Pixel Scroll 3/18/20 How Many Files To Babylon? Fifth Score Files And Ten

(1) BELATED RECOGNITION. BBC explores “Why Octavia E. Butler’s novels are so relevant today”.

The visionary sci-fi author envisaged an alternate future that foresaw many aspects of life today, from big pharma to Trumpism. Now she has a cult following, writes Hephzibah Anderson.

It’s campaign season in the US, and a charismatic dark horse is running with the slogan ‘make America great again’. According to his opponent, he’s a demagogue; a rabble-rouser; a hypocrite. When his supporters form mobs and burn people to death, he condemns their violence “in such mild language that his people are free to hear what they want to hear”. He accuses, without grounds, whole groups of people of being rapists and drug dealers. How much of this rhetoric he actually believes and how much he spouts “just because he knows the value of dividing in order to conquer and to rule” is at once debatable, and increasingly beside the point, as he strives to return the country to a “simpler” bygone era that never actually existed.

You might think he sounds familiar – but the character in question is Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret, the fictional presidential candidate who storms to victory in a dystopian science-fiction novel titled Parable of the Talents. Written by Octavia E Butler, it was published in 1998, two decades before the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.

…Fourteen years after her early death, Butler’s reputation is soaring. Her predictions about the direction that US politics would take, and the slogan that would help speed it there, are certainly uncanny. But that wasn’t all she foresaw. She challenged traditional gender identity, telling a story about a pregnant man in Bloodchild and envisaging shape-shifting, sex-changing characters in Wild Seed. Her interest in hybridity and the adaptation of the human race, which she explored in her Xenogenesis trilogy, anticipated non-fiction works by the likes of Yuval Noah Harari. Concerns about topics including climate change and the pharmaceutical industry resonate even more powerfully now than when she wove them into her work.

And of course, by virtue of her gender and ethnicity, she was striving to smash genre assumptions about writers – and readers – so ingrained that in 1987, her publisher still insisted on putting two white women on the jacket of her novel Dawn, whose main character is black. She also helped reshape fantasy and sci-fi, bringing to them naturalism as well as characters like herself. And when she won the prestigious MacArthur ‘genius’ grant in 1995, it was a first for any science-fiction writer.

(2) HOT WORDS ABOUT A COLD CLASSIC. The report in yesterday’s Scroll about Cora Buhlert’s takeoff on a classic, “The Cold Crowdfunding Campaign”, prompted Filers to remember Richard Harter’s epic analysis “The Cold Equations – A Critical Study” (thanks to Andrew for finding the Usenet link.)

… Science fiction has been described as a literature of ideas, a literary arena in which the idea is hero. This may well be true. Too often, however, it is a flawed literature of ideas, marked by shoddy treatments received with uncritical enthusiasm. The Cold Equations has been cited an instance of the “literature of ideas” at its best.

In the original article I argued that the story is no such thing but rather that it is an example of systemic blindness to morally obtuse assumptions. This argument is considered in detail below. Given that, one asks: Why is the story so ardently defended – and attacked? Why has the story made such an impression?…

(3) HITLER BACK ON SALE. Amazon admits it simply makes criticism-driven decisions – “Amazon Bans, Then Reinstates, Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’” – the New York Times has the story.

Amazon quietly banned Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf” late last week, part of its accelerating efforts to remove Nazi and other hate-filled material from its bookstore, before quickly reversing itself.

The retailer, which controls the majority of the book market in the United States, is caught between two demands that cannot be reconciled. Amazon is under pressure to keep hate literature off its vast platform at a moment when extremist impulses seem on the rise. But the company does not want to be seen as the arbiter of what people are allowed to read, which is traditionally the hallmark of repressive regimes.

Booksellers that sell on Amazon say the retailer has no coherent philosophy about what it decides to prohibit, and seems largely guided by public complaints.

Over the last 18 months, it has dropped books by Nazis, the Nation of Islam and the American neo-Nazis David Duke and George Lincoln Rockwell. But it has also allowed many equally offensive books to continue to be sold.

(4) IN LIKE FINN. Camestros Felapton calls it “Perhaps the most significant story from a former Sad Puppy ever” – Declan Finn’s account of touring Italy with his wife when the coronavirus outbreak shut down the country. Camestros ends his I-read-it-so-you-don’t-have-to summary:

The short version therefore of how right wing blogs are reacting plays out in a personal level in Declan’s story. Initial scepticism and eagerness to carry on as if it is all a fuss over nothing which then collides with an escalating reality and blaming the government.

