Pixel Scroll 10/28/19 I Robot
— R U Robot?

(1) JUST LET ME GO NATURALLY. Naomi Booth gives an overview of eco-horror in her essay “For Some Horror Writers, Nothing Is Scarier Than a Changing Planet” in the New York Times.

“Why does climate change cast a much smaller shadow on literature than it does on the world?” asked the novelist Amitav Ghosh, writing in The Guardian in 2016. “Is it perhaps too wild a stream to be navigated in the accustomed barques of narration?”

…Yet the idea of a world in crisis is fundamental to horror, a genre historically devalued by the gatekeepers of high culture as, well, outlandish and unserious. Horror has always sought to amplify fear. It works against false comfort, complacency and euphemism, against attempts to repress or sanitize that which disturbs us. Inevitably, the climate crisis has given rise to a burgeoning horror subgenre: eco-horror. Eco-horror reworks horror in order to portray the damage done to the world by people, and the ways the world might damage or even destroy us in turn. In eco-horror, the “natural” world is both under threat and threatening.

The best-known work of eco-horror might be Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy (2014), about a beautiful and deadly exclusion zone known as Area X. The first book, “Annihilation,” which was made into a Hollywood film last year, is narrated by a biologist on a mission to explore the area. She records her initial impressions of the abandoned landscape, including a “low, powerful moaning” audible at dusk. Her team discovers a structure in the earth, an inverted tower. The biologist is lowered into it. There is a smell like rotting honey. The walls are covered with words, the writing system of some kind of fruiting body. She hears a heartbeat. The structure turns out to be a living organism, a “horror show of … beauty and biodiversity.” The biologist leans in close and is sprayed with golden spores — infected….

(2) A LOT OF GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS. The Hugo Book Club, an unofficial blog about its namesake, has tweeted a long, thoughtful thread about the Best Fan Writer Hugo category, probing how meaningful it is — or isn’t — that any given fan has previously heard of all the finalists. Thread starts here.

(3) IT’S MONEY THEY HAVE. Got $30,000? Then you could make the required minimum bid on this “Apollo 11 Flown and Crew-Signed Beta Cloth Mission Insignia Originally from the Personal Collection of Mission Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, Signed and Certified”, a lot coming up in Heritage Auctions’ Armstrong Family Collection IV sale November 14-16.

(4) PUBLISHING NEWS. This year’s Hugo-winning Best Editor – Long Form, Navah Wolfe, is surprisingly available after a shakeup at Saga Press.

(5) GOVERNMENT FIGURE KNOWS GENRE. France’s new EU Commissioner is a science fiction fan and author according to Politico’s summary “4 things to know about Thierry Breton”.

He’s into sci-fi

Back in 1984, Breton co-wrote a science fiction novel called “Softwar” based around the National Software Agency (which in no way resembles the U.S. National Security Agency). Billed as a “technology thriller,” the novel’s plot is centered on an American cyberattack on Soviet computers. “At the time no one was speaking about viruses, the word didn’t exist,” Breton said, according to Liberation.

However, his co-author Denis Beneich later claimed Breton “never wrote a word of this novel” although “he had the idea for it.”

Breton, whose Commission portfolio would include the space industry, wrote two other novels in the mid to late 1980s — “Vatican III” and “Netwar” (all three of his books are worth checking out, if only for the cover art).

His love of sci-fi doesn’t stop with books, however. Breton also helped come up with the idea for a high-tech theme park called “Futuroscope” in Chasseneuil-du-Poitou, just north of Poitiers in western France. Its tag-line is “Expect the unexpected,” which sounds like good advice ahead of a hearing before the European Parliament.

(6) MILFORD. The New York Times reintroduces people to Milford, PA’s publishing and film history in “A Cabin With a Literary Pedigree”.

Charlie Chaplin slept here. So did Sarah Bernhardt, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Franz Liszt, Warren Harding, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Wolfe, Cloris Leachman and Arlene Dahl. Likewise, D.W. Griffith, who, in 1912, shot two movies — “A Feud in the Kentucky Hills” and “The Informer” — in this dot of a town in the foothills of the Poconos.

Josh Sapan has slept here too — as often as his schedule permits. But 33 years ago, when Mr. Sapan learned of Milford’s many charms from a friend, he knew nothing about the town’s past. Still, he was sufficiently captivated to buy a waterfront cabin.

It was enough that he could look out his windows after dark and see no illumination but the moon, enough that the Delaware rolled along mere steps from his door. “I just love houses on rivers and I really love this house,” said Mr. Sapan, 67, the president and chief executive of AMC Networks, a Manhattan-based company that owns and operates cable channels including AMC, BBC America and SundanceTV. “I don’t know what it is. I find it quite magical, if that’s the right word.”

