Price Is Trib “Pen Pal”

Long-time sf fan George W. Price was recently featured as one of the Chicago Tribune’s ”Pen Pals”, a series of profiles about people who frequently write letters-to-the-editor.

Unique trait: Price is obsessed with limericks and puns. “The more atrocious, the better,” he says. He is also a huge fan of science fiction, and has attended the WindyCon Science Fiction Convention and Cleveland’s World Science Fiction Convention, and was a member of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.

George W. Price

George W. Price

For decades George’s parties were an important gathering point for Chicago fans. As a young fan, when I quizzed somebody about Chicago’s counterpart to the science fiction clubs in other big cities like LASFS, Lunarians and WSFA, he said George’s parties were it.

Since 1951 George has been a partner in Advent:Publishers, producer of legendary critical and historical books the sf field.  He recounted his role as an editor and publisher in this 2005 article for Earl Kemp’s zine eI.

Bill Higgins found online a rather science-fictional letter George wrote in 1993 to another publication, the Chicago Reader, proposing that to pay for highway use each car carry an electronic gadget

At each expressway entrance and exit a detector interrogates the plate as it goes by and relays its number to a central computer. Mileage is calculated and charged to the owner on a monthly bill, just like long-distance phone calls. (“ABC-123 enters Dan Ryan at 35th southbound; exits at 95th; total distance 7.5 miles; at 20/mile, charge $1.50.”)

Higgins says, “A decade later, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority was fielding a system much like this.”

[Thanks to Bill Higgins for the story.]

Snapshots 122 Hadrian’s Wall Started

Here are 10 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Baltimore bookstores are adding booze and food says Publishers Weekly. Mencken would have approved.

For Benn Ray, co-owner with Rachel Whang of 21 year-old Atomic Books, adding beer just made sense. When the space next door occupied by doubledutch boutique opened up in May, they nabbed it and more than doubled in size from 700 to 1,500 sq. ft. “Sales are very good. In the past year or two, things have been gradually improving,” says Ray… The biggest difference is that it no longer offers beer at events that was purchased and “sold” by donation. “That was a money-losing proposition,” says Ray, who has been surprised by what he describes as the “unbelievable margins” on alcohol bought wholesale. “Staffing is the trickiest part,” says Ray, who had to get an alcohol-awareness license. “All of our booksellers are bartenders.”

Gone are the days when people got bombed on books – now they have to get bombed to buy books.

(2) It’s remarkable how much trouble the IRS got into for spending $60,000 on a fake Star Trek video. Now we learn the Army spent who knows how much to create a real intelligence center modeled after the bridge of the Enterprise

According to a recent profile, the current head of the NSA ran the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command from a room designed to look [like] the bridge from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Keith Alexander has come under photon torpedo fire for operating out of room resembling a movie set built by taxpayer dollars.

(3) Joy V. Smith is collecting cool images about exploring outer space on her new Pinterest board.

(4) Keith Stokes has posted over 400 superb photographs from WorldCon at the Midamericon photo archive.

(5) MIT researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the works of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can not only can help us come up with ideas for new gadgets, but anticipate their consquences, a notion that will not be in the least surprising to fans:

Science fiction, in the written form, is an even earlier and easier form of prototyping these ideas and a more forgiving sandbox or petri dish than even the hot glue and duct tape prototypes created in excited all-nighters here at the Lab.

Novy mentions a work by Neal Stephenson while surprisingly giving no indication of knowing about Stephenson’s work with Hieroglyph, where they use sf as the source of compelling innovations, presented in a way that a scientist or engineer can organize their work around.

(6) Want your good Martian news or your bad Martian news first?

The good news is that there is plenty of water:

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found that surface soil on the Red Planet contains 2 percent water by weight. That means astronaut pioneers could extract roughly 2 pints (1 liter) of water out of every cubic foot (0.03 cubic meters) of Martian dirt they dig up, scientists said.

The bad news is that the soil also contains perchlorate, which is bad for people.

Perchlorate is known to exist in Martian dirt; NASA’s Phoenix lander spotted it near the planet’s north pole in 2008. Curiosity has now found evidence of it near the equator, suggesting that the chemical is common across the planet. (Indeed, observations by a variety of robotic Mars explorers indicate that Red Planet dirt is likely similar from place to place, distributed in a global layer across the surface, Leshin said.)

The presence of perchlorate is a challenge that architects of future manned Mars missions will have to overcome, Leshin said.

(7) Meanwhile, back on Earth, a 7.7 earthquake thrust up a new island off the coast of Pakistan.

