my eye was caught by a strange white patch deep in the shadow of one overhang. I’ve seen some other whitish rock or glaze in other photos, but this looked completely different. It looked, in fact, like snow or ice. There’s even a dark area beneath it as though it was slowly melting. I suppose it could be ice — why not? So far we’ve discovered ice in a number of places. This particular overhang might just be cool enough to sustain a patch, at least temporarily.

I immediatey emailed the website and identified the photo. One other also shows the patch, though it’s much harder to see it — so it doesn’t appear to be a glitch in the first photo. No word from NASA, naturally…

Do you think it possible nobody had spotted it? If they have, they’ve been rather close mouthed … or could they deem it something of no interest, I wonder?

I’ve dubbed it “Saara’s Icebox,” somewhat whimsically. I’d love it to stick, but I don’t imagine there’s much chance of it.

Although, oddly some names I suggested to NASA by e-mail for highlands on Titan have appeared on one NASA map. Nobody mentioned adopting my suggestion … so it might be a coincidence.

Brittanum, Gaul and Hispania

Great Britain

Great Britain and Gaul

Postscript: Another photo of the overhanging rock formation has turned up in Sol 170’s photo cache. The white stuff, whatever it was, doesn’t seem visible. The view is distant, though, so it’s hard to see if there might be just a little left. Perhaps significantly, the dark stain that had been below the white stuff is also gone or going. Seems that it’s too late to investigate anything now. Good one, NASA!

Going, going… gone! (Sol 170)

H.R. Van Dongen Death Noted

Van Dongen cover from 1950.

Artist Henry “Rich” Van Dongen, known to sf readers as H.R. Van Dongen, died February 27, 2010 at the age of 89. His passing was not reported within the genre until today when Jane Frank of Worlds of Wonder relayed the discovery.

Van Dongen was one of John W. Campbell’s favorite artists – he painted 46 covers for Astounding/Analog between 1950 and 1985. After working as a commercial illustrator in other fields he returned in 1975 to produce numerous book covers for Ballantine-Del Rey and DAW. 

An online memorial article adds that he was a veteran who served as a B-24 armorer-gunner with the 8th Air Force during World War II. He was shot down and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.

His first cover painting in the sf genre was for the September 1949 issue of Super Science Stories. Outside of sf he worked as a freelance illustrator for Christian publications.

[Thanks to Mark Olson for the story.]

James Bacon: Gaiman, Edwards Animated Short Film

By James Bacon: The short film, Down Among the Dead Men, is definitely worth watching. Narrated by Neil Gaiman, it has a lovely mix of animation and artwork by Les Edwards. (I have to admit a favourite artist of mine, he did the superb wrap around cover for the Intersection 1995 Worldcon programme, and I have loved his work since.)

Zombie Apocalypse! Fightback is an anthology, a selection of reportage, insights and accounts, that all take a variety of looks at the one incident, “The Death,” a zombie plague that starts in London.

It is the second in the Zombie Apocalypse series, the first released in 2010. The selection of authors was bloody good, but it was the way that then each one was presented in a particular style, relative to that viewpoint, that added to the whole setting, giving the reader a strange and insightful sense of placement, a voyeuristic feeling of proximity to such a disaster. Some of these stories were handwritten, others appeared as reports, emails, or press releases, but each author had their own “look” to their angle on “The Death.”

The second anthology has some seriously good authors, including favourites of mine, such as Michael Marshall Smith,, Paul McAuley, Sarah Pinborough, and the story by Neil Gaiman and Les Edwards that this animated short is based on, which is now available to view on You Tube.

What SF Does

Shock! Horror! The Guardian’s Jenny Rohn has discovered science fiction writers not only failed to predict everything that has happened in the past 50 years – some of what they did predict was wrong!

An even more glaring bubble-pop happened when I was watching Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) the other day. I could forgive Rick Deckard slouching against a wall reading his (paper) newspaper – it somehow worked in the retro ghettoized futurescape of LA’s Chinatown. But the smoking! Indoors! In your place of employment!

Nor does Robert Heinlein escape unscathed.

But then you read “Star Trek style ‘tractor beam’ created by scientists” on BBC News and the Guardian’s myopic vision regains its original sharpness as you’re reminded – science fiction imagines the future rather than predicts it. Sometimes what is imagined comes to pass.

Or in the case of Star Trek technology like the tricorder and the tractor beam, science fictional imaginings motivate scientists and engineers to try and make them come to pass.

In 2011, researchers from China and Hong Kong showed how it might be done with laser beams of a specific shape – and the US space agency Nasa has even funded a study to examine how the technique might help with manipulating samples in space.

The new study’s lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar, research fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, said while the technique is very new, it had huge potential.

He said: “The practical applications could be very great, very exciting. The tractor beam is very selective in the properties of the particles it acts on, so you could pick up specific particles in a mixture.”

“Eventually this could be used to separate white blood cells, for example.”

Cizmar warns that the technology involves a transfer of energy that works on a microscopic scale “but on a macro scale it would cause huge problems.” So this is not, in fact, a “Star Trek style ‘tractor beam’” – although I won’t predict there isn’t one in our future…

[Thanks to Janice Gelb, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Award Winners Named at 2013 ALA Meeting

The American Library Association (ALA) announced the top books, video and audiobooks for children and young adults – including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King , Newbery and Printz awards – on January 28 at its Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.