Mr. Sapan had yet to learn that the novelist Stephen Crane had camped out for a summer in Milford with friends, and published a satirical newspaper during his stay, that Milford was the birthplace of the conservation movement, and that in the 1950s and 1960s, it was the red hot center of the science fiction writers’ universe, even figuring in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” because several big names in the genre, notably the literary agent Virginia Kidd, had settled in town….

Andrew Porter left a comment there filling in more of the “big names” only alluded to in the article:

Milford is associated with many science fiction writers. Authors Damon Knight, James Blish and Judy Merrill also lived there. It was the setting for the annual Milford Science Fiction Writers Conference for many years, starting in the 1950s, which spun off other “Milford” conferences, most notably in the UK and Seattle, as well as the “New Wave” in SF in the mid-1960s. Also in Milford, the foundations were laid for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, an active organization which presents the annual Nebula Awards. For more information about how Milford looms so large in the science fictional universe, see the Wikipedia page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milford_Writer’s_Workshop

(7) EVANS OBIT. “Robert Evans, colorful Paramount boss behind Rosemary’s Baby, dies at 89” reports SYFY Wire.

…Given the reins of Paramount Pictures with little experience in 1966 thanks to a friendship with corporate owner Gulf & Western’s Charles Bluhdorn, Evans turned the company around thanks to a string of critical darlings that would eventually become classics. During his tenure as production VP, he oversaw genre fare like Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Moving on from leading the studio, Evans personally produced movies like the adaptation of William Goldman’s Marathon Man (starring Dustin Hoffman), Popeye (with Robin Williams), and early comic book film The Phantom. Some hit higher highs than others, but Evans was a constant presence in the industry.

(8) BRETT OBIT. “Robin Brett, NASA scientist who studied ‘moon rocks,’ dies at 84” – the Washington Post has the story.

Robin Brett, a NASA scientist who 50 years ago was among the first to study and direct research on lunar samples — popularly known as ‘‘moon rocks’’ — from the Apollo space missions, died Sept. 27 at his home in Washington. He was 84.

The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife, Jill Brett.

From 1969 to 1974, Dr. Brett was chief of the geochemistry branch at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. In July 1969, he was among a select four scientists present for the opening of a sealed box containing the first moon rocks from the initial Apollo lunar mission.

…When the lunar samples were first brought to Earth, they were kept for a period in a quarantined and sterile environment, lest they contain or exude a noxious substance that might be harmful in earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Brett doubted the necessity of this precaution, which he demonstrated, he said, by becoming the first man on Earth to lick a moon rock.

What did it taste like?

‘‘A dirty potato,’’ he answered.


[Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] I saw Zombieland: Double Tap, which delivers if you want a pretty gory zombie movie with many good jokes.  Early in the film the four main characters are hiding out in the ruins of the White House.  They exchange Christmas presents even though it’s November 17 because they don’t have anything else to do.  Emma Stone gives Jesse Eisenberg a copy of the first edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.  (We don’t know why the White House has first editions of Tolkien.

“Why thank you,” Eisenberg says, “and look, you’ve ruined the book by scribbling on the first page.”

