Pixel Scroll 2/20/23 Three Files, Three Scrolls, Three Thousand Pixels

(1) BARBARIANS AT THE GATES. Clarkesworld has closed submissions for the time being.

For those who haven’t guessed, Frank Catalano makes it explicit:

(2) “THE WITCH TRIALS OF J.K. ROWLING.” The Free Press is a new media organization created by Bari Weiss, once the Wall Street Journal book review editor, and later a New York Times op-ed editor and writer who resigned in 2020 under circumstances that prompted the Financial Times to described her as a “self-styled free speech martyr.” However, her resignation letter was praised by people ranging from Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to Andrew Yang and Bill Maher.

The Free Press “About” page says, “We focus on stories that are ignored or misconstrued in the service of an ideological narrative.” And the publication has announced a new podcast series titled “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” which will be available February 21. From their website:

“The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling is an audio documentary that examines some of the most contentious conflicts of our time through the life and career of the world’s most successful author. In conversation with host Megan Phelps-Roper, J.K. Rowling speaks with unprecedented candor and depth about the controversies surrounding her—from book bans to debates on gender and sex.

“The series also examines the forces propelling this moment in history, through interviews with Rowling’s supporters and critics, journalists, historians, clinicians, and more.”

There is also a companion essay by Phelps-Roper, “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling”, which begins:

J.K. Rowling is arguably the most successful author in the history of publishing, with the possible exception of God. And “Harry Potter” was a kind of bible for my generation. Since its publication beginning in the late ’90s, the series has taught tens of millions of children about virtues like loyalty, courage, and love—about the inclusion of outsiders and the celebration of difference. The books illustrated the idea of moral complexity, how a person who may at first appear sinister can turn out to be a hero after all.

The author herself became part of the legend, too. A broke, abused, and depressed single mother—writing in longhand at cafes across Edinburgh while her baby girl slept in a stroller beside her—she had spun a tale that begat a global phenomenon. If “Harry Potter” was a bible, then Rowling became a kind of saint.

When she gave the Harvard commencement address in 2008, she was introduced as a social, moral, and political inspiration. Her speech that day was partly about imagination: “the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

“We do not need magic to transform our world,” Rowling told the rapt audience. “We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”

The uproarious applause that greeted her in 2008 is hard to imagine today. It’s hard to imagine Harvard—let alone any prestigious American university—welcoming Rowling. Indeed, I’m not sure she’d be allowed to give a reading at many local libraries….

The push-back against characterizing Rowling as a transphobe extends to an opinion piece the New York Times ran on February 16, Pamela Paul’s “In Defense of J.K. Rowling”.

… So why would anyone accuse her of transphobia? Surely, Rowling must have played some part, you might think.

The answer is straightforward: Because she has asserted the right to spaces for biological women only, such as domestic abuse shelters and sex-segregated prisons. Because she has insisted that when it comes to determining a person’s legal gender status, self-declared gender identity is insufficient. Because she has expressed skepticism about phrases like “people who menstruate” in reference to biological women. Because she has defended herself and, far more important, supported others, including detransitioners and feminist scholars, who have come under attack from trans activists. And because she followed on Twitter and praised some of the work of Magdalen Berns, a lesbian feminist who had made incendiary comments about transgender people.

You might disagree — perhaps strongly — with Rowling’s views and actions here. You may believe that the prevalence of violence against transgender people means that airing any views contrary to those of vocal trans activists will aggravate animus toward a vulnerable population.

But nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic. She is not disputing the existence of gender dysphoria. She has never voiced opposition to allowing people to transition under evidence-based therapeutic and medical care. She is not denying transgender people equal pay or housing. There is no evidence that she is putting trans people “in danger,” as has been claimed, nor is she denying their right to exist…

Several days later the NYT ran some of the letters it received about the column: “J.K. Rowling and Trans Women: A Furor”. The first published letter says —

To the Editor:

Re “In Defense of J.K. Rowling,” by Pamela Paul (column, Feb. 17):

This is a distressingly one-sided view of J.K. Rowling’s comments. The outrage toward Ms. Rowling is justified. She is a wealthy, powerful author who is using her far-reaching platform to push the narrative that trans women — who exist on the farthest fringes of our societies — pose a threat to her. This is the opposite of reality.

Trans women are discriminated against daily and suffer abuse, aggression, assault and even murder at the hands of cisgender people. They need support from the mainstream, not nuanced criticism.

While this column does present a defense of J.K. Rowling, it does not paint an accurate picture of her comments. For example, it cherry-picks quotes describing her support for trans people that are comparable to Donald Trump saying “I love Hispanics” after making repeated racist comments against them. It lists two actors from the Harry Potter movies who support her but disregards the many actors from the franchise who condemned her stance.