Not that you really ought to deny yourselves – Finn fits quite an epic in between requests for money and Dragon Award nominations.

…We went to the Al Italia counter and the moderately long line. It was processed quickly. We came to the counter.


I showed her the passports. 

“No,” she said.

No? What do you mean no? Are you going to cancel our flight again? Am I going to have to leap across your sad, pathetic Corona rope line and throttle you into giving us a boarding pass out of this Hell hole? How much more ransom do we have to pay to get us out of here!

She took an abnormally long breath, thought about what she had to say next, and continued, “Other check in, around the corner.”

Whew. No manslaughter charges for me today…. 

While trying to get to their flight they stepped through the wrong door at the airport, ended up on the tarmac, and were corralled by security. Talk about the cold equations — for that violation Italian authorities slapped them with a 4000 euro fine, which is 4497.00 in US dollars. A friend has started a GoFundMe to try and help them recoup some of the money.

(5) WORKING AT HOME, LIKE USUAL. George R.R. Martin began his post “Strange Days” telling about how his theater and other ventures in Santa Fe are closed by the coronavirus outbreak, then gave his personal status:

For those of you who may be concerned for me personally… yes, I am aware that I am very much in the most vulnerable population, given my age and physical condition.   But I feel fine at the moment, and we are taking all sensible precautions.  I am off by myself in a remote isolated location, attended by one of my staff, and I’m not going in to town or seeing anyone.   Truth be told, I am spending more time in Westeros than in the real world, writing every day.   Things are pretty grim in the Seven Kingdoms… but maybe not as grim as they may become here.

Inverse took this to mean “Winds of Winter release finally back on track for one unexpected reason”.

 For now, we’re just excited to hear that George is back at work on The Winds of Winter (of course, it’s possible he’s referencing the script for the upcoming HBO prequel House of the Dragon, but that seems unlikely given the phrasing here).

Winds of Winter was originally scheduled for release in November 2018, but the book got delayed so Martin could focus on Fire & Blood, a “historical” account of House Targaryen that serves as the basis for House of the Dragon. Back in May 2019, he joked in a blog post that if he hadn’t finished the book by 2020 Worldcon New Zealand, he should be locked up on New Zealand’s White Island until he finished it.

In other words, Martin really wants to be done with Winds of Winter by the end of July when the annual conference takes place.

(6) HYPERFEASANCE. The Balticon committee was surprised when the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel started sending out room cancellation notices before they could make an announcement.  On March 12, the Governor of Maryland established a ban, of indeterminate duration, on all gatherings of more than 250 people in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The con had been scheduled for May 22-24. The committee told Facebook readers:

After we shut down online registration over the weekend pending a conversation with the hotel, continuing developments with COVID-19 and discussions with the convention committee had convinced the Baltimore Science Fiction Society Board of Directors we likely needed to cancel the convention. However, we had not yet identified a process for doing that with minimal confusion, nor had we had a conversation with the hotel discussing the process. Today we learned that the hotel had started canceling registrations. We were as surprised as everyone else to hear about the canceled reservations and see that our reservations were getting canceled.

(7) NO ÅCON. Finland’s Acon 11 has been postponed:

…We could have waited, made the decision closer the convention, but honestly, having spent some weeks following the evolving situation, listening to epidemiologists and public officials in both Finland and Sweden, our conclusion is that the chances of the situation having stabilised in May seem very slim indeed. It’s not just a question of whether we would be legally permitted to hold the con in May, but whether we could do it in a responsible manner.

We need to spare everyone involved the unnecessary work and costs. Adlon, our hotel, will take a financial hit. We need to let them know and plan. We want to avoid our members paying for non-refundable travel at a time when the committee don’t believe it will be possible to arrange a convention.

Fortunately, we have few costs we can’t recoup. …

The con was to have been held May 21-24 in Mariehamn.

(8) A DREAMER ROLE. Trans actress Nicole Maines, who plays Nia Nal, aka Dreamer, on Supergirl, was interviewed by SYFY Wire. “Supergirl’s Nicole Maines tells us why Dreamer is more than just a trans character”.

Supergirl is not known for its subtlety. Aliens in the show are a thinly veiled metaphor for immigrants, LGBTQ people, and “others.” The current story arc is coming to a head with the Agent Liberty storyline, in which a TV personality rises through the ranks of government thanks to his anti-alien rhetoric — which sounds familiar, even his real-world equivalent doesn’t have Lex Luthor providing him with fancy gear.

