Pixel Scroll 1/10/16 The Nine Billion Rules of God’s Robotics

(1) RAY BRADBURY WOULD BE SO PROUD. That’s what John King Tarpinian thinks. Look who won at the Golden Globes tonight.

  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy
    Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Here’s video of her acceptance speech.



  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture ?? Musical or Comedy
    Matt Damon, “The Martian”
  • Best Motion Picture — Animated
    “Inside Out”
  • Best Motion Picture -? Musical or Comedy
    “The Martian”


  • Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    “Wolf Hall”
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture made for Television
    Christian Slater, “Mr. Robot”
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    Lady Gaga, “American Horror Story: Hotel”
  • Best Television Series ?? Drama
    “Mr. Robot”

(3) SCIENCE-ING THE SHIT OUT OF ENDOR. ScienceFiction.com has the scoop of the century – Star Wars’ science is defective! The proof? “Physicist Theorizes There Should Have Been An Ewok Extinction Upon Death Star Destruction”.

What if all the Ewoks were killed at the end of ‘Return of the Jedi’? You don’t have to think about it. Really, you don’t. But someone thought about it—Dave Minton, a physicist at Purdue University.

Now before you start thinking Minton hates all things cute, he performed some interesting research into what the reality would be like if the second Death Star really did explode near Endor.

(4) DIDN’T KNOW THERE WAS A STAT FOR THIS. Harrison Ford has passed Samuel L. Jackson to become the top-grossing actor in domestic box office history, powered to the top by the growing bank for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Ford’s 41 films have grossed $4.699 billion at the domestic box office, led by The Force Awakens, which accounts for $764.4 million of that figure as of Box Office Mojo’s last update.

Jackson’s films, in comparison, have grossed a mere $4.626 billion, led by Marvel’s The Avengers and its $623.4 million domestic haul.

(5) PAPER TARDIS. This animation is something I’m going to share with my daughter. One of her Christmas gifts was a hand-made facsimile of River Song’s journal. (Via io9)

(6) ROWLING YANKED HIS CHAIN. Hello Giggles says that Stephen Fry met J.K. Rowling long before becoming the narrator of the UK Harry Potter audiobooks, and claims his bland disinterest during that first encounter motivated her to refuse a favor he asked later while trying to record a challenging phrase. True story? Who knows. But it has an edge to it.

(7) SCOOBY CHOO-CHOO, WHERE ARE YOU? The BBC explores “Why Britain has secret ghost trains”. Hobbyists spend a lot of time tracking these down so they can ride them. And as usual where ghosts are concerned, the explanation is less than supernatural.

“Ghost trains are there just for a legal placeholder to prevent the line from being closed,” says Bruce Williamson, national spokesperson for the advocacy group RailFuture. Or as Colin Divall, professor of railway studies at the University of York, puts it: “It’s a useless, limited service that’s borderline, and the reason that it’s been kept is there would be a stink if anyone tried to close it.”

Why ghosts exist

That is the crux of why the ghost trains still exist. A more official term is “parliamentary trains”, a name that stems from past years when an Act of Parliament was needed to shut down a line. Many train operators kept running empty trains to avoid the costs and political fallout – and while this law has since changed, the same pressures remain.

(8) SCRIMM OBIT. Actor Angus Scrimm, best known for playing the “Tall Man” in the Phantasm horror franchise, died January 9 at the age of 89. He also was in I Sell the Dead (2008), the TV show Alias, and the audio play series Tales From Beyond the Pale. Scrimm also appeared in a production of Ray Bradbury’s play Let’s All Kill Constance.

For several decades Scrimm writer album liner notes for Capitol Records, winning a Grammy in 1974 (credited as Rory Guy, as were his early film roles) for his notes on Korngold: The Classic Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

(9) FITZSIMMONS OBIT. SF Site News reports kT FitzSimmons (1956-2016) who ran program for the 1991 Worldcon, Chicon V, died January 10 after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was a veteran conrunner who worked on Windycon and Capricon in Chicago, and served as a board member of Capricon’s parent organization Phandemonium.



  • January 10, 1927 Metropolis makes its world premiere in Germany.


