(1) RINGING UP FANDOM. io9’s Katharine Trendacostasays this was “The Decade Fandom Went Corporate”. Quite a bit to think about here.
In the last twenty years, fandom and mass culture have basically merged. Fans and fandom spent the 2000s fighting for legitimacy and proving their combined worth. And corporations? Well, they spent the 2010s learning how to co-opt fandom to silence critics, manipulate press, and make even more money.
For decades and decades, fandom wasn’t something you talked about. Not really. Fanfic, fanart, and cosplay—those were things shared at conventions and in zines and, later, in usenet groups. Even the outwardly facing form of fandom—the manboy fan with his collectibles and endless trivia debates—was usually presented as something to be ashamed of.
… Transformative fandom’s road was much rockier. The split between curatorial and transformative fandom—with one more accepted than the other—has been historically viewed as gendered. Transformative fandom is where fans don’t just consume the media, they make it their own. This is where you get cosplay, fan films, and so on. Transformative fandom got you in trouble. Being threatened with legal action for writing fanfic was a very real danger.
I’d argue that transformative fandom calls to marginalized groups in general because it is the realm of people who see something compelling in a piece of media and then reinterpret it in a new way, to make it easier to identify with. Hollywood—and comics, and book writers, and so on—has been so white, so straight, and so male for so long. Transformative fandom lets people participate in mainstream culture and still get to see themselves in it.
… In the same way people these days use things like GoFundMe to raise money for basic necessities, fanwork creators have started taking commissions for their work. This is another expression of the hellscape of 2019, where people can’t afford rent, food, or healthcare and are mobilizing their skills and their communities to survive. This is depressing but understandable. There is also the rise of sites Redbubble (founded 2006) and Etsy (founded in 2006), where fans can sell their work to other fans. Where selling any of this thing in any sort of public forum used to be terrifying, it’s now fairly normal.
There are legal concerns, of course. It’s just that, these days, between the work of groups like OTW and the Electronic Frontier Foundations (which, full disclosure, I work at), there’s more understanding and legal precedent showing that fanworks are transformative and not copyright infringement. Creators and companies also have figured out that this kind of fan creation is the result of a love for their show, movie, etc. and that going after fans—in the way Anne Rice was famous for—can only serve to alienate your base….
(2) FOUR ON THE FLOOR. Tor.com’s Leah Schnelbach, Christina Orlando, Natalie Zutter and Renata Sweeney dialogue about “2010-2019: A Decade of Change in Science Fiction & Fantasy”. About halfway through the conversation they get into —
Zutter: The other 2012 book I wanted to mention was Redshirts by John Scalzi. I feel like it tapped into this era of self-reflexive, meta sci-fi. Riffing on Star Trek, in sort of the Galaxy Quest realm.
Orlando: I was going to bring up Space Opera by Cat Valente, that element of taking the trope and just running with it, even to the extent of calling the book “space opera”. It’s a commentary on tropey stuff, where I think for a long time tropes were something to be avoided, but we see more and more, especially from people who came up through fanfiction, the love of tropes, and the idea of leaning into “there’s only one bed” or those kinds of things, cause it’s the stuff that we find comforting. It does get tongue-in-cheek, and creates layers of commentary on genre itself—
Zutter: This shared language.
Sweeney: The previous year’s Ready Player One was sort of nerd nostalgia, so it’s Redshirts-adjacent. Armada and Ready Player One are steeped in nostalgia in a way that I don’t think Redshirts is, in that self-referential, “This is a joke that you only get if you understand nerd culture” way….
(3) TIME RUNS OUT. The trailer for Christopher Nolan’s TENET.
(4) HAMMERING ON HIS TYPEWRITER. This column by Galactic Journey’s Victoria Silverwolf includes a capsule description of an author I found very entertaining when I originally discovered sff: “[December 19, 1964] December Galactoscope #2”.
The Anvil Chorus
Christopher Anvil is the pseudonym of Harry C. Crosby, who published a couple of stories under his real name in the early 1950’s. After remaining silent for a few years, he came back with a bang in the late 1950’s, and has since given readers about fifty tales under his new name. His work most often appears in Astounding/Analog.