Of course, it isn’t really a Tolkien book but they did fake the original cover…


  • October 28, 1951 — The Out There series premiered. It was one of the first SF anthology series. It lasted a mere twelve episodes. Some of the SF writers it adapted were Heinlein, Sturgeon, Bradbury,  Bissell and Long. Heinlein in particular was a favorite source for them. 
  • October 28, 1994 Stargate premiered. Starring Kurt Russell and James Spader, critics intensely hated it, and it rated 50% at Rotten Tomatoes. It of course spawned Stargate SG-1 series franchise.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born October 28, 1902 Elsa Lanchester. The Bride in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. In 1928 she appeared in three silent shorts written for her by H. G. Wells: Blue Bottles, Daydreams and The Tonic. Ray Bradbury originally wrote “Merry Christmas 2116” to be performed by Lanchester and her husband Charles Laughton. (Died 1986.)
  • Born October 28, 1951 William H. Patterson, Jr. Author of Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, a two-volume look at Heinlein which arguably is the best biography ever done on him. He also did The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. This Tribute to Bill Patterson by Mike with comments by Filers is touching indeed. (Died 2014.)
  • Born October 28, 1951 Joe Lansdale, 68. Writer and screenwriter whose DCU Jonah Hex animated screenplays are far superior to the live action Hex film. Bubba Ho-Tep is a American comedy horror film starting Bruce Campbell is his best known genre work though he has done a number of another works including The God of The Razor and  Reverend Jedidiah Mercer series which are definitely Weird Westerns. 
  • Born October 28, 1952 Annie Potts, 67. Janine Melnitz in the still-best Ghostbusters and in Ghostbusters II as well. She has a cameo as Vanessa the hotel clerk in the Ghostbusters reboot. She is listed as reprising her original role in the forthcoming Ghostbusters 2020 which I’ll freely admit I know nothing about. 
  • Born October 28, 1958 Amy Thomson, 61. Writer of four novels in a decade twenty years ago including Virtual Girl which won her the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. She published one piece of short fiction, “The Ransom of Princess Starshine”, in 2017 in Stupefying Stories which is edited by Bruce Bethke.
  • Born October 28, 1958 Kristin Landon. Though she was working on a fourth novel in the series at the time of her death, the published novels will comprise the Hidden Worlds trilogy: The Hidden Worlds, The Cold Minds, and The Dark Reaches. (Died 2019.)
  • Born October 28, 1962 Daphne Zuniga, 57. Her very first was as Debbie in The Dorm That Dripped Blood, labelled a Video Nasty in the UK.  You know her much better as Princess Vespa in Spaceballs, and she also in The Fly II being Beth Logan. Series work include Nightmare Classics, Batman BeyondHappily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and, no surprise here, Spaceballs: The Animated Series where she voicedPrincess Vespa
  • Born October 28, 1967 Julia Roberts, 52. How can I resist giving Birthday Honors to Tinker Bell in Hook? Not to mention she was in the seriously weird Flatliners that I saw at a virtually empty theater. Of course, there’s the ever weirder Mary Reilly with her in the title role. For something more charming, she voiced Charlotte the Spider in Charlotte‘s Web. I’m going to skip her as a Smurf I think…
  • Born October 28, 1974 Joaquin Phoenix, 45. Currently The Joker. He hasn’t done much genre acting setting aside being Max in SpaceCamp when he was twelve, and being Billy Hercules in the “Little Hercules” episode of Superboy. Well he did a Shyamalan film but I refuse to consider them genre. 
  • Born October 28, 1982 Matt Smith, 37. The Eleventh Doctor, also Alex in Terminator Genisys, a film I’ve not seen. Nor likely will. He’s also Jim in The Sally Lockhart Mysteries: The Ruby in the Smoke based off the Philip Pullman novels.

(12) EL-MOHTAR REVIEWS. Amal El-Mohtar, in a book review column for the NYT, “Dark Books for Dark Times”, opines about His Hideous Heart, a collection edited by Dahlia Adler, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, Paul Krueger’s Steel Crow Saga, and Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline.

… Conceptually “The Future of Another Timeline” is breathtakingly brilliant, and part of a constellation of time-travel stories this year that wed present-day activism to a willingness to change the past. But as I read, I found myself far more affected by the smaller, fiercer story of Tess and Beth’s early years — the story of feral friendships formed in extreme circumstances, of surviving abuse and finding the power to seek revenge or walk away from it. Everything about that story clutched at my heart, while the broader time-travel stakes and narrative diminished in effect; I became less concerned with the overarching conceit than with the story of these young women arguing over what love and honesty demand. But time travel creates the space for that story to happen — and Newitz’s book is, more than anything else, about the importance of fighting for such spaces. In that, it’s entirely successful.

(13) POWER OFF. Californian Abraham Lustgarten addressed the New York Times about the state’s power shutdowns: “Letter of Recommendation: Mandatory Blackouts” .

…The blackouts solved nothing, of course. De-energizing the electrical grid is a bludgeon: imprecise, with enormous potential for collateral damage as people deal with a darkened world. It doesn’t even eliminate fire risk. What it largely does is shift responsibility away from Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility company, whose faulty transmission lines had been found to have caused some of the most destructive wildfires on record.

In fact, cutting power can exacerbate some fire risks. In a blackout, more people rely on home generators, many of which have been installed without permits and might be no less faulty than the utility’s own equipment. Detours and gridlock force more cars into vulnerable places. (Sparks off roadways are another top cause of wildfire.) The blackout makes it harder for the public to respond to fire emergencies even as it does little to prevent all the other factors that cause them — from careless barbecues to tossed-out cigarette butts to plain old arson. One of the state’s most serious fires so far this year was ignited by burning garbage.

But a mandatory blackout does have one radically positive effect. By suddenly withdrawing electrical power — the invisible lifeblood of our unsustainable economic order — PG&E has made the apocalyptic future of the climate crisis immediate and visceral for some of the nation’s most comfortable people. It is easy to ignore climate change in the bosom of the developed world. But you can’t fail to notice when the lights go out.

