(1) THE RIGHT PANTS. Sharon Lee assures Facebook readers it can be done. Repeatedly.
So, the question arises on Twitter — Is it possible to pants — i.e. write outline-free — an entire novel?
Er, yes, it is possible to pants an entire novel — or even 34 entire novels. It’s not neat, and there’s a certain amount of waste involved, but, let’s face it, I’m never going to outline a novel. How could you even DO that? Things are gonna change as you go along, anyway.
(2) SHOPPING LIST. In the second part of his Christmas book round up, Michael Dirda reviews The Ray Bradbury Compendium! Also, American Christmas Stories edited by Connie Willis. “Books make the best gifts. Here are seven surprising choices for the readers on your list” in the Washington Post.
Years ago, I was invited to write a letter recommending Ray Bradbury for a special Pulitzer Prize. Anne Farr Hardin helped organize that successful effort, largely out of her affection and admiration for the author who gave us “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (all, by the way, available in a new Library of America volume edited by our leading Bradbury scholar, Jonathan Eller). Hardin’s own fabulous Bradbury collection — now housed at the University of South Carolina and the basis for this annotated catalogue — features warmly inscribed books, personal letters, rare pulp magazines, manuscripts, photographs, poems, Christmas greetings and all kinds of memorabilia, even Bradbury’s famous bicycle, now painstakingly restored.
(3) FILLING IN THE BLANKETYS. “’They were a bit abrasive’: how kids’ TV Clangers secretly swore” — “The son of Oliver Postgate, creator of the 1970s show, reveals what was in the scripts for the delightful and puzzling swannee-whistle creatures” in the Guardian.
…“People have often wondered whether there was swearing,” said Postgate, who revived the show for a new generation in 2015. He is surprised, he said, by the idea the soundtrack of whistles could ever have been entirely improvised. “Some people don’t realise that the scripts were written in English. And those who do often speculate on whether a certain amount of bad language – swearing, to be blunt – had been slipped into their conversations.”…
(4) UNDERGROUND LITERATURE. Londoners know all about this, but it was news to me – every month they post poetry on the Tube. If you can’t make it there, you can read this month’s Poems on the Underground at the link. (Or the poems from November 2021 here; all of 2021 here; and all of 2020 here.) Some of this month’s selections are of genre interest — beginning with Margaret Atwood.
(5) SECOND REITH LECTURE. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] The second of the 2021 Reith Lectures can be heard on BBC Radio 4. The lecture can be downloaded from here for a month. (After that search for it on BBC iSounds.)
AI in warfare – Episode 2 of 4
Skynet is not the problem…
Stuart Russell warns of the dangers of developing autonomous weapon systems – arguing for a system of global control. Weapons that locate, select, and engage human targets without human supervision are already available for use in warfare,. Some argue that AI will reduce collateral damage and civilian casualties. Others believe it could kill on a scale not seen since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Will future wars be fought entirely by machines, or will one side surrender only when its real losses, military or civilian, become unacceptable? Professor Russell will examine the motivation of major powers developing these types of weapons, the morality of creating algorithms that decide to kill humans, and possible ways forward for the international community as it struggles with these questions.
Stuart Russell is Professor of Computer Science and founder of the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley.
There was also an accompanying science programme later that day: “Rutherford and Fry on Living with AI”.
What if a despotic leader could programme a swarm of drones to kill a set of identified targets with just the push of a button? Due to ever expanding AI capabilities this extreme dystopian vision may not be technically unfeasible. In this second of a four part series responding to this year’s BBC Reith lectures from Stuart Russell, Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry unpick the role of AI in warfare.
Joining them to help them navigate the battlefield of information is Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who specialises in the future of warfare.
Together they will be investigating ‘lethal autonomous weapons’ – these are weapons that can find, chose and kill human targets without human supervision. We will be discussing how advanced this technology actually is – some think the world may have already experienced the first ever autonomous strike in Libya. What are the repercussions of this technology for safety on the battlefield , and what are the wider geo-political ramifications?
Stuart Russell has deep concerns over the development of these types of weapons and Rutherford and Fry pick apart some of the ethical debates this technology raises. Who would be responsible if a system malfunctioned and killed a civilian? What’s to stop it getting into the wrong hands? Should we even be creating these weapons in the first place – do we instead need a convention banning them? And is that even possible?
(6) ANNE RICE (1941-2021). The author of Interview With the Vampire, Anne Rice, died December 11 at the age of 80 due to complications resulting from a stroke.
Interestingly, Rice’s Interview With the Vampire received many rejections, until Rice attended a writer’s conference conducted by Ray Nelson, where she met her future literary agent, Phyllis Seidel, who sold the book. (Ray Nelson is a writer, and also the fanartist whose cartoons popularized the image of beanie-wearing fans.)
