Pixel Scroll 12/21/16 Ancillary of Green Gables

(1) MARS’ VIRGIN FIELD EPIDEMIC. Nautilus writer Christopher McKay, in a piece called “Make Mars Great Again”, says that Mars has life because of microbes sent aboard non-sterile Mars probes, and if the planet gets warmer in a century these microbes can be used for terraforming.

Mars is currently inhabited by an estimated 1 million microbes. They coat the surfaces and crowd the innards of our robotic landers and rovers, which international policy requires to be cleaned, but not fully sterilized. The bugs are dormant, but viable. If Mars warmed up and water began to flow again, these microorganisms would revive and reproduce. And it is within our power to make that happen.

The concept of terraforming—making a barren world suitable for widespread life—is well developed in science fiction. The term was first used in a science-fiction story published in 1942. It implies the creation of a copy of Earth, which need not be the goal, but the word caught on. (It is definitely more euphonious than the suggested alternatives of “ecopoiesis” or “planetary ecosynthesis.”) In the ’90s the award-winning science-fiction trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars centered on the science and ethics of terraforming. But terraforming is no longer just science fiction.

(2) DIFFERENT CURRENCIES. Sarah A. Hoyt raises compelling points in “Some Hard Thinking About Our Business”. Why doesn’t everybody go indie? And how much money is it costing them to go with traditional publishers?

So I am continuously puzzled watching indie authors who are doing better by an order of magnitude than any traditional writer I know succumbing to the lure of a traditional contract.  I’m not disapproving, mind you — who the hell am I to be disapproving of other people’s business decisions? If I had my time again, I doubt I’d have made most of the ones I made.  I’d still want to write for Baen, but that’s about it — I’m just jaw-dropped shocked.  Because they’ll be giving up 90% of their income or so.  But perhaps they want the respectability.  And perhaps they think it will give them further reach.

Is the reach thing true?  For now.  For a time. More on this later.

Is the respectability that important?  Sure, if you want to have some sort of job as a “real writer” such places are starting to choose indies, but not really.  Some conferences too (though we’re not absolutely sure, in this new era how much attendance of conventions contribute to sales, with the remarkable exception of hard copy books [more on that later.]) expect you to flash your “real writer” credentials in the form of  contract.  I even understand it from the social point of view, where when you’re at a party and people ask what you do, the question after you answer “writer” is “so have anything published?” (Or maybe that’s just to me, because of the accent.)  Mind you, you can answer “Sure” and  list your books and not say “indie” but I also know that when I say “Sure, x books with Berkley, x with Bantam and x with Baen” people’s attitude changes completely.  And I can see that when people suspect you’re indie they say “So you published yourself” and dismiss it.  I know that’s a stupid reason to give up 90% of your income, but humans are social animals and I can see “not being embarrassed at parties” making a difference.  I can even see the velveteen writer thing, wanting to be a “real” writer in your own eyes, the way you envisioned it.

(3) LONG RELIEF. At MLB blog Cut4, “Superfan Sean Doolittle reviews ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”‘. Doolittle is a pitcher for the Oakland A’s.

Big Star Wars fan Sean Doolittle was kind enough to take some time away from his rigorous offseason sock-throwing regimen to write a film review of Rogue One … yes, really! Enjoy it all below, and don’t worry — there are no major spoilers, as Sean knows what he’s doing. 

What really separates this movie from any other episode in the Star Wars franchise, though, is how dark and harsh it is. Rogue One is as much a war drama, with real, raw emotion, as it is a sci-fi adventure movie. This movie drops you into the middle of a brutal galactic civil war, one that’s taken everything from these characters and turned them into soldiers willing to fight for the Rebellion.

(4) NOT THE REASONS FOR THE SEASON. I thought Tor.com had a great discussion-generating post idea in “The Non-Holiday Movies We Always End Up Watching Over the Holidays” but they had more misses than hits as far as my tastes are concerned. (Anyone else watched Rocky II this month? I did.)

And it’s a discussion you can have on more than one level. I decided to watch Tracy and Hepburn in Desk Set the other night I’d long since forgotten that most of the climactic events happen at the office Christmas party. So can I count it as “non-holiday” or not?

(5) GHIBLI AND GRAVY. The YouTube video “Studio Ghibli in Real Life” is a charming YouTube video in which Studio Ghibli characters are placed into real-life Japanese settings.


  • December 21, 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood, California. It was the first animated feature-length film with sound and color.


  • Born December 21, 1937 – Jane Fonda


  • Born December 21, 1957 — Tsutomu Kitagawa, a Japanese actor and stuntman best known for playing Godzilla in the Millennium (or Shinsei) series. He also played the costumed actor for the Blue (and occasionally, Black) Ranger in many of Toei Company’s Super Sentai Series in the 1980s, better known in the US as Power Rangers.

(9) BRAIN CANDY. John Scalzi did not write an incisive political commentary today.

Me: I want to write a long piece on politics today!