Genre figures among the honorees include Tamora Pierce and Terry Pratchett:

Tamora Pierce is the winner of the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

Pierce was born in rural Western Pennsylvania in 1954. She knew from a young age she liked stories and writing, and in 1983, she published her first book, Song of the Lioness. She continues to write and even record her own audiobooks. She currently lives with her husband (spouse-creature) and a myriad of animals in Syracuse, New York.

Terry Pratchett’s work Dodger was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, a runner-up to the award winner:

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: “In Darkness,” written by Nick Lake, is the 2013 Printz Award winner. The book is published by Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers.

Four Printz Honor Books also were named: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Saenz, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division; “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein, published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group; “Dodger” by Terry Pratchett, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers; “The White Bicycle” by Beverley Brenna, published by Red Deer Press.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]

2013 Hugo Nominator Eligibility Deadline

2013 Hugo Nominator Eligibility Deadline

The nomination period for the 2013 Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award is now open and will continue until March 10, 2013.

Nomination is open to anyone who is an Adult, Young Adult, or Supporting member of LoneStarCon 3 or Loncon 3 (the 2014 Worldcon) as of January 31, 2013, as well as all Adult, Young Adult, and Supporting members of Chicon 7 (the 2012 Worldcon).

The Loncon 3 committee has issued a press release reminding prospective members that one of the advantages of joining by January 31 is having the right to nominate in the 2013 Hugos.

The full press release follows the jump.

Continue reading

Argo Picks Up Momentum

Oscar handicappers are calling Argo the best bet to win the Academy Award since it captured Best Picture at the SAG Awards:

As the last cup is drained at the SAGs, and a big awards weekend comes to a close, "Argo" emerges as a stronger frontrunner than even Affleck imagined, given his stunned walk up to the stage with his joyous ensemble.

That makes three times now Argo has beaten the field — at the Golden Globes, and the Producers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Which also means it’s time for haters to get busy, right? Like Slate’s Kevin B. Lee who says the emperor has no clothes:

Now that Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage drama Argo has garnered seven Oscar nominations to add to its mantle, upon which already sit $110 million in domestic box office, near unanimous acclaim from critics, and even a whisper campaign for Affleck to run for John Kerry’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat, it needs to be said: Argo is a fraud.

Lee tells in detail why Argo is offensive to Iranians, historians and, undoubtedly, Iranian historians. Then Lee goes straight for the film’s Hollywood jugular —

Argo is ostensibly about how a fake movie saves lives, and thus about the redemptive power of movies at large. But since it’s about a fake movie, it’s not really about moviemaking—it’s about the power of Hollywood bullshit. Instead of a real filmmaker, we get Alan Arkin’s wise-guy hack producer dispensing chestnuts over how to create hype and attention to make it seem like a film is important— lessons Argo’s promoters no doubt took to heart.

I don’t share many of Lee’s objections to the movie that are principally complaints about what American popular culture is willing to accept. They are not problems with Argo taken on its own merits.

But I do wonder why my personal favorite, Lincoln, is losing to Argo, which I truly enjoyed though don’t feel it is in the same league as Spielberg’s project. Lee’s comments about Hollywood reinforce my suspicions that the movie industry is really congratulating itself with these Best Picture awards.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

Teed Off

Wynand Mullins told a New Zealand travel magazine that he was asked to take off his T-shirt because other airline passengers found it intimidating.

His t-shirt read: “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Can you imagine anyone not getting that reference to The Princess Bride? Instead of asking Mullins to take off his shirt they should have made the person who complained put on a shirt that says, “I am Feckless Twit. Prepare to fly.”

Of course, sf fans have been tweaking that reference to humorous effect since the day the movie came out.

ConDiego, the 1990 NASFiC, became a byword for haphazard convention-running after fans were handed a typo-riddled Program Book which misspelled the hotel’s name, the guests of honors’ names and even the con’s own name – that in headline type, as ConDigeo. Most fans responded with a crotchety sense of humor. Someone coined a Princess Bride wordplay: “My name is ConDigeo Montoya. You killed my weekend. Prepare to die!”

As for Inigo Montoya/Mandy Patinkin who said the original line – he eventually left the Dread Pirate Roberts business to work for the CIA (i.e., Homeland).

[Thanks to David Klaus and Steven H Silver for the story.]

2013 WSFA Small Press Award
Looking for Nominees

SF authors, small press publishers and WSFA members may now nominate stories for the Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award for short fiction, now in its seventh year.

The award honors the accomplishments of small presses in promoting and preserving sf. Eligible nominees are works of short fiction up to 17,500 words long in the sf, horror and fantasy genres, published by a small press.

The winner will be chosen by the members of the Washington Science Fiction Association. Blind voting is done using texts with the identity of the author and publisher stripped.

According to The Rules: “Small press publishers and periodicals may nominate up to three (3) stories, published by themselves or others. A writer may nominate one (1) story, published by herself/himself or others. A WSFA member may nominate one (1) story.” Then five members of WSFA screen the submissions and produce the list of finalists.

The award will be presented at Capclave 13 over the October 11-13 weekend.