Snapshots 151 Bacardi

Here are 26 developments of interest to fans.

(1) There’s been a lot of reaction to File 770’s latest motto, including a suggestion that I put it on a badge ribbon for distribution at the Worldcon.

But it’s too long to fit on one ribbon, and it might be a little presumptuous to ask people wear a set — “The 770 Blog, that Wretched Hive” “continued next ribbon” “of Scum and Villainy.” “continued next ribbon” “John C. Wright”…

(2) Meanwhile, Bronycon is pushing the envelope of convention socializing with a set of color-coded bages:

We’ve adapted the color-coded badges popularized by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and made them available for people who want to express their communication preferences quickly and non-verbally. By doing this, you can notify everyone whether you want to be approached for interactions or not.

Here’s what the badges look like and what they mean:

  • “Come Talk To Me!” A person wearing a green badge is actively seeking interaction. They may have trouble initating conversations, but it’s okay to come up and start a conversation with them.
  • “Do I Know You?” A yellow badge means its wearer only wants to talk to people they recognize. Unless you’ve met this person face-to-face before, don’t start a conversation with them. If they start talking to you, you’re welcome to talk back.
  • “Not Right Now.” If a person has a red badge showing, they do not want anyone to talk to them. They may approach others to talk, in which case it’s okay to respond. But unless you’ve been told you’re on someone’s “red list”, don’t start interacting with them.

(3) Lou Antonelli visited Heinlein’s birthplace and blogged about it in a post titled “Pilgrimage to Butler (or how Robert Heinlein’s ghost pranked me)”:

When I drove on Friday Kansas City to attend ConQuest, I noticed that Butler, Missouri – the birthplace of Robert Heinlein – was on the way. I decided that on the way back I would stop and visit the house where he was born in 1907. Monday morning I pulled off southbound Hwy. 71 and drove into Butler. The city has a few small signs noting the direction to the house, and I found it fairly easily. It is located at 805 North Fulton Street; a sign – which apparently once hung from a post – marking the spot (“Birthplace of Robert Heinlein, Dean of Science Fiction writers”) was propped up against the bottom of the porch. I took the obligatory selfie – which was hard to do because the sign was so low to the ground – and then hopped back into my car to continue the journey home. Crank. Grind. It wouldn’t turn over! I was completely shocked, because the car hadn’t given me a lick of trouble all weekend. It sounded fine, but wouldn’t kick in. I said, “Bob, if this is a prank, it’s not funny!”

(4) Adam Nimoy had planned to make a documentary called For The Love of Spock even before his dad, Leonard Nimoy, passed away. He has launched a Kickstarter appeal to help pay for it.

The funding of this film through Kickstarter will enable us to continue with production — which will mostly take the form of filming interviews of Dad’s friends, colleagues and family members. It will also enable us to license the hundreds of film clips and still photographs of Mr. Spock as he has appeared on television and in feature films over the last fifty years. Funding will then buy us time in the editing room, where I will be poring over the film clips and photographs and never-before-seen home movies as well as Star Trek artifacts — some of which have not seen the light of day for nearly fifty years!

As of this writing there has been $400,448 pledged of the $600,000 goal.

(5) Actor Lon Chaney Jr. is the only person to play all of the classic Hollywood movie monsters — the Wolf Man (“The Wolf Man”), Frankenstein’s monster (“The Ghost of Frankenstein”), Kharis, The Mummy (“The Mummy’s Tomb”) and Count Anthony Alucard, Dracula’s son (“Son of Dracula”).

(6) Alex Pappademas on Grantland makes some novel comparisons between pop and high culture in his review “’Mad Max’ As Hell: The Masterful, Maniacal, Surprisingly Feminist ‘Fury Road’”

J.G. Ballard — who knew a thing or two about speed, wastelands, the human death drive, and the mortification of flesh by flying auto parts — once described 1981’s The Road Warrior, the second of George Miller’s Mad Max movies, as “punk’s Sistine Chapel.” Ballard was not as big a fan of 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But even Michelangelo wasn’t immune to the impulse to sequelize, returning to the Apostolic Palace after nearly 25 years (and the Sack of Rome) to paint The Last Judgment above the chapel’s altar. It features a buff, wrathful Jesus, tons of un-fig-leafed full-frontal nudity, chaotic composition that rejected all notions of universal hierarchy, two-fisted angels clobbering wretched sinners, demons dragging the condemned down into hellfire, a likeness of one of Michelangelo’s critics with a snake’s jaws clamped on his nuts, and a cameo by the artist himself as a face on some flayed skin. The lesson here: If you have to come back, it’s best to come back hard-core.

(7) Trek-themed garden gnomes from ThinkGeek will give the Little People a laugh

Did you realize there’s a whole subculture of Star Trek horticulturists? There are daylilies named after Trek, a handful of hostas, and even a Star Trek begonia.

The perfect statuary to go with your newly-acquired Star Trek plants? Why, that would be the Star Trek Garden Gnomes, of course! They come in four flavors. Here’s how the base reads on each:

  • Kirk – To boldly go where no man has gone before
  • Kirk & Gorn – I shall be merciful and quick – Gorn
  • Redshirt – Join Starfleet they said. It’d be fun they said
  • Spock – Live long and prosper

hujt_trek_garden_gnomes(8) The star of Hannibal is a huge draw at the Shanghai Comic Convention?

Unlike many of her counterparts at the first Shanghai Comic Convention, she had decided to forgo a costume. But the 23-year-old automotive quality-control clerk nevertheless was living out her personal fantasy, plunking down $115 — 20% of her monthly salary — for a fleeting meeting with her idol, Mads Mikkelsen of the NBC show “Hannibal.”

Bashfully clutching photographic proof of her star encounter (“I look terrible next to him,” she lamented), Yang struggled to compose herself. She seemed unsure of whether she had just made the best decision of her life — or the worst.

“All fans are idiots, in a way,” she said, laughing at her profligate ways. “We will do anything to meet him, to talk to him, even for a few seconds.”

(9) Very amusing artwork by Murray Groat showing what it would be like if the adventures of Hergé’s classic comic character Tintin took place in a universe created by H.P. Lovecraft.

(10) Who ya gonna call? The firehouse from Ghostbusters will close for renovation,

The  Ladder 8  company firehouse at  14 North Moore Street  in Tribeca is about to be closed for a three-year gut renovation, despite having a received a perfectly good renovation circa 1984 from Drs. Venkman, Stanz, and Spengler,  in the movie Ghostbusters . A  Fire Department spokesperson claims  that the renovation is being done so that the house will be better able to accommodate modern firetrucks, which are larger and heavier than they used to be.

But we know the real reason:  Walter Peck from the Environmental Protection Agency  tipped somebody off to the fact that there are dangerous and possibly hazardous waste chemicals, in the form of liquified ghosts, being stored in the basement.

(11) Anne Lamott, the writer’s writer, turned 61 and decided to share everything she’s learned with her Facebook followers:

  1. Chocolate with 70% cacao is not actually a food. It’s best use is as bait in snake traps.
  2. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born

(12) Amy Sterling Casil’s business is perfecting a system for producing fixed format and flowable ePubs and perfect print books. Here’s her argument why it matters:

I just happened to buy the Stephen Jay Gould book not long after finishing the Bone Music ePub, and we spent plenty of time on that. I knew exactly what was wrong with the Gould book (W.W. Norton) and could tell the exact errors they made in producing it. Errors they would have seen immediately if they’d spent 1 second testing it on an actual device! And there are editing errors like typos etc. For $9.99. A disgrace.

(13) Doug Faunt, who was among those rescued when the HMS Bounty went down in a storm in 2012, is back at sea aboard a new tall ship.

(14) Larry Correia has a good cover story:

People ask me how much say an author has over their cover. At first? Zip. And by the time you are successful enough that your opinion actually does count, that means you’ve sold enough books that you trust the people who sell them for you.

(15) In Kenneth Turan’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival includes interesting observations about the host city.

It’s not just the films that change here from year to year here, it’s the city as well.

The oldest gay bar in the south of France is now a gelato emporium. The once-spacious post office is now a luxury hotel. And the Cannes English Bookshop, a landmark for three decades, is going to be sold and possibly go out of business.

(16) Nick Mamatas on Storify shares some wisdom about short stories:

I’ve been reading a few short stories from students lately, and this is what I have noticed about them.

(17) Murray Leinster’s “Runaway Skyscraper” is coming back as a fancy hotel. Andrew Porter observes, “Rooms starting at $500 a night, so maybe not a good venue for an SF convention.”

(The Wikipedia can fill you in about the original 1919 Murray Leinster story.)

(18) Daniel Dern sends along a brief rumination on Neal Stephenson’s new book Seveneves. (The title of which, a friend pointed out, is a palindrome.)

have been reading Seveneves,
The new big book from Neal Stephes[1]:
The moon
breaks in seven peaze,
Each piece has seven paths,
Each path has seven maths.
Some maths are delta-Vs, and
The plot has many keys[2].
sub-plots and lots of peaze,
Many pages is Seveneves.
[1] Stephenson, that is, of course
[2] Including hams doing Morse code, and some, cough, paper pads

(19) John J. Miller would like to tag some newly discovered planetoids with Lovecraftian names:

I’m starting to think of the places we haven’t reconnoitered. Last year, when astronomers announced the existence of 2012 VP113 — a tiny planetoid well beyond the orbit of Pluto — I took to the website of National Review and made a suggestion: “Its name should be Yuggoth, in tribute to the writer H. P. Lovecraft.” I e-mailed the idea to Leslie S. Klinger, editor of The New Annotated Lovecraft. He replied that this wasn’t quite right, because Lovecraft clearly defined Yuggoth as Pluto, rather than as another thing. Then he mentioned an overlooked line from a fevered passage in “The Haunter of the Dark,” the last story Lovecraft ever wrote: “I remember Yuggoth, and more distant Shaggai, and the ultimate void of the black planets.” It recalled something that the astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper (of Kuiper-belt fame) once said to Clyde Tombaugh: “The finding of Pluto was an important discovery, but what you did not find out there is even more important.” Pluto may come into the clutches of our scientists and engineers, but the rest of us can always dream of Shaggai — a permanently undiscovered country.

(20) Alastair Reynolds may yet get the hang of writing filksongs.

(21) A Canadian library has documentary evidence that Han Solo shot first.

According to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), while trying to digitize the University of New Brunswick Library’s science fiction collection, librarian Kristian Brown stumbled upon an early draft of the “Star Wars” script.

The script, which is marked as a “fourth draft,” is dated March 15, 1976, well ahead of the film’s eventual 1977 release.

The most striking revelation centers around one of the most famous scenes in the film.

While at the Cantina Bar, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by Jabba the Hutt’s henchman Greedo, who demands Han finally pay Jabba the money he owes him. The two of them come to blows, and Han Solo emerges as victorious. While that isn’t disputed, the real debate lies in whether Han or Gredo shot first.


(22) CBS Sunday Morning did a nice profile of the person who sat-in for Ray at the last Ray Bradbury Creativity Award — Bo Derek.  Bo gave the award to Kirk Douglas.  Bo and Ray were lifelong friends, who met in France.

By the way, Bo Derek will be in Sharknado 3. (So added to the Ray Bradbury reference this paragraph counts as a score for two File 770 narratives… )

(23) The LA Weekly enthusiastically reviewed Universal Studios’ new Simpsons-themed Springfield Area

Built to surround and enhance the Simpsons Ride, which opened in 2008, the fully-immersive environment includes over a hogshead’s worth of living references. Some of them as huge and obvious as the Duff Brewery, Moe’s Tavern and Krusty Burger. Others are smaller and subtler, the kind of nerdy nuggets that give us geeks an extra special spring in our steps (Smilin’ Joe Fission!? Stools around Moe’s pool table in a nod to Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag!? Yes.)

….Things just went full bizarro from there. We walked into a perfectly recreated Moe’s Tavern behind producer/animator/director David Silverman and the theme-park bartender asked him if he wanted a Duff…and he had one.  All we could think was, “It’s the local lug who fills your mug with the drug you chug! And the guy who conceived it….drinking it….in it…b-b-but what about the dank? If Uncle Moe threatens ya, do you get a free steak?” Words can’t describe the feeling of self-referential meltdown that happened in that moment — so we won’t even try.

Universal’s food folks took their best shot at the artery-clogging victuals of Springfield (“The World’s Fattest Town”) with Krusty Burgers, Ribwiches, donuts and even Cletus’ Chicken Shack. Cletus’ employees didn’t know if they had anything that could flash-fry a buffalo in forty seconds, and that’s ok. All the food was awesomely outrageous (and full of secret hobo spices). Just don’t get on that gut-buggering jumble of a ride right afterward, you’ll probably regret it.

Besides the food, the gallons of Duff and the non-alcoholic (and presumably cough syrup-free) Flaming Moe’s, they packed the place with all sorts of crazy crap, a further immersive Krustyland, a Kwik-e-Mart and, yes, even a Disco Stu’s Disco (facade only, sadly). For the folks who might not get everything, or for those folks who need the reassurance, screens throughout the are played carefully curated snippets of Simpsons episodes. Satire piled upon satire, surrounded by hints and attribution…wrapped in riddles…wrapped in unexplained bacon.

On our way out, we were invited to take one of the larger-than-life-but-actually-real giant iconic pink donuts. To keep us in the spirit, and as if on cue, some slack-jawed yokel asked if these donuts, branded as Lard Lad, came in a “gluten free form.” No. No they do not. Where’s a good satirist when you need one?

(24) On the opposite coast, Anthony Bourdain plans to open a giant Blade Runner-themed food market in NYC.

Hidden throughout New York City are bustling food halls like Gansevoort Market or Smorgasburg. But for those who ever said, “I had in mind something a little more radical,” Anthony Bourdain has the solution. The celebrity chef will soon open a 100,000-square-foot International Food Market at the newly renovated SuperPier on Pier 57. Oh, and did I mention it’s inspired by Blade Runner?

Yes, the chaos and clamor of the market place from Ridley Scott’s dystopian masterpiece will be coming to Manhattan’s West Side. “It is meant to be crowded and chaotic because that’s what hawker centres should be,” said Bourdain’s partner Stephen Wether at the 2015 World Street Food Congress in Singapore. “It should activate all of your senses.”

Plans for the space, which eats up pretty much all of the SuperPier’s retail allotment, include a farmers market, hawker-style street food stalls, a 1,500-square-foot oyster bar, a bakery, butchers, a tapas bar, a tea shop, a pastry shop, and potentially even an outdoor Asian-themed beer garden. As Bourdain put it, foodies will be able to enjoy “expertly sliced Iberico ham and some Cava or Kuching-style laksa [soup], Chinese lamb noodles, Vietnamese pho or a decent barbecue brisket all in one place.”