  • Born January 10, 1732 — Saara Mar. According to Taral Wayne, she was born in 1732 on a planet 400 light years from Earth, in the direction of the Pleiades cluster. She “discovered” Earth in 1970, on the 5th of April, 6 days before the lift-off of Apollo 13, and 8 days before the miraculous rescue of the crew that changed history.

Saara Mar


  • Born January 10, 1904 — Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

(14) SHORT AND SWEET. Fynbospress teaches sound techniques for blurb writing at Mad Genius Club.

At the heart of every story, there is this: A person, who wants something, but a force opposes him. This is important, because of these stakes. Either they get it, or they don’t.

Take the first and second sentence of that paragraph. (Not the third; you don’t give away how it comes out in the blurb.) Who is your person? What do they want? What opposes them? What are the stakes?

Simplify. If you have two or three main characters, pick the one whose wants or needs drive the story the most. Unless you’re writing epic fantasy, where the browser will be disappointed if you don’t introduce at least three sides, stick to one protagonist, and one opposing force. Generally, that’s the first opposition they meet in the story, not the one they meet in chapter 3, and definitely not the one revealed in the twist in chapter 20.

Your description should not, as a rule of thumb, reveal any information past chapter 3.

(15) ONE IN A MILLION. Mark Lawrence in “Luck, Deus Ex Machina, Plot Armour” tells why it’s okay to build a story around the statistically unlikely survivor.

We don’t see the article about the lottery winner in the newspaper and cry, “Jesus fuck! What are the odds that the reporter chose the winner to write about.”

…Swap now from reality to fiction. The author still has a choice about who they write about. They can still pick the person who survives, at least long enough to do some interesting things. But they also get to choose how that person survives

(16) SPEAK TO THE GEEK. Declan Finn devoted today’s installment of his internet radio show The Catholic Geek to Sad Puppies 4 (he’s in favor), with time left over to diagnose why George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished his book, and to argue Shakespeare really wrote for the rabble not the nobility.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

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131 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 1/10/16 The Nine Billion Rules of God’s Robotics

  1. Wuthering Heights is one of my absolute favorite books, in large part because of how brilliantly and accurately Emily Bronte writes the generational cycle of abuse. It’s definitely not a romance. (Well, the relationship between Cathy Linton and Hareton Earnshaw is rather romantic, but that’s only a small part of the book and happens mostly “off-stage.”) And in fact when WH was first published, the general response was that the story was frightening and repulsive.

    Though I’ll quibble with JJ’s comment that JE and WH “have become rather romanticized and idealized by the public in recent years.” (Emphasis mine.) I’m pretty sure that JE was always read as a romance. That’s how I read it myself, though for the record I also loathe Rochester and consider him a very unpleasant romantic hero. And WH has been (mis-)read as a romance since at least 1939, which is the release date for the unfortunately hugely influential and highly unfaithful film version starring Laurence Olivier.

    @Cheryl S.: Agnes Grey is the better Anne Bronte novel, imo; it reads a bit like a less witty Jane Austen novel to me. And Villette is the only Charlotte Bronte novel I enjoy; its characters are definitely still flawed, but in a more appealingly realistic fashion than in JE.

  2. Has anyone else read The Curse of Jacob Tracy? I liked the different take on the tropes. Western fantasy novel.

  3. Just to point out that I’m a BIG fan of Kim Newman and LOVE Anno Dracula – a great book and a terrific series – dark, witty clever horror that samples and remixes from a vast lore of vampire pop culture and folklore as well as inventions of his own, creating an alternative version of an already fictional world.

    His latest, by the way is The Secrets Of Drearcliff Grange School, which is a 1920s boarding school full of odd girls, some of whom have superpowers. It’s not at all like Harry Potter meets the X-Men, but takes its cues from classic girls’ boarding school stories – with a story of terrifying quasi-fascist conformity, and skipping, leading to cosmic threats from beyond.

  4. Nigel

    Just finished Anno Dracula and loved it.

    Definitely a guilty pleasure, since I’m supposed to be reading stuff for Hugo noms, but it’s too good to miss!