The Guardian notes:
…Rice wrote a further 12 novels in the Vampire Chronicles series, and was dismissive of the sparkly, vegetarian version of vampires made popular in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, saying she felt “sorry for vampires that sparkle in the sun” and that Lestat “would never hurt immortals who choose to spend eternity going to high school over and over again in a small town”.
…Rice was also known for her erotic fiction Sleeping Beauty series
Her son Christopher eulogized her death on Facebook:
(7) MEMORY LANE.
1971 — [Item by Cat Eldridge.] Fifty years ago at Noreascon 1 where Robert Silverberg was the Toastmaster, Theodore Sturgeon won the Hugo for the Short Story for his “Slow Sculpture“ story that had been published in the February 1970 of Galaxy. Other nominated works were R. A. Lafferty‘s “Continued on Next Rock”, Gordon R. Dickson‘s “Jean Duprès”, Keith Laumer’s “In The Queue” and Ben Bova and Harlan Ellison‘s “Brillo”. It would also win a Nebula Award, but in the Novella category. Note that the Galaxy cover calls it a Novelette thereby giving us a hat trick.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born December 12, 1891 — Malcolm Jameson. His “Blind Alley” novella, first published in the June 1943 issue of Unknown,was used for the Twilight Zone episode “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”. It was broadcast on April 11, 1963. He only wrote three novels but penned over seventy short stories. Kindle, though not Apple Books, has most of his fiction at very reasonable rates. (Died 1945.)
- Born December 12, 1944 — Ginjer Buchanan, 77. Longtime Editor-in-Chief at Ace Books and Roc Books where she worked for three decades until recently. She received a Hugo in Best Editor, Long Form at Loncon 3 after five previous nominations. She has a novel, White Silence, in the Highlander metaverse, and three short stories in anthologies edited by Mike Resnick. And she’s a Browncoat as she has an essay, “Who Killed Firefly?” in the Jane Espenson edited Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
- Born December 12, 1945 – Karl Edward Wagner. Trained as a psychiatrist, Wagner quickly abandoned the medical profession in favour of writing and editing. Nowadays, he is best remembered for the adventures of the immortal warrior Kane (implied to be the Cain from the Bible), who appeared in three novels and twenty short stories and novellas between 1970 and 1994 and even met Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné in one story. The Kane stories rejuvenated the sword and sorcery genre and are considered precursors to today’s grimdark fantasy. Wagner’s Robert E. Howard pastiches, the Conan pastiche The Road of Kings and the Bran Mak Morn pastiche Legion of Shadows, are considered among the best of the many Howard pastiches. Wagner was also an acclaimed horror author and his 1974 story “Sticks” is believed to have inspired the movie The Blair Witch Project. Between 1987 and 1991, Wagner edited three volumes of the heroic fantasy anthology Echoes of Valor and was the first to publish stories like Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stranger” or Fritz Leiber’s “Adept’s Gambit” in their original, unaltered form. Wagner was also the editor of the Year’s Best Horror Storiesanthologies from 1980 to his death in 1994. Together with David Drake, he founded the publishing house Carcosa, which specialised in reprinting pulp era fantasy and horror stories. Wagner won the World Fantasy, Stoker and British Fantasy Award and the special British Fantasy Award for contributions to the genre is named after him. Wagner is the subject of the 2020 documentary The Last Wolf: Karl Edward Wagner, which may be viewed on Vimeo. There is also a podcast about his life and work named The Dark Crusade. (Died 1994) [By Cora Buhlert.]
- Born December 12, 1946 — Josepha Sherman. Writer and folklorist who was a Compton Crook Award winner for The Shining Falcon which was based on the Russian fairy tale The Feather of Finist the Falcon. She was a prolific writer both on her own and with other writers such as Mercedes Lackey with whom she wrote A Cast of Corbies, and two Buffyverse novels with Laura Anne Gilman. I knew her personally as a folklorist first and that is she was without peer writing such works as Rachel the Clever: And Other Jewish Folktales and Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts: The Subversive Folklore of Childhood that she wrote with T K F Weisskopf. Neat lady who died far too soon after falling on harsh circumstances. Let me leave you with an essay she wrote on Winter for Green Man some twenty years ago, “Josepha Sherman’s Winter Queen Speech” (Died 2012.)
- Born December 12, 1949 — Bill Nighy, 72. Yes, he shows up as Dr. Black on Who in an Eleventh Doctor story, “Vincent and the Doctor”. He’d make a fine Doctor, I’d say. He’s done a lot of other genre performances from the known, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Slartibartfast in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to other blink-and-he’s-gone, as when he played the ENT Doc in Curse of the Pink Panther. (Yes, ENT Doctor, not EMT Doctor.) He’s John Kildare in the most excellent The Limehouse Golem.