(25) Whatever happened to “No shirt, no pants, no service”?

I guess the rules are different for Spartans:

Fortunately, during this unusual detachment no one fought and all survived. In the subway, “Spartans” advertised access to DVD movie “300: Dawn of empire.”

(26) Harlan Ellison was interviewed by The Jewish Advocate on the occasion of his 81st birthday.

Like any good Jewish son, Ellison had a Jewish mother. Serita Ellison survived her husband by 27 years, all of which were spent trying to figure out her increasingly famous author-screenwriterlecturer son.

“If something happened that was adventurous,” he says, “I would tell my mother. My mother would be very pleased, but I’m not quite sure she realized what it meant. She was more concerned with ‘Was I healthy? Was I working? Was I happily married? Was I unhappily married?’ She would come and visit me and tidy up the house. She was a regular Jewish mama.”

An autodidact, Ellison took pleasure in lecturing at hundreds of colleges that he never attended. The only person happier at his countless college appearances was Serita. “The moment I made my mother proud of me was when she came up from Florida in the middle of winter and was sitting in when I spoke at Yale. People would come up and present one of my books to her and would say, ‘Would you sign my book?’ My mother was in heaven. Afterward, we walked in the snow to a luncheon with a group of eminent scientists and she said, ‘I’m very proud of you.’ I swelled twelve times my size. I had made my mother proud.”

[Credit for these links goes out to Andrew Porter, Amy Sterling Casil, David K.M. Klaus,Martin Morse Wooster,  and John King Tarpinian.]

Snapshots 150
The Sesquicentennial

aka “How Well I Remember the Days Before Puppies Were All the Rage” – James H. Burns

If you’re very new to File 770 this may be the first time you’ve seen Snapshots, the zine-within-a-zine.

In honor of the 150th edition, here are 35 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Even Kimball Kinnison’s swearing “By Klono’s brazen balls!” may be a leetle too strong in these refined times. What kind of cursing remains fashionable? Matthew Bowman tells all in “Frakking Goram Smegger! (Swearing in Fiction)”  at Novel Ninja.

While swearing serves an important function in real life, at least for the person doing the swearing, it doesn’t have the same effect on other people. It winds up being a great stress relief for the speaker, but over time there’s a diminishing return in terms of effectiveness, leading to people using it more and more to get the same effect. To the people around the speaker, though, all they get is the “more and more.”

The use of swearing in fiction has the same problem. There are really only two uses, and the audience only experiences the second use: shock value. Shock too much, and there’s no value to it. On the face of it, you might want to avoid swearing.

Well, no. Not entirely.

(2) With the Anagrammer I can turn my own name into a colorful curse. Like, “Ye Chiller Mag!” Or, “Rimly Geek!”


(3) I’ve completely failed to find any website that has one for sale, but you have to agree the concept is amusing —  Talking George R.R. Martin Doll Adds Some Evil Santa Whimsy To Your Life:

Spotted at New York Toy Fair 2015: This talking George R.R. Martin doll from Factory Entertainment, which the Game of Thrones creator himself recorded dialogue for. One of the ten things he says is “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” One of the things he doesn’t say, I assume, is “f*ck you.”

There’s not the slightest doubt if there was a Harlan Ellison doll it would.

(4) On May the Fourth many ballparks honor the little movie franchise that’s been around for four decades. At Fenway Park, Darth Vader showed up and inexplicably agreed to do an interview.

Darth Vader

(5) More than a baker’s dozen, here are 14 pieces of advice from things your convention staff. Many of them are a lot more blunt than this —


And not in our video/panel rooms. Find a bed or the floor of someone’s hotel room. At least a few hours. Please? Conventions are exhausting enough without trying to operate without sleep.

And it seems as time goes by fewer of the embedded anime gifs work for me – here’s hoping you have better luck.

(6) As soon as products reach market using the right software, you will be able to use the “Live long and prosper” emoji.

live long and prosper emojiAs spotted by Quartz, a ‘Live Long and Prosper’ hand symbol emoji has been found in the test versions of both Apple’s OS X and iOS Mac and iPhone/iPad software, which should be released sometime later this year. Apple has yet to confirm that all the new emojis in its beta software will be in the upcoming official releases. Among them are the much-awaited multi-ethnic smileys and figures.

With Apple’s new emoji picker, you should be able to send the Live Long and Prosper salute in different skin shades once it hits devices. You can visit to see what all the versions look like.

The Vulcan Salute was introduced to the Unicode system last June, and like any other symbol available in the universal emoji consortium, it’s now just waiting for software-makers to build it into their operating systems and keyboards, which Apple certainly looks to be doing.

(7) A month after the death of Leonard Nimoy, his son Adam Nimoy announced plans for a documentary about his father titled For the Love of Spock.

The project is aimed at celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek,” which aired for the first time on Sept. 8, 1966. Zachary Quinto, who portrayed the Spock character in last two “Star Trek” films, will narrate the documentary.

(8) It’s not that I’m breathlessly awaiting Sharknado 3, I just think we’re all thrilled to take a break from science fiction’s relentless parade of kerfuffles. So as a public service I am informing you that David Hasselhoff has been cast in the film despite a bum knee.

Needless to say, The Hoff has been quite busy, and in the midst of his crazy schedule Hasselhoff says he had to get “some knee work done.”

The injury even affected his role in “Sharkando 3,” the third installment in the hit Syfy franchise, co-starring Ian Ziering and Tara Reid. In the upcoming TV movie — called Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” — Hasselhoff plays Gilbert Sheperd, the dad of Ziering’s character, Fin Shepard. You can expect to see a lot of Hasselhoff in the film; it’s not just a cameo, he says.

“I hobbled through them [my scenes],” said Hasselhoff. “You’ll see me hobbling through ‘Sharknado 3’ because I said, ‘My character now has a limp!’ I wrote it in — that I jumped on a grenade during Vietnam and saved the entire platoon except for one person. I thought that was a funny line to put in and they allowed me to put it in.”

(9) Have you heard the true tale of the 50 Foot Woman and the FDA? The Washington Post recently told it as a graphic story, “Allison Hayes, the actress who got the FDA’s attention – too late”. Text and graphics by Art Hondros.

(10) Mr. Steed, we’re needed.

Trotify makes your bike sound like a galloping horse

The folks at Original Content London are hot to trot, thanks to their latest invention, the Trotify. For about $32 USD, the flat-packed laser-cut wooden contraption fits on the front brake mount of your bike and with a little assembly, a coconut, and a sense of humor, can create the sound of a trotting horse as you pedal. Able to amuse or confuse those with very poor eyesight, the Trotify is a great gift for those cycling nuts who have every accessory on the market or for those who are a little too short on cash to become real equestrians.

Warning – you can’t actually buy this from the vendor linked in the article, even though they have been trying to market the concept since 2012.

(11) The science fiction radio series X Minus One is still attracting new admirers.

Though I seldom long for my native culture when abroad, when the need for a hit of Americana does arise (and I say this currently writing from Seoul, South Korea), I fill my iPod with old time radio. Many shows from America’s “Golden Age” of wireless broadcasting can fill this need, but one could do much worse than Dimension X, the early-1950s science-fiction program we featured earlier this month, or its late-1950s successor X Minus One, whose episodes you can also find at the Internet Archive. Both showcase American culture at its mid-20th-century finest: forward-looking, temperamentally bold, technologically adept, and saturated with earnestness but for the occasional surprisingly knowing irony or bleak edge of darkness. That last comes courtesy of these shows’ writing talent, a group which includes such canonical names as Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.

(12) Neil Clarke celebrated passing 50,000 submissions to his magazines by running a list of the top ten most common short story names. That got so much attention he dropped all the story titles ever received into Wordle and posted he resulting graphic.

(13) Here’s how Jason. S. Ridler, Ph.D. overcame the trauma of an unsatisfactory book writing career:

There’s an old trick in psychology. If you’ve experienced trauma, do something new that has no relation to the context of said trauma. You generate new memories for your brain to chew on. Improv fit that pistol, and was life-saving. In writing, I abandoned the dead god of novels and moved to comic book scripts. I love comics, but had never attempted them because . . . if you think making money with novels is tough, it’s Shangri La compared to becoming a “professional” comic book writer. But I didn’t care about money, or a career. I had now stabilized my income to a degree where I felt comfortable easing off the gears of work and spending some time writing. I learned comic script format for fun. I found artists to work with, which was fun. And I failed all over the place as I learned the art, the business, and the challenge of working with artists. Some of this sucked bunnies, but I didn’t care. So long as I learned and got better, I enjoyed the challenge.

(14) Beware offering advice. Jim C. Hines offers breakdown of the topic in “The Advice Checklist”.

Are you more concerned with helping or with fixing the person so they’ll stop making you uncomfortable?

Hint: People talk about their problems for a range of reasons. To vent, to process their own feelings, to connect with others and know they’re not alone… If you genuinely want to help, great—but in many cases, giving advice isn’t the way to do that.

(15) Thanks to YouTube, people don’t have to be old enough to have seen commercials like “Cheerios, the ‘Terribly Adult Cereal’ w/Stan Freberg” – they can click and experience that bit of pop culture history immediately.

(16) Wired reports someone has adapted a drone to leave his tag in a highly visible place.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the age of robotic graffiti was born. KATSU, a well-known graffiti artist and vandal, used a hacked Phantom drone to paint a giant red scribble across Kendall Jenner’s face on one of New York City’s largest and most viewed billboards. By all accounts, it is the first time that a drone has been deployed for a major act of public vandalism.

(17) Pat Cadigan was scheduled to speak about cancer – instead, she has to fight it.

It took me a long time to be taken seriously as a writer, and to be seen as the writer I was trying to be––i.e., a hard science-fiction writer. A few years ago, Greg Benford turned to me in the course of a conversation and said, “Pat, you’re a hard science fiction writer…” I can’t remember the rest of the question, just Greg calling me a hard science fiction writer. I figure Greg would know the difference. So I got bonafides.

That’s what cyberpunk always was to me––hard science fiction, taken out of a wish-fulfilment setting where everything would be all right if we could just develop the right technology, and re-imagined in the real world, where things could go wrong and people could get hurt.

And so it goes. I should have been at USC talking about what was, what is, and maybe what’s coming, but things went wrong and I got cancer.

Actually, now that I’ve written it out, it’s kinda funny. I can see why our plans make God laugh. She’s got a wicked sense of humour. But then, I do, too.

(18) This story is more than a little strange, coming from a part of the world that is notoriously unreceptive to even mild religious mockery. Turkish students have petitioned for a “Jedi temple” on campus.

More than 6,000 students at a Turkish university have signed a petition calling for a Jedi Temple on campus “to bring balance to the Force.”

The petition, which had more than 6,000 signatures Thursday, was created by students at Dokuz Eylul University amid controversy stemming from an announcement last month from Istanbul Technical University rector Mehmet Karaca that his school would be getting a “landmark mosque” after a petition calling for a mosque on campus received nearly 200,000 signatures.

The ITU announcement also led students at that school to start a petition to found a Buddhist temple on campus, a request with more than 20,000 signatures.

(19) A photo of C.S. Lewis with his Officer Cadet Battalion in 1917 has been discovered among items donated by an alum.

Every college archive has a mass of material awaiting sorting and cataloguing, much donated by former college members, and Keble is no exception. Leonard Rice-Oxley went up to Keble to study history in 1911, and became the college’s tutor in English in 1921. After graduating from Keble in 1915, Rice-Oxley had served as 2nd Lieutenant in the London Irish Rifles, before being promoted to Lieutenant, and posted to serve on the staff of No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion in 1917. During this time, Rice-Oxley produced a booklet Oxford in arms: with an account of Keble College, intended for the use of officer cadets stationed at Keble. A copy of this booklet was contained in the material given to the college archives by Rice-Oxley, along with an album of photographs.

Not long after her arrival at Keble, the new Archivist & Records Manager (Eleanor Fleetham) was asked by the College Librarian (Yvonne Murphy) to organize an exhibition of material from the Archives to commemorate Keble’s contribution to the First World War. One of the items on display was Rice-Oxley’s photo album, which contained a  photograph of “E” Company, No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion, taken by an unknown photographer in the summer of 1917. A college undergraduate – Sebastian Bates (2014, Law) – noticed the photograph, and suggested that one of the people in the photograph was none other than C. S. Lewis.

(20) Michael Swanwick covered Samuel R. Delany’s retirement party, celebrating the end of his career at Temple University, in an aptly named post — Goodbye, Mr. Chip.

(21) It warms my heart to realize my antique File 770 webpage from the old Compuserve Ourworld days is still in the internet archives.

(22) And Teddy Harvia’s online exhibit of Best Fan Artist Hugo nominees has never gone away!

(23) Artist Richard Powers is remembered by The Daily Beast.

The Ballantines believed in science fiction as a literature of ideas, not gadget porn for ham-radio buffs, so when they opened their doors in 1952 they thought of Powers. His modernist sensibility, steeped in things seen at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, set him apart from the pulp-magazine style—astronauts rippling their pectorals at bug-eyed aliens while space babes cowered in fear—that had dominated the genre for decades. “One of the things that appealed to me about science fiction,” he says, in The Art of Richard Powers, “is that it was possible to do Surrealist paintings that had validity … in their own right, and not necessarily functioning as the cover of a book.”

(24) Doctor Who’s son is Alfred the butler?

The actor who plays Alfred in the TV series Gotham is Sean Pertwee. His father is Jon Pertwee and he played the third Doctor Who:

And Mr. Pertwee – Sean, that is – certainly lived a life suitable to the son of a Time Lord. Mr. Pertwee recalled long stretches spent on Euro-billionaires and party-animals playground Ibiza, a “mad island…this weird eclectic bunch of people that ran away and lived in this sort of hedonistic paradise.” Many people know the name Elmyr de Hory as the master art forger of the 1960’s, and subject of the Orson Welles film F for Fake — Mr. Pertwee called him godfather. He experienced a youth surrounded by, in his words, “draft dodgers, murderers…actors.”

Pertwee stars as Alfred Pennyworth, a tough-as-nails ex-marine from east London who loyally serves the Wayne family. In the wake of their tragic deaths, he is fiercely protective of the young Bruce Wayne — the boy who will eventually become Batman

Sean is set to appear as a lead role, Alfred Pennyworth the unflappable butler, in the new Warner Bros. series of Gotham, which follows the story behind Commissioner James Gordon’s rise to prominence in Gotham City in the years before Batman’s arrival.