…In the American West, our climate will only get hotter and drier, our wildfires worse. Every year more places are going to burn, and we will, repeatedly, be horrified by the losses. But we should not be shocked by them. The blackouts have laid bare the uncomfortable fact that the infrastructure we’ve built and maintained over the course of many decades isn’t matched to the threats we face in our rapidly unfolding climate emergency….

(14) THAT HAWAIIAN BURGER JOINT. Eater: Los Angeles says this non-genre yet irresistible film reference will come to life on October 30 and 31 (only): “Big Kahuna Burger From ‘Pulp Fiction’ Pops Up in Hollywood Next Week”

Fat Sal’s, the overstuffed sandwich makers in Hollywood, have gotten into the mix before, and now for Halloween the group is transforming its corner address off Highland into a Big Kahuna Burger from the movie Pulp Fiction.

Much like in years past, Fat Sal’s plans to its dining area to fit the new temporary theme. Expect a grassy Hawaiian-tinged awning and overt nods to the 1994 film everywhere, including slogans (“Now that is a tasty burger” or “That’s that Hawaiian burger joint”) and an image of Jules Winnfield, the character played by Samuel L. Jackson in the Tarantino flick. A separate area will be turned into the pawn shop from the film as well, and diners will be able to check out merchandise in that space…

Fat Sal’s Hollywood. 1300 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles.

(15) ANOTHER TRIUMPH. BBC finds thumbs up all over: “Seven Worlds, One Planet: ‘Gorgeous’ nature series gets five-star reviews”.

Sir David Attenborough’s latest nature series has received five-star reviews from critics, one of whom says it may be the BBC’s “best wildlife show ever”.

Seven Worlds, One Planet, the Mail’s Christopher Stevens says, is “visually magnificent” and has photography that is “almost abstract in its beauty”.

The show, says the Telegraph’s Michael Hogan, is “another landmark series” from “the indefatigable Sir David”.

(16) IPO. “Virgin Galactic: Branson’s space firm set for stock market launch”.

Virgin Galactic, the space venture backed by Sir Richard Branson, is ready to launch – not into space but on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Shares in Virgin Galactic are set to start trading on Monday, a first for a space tourism company.

The move follows Virgin’s merger with publicly-listed Silicon Valley holding firm Social Capital Hedosophia.

That deal brought $800m (£624m) to Virgin as it rushes to meet its goal of sending customers to space in 2020.

Taking the firm public will “open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts,” Sir Richard said at the time.

…The company, founded in 2004, has spent more than $1bn developing its programme, which is years behind schedule and took a hit after a fatal accident in 2014.

However, Virgin has told investors it hopes to make 16 trips to space with customers as soon as next year.

In a presentation, it predicts that revenue will skyrocket as the number of flights increases.

In 2023, the expects to make 270 trips to space, bringing in nearly $600m and generating profit of more than $430m.

About 600 people, including pop star Justin Bieber, have already put down deposits for the 90-minute experience at a price of about $250,000 per ticket, according to the company.

(17) AROUND THE WORLD IN A LOT OF DAYS. NPR takes note when “Secret Air Force Space Plane Lands After More Than 2 Years In Orbit”.

After a record-breaking 780 days circling the Earth, the U.S. Air Force’s mysterious X-37B unmanned space plane dropped out of orbit and landed safely on the same runway that the space shuttle once used.

It was the fifth acknowledged mission for the vehicle, built by Boeing at the aerospace company’s Phantom Works.

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing,” Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, 45th Space Wing commander, said in a statement. “Our team has been preparing for this event, and I am extremely proud to see their hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”

As in previous missions, many of the details about the vehicle’s activities in the past two years are being kept under wraps. One experiment was to “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment,” according to the Air Force statement.

Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said the latest X-37B mission “successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

“The statement that this @usairforce X-37 flight deployed small satellites is alarming, since the US has not reported those deployments in its UN Registration Convention submissions,” McDowell tweeted. “This would be the first time that either the USA or Russia has blatantly flouted the Convention.”

[Thanks to Nicholas Whyte, Andrew Porter, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

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46 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 10/28/19 I Robot
— R U Robot?

  1. (6) For about 10 years in the late 70s and early 80s I lived about a half hour from Milford (and >30 minutes from anywhere else) and I never knew then that I was so close to SF heaven. I did see Aliens (and Howard the Duck) in the Milford theater, though.

  2. Oh, and for any who might be interested, they recently put up eBooks of Trumps of Doom (Amber #6, first of the Merlin books) and Roadmarks, both by Roger Zelazny. The publisher is Amber Limited, so these both look pretty official.

  3. 4) I’m really sorry to hear this. Navah Wolfe did great work at Saga Press.