- Born December 12, 1956 — Noël Sturgeon, 65. Daughter of Theodore Sturgeon. And yes she’s has genre creds though ISFDB doesn’t list them as she has edited Slow Sculpture: Volume XII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon and The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Volume XIII: Case and the Dreamer. She’s a tenured academic who has two published works to date, Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action and Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Race, Sexuality, and the Politics of the Natural. Hardcore stuff that.
- Born December 12, 1959 — Beth Bernobich, 62. Her novel, A Study in Honor, won for Best Lesbian Mystery at Lambda Literary Awards. (The Hound of Justice novel picked up a second nomination for the same Award.) Her River of Souls series, of which the second book, Queen’s Hunt was longlisted for a David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy, is quite good.
- Born December 12, 1961 — Sarah Sutton, 60. She’s best known for her role as Nyssa who was a Companion to both the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. She reprised the role of Nyssa in the 1993 Children In Need special Dimensions in Time, and of course in the Big Finish audio dramas. She’s in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.
- Born December 12, 1970 — Mädchen Amick, 51. I remember her first as Ariel, the shapeshifter who was Roarke’s second-in-command, on the second Fantasy Island which I had no idea only lasted for only thirteen episodes. But her first genre role was on Next Gen as Young Anya in “The Dauphin” several before she played Shelly Johnson on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, a role she reprised on Twin Peaks and the recent Twin Peaks in which she’s renamed Shelly Briggs.
- Born December 12, 1976 — Tim Pratt, 45. I think his best work was his very first novel which was The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl but there’s no doubt that later work such as The Constantine Affliction, Bone Shop and The Stormglass Protocol are equally superb. That’s not to overlook his short fiction which you’ve not tried it you should and I’d recommend Little God as a good place to start.
(9) COMICS SECTION.
- Foxtrot’s “The Spice Must Flow” suggests that perhaps nutmeg and melange are similar. (Hey, melange could almost be read as “allspice”, right?)
(10) MORE SEASONING. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] They could call this “Spice: The Final Frontier!”
Dune Spice Wars is an upcoming real-time strategy game with 4X elements and featuring asymmetrical gameplay, as well as multiple playable factions.
(11) YOUR SCI-FI DOCENT. Star Trek writer Marc Scott Zicree takes you on a tour of the “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” exhibit at Skirball Cultural Center in LA.
(12) IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Laura Sheppard Churchley, the daughter of pioneering American astronaut Alan Shepard, was among those on the latest suborbital launch by Blue Origin. And, oh yeah, some famous guy was also in the capsule. Can you guess which one was named in the headline and the lede? “Strahan flies to space with astronaut’s daughter: ‘Wow!’”
Football star and TV celebrity Michael Strahan caught a ride to space with Jeff Bezos’ rocket-launching company Saturday, sharing the trip with the daughter of America’s first astronaut.
“TOUCHDOWN has a new meaning now!!!” he tweeted after landing.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas, sending the capsule on a 10-minute flight with the two VIP guests and four paying customers. Their automated capsule soared to an altitude of 66 miles (106 kilometers), providing a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting into the desert. The booster also came back to land successfully….
(13) GET A LIFE, KEEP A LIFE. Meanwhile, William Shatner is still holding onto that sense of wonder inspired by his Blue Origin trip. He declares, “The Future Is Worth Fighting For, And Fans Will Lead The Way” at SlashFilm.
So. I’m back from space.
I saw just how fragile our home, this spinning blue ball, really is in the depthless darkness with my own eyes and I was moved. It made all the constant static we are surrounded with evaporate and gave a clarity unknown to me.
If only the world could see what I saw — this comforter of blue that surrounds us. When everyone can see how fragile and special life is, we will finally see ourselves as one community, one people.
This past August I was in the green room of a San Jose pop culture convention when I was approached by two men — one dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the other wearing an Indiana Jones costume complete with bullwhip. They didn’t want a selfie, but instead pitched me on a startup (this was Silicon Valley, after all) – Legion M, an entertainment company built from the ground up to be owned by fans.
It’s a simple but brilliant idea: Harness the wisdom and power of the community. Shorten the distance between creators and consumers. Give people a say in what gets made and a stake in the outcome. Grow that community large enough, and you could potentially change the way entertainment is produced forever. A big idea….
[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Rich Horton, N., Steven French, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Daniel Dern, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson, part of “The Hugo Pixel Scroll Winners” series.]