(25) If Disney had done cruise ships in the 1950s would they have added a Ben-Hur theme where kids could row like hell and ram a Roman warship? We’ll never know, but pretty soon young voyagers on the company’s passenger liners will get to head into hyperspace with the Millennium Falcon.

disney-cruise-millennium-falcon-625x351The Disney Dream will head into dry dock in October and emerge with two new interactive youth areas, one inspired by the interior of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, and the other based on the popular Disney Infinity video game.

As you can see from the concept art above, the Millennium Falcon is a pretty good recreation of Han Solo’s ship. Kids will be able to sit in the cockpit, participate in Star Wars-themed crafts and activities, watch episodes of Disney XD’s animated Star Wars Rebels on large screens, or play video games.

The Disney Dream is also bringing on board the popular Jedi Training Academy, in which young Padawans learn from a Jedi Master how to use a lightsaber, and then face Darth Vader in a final test.

(25) Jill Pantozzi on The Mary Sue draws attention to J.K. Rowling’s new tradition of apologizing for killing off her characters. Before it was Florean Fortescue. Now —

(26) A croggling thought – buying Watchmen with no pictures. But it makes sense for one audience.

Watchmen is a classic comic book written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, published in 1986. It’s set in an alternate history where the existence of superheroes changed American politics, culture and everyday life. I’ve described it panel-by-panel for blind and low-vision readers, including the supplementary material at the end of each chapter.

(27) What is that image? A golden octupus? Chtulhu? Nope, that is a $20,000 vintage pen with a golden snake wrapped around it.


(28) “The Woman Who Was a Man Who Was a Woman: Alice Sheldon and James Tiptree Jr.” is a fine proifile by Thomas Parker on Black Gate.

To Alice’s professed surprise, Campbell bought one of the stories, “Birth of a Salesman.” A new science fiction writer was born, one who would, in the space of just a few years, make a tremendous impact on the genre (as two Hugos, three Nebulas, and a World Fantasy Award attest, to say nothing of the James Tiptree Jr. Award, which is given to works which expand or explore our understandings of gender).

Alice Sheldon never looked back. She also never let anyone know that James Tiptree Jr. wasn’t a man; all of her many contacts and correspondents in the SF field assumed that the courtly “Tip” who had had such a wide-ranging life and wrote such witty letters was an all-American male. (Who wouldn’t take phone calls or meet anyone — including his agent — in person and would never show up to accept any awards. What began as a joke became, without Alice’s really planning it, an elaborate deception worthy of… well, of the CIA, and a banana peel that countless readers and critics would embarrassingly slip on.)

(29) Ferrett Steinmetz pays impressive tribute to his audience in “Thank You For Being So Goddamned Brave”.

One of the reasons I have any audience at all is that I blog about my insane burblings of social anxiety, and how hard it is for me to go to conventions.  I’d say about one out of every five people who’ve come to see me read from Flex and sign books has that hesitant smile when they approach me, and I know that the only reason they crept out into such a whirlwind social situation is because I’ve lent them strength at some point by sharing my own tearful fears, and that they and I are intertwined with the same terrors.

They’re braver than I am.

I couldn’t come out to see me.

(30) Author Jon Scieszka interviews Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth, about writing the classic children’s novel with longtime friend Jules Feiffer after a screening of the documentary The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations.

(31) Writing to Robert E. Howard during the Depression, H. P. Lovecraft said he never spent more than $3 a week on food. What were H. P. Lovecraft’s economical favorites? The list includes —


“Incidentally—not many doors away, on the other side of Willoughby St., I found a restaurant which specialises in home-baked beans. It was closed on Sunday, but I shall try it some time soon. Beans, fifteen cents, with pork, twenty cents. With Frankfort sausages, twenty-five cents. Yes—here is a place which will repay investigation!” (to Mrs. F.C. Clark, 20 May 1925)

“…in New England we are very fond of baked yellow-eye beans…” (to J. Vernon Shea, 10 November 1931)

(31) Among other things, Neil Gaiman has authored a Chipotle cup.

Why are you participating in the Cultivating Thought series?

My work with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees really opened my eyes to the fragility of the world. I thought it might be a good thing to open other eyes.

Tell us about your two-minute read.

I wrote about the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan; the state of people who have left everything, and gone through hell to escape an intolerable situation. What they went through, what they survived.


(32) Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest sci-fi writers in history, talks with Merv about the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Steven Spielberg, his mission as a writer, the future of mankind, and ends by reading from his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been” from his collection “When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”

(33) For those who can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch, news services have released video of his reading of a poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy at the memorial service for Richard III.

(34) The Telegraph has selected the 10 Best Fan Tributes to Terry Pratchett. On the list is —

6) Pub sign
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of Pratchett’s former watering holes in Wincanton, Somerset, was decorated with recently decorated with a tribute in the form of a Discworldified pub sign.

This pub sign, amended to feature the noted Ankh-Morpork pub, The Mended Drum, was commissioned before Pratchett’s death, and hung as a memorial shortly afterwards.

It was painted by illustrator Richard Kingston, who, along with Pratchett, was a regular patron of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Wincanton is already slightly unusual in that it was twinned in 2002 with a fictional Discworld city, Ankh Morpork.

In 2009, the developer George Wimpey named two streets in its new housing development after Ankh-Morpork’s, including Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road.

(35) And finally, this rare reveal of how they do things in Tinseltown.

[Thanks for these links goes out to John King Tarpinian, James H. Burns, David Gerrold, David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter.]

Snapshots 149 A New Song

Here are 19 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Quite a few years ago, Lloyd Penney was the first person to show me how easy it is to turn the fellow on Canada’s $5 bill into a likeness of Spock.

(2) J. Neil Schulman crossed paths with Leonard Nimoy several times, the first as a witness to a practical joke played while Nimoy was speaking to an NYU audience in 1974.

One of the advantages of hanging around NYU students and attending an on-campus club, to non-NYU-students like Mike [Moslow] and myself, was easy access to the many celebrities who came to lecture. One of them was 1956 Nobel laureate in Physics, William Shockley, who at the time was much more controversial for his writings outside of his field, on eugenics and comparing the intelligence of racial groups.

There were, not unexpectedly, major campus protests against Shockley speaking on the NYU campus, covered widely by all media. It was big news.

Mike and I did not attend Shockley’s lecture. But speaking in the same NYU auditorium exactly one week after Shockley (and without any protests) was Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock … and I had a sick idea that once I told it to Mike he could not be stopped doing it. Not that I even tried.

Nimoy began his lecture to a packed house, Mike sitting near the back of the hall, me seated somewhere nowhere near Mike, because I wasn’t a complete fool.

About twenty minutes into Nimoy’s talk, Mike jumps up and shouts, “I came to hear Shockley. This isn’t Shockley! Who’s this clown?”

Everyone, including Nimoy, cracked up as Mike marched himself of the auditorium, still shouting.

(3) Richard Lupoff and Richard Wolinsky of radio’s Bookwaves program interviewed Leonard Nimoy in 1995 about his second memoir, I Am Spock. They had him explain the Vulcan mind meld and the Vulcan salute, quizzed him about his relationship with Shatner, and asked about his earliest movie role, Queen For A Day. The 31-minute digital recording is here.

(4) And this is an appropriate spot to list a discovery by Michael J. Walsh which he calls “Nimoy and Heinlein, with a dash of Freas.” It’s a three-part YouTube video containing the tracks from a vinyl recording of Leonard Nimoy reading Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth.” Part I, Part II, Part III.

(5) I lived for years in ignorance of Star Trek dating sites and will return to that blessed state as soon as possible:

A dating site just for “Star Trek” fans called takes an extra-personalized approach to helping you find someone Worf falling for.

“Star Trek” fan dating sites are nothing new — you can choose from a range like Star Trek Dating, Date a Trekkie, Trek Passions and Trekkie Dating. But hopes to set itself apart by encouraging users to post profile photos of themselves dressed as their favorite characters and post videos of themselves talking about what Roddenberry’s universe means to them.

(6) Shifting to the other dominant sf franchise: The official NASA mission portrait of the next International Space Station crew shows them dressed as Jedi holding light sabres.

(7) But Onion science writers say none of this is real, including the universe we live in:

Scientists studying the properties of light from exploding supernovae confirmed their research has conclusively demonstrated that existence as we know it was created solely to provide the framework for a prime-time drama that airs in a parallel universe and is centered around a brash New York City police detective named Rick Case, his partner Michelle Crowley, and the other members of Hard Case‘s fictitious Homicide Division.

(8) Who would know better than the BBC about the “5 Strange Things That Happen To Brits In America”:

  1. Being imitated by complete strangers It’s one thing for friends and co-workers to morph into Dick van Dyke whenever you’re around (although on second thought, knock it off people), but quite another for complete strangers to do so. And yet it happens quite frequently. My last time was in a department store, buying shoes with my mother. Taking the left shoe from me, the (previously American) sales assistant launched into the strangest gender-bending impersonation of Her Majesty as he vanished into the stock room. My mother stared in disbelief, especially when he returned with my size shoe and continued his performance. I would honestly love to know what he thought he was doing.

You may find it hard to believe that Dick van Dyke and Robert A. Heinlein were born in the same state – Missouri.

(9) People who have been in the gaming industry for a long time like to work that into their conversations. It doesn’t surprise me that the namesake of a new superhero game “Stan Lee’s Hero Command” tries to do it too —

Lee has a long history with video games, dating back to his narration of 2000’s “Spider-Man.”

But that means he entirely missed Windows 95 gaming as well as everything that preceded it. Stan is really a 92-year-old a newbie. Here’s the brief description of his game:

The game follows Stan Lee as the Hero Command leader, who assigns players their assignments in order to save the day. Users will encounter playable heroes during gameplay, including new creations like Captain Steamhammer, a Russian strongman with a steam-powered suit, and Seer, a kid genius and powerful psychic. These heroes will face villains similarly created for the game, such as Lord Hibiculus, leader of the Dark Gnome aliens from Gnomulon, and Sand Witch, an ancient mummy awakened by an evil curse.

(10) The Norse Mythology Blog has published a three-part Michael Moorcock interview. Here are some questions Moorcock hasn’t been asked before. From Part One:

After living in the United States for twenty years, how would you imagine a modern America founded by Norse Heathens instead of English Christians? Admittedly, the Viking voyages to Vínland had mixed Heathen and Christian crews, but still…

MM – Maybe it could happen. I think the English language had a lot to do with how America was settled and the political paths she took. The revolutionary slogans were, many of them, identical to those used by the Cromwellian revolutionaries before them. That said, I’m not sure America could have been settled by non-Christians. Christianity supplies the rhetoric justifying total war, total genocide. It also contains the rhetoric to make us confused about our practising those things. Perhaps Scandinavian semi-democracy could have mixed well with native semi-democracy – but empires behave like empires. I’m not sure the dynamics would be much different.

Continues with Part Two and Part Three.

(11) Charles P. Pierce of Grantland uses the murder trial of a sports figure to comment on our surveillance culture in “The All-Seeing Eye Blinks: A Visit to the (Curiously Ignored, Oddly Underattended) Aaron Hernandez Trial”. (Are these long titles an Irish thing? Reminds me of R.A. Lafferty, and Pierce is of Irish descent, too.)

We are always on camera now. We are on camera at the grocery store, at the bank, and in the lobbies of most buildings. We are on camera while we eat and drink and walk and wait for the bus. We are on camera when we approach intersections in our cars. And we are on camera whenever our neighbors are so nervous about their own property that they decide to put us on camera whenever we walk by. We are on camera more than Marilyn Monroe or John Wayne ever were in their entire careers put together.

The generation that was raised as television’s influence on the culture hit high tide — a generation to which I belong, by the way — is in an odd position. For us, the idea of Being On Television was always a life’s goal. But now there are hundreds of ways for us to Be On Television. We can withdraw some money from the ATM, or buy a head of lettuce, or sneak through a red light. We can sing a folk song, or recite the Agincourt speech, or dance a tarantella, or tell a dirty limerick. We can film the performance and upload it, and people in Guam or Reykjavik can watch us Be On Television on their telephones. We can write our own movie in our heads and then act it out for millions of strangers. We can be kings or clowns. In the movies in our minds, which technology has enabled us to live out, we can be gangsters too.

(12) Once everybody in Europe spoke Proto-Indo-European, they just didn’t know it, and people today can only guess what it really sounded like. This post at Archeology outlines scholars’ efforts to imagine what would come out of the mouth of a PIE speaker, and includes a recording of one such educated guess.

By the 19th century, linguists knew that all modern Indo-European languages descended from a single tongue. Called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE, it was spoken by a people who lived from roughly 4500 to 2500 B.C., and left no written texts. The question became, what did PIE sound like? In 1868, German linguist August Schleicher used reconstructed Proto-Indo-European vocabulary to create a fable in order to hear some approximation of PIE. Called “The Sheep and the Horses,” and also known today as Schleicher’s Fable, the short parable tells the story of a shorn sheep who encounters a group of unpleasant horses. As linguists have continued to discover more about PIE (and archaeologists have learned more about the Bronze Age cultures that would have spoken it), this sonic experiment continues and the fable is periodically updated to reflect the most current understanding of how this extinct language would have sounded when it was spoken some six thousand years ago. Since there is considerable disagreement among scholars about PIE, no one version can be considered definitive. Here, University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd recites his version of the fable, as well as a second story, called “The King and the God,” using pronunciation informed by the latest insights into reconstructed PIE.

(13) Pulp dining in Baltimore. What the Argosy Cafe celebrates may not be as old as PIE, though it may feel that way to readers of eBooks…

Argosy Cafe will be distinctly Baltimore.  Located in the first floor of the Munsey Building, named for Frank Munsey, we have named the restaurant for his weekly pulp magazines.  We will provide many Baltimore and Mid-Atlantic classics with a twist.  Not to mention the coffee, which we will be brewing in ways you haven’t seen before.   So come on in and join us on this adventure, if nothing else it will be delicious.

(14) Astronauts are getting hipper, too. A new coffee cup design allows astronauts to drink espresso in space.

In space you don’t sip, you suck, from a bag. That’s a good thing. The typical coffee cup simply doesn’t work in low gravity, unless you want scalding hot liquid floating through the air.

It takes a special vessel to get liquid from an open container into an astronaut’s mouth.

It also takes a helluva lot of science, as seen by the cup designed by Portland State University researchers. For the past year, scientists there have been developing a mug designed specifically to allow astronauts to sip on espresso (or other warm and frothy drinks) in low-gravity environments.

The cup’s shape is odd—a little like a plastic baby boot—and was determined by mathematical models.

The shape reminds me more of Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh than anything else.

(15) Chris Offutt was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about his father, popular sf writer andy offutt, who went from running a small insurance agency to writing more than 400 books, most of them porn.

