Pixel Scroll 12/29/17 A One-Note Scroll With More Than One Note

(1) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites all to share cannoli with Charles Sheffield and Arlan Andrews, Sr  — in 1994.

Back in 1991, when I laid out for the publishers of Science Fiction Age the vision I had for that magazine—which I’d go on to edit through the year 2000—I knew that to compete with the existing SF mags of the time, and give readers what they couldn’t get elsewhere, one of the things we needed to do was deliver a science column unlike any published by the competition. So I decided I’d take science fiction writers who were also scientists out to lunch or dinner, then record, transcribe, and condense the conversations for publication.

Earlier this year, I happened to think back to those chats, and it occurred to me:

Eating in restaurants … while discussing the fantastic … with science fiction writers? Isn’t that what this podcast is all about?

So I ran to the basement and dug out the box which contained my old cassette tapes, all the while wondering whether any recordings of those Science Forums still existed, and if they did, whether the sound quality would justify sharing them with you.

Rummaging through that box, I discovered many tapes, and listened first to a recording of my March 1, 1994 lunch with Arlan Andrews, Sr. and  Charles Sheffield at the Bethesda, Maryland restaurant the Pines of Rome. Our subject was the many ways the world might end. I’d transcribed that talk, edited it down, and published it in the September 1994 issue of Science Fiction Age.

(2) CAT RESCUE. Oor Resnick on rescuing SJW credentials:

Cat Rescue, Part 1: In the beginning…

To date, I have fostered approximately 65 cats and kittens in my home (which is why my upstairs carpet looks like it belongs in a crack house). Although I have fostered a few adult cats, I mostly focus on kittens–for several reasons. Kittens are easier to place (that is, more people want to adopt them), and so I can save a greater number of feline lives by fostering kittens; they move through here at a faster rate, making room for more fosters. Also, this is a small house that already has 4 permanent cats, so I favor fostering kittens because, again, they’re more likely to find homes elsewhere, rather than go unadopted and remain here the rest of their lives. Finally, my adult male cats accept the presence of kittens–they even like kittens and help me socialize them. But two of my cats are very hostile to adult cats moving in here, which creates a lot stress for everyone (including me).

Kittens very often arrive without a mother. Sometimes the mother is feral (doesn’t want contact with people, can’t be adopted), so she’s spayed, vaccinated, and released. Often the mother isn’t around; the kittens are at the age where she has stopped caring for them or is about to stop. Sometimes the mother is dead. And sometimes the mom comes into foster care with the kittens (I’ve had two such mom-cats here with their litters; one got adopted, the other is still awaiting adoption).

I got into fostering by adopting a couple of cats from a rescue group. While researching pet adoption (I am a writer; I research everything I do), I read that black cats are hard to place (and therefore have a very high rate of euthanasia), and also that bonded pairs of cats (and dogs) are harder to place than solo animals. I was perfectly willing to adopt both/either kind of cat, and Cat Adoption Team (C.A.T.) had a bonded pair of black cats available…

Cat Rescue, Part 2: Happy & Sad Endings

I get to see a lot of happy endings, which is the rewarding part. I send my fosters home with people who are so excited to get them, and in our follow-up exchanges days and months later, they tell me how much they love the cats, send me photos so I can see how they’ve grown, and say this pet is a member of the family. That is a long, long way from the ditches and cardboard boxes and sewers and dumpsters where many of our fosters were found. And that happy ending is the best part of animal rescue.
Here is a small sample of the photos I receive updating me on my former fosters….

It’s not always such a happy outcome, though. Sometimes, it is truly heartbreaking. …

[Thanks to Scott Edelman and JJ for these stories.]

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70 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 12/29/17 A One-Note Scroll With More Than One Note

  1. @Kyra: On the Beach had a fundamentally stfnal point: if this large-scale thing happens, then what will happen afterwards? The fact that “this” is a thing-of-science tends to emphasize the SFness of the work, but isn’t necessary; I would (for instance) vigorously argue that Ecotopia, which hinges on a political/social change rather than tech. @Andrew puts this effectively as things-are-different-afterwards (unlike, e.g., The Hunt for Red October, in which we see no consequences from the US getting the undetectable sub).

    @Cora: IIRC, the point of OtB was that everyone was going to die — by choice or in prolonged misery, but universally. I don’t think your explanation of Mad Max works.

    Everything someday will be gone except silence
    Earth will be quiet again
    Seas from clouds will wash off the ashes of violence
    Left as the memory of men
    — “The House at Pooneil Corners”

    Balin & Kantner were more pessimistic than Kantner & Crosby a little later in “Wooden Ships”.

  2. Harold Osler: Testament just annoyed me. I couldn’t wait for those people to die.

    Hooooboy, I am with you on that one. 🙄

  3. Andrew: the novel contained the implication that the incident would lead to long-term effects (which puts it outside the techno-thriller genre for me, since techno-thrillers put the world back to its original state by the end).