Several of these islands have appeared off the 700-kilometer-long Makran coast in the past century noted Eric Fielding, a tectonics scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He explained that the Makran coast is where the Arabian tectonic plate is pushed northward and downward to go underneath the Eurasian continental plate. The thick layer of mud and rock on the Arabian Plate is scraped off and has formed the land in southwestern Pakistan, southeastern Iran, and the shallow underwater area offshore.

“Atlantis in reverse,” suggests David Klaus.

(8) When the San Francisco Opera performed Tobias Picker’s new opera based on Stephen King’s “Dolores Claiborne” it  was a disappointing draw

Picker’s “Dolores Claiborne” is, however, not very King-like. The 1992 novel is one of the novelist’s rare forays into realistic fiction, but King himself has had nothing to do with the opera and has demonstrated little interest in it. He approved Picker’s theatrical approach and signed over the rights for $1, but he did not attend the premiere last week.

Nor has King been magic at the box office. The performance Wednesday was the third of six, and the War Memorial Opera House was not full, despite the ready approachability of the work.

Poet J.D. McClatchy’s libretto gives workable theatrical shape to a novel written as a single 300-page monologue. Picker’s score, the best of his five operas, is imaginatively moody. James Robinson’s production, with effective projections as backdrops, never confuses the issue. The singers are outstanding.

(9) E. E. King survived meeting Harlan Ellison at the Bradbury library dedication (“How do you know my alley Bitch?” he answered her greeting) which means she remains on schedule to do a reading at the launch party for her new collection of short fiction Another Happy Ending, at Mystery and Imagination Bookstore — Bradbury’s favorite – on October 20 at 2:00 p.m. She’ll also perform bits of her first novel Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife, all you need to know to choose the right heaven. The address is — 238 N. Brand Blvd. Glendale, CA 91203.

(10) From Grantland’s profile about the game Myst on its 20th anniversary on its 20th anniversary:

“I don’t think Robyn and I were trying to make some kind of statement. We certainly didn’t have an agenda, but we were trying to say, ‘Well, man, it’s just frivolous if there’s not a little something here.'” The theme of power and power corrupting did come in part from growing up with a community leader for a father, Rand said, but mostly because of the good example he set in that position. “We loved the idea of being subcreators” — the phrase J.R.R. Tolkien coined to describe an act of creation by a being that is itself a creation — “and the idea that we are subcreators, and that it’s a really powerful thing,” Rand said. “And it’s good to stay a little bit humble with a powerful thing.”

[Thanks for these stories goes out to John King Tarpinian, David Klaus, Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol and Joy V. Smith.]

The Viral Professor

I’ve never met a Nigerian spammer. I don’t know who wrote the first pop-up ad. But apparently I know the inventor of the computer virus well. It’s Gregory Benford.

This has never been a secret but in the File 770 tradition of it’s-news-to-me I only learned about it after Jo Walton extolled John Brunner’s predictive powers in “The Net Before the Net: John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider — such as his mention of a kind of computer virus.

What people remember about The Shockwave Rider is that it predicts ubiquitous computing—in 1975—and some of the problems that come with it. It’s pre-cyberpunk, and it’s cyber without the punk. Reading it now, it’s impressive what it got right and what it got wrong. … There are “worms” that are like viruses only more so, before there were real viruses.

Not so, Gregory Benford corrected in a comment, saying Brunner heard about the concept from him when they visited in 1969. Benford told Brunner about some experiences using the ARPANet, like how bad code might be accidentally shared, and his realization that it also could be done on purpose.

[While a postdoctoral fellow at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California] I programmed computers often…  There was a pernicious problem when programs got sent around for use: “bad code” that arose when researchers included (maybe accidentally) pieces of programming that threw things awry.

One day I was struck by the thought that one might do so intentionally, making a program that deliberately made copies of itself elsewhere. The biological analogy was obvious; evolution would favor such code, especially if it was designed to use clever methods of hiding itself and using others’ energy (computing time) to further its own genetic ends.

So I wrote some simple code and sent it along in my next transmission. Just a few lines in Fortran told the computer to attach these lines to programs being transmitted to a certain terminal. Soon enough – just a few hours – the code popped up in other programs, and started propagating. By the next day it was in a lot of otherwise unrelated code, and I called a halt to matters by sending a message alerting people to the offending lines.

Benford developed the idea in his own 1970 short story, “The Scarred Man” (a free read online.)

Do all viruses trace back to Benford’s idea? Who knows? As Victor Hugo said, “There is no army so powerful as an idea whose time has come,” (the translation quoted in an old episode of Mr. Novak.) When the New York Times tried to figure out who invented e-mail the answer was that several people had done it independently after recognizing the capability was inherent in the computer systems they used. But since Benford regularly contributes to this blog, count on me to uphold against all rivals his claim to being the inventor of the computer virus!