That said, the show is remarkably subtle about a milestone it reached last year: Supergirl features TV’s first openly transgender superhero, Dreamer. Rather than make Nia/Dreamer’s trans-ness a huge deal, after she came out as transgender, the other characters matter-of-factly accepted her, and it never became an issue….

(9) WORDEN OBIT. Astronaut Al Worden died March 17 at the age of 88 reports Florida Today.

“We remember this pioneer whose work expanded our horizons,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Worden was one of only 24 people to have flown to the moon. He was also the first astronaut to conduct a deep-space extravehicular activity, or EVA, during Apollo 15’s return to Earth in 1971.

During the mission, he orbited the moon dozens of times while astronauts David Scott and James Irwin explored the surface.


  • March 18, 1981 The Greatest American Hero premiered on ABC. Created by producer Stephen J. Cannell, the series features William Katt, Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca.  It had  to fight off lawsuits from the owners of the Superman copyright who thought the concept and look of the suit was too close to their product.  After that, a real Mr. Hinckley tried on March 30th of that year to assassinate President Reagan, so scripts involving protagonist Ralph Hinkley had to be rewritten to be named Ralph Hanley (or sometimes just “Mr.H”).  You can see the pilot here. And yes, it’s up legally courtesy of the copyright holders.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 18, 1888 Alexander Leydenfrost. As an illustrator, he briefly worked for Planet Stories before being signed by Life magazine where the money was better. But his quite brief tenure at Planet Stories is credited with the creation of the enduring cliché Bug Eyed Monster as that’s what his illustrations showed. (Died 1961.)
  • Born March 18, 1926 Peter Graves. Star of Mission Impossible and the short lived Australian-based Mission Impossible which if you not seen it, you should as it’s damn good. I’m reasonably certain his first genre role was on Red Planet Mars playing Chris Cronyn. Later roles included Gavin Lewis on The Invaders, Major Noah Cooper on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Doug Paul Martin in Killers from Space and Paul Nelson on It Conquered the World. It’s worth noting that a number of his films are featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 series. (Died 2010.)
  • Born March 18, 1932 John Updike. It might surprise you to learn that there are two Eastwick novels, The Witches of Eastwick and The Widows of Eastwick, the latter set some three decades after the first novel ended. He wrote a number of other genre friendly novels including The CentaurBrazil and Toward the End of Time. (Died 2009.)
  • Born March 18, 1950 J. G. Hertzler, 70. He’s best known for his role on Deep Space Nine as the Klingon General (and later Chancellor) Martok. He co-authored with Jeff Lang, Left Hand of Destiny, Book 1, and Left Hand of Destiny, Book 2, which chronicle the life of his character. His very TV first role was a genre one, to wit on Quantum Leap as Weathers Farrington in the “Sea Bride – June 3, 1954” episode. Setting aside DS9, he’s been in ZorroHighlanderThe Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanLois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanCharmedRoswell and Enterprise series;  for film genre work, I see The Redeemer: Son of SatanTreasure Island: The Adventure Begins and Prelude to Axanar (yet another piece of fanfic). In addition, he’s done a lot of video game voice acting, the obvious Trek work but such franchises as BioShock 2The Golden Compass and Injustice: Gods Among Us. 
  • Born March 18, 1959 Luc Besson, 61. Oh, The Fifth Element, one of my favorite genre films. There’s nothing about it that I don’t like. I’ve not seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and reviews leave me disinclined to do so. The Transporter is not genre but I recommend it as a great film none the less. 
  • Born March 18, 1960 Richard Biggs. He appeared as Dr. Stephen Franklin on Babylon 5, reprising the role in the final aired episode of Crusade, “Each Night I Dream of Home”. Other genre roles included playing Roger Garrett on Tremors, Hawkes In The Alien Within, An Unnamed Reporter on Beauty and the Beast,  Dr. Thomson on an episode of The Twilight Zone and a Process Server in an episode of The Magical World of Disney. (Died 2004.)
  • Born March 18, 1961 James Davis Nicoll, 59. A freelance game and genre reviewer. A first reader for SFBC as well. Currently he’s a blogger on Dreamwidth and Facebook, and an occasional columnist on Tor.com. In 2014, he started his website, jamesdavisnicoll.com, which is dedicated to his book reviews of works old and new; and which later added the highly entertaining Young People Read Old SFF, where that group read prior to Eighties SF and fantasy, and Nicoll and his collaborators comment on the their reactions.
  • Born March 18, 1973 Max Barry, 37. He’s written a number of novels of which I’ve read his superb dystopian Jennifer Government and Machine Man when it was online serial. His newest is Providence which sounds fascinating though his book tour in the US got canceled he notes on his blog. 