    That’s a really good way of articulating my vague “I know the difference between SF and a techno-thriller when I see it” definition — thanks for putting it into words.

  4. @Aaron

    Which version? Or both?

    I haven’t seen the new version and have no idea why they remade this most 1980s of movies, so I’m referring to the old one.

    @Harald Osler
    I also wasn’t too sorry to see some of the soap opera stereotypes from Testament and The Day After and some of the working class stereotypes from Threads go, but the fact that several of the characters were stereotypes does not mean that the basic nuclear war scenario of those movies wasn’t likely in the 1980s.

    The basic scenario of Red Dawn, however, was completely unlikely. So Russians and Cuban just attack the US the conventional way and manage to parachute into a regular middle American small town with zero advance warning whatsoever? And the entire mighty US military is either completely incompetent or takes the suicide pills from On the Beach or just plain doesn’t care. They also seem to have forgotten that they have nukes, which is probably a good thing. NATO also seems to have vanished or decided that they don’t give a damn, which I faintly recall is actually mentioned in the prologue (“You mean Germany has a Green pacisfist chancellor? Cool.”). And then the Russians and Cubans are so bloody incompetent that they are overcome by a bunch of untrained teenagers? Okay, given what Nazi Germany experienced in the Soviet Union and the US in Vietnam, that one is more likely than the rest, but the whole scenario is still blatantly stupid. Not to mention that the supposed “heroes” are such horrible people that I sided with the Russians and Cubans out of spite. The fact that the German dubbing supervisor clearly hated the movie and its message and used the dubbing to humanise and Russians and Cubans reinforced this.

    I’m not a huge fan of the nuclear war movies of the 1980s, but they had their place and sent a message that many people needed to hear at the time. Red Dawn, on the other hand, only exists is because it serviced the wet dreams of certain rightwingers in Reagan era America. And unlike some others such as the Missing in Action movies with Chuck Norris, it’s not even a good example of the genre.

  5. @Chip Hitchcock
    I was made to watch the 1950s movie version of On the Beach at school mand predictably hated it, because hey, I knew that nuclear war would kill us all, if it ever happened, and I didn’t need to see a depressing movie about people queuing up for suicide pills and poisoning their own children to remind me of that fact.

    I disliked the movie so much that I tried to debunk it up to showing the teacher who showed it to us a chart of global wind patterns to demonstrate that the movie was wrong, because the wind patterns meant the fall out would not reach Australia. So I came up with the theory that not everybody took the pills (because it’s pretty obvious that some people would have refused) and that those who didn’t became the cool post-apocalyptic punks of Mad Max, because both Mad Max and On the Beach were from Australia and both were about nuclear war and the aftermath.

  6. The basic scenario of Red Dawn, however, was completely unlikely. So Russians and Cuban just attack the US the conventional way and manage to parachute into a regular middle American small town with zero advance warning whatsoever?

    It was slightly more plausible than that, but only somewhat so. The prologue says that Mexico had fallen into the Soviet sphere, and the paradrop was only to seize the mountain passes in Colorado in support of a large scale armored invasion from the southern border. A bunch of the forces were supposed to be Nicaraguan and (if I recall correctly) Mexican. The result was supposedly a huge salient through basically the western plains, with the “wolverines” just being a small group of partisans behind enemy lines. Its not a particularly likely scenario, but just within the realm of possibility so long as you assume that a string of incredibly improbable things all happen in a row.

    The more recent version, with North Korea invading the U.S., is completely ridiculous.

  7. Does a book count as science fiction if it could happen in the present day or within a few decades of it, but hasn’t yet? E.g. no particular advances in technology, start with the current geopolitical structure, and then events happen which haven’t happened (yet) but presumably could (soon)?

    Depends on the story, I’d say. If James Bond thwarts a madman from spreading a virus that’ll wipe out most human life, then no, that’s a thriller.

    If no one stops the virus, most life is wiped out, and the question is “What happens next?” then I think that’s an SF story, because you’ve upended the “current geopolitical structure” and are speculating about the future. A near-future speculation, but the future.

    So I’ve always considered ON THE BEACH to be SF.

    I suppose I’d have to think about whether WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CORBETTS (aka ORDEAL), also by Nevil Shute, is SF. It postulated the aerial bombardment of Britain by a hostile power in 1939.

    It doesn’t actually involve any SFnal technology, and doesn’t have as widespread upheaval of the geopolitical structure as ON THE BEACH, but it’s very directly speculation (and an attempt at warning the public) of what could happen in such a situation.

    What actually did happen wasn’t the same, of course, so it’s been rendered alt-history. But when it came out it was potential-future.

    I guess I’d lean toward calling it SF, but I’m not sure.