Brain: Sorry, man. Not up for it. Too much thinking involved.

Me: But I have important things to say!

Brain: You should have thought about it before you decided to fuel me exclusively on Christmas cookies for three days straight….

(10) HINES BENEFIT AUCTION #22. The twenty-second of Jim C. Hines’ 24 Transgender Michigan Fundraiser auctions is for a set of autographed books from Pamela Dean.

Today’s auction is for a set of books from Pamela Dean, including signed hardcover first editions of THE DUBIOUS HILLS and JUNIPER, GENTIAN, AND ROSEMARY, along with a signed mass-market paperback set of the reissue of the SECRET COUNTRY trilogy. That’s a total of five autographed books for you to enjoy!

About THE DUBIOUS HILLS: Centuries after a group of warring wizards eliminate war from the Dubious Hills, the Hills are a place where knowledge and ability are parcelled out in strange ways. Only the group known as the Akoumi understand death, only the Gnosi know how to teach, and only the Physici can know pain. Dean weaves a strange and compelling examination of knowledge, responsiblity and death.

About JUNIPER, GENTIAN, AND ROSEMARY: Three sisters live comfortably with their parents: Juniper, 16, who likes cooking and computer chats; Gentian, 13, who likes plays and astronomy; Rosemary, 11, who likes Girl Scouts. Enter Dominic, handsome as the night, quoting poetry, telling riddles, and asking help for a complex and fascinating science project. Gentian isn’t interested at first–she has her own life. But gradually her life, and her time, belong more and more to Dominic and his project, and her father begins to fear that the lad may be more than a charmer…

About THE SECRET COUNTRY: Each vacation for the past nine years, cousins Patrick, Ruth, Ellen, Ted, and Laura have played a game they call the “Secret”—and invented, scripted world full of witches, unicorns, a magic ring, court intrigue, and the Dragon King. In the Secret, they can imagine anything into reality, and shape destiny. Then the unbelievable happens: by trick or by chance, they actually find themselves in the Secret Country, their made-up identities now real. The five have arrived at the start of their games, with the Country on the edge of war. What was once exciting and wonderful now looms threateningly before them, and no one is sure how to stop it… or if they will ever get back home.

(11) THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MENTIONING RACE. Foz Meadows engages a recent controversy involving YA commentators — “YA, Race & Assimilation: A Response”.

Which is why, returning to the matter of QOP and Whitney Atkinson, pro-diversity advocates are so often forced to contend with people who think that “separating races” and like identifiers – talking specifically about white people or disabled people or queer people, instead of just people – is equivalent to racism and bigotry. Whether they recognise it or not, they’re coming from a perspective that values diverse perspectives for what they bring to the melting pot – for how they help improve the dominant culture via successful assimilation – but not in their own right, as distinct and special and non-homogenised. In that context, race isn’t something you talk about unless you’re being racist: it’s rude to point out people’s differences, because those differences shouldn’t matter to their personhood. The problem with this perspective is that it doesn’t allow for the celebration of difference: instead, it codes “difference” as inequality, because deep down, the logic of cultural assimilation is predicated on the idea of Western cultural superiority. A failure or refusal to assimilate is therefore tantamount to a declaration of inequality: I’m not the same as you is understood as I don’t want to be as good as you, and if someone doesn’t want to be the best they can be (this logic does) then either they’re stupid, or they don’t deserve the offer of equality they’ve been so generously extended in the first place.

Talking about race isn’t the same as racism. Asking for more diversity in YA and SFF isn’t the same as saying personhood matters less than the jargon of identity, but is rather an acknowledgement of the fact that, for many people, personhood is materially informed by their experience of identity, both in terms of self-perception and in how they’re treated by others at the individual, familial and collective levels. And thanks to various studies into the social impact of colour-blindness as an ideology, we already know that claiming not to see doesn’t undo the problem of racism; it just means adherents fail to understand what racism actually is and what it looks like, even – or perhaps especially – when they’re the ones perpetuating it.

(12) APOLLO 11 ON YOUTUBE. Ars Technica helps relive history – “Heinlein and Clarke discuss the Moon landings as they happen”.

Thanks to documentaries and YouTube, the younger set can experience some of the flavor of the late 1960s today, as well as what the Moon landing meant at the time to America and the world. The zeitgeist of hope and possibility might perhaps best be captured in a CBS News discussion on July 20, 1969—Apollo 11 landing day. Hosted by the inimitable Walter Cronkite, the great newsman interviewed science fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein about the implications of NASA’s achievement. The program featured a discussion just after the landing, with a second segment following the first moonwalk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

“Time just stopped for me, I think it stopped for everybody,” a 51-year-old Clarke said, describing how it felt to watch the lunar module touch down. “My heart stopped. My breathing stopped.”

(13) CURSUS HONORUM. James Langdell raises a good question:

How do you become a Ghost Of Christmas Past? Do you work your way up after starting out as Ghost Of National Pickle Day Past?