(12) CRUSADING FOR A CAPE. The Guardian’s “80 years of Robin: the forgotten history of the most iconic sidekick” is really a call for the character to be written as a woman again – and reminds fans that it wouldn’t be the first time.

….Why we’ve not had more female Robins – or better served ones – is a symptom of a much wider problem. Of the 11 writers announced as contributing to DC’s anniversary issue for Robin, only two are women: Devin Grayson and Amy Wolfram. Between January and March last year, women accounted for 16% of the credits on comics released by DC; of writers, only 13% were women. The studio celebrated 80 years of Batman last year, but in that time not a single woman has been at the helm of Batman or Detective Comics. Aside from Grayson’s work on Nightwing and Gotham Knights, no female writer has ever written a Batman series. Given how many women are working on Batgirl, Catwoman and Batwoman, it would seem they are restricted to writing female heroes.

(13) A VERY SERIOUS QUESTION. This will make some folks cranky. Tom Morton asks “Avenue 5: Why Is Sci-Fi Comedy So Unfunny?” at Frieze.

… Given the impregnable humourlessness of most sci-fi – from the rigorously logical ‘hard sf’ of the novelist Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (1951–53) to the dreamy vision of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris (1972) – the genre’s tropes should be an open goal for the comic imagination. Why, then, do so many sci-fi themed comedies fail to raise a smile? Partly, it’s that parody, as a form, is hard to sustain – witness Seth Macfarlane’s television series The Orville (2017–20), a directionless send-up of Star Trek (1966–69), or Mel Brooks’s movie Spaceballs (1987), a staggering unfunny Star Wars (1977) take-off. Comparatively better were the first two seasons of British sitcom Red Dwarf (1988–2017). Drawing on the aesthetic of John Carpenter’s slackers-in-space movie, Dark Star (1974), the show centred initially on a classic odd-couple relationship between the last human in existence, a warm-hearted scouse wastrel, and his foil, an uptight, socially ambitious hologram. However, when Red Dwarf’s popularity and budget increased, it fell into two traps familiar to makers of ‘straight’ on-screen sci-fi: an overreliance on special effects and (fatally) a fan-servicing emphasis on the lore of its own fictional universe, which destroyed any tension that once existed between the show’s ‘situation’ and its ‘comedy’.

(14) CAN YOU DIG IT? Gizmodo says things are looking up for a NASA Mars probe: “And Now for Some Good News: The Mars InSight Heat Flow Probe Is Digging Again”.

…But the probe faced trouble on deployment. Impeded by an unexpectedly crusty soil texture that didn’t generate enough friction for the probe to dig, it only made it down to around a foot and a half. 

(15) JEOPARDY! Some of tonight’s Jeopardy! contestants didn’t get these sff references. (Honestly, I’d have missed all three myself.)

Category: Places in Fantasy

Answer: The name of this 2-word ancestral dwelling in Tolkien is a play on the translation of the French “cul-de-sac”.

Wrong question: “What is Middle Earth?”

Correct question: “What is Bag End?”

Answer: Much of the action in the “files” of this guy, the city’s resident practicing professional Wizard, takes place in Chicago.

No one could ask, “Who is Harry Dresden?”

Answer: In Bill Willingham’s graphic novels, Bigby, this foe of Rising Hood, is the sheriff of Fabletown.

Wrong question: “What is Nottingham?”

Correct question: “What is The Big Bad Wolf?”

(16) FUN WITH YOUR NEW HEAD. Will you be The One? An interview with the CEO of Valve: “Gabe Newell: ‘We’re way closer to The Matrix than people realize'”.

“The area that I’m spending a lot of time on has been growing out of a bunch of research that occurred a while ago on brain-computer interfaces,” Newell said. “I think that that’s kind of long lead stuff, so that’s kind of the background thread that I get pulled back into when other things aren’t demanding my attention.”

Human brains can already communicate with computers directly, though in very limited ways compared to the sci-fi systems of The Matrix or William Gibson’s Neuromancer, where physical reality can be totally replaced with a simulated, virtual one. But Newell doesn’t think that kind of sci-fi tech is as far off as it might seem.

“We’re way closer to The Matrix than people realize,” Newell said. “It’s not going to be The Matrix—The Matrix is a movie and it misses all the interesting technical subtleties and just how weird the post-brain-computer interface world is going to be. But it’s going to have a huge impact on the kinds of experiences we can create for people.”

(17) I CAN GET A WITNESS. A participant remembers “Launching the Hubble Space Telescope: ‘Our window into the Universe'” – video.

