To my friends in Los Angeles:
THE MAESTRO will open at one of the Laemmle theaters, probably in June, exact dates and location TBA.
Before then, I would like to mobilize the F/SF/H community, the Thai community, and the Music community to try to make the run a success and even to push it beyond one week.
Any friends of mine in L.A. who would like to help me organize all our potential viewers, need all the grassroots help we can get! I will fly in for the opening for sure, and maybe some others from the team.
(2) PREGENERATION. “Doctor Who’s Jodie Whittaker announces pregnancy at Brit Awards 2022” – Metro News has the story.
(4) ARTIFICER INTELLIGENCE. “Artist uses AI to perfectly fake 70s science fiction pulp covers – artwork and titles” – CDM Create Digital Music will tell you how.
The way a lot of press gets this wrong, of course, is to say things like “the AI made some sci-fi book covers.” Even as these algorithms get a lot more sophisticated than averaged pixels or a Markov chain, they are still just algorithms, lacking in agency, albeit with enormous data sets as source material. In turn, though, that makes some of the aesthetic peculiarities they generate all the more interesting, and means that it’s helpful to understand them as generative tools in the hands of artists. They’re the outcome of a lot of human effort in mathematics, code, and ultimately human choice, even if that last bit upsets those in search of general artificial intelligence.
Lewis Hackett is that artist, and cleverly selected what we’re seeing, combining a graphics technique called Clip Guided Diffusion for the imagery with familiar GPT3 techniques for the titles. And he’s done a great job selecting the results and aping the typography style by hand….
(5) SPACE ODYSSEYS – HOW LIKELY? At The Space Review Jeff Foust asks, “Are space movie studios sci-fi fantasies?”
Remember all the excitement a couple years ago when Hollywood media reported that Tom Cruise planned to film a movie in space? The NASA administrator at the time, Jim Bridenstine, confirmed that NASA was in talks with the famous actor for filming some kind of movie—no one was really sure what it would be about—on the International Space Station, but there’s been little overt progress since then. Cruise remains grounded for the foreseeable future: given the schedule of missions to the ISS, the soonest he could go is early 2023.
Those reports did apparently convince the Russians to do their own space movie, called The Challenge, with the cooperation, and maybe financial support, of Roscosmos. A director and an actress flew to the station in October to film scenes of a movie that’s supposed to come out later this year, putting The Challenge in line to become the first feature-length dramatic movie with major parts of it filmed in space (a distinction that’s required for earlier documentaries or Richard Garriott’s short spoof Apogee of Fear.) Take that, Tom Cruise!
Both Cruise’s rumored plans and the upcoming Russian film seem to have convinced people there’s a market for shooting movies in space. Last month, Axiom Space, a company adding commercial modules to the space station that will later become part of a standalone commercial space station, said it had been selected by a company called Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE) to build an “inflatable microgravity entertainment venue” called SEE-1 that would be attached to its own commercial modules….
(6) SCIENTISTS IN SCIENCE FICTION. Dream Foundry is adding videos of Flights of Foundry 2021’s programming to their YouTube channel. Some highlights include “The Unhelpful Legacy of Mad Scientists: Writing Scientists as Positive Role Models” with Octavia Cade, Benjamin C. Kinney, and Arula Ratnakar, moderated by Sid Jain. View on YouTube.
(7) MARTIAN HOP. You can still enjoy the online portion of the “Mars. The Red Mirror” exhibit at the Centre de CulturaContemporània de Barcelona: “Inside the red mirror”.
This is a virtual space where you can imagine your own view of Mars: god, symbol and planet in its different metamorphoses. You may have visited the exhibition or simply clicked on to this page skipping between links and other everyday internet browsings. It depends on how much time you want to spend, how much concentration is required and how curious you are….
The voice of the meteorite
I am a rare stone. Call me KSAR Ghilane 002 or whatever name your imagination conjures up. I come from Mars. I have travelled through space for thousands of years until I reached my unexpected destination in the desert you call the Sahara. I was discovered as a result of the insatiable curiosity for exploring that is inherent to your species. Now you can see one of my fragments. I come from the deepest strata on the Red Planet. I have a story to tell you. Because I am also a meteor, like the storms, typhoons and hurricanes you can’t control.