  8. Re: The remake of Red Dawn: The original concept was a Chinese invasion of the US, which is somewhat more plausible, but of course the logistics of any overseas invasion of the US are just absolutely crazy. (also, c.f. The Man in the High Castle)

  9. @Cora: I wouldn’t assume that weather patterns would be completely the same after a massive nuclear exchange, or that they would sufficiently insulate against massive fallout; cf the effects of Tambora (a few degrees south of the equator) on European weather. OTOH, I don’t know/remember what Shute based his premise on (if anything concrete), so I suppose an alternate ending that almost everyone panicked unnecessarily is possible.

  10. The Russians and their allies aren’t overcome by the Wolverines in Red Dawn. The Soviets remain an occupying force in the town. The Wolverines just manage to stay out of their grips and inflict some damage when the Soviets try to eliminate them. I would say that isn’t so farfetched given what has happened in some of the recent US involvements.

    The US military doesn’t disappear. The downed fighter pilot shows up to fill us in on what’s happening with the rest of the war.

    The odd thing was that the movie was sold to Reagan America as spunky kids beat the Russian bear, but it was really a more sombre movie. They just battle to maybe a standoff and the war is ended elsewhere.

  11. They just battle to maybe a standoff and the war is ended elsewhere.

    And most of the kids die in the process. Only two of them survive the movie.

  12. I must have either forgotten or missed the “Mexico became communist and was used as a beachhead for the invasion” bit in the prologue of Red Dawn, probably because I was too boggled by the pacifist Green Party chancellor supposedly governing West Germany, since the Greens had only just gotten into parliament for the first time the previous year and were a tiny party of maybe ten people in parliament, so that scenario was already hugely unlikely. I also assumed the black commander who spoke Spanish (actually the most likable character in the movie) was supposed to be Cuban, but he might have been Nicaraguan as well.

  13. I’m reminded of Red Dawn (which I have seen parts of, at least) when I come into Michigan from Canada over the Blue Water Bridge. A mile or so of highway has been adopted by a group with Wolverines in the name (and I think it’s a militia group—one of the rightwing paramilitary sort). I don’t have the exact name, as I don’t seem to have a camera in my hand when I see the sign, and I can’t find any online confirmation. They don’t mention it on their website.

    Next time I drive up to Escanaba via Ontario, though, I’ll try and get a snap of it.

  14. The wolverine – an animal so spiteful that it vomits on food it cannot eat.

    The Big 10 certainly has some wonderful mascots.

    Maybe we should move onto Invasion U.S.A. with Chuck Norris? It’s another Christmas movie.

  15. I think one of the key elements for “Red Dawn” scenarios also involve “The cartoon version of the Liberals gain the Presidency, and immediately disarm the US military in response to Soviet peace overtures.”

    That at least was the idea presented by a college friend who around 1988 was writing a book about his own Soviet invasion scenario. He proposed a Soviet fleet would cross the Pacific under the shelter of a winter storm, and then invade Northern California. His solution would be to have all the local hunters go to the redwood forests to fight back the Soviets. My eye rolling did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.

    I have no idea if he got that published, but that was the sort of thinking going around before the Berlin Wall fell.

  16. Rose Embolism on December 31, 2017 at 1:31 pm said:
    IMO, that one requires the readers (and possibly the author) to not have a clue about the California coast north of SF. Or north of Pt Concepcion. (It’s mostly vertical. Harbors of any kind are scarce, and all of them have cities or at least towns, right to the water.)

  17. @JJ

    That’s a really good way of articulating my vague “I know the difference between SF and a techno-thriller when I see it” definition — thanks for putting it into words.

    No problem. I’m sure it’s not original to me, but I’m glad that you and Chip both find it a useful way to distinguish techno-thrillers from SF.

  18. @ P J Evans Embolism: IMO, that one requires the readers (and possibly the author) to not have a clue about the California coast north of SF. Or north of Pt Concepcion. (It’s mostly vertical. Harbors of any kind are scarce, and all of them have cities or at least towns, right to the water.)

    I know, right? And this is when we were attending Sonoma State, so it’s not like he wasn’t minimally knowledgeable about the area. Though I was the one who went for long drives in the country…

    There’s also the question of why? Conquer Santa Rosa? Return Sebastopol to Russia? There really isn’t much that’s valuable up there, unless one really finds Sonoma wines a vital national interest.

    I forget what his rational was, but really he wanted local amateur hunters to defeat the Soviet Bear after the Liberals had disarmed us.

  19. Rose Embolism on December 31, 2017 at 4:54 pm said:
    It should be kind of obvious to anyone who’s been to the coast at all. (What are beaches? Not many of those, in most of the state.) But he wanted something else, so….
    (L.A. has bluffs above the beaches on all of the north-south sections – and then there’s Palos Verdes, with its permanent landslide area. And the Big Rock section of Malibu, which is slide-prone.)

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