    13) What a jerk! Hey, those power cuts have already killed several disabled and ill people and they don’t actually help to prevent wildfires (and with no power, people will likely engage in more risky behaviour such as outdoor barbecues, because they have no other way of cooking), but we should have them anyway, because this will show Californians that climate change is a serious problem and besides people deserve to suffer. Statements like this do more harm than good, because telling people they’ll have to go back to the stone age will produce resentment and is not a way to get people to care about climate change.

    How about putting power lines in the ground in particularly vulnerable areas instead, so a blown out powerline can’t cause a wildfire? Yes, it’s expensive, but grinding the economy of huge swathes of California to a halt is expensive, too. Decentralising power generation would also be a good idea. Instead of having a few big power plants, have lots of small ones. Solar cells on every roof, co-generation units instead of furnaces (in areas where furnaces are needed), wind turbines wherever feasible, etc… Normally, I’d also suggest storage batteries in homes, but those batteries carry something of a fire risk and that’s not what you’d want in a high risk wildfire area. Coincidentally, this would also help to combat climate change. And considering how much sunshine and wind (at least according to the article), California gets, it should be possible to generate much/most of the power the state needs from renewables.

  4. @2: ~36 years ago, the move to prevent the Fan Hugos from becoming the Locus Annual Recognition (by peeling off a semi-prozine category) made a definition so … confined … that my read was that most voters wouldn’t be able to get a look at what they could vote on due to limited circulation. (This was a reaction; I didn’t try to work out exact numbers.) The net means that the old restrictions (e.g., on copy count) are irrelevant; I’m not sure fanwriting is as crucial as claimed by some of the notes in that thread (original and responses), but making it more findable has to be a win — even if evaluating several bodies of work is a large task.

    @5: How correct Breton was that “virus” wasn’t a known term is debatable; certainly the idea was well-known by 1984. I wonder whether the novels are a decent read, or just another example of a mundane going “Look at this incredible idea I’ve thought up!” over something old enough to be hackneyed to people who read SF. One of these centuries, reading SF won’t be considered remarkable….

    @Andrew: AFAIK, by then SF heaven had moved elsewhere (or dispersed) — Blish was dead, Merril was in Canada, and Knight had returned to Oregon (which IIRC also suited Wilhelm, who was southern enough to think that winter should be over well before April).

  5. [language pedantry]

    @ 2

    as an aside, putting one word in the middle of another like I just did is called “tmesis”

    Strictly speaking, since “fantastic” isn’t a compound word, and the addition of “fucking” doesn’t change the expression semantically, but rather acts only as an intensifier, this isn’t so much an example of tmesis as it is an infix (specifically, an expletive infix).


    “At the time no one was speaking about viruses, the word didn’t exist,” Breton said,

    Breton was referring to 1985; “virus” in this sense existed at least as far back as David Gerrold’s When Harlie Was One (1972).
    [/language pedantry]

    @Cora Buhlert

    How about putting power lines in the ground

    One major technical reason prevents it. Power transmission lines are limited by their size in how much current they can carry. The total current is the load current (which delivers electrical power to the customer), and the line charging current (due to the fact that a transmission line is a large capacitor, and must be charged and discharged 60 times a second with the AC cycles). When a line is underground, it takes much more charging current (one source said 20-75 times as much) because the line’s capacitance is much greater (capacitance increases with the inverse of the distance between the wire and the ground — 100 feet in the air has a much lower line capacitance than buried in the ground). So every bit of charging current that has to be supplied (and the charging current doesn’t go to the customer, so nobody can be billed for it) takes away from load current. If a line can carry 100 amps, it doesn’t care if it is 1 amp charging current and 99 amps load current, or the other way around. But only one of those two is actually useful.

    Also, maintenance and repair of damages (which will still occur, from water leaks, earthquakes, tree roots, rodent gnawing, etc.) is much harder when lines are underground. Instead of a cherry picker driving under the break and fixing it, you need digging crews. It is also much slower when the damage is underground and you can’t see where a line is broken — it takes longer to find the damage, and longer to repair it. And people want their power back on RIGHT NOW. A broken overhead line may be fixed in hours; one underground may take days.

  6. So. Finished reading the first 1000 chapters of the chinese webnovel Cultivation Chat Group. Now I have to wait until the next 2000 chapters are translated (and the author is still writing). It is a ridiculously goofy story about ancient powerful cultivators, often secluded for hundred years at a time, using an online chat group to discuss herbs, spiritual beasts, demon cultivators and about how a young student is added to this chat group by mistake. At first, he thinks they are LARPers, then he gets scared that they are lunatics that will poison themselves with their medicines, but after a while, he gets more and more signs that they are the real deal.