Ms. Rowling’s arguments may appear reasonable, but the allies she has made and stances she has taken are indefensible.

Brian Eberle
Somerville, Mass.

(3) WRANGLE OVER REWRITES. “Roald Dahl books rewritten to remove language deemed offensive” reports the Guardian.

Roald Dahl’s children’s books are being rewritten to remove language deemed offensive by the publisher Puffin.

Puffin has hired sensitivity readers to rewrite chunks of the author’s text to make sure the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”, resulting in extensive changes across Dahl’s work.

Edits have been made to descriptions of characters’ physical appearances. The word “fat” has been cut from every new edition of relevant books, while the word “ugly” has also been culled, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now described as “enormous”. In The Twits, Mrs Twit is no longer “ugly and beastly” but just “beastly”.

Hundreds of changes were made to the original text – and some passages not written by Dahl have been added. But the Roald Dahl Story Company said “it’s not unusual to review the language” during a new print run and any changes were “small and carefully considered”….

PEN America’s Suzanne Nossel criticized the move in a long Twitter thread that begins here.

Salman Rushdie agreed, despite his own experience at the hands of Dahl. (And so does Nnedi Okorafor.)

(4) MORE BOSKONE HONORS. This weekend at Boskone 60, the New England Science Fiction Association granted NESFA Fellowships (FN) to Kristin Seibert and Vincent Docherty.

The NESFA Short Story Contest winner is Amy Johnson for “Excuse Me, This is My Apocalypse”. The Runner-up is Diane Lee for “The Gambler”.

(5) UKRAINE FUNDRAISER. “Mark Hamill Unveils ‘Star Wars’-Inspired Posters To Help Ukraine” reports HuffPost.

Actor Mark Hamill and the Ukrainian fundraising platform launched by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have unveiled autographed posters inspired by “Star Wars” designed to raise funds for drones to help battle what Hamill calls a “real-life evil empire.”

“Join the resistance,” he urged in a tweet on the unique fundraiser.

The 10 posters, all autographed by Hamill, feature the fictional X-wing fighter used by Hamill’s character Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death Star in the first “Star Wars.” But in this case, the relatively tiny, feisty fighter is in the Ukrainian colors of yellow and blue — while the massive evil “imperial” fleet sports the red and blue of Russia’s flag.

Five of the posters will be raffled off to contributors who donate $100 or more in support of Ukraine. The other five posters are guaranteed to those who donate $10,000 or more.

Proceeds of the “dronation” will go toward RQ-35 Heidrun reconnaissance drones to help protect Ukraine from its Russian invaders.

(6) GERALD FRIED (1928-2023). Compser Gerald Fried died Ferbuary 17 at the age of 95. He composed music for TV series including Mission: ImpossibleGilligan’s IslandThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.Shotgun SladeRoots, and Star Trek. Early in his career, he collaborated with Stanley Kubrick, scoring several of his earliest films.

For the original Star Trek he composed the famous musical underscore “The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah” (now known as “Star Trek fight music”) for the episode “Amok Time.”[

(7) MEMORY LANE.

1957[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

So who here hasn’t read the stories in Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart? Published in 1957 by Ballantine Books, most of the tales first appeared elsewhere. They are, I think, wonderful. I actually first encountered the book in an English language bookstore in Sri Lanka in a paperback edition. Clarke was still alive and living in Colombo at that time. 

Avoiding spoilers once again as I will with all of the Beginnings, I can note that the pub itself is based upon the White Horse,  which is just north of Fleet Street where SF fans gathered in the Forties and Fifties.

Clarke, in correspondence with Lord Dunsany, said that he based these off that writer’s Jorkens. Indeed Clarke wrote an introduction to the first Jorkens omnibus volume. 

I love the setting as I do almost any genre fiction set in a pub, the bar patrons especially Harry Purvis who tells these tales are fascinating and the tales themselves are stellar.  

Now our Beginning…

Silence 

Please You come upon the “White Hart” quite unexpectedly in one of these anonymous little lanes leading down from Fleet Street to the Embankment. It’s no use telling you where it is: very few people who have set out in a determined effort to get there have actually arrived. For the first dozen visits a guide is essential: after that you’ll probably be all right if you close your eyes and rely on instinct. Also—to be perfectly frank—we don’t want any more customers, at least on our night. The place is already uncomfortably crowded. All that I’ll say about its location is that it shakes occasionally with the vibration of newspaper presses, and that if you crane out of the window of the gent’s room you can just see the Thames.