(8) DOUGLAS TRUMBULL (1942-2022). Director and special effects creator Douglas Trumbull died February 7 at the age of 79. He directed Silent Running. Trumbull got three Academy Award nominations for visual effects (for Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and, in 1992, a special scientific and engineering award for his work helping to design the CP-65 Showscan Camera System for motion picture photography. In 2012, he received the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award, a special technical Oscar for his contributions to the industry. The Associated Press has an extensive tribute: “’2001,’ ‘Blade Runner’ effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull dies”.
(9) ROBERT BLALACK (1948-2022). Oscar-winning Star Wars visual effects artist Robert Blalack died February 2. Deadline highlights his career.
… At the age of 29, he designed and supervised the Star Wars VistaVision Composite Optical production pipeline, which allowed all the groundbreaking 365 VistaVision VFX shots in Star Wars. Much of what he created for the film was built on a (relative) shoestring. With a VFX budget of just $1.6 million for the film, Blalack made use of obsolete VistaVision optical composite equipment from Hollywood’s Golden Years that could be had for a song.
“My task was to scavenge the Hollywood junkyards for any VistaVision Composite Optical mechanics,” he wrote, “figure out how to upgrade those relics with custom state-of-the-art optics, design a photographic process to mass-produce the movie’s 365 VistaVision composites, and then train and supervise the Star Wars Composite Optical crew.”
The result was what he called, “This Rube Goldberg assemblage of ancient composite printer hardware, state-of-the-art optics and the mass-production blue screen color-difference composite techniques were the backbone of the celluloid system…subsequently used on all ILM VistaVision VFX Composite Opticals.”
Blalack was part of the team that founded Industrial Light and Magic, and again the effort was driven by necessity….
In 1983, Blalack added an Emmy to his trophy case for his work on ABC’s The Day After, a TV movie about a nuclear holocaust which captured the public imagination due in no small part to his visual effects. It was seen by 100 million people in the U.S.
His other credits would comprise a career to be proud of unto themselves. They include effects on Carl Sagan’s landmark PBS series Cosmos; transformational visions in Altered States, Wolfen, Cat People and RoboCop; and FX in service of comedic classics such as Airplane and The Blues Brothers.
(10) MEMORY LANE.
2007 — [Item by Cat Eldridge] Fifteen years ago on this evening, the short-lived Flash Gordon series that debuted on Sci-Fi on August 10, 2007 ended. The series was developed by Peter Hume who served as executive producer and the showrunner. He wrote the first and last episodes of the series which lasted twenty one episodes as well as many others. He would later be the Executive Producer of Primeval: New World and was involved in Charmed and Fantasy Island as well.
The primary cast which was all Canadian was Eric Johnson was Flash Gordon, Gina Holden as Dale Arden, Jody Racicot as Dr. Hans Zarkov and John Ralston as Ming the Merciless. Anna Van Hooft had a recurring role as Princess Aura.
So how was it received? Not at all well as the New York Post stated in a frankly hostile review that it was “a disgrace to the name of the enduring comic-strip-character-turned-movie-and-TV space hero.” And U.K. TV Zone stated that it might “have worked if the early episodes hadn’t been so dire that no-one but reviewers are still watching.” Ouch. It probably mercifully has no audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
I have not seen it and would like to know how it was. So, who here has seen it?
(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born February 8, 1828 — Jules Verne. So how many novels by him are you familiar with? Personally, I’m on first-hand terms with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. That’s it. It appears that he wrote some sixty works and a lot were genre. And of course, his fiction has become the source of many other fictions in the last century as well. (Died 1905.)
- Born February 8, 1905 — Truman Bradley. He was the host of syndicated Science Fiction Theatre series which ran from 1955 to 1957. It aired its last episode on this day in 1957. On Borrowed Time, a fantasy film, is his only other SFF work. (Died 1974.)
- Born February 8, 1918 — Michael Strong. He was Dr. Roger Korby in the most excellent Trek episode of “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”. He also showed up in Green Hornet, Mission Impossible, I-Spy (ok I consider it genre even if you don’t), Galactica 1980, Man from Atlantis, The Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of The Apes, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Immortal. (Died 1980.)