Classic Ellison Game Returns

Ellison 250px-ScreamcoverThe 1995 video game based on the Harlan Ellison short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is back in circulation, rereleased by GOG.

When it originally appeared the game won many awards including “Best Dark Game of 1996” from Digital Hollywood and “Best Game Adapted from Linear Media” from the Computer Game Developers Conference. Computer Gaming World was effusive, naming it “Adventure Game of the Year” and listing it as one of the “150 Games of All Time,” “Best 15 Sleepers of All Time” and “Best 15 Endings of All Time.”

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream languished because Ellison sued original developer Cyberdreams when he believed he wasn’t getting his share of the profits. Now it has been brought back to life by Night Dive Studios under license from the author. Night Dive specializes in reviving classic, abandoned and forgotten PC games.

Escapist Magazine describes game play in these terms —

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has been destroyed, an all powerful artificial intelligence named AM holds five people prisoner, granting them immortality so it can torture them over and over again until the end of time. The game itself takes place across five chapters, one for each character, where the player guides them through scenarios created by AM. By overcoming their personal psychosis they’re able to take steps closer toward finally defeating their tormentor. The player’s primary role is to solve puzzles and make decisions that can affect how the final confrontation with AM plays out.

Ellison performs the voice of the omnipotent computer AM. A fully-detailed account of play is in the Wikipedia.

Predictably, the new release has been stalked by digital pirates. Ellison responded to one report with a warning shot over the bow of the internet —

I, as President of The Kilimanjaro Corporation, and as “Author” employee of TKC, own all rights in the videogame I HAVE NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM. And only recently have TKC and myself, Harlan Ellison, licensed a reissue and update of the product to Stephen Kick of Night Dive Studios. My proprietorship is alive and roundhouse kicking. So if any of the gamesters you (gawd bless’ya, baby) ratted out think they can play fast’n’loose with the artifact of my Creativity, advise them that even though the original manufacturers, Cyberdreams, booked and ran off with the profits, I sued them, won, own all the remainder stock, and the copyright is in my and TKC’s name, all rights reserved. Even a perfunctory, due-diligence, only-thieves-&-morons-won’t-do-it search of public and/or Library of Congress records will attest to the foregoing. So pirates, no matter how young, how naive, how lamebrained, how arrogant, who pilfer from me, will be doing so knowing aforehand that I take no prisoners and I will pursue their effrontery to the grave. Not mine…theirs.

Here is GOG’s promotional trailer.

Don’t Forget To Drop Dead

You remember that scene in Independence Day when the President asks “What do you want from us?” and the alien with a tentacle wrapped around the scientist’s throat, to animate his voice, answers, “To die!”

Because when Madeline Ashby rolled out her favorite line – “It’s okay, because someday they’ll all be dead” – leading into a post about the Worldcon, that’s the image that popped into my head.

You know who “they” are.

So does Chris Garcia. In a guest post for SF Signal he says —

There are the people who believe that the explosion in blogs and their popularity means that they should be the focus of the fan awards (the “You fossils are standing in the way of progress!” crowd) and those that want to see fanzines as a focus in fandom (the “You Punks have no respect for 70 years of tradition!” crowd). Of course, both are 100% correct in their opinions, which means we basically have to live with what we’ve got and wait for one side to die out (and I think we are aware which it will be) and then we’ll see the change be permanent.

In the first place, if Twitter hasn’t already kicked blogging in the head, something will soon, then, as an employee of a computer museum, Chris will be perfectly positioned to show people how it used to be when bloggers ruled the earth.

More importantly, as the Earth’s present population of 35-year-olds ages, do we really expect them, unlike every preceding generation, to defer to the cultural tastes of teenagers and happily discard the familiar shape of their lives to suit the demands of the young?

Well, Chris probably will. In the unlikely event there’s a 2075 Worldcon I expect him to be teaching all the teenagers the latest dance. All the rest of today’s younger fans will grow into crotchety antiques. That’s human nature. It’s reassuring to know by then Madeline Ashby will be yelling at kids to get off the grass — because by 2075 I’ll be under it.

I think this unfortunate bitterness between the ages  has arisen because the baby boomer generation was the first that never had to give up its toys. We kept buying rock-n-roll for decades. Or in the arena of fandom, we got interested in conrunning, loved it and as time rolled on saw no reason to quit filling those committee jobs.