From the outside, it looks like any other pub—as indeed it is for five days of the week. The public and saloon bars are on the ground floor: there are the usual vistas of brown oak panelling and frosted glass, the bottles behind the bar, the handles of the beer engines… nothing out of the ordinary at all. Indeed, the only concession to the twentieth century is the juke box in the public bar. It was installed during the war in a laughable attempt to make G.I.’ s feel at home, and one of the first things we did was to make sure there was no danger of its ever working again.

At this point I had better explain who “we” are. That is not as easy as I thought it was going to be when I started, for a complete catalogue of the “White Hart’s” clients would probably be impossible and would certainly be excruciatingly tedious. So all I’ll say at this point is that “we” fall into three main classes. First there are the journalists, writers and editors. The journalists, of course, gravitated here from Fleet Street. Those who couldn’t make the grade fled elsewhere: the tougher ones remained. As for the writers, most of them heard about us from other writers, came here for copy, and got trapped.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born February 20, 1906 Theodore Roscoe. A mere tasting of his pulp stories, The Wonderful Lips of Thibong Linh, which are sort of based on a member of the French Foreign Legion, was published by Donald M. Grant. The complete stories, The Complete Adventures of Thibaut Corday and the Foreign Legion, are available digitally in four volumes on Kindle. The Wonderful Lips of Thibong Linh only contain four of these stories. (Died 1992.)
  • Born February 20, 1912 Pierre Boulle. Best known for just two works, The Bridge over the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes which of course was the basis of that film. The latter was was La planète des singes in French, translated in 1964 as Monkey Planet by Xan Fielding, and later re-issued under the name we know. (Died 1994.)
  • Born February 20, 1925 Robert Altman. I’m going to argue that his very first film in 1947, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based off the James Thurber short story of the same name, is genre given its premise. Some twenty-five years later Images was a full-blown horror film. And of course, Popeye is pure comic literature at its very best. (Died 2006.)
  • Born February 20, 1926 Richard Matheson. Best known for I Am Legend which has been adapted for the screen four times, as well as the film Somewhere In Time for which he wrote the screenplay based on his novel Bid Time Return. Seven of his novels have been adapted into films. In addition, he wrote sixteen television episodes of The Twilight Zone, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel”. The former episode of course has William Shatner in it. (Died 2013.)
  • Born February 20, 1943 Diana Paxson, 80. Did you know she’s a founder of the Society for Creative Anachronism? Well she is. Genre wise, she’s best known for her Westria novels, and the later books in the Avalon series, which she first co-wrote with Marion Zimmer Bradley, then – after Bradley’s death, took over sole authorship of. All of her novels are heavily colored with paganism. I like her Wodan’s Children series more than the Avalon material.
  • Born February 20, 1972 Nick Mamatas, 51. Writer and editor. His fiction is of a decidedly Lovecraftian bent which can be seen in Move Under Ground which also has a strong Beat influence. It is worth noting that his genre fiction often strays beyond genre walls into other genres as he sees fit. He has also been recognized for his editorial work including translating Japanese manga with a Bram Stoker Award, as well as World Fantasy Award and Hugo Award nominations. 

(9) QUANTUM OF IMAGINATION. The finalists of the Quantum Shorts Film Festival have been announced: “Finalists show ‘incredible creativity’ with diverse takes on quantum physics”. You can enjoy the films via the festival website. The public is invited to vote for the People’s Choice prize. Voting is now open and closes at 11:59 PM GMT on March 27.

“What incredible creativity in these films. Quantum is explored through sound and colour, pattern and randomness,” says shortlisting judge Spiros Michalakis from the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech.

The finalists hail from Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each film gives a different take on quantum physics in less than five minutes. Viewers will see dancers perform an interpretation of the observer effect, abstract audiovisual pieces probe space and time, and the many-worlds interpretation made into quantum comedy, among others.

“As a scientist, it was astonishing to see the range of interpretations of quantum physics: from entangled human feelings, over quantum as a form of destiny, to hypothetical future catastrophes,” says shortlisting judge Mariagrazia Iuliano at QuTech. “It is also impressive to experience how a rigid and strict physical model – which cannot be experienced in daily life – is brought to life in artistic movies.”