(16) For those who prefer a sprint to a marathon, the SFWA Blog gives “Ten Reasons to Write Short Stories Even Though the Pay Is Peanuts”.

But there are many reasons to write short stories, besides the love of the form (and the relatively small upfront fees), and here are a few reasons why you might want to say yes next time someone invites you to write one:

Publishing Short Stories Creates Intellectual Property (IP)

Published short stories create their own IP, which can then be sold or optioned to filmmakers, video game developers, playwrights, comics publishers, etc. Without this IP, the author has nothing to sell except for a pitch. Simply having it published creates intellectual property that must be optioned or purchased before anyone can create ancillary versions (and it establishes when you had the idea and puts it on the record). Also, naturally, having the work published makes it infinitely more likely that someone will stumble across it and want to buy or option it. (Since it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever discover it while it’s still only in your head or on your hard drive.)

(17) It’s not alternate history, time travel or steampunk. It’s an Army Special Forces veteran reviving the ancient martial art of swordfighting:

As a former Army Special Forces serviceman (1980-88), Booth has a facility for fighting; as a history major at Yale (Class of 1991, cum laude), he knows the past. He whipped the two together for his first medieval-themed restaurant in Winston-Salem, N.C. To avoid the cartoonish swashbuckling often performed at period-piece shows, he researched authentic styles from the Middle Ages, back when knights were like Hell’s Angels on horseback. He locked onto Talhoffer’s texts, which had languished in obscurity for nearly 400 years. The first English translation appeared in 2000.

“We’re not trying to historically re-create Talhoffer,” Booth said. “We’re trying to show the historical importance of taking what was dead for 500 years and bringing it back to life.”

(18) James H. Burns makes sure people don’t lose the early history of Star Trek fandom represented in some of the specialized magazines of the Seventies.

It’s intriguing to note that THE MONSTER TIMES’ special STAR TREK issue, a few years prior, with major contributions from our own Steve Vertlieb and Gary Gerani, was one of the very first, and ONLY sources of TREK history, in the era before 1976.  If you were a TREK fan, you looked for paperback copies of THE MAKING OF STAR TREK, David Gerrold’s THE WORLD OF STAR TREK and his chronicle of the making of his  THE TROUBLE WITH TRIIBLES, and the early TMT edition. They are all still well worth reading.)

(19) A hobby drone user crafted a styrofoam cover that turns his drone into a Tie Interceptor from Star Wars – making what is, in effect, a propeller-driven Tie fighter.

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, James H. Burns, Janice Gelb and Andrew Porter.]

Snapshots 148 Dunbar’s Number

Here are 19 developments of interest to fans.

(1)  “Half the DNA on the NYC Subway Matches No Known Organism” reports

The PathoMap project, which involved sampling turnstiles, benches, and keypads at 466 stations, found 15,152 life-forms in total, half of which were bacterial. The Wall Street Journal has created a fun, interactive microbial map of the subway out of the data, showing where on the lines the bacteria “associated with” everything from mozzarella cheese to staph infections was found.

Nothing wrong with the article, it’s just awfully hard to live up to a headline like that…

(2) When the typewriter used by Joseph Stefano to script the movie Psycho was put up for auction in November there were no takers.

Stefano was commissioned by Alfred Hitchcock to write the adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel in 1960, and the horror film went on to become a critical and financial success, breaking the mold of what constituted ”terrifying”. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and selected for preservation in the National Film registry in 1992.

Stefano also wrote 12 episodes of The Outer Limits on the same typewriter. It’s practically a holy relic! But the $25,000 minimum was enough to cool the ardor of potential bidders.

(3) Vintage NASA photos also have gone on the auction block

Perhaps the most notable image in the collection (given today’s astronauts’ propensity for Instagram and Twitter) is a so-called selfie taken by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. It’s arguably the first selfie ever taken in space. The archive of more than 600 photos include another impressive first — the first ever photograph of Earth taken from space. The portrait was taken by a camera mounted to a rocket launched up and out of Earth’s atmosphere in 1946.

The catalog is here. [PDF file, 46MB]

(4) Much more recent is the imagery from NASA’s Scientific Visualizations Studio showing the far side of the Moon.

A number of people who’ve seen the annual lunar phase and libration videos have asked what the other side of the Moon looks like, the side that can’t be seen from the Earth. This video answers that question. Just like the near side, the far side goes through a complete cycle of phases. But the terrain of the far side is quite different. It lacks the large dark spots, called maria, that make up the familiar Man in the Moon on the near side. Instead, craters of all sizes crowd together over the entire far side. The far side is also home to one of the largest and oldest impact features in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin, visible here as a slightly darker bruise covering the bottom third of the disk.

(5) Gregory Benford has summarized his thoughts about the 2014 Worldcon in “Afoot at LonCon”.

So be it real estate, crowd attention, or undermining the former great, the con and indeed, fandom, has acquired the air of a contested ground. Think of it as a compliment: sf and fandom are important enough to steal.

…These currents I saw at Loncon: social commentary, inept economics preached by Marxists (!), announcements that some special complaints were somehow privileged. Yet Loncon wasn’t really supposed to be about grievances at all. It was about our manifest, burgeoning future. You know, that old one, with technology opening new doors to prospects vast and strange.

That’s the sort of future that interests me. I’d like more of it, especially at worldcons.

(6) A few months ago I covered Sheldon Teitelbaum’s crowdfunding appeal for Zion’s Fiction: An Anthology of Israeli Fantasy & Science Fiction. He was unsuccessful in raising the necessary $65,000 amout. Teitelbaum has written an 8-point post-mortem considering where they went wrong which begins —

So where did we stumble? Here’s my own sense (my confreres may well disagree, and probably with good reason):

We failed to convey the actual parameters of this book. Who would be published? Which stories were under consideration? What kind of stories were they? How many would there be? What kind of themes might be explored? What SF’nal tropes might manifest? Are we talking hard or soft SF? Stories set only in or involving some facet of Israeli existence (as Emanuel puts it, “hora stories”) or sagas with protagonists called Bob who live in Redondo Beach? What ratio of fantasy to science fiction would be maintained? To what extent would the work featured reflect a Jewish perspective? An Israeli perspective? A minority (Moslem Arab, Christian Arab, Druze, Bedouin, Bahai Radical Syndicalist) outlook? A representational gender mix? A political inclination, whether deliberate, inadvertent or perhaps, in a book called Zion’s Fiction, unavoidable? How was Israeli science fiction and fantasy different from mainstream (English-language) or international variants of the genre?

(7) Here’s the kind of editorial you don’t see in science fiction magazines anymore. Of course, you usually didn’t see them in 1956, either. From Infobarrel, “A Typical Edition of Authentic Science Fiction” —

E C Tubb’s editorial is a bizarre discourse hypothesizing that the age of the Bible’s leading geriatric, Methuselah, of 969, was by no means uncommon for his time and the human lifespan has declined since the Flood. Tubb believes a vegetarian diet would see a turnaround (“The answer could be as simple as that”), although we should not discount the effects of radio waves in aging human tissue.

(8) They call it a billboard in space but that word doesn’t mean what you think it means… The promoters will put advertising on a CubeSat satellite roughly the size of a milk container and launch it into orbit.

Although the billboard will not be visible from Earth, all messages will be continuously visible on the SpaceBillboard website as well as used in the customers’ branding campaigns.

cubesat billboard COMP

(9) The Visit’s director Michael Madsen says Earth authorities are completely unprepared for alien visitors, so humans should get themselves ready by watching his movie.

Intriguingly, the movie is filmed from the perspective of the first alien arrivals — with a series of experts and authority figures talking to the camera as if to welcome our new extraterrestrial friends. “If this happens you should go to watch this film, this is a manual for this,” the 43-year-old Madsen told AFP in an interview.

James H. Burns is more than a little skeptical about Madsen’s claims:

This new film’s contention, apparently, is that the world’s governments don’t have a plan in place if the moment ever comes when extraterrestrials come forth. That argument seems to me to be filled with all sorts of hooey, in that hasn’t there been all sorts of evidence — at least tip of the iceberg type stuff — that the CIA (at their think tank level, anyway) and other branches of our government, as well as such far ranging sources as the Vatican, have long held contingencies for such a moment?

Maybe so, but I can’t forget Bruce Willis’ character in Armageddon being awfully disappointed that NASA really didn’t spend all its time “thinking shit up” to handle threats from space.

(10) Don’t you suppose people would be a lot more enthusiastic about meeting aliens if they looked like Susan Oliver? And they could begin their studies with The Green Girl, a documentary about her acting career.

A feature-length documentary about Susan Oliver, known primarily today as Star Trek’s first iconic Green Orion Slave Girl (from the original 1964 Star Trek pilot, reused in the 2-part 1966 episode The Menagerie).  She was a highly- prolific actress of the ’50’s/’60’s/’70’s/’80’s, a record-setting female aviator, an original member of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, and one of the only women directing major TV shows in the 1980’s.  Tragically taken by cancer in 1990, she’s been inexplicably forgotten by the industry to which she gave so much of herself.  This documentary chronicles the remarkable achievements of her all-too-short life.

(11) Congratulations to Europa SF: The European Science Fiction Portal for their insightful interview with Dublin in 2019 Worldcon bidder Brian Nisbet:

Europa SF: Talking about the bidding team, who are the other members of the bidding team 2019 and what is your role in this project?

Brian Nisbet: Right now we have a committee of seven, with a wider bid team of 38 people (at time of writing. You can see all of the names on our webpage. James Bacon, who has a storied history in conrunning, including Director of Programme for Loncon 3, the 72nd Worldcon, is our Chairman. Emma England, another veteran conrunner, is heading up our Promotions & Volunteers activities. Gareth Kavanagh and John ‘JC’ Clarke, our Registrar and Treasurer, are both heavily involved in Octocon the Irish National SF convention and the recent Eurocon. Tammy Coxen, who ran the 2014 NASFIC in Detroit, is taking care of our North American activities and Esther MacCallum-Stewart, a highly qualified academic with lots of con experience is keeping us organised.

My role is as Irish Officer, overseeing all of our promotions and activities in Ireland, a small country, but one with over thirty genre events a year. I’ll be working to engage the community and recruit people to the cause as we build (hopefully!) towards 2019.

(12) Here’s a story that gives new meaning to the saying “always wear protection”

An Australian man taking a nearly 10,000-mile walk across the country in his Star Wars stormtrooper costume said the armor saved him from a deadly snake bite.

Scott Loxley, whose 9,320-mile walk across Australia is aimed at raising money for the Monash Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, said he was leaving Yalboroo, Queensland, Wednesday on his way to Mackay when he spotted what appeared to be a dead snake at the side of the road.

“He’s lunged at me and bit me. But the good news is the armor — he bit me in the shin — and the armor actually protected me and stopped the bite,” Loxley said. “I could feel the teeth scraping on the plastic, but the armor actually stopped something.”

(13) Harlan Ellison was interviewed by Grammy-winning audiobook producer Stefan Rudnicki  for Downpour. He spoke about audiobooks, writing “The City on the Edge of Forever” episode of Star Trek, and touring with The Rolling Stones.

(14) Turner Classic Movies will premiere its restored version of Harry Houdini’s 1919 film The Grim Game at its TCM Classic Film Festival in March.

The only known copy of the complete film was held by Larry Weeks, a 95-year-old retired juggler who lived in Brooklyn. Weeks had obtained the film from the Houdini estate in 1947, had only shown it a few times and  never had been willing to sell it. [Film preservationist Rick] Schmidlin got in touch with Weeks and visited him to assess the condition of the film. Weeks showed him the two film cans that contained The Grim Game. Schmidlin explained that TCM was willing to make an offer, and after two hours of discussion, Weeks finally agreed.

(15) Sarah Brightman, the famous singer who once was married to Andrew Lloyd-Webber, has purchased passage to the International Space Station. She is about to embark on her space training at Russia’s Star City in preparation for the September 2015 launch.

Ironically, Brightman had a huge hit with “I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper” in 1978. (Please don’t sue me if you want to gouge your eyes out after viewing this.)

(16) Here’s a link to James Doohan’s home movies, including many shots of his fellow Trek cast members.

(17) James H. Burns claims it is a myth that women don’t like The Three Stooges. Read his testimony at TV Party.

One night, in one of the popular Broadway joints, I’m having a couple of drinks with an actress I had recently met. A lovely, musicals-type gal. And we’re talking; and schmoozing; and maybe she couldn’t hold her booze as well as she might have liked. Somehow, old movies came up.

And. somehow, I mention the Stooges. She tells me she LOVES the Stooges. In fact, she grew up loving them in the mid-West. Now, I figure she’s just kind of fibbing, trying to get in good with me by professing she shares my affection for the brothers Howard, and Fine….

(18) Francis Hamit sends along a link promoting his Christopher Marlowe movie:

This film doesn’t have a lot to do with science fiction and fantasy. Christopher Marlowe did write that “required reading” play about the man who sold his soul to the Devil,. Doctor Faustus. More importantly Mike Donahue, who will direct this feature film this year, is a well known fan. He was Fan Guest of Honor at the 2013 LosCon. Mike and I met many years ago at some convention and it was his idea to make my 1988 stage play into a film. Our efforts have been met with the usual skepticism and bad will that happens when Fans wander off the reservation and try to do something important and meaningful, but this project is happening. This video clip is part of our ongoing promotional effort on our Facebook page.


(19) andrew j. offutt was a prolific author – perhaps even more than you know. His son Chris writes about processing his father’s archives in a New York Times article, ”My Dad, the Pornographer”.

My father, Andrew Jefferson Offutt V, grew up in a log cabin in Taylorsville, Ky. The house had 12-inch-thick walls with gun ports to defend against attackers: first Indians, then soldiers during the Civil War. At 12, Dad wrote a novel of the Old West. He taught himself to type with the Columbus method — find it and land on it — using one finger on his left hand and two fingers on his right. Dad typed swiftly and with great passion. In this fashion, he eventually wrote and published more than 400 books. Two were science fiction and 24 were fantasy, written under his own name; the rest were pornography, using 17 pseudonyms.

[Thanks for these links goes out to Dan Goodman, Michael Walsh, Lex Berman, James H. Burns, John King Tarpinian and Andrew Porter.]

Snapshots 147 Highest Possible Break In Snooker

Here are 14 developments of interest to fans.

(1) “Why is Area 51 called Area 51?” explodes my theory that it was so-called because it lies between Areas 50 and 52…

To keep track of the various test locations for nuclear explosions, the government started numbering sites using the word “Area” and a number. The locations were numbered in an apparently random order, with the Atomic Energy Commission personnel initially assigning numbers for identification purposes.

