Pixel Scroll 1/2/17 The Pixel Shines In The Darkness, And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

(1) NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY. Today is National Science Fiction Day, the date chosen because it is Isaac Asimov’s birthday. Judging by the return on my Google search, it’s a day beloved by writers of calendar clickbait but it goes largely unnoticed by fans. Should we be doing something about it?

(2) YOU’LL GO BLIND. Self-publishing isn’t the problem – self-editing is. At least, the kind of self-editing that Diana Pharoah Francis discusses in “Writers Club: The Evils of Self Editing” at Book View Café.

I’m not saying that self-editing is bad. It’s not. It’s just we often do it while writing and that’s when it’s evil. Sometimes we do it when we aren’t aware and that’s when it’s really awful.

When I first started out writing, I wrote for me and me alone. I was trying to entertain myself and so I didn’t worry about whether this would be offensive or that would be sappy or if readers would hate my characters. None of that entered my mind because it was all about the fun of telling myself the story and getting lost in it.

Then I published. This was a dream come true. But that’s when the evil self-editor started sneaking in to my creative zone. I’d write something and then delete it because it was too something: too off-color, too disgusting, too violent, and so on. That limited me in ways that I stopped noticing. I internalized those limits and made them an unacknowledged part of my writing process. It’s like a house. You don’t pay attention to where walls are or light switches because they just exist and are necessary and you’re glad they’re there doing their job.

Only really, the self-editor at this point in the process is really a saboteur. It’s a swarm of termites eating away your writing in secret and you have no idea it’s even happening.

(3) BOUND FOR CHINA. Tomorrow Nancy Kress leaves for Beijing . “I will be teaching a week-long workshop with Sf writer Cixin Liu, SF WORLD editor Yao Haijun, and Professor Wu Yan.”

(4) CA$H CALL. Jim C. Hines is collecting data for his 2016 Writing Income Survey.

For nine years, I’ve been doing an annual blog post about my writing income. It’s not something we talk about very much, and I think the more data we put out there, the more helpful it is to other writers.

The trouble is, I’m just one data point. Better than none, of course. But this year, I decided to try something a little different, and created a 2016 Novelist Income Survey.

The process and goals are similar to the First Novel Survey I did seven years ago. (The results of that one are a little outdated at this point…) I’ll be sharing the basic data like the median, mean, and range of author incomes, as well as looking at patterns and other correlations. No personal or identifying information will be shared in any way.

(5) THEY BLINDED ME WITH (PSEUDO)SCIENCE. A site called Book Scrolling (say, are we cousins?) compiled “The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2016 (Year-End List Aggregation)”.

“What are the best Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2016? We aggregated 32 year-end lists and ranked the 254 unique titles by how many times they appeared in an attempt to answer that very question!”

It comes as no surprise that the results are blindingly arbitrary.

Even though it ranked first among sf books in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards, Pierce Brown’s Morningstar comes in #26 on this list.

And this is a list of books not just novels – the VanderMeers’ Big Book of Science Fiction is #24.

Joe Hill’s The Fireman is #4.

Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky is #1.

(6) EARLY SCRIPT DOCTORING. It’s a new month – which means I can read another five LA Times articles free, so I caught up on John Scalzi’s tribute to the late Carrie Fisher from December 27 —

Out on the Internet, along with the many heart-touching tributes to Carrie Fisher, photographs of her as Leia Organa, either as princess (the original trilogy) or general (from “The Force Awakens”) and with her beloved French bulldog Gary, there’s another picture, originally placed there by cinema documentarian Will McCrabb, showing a page of the script of “The Empire Strikes Back.” On the script are several edits, in red pen, condensing and improving the script. McCrabb said the hand that put the edits there was Carrie Fisher’s, noting on Twitter that Fisher herself confirmed it to him.

Is he correct? The edits might have been made by Irwin Kershner, “Empire’s” director, instead. At the time — 1979 — Fisher would have been 22 years old. Yet here she was, looking at a script written by Lawrence Kasdan, who would go on to several screenwriting Oscar nominations, and Leigh Brackett, Howard Hawks’ secret screenwriting weapon and one of the great science fiction writers of her time, and thinking “this needs some fixing.” And then getting out her pen and doing just that.