A typical Anvil yarn is a lightly comic tale about clever humans defeating technologically advanced but naive aliens. Perhaps his best-known story is Pandora’s Planet (Astounding, September 1956), the first of a series of humorous accounts of the misadventures of lion-like aliens trying to deal with the chaos caused by those unpredictable humans.
(5) KGB. Ellen Datlow has posted her photos from “Fantastic Fiction at KGB December 2019”.
Paul Tremblay (R) read a powerful excerpt from his next novel coming out next year and Nathan Ballingrud (L) read from a story he just finished writing a few days ago.
(6) STAR WARS: A NEW HOPI DESIGN. “‘The Force Is With Our People’ Connects Indigenous Culture To A Galaxy Far Away”.
Artist Duane Koyawena is piloting a custom R2D2 unit in front of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz. It’s life-size and has all the signature bleeps and squawks of the original. But its appearance has a unique Southwestern spin.
“When I was thinking about it, I was like … wouldn’t it be cool to see an R2 that’s decked out [and] looks actually like a pottery?” he says. “So along with that comes the designs, and so the tans and the reddish burn marks from when they fire their pottery.”
At first glance the traditional Hopi maroon-and-tan patterns are a surprising look for the famous droid. But Koyawena says it makes total sense for R2.
“A lot of elders, or our uncles or friends, always tell us in ceremony or something going on ‘nahongvitah,’ which means to give it your all, or just to be strong and to persevere. So, I feel like the Hopi R2 kind of fits in that same line,” he says.
Koyawena is one of 25 artists from more than a dozen Southwestern tribes taking part in the art exhibit “The Force Is With Our People.” The pieces reflect Star Wars themes, such as endurance and rebellion, that have resonated powerfully with the franchise’s devotees for decades. As it turns out though, Star Wars also speaks strongly to the historical experiences of many in the Southwest’s Indigenous communities.
“I think there’s clearly some parallels … between Native stories — things like the Hero Twins, [a] very prominent story in Navajo culture — parallels between that and Star Wars, of course Luke and Leia being basically Hero Twins in that story,” says Museum of Northern Arizona curator and ethnographer Tony Thibodeau.
(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born December 19, 1902 — Sir Ralph Richardson. God in Time Bandits but also Earl of Greystoke in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and Chief Rabbit In Watership Down. Also, the Head Librarian in Rollerball which I’ll admit I’ve never seen. And a caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And Satan in the Tales from the Crypt film. Oh, my he had an interesting genre film career! (Died 1983.)
- Born December 19, 1922 — Harry Warner Jr. Fan historian and legendary letterhack. Dubbed The Hermit of Hagerstown, he did nearly all his fanac on paper. He’s known now for the many LOCs he wrote and his two books on fanhistory, All Our Yesterdays, (1969), and A Wealth of Fable which won a Hugo in 1993 for Best Related Book. (Died 2003.)
- Born December 19, 1952 — Linda Woolverton, 67. She’s the first woman to have written a Disney animated feature, Beauty and the Beast, which was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. She also co-wrote The Lion King screenplay (along with Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts).
- Born December 19, 1960 — Dave Hutchinson, 59. Best known for his Fractured Europe series. Great reading! I’ve listened to the first two and will be listening to the third after the first of the year. He’s got a lot of other genre fiction as well but I’ve not delved into that yet.
- Born December 19, 1961 — Matthew Waterhouse, 58. He’s best known as Adric, companion to the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. He was the youngest actor in that role at the time. And yes, he too shows up in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.
- Born December 19, 1969 — Kristy Swanson, 50. Her first starring genre film role was in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, but no doubt her best known genre role was as the original Buffy. She also shows up in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Phantom, Highway to Hell , Not Quite Human and The Black Hole. For the record, I really, really like her version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer!
- Born December 19, 1972 — Alyssa Milano, 47. Phoebe Halliwell in the long running original Charmed series. Other genre appearances include on Outer Limits, the second Fantasy Island series, Embrace of the Vampire, Double Dragon, the Young Justice animated series as the voice of Poison Ivy and more voice work in DC’s The Spectre excellent animated short as a spoiled rich young thing with a murderous vent.
- Born December 19, 1975 — Brandon Sanderson, 44. Best known for the Mistborn series. He is also known for finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. OK I’m going to freely admit I’ve not read either of this series. Opinions please.