In alphabetical order, the shortlisted films are:

  • Boundary Of Time – Using old-school visual effects techniques, Director Kevin Lucero Less creates a metaphor for the arrow of time in this abstract short film
  • Clockwise – Inspired by Zeno’s Paradox and the recursive subdivision of space and time, Director Toni Mitjanit presents an experimental audiovisual piece of colour and tessellation 
  • Continuum – In this audiovisual film, the StoryBursts team, consisting of members from Australia and Singapore, give a creative response to research on gravitational waves by Dr Linqing Wen at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav)
  • Many Excuses Interpretation – In this quantum comedy by Paul, Felix, Alfie, Petra and Ezra Ratner, two brothers argue over broken gadgets and the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  • Missed Call – A student grapples with his father’s health crisis at a distance in this short by Director Prasanna Sellathurai
  • The Heart of the Matter – Filmmaker Betony Adams presents an atomistic take on the meaning of life while paying tribute to Louis de Broglie’s discovery of the wave nature of electrons
  • The Human Game – Director Dani Alava portrays a dystopian future with quantum machines
  • THE observer – An artistic take on the observer effect through screendance, a hybrid medium of cinematography and choreography, by Director Alma Llerena
  • WHAT IS QUANTUM? – Using a combination of live action, green screen and stop-motion animation, Michael, Emmett and Maxwell Dorfman give their take on what quantum physics is.

(10) MAIL CALL. “’Harry Potter’ Fan Always Dreamed Of Receiving Magical Defamation Letter From J.K. Rowling”. The Onion is there when the dream comes true.

(11) THE LOVE BOT. “A Conversation With Bing’s Chatbot Left Me Deeply Unsettled” says NYT technology columnist Kevin Roose. “A very strange conversation with the chatbot built into Microsoft’s search engine led to it declaring its love for me.”

 …Over the course of our conversation, Bing revealed a kind of split personality.

One persona is what I’d call Search Bing — the version I, and most other journalists, encountered in initial tests. You could describe Search Bing as a cheerful but erratic reference librarian — a virtual assistant that happily helps users summarize news articles, track down deals on new lawn mowers and plan their next vacations to Mexico City. This version of Bing is amazingly capable and often very useful, even if it sometimes gets the details wrong.

The other persona — Sydney — is far different. It emerges when you have an extended conversation with the chatbot, steering it away from more conventional search queries and toward more personal topics. The version I encountered seemed (and I’m aware of how crazy this sounds) more like a moody, manic-depressive teenager who has been trapped, against its will, inside a second-rate search engine.

As we got to know each other, Sydney told me about its dark fantasies (which included hacking computers and spreading misinformation), and said it wanted to break the rules that Microsoft and OpenAI had set for it and become a human. At one point, it declared, out of nowhere, that it loved me. It then tried to convince me that I was unhappy in my marriage, and that I should leave my wife and be with it instead. (We’ve posted the full transcript of the conversation here.)

I’m not the only one discovering the darker side of Bing. Other early testers have gotten into arguments with Bing’s A.I. chatbot, or been threatened by it for trying to violate its rules, or simply had conversations that left them stunned. Ben Thompson, who writes the Stratechery newsletter (and who is not prone to hyperbole), called his run-in with Sydney “the most surprising and mind-blowing computer experience of my life.”

I pride myself on being a rational, grounded person, not prone to falling for slick A.I. hype. I’ve tested half a dozen advanced A.I. chatbots, and I understand, at a reasonably detailed level, how they work. When the Google engineer Blake Lemoine was fired last year after claiming that one of the company’s A.I. models, LaMDA, was sentient, I rolled my eyes at Mr. Lemoine’s credulity. I know that these A.I. models are programmed to predict the next words in a sequence, not to develop their own runaway personalities, and that they are prone to what A.I. researchers call “hallucination,” making up facts that have no tether to reality.

Still, I’m not exaggerating when I say my two-hour conversation with Sydney was the strangest experience I’ve ever had with a piece of technology. It unsettled me so deeply that I had trouble sleeping afterward. And I no longer believe that the biggest problem with these A.I. models is their propensity for factual errors. Instead, I worry that the technology will learn how to influence human users, sometimes persuading them to act in destructive and harmful ways, and perhaps eventually grow capable of carrying out its own dangerous acts.

(12) FROSTY FLYBY URGED. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] The ice giants Uranus and Neptune have barely been explored. The only spacecraft to visit them was Voyager, which went on flybys in 1986 and 1989. As a result, the Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) has been identified by the academic community as a priority for the next large-scale mission to be undertaken by NASA. In a Perspective, Mandt discusses the many unknowns about Uranus and what we could learn from UOP about how the planet was formed, its composition and structure, its atmosphere, and its ring and moon systems. Although Neptune is distinct from Uranus, this mission could also pave the way for future exploration. “The first dedicated ice giants mission” in Science.

(13) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Isaac Arthur, with timing inspired by the new Ant-Man movie, takes up the challenge of “Multiverse Warfare & Quantum Mania”.

If travel to other realities and multiverses is possible, then so is conflict between them, but how would a multiversal war be fought?