    It is kind of slow the first 10 chapters, but then it gets going at a ridiculous pace. The characters are wonderful and fleshed out in real stupidity. It has at times some problems with homophobia, but not in a mean spirited way. More of the type that a man is so beautiful that people worry that they will never lust after women again. It has managed to avoid harem traps, has a genderfluid character and some good women characters.

    I think I will nominate this for Best Series.

  7. (10) happy birthday, Stargate! I loved it because it celebrated the joy of learning. Can more knowledgeable Filers give other examples?

  8. 4) I’m really sorry for Wolfe, whose time at Saga has been a string of impressive accomplishments (and, who’s delightful on Twitter!).
    But also, it’s hard for me to interpret this as anything but dire news for Saga as a press 🙁

  9. Standback: it’s hard for me to interpret this as anything but dire news for Saga as a press

    I am betting that there will be a non-trivial number of authors who cease to offer books to Saga for publication once their existing contract (if any) is fulfilled.

    This was an incredibly stupid move on Saga’s part.

  10. Cora Buhlert on October 28, 2019 at 8:45 pm said:

    How about putting power lines in the ground in particularly vulnerable areas instead, so a blown out powerline can’t cause a wildfire?

    I was surprised that in Australia that the power lines to people’s houses are typically not underground but on big (wooden) poles down the street – including in bush fire prone areas. I did ask a knowledgable person about that and why they didn’t have them underground and the short answer was that they want to.

    Having said that, there aren’t normally large scale blackouts during high fire danger days because that would be most of the year.

  11. @JJ:

    This was an incredibly stupid move on Saga’s part.

    Yes, absolutely, but that’s not what I’m saying.
    I’m saying this looks to me like a desperate measure.
    And I hate to think of Saga Press in a state of desperation. But, well. Even if it’s “merely” the desperation of “Whoops, we’re not profitable enough for our Simon&Schuster overlords,” if that’s a survival-level threat, that bodes ill for the health of the publishing genre.

    (There are other conceivable non-desperate reasons one might eliminate a press’s sole senior editor after a string of Hugo Awards, including sheer staggering stupidity, but… all the ones I can think of feel somewhere between rather unlikely to extremely unlikely.)

  12. 11) Matt Smith is also supposedly in Rise Of Skywalker. Rumor has it that his role is related to Palpatine and the Dark Side.

  13. Cora Buhlert@13) I don’t think he’s smacking his lips over the power outages. I think he’s saying this is a visible, tangible manifestation of climate change which one hopes will get people’s attention. It’s possible he’s doing both, but that’s not how I read it. And this is the key item:

    What it largely does is shift responsibility away from Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility company, whose faulty transmission lines had been found to have caused some of the most destructive wildfires on record.

    There are ways to maintain above-ground lines that minimize the occurrence of wildfires due to those lines, and PG&E hasn’t been doing that maintenance.

    In some societies, those would be nationalized and we could have an effect on how they were maintained through the democratic process. Since this is America, my libertarian friends will tell me to vote with my market pennies against the owners’ and investors’ megabucks. Yeah, that seems fair.

  14. Cora Buhlert on October 28, 2019 at 8:45 pm said:

    I’d want a citation: the blackouts this month haven’t killed any disabled people (per news reports).
    It costs upward of a million dollars per mile to put powerlines underground, and the long-distance lines, the ones on huge towers, cross rivers and mountains, where it would be much more expensive.
    It may help to know that winds have been higher than 80km/hour in some areas of Northern California. “Windstorm” is a thing here; my area of L.A. is expecting winds above 40km/hour tonight and tomorrow.

  15. 13) People keep telling me that the strong east winds in the Columbia River Gorge are no comparison to the winds of California, but…we don’t have powerline-related fires very frequently in the Gorge or the Cascades, and the dry season with wind (um, keep in mind there’s an entire recreation industry centered around the Gorge’s wind!) is every bit as touchy as California–please note how quickly the Eagle Creek fire spread in the Gorge two years ago (started by a kid playing with fireworks).

    Then again, both investor-owned utilities and public utilities are quite aggressive here about keeping right-of-ways clear and maintained. But here ice storms and wind storms that bring trees and poorly-maintained lines down are frequently the driver for maintenance, not fire.

  16. bill notes I went looking for “Out There” on the Internet Archive — didn’t find it. But I did find Alec Nevala-Lee speaking on his recent book at the Savannah GA Book Festival.

    I don’t think that it exists in any form right now as I can’t find it even on Amazon. A pity if true given the writers involved.

  17. Standback says (There are other conceivable non-desperate reasons one might eliminate a press’s sole senior editor after a string of Hugo Awards, including sheer staggering stupidity, but… all the ones I can think of feel somewhere between rather unlikely to extremely unlikely.)