There’s a map of the Areas at Today I Found Out:

Note that not every numeral between 1 and 30 appears on the NTS map. Notably missing are 13, 21, 24 and 28; nonetheless, these numbers were apparently used to designate areas for atomic testing in the region – albeit outside of the set-aside NTS zone. For example, an “Area 13? was designated just northeast of the NTS in the NAFR, while “Area 24? refers to the North Las Vegas Facility, a satellite site of the NTS managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Site Office (NNSA). “Area 28? was originally designated in the southwestern part of the NTS in the vicinity of areas 25 and 27, into which it was absorbed

(2) What is the biggest role Sean Connery ever turned down? Moviepilot ranks this number one

Gandalf is undoubtedly the biggest role that Connery has ever rejected. He, understandably, regretted turning down both turning down the role of Gandalf and not taking part in The Matrix, which is the main reason why he joined the cast of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Sir Sean Connery explained that he passed on the role of the wizard because he did not understand the material and had never read Tolkien. Too bad for him because he would have made a staggering $253 million (an estimation) from the role.

(3) Some neighborhoods have rules to prevent RV’s from camping out in people’s driveways. Perhaps that’s the logic behind this homeowners association telling a couple to move their TARDIS.

A Florida family said they obeyed an order to have their TARDIS, the iconic blue box from sci-fi series Doctor Who, travel through time and space to the garage.

Parrish residents LeAnn and David Moder, whose life-sized replica of the Time Lord’s preferred mode of transport was built for their Doctor Who-themed wedding, said they received a letter recently from their homeowner’s association ordering them to remove the time-and-space vessel from their driveway.

(4) There are days when Mars is warmer than Green Bay.

But as of now, the NFL has scheduled no football games there…

(5) Artist Mike Hinge is remembered in an extraordinary digital collection of his work at The Tenth Letter of the Alphabet. There are many reproductions of his book and magazine covers, and the typefaces he designed. There are also links to other Hinge pages.

(6) James H. Burns meant to go see Godfather III that night 24 years ago but got sidetracked paging through a comics collection – which may have saved his life. Click the link to see the complete anecdote at The Comics Bulletin.

It was horrifying, of course. But also personally upsetting, because I had come as close to going to the screening as was possible, without actually going…

Update — there is now a problem with this link and it isn’t working, so Burns has reproduced the referenced article in a comment below.

(7) A Batman 75th anniversary Batman short by Bruce Timm, one of the great fillmmakers behind Batman: The Animated Series, shows what the Caped Crusader might have been like in a cartoon towards his very beginnings. In this lost tale from Batman’s past, the Dark Knight tracks a strange giant to the mysterious lair of Dr. Hugo Strange.

(8) While reviewing Agent Carter, Andy Greenwald of Grantland shows he has quite a way with words.

Rather than biding time between blockbusters, like the dot-connecting drudgery of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter travels back in it: The show is set in the years immediately following World War II, at a time when ray guns suddenly seemed as plausible as A-bombs. Second (and this is key), it actually feels like an ABC TV show: Peggy Carter, a plucky striver with a thing for powerful men — and that thing is often her fist — wouldn’t be out of place in that competing comic-book universe known as Shondaland.

(9) Daniel Finney, a Des Moines Register columnist, penned a sympathetic article about the Rusty Hevelin collection at the University of Iowa Libraries.

Please note that Hevelin was a science fiction fan. That’s science fiction written out, not “sci-fi,” which true fans of the genre say describes only the crass, commercial side of things.

A true science fiction fan isn’t interested in grip-and-grin photos with the aged actors of long-canceled TV shows.

They’re interested in the stories — the ideas put forth by authors, filmmakers and television producers that consider who we are and what we might become.

A true science fiction fan such as Hevelin would find it pleasant to meet William Shatner, the man who played Captain Kirk on “Star Trek.”

But he would be absolutely in orbit to discuss the scripts of Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original script for the Hugo Award-winning 1967 “Star Trek” episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

(10) Detcon2: Worldcon 2025. One bid. One chair. Two heads.

Tammy Coxen and Helen Montgomery.

Tammy Coxen and Helen Montgomery.

If that pair was really bidding, I’d vote for them!

(11) Here’s a business digital publishing can’t kill off.

The symptoms were grim: advanced age, crumbling physical condition, broken spine. The operation would last several hours and require meticulous care. But recovery was likely, and the procedure would cost only $100.

The patient was a 90-year-old family Bible in need of major restoration.

“I always tell people that I compare book restoration with face-lifts,” said Bruce Kavin, one of three siblings who run Kater-Crafts Bookbinders. “Generally speaking, the less you do, the better.”

The Pico Rivera company has survived for 66 years while many other bookbinding companies have failed. But it hasn’t been painless. Where 100 people once worked, now only a dozen ply the trade.

(12) The Lego Movie was missing in action from the Oscar nominations, which provoked Mark Harris of Grantland to take a whack at the Academy’s corps of animators:

The unexpected omission of The Lego Movie from Best Animated Feature. Folks, this branch has problems. Real problems. Taste problems and maybe even some issues of clubbiness, insularity, and favorite-playing. No excuses for this one; further examination is warranted, and we’re probably at the point at which these nominations would look a lot better if they weren’t picked solely by animators.

(13) The ratings for King of the Nerds must be good enough to encourage other forays into fan/reality television. Coming soon – Last Fan Standing.

Cinedigm, which will launch CONtv as a new over-the-top channel dedicated to the Comic-Con circuit in February, has tapped Bruce Campbell as host of a new game show, “Last Fan Standing.”

Campbell, who has become an icon to Comic-Con attendees for his roles in horror films like “Army of Darkness” and “The Evil Dead,” taped his first episode of “Last Fan Standing” during the New Orleans Comic Con on Jan. 10.

In each installment, Campbell asks questions such as how much does Thor’s hammer weigh? The top four players who answer questions in a crowd get to compete for the title of the last fan standing.

… “At a live preview during Wizard World’s Chicago Comic Con last August, 600 screaming fans could barely hold their seats,” said Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm Entertainment. “It was obvious to us that this would be a hit. With a host as beloved in the fan community as Bruce, there’s no better fit for CONtv than ‘Last Fan Standing.’ We think of this series as a celebration of the pop culture obsession and fan engagement that makes the CONtv audience so special.”

(14) Raw footage from a 24-minute interview with Forrest J Ackerman has been released for the first time.

In 1997, Channel 4 in the UK aired an hour long documentary titled Secret Lives – L. Ron Hubbard. We’ve posted it here at the Underground Bunker in the past, and it’s long been considered one of the better documentaries about the organization and its founder. It contained interviews with key people, such as Hana Eltringham Whitfield, who captained one of Hubbard’s ships as Scientology was run from sea in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It also featured a brief interview with Forrest Ackerman, the famous science fiction promoter who was once Hubbard’s literary agent.

And now, the raw footage of Ackerman’s entire interview — most of which did not make the finished documentary

[Thanks for these links goes out to James H. Burns, John King Tarpinian and Andrew Porter.]

Snapshots 146 BC Carthago delenda est

Here are 11 developments of interest to fans.


(1) “Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other.” So began the first sf novel I ever read, E. E. “Doc” Smith‘s Triplanetary, its opening line fraught with such cosmic drama it has remained imprinted on my memory.

As I understand it, “Doc” Smith’s story begins that way because theorists of his day assumed that kind of cosmological accident was a prerequisite for creating large numbers of planets. Otherwise we’d be wondering how he guessed — it was only in 2012 that NASA scientists announced our Milky Way actually is bound on an collision course with Andromeda.

The galaxy is already close enough that if it were fully visible to the naked eye and as bright as the Moon it would appear as shown in the photo above. In about 3.75 billion years, Andromeda will dominate the night sky. Click here for an artist’s interpretation.

(2) Tetris the movie. No kidding.

“It’s a very big, epic sci-fi movie,” Threshold’s C.E.O., Larry Kasanoff, told the Journal. “This isn’t a movie with a bunch of lines running around the page. We’re not giving feet to the geometric shapes.” The people at Tetris were equally vague. In a press release, the company said, “In this new universe, as you’ll soon find out, there’s much more to Tetris than simply clearing lines.”

“The response was not surprising, because how the hell are you going to make a movie out of Tetris?” Kasanoff told me on Thursday. He declined to offer any specifics about the story, but said that it would be a live-action movie. “When you make a movie out of a video game, you don’t make it of the game itself, but you try to figure out what is the essence of that game,” Kasanoff said. “And then you go up a level on the food chain to tell a story.” For the nature of that essence, he pointed to what Henk Rogers, the founder of the Tetris Company, once identified as the game’s appeal: that it speaks to people’s desire to create order out of chaos.

(3) Britain’s first sf movie, A Message from Mars, has now been restored as part of a special project by BBC Arts and the British Film Institute.

A Message from Mars follows the story of a Martian, who is sent to Earth as a punishment for misbehaving. The silent film has been given a new soundtrack, composed by creative director Matthew Herbert.Brian Robinson from the BFI told BBC Breakfast: ‘Anything that’s lost for 100 years is going to have some elements of decay… those had to be painstakingly removed.'”

You can watch the entire film online here.

I suspect that if they put it on a double-bill with Tetris, the Martians of 1913 would look a lot smarter than 21st Century movie producers.

Martian court

(4) And if you have two more minutes to spare, this short video traces Superman through the years, from his first appearance on the cover of Action Comics #1 to Henry Cavill in this year’s Man of Steel.

(5) I’m a great admirer of thought experiments, and Chris Lough’s effort to deduce How Fast is The Millennium Falcon wrangles math and fictional cosmology with an agility worthy of the applause of Gregory Benford himself.

We know—unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, seriously wizard don’t you read SmugglerFeed?—that this is the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But we also know that a parsec is a measure of distance, and since Han doesn’t specify how long it took the Falcon to make this sub-12 parsec shortcut, we don’t actually get an idea as to how fast the ship can go.

Oh, but she’ll do “.5 past light speed” which…doesn’t tell us much either. Obviously ships in the Star Wars galaxy can go faster than light speed otherwise there’d be no movie, but how fast is .5 on their hyperdrive scales in terms of light years traversed per day?

(6) Did anyone say spending time on research is nuts? Scientists in Canada using peanut shells have created a hybrid sodium ion capacitor in a pioneering study bridging the gap between conventional ion batteries and supercapacitors.

(7) Here’s a whale of a tale. World News Report said an entire dead whale was found in a field in Utah. Locals responded by flooding the cops with calls:

Dispatchers say the amount of calls regarding the story have been over-whaleming. Ever since the story hit, people can’t seem to stop blubbering about it. It’s unknown if the pod of citizens calling was orcastrated from the beginning, but the Sheriff’s Office is kindly asking residents to stop, as it’s giving them a humpback.

Eventually somebody was forced to explain that World News Report is a satirical news site – something which was never a secret in the first place.

I have my own plans for the fake photo WNR ran with its story. In a few weeks, when memories have become sufficiently fuzzy, I’m going to gank the photo and run it here as part of an item congratulating Larry Correia for being the first bowhunter to bag a whale in Utah.

(8) Plans for remaking Fahrenheit 451 are in development hell. Hoping to spark some interest (so to speak) the proposed designs for the fire trucks have been published.

These concepts revealed what the trucks of Fahrenheit 451 may have looked like in the final film if it ever gets made, although in Hollywood, nothing is ever really dead. So why has the film not been made yet? For the same reason all films get delayed: budget. Sometimes it’s the talent who has to finish a film, but generally, everything comes down to money and has to answer one basic question. Would you guys go see this movie? I would… as long as there’s cool cars.

(9) I see this following item as being like the counterpart of HO railroading for …oh… insane people… It’s about making a line of action figures for the first Alien movie.

Unlike the first Star Wars, which had a wealth of action figures featuring virtually every character in the film, the first Alien never had a proper toy line of its own. Though one was planned back in 1979 and prototypes were built, Kenner ultimately cancelled the idea before the toys went to manufacturing. (Toy company Super7 released its own figures in 2013 based on the original prototypes.)

For [Dayton] Allen, this made Alien an ideal project to tackle: not only was it his favorite sci-fi movie, but he’d also be helping to fill in a gap. “One of things I most enjoy about the hobby is creating figures and environments which the current toy industry would never consider producing,” he explains.

It’s still a work in progress, but Allen’s Alien project is a wonderfully detailed and complex recreation of the film, at 1:18 scale. Built in his spare time — Allen is a graphic designer by day — so far he’s managed to complete several characters, most of the terrifying xenomorph, and a good chunk of the interior of the Nostromo spaceship. “Since I’m not on a payroll to complete the work on a deadline,” he says of the project, “I take my time and enjoy the ride.”

The process starts with a lot of reference material — screencaps from the films, behind-the-scenes-photography, and other production-related imagery. Allen has even gone so far as to talk to some of the original production crew to suss out some of the finer details. After that, he gathers the right materials — he builds figures and sets out of everything from epoxies and clay to laser-cut MDF board — which is followed by the pain-staking process of modeling and sculpting the figures. “This being a Ridley Scott film,” explains Allen, “nothing is without complexity.”

(10) Brother Guy Consolmagno, whom the internet likes to call “the Pope’s astronomer,” is co-author (with Paul Mueller) of Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

Consolmagno’s short answer is “yes.“ But “only if she asks!”

(11) Some people at Texas A&M find fandom – I attended a convention on campus once – but a lot more of them find Bonfire. Grantland’s story about the community that engineers the tower of flaming logs (which cost the lives of a dozen students 15 years ago) shows the quasi-fannish culture that has helped this tradition persist in the face of tragedy.

It is practically inevitable that Lechner’s crewmembers are known at Bonfire as Lechnerds. On one side of Eckardt’s pot are the words “NERD CHIEF,” on the other “BOTTOM POT.” The other crew chiefs are dubbed Strange Pot and Charm Pot. Bottom? Strange? Charm? “Those are three types of quarks,” one kid explains. Lechnerds.

Nearly six feet tall and trim as a tennis pro, Eckardt wears denim overalls. A fawn-colored braid falls from under her pot and over one shoulder. When she wields an ax, it is with power. In appearance and dexterity, there is nothing nerdy about Alia Eckardt. Her major is civil engineering. Born and raised in Dallas to parents who are not Aggies, she turned down Cornell to attend A&M. At first she was unsure she’d made the right decision. “I can easily say, if I had not found Bonfire in my first semester, I would not be nearly as happy at this university as I am now,” she says. “Especially for our fish, the nerdy ones, the ones who aren’t necessarily going to go out and meet people, Bonfire gives them a community.”

[Thanks for these links goes out to Dave Doering, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter and Martin Morse Wooster.]

Snapshots 145

Here are a lucky 13 developments of interest to fans.