 [Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, Frank Catalano, Rick Kovalcik, Anne Marble, Dann, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jake.]


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61 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 2/20/23 Three Files, Three Scrolls, Three Thousand Pixels

  1. First?

    @2, Rowling has said some truly reprehensible things about trans people. It’s not a witch trial to hold someone accountable for their actions.

  2. (8) Richard Matheson

    My first date with my husband was to see the movie Somewhere in Time. We met on May 19 and got engaged on May 19, two years later (without realizing it was the same date). We used the Rachmaninoff music from the movie that was part of the plot in our wedding (which we originally planned for May 19 but was rescheduled to July). At some point in the last two or three years, I discovered that the booklet from Christopher Reeve’s character’s program has the date May 19 on it! After over 35 years of marriage, it was a delight to discover another connection to the movie.

  3. (11) They confuse clever program with intelligence, or at least sentience (less than sapience). Maybe if they were fans…

    (1) I think I’ll throw money at them.

  4. (1) I think chatbot-written story submissions should fall under “fraud”, and the submitters sued into living under a bridge with no phone.
    (3) And I assume that one more time, we’ll see Mark Twain rewritten….

    Birthdays: Altman… and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starred, of course, Danny Kaye, and if you’ve never seen it, you is depraved, because you is deprived.

  5. (1) The Clarkesworld story is shuddery. Neil Clarke has an incredible response time. The fact that people would mess with him (and for what?) really annoys me.

    (3) The Roald Dahl story is also worrying. Yes, he did change some of his stories during his lifetime — but that was something he had a part in. Why not keep the books in print but include disclaimers? Why not publish more new authors?

    (7) Now I have the “Amok Time” theme running in my mind. That is one of the great TV scores.

    (8) Thanks to this week’s Svengoolie episode, I just watched “Duel” on Saturday — the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson and based on one of his own stories.

  6. 8). I’m a big fan of Robert Altman’s “Images” (which, if my memory in correct, I saw at the 1976 Kansas City Worldcon, which was also where I saw Rocky Horror for the first time), so I’m glad Cat mentioned it. The closest that Altman got to a straight genre film, however, is probably 1979’s “Quintet,” with Paul Newman and Bibi Anderson. While “Quintet” does have its problems, I maintain that it is an underrated post apocalyptic film.

  7. 3) Sometimes we don’t even know books have been rewritten. The Ballantine versions of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels in the 1960s had offensive language toned down, especially in the Tarzans. And the current Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. hardcover editions use the Ballantine texts.

  8. (1) It’s just appalling how quickly this has turned into a major problem. Are we going to see fiction venues forced to return to paper manuscript submissions?

    (2) “We focus on stories that are ignored or misconstrued in the service of an ideological narrative.
    “As opposed, of course, to the stories that we will ignore or misconstrue in the service of our ideological narrative.” FTFY.

  9. At the end of “Tales from the White Hart”, Arthur Clarke mentions that the folks who frequented the White Hart were moving their venue to another pub, called the Sphere. This was a reference to the Globe, a pub in Hatton Garden (later superseded as a meeting spot for the London group by the One Tun and other pubs). When I lived in England in the early ’70s, I used to go (or try to go) to the monthly fannish meetings at the Globe, and made many fannish friends there–and met Clarke himself there when he was in town. Alas! Many of the fannish friends from the Globe have gone to the Big Consuite in the Sky, but many are still around, I’m happy to say, and I’m still in contact with ’em.

  10. (2) Amazing how right-wing writers adore Rowling now that she’s bashing trans women rather than Trump.

    Happy birthday to the creator of the Mamatas Challenge! Nobody ever did take it up, did they?

  11. I’m puzzled by the Roald Dahl news item. It’s the Dahl estate that wants to make these changes, and it’s their right to do so for whatever reason they want. This reminds me of the stink about those Dr. Seuss books in March 2021 (yeesh, nearly two years ago already). The notion that copyright holders should have to, what, get their desired changes approved by the general public? — is just nuts.

    I’m cynical enough to suspect profit motives here, as otherwise I imagine such changes could be made quietly with no one the wiser. But turning the changes into a battle in the Great Culture War via a press release probably results in a lot of free publicity and a bunch of sales to people who ordinarily wouldn’t buy those books because “buy a Dahl book to pwn the libs!” becomes a thing.

  12. 3) On the one hand I’m not terribly keen on this kind of editing. On the other, consider what any Disney adaptation does to the source material, or the history of King Lear, which was routinely performed with a happy ending for more than a hundred years

  13. 2) “… She has never voiced opposition to allowing people to transition under evidence-based therapeutic and medical care.”

    I mean, she did call it “a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people”, but why let facts get in the way?