(14) THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS LAUGHS. Curator John King Tarpinian delved into the archives for these Stan Freberg Christmas parodies —

  • Green Christmas

  • Christmas Dragnet (1953) / Yulenet (1954)

  • The Night Before Christmas (1955)

[Thanks to Rich Lynch, Mark-kitteh, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, and 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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109 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 12/21/16 Ancillary of Green Gables

  1. I put “better” in scare quotes in recognition that it carries connotations that I don’t intend. But I had no better word to use in its place.

  2. So when people like the Puppies complain about authors adding women, or POC, or LGBTQIA characters to stories “if it’s not necessary to the story”, it beggars belief.

    Of course it’s fucking necessary.

    They’ve always gotten to see themselves in stories. Now the rest of us get to see ourselves in them, too.

    Thanks. That settles it for me.

    FWIW: Im not a writer, although . I do write sometimes for fun, so most likely it does not help anybody, when I say: I will try to put more effort in describtions (I do use a wide range of characters and I do try to challenge traditional expectations about certain Fantasy/SF-Tropes), even if these describtions wouldnt be seen by the main characters of the story. Like I wrote earlier, I usually try not to give too many clues about appearances, so the readers could make up their own, but I think the discussion showed, that this doesnt really work this way because then the default setting is assumed. MMh, so I have to sneak in more clues in the story. Not easy, but I guess thats why writing is supposed to be hard 🙂

  3. There was one exception to the assumed default, for me at least; unless forewarned by the book blurb (Happens often) or a really self-evident first line (IE: “My name is Festina Ramos and I take great pride in my personal appearance.”) my idea who a first person narrator was would usually default to the gender of the writer, and correct itself if correction was needed within the first chapter.

    The most notable exception I can recall, where the writer was female but the character read as male to me in the prologue, and I didn’t get an obvious contradiction for a really long stretch is Emma Bull’s Bone Dance. Examining why that particular book read as first person male narrator when I had read most female writers as first-person-female was a bit of an exercise, considering the role gender plays…

  4. @JJ: My first reaction to your reported shortage of female leads was “What about Norton?” — but I see that Ice Crown (the oldest one I can point to) dates from 1970. (Norton had minority characters earlier, and no patience with prejudice, but she and/or her editors probably believed their market was overwhelmingly male. Some of the Witch World books are older, but in the only one I can remember the clear lead was male.) There were books with female protagonists before OST, but not many — and libraries back then were unlikely to carry the Ace Double in which Brunner’s A Planet of Your Own (1966) had its only appearance. (Let’s quietly sweep Podkayne of Mars (1963) under the nearest rug.)

    @Heather: authors can use such assumptions; consider A Grave Talent (Laurie R. King’s first Kate Martinelli novel), in which the female lead’s partner is revealed to be female ~halfway through the book. But that card can’t be played more than once — and setting the story in San Francisco mutes the impact.
    On a lighter note, your reference to “better” provoked (because my mind makes weird connections) an early Woody Allen quote (words maybe not exact):

    “Better” is a hopelessly relative term; what is better for one person may not be better for another. For instance, the rabbi likes to sleep on his stomach; the student also likes to sleep on the rabbi’s stomach. The problem here is obvious.

  5. @Chip Hitchcock

    For Norton: Year of the Unicorn would push the horizon back to 1965. I’ve seen claims it was the first American SFF novel to feature a female character as the central protagonist. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but I am drawing a blank for earlier novels whether by Norton or otherwise. I can think of some short stories but that’s not quite the same.

  6. All of which supports the general point that female protagonists, or even female characters with some level of agency, were rare in sff until the feminist explosion of the 1970s.

    And many of those writers said Norton was a major influence on them.

  7. Oops! Rereading your comment – Podkayne takes us back to ’63 (unless it’s a novella). Still a paucity of female leads any way you look at it though.

  8. L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time was written in 1963 and has a female protagonist. But perhaps it doesn’t count because it’s YA? (Then again, so was Podkayne…)

    Regardless, I agree; there were very few SFF books with a female lead when I started reading SF. Probably one reason why I loved the “Pern” books, although I wasn’t self-reflective enough to realize it at the time.

  9. Defaults can trip people up in different directions as well. I have a series of stories (first published in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies) that all have female first-person narrators (two different narrators for different parts of the series). The second narrator also has a female romantic partner (developed over several of the stories). This is all solidly established by the novelette I’m using to conclude the series (which I intend to put out as a collection in 2017).

    I was having someone beta the concluding story who wasn’t familiar with the existing series (always a good idea) who was seriously jolted when the narrator’s gender was first unambiguously indicated about a quarter of the way into the series. For them, not only had they defaulted to a male character, but they considered the gender of the character’s partner to be confirmation of that default. Since that aspect wasn’t intended to be a big reveal (see: continuing character), I went back and removed the ambiguity much earlier. Actually, I think there was a much earlier indication of gender, but the beta reader had glossed over it because it didn’t fit their understanding.

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