(1) After the Jurassic World trailer went online paleontologists shed Sarcosuchus-sized tears to see that the movie is ignoring everything they’ve learned in the past 20 years about the way dinosaurs really looked:

As Hans-Dieter Sues, National Museum of Natural History Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, said in an e-mail to The Post: “Meh.”

“It looks like a standard monster movie,” Sues said after viewing the clip. “The prehistoric animals represent reconstructions from the 1970?s and ’80?s. The reconstructions are totally out of date.” ….

“The raptors and ostrich-mimic dinosaurs would have been feather-clad,” the Smithsonian’s Sues noted. The dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” are featherless, even though researchers now know that many prehistoric creatures would have sported feathers.”

While some have argued that feathered raptors might not look quite as intimidating as the more nostalgic models seen in the trailer, Sues suggests another reason: “Animating feathers is hard, and the producers probably wanted to cut costs.”

(2) While Hans-Dieter Sues was melting down about Hollywood’s work on dinosaurs no one’s ever seen alive, Gary Campbell has been worrying about how long it’s ben since anyone’s claimed to see the Loch Ness monster. He wonders: Has it died?

According to Gary Campbell, who maintains a record of sightings, in the last 18 months no one has spotted the Loch Ness monster. He resides in Inverness and has been maintaining a record of Loch Ness monster sightings for the past 17 years.  He has records that date back to some 1,500 years.

Campbell said, “It’s very upsetting news and we don’t know where she’s gone. The number of sightings has been reducing since the turn of the century but this is the first time in almost 90 years that Nessie wasn’t seen at all.”

Don’t worry. According to the Percy Jackson series when mythical monsters die they always come back eventually. Nessie may be in Tartarus right now. But I don’t recommend Gary go there to check.

(3) The USB Typewriter gets File 770’s stamp of approval as the greatest invention of this century.

(4) The rush to nitpick and snark about the new Star Wars trailer upset one critic, quoted in the New York Times:

Linda Holmes, a culture writer for NPR, said she also enjoyed the trailer, but expressed dismay at the volume of vehemently negative comments she had seen — remarks directed at the trailer as well as at other commenters.

As often happens in the lengthy buildup to a work of mass entertainment, Ms. Holmes said in a telephone interview: “It’s all about being mad all the time. No matter whether people wind up liking it or not liking it, the conversation becomes negative.”

“There are times when enthusiasm can only be expressed through dissatisfaction with the product that you get,” she said. “Or if you like the product you get, it becomes all about expressing your dissatisfaction with other people’s failure to appreciate it.”

With the “Star Wars” franchise, Ms. Holmes said, some moviegoers already feel burned by the so-called “prequel trilogy,” three follow-up films released between 1999 and 2005, “that people really substantively didn’t like.” Some of the knee-jerk negativity directed at “The Force Awakens,” she said, “is baked-in skepticism from actual experience.”

(5) John Cleese and Eric Idle appeared before a sold-out crowd at Live Talks Los Angeles on November 18. Here’s the video (runs 77 minutes).

(6) Here’s some more analysis of the Antikythera mechanism, one of antiquity’s most fascinating creations.

The new study, published in the journal Archive for History of Exact Science, involved a detailed look at the Saros dial (eclipse predictor) of the Antikythera mechanism. Their results revealed that the prediction calendar includes a solar eclipse that occurred on May 12, 205 BC. This suggests that the device is at least this old, and may in fact be the year of its creation. Researchers had previously dated the mechanism to around 100 to 150 BC based on  radiocarbon dating and an analysis of the Greek letters inscribed on the device. However, the new date pushes the origin back by 50 to 100 years, and suggests that Archimedes is unlikely to be its creator, as he was killed in 212 BC, seven years prior to the new date of 205 BC.

The study also supports the idea that the maths used for eclipse prediction was based on Babylonian arithmetical models borrowed by the Greeks. “We… find that a Babylonian-style arithmetical scheme employing an equation of center and daily velocities would match the inscribed times of day quite well,” write the study authors. “Indeed, an arithmetic scheme for the eclipse times matches the evidence somewhat better than does a [Greek] trigonometric model.”

(7) Ann Leckie says Ancillary Justice has been optioned for TV.

So who has this option, you ask? It’s production company Fabrik and Fox Television Studios. They have previously worked together on THE KILLNG for four seasons on AMC and Netflix, and they started their relationship with BURN NOTICE, which ran for seven Seasons on USA.

Fabrik is currently in production on BOSCH, Amazon’s first ever hour-long drama pilot based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling Harry Bosch book series

(8) Greg Bear is one sf writer who is pretty happy with Amazon as a book publisher. He recently was interviewed in the Seattle Weekly.

From his home overlooking Lynnwood’s Lake Martha, Greg Bear describes how he came to be published by Amazon imprint 47North. Bear has worked with a variety of publishers, including his current, Hachette. And, yes, the current dispute endangers sales of the book he released last month, War Dogs, which is why he signed both of the recent protest letters against Amazon.

Yet he talks appreciatively of his experience with the company’s publishing arm. The story begins, oddly enough, with swordfighting. As a writer interested in long-ago worlds, he liked to practice the medieval art. He did so regularly at a circus school in Georgetown, along with renowned Seattle science-fiction author Neal Stephenson, a few sword-makers, and other friends and science-fiction fans. Afterward, they’d sit around “talking story,” as Bear puts it. Jointly, they created a tale about a 13th-century fight against a Mongolian khan bent on destroying Europe. Eventually it became a collaboratively written manuscript of half a million words.

A work of that length written by seven authors, many of them unknown, did not fit the traditional publishing model. “New York just couldn’t seem to get it,” Bear says. Genre publishing has been hammered over the past two decades by the decimation of the mass market—the cheap paperbacks, once seen in great variety in grocery stores and airports, which are no longer as plentiful due to a complex set of factors linked to the consolidation of distributors. Publishers eyeing The Mongoliad were not in the mood for risk.

Amazon, however, was eager both to try new things and create a new mass market. In 2012, its 47North imprint launched a Mongoliad series of books, promoting them at Comicon conventions and the Experience Music Project Museum, where it staged a swordfighting contest.“We sold hundreds of thousands of copies,” Bear says.

(9) Brains have been missing from the University of Texas for years. Now that they’ve been found will anybody notice the difference?

The case of the missing 100 brains in Texas has been solved, officials said on Wednesday. And, no, this is not a joke. 

The brains, missing from a facility at the University of Texas in Austin have been found at the University of Texas in San Antonio, Timothy Schallert, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the Austin school, told the Los Angeles Times.

“They have the brains,” Schallert said. “They read a media report of the missing brains and they called to say: ‘We got those brains!’

“I know the brains will be treated very well there,” Schallert said.

The case of the missing brains began in the 1990s, Schallert said, when officials noticed that about half of 200 brains stored at the Austin school had gone absent without leave. The brains were individually stored in formaldehyde, used as a preservative.

(10) Writers suffer some wounds that never heal. Stephen King dished about one of his in a Rolling Stone interview:

A lot of critics were pretty brutal to you when you were starting out.
Early in my career, The Village Voice did a caricature of me that hurts even today when I think about it. It was a picture of me eating money. I had this big, bloated face. It was this assumption that if fiction was selling a lot of copies, it was bad. If something is accessible to a lot of people, it’s got to be dumb because most people are dumb. And that’s elitist. I don’t buy it.

(11) How much would you pay for the original handwritten Theory of Relativity? Guess higher.

This is how Aristophil justifies the stupendous “value increase” for some of its holdings, including the piece of paper on which Albert Einstein scribbled the theory of relativity, which, according to L’Express, was bought at Christie’s New York in 2002 for $559,000 and is now estimated by the company at $28.5 million.

(12) I don’t think it’s “revisionist history” when all a writer really does is crap all over Donald Wollheim’s reputation.

(13) On the other hand, crapping all over H. P. Lovecraft is the “traditional history,” something that Nick Mamatas calls into question in his essay for the LA Review of Books titled “The Real Mr. Difficult, or Why Cthulhu Threatens to Destroy the Canon, Self-Interested Literary Essayists, and the Universe Itself. Finally.”

No writer of quality would write fiction in the mode of a writer known to be a bad one, but Lovecraft is “known” to be bad. Publishing in the pulps and the amateur press of his day, Lovecraft avoided the critical gaze during his lifetime, but in 1945 the legendary literary critic Edmund Wilson devoted a New Yorker piece to taking Lovecraft apart. “Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous” was reprinted in Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties, which guaranteed that the drubbing would be widely read for decades to come. There’s little actual criticism in the piece, though. Wilson just sniffs that Lovecraft’s prose was verbose and undistinguished, and not a patch on Edgar Allan Poe’s. He then provides zero examples of such inferior sentences, or even a single sentence of any sort from any of Lovecraft’s fiction. Wilson explains that Lovecraft stories frequently contain the words “horrible”, “frightful”, “unholy”, and the like, which he then explains should never appear in a horror story.

[Thanks for these links goes out to John King Tarpinian, David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter.]

Snapshots 144 Magnum Do You Feel Lucky?

Here are 25 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Galactic Journey is liveblogging daily news of the Space Age as if the internet existed in the 1950s. Its October 6 post reported the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 probe is on its way to photograph the Moon’s backside.

This time, the goal was the Moon’s far side, which had never been seen before. The reason for this is that the Moon is tidally locked in its orbit around the Earth such that it cannot rotate (much as an object floating in water will stay fixed with is heavy end pointing down). As a result, humanity has only seen one side of the Moon for the entirety of human existence. Isaac Asimov once joked, in the form of a mediocre science fiction tale, that there is no back side to the Moon–that it’s really just a false front movie prop.
But there is a far side. We know this because the Soviets have sent its third “Lunik,” formally named Luna 3, sailing around the Moon to take pictures of it. The results promise to be a darn-sight better than what we managed with Explorer 6 and a much closer target.

(2) In a clear violation of the law of supply and demand, someone has invented a typewriter that types letters in Comic Sans, the most mocked font on the Internet. Jesse England calls his invention the “Sincerity Machine“.

Why do it? It’s hard to say, exactly. But it’s the kind of project that interests England, an artist and educator who leads classes in laser-cutting and engraving at a digital media studio for a living. Through his job he had access to tools to etch letters out of acrylic and glue them onto the strikers of an old Brother Charger 11 typewriter he found on the street years ago.

He could have used any font, but he chose Comic Sans “to provoke a reaction.”

(3) Sharknados are real!!! Actress Tara Reid says so.

It’s a Sharkmas miracle! (Sharkmas is when a shark comes down Tara Reid’s chimney and tells her erroneous marine biology facts.)

“You know, it actually can happen,” she said. “I mean, the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen actually. Which is crazy. Not that it — the chances of it are, like, you know, it’s like probably ‘pigs could fly.’ Like, I don’t think pigs could fly, but actually sharks could be stuck in tornados. There could be a sharknado.”

(4) As Mark Leeper notes in MT Void, the first feature-length space adventure was the 1917 Danish film Himmelskibet (meaning “skyship,” aka A Trip To Mars).

Made during the height of World War I, the film is a rather saccharin account of the first spaceship to Mars finding a perfected humanity on Mars enjoying the blessings of pacifism. Just about everything is overstated, but science fiction completists will be interested to see the film. The spaceship looks like a dirigible crossed with a bi-plane.

The 80-minute film is available on YouTube, with title cards in Danish and English (and Russian closed captioning.)

(5) Tomas Cronholm’s extensive Loncon 3 report for BEM’s Blog tells what panelists had to say on a good many program items, the kind of coverage not easily found and rarely done as well as it is here.

(6) Norman Lloyd worked with Orson Welles in New York, directed episodes for Alfred Hitchcock’s TV series, played tennis with Charlie Chaplin four times a week – and at the age of 100 he has more experience with Hollywood and Broadway than anyone alive. An excellent profile in The Hollywood Reporter.

(7) Darin Bradley is bringing back Farrago’s Wainscot in January and promises the magazine will deliver “’Fresh weird.’ There you go—a new neologism for a new era.”

(8) Here’s Steven Colbert’s 1-minute take on violence toward women in video games (from Facebook) which sets up a 5-minute clip where he plays his usual buffoonish interviewer while handing straight lines to GamerGate target Anita Sarkeesian.

(9) William Shatner let the world know he wasn’t happy to be left out of 2009 reboot of the Star Trek film franchise but there’s a possibility he might be in Star Trek 3.

Shatner has said J.J. Abrams, who produced and directed the 2009 “Star Trek” film and 2013 sequel, recently called to say [director Roberto] Orci had an idea about how Shatner might be in the next film of the new franchise, which stars Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk.

Shatner says he would do the movie if it’s a meaningful part, “a role that had something to do with the turning of the plot.” Still, the 83-year-old actor says he’s not sure how they’d bring him back now – 20 years after his character was killed off in “Star Trek: Generations.”

“That was so long ago. How do they bring me back physically like this? I don’t know,” he says.

(10) Right after a Captain Kirk reference seems a good place to mention there’s been a tiny bit of progress toward creating a real tractor beam:

Tractor beams now have a better shot at crossing from science fiction trope to reality, thanks to scientists at The Australian National University (ANU). They managed to push and pull a 0.2mm sized particle nearly 20cm using a “hollow” laser beam. That’s a hundred-fold improvement over recent efforts at light propulsion, which have only moved microscopic particles short distances. The ANU team placed gold-coated glass spheres in the light-free center of the beams, creating hotspots on the surface that propelled the spheres via air reactions. The hotspot’s location was changed by adjusting the polarization, giving scientists full control over the sphere’s motion. Sure, it’s not exactly the Death Star, but the scientists think it’ll work over long distances — meaning it could one day be used to, say, control pollution or move dangerous particles in the lab

(11) And here’s a vintage news item about the Captain I missed the first time around, concerning Jeff Burke’s novel Shatnerquake published in 2009.

After a reality bomb goes off at the first ever ShatnerCon, all of the characters ever played by William Shatner are suddenly sucked into our world. Their mission: hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner. Featuring: Captain Kirk, TJ Hooker, Denny Crane, Priceline Shatner, Cartoon Kirk, Rescue 9-1-1 Shatner, singer Shatner, and many more. No costumed con-goer will be spared in their wave of destruction, no red shirt will make it out alive, and not even the Klingons will be able to stand up to a deranged Captain Kirk with a light saber. But these Shatner- clones are about to learn a hard lesson . . . that the real William Shatner doesn’t take crap from anybody. Not even himself.

That should read: Not even Shat can give Shat to Shat.

(12) William Gibson, interviewed by Motherboard about his new novel, predicts those of us alive today are unlikely to be appreciated on our own terms by societies of the future.