  5. Re: 16 Speak to the Geek: I am not a bit surprised to find that Declan Finn doesn’t realize that most literary types believe that Shakespeare very deliberately wrote for *all* classes, which was widely done in those days. My English professor husband says Shakespeare probably made about a third of his income from the groundlings. (He also says that many scholars take great delight in fart jokes.)


    If Neal Stephenson ever grabs that idea, we’ll probably end up with Sevenewoks.

  7. @ C A Collins: The Curse of Jacob Tracy sounds interesting, thanks for The tip. I’m just about to start Silver on the Road so chance for comparison of Western fantasy. Have you read that or the benchmark of the subgenre, Sarah Canary?

  8. @Jonathan M.

    Ahhhh. Was that the source for the “Endor Holocaust” thing? If so, yeah, this has been making the rounds for at least a decade, and has become it’s own trope:

    No Endor Holocaust

    (WARNING: TV Tropes link. I take no responsibility if you fall into a “just one more click” trap)

  9. parliamentary train n. now hist. a train carrying passengers at a rate not exceeding one penny per mile, which, by a British Act of Parliament of 1844 ( 7 & 8 Victoria c. 85), every railway company was obliged to run daily each way over its system; also fig. (OED, 3rd)

  10. @Jonathan M: Yeah, the Reddit Holocaust theory has been going around for something like 13 years. So it really is old news, and looks like an editor said “We need space to fill! Find someone to do our research!”

    Of course completely aside from that, I take some issue with the Star Wars Technical Commentaries, as the Star Wars universe is obviously non-Newtonian, so the calculations based on our physics probably don’t apply.

  11. I really didn’t like Wuthering Heights when I read it. Eight Deadly Words galore.

    The Anger Management Counseling Session with the Wuthering Heights characters in The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde, on the other hand, had me rolling on the floor.

  12. I’ve read Wuthering Heights a few times. Sometimes I like it. Other times I can’t stand it. I have mixed feelings about Jane Eyre also. I’ve never seen either as real romances. Cautionary tales yes. Early gothic creepy. The characters were quite familiar which added an additional layer of eww to the books.

  13. @CeeV

    generational cycle of abuse.

    My Mum said she always had a problem with the bible verse where God says he will curse transgressors down to 8 generations until she read Tom Brown’s School Days. There is a scene where Flashman’s father turns up and treats him just like Flashman’s treated the boys beneath him. Mum read that and suddenly understood what God’s curse was.

  14. @Nigel: Please accept this internet. It’s a little damp as I was having a beverage at the time. I read through the “Anno Dracula” books in the space of a couple of weeks — I particularly liked the one set in 1959. Yes, yes, supposed to be reading for Hugos, but I needed a break and rushed through them. I sometimes felt like Captain America: “I understood that reference!” particularly in the later ones.

    (16) @anti-Stratfordians: Rubbish. They’re all nutters, and most of them are jealous and snobs. Of course Will S. wrote for the masses — he had to get the groundlings in to pack the standing area to keep his company paid (if Cat’s husband is correct, who could afford to alienate 1/3 of your income?). The lords and ladies probably got in free because of their exalted rank (like how the Queen doesn’t carry money in her pastel purses). You never know when some rich patron is going to change their mind about supporting you, lose their money or position (or head!). But throw in the fart jokes and sword fights and people will turn up, just as nowadays we line up for car chases and explosions. Will would have a stonking amount of money and a bunch of Oscar nominations for writing movies nowadays.

    “Wildeeps” feels/reads like a novella to me. But I too have “Wylding Hall” in novella, although it could be a novel. I didn’t much care, I knew I was putting it down in some category. That section that describes gur rgreany fhzzre qnl gung gurl erpbeqrq gur nyohz vf fb ribpngvir naq qernz-yvxr, lrg fb cerpvfr. V pbhyq ivfhnyvmr rirel fprar va gung jbex. So wonderful, all of it.

    Never made it through Wuthering Heights. Perhaps in semaphore? 😉

  15. Matthew Johnson: My answer to anti-Stratfordism is that you can make all the same arguments to prove that the works of Isaac Asimov were actually written by Richard Nixon.