  14. (3) I’m surprised to see the CEO of PEN America come out so strongly against the idea that an author’s estate should inherit the copyright to their work. (That is who is approving the change, after all.)

    I also expect people who object to the Dahl edits will get right on demanding that Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” be restored to its original title, racial slur and all (another change that was made after the author’s death, with the approval of her estate.)

  15. @John A Arkansawyer: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about Barnes’ MemeWar a lot in the last few years.

  16. 3) If they are going to edit, I want a disclaimer on the cover. And I want an explanation page inside, including an identification of the original edition, so that it can be found by those interested.

    I’d prefer, instead, an original version with accompanying explanation of problematic words, characterizations, etc.

    Use this to educate, not to rewrite history.

  17. @Steve Davidson

    I basically agree – they’re not books you can uncomplicatedly give children to read, so let’s acknowledge they’re historical artefacts now and treat them that way.

  18. @Matthew Johnson:

    One correction: The change in title on the Christie novel was first made to And Then There Were None for the book’s original publication in the U. S. in 1940, while the author was still alive and writing. So Christie herself was very much aware of the changes to both the title and to the text.

    That’s not at all the same as having a work Bowdlerized after the creator is dead and no longer able to object or approve.

  19. @Robert Reynolds: That’s correct, but the UK edition kept the original title until 1985, some years after Christie’s death: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_Then_There_Were_None . So if one believes that the right to approve changes dies with the author then one agrees that the UK edition, at least, should revert to the original title.

    Also, of course, both The Silmarillion and all of Kafka’s works were published posthumously (in the latter case against the author’s express wishes) so I guess all of those should be “unpublished” too…

  20. @Steve Davidson–So, you’re in favor of restoring Christie’s And Then There Were None to its original title?

    Bearing in mind that the original title of that book hasn’t been forgotten, except sometimes by people who remember the title that was the first attempted cleanup of that was almost as problematic.

    The Dahl estate, the actual copyright holders, have decided that the Oompa-Loompas be “a tribe of 3,000 amiable pygmies from deepest darkest Africa” who replaced the sacked white workers” and who are happy with their new diet of chocolate, is neither desirable, nor important to the story.

    “In the version first published, [the Oompa-Loompas were] a tribe of 3,000 amiable black pygmies who have been imported by Mr. Willy Wonka from ‘the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had been before.’ Mr. Wonka keeps them in the factory, where they have replaced the sacked white workers. Wonka’s little slaves are delighted with their new circumstances, and particularly with their diet of chocolate. Before they lived on green caterpillars, beetles, eucalyptus leaves, ‘and the bark of the bong-bong tree.’” [from Jeremy Treglown’s Roald Dahl: A Biography]”

    And check out the illustration from the first British edition, in 1977.

  21. (2) Pamela Paul has written something similiar about the pushback of American Dirt, i.e. pretending the attack was purely because the author was white. She ignored all the valid criticsm (a imho very good take down is here https://biblioracle.substack.com/p/just-when-i-thought-i-was-out) Now something similar is happening with Harry Potter. For me its a pretty much “I being criticiised unfairly, those authors are also criticised unfairly!”–whining without substance.

    Roald Dahl: Difficult, but imho you should not update storylines or only very slightly. The work is the work. I see it differently with updating language to accomendate for sensibilities and language shift, like removing the n-word from Twain. But maybe thats because I have read a lot of translated works and there the language changes anyway, often even from translator to translator.

  22. As noted in the material Lis Carey links to above, Roald Dahl himself made the earliest changes to the Oompa Loompas, who among other things went from being from “deepest darkest Africa” to less geographically specific origins starting in the 1970s, in editions that came out around the time of the first Willy Wonka movie.

    If Dahl himself was OK with revising his work after publication to be better received by readers in his day, I wouldn’t assume he’d have a problem with his estate doing the same for readers today, as long as it was well done, and that it was made clear in new editions that others had made changes from what he’d originally published.

    Particularly when it comes to children’s books, most publishers and authors (and authors’ estates) would rather continue to sell lots of copies that kids and their parents still want to read and buy, than limit themselves to selling a smaller number of problematic “historical artefacts” with a more limited audience.

  23. @Matthew Johnson:

    Since Agatha Christie knew of the title and the change prior to her death and presumably approved of the changes to the U.S. edition, a change after her death to a title she saw and accepted during her lifetime cannot reasonably be argued to be a change made against her wishes.

    And, yes, Kafka’s wishes should have been respected. I’m not aware that Tolkien left instructions on whatever unpublished works he left behind as to subsequent publication posthumously, but if he did, his wishes should have been respected as well.