- Born February 8, 1938 — Ned Brooks. A Southern fan involved for six decades in fandom, and he attended his first Worldcon in 1963. He wrote two associational works, Hannes Bok Illustration Index and Revised Hannes Bok Checklist back in the days when print reigned surpreme. ISFDB shows that he was quite the letter writer. Mike has an appreciation of him here. (Died 2015.)
- Born February 8, 1944 – Rogert Lloyd Pack. He was John Lumic in the “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel”, both Tenth Doctor stories. (He was the voice of the Cyber-Controller in these episodes as well.) He was also Barty Crouch, Sr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And he played Quentin Sykes in the Archer’s Goons series. (Died 2014.)
- Born February 8, 1953 — Mary Steenburgen, 67. She first acted in a genre way as Amy in Time After Time. She followed that up by being Adrian in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy which I suppose is sort of genre though I’ll bet some you will dispute that. She shows up next in the much more family friendly One Magic Christmas as Ginny Grainger. And she has a part in Back to the Future Part III as Clara Clayton Brown which she repeated in the animated series. And, and keep in mind this is not a full list, she was also in The Last Man on Earth series as Gail Klosterman.
- Born February 8, 1962 — Malorie Blackman, 60. Her excellent Noughts and Crosses series explores racism in a dystopian setting. (They’re published as Black & White in the States.) She also wrote a Seventh Doctor short story, “The Ripple Effect” which was published as one of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary e-Shorts. She’s readily available on all digital platforms.
- Born February 8, 1969 — Mary Robinette Kowal, 53. Simply a stellar author and an even better human being. Chair of the last Worldcon. I’m going to select out Ghost Talkers as the work by her that I like the most. Now her Forest of Memory novella might be more stellar. She’s also a splendid voice actor doing works of authors such as John Scalzi, Seanan McGuire and Kage Baker. I’m particularly amazed by her work on McGuire’s Indexing series. So let’s have Paul Weimer have the last words on her: “I thought it was Shades of Milk and Honey for a good long while, but I think Calculating Stars is my new favorite.”
- Born February 8, 1979 — Josh Keaton, 43. He voiced the Hal Jordan / Green Lantern character in the most excellent Green Lantern: The Animated series which is getting a fresh series of episodes on the DC Universe streaming service. Yea! I’m also very impressed with his Spider-Man that he did for The Spectacular Spider-Man series.
(12) COMICS AS A CASE STUDY. [Item by John A Arkansawyer.] Who knew? I did not: “Not Even a Superhero Could Fix Global Supply Chains” in The American Prospect.
World War II and 9/11 couldn’t halt comic book production; COVID did. In 2020, as the world flipped on its head, even comics couldn’t evade a concentrated economy’s bursting fault lines. Diamond Comic Distributors—the industry titan that distributed Marvel and DC Comics for a quarter-century—shut down operations in April 2020 for nearly two months.
While distribution eventually restarted, the industry has continued to suffer lags. Entering the third year of the pandemic, frustrations run deep among comic book enthusiasts. Paloma Deerfield has worked for more than five years at Vault of Midnight, a comic book shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her favorites include X-Men, Saga, Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, and the indie comic publisher Boom! Studios. It’s disappointing, says Deerfield, “not being able to stock the shelves the way we want to.”
Buyers and sellers alike are feeling the impact not only from comic book distribution delays, but also from a shortage of bags and boards—the materials used to preserve collections in mint condition.
At BCW Supplies, an Indiana-based company that provides over 900 hobby accessories for collectors and retailers, backing boards are processed in their Indiana facility, while plastic bags are produced in their China factories, according to marketing manager Ted Litvan.
The paper industry’s significant price increases, explained Litvan, are due to higher demand outside of the collectibles industry. In early 2021, Amazon and other e-commerce giants snatched up the majority of the world’s cardboard supply. The cost of producing corrugated cardboard tripled last year too. For imported goods, meanwhile, “the ports are a mess,” and BCW can no longer predict when a shipment will be available for final delivery….