- Born December 19, 1979 — Robin Sloan, 40. Author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore which definitely has fantasy elements in it and is a damn fine read. His second novel which he sent me to me consider reviewing, Sourdough or, Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market, is also probably genre adjacent but is also weirdly about food as well. And he’s a really nice person as well.
- Born December 19, 1980 — Jake Gyllenhaal, 39. The lead in Donnie Darko, a strange film indeed; he’s also to be seen as Sam Hall in The Day After Tomorrow, a splendid SF disaster film. Of course, he was Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
(8) COMICS SECTION.
- There is no excuse for the awful joke in this Frank and Ernest except that it requires familiarity with star names. Well, one of them, anyway. One more fact I can’t say I had no use for once I graduated.
(9) LET THE BARISTA WIN. “You Can Order A Chewbacca Frappuccino From Starbucks And It’s Out Of This World” — Delish told us how to find it.
To get this chocolatey treat, you’re going to start by ordering a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino, but ask your barista to add caramel drizzle in the cup. Top that with whipped cream and cookie crumbles and you’ve got yourself a delicious treat.
(10) WAKANDA DELISTED. “US officials remove Black Panther’s Wakanda from list of trading partners” reports The Guardian. Is it an administration attempt to divert attention from the impeachment proceedings? For a change, no.
Trade talks between Captain America and Black Panther didn’t quite pan out, it seems. Wakanda, the fictional home of the Marvel superhero, is no longer listed as a free trade partner of the US.
Until Wednesday, the made-up east African country was listed on the drop-down menu for the agriculture department’s foreign agricultural service’s tariff tracker along with Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.
The department (USDA) said the comic book country was added to its systems while it conducted testing.
“Over the past few weeks, the foreign agricultural service staff who maintain the tariff tracker have been using test files to ensure that the system is running properly,” Mike Illenberg, a USDA spokesman, told NBC. “The Wakanda information should have been removed after testing and has now been taken down.”
(11) CRUSHED. Claxton’s Twitter thread is filled with expressions of disillusionment by one-time fans of Rowling, Orson Scott Card, MZB, even Ray Bradbury.
(12) BUMP AND GRIND. Nature says “‘Marsquakes’ reveal red planet’s hidden geology”.
Since arriving on Mars just over a year ago, InSight has detected 322 marsquakes. They are the first quakes ever detected on Mars, and the first on any body other than Earth or the Moon. Scientists aim to use them to probe the Martian interior, including deciphering the planet’s guts into layers of crust, mantle, and core.
Currently the marsquakes are coming fast and furious. From its landing site near the Martian equator, NASA’s InSight mission is detecting about two quakes per day — and the rate is going up.
(13) THEY KNOW WHERE THE BODIES ARE. From Nature: “A statistical solution to the chaotic, non-hierarchical three-body problem”. Cixin Liu might worry…
The three-body problem is arguably the oldest open question in astrophysics and has resisted a general analytic solution for centuries. Various implementations of perturbation theory provide solutions in portions of parameter space, but only where hierarchies of masses or separations exist….
(14) AURAL HISTORY. “‘Star Wars,’ The Trilogy That NPR Turned Into Radio Drama”.
The ninth episode of Star Wars blasts into theaters this weekend, more than 40 years since the release of George Lucas’ original hit movie. Back then, NPR got in on Star Wars saga action, creating a radio drama of that original episode.
In 1981, George Lucas sold the radio rights for $1, and the network partnered with the University of Southern California theater program to produce it. The production was an overwhelming success, and NPR went on to do radio versions of all the movies in the original trilogy.
This week, the latest installment in the Star Wars film saga is posting record numbers around the world. In 1981, NPR hoped the interstellar fable would do the same for its audience numbers. That’s right: Some of you may have forgotten (and some might not even know) that the network created three radio dramas based on George Lucas’ original three movies.
NPR figured it could maybe get more listeners by reviving the radio drama, which had been out of fashion for some 30 years. So the network called Richard Toscan, then-head of the theater program at the University of Southern California. He remembers asking a colleague for advice on what story to dramatize: “There’s this long pause, and he says, ‘Create a scandal.’ “
Toscan was at a loss. Then he mentioned the problem to a student. “And he said, ‘Oh, why don’t you do Star Wars?’ ” Toscan recalls. “There was the scandal.”