Whoever made the edits wasn’t wrong. At least some of the edits to the scene (in which Leia, Han and Chewbacca plot a course to visit Lando Calrissian) made it to the final cut of the film. Simpler, tighter, better — and with the rhythm of speech rather than exposition (science fiction, forever the genre of people explaining things to other people). Carrie Fisher played a galactic princess, but she had a working writer’s gift for understanding how people talk, and how language works. At 22.


  • January 2, 1902 – Leopold Bloom takes a walk around Dublin.
  • January 2, 1902 — The first dramatization of The Wizard of Oz opens, in Chicago. Book and lyrics by Baum, music by Paul Tietjens, plot reworked to provided plenty of gags and cues for irrelevant songs (and to eliminate the Wicked Witch of the West). Described in detail in Ethan Mordden’s Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre, it sounds worse than the way US cinema reworked The Dark is Rising, but it was suited the audiences of the time well enough to run on various stages for seven years.
  • January 2, 1905 — Elara, a Moon of Jupiter, discovered.
  • January 2, 2000 — Patrick O’Brian died this date. Alan Baumler notes, “He was born on Dec 12. but I forgot to send it to you) and while his Aubrey-Maturin series of sea stories is not Fantasy/SF, given that Novik’s Temeraire series is pretty explicitly O’Brian WITH DRAGONS and Weber’s Honor Harrington series is O’Brian IN SPACE I would think it was worth mentioning.” Absolutely – and besides one of the Nielsen Haydens (I wish I could find the exact quote) said the technology in Napoleonic warships was so complex they were like the starships of their time.


  • Born January 2, 1920 – Isaac Asimov. (Hey, wouldn’t it look bad if we forgot to list him on National Science Fiction Day?)
  • Born January 2, 1929 – Charles Beaumont, known for scripting Twilight Zone episodes.

(9) WHEN IS IT TIME TO BAIL? Max Florschutz helps new writers avoid the death spiral of investing time in unproductive writing projects by a self-evaluation process, partially quoted here:

What really sets a death spiral apart, however, from a fresh project that is still in its growing stages is the amount of time that has been sunk into it. For example, when looking at your current writing project, ask yourself the following questions. If you can answer yes to even one of them, you may want to consider the possibility that you are stuck in a death spiral.

—Has forward progress stopped in lieu of going back and editing/rewriting what you’ve already written before you’ve made it very far into the story?

—Have you since spent more time editing/rewriting that first bit of the story than you did originally writing it?

—Do you get started on writing new material for said story only to realize that you need to go back and edit/add in something and gone and done that instead? Has that been your experience the last few times you sat down to work on this story? Has it kept you from adding any new material in significant amounts (say, chapters)?…

(10) OCCASIONAL ACCURACY. NASA presents “The Science of Star Trek”, but finds it difficult to marry those two concepts.

The writers of the show are not scientists, so they do sometimes get science details wrong. For instance, there was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Dr. Crusher and Mr. LaForge were forced to let all of the air escape from the part of the ship they were in, so that a fire would be extinguished. The doctor recommended holding one’s breath to maintain consciousness as long as possible in the vacuum, until the air was restored. But as underwater scuba divers know, the lungs would rupture and very likely kill anyone who held his breath during such a large decompression. The lungs can’t take that much pressure, so people can only survive in a vacuum if they don’t try to hold their breath.

I could name other similar mistakes. I’m a physicist, and many of my colleagues watch Star Trek. A few of them imagine some hypothetical, perfectly accurate science fiction TV series, and discredit Star Trek because of some list of science errors or impossible events in particular episodes. This is unfair. They will watch Shakespeare without a complaint, and his plays wouldn’t pass the same rigorous test. Accurate science is seldom exciting and spectacular enough to base a weekly adventure TV show upon. Generally Star Trek is pretty intelligently written and more faithful to science than any other science fiction series ever shown on television. Star Trek also attracts and excites generations of viewers about advanced science and engineering, and it’s almost the only show that depicts scientists and engineers positively, as role models. So let’s forgive the show for an occasional misconception in the service of an epic adventure.

(11) SUAVE AND DEBONAIR. The Daily Beast tells everyone, “Blame Horror-Film Legend Vincent Price for the Rise of Celebrity Lifestyle Brands”.