(13) FREUD AND C.S. LEWIS DRAMATIZED. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the Financial Times behind a paywall, Sarah Hemming reviews Freud’s Last Session, a 2010 play by Mark St Germain about an imaginary encounter between Sigmund Freud and C S Lewis in 1939, that is on stage at the Kings Head Theatre (kingsheadtheatre.com) through February 12. It stars Sean Browne as Lewis and Julian Bird as Freud.
Lewis, who finds himself repeatedly drawn to the couch as if by a magnet, talks about his childhood. For Freud, in physical agony and contemplating his end, arguments about the finality of death feel far from theoretical.
For both men the imminent conflict (of World War II) weighs heavy. Lewis still bears the scars of his First World War experience; Freud has recently fled Austria. The conversation is interrupted by a couple of moments of mortal terror–an air road siren; the throes of aircraft overhead–well realised in Darney’s staging. Browne and Bird bring the two adversaries springing to life.
(14) NO MIRACLE ON 35TH STREET. Bob Byrne wrote a series showing members of The Wolfe Pack how Nero and Archie are riding out the pandemic in the Spring of 2020. Black Gate has been reprinting them, and the latest installment is: “Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 34 and 35”.
…He eyed me levelly. “You know very well that you took that laundry to Lee’s as an infantile response to my insistence that the laundry go out that day. I highly doubt that Swann’s was closed.”
I was nonplussed. He continued. “No doubt, you instructed Mister Lee to put extra starch in my collars. And you added the cuffs out of spite.”
I gave him hurt expression number three. “I did no such thing.” I stared at the wall, thoughtfully. “Although, I did practice my Chinese with him. I might have said, ‘extra’ when I meant ‘less.’ My Chinese is a little rusty.”
He snorted. “Ridiculous. You don’t even speak Chinese.”
“Can’t get more rusty than that.”…
(15) AS YOU WISH. Kotaku explains now a “Sly NYT Crossword Puzzle Tricks Star Wars, Star Trek Fans”.
…The clever puzzle simply asks: “The better of two sci-fi franchises.” Depending on your preference, the answer is either Star Wars or Star Trek. The double entendre was highlighted in Wordplay, the Times’ crossword column along with a note about the choice from puzzle constructor Stephen McCarthy.
“I am a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek, so it’s nice to be able to highlight both (not to mention the friendly rivalry between the two fandoms) in one puzzle,” McCarthy says in the column….
(16) SCIENCE IN A VACUUM. “Science and the Sublime” is an exhibit The Huntington in San Marino, CA has assembled around a famous painting temporarily on loan.
Feb. 12, 2022–May 30, 2022
Huntington Art Gallery
One of the great masterpieces from the Age of Enlightenment, Joseph Wright of Derby’s monumental An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) depicts a small group of people gathered around a candlelit table on which a lecturer in natural history is performing a scientific experiment, namely the creation of a vacuum, as described by chemist Robert Boyle in the 17th century. As air is slowly removed from a glass jar, the fate of a cockatiel inside the jar hangs in the balance. The observers’ reactions range from fascination to dismay. In Wright’s hands, the tableau is an exercise in the sublime, a moment of extreme tension recast as a dramatic meditation on the fragility of life. At the same time, the experiment being performed relates to advances in the fields of science and medicine, making the scene a celebration of human achievement.
“Science and the Sublime: A Masterpiece by Joseph Wright of Derby” presents the powerful 6-by-8-foot painting on loan from the National Gallery in London, where it is one of that institution’s most popular paintings, along with 15 works from The Huntington’s own collections, including two smaller paintings by Wright and 13 rare objects from the Library’s holdings. The exhibition’s theme highlights two major strengths of The Huntington’s collections—British art and the history of science—providing a unique opportunity to juxtapose materials that are not normally displayed together. Alongside Bird in the Air Pump, are rare books and ephemera that reveal the real science behind the elements that Wright depicts on canvas, as well as the contemporary moral and aesthetic debates with which he engages.
The loan of Bird in the Air Pump is part of a reciprocal exchange with the National Gallery, where The Huntington’s most famous work, Thomas Gainsborough’s iconic painting of The Blue Boy (ca. 1770), will be on display for London museumgoers for the first time in a century, from Jan. 25 through May 15, 2022.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Tom Becker, Darrah Chavey, Jennifer Hawthorne, John A Arkansawyer, Will R., Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jon Meltzer.]