Most science fiction concerns our fascination with the future, but The Peripheral is so much more about the future’s fascination with us. What interests you about what the future might think of us?

If there were somehow a way for me to get one body of knowledge from the future—one volume of the great shelf of knowledge of a couple of hundred years from now—I would want to get a history. I would want to get a history book. I would want to know what they think of us. From that, I would be able to infer anything else that I might want to know about the future. The one constant, it seems to me, in looking at how we look at the past, how we have looked at the past before, is that we never see the inhabitants of the past as they saw themselves.

We have a very detailed idea of what the Victorians were like. They’re not really very far away, but they were different. Their view of themselves is nothing like our view of them. They probably didn’t think they were puritanical and kinky. They probably didn’t think that conditions of child labor were that problematic. I’m sure they didn’t think that colonialism was a problem—it was a feature, not a bug. Their whole business was based on it. We see them very differently, and I think that the future won’t see us as anything like we see ourselves to be.

(13) The following paragraphs appeared as if out of nowhere in the middle of a column of football predictions on Grantland:

You played SimCity, right? You know, the original SimCity, the one you had on a gigantic 5.25-inch floppy disk, that SimCity. Do you remember how bad your attempts at a metropolis were when you played SimCity as a little kid? They were bizarre, nihilistic works of art.

Residential buildings just slapped next to smokestacks. A decaying commercial zone, victimized by a statistically improbable number of simultaneous earthquakes and Godzilla attacks. Electrical lines building a grid totally unconnected to any power plant. For public safety, six police stations and six fire stations placed directly next to one another next to a road that never loops back on itself and just runs out in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and the totally useful sports stadium, presumably attended by the one poor, confused family who showed up to live in one of your residential zones for a couple of in-game seconds before immediately leaving in a terrified huff.

What I really remember is in the Stone Age of video games when that floppy-disk version of Sim CIty was first loaded on an early PC at the LASFS clubhouse Leigh Strother-Vien said she spent 26 straight hours playing the game.

(14) Steven Rosenberg’s Feel The Nuys, a very occasional Daily News blog, devoted its September 7 post to a photo of a well-worn bookmark given away by Dangerous Visions bookstore, once the beloved headquarters of the science fiction genre in the San Fernando Valley, when it was located in the Valley on Ventura Boulevard.

(15) Diabolical Plots interviewed Bud Webster of the SFWA Estate Project. One of the most interesting questions he tackled was —

What constitutes due diligence when determining whether a story is public domain?

BUD: A good question, but one that doesn’t have a simple answer. You can’t just Google a name, not find anything on the first screen, and assume that the estate is dead. Nor can you find one source offering the work for free and claiming it’s PD and not look further. That ain’t no way diligence, due or otherwise. For me, due diligence is looking for as long as it takes to find an answer one way or another. If that means asking a few people, fine. If it means checking the Copyright Office website for specific renewal notices, searching for the possibility that the magazine that originally published a story may not have registered copyright then looking further to see if the author did at a later time, then that’s equally fine. I will point out here, though, that to my direct knowledge the information at the CO website is not always accurate; in one specific case, an e-publisher checked the status of a novel there, found no notice of renewal, and issued the book. When the author – still alive and writing, I’ll point out – found out about it, he was able to show the publisher his paperwork proving that the rights HAD been renewed. To the publisher’s credit, they immediately issued a check in the amount the writer asked for. So, due diligence? It’s whatever it takes. Now I know that’s not terribly responsive, and it’s certainly NOT a legal definition by any means, but it’s what I do.

(16) Thomas Monteleone is one more writer with warm remembrances of his former agent, the late Kirby McCauley:

And then I get a call from Kirby who asked me point blank when I was going to have a novel ready for him. The question was that two-by-four against your head that changes everything. I paused because I didn’t really have an answer for him, finally admitting I hadn’t much thought about it yet. He chuckled and told me I’d never be a real writer just selling short stories, that I had to write books if I wanted to make a living at what I loved.

And Kirby was right.

Problem was . . . I’d never written anything longer than 40 pages, and the idea of typing out more than 300 on a typewriter was like contemplating the Hindu structure of the Universe. Although I kept a notebook full of weird ideas for stories, I had no clue if any of them would be complex enough to sustain a book-length narrative, and I told him pretty much those exact words. Right then, Kirby said something to me I’ve always remembered: “Don’t kid yourself, Tom. You’re a good writer. You’ve got good ideas and good story sense. Go for it.”

(17) When Speaking Truth To Power happens to give a writer an elevated platform, they may in turn become a Power that needs some Truth Spoken To. That seems to be how Kathryn Cramer regards the blogger “Requires Only That You Hate” whose actual name was recently disclosed.

She was playing to a crowd, a pre-existing mostly female audience with a taste for blood clothed as speaking Truth to Power. I’d go so far as to say that she rose to what has been called a “celebrity troll”* because she was willing to go farther than anyone else in her rhetoric. And somehow this translated to her getting on the Campbell ballot for Best New Writer under the name she publishes her fiction.

Now that her professional name is known, I am reading of expressions of concern that she is being harassed; reading other writers reassuring her that she is talented, that she said things that were right, that they will go out right now and read her book so that she will not be unfairly deprived of awards in the future. What kind of a world are you trying to build? While at some point it may be appropriate to tell a psychologically fragile young writer, as she apparently is, all these things, THIS IS NOT THE TIME. Let her learn from her mistakes. 

Requires Hate became what she is because the science fiction field socialized her that way. It taught her that harassment in the form of relational aggression under cover of social justice would go completely unpunished and in fact would allow her to rise in the hierarchy. It taught her that behaving that way was the way to get on award ballots and win awards. And some of you don’t seem to be willing to let go of that message.

The clear path that is being offered her is one in which she can harass other writers, now under her professional writing name, and at the same time continue to advance professionally. This is wrong.

(18) Craigslist founder Craig Newmark named Women in Tech You Need To Know in an article for The Huffington Post – and well-known conrunner Edie Stern was high on the list.

2. Edie Stern, a distinguished Engineer and Inventor at IBM Edie has more than 100 patents to her name, and has been awarded the Kate Gleason Award for lifetime achievement. She received the award for the development of novel applications of new technologies. The 100 patents to her name represent her work in the worlds of telephony and the Internet, remote health monitoring, and digital media.

(19) An archeologist nicknamed “Bulgaria’s Indiana Jones” said he has found a “vampire grave” from the 13th century featuring the bones of a man with a heavy iron stake driven through his chest. And the head of the National History Museum in Sofia says about 100 of these medieval “vampire” burials have been found altogether.

(20) Joe Mantegna attended last month’s Pomona Public Library fundraiser and, when talking about the filming of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, said that the actors spoke Ray’s words exactly as written with one exception: Sid Caesar and Howard Morris were allowed to improvise, much to Ray’s delight. 

(21) A famous black pine in Oxford’s Botanic Garden was felled in August:

The pine, much-loved by visitors, was known to be a favourite of JRR Tolkien, whose writings memorably celebrate and champion trees. But during more than two centuries the pine had endured many extremes of weather, and on 26 July one visitor captured the moment two colossal branches broke away — graphic evidence of the dangers it now posed. Here Jill Walker, assistant to the director of the Botanic Garden, has combined Mark Bauer’s phone footage with a record of the tree in its full glory and a time-lapse video of its stately dismantlement.

(22) Despite being a lifelong Dodgers fan, I had to laugh at this creative use of TV technology by San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow —

Krukow likes to use the telestrator to “eliminate” people, drawing an X through Dodgers fans, any appearance by Tommy Lasorda, “tools” who won’t give foul balls to their dates and so on.

We won the division but the Giants won the World Series. Bastards!

(23) When J.J. Abrams isn’t on the phone with William Shatner, he’s making deals with Stephen King. Hulu has contracted with Abram’s Bad Robot Productions for 11/22/63, a nine-hour event series based on Stephen King’s 2011 novel.

11/22/63 is described as a thriller in which high school English teacher Jake Epping travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But his mission is threatened by Lee Harvey Oswald, his falling in love and the past itself … which doesn’t want to be changed.

Added King: “If I ever wrote a book that cries out for longform, event TV programming, 11/22/63 is it. I’m excited that it’s going to happen, and am looking forward to working with J.J. Abrams and the whole Bad Robot team.”

Added Abrams: “I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since I was in junior high school. The chance to work with him at all, let alone on a story so compelling, emotional and imaginative, is a dream. We are thrilled to be working with Hulu on this very special project.”

(24) Here’s one outfit I bet won’t be hearing from J.J. Abrams. Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. announced that the movie, TV and merchandise rights for John Carter of Mars have reverted to the company and they will be “seeking a new studio to continue this seminal Sci-Fi adventure” —

“John Carter of Mars was the creative stimulus behind such movie classics as Superman, Star Wars and Avatar,” said James Sullos, President. “Edgar Rice Burroughs was the Master of Adventure and his literary works continue to enjoy a world-wide following. We will be seeking a new partner to help develop new adventures on film as chronicled in the eleven Mars novels Burroughs wrote. This adventure never stops. Along with a new TARZAN film in development by Warner Bros., we hope to have JOHN CARTER OF MARS become another major franchise to entertain world-wide audiences of all ages.”

Anybody else have millions of dollars they need to lose?

(25) The trailer for Fast and Furious 7 shows cars parachuting out of airplanes. How can they ever top that? Grantland’s Jason Concepcion has the answer.

My script for the Fast 8 trailer, costarring Sandra Bullock, which will link the series to the Gravity continuity:



ROMAN: “Dom, are you sure about this?”

LETTY (V.O): “Nervous, Roman?”

DR. RYAN STONE: “Don’t worry, Roman. I’ve done this in my underwear.”

[Everyone laughs.]




[Thanks for these links goes out to MT Void, David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, Bill Higgins, Chronicle of the Dawn Patrol and John King Tarpinian.]

Snapshots 143 Means I Love You

Here are 16 developments of interest to fans.

(1) We’ve all heard about parents who hope their child inherits the smart one’s brains and the good-looking one’s beauty. Tell the truth, didn’t you ask yourself what if, instead, the child inherits all the traits they don’t like?

That analogy came to mind when I read what happened to the Hollywood filmmakers who are D&D fans and tried to make a documentary about the history of their favorite game.

The New York Times story begins:

For a certain sort of fan, the crowdfunding pitch was impossible to resist. Here was a chance, it announced, to support a documentary about the immortal saga of the legendary game that all but revolutionized modern life. No pressure.

Three filmmakers promised nothing less than the origin story of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, “a cautionary tale of an empire built by friends and lost through betrayal, enmity, poor management, hubris and litigation,” they wrote on their Kickstarter page in 2012. They planned to chronicle the bitter battle waged by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the game’s creators, over credit and royalties.

In other words, they wrote: “Imagine ‘The Social Network’ ” — the box office hit about the tortuous story of Facebook’s founding — “but no one ends up rich.”

If the filmmakers saw a cautionary tale in the story of their shared passion, they failed to heed its lessons. More than $250,000 in Kickstarter pledges and two years later, there is no documentary, only broken friendships and a lawsuit.

(2) Scott Edelman’s review of Ray Bradbury Unbound by Jonathan R. Eller for the Washington Post doesn’t start with a narrative hook – it starts with a narrative harpoon.

For most of us, if a Great White Whale entered our life and changed it forever, the experience would be metaphorical.

Not so for Ray Bradbury.

The review dwells on the provocative question raised in Eller’s biography about the roads not taken because Bradbury devoted so much of his talent to Hollywood scriptwriting.

(3) The “New Weird” is a thing, one that fans find easiest to define by saying what it’s not:

The New Weird often refuses to domesticate the experience of wonder or horror, refuses to make the ‘strange’ in the story unstrange. In traditional science fiction, fantasy, and horror, the reader encounters wonders (or horrors) that are later subjugated under an order of knowledge or a new set of rules the reader learns. The food that the fairies offer you may be strange and surprising, but eventually you learn where it comes from or at least whether or not you’re expected to eat it. The Enterprise‘s ability to beam you down to a planet is at first a wondrous shock, but quickly you learn that it is explainable as an advanced technology that has behind it an entire economy, political system, all so carefully and consistently defined that publishers have released encyclopedias, starship technical manuals, Klingon language textbooks, and monographs on the physics of the Star Trek universe. So the wonder is swiftly and thoroughly tamed.

And then presumably, having learned the rules of the fantasy world and having grappled with the wonders in that world, the reader emerges from the story somewhat wiser and maybe has insight (emotional, intellectual, or otherwise) into the rules of the reader’s own world. That’s a sort of underlying assumption in much speculative fiction.

In the New Weird, what frequently happens is that the new rules aren’t laid out, or if they are, they are quickly rendered suspect. The world the reader has entered remains strange to one degree or another, and in some of the most compelling fiction, the reader is invited to become estranged from his or her own perceptions, too.

(4) Toronto is another good place to become estranged from one’s own perceptions. Either that or public transportation in James Davis Nicoll’s town makes a regular stop somewhere in urban fantasy:

I also got to watch a squirrel follow someone onto a bus, stand on hind legs looking at the passengers and then leave. My guess is it did not have exact change for the fare. The driver did not seem fazed, which makes me wonder if this has happened before.

(5) A few technical glitches during Loncon 3’s awards ceremonies went almost unnoticed thanks to the hosts’ quick wit. But not entirely unnoticed. John Coker III spilled the beans in Scientifiction #41, the newsletter of First Fandom.

Steve Francis’ microphone was not working at the beginning of the presentation of the First Fandom Awards. Mary Robinette Kowal stepped up to him and said, “Speak into my bosom” (lapel microphone). At the 2014 Hugo ceremony, Bryan Talbot’s microphone wasn’t working and co-host Geoff Ryman stepped forward and said, “Here, just speak into my chest.”

(6) Andy Greenwald, Grantland’s genius TV reviewer, celebrated the 10th anniversary of his favorite show’s final episode in ”The Lessons of ‘Lost”: Understanding the Most Important Network Show of the Past 10 Years”.

But if Lost taught me anything, it’s that time travel isn’t just possible, it’s downright necessary. Only by truly examining where we’ve been can we make the adjustments to get us where we need to be. Ten years removed from the pilot, it’s clear that the television industry learned all the wrong lessons from Lost’s success. (Among them: Josh Holloway can be a leading man.) With that in mind, here’s my list of six essential things that Lost could still teach the broadcast networks. Don’t fight it. It’s time to go back.