But while Martha Stewart famously (and accurately!) said in 2013 that “I think I started this whole category of lifestyle,” the concept that Stewart began selling with her first book, 1982’s Entertaining, is a little different from what celeb lifestyle brands are peddling. Stewart—who worked as a model and in the financial industry before becoming Our Lady of the Hospital Corner—became famous due to her lifestyle of perfect taste, immaculate table settings, and painfully severe pie crust prep. In contrast, celebrity lifestyle brands—like Paltrow’s Goop, which launched in 2008 and is widely considered the OG celeb lifestyle site—hinge on the more loaded idea that celebrities have great taste because they’re rich, and if you master that taste and pick up a few celeb-approved luxury items, you might get closer to the lifestyle of an Academy Award winner (without having to do all that pesky acting training).

Despite attracting the attention of many petty haters like myself, Goop is, of course, a resounding success—according to Fast Company, in 2015 the site had one million subscribers and got more than 3.75 million page views each month. But while everyone from Real Housewives to Gossip Girls have followed in Paltrow’s (presumably Louboutin-clad) footsteps in recent years, the roots of the celebrity lifestyle brand don’t lie solely with Stewart—rather, they began in the mid-20th century, with a cookbook.

The first celebrity cookbook was penned by horror film legend and acclaimed mustache expert Vincent Price (or, at the very least, its publisher, Dover, proclaimed it as such in a 2015 press release). Called A Treasury of Great Recipes, the book—which Price wrote with his wife, Mary—drew from their world travels, collecting recipes from high-end restaurants like New York City’s Four Seasons as well as ones that the Prices whipped up while entertaining at home. And the book didn’t just feature cooking instructions; it also included shots of the Prices at play, sipping soup proffered by a waiter in black-tie dress, or simply relaxing in their gorgeously appointed, copper pot-filled kitchen.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Bartimaeus, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Alan Baumler, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Greg Hullender.]

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69 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 1/2/17 The Pixel Shines In The Darkness, And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

  1. @Andrew M

    Yes, I believe Invisible Library is (re)eligible. With the third book only out in the UK it’s technically eligible for series but without US exposure I’m not sure it’s got much chance.

  2. (6) Not sure why you’d quote this Scalzi piece from 12/27 and not mention that everybody and their dog has since then written that McCrabb is incorrect. I can’t even find (although possibly that’s just because I’m not good with Twitter) where McCrabb supposedly stated flat out that he had confirmed this with Fisher; I just see his original tweet, where he was simply posting a script photo from The Making of The Empire Strikes Back and stating that the handwriting was by Fisher as if that were common knowledge… and then an odd follow-up that seems to be sarcastically defending his claim by showing that the photo caption didn’t specifically attribute the handwriting to anyone else. (Note that someone immediately responded to the latter with a different photo from the same book that does attribute identical-looking handwritten notes to Kershner.)

    And, as mentioned in this IO9 article among many others, Fisher has stated that she didn’t do any script edits on Star Wars movies until Return of the Jedi.

    Although I’m always happy to see more tributes to Fisher, Scalzi’s piece is kind of weirdly written. He starts out sort of acknowledging that McCrabb might be wrong, but then immediately forgets about that and writes as if Fisher definitely made those edits. He also uses the reputation of Leigh Brackett to imply that Fisher must have been even more awesome if she dared to rewrite the work of such a luminary, even though it’s pretty widely known that Brackett only got to do one very early draft before her death and almost none of her dialogue was kept (that draft is online if you’re curious; the scene in question doesn’t exist there).

  3. @Camestros: note that Clarke also argued for not holding one’s breath in decompression as far back as Earthlight (1955); I suspect he was working from RAF research rather than guesswork.

    @Lisa Goldstein (re Bloomsday): well, that’s embarassing; I wonder what else Mordden got wrong that I didn’t check, and how many of those errors are in show biz rather than outside history. (I’m not sure I like his attitude, but he does a better job linking pieces than the last tome I read, although he seems a tad much devoted to classifying works as one or the other of two radically different types.)

    @Mike: [glug]

    @Peer Sylvester (re implausibilities in Rogue One): how many high-security records need to be on WiFi? Sometimes it’s better to be off the net entirely rather than trying to make a secure connection (says someone who had to do a primitive version of one).

  4. @Peer – the transporter is a replicator and seems to handle living things just fine (…and then it exploded…)

    They have to record whatever they record in order to “beam” someone down. Now it may be morals that prevents copies from happening, but given what we’ve been told and shown about the technology, all of the necessary data is recorded, and therefore could be stored, so there’s no physical limitation to using the “replicator” to solve all of their problems. Any problem resulting from a shortage, any problem resulting from not being able to be two places at once…indeed, Star Fleet is probably a sham – every ship is commanded by a “Kirk” and crewed by a “Spock”…and they made a copy of the Enterprise before painting the name on it….