    This is a splendidly traditional approach to debunking Baconians and others. Ronald Knox wrote a piece (collected in his Essays in Satire) using their favourite acrostic and fuzzy-cryptographic analysis to prove by geometric logic that Queen Victoria wrote Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”.

  16. I’m just finishing off The Secrets Of Drearcliff Grange School and I’m enjoying it. Not as many of Newman’s usual pop cultural references or if there are then I’m totally missing them. (Since I haven’t read very many British public school books, I may be missing out.)

    After I’m done I’ll have to go back and reread the stores that include Kentish Glory.

  17. @Vasha, no I confess that the subgenre isn’t one I’ve read widely in. Silver on the Road good?
    If Jacob Tracy wasn’t set in MO, I might have given it a skip, but it’s set in an area I’m familiar with the folk lore of.

  18. After I’m done I’ll have to go back and reread the stores that include Kentish Glory.

    There’s also a connection to An English Ghost Story, though not a direct one.

  19. My answer to anti-Stratfordism is that you can make all the same arguments to prove that the works of Isaac Asimov were actually written by Richard Nixon.

    Isaac Asimov himself wrote an essay once in answer to anti-Stratfordism in which he noted that a more educated man than Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have made some of the anti-Aristotelian cosmological errors that Shakespeare made in The Tempest.

  20. The SW-verse being intrinsically non-Newtonian? Hmm.. I’d buy that! Istead of trying to shoehorn our physics into it, Occam’s Razor just might say the physics are different… or, of course, the MST3K Mantra….

  21. Oh don’t get me started on my Star Wars physics and technology rants. ;’)

    Personally, a lot can be explained by assuming that the Star Wars universe has some form of lumiferous ether, and some form of thin atmosphere throughout space. Probably no thinner than the equivalent of 20 kilometres.

  22. 12) What I didn’t post on Facebook about Saara’s birthday is that her planet’s year is only 95.78 Earth days long, so that she celebrates her “Parturition Day” (in which her people thank their parents for bringing them into the world) three or four time in every Earth year. The last Parturition Day I had made calculations for was 17 July 2006, when she turned 286 (or 1060 of her years).

  23. David Langford on January 12, 2016 at 1:57 am said:
    Matthew Johnson: My answer to anti-Stratfordism is that you can make all the same arguments to prove that the works of Isaac Asimov were actually written by Richard Nixon.

    This is a splendidly traditional approach to debunking Baconians and others. Ronald Knox wrote a piece (collected in his Essays in Satire) using their favourite acrostic and fuzzy-cryptographic analysis to prove by geometric logic that Queen Victoria wrote Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”.

    Of course some people have tried in earnest to argue that Queen Victoria wrote Alice in Wonderland.

  24. Asimov also wrote a short story where Shakespeare is brought forward in time and copes really well until he sat in on a unit on Shakespeareian studies and is failed by the lecturer.

  25. Of course some people have tried in earnest to argue that Queen Victoria wrote Alice in Wonderland

    Well, someone had to. Lewis Carroll was too busy training to be Jack the Ripper.

  26. @RedWombat:

    No, John Ritter’s character on Three’s Company was Jack the Ripper. Never very lucky with women, training to be a chef, and then there’s the name…

  27. @Brontë Fans/Anti-Fans: My favorite part of Wuthering Heights was . . . Kate Bush’s song, of course (the original version of the song, I mean). I’ve read the book but still like the song better. 😉

    @Kyra: ROFL at that “Hark, a Vagrant” strip – thanks!

    @C A Collins: I haven’t read The Curse of Jacob Tracy, but have had it on my “hey this looks cool” list (not the list’s real name). Which is odd, since I’m not into Westerns, Western fantasies, etc. (grin&shrug)

  28. Just wanted to say thanks for the insights on Wuthering Heights. I HATED that book when I read it in high school because it was “supposed to be” a romance (we watched the movie too, which didn’t help) and maybe because it was an all girls school everyone turned cartwheels trying to make it be romantic and I just figured I’d somehow missed the boat.

    This is the first thing that has ever made me want to reread the book and see what I missed. And also to wonder what the hell the Bronte homelife was like if Emily had so much insight into abusive relationships.

    Anyway, thanks!

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