As a byproduct, even back in the 1990s, interested newcomers didn’t get co-opted the way the baby boomers had. You may not realize that the boomers came along when paperbacks and Star Trek triggered a fannish population explosion. Cons were proliferating — boomers started their share — and if we didn’t do the work, they couldn’t get off the ground. It was rarely a case of anybody getting pushed aside. But by the 90s newcomers were competing for leadership jobs. I remember feeling frustrated about one talented newcomer, and that nothing I could say would change my friends’ minds about appreciating his contribution, let alone giving him greater responsibility. He managed to do it anyway, and has a great track record with anime cons, but I always think of his example when people wonder why Worldcons in the U.S. tend to be staffed by older fans. Not everyone is as resilient as he proved to be.

Last Unicorn Tour Arrives in Big Apple

Peter Beagle and Connor Cochran.

Peter Beagle and Connor Cochran.

After making its way north from Virginia via New Jersey and Pennsylvania, The Last Unicorn movie tour plays New York City this weekend. The four showings are scheduled for —

TODAY @ 7 PM — Village East in Manhattan on 2nd Avenue
Saturday 9/28/2013, 2 PM — Cinemas 123 in Manhattan on 3rd Avenue
Sunday 9/29/2013, 7 PM — Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers in Yonkers NY
Monday 9/30/2013, 7 PM — City Cinemas 86th Street East in Manhattan on 86th Street

“Peter will be at every screening to do a Q&A session, sign things, give hugs and great conversation,” says Connor Cochran, “and he’ll stay as long as it takes for every last person there to get their proper turn with him.”

Peter Beagle, ready to hit the road.

Peter Beagle, ready to hit the road.

One of the most interesting places to host the movie in the past week was the Strand Theatre in the college town of Kutztown, PA:

The Strand is pure history, over 100 years old and cobbled together from bits and pieces of other local movie theaters that went out of business over the decades. Yet inside we found one of the newest, nicest projection and sound systems we’ve yet to work with.

The Last Unicorn actually played there during its original release in 1982. The classic old theater marquee reminds me of the one shown in Field of Dreams just before Ray Kinsella finds Doc Graham.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Matheson Signed Portrait

Matheson Companion(large)Harry O. Morris was Richard Matheson’s preferred cover artist. Morris’ portrait of the author, presented at the book release party for Woman, pleased Matheson so much he insisted Gauntlet Press use it on The Richard Matheson Companion.

Now the publisher is making the portrait available as an 8 x 10 in a handmade bonded leather folder. Harry Morris will sign each of the illustrations.

And on the left inside of the folder will be a copy of a typed page from Matheson’s screenplay for “Dracula” complete with handwritten corrections. Matheson signed each page of the script so every customer will be getting a unique page not available to anyone else. Click this link for more details.

I was excited to read this confirmation of Morris’ success as an artist because I recall his 1970s fanzine Nyctalops, a Lovecraft-oriented publication, as one of my favorites.

Harry O. Morris

Harry O. Morris

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

2013 MacArthur Genius Grants

Writers Karen Russell and Donald Antrim are among the 24 recipients of the latest MacArthur genius grants.

Russell is the author of the novel Swamplandia! and two story collections, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Antrim’s works include the widely-reviewed novels The Verificationist and The Hundred Brothers, and a nonfiction book The Afterlife: A Memoir.

Another winner is Carl Haber whose optical scanning restoration method has made it possible to recover and listen again to recordings in obsolete media developed by  Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and other audio pioneers. Click on the links to listen to examples.

Royal Astronomical Society To Host Starship Century

The UK will host its own Starship Century Symposium next month. The event will gather scientists and sf authors to address the challenge of developing a starship in the next 100 years and opportunities for our long-term future in space.

The Symposium will be at the Royal Astronomical Society, Picadillly, UK on Monday October 21.

On hand will be featured speaker Lord Martin Rees, Royal Astronomer, Ian Crawford, Birkbeck College, University of London, writer/scientist Stephen Baxter, James Benford and Gregory Benford.


10:00 a.m.  Starship Century: James & Gregory Benford

10:30 a.m.  Scientific Benefits of Starships: Ian Crawford

11:30 a.m.  Contact at Alpha Centauri: Stephen Baxter

1:00 p.m. Break for lunch

2:00 p.m.  To the Ends of the Universe  Lord Martin Rees

3:30 p.m.  Panel: Exploring Interstellar Space: Lord Martin Rees, Ian Crawford, Stephen Baxter, Jim & Greg Benford, others TBA

5:00 p.m.  Symposium ends

These authors will also sign Starship Century at Forbidden Planet bookstore on Sunday, October 20, 4:30 p.m.

[Thanks to Gregory Benford for the story.]