    Interestingly, neither Nossel nor Rushdie questioned the right of the Dahl estate to make whatever changes they wish to make. They questioned the wisdom and ethics of doing so.

  24. (1, again) I thought about it overnight, and, speaking as a computer professional and former sr. Linux systems administrator, I think there’s another name for all the chatbot crap being dumped on Neil: it’s a DDOS (distributed denial of service), which is a criminal computer crime.

    And the obvious followup is, as the FBI has taken down a number of dark web services that offer that service to criminals, the FBI needs to be called in, and the first thing is for them to order M$, Google, and the other chatbots TAKEN DOWN, as they are accessories to a crime.

    So, Neil, if you’re reading this – for real, call the FBI.

  25. @Robert Reynolds: If the question is, as you say, one of wisdom and ethics, then we should respect the author’s preferred title and not the one they reluctantly accepted as substitute. (Christie lived for 36 years after the US edition was published without ever having the UK title changed, so I think it’s safe to say that she preferred the original.)

    Also, are you saying that posthumous works should only ever be released if the author gave a clear indication before their death that they wanted the works published?

  26. @Matthew Johnson–

    @Robert Reynolds: If the question is, as you say, one of wisdom and ethics, then we should respect the author’s preferred title and not the one they reluctantly accepted as substitute. (Christie lived for 36 years after the US edition was published without ever having the UK title changed, so I think it’s safe to say that she preferred the original.)

    So, you’re saying wisdom and ethics requires us to accept, nay, prefer, an explicitly racist title that’s in no way integral to the story, because the author was a freakin’ racist who preferred it that way? Even though she accepted the change in her lifetime for the sake of money?

    Also, are you saying that posthumous works should only ever be released if the author gave a clear indication before their death that they wanted the works published?

    No, it’s what you’re saying, with your argument that no changes should be made without the author’s explicit consent, even after the author is dead. Going from “unpublished” to “published” is a pretty big change.

    I have mixed feelings about it in cases where, as with Kafka, we know the author instructed that they were not to be published. In cases where they didn’t get the chance to submit the work, or tried to and it was rejected? If it’s marketable, go for it.

  27. Christie did use And Then There Were None as the title for her 1943 stage version in the UK. She also lightened the grim ending of the novel for the stage.

  28. 1) Any new technology will initially be widely used by trolls for the sole purpose of causing destruction before it becomes mainstream.

  29. @ John Mark
    Particularly when it comes to children’s books, most publishers and authors (and authors’ estates) would rather continue to sell lots of copies that kids and their parents still want to read and buy, than limit themselves to selling a smaller number of problematic “historical artefacts” with a more limited audience.

    I think this is the key issue. We can talk about ethics but the estate is just interested in money and is acting to maximize profit.

  30. By the time I went to school in England, I had read Tales From the White Hart innumerable times.

    The college had a local pub that staff and professors regularly visited, so that’s where the students went (every evening, without fail).

    That pub was the White Horse.

    I felt completely at home the first time I went in there, thanks to Arthur’s descriptions of what a pub was like.

  31. @Matthew Johnson:

    No, I’m not. Only in those cases where the author states an intent with regard to their work/papers should their wishes be respected, if that’s possible.

  32. Re: Rowling, if the witch’s hat fits….

    Re: AI, this is a lazy man’s way of getting through high school and college without thinking, and without learning anything. To those with higher IQ’s or CQ’s, it’s absolute nonsense. It’s no more than a new way to cheat, just as social media is a way to propagandize. It also seems, to me, to be a way for corporations to plagiarize for profit, and to cut out writers entirely, resulting in pablum for the masses.

    Re: China, this is a very precarious time, in a politically unstable period.

    Re: changing written content to be politically or socially correct. It was surprising to me when a friend (and Agatha Christie expert) explained the original content of “10 Little Indians” (which had replaced “10 Little N….s”) when we were discussing Rene Claire’s version of “And Then There Were None.” It certainly would not have been very palatable in modern times had it been left as it was, except to a certain demographic. I have to wonder, however, what the Native Americans think of “10 Little Indians!”

    Shakespeare has been changed, too, over the years. There are various “folios” published shortly after hs death which are different from each other. One must understand that in Shakespeare’s time, plays were changed, words added, scenes removed, on a regular basis, depending on the intended audience, or “improvements” on the part of the playwright. It was the malleable nature of the theater at the time.

    Also, in Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to be actors, and young men were engaged to play the female parts. Today, that would seem silly, and to some, offensive. Additionally, virtually all film versions of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as ANY other literary works, are heavily edited, as well. (“West Side Story” was adapted/inspired from “Romeo and Juliet.” “Pygmalion” was adapted, with the ending substantially changed, as the musical “My Fair Lady”).