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, putting into orbit one of the most remarkable scientific instruments that has ever existed.

But initially the mission ran into problems, including a flawed mirror that meant the first images from Hubble were blurry.

Nasa astronaut Kathryn Sullivan was one of the five crew members who launched the Hubble.

(18) IT’S A BIRD. Free range dino — “Fossil ‘wonderchicken’ could be earliest known fowl”.

A newly discovered fossil bird could be the earliest known ancestor of every chicken on the planet.

Living just before the asteroid strike that wiped out giant dinosaurs, the unique fossil, from about 67 million years ago, gives a glimpse into the dawn of modern birds.

Birds are descended from dinosaurs, but precisely when they evolved into birds like the ones alive today has been difficult to answer.

This is due to a lack of fossil data.

The newly discovered – and well-preserved – fossil skull should help fill in some of the gaps.

“This is a unique specimen: we’ve been calling it the ‘wonderchicken’,” said Dr Daniel Field of the University of Cambridge.

“It’s the only nearly complete skull of a modern bird that we have, so far, from the age of dinosaurs and it’s able to tell us quite a lot about the early evolutionary history of birds.”

(19) TUB THUMPING. Don’t miss the Special “Social Distancing” Edition of The Late Show.

If you’re watching this from home right now, you’re doing the right thing. If you’re watching it from your bathtub bunker like our host, please remember to save some hot water for the rest of us. Either way, we’re glad you’re with us. So stay hunkered down and please enjoy this episode of The Lather Show with Scrubbin’ Colbath!

[Thanks to Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Iphinome, Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Contrarius, and Michael J. Walsh for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jayn.]

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50 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/18/20 How Many Files To Babylon? Fifth Score Files And Ten

  1. March 18, 1981 — The Greatest American Hero

    That was a fun show. And (as we’ve discussed here before) one of the greatest theme songs of all time.

    15) I woulda gotten the first one, but too slowly to beat anyone to the buzzer; woulda gotten the second one pretty instantly; would never in a million years have gotten the last one.

  2. (18) The artist’s conception of the “wonder chicken” looks a lot like one of the modern rails. (One of them delayed an NFL game several years ago.)

  3. 5) New Mexico is a great place for remote, isolated locations. If I had F-Y money too, I’d be doing the same thing.

    11) A friend of mine, after seeing The Fi5th Element on my recommendation, told me that she’d have enjoyed it more if I’d told her it was a bad movie. I say it is an excellent bad movie.

  4. (13) The original Star Trek is often funny. I think people miss that science fiction often has humour running through it even when it is presenting as ‘serious’. Likewise, the funny parts can work as serious science fiction. Consider as well writer/directors like Steven Moffat, Jon Favreau and James Gunn who moved between comedy and major SF franchises.

  5. (11) One of the stranger Peter Graves roles was playing the Flying Dutchman who managed to work his way to Fantasy Island. (Graves appeared on Fantasy Island five separate times.) His fantasy was to find someone who would give their life to lift his curse. Mr. Roarke knew everyone.

    Graves was also in The Beginning of the End where giant locusts were threatening Chicago.

    (13) I think if a movie or TV series is funny, people think of it as a comedy and not science fiction. Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Young Frankenstein, Futurama, Invader Zim, etc. all have significant sci-fi elements, but because they’re funny people will probably identify them as comedies. Most of the Marvel universe movies have funny moments along with the superhero stuff. The first three Star Wars movies had moments that could be considered to be comedy. (We won’t mention what passed for comedy in The Phantom Menace.)

    My dear guests, I am Mr. Scroll, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Pixel

  6. 15) Rising Hood? I’d have been Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot? and totally not answered, even though I read those graphic novels.

  7. Meredith moment: L.X. Beckett’s Gamechanger is on sale for $2.99 at Amazon.
    Please, go forth, buy it and read it. It’s a wonderful book.

  8. (11) Peter Arnett was also the brother of James Arness, who was the Thing in the 1951 verson.

  9. @4: I’d call it evolution in action — most people know that going unescorted on the tarmac is a Really Bad Idea — but I doubt it will have any effect on the gene pool.

    @6: the hotel’s move seems a little premature given that most shutdowns are declared to run 3-8 weeks — but it’s probably realistic given how slow the US was to react (and how profoundly stupid the executives of BioGen were), and the probable resulting duration of serious risk.

    @11 (Leydenfrost): did he also invent the bra-with-no-visible-means-of-support, or was that already a cliche?