(15) HARRY MINION? HARRY MOLESWORTH? NPR’s Juanita Giles has an alternative: “Don’t Like Harry Potter? Come To The ‘Dork’ Side”
…Not to tell you how old I am, but Harry Potter first made his appearance when I was already an adult, so it wasn’t as if I were devastated that my kids poo-pooed books that were formative for me, but I did worry that it might be difficult to find chapter books that caught their interest. Harry Potter’s success has spawned almost an entirely new genre, and sometimes it seems there’s not a chapter book that doesn’t involve magic or spells or curses in some way. I had almost zero experience with this, as popular chapter books for girls when I was a kid involved babysitters, teenagers with terrible diseases, or Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.
But durn it, I couldn’t give up. How could my kids have a fulfilling childhood if Harry Potter didn’t ever factor in? Would it even be possible? I wasn’t convinced it was, so I set out on a mission to prepare them for their reintroduction to Harry Potter, and I ended up somewhere else entirely.
Enter the Dork Lord, son of the Dark Lord, and heir to the throne of the Grim World.
…My son keeps a basket on the end of his bed filled with whatever books with which he is currently obsessed: Wings of Fire, Calvin and Hobbes, Dog Man, Klawde, and always a Star Wars book or two. So, what did I do, sneak that I am? I shoved Confessions of a Dork Lord right into his basket when he wasn’t looking.
Cut to the next morning: “Mom, this kid is called ‘the Dork Lord,’ can you believe it? And get this — his favorite spell is the ‘Fart Revealer,’ and he can’t even do that right!”
If there were ever a sure way to grab a nine-year-old’s attention, flatulence would be it.
(16) SHIVER ME TIMBERS. BBC finds “World’s oldest fossil trees uncovered in New York”.
The earliest fossilised trees, dating back 386 million years, have been found at an abandoned quarry in New York.
Scientists believe the forest they belonged to was so vast it originally stretched beyond Pennsylvania.
This discovery in Cairo, New York, is thought to be two or three million years older than what was previously the world’s oldest forest at Gilboa, also in New York State.
The findings throw new light on the evolution of trees.
What did they find?
It was more than 10 years ago that experts from Cardiff University, UK, Binghamton University in the US and the New York State Museum began looking at the site in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in the Hudson Valley.
Since then, they have mapped over 3,000 square metres of the forest and concluded the forest was home to at least two types of trees: Cladoxylopsids and Archaeopteris.
…Researchers say they also discovered very long, woody roots that transformed the way plants and soils gather water.
“It’s a very ancient forest from the beginnings of the time where the planet was turning green and forests were becoming a normal part of the Earth’s system,” said Dr Berry.
(17) HOLDOUTS. BBC discusses the evidence:“Homo erectus: Ancient humans survived longer than we thought”
An ancient relative of modern humans survived into comparatively recent times in South East Asia, a new study has revealed.
Homo erectus evolved around two million years ago, and was the first known human species to walk fully upright.
New dating evidence shows that it survived until just over 100,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Java – long after it had vanished elsewhere.
This means it was still around when our own species was walking the Earth.
Details of the result are described in the journal Nature.
In the 1930s, 12 Homo erectus skull caps and two lower leg bones were found in a bone bed 20m above the Solo River at Ngandong in central Java.
In subsequent decades, researchers have attempted to date the fossils. But this proved difficult because the surrounding geology is complex and details of the original excavations became confused.
…Now, researchers led by Prof Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa in Iowa City opened up new excavations on the terraces beside the Solo River, reanalysing the site and its surroundings.
They have provided what they describe as a definitive age for the bone bed of between 117,000 and 108,000 years old. This represents the most recent known record of Homo erectus anywhere in the world.
“I don’t know what you could date at the site to give you more precise dates than what we’ve been able to produce,” Prof Ciochon told BBC News.
(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Use Cups” on Vimeo is a message from Adult Swim explaining what bad things will happen to you if you don’t use cups!
[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, N., Ellen Datlow, James Davis Nicoll, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Olav Rokne, Chip Hitchcock, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Daniel Dern, Hampus Eckerman, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip Williams.]