  5. @Andrew M

    The Fireman is basically Joe Hill’s version of The Stand, without the obvious supernatural elements, although there are a couple of hints (rather unbelievable ones, to my mind). (My review is here, and also my review of Sleeping Giants. Spoilers, obviously.) I thought it was okay but not outstanding; it could have had 200-300 pages chopped out the middle without missing much. Joe Hill is an an excellent writer though, as good or better than his father.

  6. @me: more embarassment: I relocated the reference that I quoted and it says the first Wizard of Oz opened on June 16. (Still 1902; by p.45 I knew Mordden’s syntax was sloppy but I didn’t think to check whether he included year in “date”.) I do not know how I read “June 16” as “January 2”. My apologies to OGH. [returns remains of drink, slinks off.]

  7. @chip I do geht tge files (although its difficult to imagine how that thing was built when only few knew the blueprints). But security? Layout of the place? All that uplink\signal strength and movement of the dish? Everything has to be done by Hand from a certain space. The whole base is not very connected. One wonders what all these computers do…

  8. “And so, my fellow Filers: ask not what your pixel can scroll for you; ask what you can scroll for your pixel.”



    ETA: That’s probably been done (or suggested) before; I forgot to check, sorry.

  9. Mark: Well, the Invisible Library Series is presumably more likely to be a finalist when books 2 and 3 have appeared in the US (assuming the award still exists then). But if you don’t have five other series to nominate this year – and I suspect a lot of people won’t – I see no harm in nominating it now.

  10. NASA as previously pegged surviving a vacuum at approx 90 seconds, remaining conscious for about 15 seconds.

    There was once a guy who earned this the hard way.

    Having found myself recently in a location with BBC America (which now, apparently, means mostly Star Trek reruns for some reason) and having rewatched a large number of ST:TNG and a handful of Voyager episodes, I’m more aware than ever that not only is the science in ST very, very, very bad but that there is also a large amount of clumsy “As you know Bobbing” in the writing. It really hasn’t aged well, IMHO.

  11. @Andrew M: “Well, the Invisible Library Series is presumably more likely to be a finalist when books 2 and 3 have appeared in the US (assuming the award still exists then).”

    Book two’s been out on Kindle US for a few months, I possess a physical ARC of book three, and I think the formal US release date for book three is this month. I think the award’s still gonna be around in February…

  12. Rev Bob: If it appears in February, it creates eligibility for next year, when the award may not be around. (I suppose people can nominate it on the basis of UK publication after reading it in February: but I think that to actually catch the attention of the voting body things generally have to be available a bit earlier.)

  13. @Andrew M:

    “This month” is not February. In fact, just to be sure, I looked up the release date on Amazon US a few seconds ago. January 10th. As in, next week.

  14. Well, OK, but I think even things published in December have difficulty getting the attention of Hugo voters, so things published in January will presumably be worse off.

  15. Andrew M: the Invisible Library Series is presumably more likely to be a finalist when books 2 and 3 have appeared in the US (assuming the award still exists then). But if you don’t have five other series to nominate this year – and I suspect a lot of people won’t – I see no harm in nominating it now.

    The first book is on my Best Novel shortlist this year (I bypassed it in last year’s nominations, because it hadn’t been released in the U.S. yet at that point, and I didn’t think it stood a chance just on UK readers). But I’m not putting it down for Best Series, as the 3rd book has not yet been released in the U.S., and I have more than 5 strong contenders, anyway.

    I don’t know if the Vorkosigan Saga will get another shot at Best Series (Bujold seems to feel that she’s done with that universe), so I’m definitely nominating that. I’m also definitely nominating Walter Jon Williams’ Praxis/Dread Empire Falls series and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving Universe. This year is probably also Novik’s Temeraire‘s last shot at the Series award; I will have to narrow down amongst that and McGuire’s October Daye, Corey’s Expanse, Stross’ Laundry Files, and Sanderson’s Cosmere.

  16. Part of the arbitrariness of the “Book Scrolling” list may be due to how they seem to have counted one list twice: every book that has a vote from “Biblio Sanctum” also has one from “Bibliosanctum.” How they missed this problem is mystifying…

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