    @11 (Updike): I don’t remember how I ran into Widows — maybe it was on the new-book shelf at the main library (which is across the street from where a chorus I’ve been in most of my life rehearses) — but I do remember dropping it after a chapter or two; Updike didn’t like the witches originally, but in the sequel he doesn’t like anybody, which makes for a pointless read. (I get the impression from a recent essay that this problem is not limited to the Eastwick stories, but I’ve never been moved to read mundane Updike.)

    @11 (Besson): I saw Valerian because I heard it was gorgeous and because I had nothing to do that week. It was gorgeous.

    @11: and happy birthday to occasional visitor James Davis Nicoll; I don’t always agree with his essays but he always gets me thinking.

    @13: the conclusion is one-third plausible and two-thirds bull (maybe one-third bull if confined to media SF, but that’s not how the rest of the essay is limited.) And the quoted opening is nonsense; would anyone call Bonanza pompous because it’s not a sitcom? There was humorous SF and dramatic SF, just like the rest of literature, and very rarely there were fusions (some of Pratchett comes to mind — yes, early genre humor tends to look weak now, but just try watching a 1950’s sitcom…). He’s also really stretching to compare HHG to Candide; the former is about Everyman, where the latter is about someone who’s been raised with rose-colored glasses.

    @15: well, I got all of them (although not nearly quickly enough for the modern Jeopardy!); guess I’ve been wasting more time. I wonder a bit that there were so many missed answers; I’ve read that an oddball category like that is often put in because it hits one contestant’s claimed wheelhouse.

  10. (13) 2001: A Space Odyssey came to my town during the end of its original run in 1969. By then I’d seen it a few times elsewhere, but this time I brought my parents (I mean, they brought me; I was 12). I already owned the soundtrack LP by then but wanted some of the dialogue as well, so I snuck a tape recorder into the theater. For this reason, I have a cherished tape of my late mother cracking up when Dave is on his way to disconnect HAL, who tries to dissuade him, saying:

    “Look, Dave… I can see you’re really upset about this.”

    Also funny: a dialogue-free scene (with music) earlier when Floyd is on his way to the Moon and confronts the very, very long Zero Gravity Toilet instructions.

    I think that to have a laugh-out-loud moment like these, the funny moments have to come unexpectedly from a more serious background. I liked Back to the Future as much as anyone, but it had only one such moment for me: when the young George orders “Milk! …Chocolate!” (whereupon it comes sliding down the counter at 10 mph into his hand).

  11. Happy birthday James!

    There are definitely things I disliked about The Fifth Element. But it remains one of my favorite genre movies despite them. 🙂

    The mention of a second Eastwick book reminds me that there was an Eastwick TV show! I heard about it, but never saw it, and I’m not sure if I should be curious about it or not.

  12. On the Jeopardy questions: I don’t think I would have gotten the first one, though it’s obvious in retrospect, and the second one took me a moment to narrow my mental search (“hmm, wizards…Chicago…oh yeah!”), so I’m not sure I would have gotten it in time, but the last one was so specific that I got it immediately.

  13. (3) eBay is equally confused. It pulled an ad I posted for a newspaper supplement featuring images from the Madonna book Sex, stating it beached rules prohibiting pornography, but allows ads for the book itself.

  14. Most (all?) comedy requires a familiarity with the subject in order to be humorous. I’m sure that, say, Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (Harrison) would be very unfunny to someone not familiar with the long-standing tropes of science fiction; likewise, most of the genre media fare considered comedic gets its laughs from non-genre sources; there are no jokes that play off of time travel paradox, for example, in the Back to the Future franchise; all of the humor is related to real world conflict.

  15. BravoLimaPoppa: L.X. Beckett’s Gamechanger… It’s a wonderful book.

    I think that one maybe needs to be a gamer to appreciate that book. I thought that all of the gaming details got very tedious, the constant txtspeak and rah-rah social media lingo were really annoying, and I kept waiting for the meat of the story to pick up. I read more than 100 pages before I finally gave up.

  16. 4) Earlier this week Dear Prudence had a question about a couple who saw the news about closures beginning in Italy and planned their March wedding for Italy cause everything was so cheap. Surprise – the wedding venue closed before the date of.

  17. Time Enough for Love in the Time of Coronavirus

    (Bonus points for a real disease in one of the original titles!)

    (4) IN LIKE FINN. Awesome title here, but I went with “read Felapton’s post and the 80-some comments” instead of reading Finn’s actual post. 😉 Thank you for the pointer, and thanks to @Camestros Felapton, et al., for reading Finn’s post for me.