    I think it was a frelling bad thing for them to let her go but I think you’re putting more weight on how much they value Hugo Awards than probably is warranted. It’s a transnational corporation in which books are just product and whoever made this decision likely wasn’t thinking about how many Hugo Awards had been won by Saga authors.

    It’s entirely conceivable that whoever decided this might not even know what a Hugo Award is depending on how high up the publishing house they are. The woman between the counter here at coffee bar at Books-A-Million just called them the “Oscars of science fiction” but she reads it. I’m not assuming the higher up at S&S do as well.

  18. @bill: the concept we call “virus” goes back further, but did Gerrold actually use the term? I found and lost a Wikipedia cite saying it wasn’t used by computer people until the mid-1980’s (hence my comment), although the article “Computer Virus” says there was a Benford story using the word in 1970.
    Also: interesting re power — I’ve been watching arguments around Boston about underwater lines, and about aerial lines vs underground vs wilderness-we-want-to-keep for transmission from Quebec hydropower, but none of the discussion has mentioned higher losses in underground lines. (I would guess underwater would be even worse as salt water is probably a better dielectric, but those lines would be relatively short-distance.)

    @Camestros Felaptron: what voltage are the lines to peoples’ houses? Australia was 220 volts when I asked in 1985, but even local transmission would be somewhat higher — but that’s way below the voltages that are being cut in California.

    Latest ?amusing? experience: at a joint rehearsal, seeing a singer my age who I’d rarely overlapped with in college and only once since; his wife is a toxicologist, who tells him that the lab where they met as summer temps (and I worked on a leave of absence) is now a Superfund site. I knew the building was gone (went up the driveway once out of curiosity after the sign changed to ~”parkland”) but not that it was toxic.

  19. @ Cora et all. Underground power lines and other possible projects would take years to implement – after they have the funding sorted out. Blackouts are the only idea they have to combat fires this week. I don’t know if its overall been a good idea, I’ll wait for the post-mortem analysis in a couple of months to find out.

  20. Judging from the Spring 2020 Simon & Schuster catalog, it looks like Saga, if it survives, will be merged with their Gallery imprint.

  21. As far as Pacific Gas & Electric goes, it’s worth noting that at just about the same time as the blackouts were announced, PG&E was in the process of losing a court case where they were charged with spending money on dividends instead of maintaining infrastructure. At this point, the company is desperate to avoid anything that might lead to further liability, and hasn’t got the money left to do anything sensible (like replacing wires and towers or trimming trees). Moving wires underground, in addition to any technical issues it might have, is so far beyond what they can afford at this point, that it’s not even worth mentioning.

    And, of course, as far as the points raised by the article go, PG&E is not attempting to minimize fire danger. They are attempting minimize their own direct liability.

    On the other hand, I have to point out that the article is incorrect when it says that “hotter and drier” means more wildfires. In fact, California’s worst wildfires tend to follow particularly rainy winters, which encourage the growth of flammable brush. As far as fire danger goes, it’s possible that what CA really needs right now is a nice drought. That would be bad for other reasons, of course, but turning the entire state into Death Valley would definitely reduce wildfires… 🙂

  22. Bob Roehm says Judging from the Spring 2020 Simon & Schuster catalog, it looks like Saga, if it survives, will be merged with their Gallery imprint.

    Possibly as it’s already administered under Gallery since March of this year though I wouldn’t be surprised if the publisher does a House wide imprint reset. Does anybody know if anyone else fired at Saga?

  23. Xtifr on October 29, 2019 at 1:51 pm said:
    After the last 10 years, I’m not sure I remember what rain is. /s

  24. @Chip Hitchcock

    @bill: the concept we call “virus” goes back further, but did Gerrold actually use the term?

    Yes. You can go to the google books site for the book and search for “virus” inside of it to see.

    . . . the article “Computer Virus” says there was a Benford story using the word in 1970.

    To which OGH refers above; you can see it here, and while the story doesn’t refer generically to such malware as a virus, the specific malware program in the story is named “VIRUS” (see 2nd line 1st column p 129).

  25. (11) As well as the Bride, Ms Lanchester also portrayed author Mary Shelley in the opening scene.

  26. @Daniel Dern: thank you!

    @bill — interesting^2: I hadn’t known the book was on the net (that being a topic of some sensitivity for many authors), and I see that the searches say “VIRUS” (as in Benford, and as if somebody had backronymed).

  27. Gerrold’s entire book isn’t available at Google Books, just snippets.

    Benford’s story is online not only at the Internet Archive, but also at his own site, so I suppose he is okay with it being available in toto.

    Gerrold only uses it as the name of a piece of software, and he writes it all-caps. Other similar software names (which he likely meant to invoke) such as BASIC, FORTRAN, ALGOL, COBOL, etc. are acronyms, but if he meant this as one, I don’t see where he breaks it into initalled words.