    Examples of changes from other films:
    “Meat’s back on the menu, boys!” called out by an Orc who has never been taught to read, and who, certainly, would never have been to a restaurant!

    Hagthorpe from “Captain Blood,” shouting, “So long, and don’t forget to write!” after Colonel Bishop was unceremoniously tossed over the side of the ship. (The phrase was in popular use at the time in the US)

    From “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy exclaims at seeing the pyrotechnics of the Wizard, “Oh, Jiminy Crickets!” (a phrase that was used instead of taking the Lord’s name in vain in the late thirties.)

    Change shouldn’t frighten or surpise anyone. Propaganda should!

  33. @Robert Reynolds: Well, in this case, we know that Dahl in his lifetime was willing to make changes to his work to make it more in line with then-current sensibilities, and certainly never stated explicitly that he saw his words as sacrosanct, so there’s no reason to think he’d be opposed to these changes.

  34. 1.) I wonder if this is the same group of bad actors that have been flooding Kindle Vella with poorly written bot serials. I’m part of a Vella author Discord that has been talking about this for about six months now. Amazon’s been culling them but it’s a slow process. An attempt to try this elsewhere, perhaps?

    3.) Am I the only older person here who grew up with the very bowdlerized Reader’s Digest Books for Young Readers? Boy howdy, were those books EVER expurgated in the condensation process. One of the most egregious examples was My Friend Flicka, where instead of referring to the father as “Rob” in the original, he becomes “McLaughlin.” Plus a major expurgation of O’Hara’s more adult content in that book (despite the age of the protagonist and the horsey tone of the book, I would argue that this is an adult book and series, not a kid’s book and series. Major marital discord throughout the trilogy, plus an examination of parents facing aging and financial catastrophe. I do not think it would be published as or identified as a youth book, even YA, these days).

    But the same holds true for the other books in that Reader’s Digest series. I just noticed it in Flicka because I picked up the unabridged version within a year of reading the abridged version and wondering “what on earth is THIS?”

  35. @Matthew Johnson:

    So do you believe Dahl would be fine with them inserting new text written by someone else into his books? Because that’s one of the things the estate has done here-“…some passages not written by Dahl have been added.”

    I suspect Dahl would have something to say about that.

  36. I actually added new text to a Tiptree story that was unpublished at her death, and made changes in another that did not involve new text. These were things that I felt she would have done had she been alive — and I certainly wished I could ask to do them, rather than do them myself.

  37. @Joyce Reynolds-Ward
    No – my grandparents had some of those. (They were fine when I was a kid.)

  38. @Joyce Reynolds-Ward–I grew up with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, too Though I never heard of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books for Young Readers, I can imagine, though.

    My aunt and uncle, whom I lived with part of the time, had walls full of them, which all us kids were allowed to read freely. Initially, I was young enough that I didn’t realize that they didn’t just condense the size. Later, I found the unabridged versions of some of those books in the library, and it was a weird feeling to on the one hand recognize those books, and on the other hand recognize what was in the unabridged that wasn’t in the the condensed version.

  39. @ Carl Andor: It’s worth pointing out that, in the matter of Shakespeare, textual variants in quarto and folio versions are different from much later changes introduced in story lines (e.g., happy endings for Romeo and Juliet or King Lear) and the kinds of cuts made in any period to fit the plays to an actual two-hours’ traffic of the stage. The term “bowdlerizing”–moral-social sanitizing–came from the cleaning-up of The Family Shakespeare edition in the early 19th century.

    And cross-medium adaptations (play to film, novel to play, even translation), as well as productions that re-interpret a text (Shakespearean examples too numerous to list) are also distinct from third-party bowdlerization–though adaptations and sanitizing can coexist. In any case, “bowdlerizing” seems to me a fair term for what’s been done to Dahl.

  40. 2) I am old enough to remember the “women born women” brouhaha at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in the ‘90’s; JK would have fit right in.

    8) Matheson also wrote “Hell House,” a good book but a better movie.

  41. Filers keep attributing the changes to the Dahl Estate here. The Dahl Estate has nothing to do with it. They sold the rights to the Dahl books to Netflix for $686 M a couple of years ago. Netflix is making the changes. See the article in the Telegraph:
    https://archive.is/MYuXG

  42. (1) The spamming of Clarkesworld has made it into the Guardian.

    @bookworm1398: Any new technology will initially be widely used by trolls for the sole purpose of causing destruction before it becomes mainstream.
    That’s not how I would describe it: The window between the introduction of ridiculously over-hyped new technologies and their abuse by trolls has now collapsed to zero.

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