    (11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS. Happy birthday to @James Davis Nicoll!

  18. P.S. #4, redux: As someone from the U.S. who’s taken trains both times I’ve been to Italy, let me just say, #NotAllAmericans re. the train thing. I’ve also rented a car and driven around Italy. 🙂

  19. The WASHINGTON POST today had short articles from reporters in various cities about how people are doing during the coronavirus. I learned that the German for “hoarder” is “hamsterkaufer” or “hamster buyer.”

    The German for what happens after you console yourself after breaking up with your boyfriend/girlfriend by pigging out and getting fat is “kummerspeck” or “grief bacon.”

  20. William F. Nolan’s Space for Hire was funny in the early 1970s when it was new, but I haven’t sought it out again because I’m afraid it wouldn’t hold up. (I read and enjoyed it without having read any of the private-eye novels it parodied.)

  21. Speaking of Peter Graves in MST3k’d films;

    “He learned almost too late that man is a scrolling pixel…”

  22. A new virus has been noted. It make you immature. Get ready for the peter pandemic.

  23. @Kendall: your comment prompted me to read the summary and the following comments. I’d say ignoring the train is another example of Puppy behavior (as called out in CF’s summary): ignorance about the rest of the world and unwillingness to do anything about that ignorance. I’ve taken segments of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route a few times, for specific reasons, but have never found a useful train in the rest of the US. OTOH, even 30 years ago I knew that trains in continental Europe were a very different matter; I had 4 weeks’ time off around ConFiction and did over 4000 miles by train in order to visit Switzerland and Scandinavia. (Most of the long legs were sleepers, which is another part of the difference between the two systems — the addition for a sleeper compartment wasn’t much worse than a hotel room.) I haven’t done much train travel in the UK since then, and none on the mainland — but that’s because I haven’t gotten back to the continent and had seen enough UK built-up areas that my recent trips were by car to where the trains are thin-to-nonexistent (Orkney, the Highlands, Hadrian’s Wall, Avebury, …).
    I suspect Finn isn’t a fan of HHG; otherwise he’d have stayed off short flights in fear of lemon-scented paper napkins (or the lack thereof).

  24. I have been tracking Johann Johannsson’s film adaptation of Stapeldon’s Last And First Men with Tilda Swinton on narration and I am not sure it will get a release on its own. Deutsche Grammophon will be selling 2LP/Blu-Ray and CD/Blu-Ray releases of Johannsson’s musical adaptation, so I presume the film adaptation will be sold along with the audio.

  25. @3
    “Hitler” is like the pink elephant in the psycholinguistic formulation: don’t think of a pink elephant. Or, to put it another way, for demogogues, no attention is bad attention. Even pretending Hitler never existed reminds one of pink elephants. You can’t beat ’em. It’s a ghastly consequence of human consciousness.

    I enjoyed Valerian a lot. It’s no Greatest American Hero, but it held my attention.

    I wish I had Nicoll’s stamina, smarts and free time. Truly, I read so slowly, it’s painful to me. I lose interest by the time I get to the end of whatever I’m reading. I mean, I don’t think the world would have been better served if I’d read a thoudred umptymillion sf novels, but it might have been fun.

    Thanks Martin Wooster. I guess Americans then are “poopenwiperinvesten.”

    Good grief bacon.

  26. 13) It’s true that Avenue 5 was a bit disappointing, but on the other side of the scales there’s Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and Rick And Morty.

  27. gottacook: William F. Nolan’s Space for Hire was funny in the early 1970s when it was new, but I haven’t sought it out again because I’m afraid it wouldn’t hold up. (I read and enjoyed it without having read any of the private-eye novels it parodied.)

    That mirrors my own experience with the book — read it when it came out, wouldn’t discover Hammett, Chandler and the rest for another few years, but from cartoons and old movies had seen enough noir tropes to understand what was supposed to be funny. But the reason I bought it is that I was at a reading Nolan gave (where he also told the story of how he and George Clayton Johnson had written Logan’s Run with the idea in mind of selling it to a studio for $100K) and it just seemed like an expression of solidarity to pick up a copy.

  28. 13) Odd that Morton doesn’t mention Futurama at all–did it not air in the UK? Maybe it’s because I’m saturated in SF tropes and patterns and cliches and can spot them on the fly, but at least half of that series’ jokes turn on satiric/parodic uses of that motif-set. (The rest turn on the usual collection of workplace/wonky-character ensemble comedy, very clever wordplay, and old-fashioned cartoon-world slapstick.) If I were teaching courses on SF, Futurama would be right in the middle of it, partly because parody is a great tool for examining conventions and expectations. Also it’s very funny. And smart.