    Excerpt from Gerrold’s Harlie:

    “Do you remember the VIRUS program?”

    “Vaguely. Wasn’t it some kind of computer disease or malfunction?”

    “Disease is closer. There was a science-fiction writer once who wrote a story about it—but the thing had been around a long time before that. It was a program that— well, you know what a virus is, don’t you? It’s pure DNA, a piece of renegade genetic information. It infects a normal cell and forces it to produce more viruses—viral DNA chains—instead of its normal protein. Well, the VIRUS program does the same thing.”


    Handley raised both hands, as if to erase his last paragraph. “Let me put it another way. You have a computer with an auto-dial phone link. You put the VIRUS program into it and it starts dialing phone numbers at random until it connects to another computer with an auto-dial. The VIRUS program then injects itself into the new computer. Or rather, it reprograms the new computer with a VIRUS program of its own and erases itself from the first computer. The second machine then begins to dial phone numbers at random until it connects with a third machine. You get the picture?”

  28. 6) When I was little, between 1970-1975, my mom took us to Milford a lot. We visited Virginia Kidd sometimes. Her son had a hamster, I think it was. Walt and Leigh Richmond taught me how to make hot lemon tea. My dog was born there. There was a geodesic dome in the woods we kids played on.

    It was … a weird place, full of some mighty weird people.

  29. 45th Space Wing

    How many Space Wings are there? I didn’t even realise there was a 1st.

  30. How many Space Wings are there? I didn’t even realise there was a 1st.

    I’m not sure how many there are, around seven?, but often the number is from previous incarnations of the unit.

    For example, there’s a 460th Space Wing. It got its start as the 460th Bombardment Group in 1943. Lots of switching around with different components and missions until it became a space wing.

  31. Regarding the California blackouts, there was the widely reported case of a man dependent on oxygen who died 12 minutes after the power was cut off. I’m not sure whether he was the only victim or whether there were other deaths, but even one is too much.

    As for putting powerlines underground, in Germany only the long distance high voltage lines are overground. The smaller lines that distribute power to houses, businesses, etc… are all underground and have been for decades. The turning point was a series of bad storms and severe winters in the 1970s that caused multi-day blackouts in some areas (my parents still have a diesel generator dating from those times and many people in rural areas have a back-up coal fired stove). That’s when smaller power lines in rural and suburban areas were moved underground.

    The long distance lines remained above ground, but those lines are less prone to storm damage and also less likely to be fire risks, when properly maintained (which it seems the California utility company has not been doing). There was a case a few years ago when some power pylons collapsed during a particularly severe frost, because they had been manufactured from faulty steel, which caused multi-day blackouts in parts of Germany. But that sort of thing is extremely rare and the power company caught a lot of flak for building pylons from substandard steel.

    And even long distance power lines can be put underground, it’s just very expensive to do so. Currently, there is a debate about building new long distance power lines to get the wind power generated primarily in North Germany to consumers in South Germany. Those power lines mostly cut through sparsely populated areas, but they do get close to villages or towns on occasion sparking protests. There is the option to place the power lines at least partly underground, but the power companies are reluctant to do it because of the high costs.

  32. @Cora
    They did an autopsy and he died from blocked arteries – basically, a heart attack. This week’s fires haven’t killed anyone (yet).
    They have the Tick fire and the Getty fire mostly contained, if not yet controlled. The Easy fire, in Ventura county, is still a problem – it started yesterday. When the relative humidity is somewhere below 10%, it seems like all you have to do is look at something sideways and you have a fire. (Right now, my area is getting gusts to 40km/hour, the humidity is somewhere around 5%, and the dewpoint is about -20C.)

  33. @Cora Buhlert: Underground has extra complications (and maintenance costs) when you live in earthquake country. Also, California has less than half the population of Germany, but nearly 20% more area–there’s a lot more rural there. People live farther apart. And it’s the remote, rural areas that have been having the most trouble. All of which doesn’t mean it’s impossible to follow Germany’s lead, of course, but it does mean that it may not be quite as simple or straightforward.

  34. @Cora: The long distance lines remained above ground, but those lines are less prone to storm damage Do you have a cite for this? I wouldn’t assume it without evidence. My very vague recollection is that the fires were started by long-distance lines (which seems more plausible — higher voltage makes bigger sparks possible), but I don’t know for sure.

  35. @Chip
    The Getty fire was started by a branch that broke and was blown 25 or 30 feet away (sideways) onto a power line.
    I think the ones in Northern California were mostly wires being blown down in very high winds. (It’s hard to design systems than can handle gale-force winds.)

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