1. Characters First, Concept Second

This would seem like a no-brainer, but then you remember FlashForward. That high-concept, low-IQ failure from 2009 was only one of a whole flock of series green-lit in Lost’s wake, nearly all of which fundamentally misunderstood the show’s appeal. It was never about the island; it was always about the people. Yet again and again the networks tried to reverse-engineer a hit by coming up with some ludicrously unsustainable conceit — in FlashForward it involved a mass hallucination of a day six months in the future; IRL the show was canceled before even getting there — and then attempting to fill it with compelling characters. As if an audience could ever care about the fate of a world populated solely by cardboard cutouts.

(7) Heritage Auctions blogger Brian Shipman was captivated by J.J. Abrams’ 2013 book S. He believes there’s a pirate treasure awaiting the reader who solves the mystery.

Once LOST ended, I longed for another experience that combined great story, mysterious events, and puzzles woven directly into the story. I didn’t think it would happen. But then, I stumbled onto a book called “S.” And when I saw that J.J. Abrams conceived it, the “same guy” that did LOST – I enthusiastically began the quest.

It’s hard to call “S” a book. “S” is more of an experience that comes in a box with many, many parts. It is inherently a collector’s item. And within it are multiple, stand-alone collector’s items. When you break the seal of the box that contains “S.”, out slides what initially appears to be a single book. An old book, Ship of Theseus,written in 1949 by the fictitious author V.M. Straka. The book appears to be stolen from a high school library in California by a young student named Eric who pencils in his notes over time. Years later, when a college student named Jen picks up the book in the university library and sees his notes, she inks a response. Before long, the two begin a relationship in the margins, discussing the mysterious book itself and the connection that flourishes between them.

People who obsess about the book have already created a webpage listing all the inserts.

(8) Wired’s oral history of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 from a few months ago still may be news to you.

Hodgson set the show in outer space and cast himself as “Joel,” a likable janitor who is blasted into orbit and forced to endure all manner of bad movies. Inspired by the 1972 sci-fi drama Silent Running—in which Bruce Dern plays an outer-space botanist who befriends a trio of robots—Joel created and built three chatty pals to join him: the pseudo-suave, sarcastic Tom Servo; the bigmouthed, perpetually eye-rolling Crow T. Robot; and the sweet (but appropriately spacey) sidekick Gypsy. Though Jim Mallon would eventually play Gypsy, in the early seasons the robots would be voiced by local comedians (and MST3K costars) Josh Weinstein and Trace Beaulieu. The program debuted on KTMA on Thanksgiving Day 1988.

Weinstein: I was inspired to make Tom Servo sort of a smarmy AM radio DJ. He had this incredibly inflated opinion of himself and considered himself a ladies’ robot.

Hodgson: Josh really is Tom Servo. When Josh was 16, he drank single-malt scotch and smoked cigars; he was like a 40-year-old man in a 17-year-old body, which is like Tom Servo. And Crow is like Trace: He can do millions of characters, and he splits the difference between being playful and cynical.

Mallon: If I channeled anybody for Gypsy, I channeled my mom. She had a heart of gold and always looked to the best of everything and the best of everyone. And when confronted with difficult things, she was somewhat lost [Laughs]. She didn’t know how to negotiate when things went poorly. She would be hurt, so Gypsy would be hurt at times and turn to the other robots for support.

(9) Quidditch players want to be taken seriously as athletes. Which they think requires transforming themselves into mundanes, as Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera learned while attending the third annual conference of the International Quidditch Association

In recent years and in conferences such as the Washington gathering, the players have been actively disassociating themselves from the fantasy world in which their sport was born.

Though most still love the series, they have decided that the sport has outgrown its children’s-novel roots.

(10) Or are they’re simply meeting the real world halfway? It seems invisibility cloaks aren’t just for the kids at Hogwart’s anymore.

‘The Rochester Cloak’, as it’s being dubbed, uses a simplified four-lens system that essentially bends light around any objects you put into the middle of the chain – you’re able to see the area in the background as normal, but not the item in the foreground. According to its inventors, it can be scaled up using any size of lens, and the team responsible for the setup has used standard, off-the-shelf hardware.

(11) One of Harlan Ellison’s famous short stories was inspired by his disgust that dozens of witnesses did nothing as a New York woman was being murdered. However, Kevin Cook’s recent book, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime that Changed America, challenges what was reported in the news, and what everyone thinks they know about that night.

One of the stories about which we spoke was The Whimper of Whipped Dogs, which won the Edgar Allan Poe prize for best short story in 1974, and which documents the brutal attack on a young woman in the courtyard of a New York apartment block, whose residents silently watch from their windows as she is stabbed to death. The story attempted to characterise evil as a numinous force drifting up from the killer and swirling around each of the witnesses who did nothing to halt his hand….

The problem for sociologists is that it didn’t actually happen as it was originally reported… [Instead] of 38 witnesses, there was 49. However. all but two of them reported seeing nothing and hearing only indistinct noises which they only associated with the crime afterwards. The idea of a community of the damned leering out the window to watch, an image perpetuated for the past 50 years, is utterly false.

(12) The following item isn’t sf. (Someone is sure to point that out). I was impressed by baseball executive Tony LaRussa’s cogent dissertation about fear, given during his commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis. I didn’t want you to miss it.

And I’m going to tell you that I’m anxious about these remarks, to the point I’m fearful. I’ve actually learned the difference between good fear and bad fear. I talked this morning, I was really struck by the Olympic music, I talked this morning with an Olympian, distinguished Olympic swimmer, and I told her what I was doing, and she said she’d been invited before and was always too afraid to accept the invitation. And I thought, respectfully, I would talk to her about good fear/bad fear because that’s bad fear. You feel this anxiety, the expectation of pressure, and you decide that you’re going to dodge it. And you’re just not going to participate. You will regret that the rest of your life, and you’re going to face a lot of opportunities where there’s an uncertain outcome and you’ve been given the opportunity to try it. Bad fear means you call in sick. And you will never ever have a strong personal feeling and a strong enough ego to be successful and take advantage of what you’ve gone through your whole life, including your education at Washington University.

The good fear is one that you recognize, to have this anxiety is normal. So I’m nervous. And what that has caused me to do is every day for the last month, I’ve thought about this few minutes that I’m going to speak to you, and I was up at 5:30 this morning changing it. But my point is, I’m not afraid to try to say some things this morning that hopefully will be helpful. I’m more afraid of saying no, and not trying it, and I suggest to you that that’s an important lesson going forward. Don’t be afraid. Good fear makes you study for a test because you want to make sure to do your best. Bad fear makes you afraid to take the test.

(13) Loved USA Today’s headline (from the web edition) – “Are you on the list? ‘Genius grant’ winners named.”

Yessir, I thought I’d better click that link immediately. And can you believe it? They left me off again.

MacArthur today named its 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows, recognizing 21 exceptionally creative individuals with a track record of achievement and the potential for significant contributions in the future….

In her comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which ran from 1983 to 2008, [Alison Bechdel] offered a basic metric used to illustrate just how male-dominated the film industry actually is.

The test, which Bechdel coined in 1985 in a strip titled “The Rule,” consists of three questions which set a baseline not for gender parity, but for the simple inclusion of women in a film in any meaningful way:

1) Does it have two female characters?

2) Who talk to each other?

3) About something other than a man?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, the film passes the Bechdel test.

(14) Until it was pointed out to me, I never noticed one particular fake brand of cigarettes is commonly used in Hollywood productions — Morley. John King Tarpinian noticed in The Strain that a character’s mother smokes Morley cigarettes, and made the connection that the same brand was smoked by the Smoking Man in The X-Files.

The Strain is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro who pays attention to such details, causing John to wonder if Guillermo was paying homage.

Everyone say the obvious tagline along with me – “The truth is out there!”

(15) Fans interested in a pulls-no-punches account of Robert Bloch’s pro work will find it in Benjamin Welton’s article for Ravenous Monsters, “Straitjackets and Sleepwalkers: Robert Bloch in the Movies Part One”  —

In 1962, Bloch finally got the chance to write for a Hollywood film. His first screenplay was for Owen Crump’s little-known thriller The Couch. Bloch’s next screenplay seemed, at first, like the very project that was going to put his career in full motion forward. Directed by Roger Kay, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari proved to be a thoroughgoing debacle. First of all, despite the title, Kay’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has almost nothing to do with Robert Wiene’s German Expressionist classic. Second of all, Kay’s abuse of Bloch was legendary, and Bloch’s autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, devotes pages upon pages to Kay’s attempts to rob Bloch of the writing credit he deserved. Ultimately, the 1962 version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari proved to be a monumental flub.

(Part Two was not yet posted when I checked.)

(16) Wherever Robert Bloch is right now, he can be glad that movie came out before Grantland’s film reviewer was born. You may have noticed I’ve had writers mad at me before. But the writer I really don’t want mad at me is Wesley Morris, who delivers putdowns like —

Jonathan Tropper adapted his own novel, which, in this case, is as ill-advised as performing one’s own autopsy.

[Thanks for these links goes out to John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, David Klaus, Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol and Andrew Porter.]

Update 09/30/2014: Corrected the count of “developments.” Morris Keesan and his eagle eye saved me again.

Snapshots 142 A Century After The Ultimate Answer

Here are 10 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Was he inspired by Martin Luther’s 95 theses? Brian Phillips review of Monica Seles’ Love Match for Grantland consists of 62 complaints. Fans are the target audience for gripe Number Five:

5. The fact that the Academy is a pristinely manicured 600-acre private high school that trains über-elite athletes in all sports, from tennis to golf to soccer to football; that it features “million-dollar villas” and a “cluster of stores” ranging from “Hermes and Versace to Prada and Manolo Blahnik”; yet that it is never given a name beyond “the Academy,” as if Game of Thrones were set in a vast fantasy kingdom known only as “Map,” or the Harry Potter series took place in a magical castle called “School.”

(2) Walter Jon Williams prefers an unscented deodorant – or does when he can find any in stock at the market. Failing that, he felt it was his duty as an sf writer to investigate the unknown alternatives.

I discovered that deodorants now have hip, cool names meant to convey excitement and attract the younger crowd, but which are basically meaningless.  When you had scents like Lime or Bay Rum or Old Spice, you sort of knew where you stood.  But now you can smell like Black Ice, or Fresh Rush.

After popping the caps and giving a quick sniff, I quickly discovered that I did not want to smell like Black Ice, or for that matter Fresh Rush.  Despite my enjoyment of aquatic adventure, I didn’t want to smell like Ocean Breeze,  or Ocean Surf.  I didn’t want to smell like a Clean Peak, a Phoenix, or an Axe.  I didn’t want to smell like Anarchy— which you’d think would be no deodorant at all— or an Arctic Refresh, whatever that is.  I didn’t want to smell like a Tropical Paradise or a Long-Lasting Mountain Spring.  And more than anything else, I didn’t want to smell Extreme, which would seem to defeat the point of deodorant entirely.

(3) Captain Worf? A new Trek series has been bruited about. What Culture makes 10 arguments why Worf should be the next Captain.

Some people may argue that, with a new timeline established by Abrams in 2009, there is no way to get back to the original history of the future, as laid down by Gene Roddenberry et al from 1966 – 2005.

Those people are wrong.

Abrams’ movie took great pains to ensure that we all knew it was set in a parallel reality to the original storyline. Ergo, it is logical to assume that the unfolding continuum that is Star Trek continues unabated, which ought to allow any/all fans to enjoy both versions without too much bother.

So, this hypothetical TV show would follow Worf from the original timeline, whilst the movies would do their own thing. How hard is that to grasp?

(4) Is it a swordfish? Or a mop? No, it’s a purple siphonophore! And it lives deep in the oceans basins of the world.

Amazingly, although this appears to be a single jellyfish-like animal, it is in fact a roving colony made up of thousands of individual organisms, called zooids, each contributing to the whole. But more than just its otherworldly shape, this specimen’s purple coloring is said to be rather unusual as well.

This video was collected as part of the Nautilus Live expedition headed by Dr. Robert Ballard, better known for discovering the wreck of the Titanic.

(5) Winnie the Pooh was 100 hears old on August 25. How I loved reading those stories to my daughter! She likes Divergent and The Maze Runner now – the connection linking the former to the latter is so subtle it eludes me.

(6) Stephen Hawking offers a theoretical doomsday scenario involving the Higgs Boson. He has already warned that aliens or artificial intelligence might finish off humanity. There seems to be a pattern here, still, I’m reluctant to accuse him of following Richard Dawkins around the bend.

He wrote: “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV).”

What might this lead to? Hawkins explained: “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”

Before you prepare your loved ones for an evacuation to some distant star, Hawking did offer some hope with, it seems, a wry smile: “A particle accelerator that reaches 100bn GeV would be larger than Earth, and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate.”

By the way, how did Stephen Baxter write “Last Contact” without this science?

(7) TAFF delegate Curt Phillips roomed with his wife’s cousin Nick Falkner at Loncon 3. It was Nick’s first SF convention. While some bloggers felt the behavior of their elders was a drag, Falkner kept it all in proportion:

This is a strong community and, as I discovered, it’s a diverse, accepting, warm and friendly community, full of interesting people. Are there some jerks? Yes. But far fewer than I’ve run into outside of this space so let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is some sort of amazing jerk space. You’ll meet more jerks in the average pub and you won’t be able to talk to them about something that fascinated you when you were 12.

Of course, if everybody could experience the Curt Phillips model of senior fannishness, they might feel the same.

(8) Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales is bringing back Hellhound on My Ale in time for Halloween:

2011 would have marked the 100th birthday of Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who according to legend, sold his soul down at the crossroads in a midnight bargain and changed music forever.

Working again with our friends at Sony Legacy (yup, the same folks we did our Miles Davis-inspired Bitches Brew with), Dogfish Head paid tribute to this blues legend by gettin’ the hellhounds off his trail and into this finely-crafted ale…

To accentuate and magnify the citrusy notes of the Centennial hops (and as a shoutout to Robert Johnson’s mentor Blind Lemon Jefferson), we add dried lemon peel and flesh to the whirlpool.

(9) Speaking of flesh, I learned this obscure bit of trivia about The Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” from the Wikipedia:

An unofficial badge of the 509th Bomb Wing based in Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. The text reads, “To Serve Man,” and the caption below reads, “Gustatus Similis Pullus”—dog Latin for “Tastes Like Chicken.”

(10) D. Gary Grady recently educated readers of his blog about a pervasive, Andy Rooney-style complaint against “Vertical Video Syndrome.”

The previous post features a video shot in a vertical orientation, so in the interest of aesthetics and all that is holy, let me point show you a couple of educational videos explaining why you shouldn’t shoot videos that way:

Movies, TV, computer screens – I get it. But weren’t the Ten Commandments vertical? The tablets, I mean, not the film with Charlton Heston. I may have to reserve judgment on this.

[Thanks for these links goes out to Taral Wayne and John King Tarpinian.]