  29. SPACE FOR HIRE has four Amazon reviews and they’re two, lavish with praise, and two that give it a thumb’s down.

    The synopsis by one reviewer makes it sound like a YA novel. And not terribly sophisticated.

  30. @Chip: I’ve had good experiences with the Amtrak Adirondack (New York to Montreal), when I lived in New York City. It’s a bit slow, but pleasantly scenic, and cheap, because the NY state government subsidizes it to provide connectivity to towns north of Schenectady.

    It’s not a good way to do Boston-Montreal, because you need to connect in Albany, and the Adirondack and Lake Shore Limited both run only once a day.

  31. 13) Well, the fact that he considered “I’m Alan Partridge” exemplary gives an insight.

    Maybe he’s a humour snob.

    I ended up taking two things away from this —
    One–that he was apparently obligated to write something that would create clicks as word spread about his attitude.
    Two–he’d have been right at home with the whole “Not A Real Fan” types that seemed to have died out. You know, “Oh, you thought that was humorous? You actually thought it was funny?”

  32. @Martin: English is the exception here, among Germanic languages, in that it doesn’t call hoarding “to hamster”. German, Dutch, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish and so on all call it to hamster, and it’s common in other, unrelated, languages too.

  33. @Russell Letson – Futurama has certainly aired in the UK. There have even been repeats.

  34. Johan: So does that mean the hamster reference is not ancient? Because English has common roots with several of those languages.

  35. @Paul King–I figured Futurama had run in the UK–I was being low-grade sarcastic. Blame my inner 14-year-old. Social distancing has reactivated the little snot.

  36. “The current story arc is coming to a head with the Agent Liberty storyline, in which a TV personality rises through the ranks of government thanks to his anti-alien rhetoric ”

    Utterly trivially, that storyline concluded last year and this year’s story is entirely different, taking place literally on a different Earth. Odd that the writer could make such an obvious error, as if they hadn’t been watching the show since last year.

  37. Weird fact: An older English name for a hamster was German rat.

    The word hamster is German from Middle High German hamastra. Might be from Old Church Slavonic chomestoru.

    I see Habitrail is still a thing, though very much different from the ones I had in the 70s.

  38. Octavia Butler’s work: I’ve always believe that science fiction is prophetic. It may be part of the reason why I’m in the field. I can’t help believing that the coronavirus pandemic is one sci fi prophecy come true.

    The lack of women writers for Batman comics does kind of reflect sexism/male chauvinism behind DC. It would be nice to get a woman’s perspective of the characters in the Batman family more often.

  39. (4) what a dummy. I’m sympathetic about the fine, sounds like a shake down, but what possessed them to fly to Italy of all places right now? Dummkopf.

  40. @Vicki Rosenzweig: the Adirondack and Lake Shore Limited both run only once a day. And there’s the rub; we took a 3-leg scenic route across backwoods Switzerland (including going through Meiringen, although I’d forgotten its significance), where there are several trains a day; when one train was a minute late (we found the Swiss are not as precise as their image) and we missed a tight connection, we could just grab an early supper and get the next train. When Mike Ford took the train from Mpls to Boskone, the fact that leg 1 (Mpls-Chicago) could be several hours late (due to coming all the way from Seattle) and therefore cause him to miss leg 2 (and be late to the convention) meant he took a day layover in Chicago.
    We watched the Adirondack come and go from our room at the 2001 WFC; we might do a triangle trip sometime, as (modulo current events) there’s always something to do in NYC.

  41. Miles Carter: I’m sympathetic about the fine, sounds like a shake down

    It’s not a “shakedown”. Pretty much every country has stiff fines or prison sentences for violations of airport security — for a good reason, because it frequently means that the airport has to be shut down for hours, and perhaps even planes evacuated, in order to re-establish secure conditions before allowing normal operations to resume.

    They’re very lucky that they weren’t shot or just thrown into prison. In the U.S., either of those would have been much more likely.

  42. Vicki Rosenzweig on March 19, 2020 at 10:58 am said:

    @Chip: I’ve had good experiences with the Amtrak Adirondack (New York to Montreal), when I lived in New York City. It’s a bit slow, but pleasantly scenic, and cheap,…

    It’s not a good way to do Boston-Montreal, because you need to connect in Albany, and the Adirondack and Lake Shore Limited both run only once a day.

    Worse, the connection only works one direction. When we took the train from California to Montreal for Worldcon, we had to budget one night layover at Schenectady because the connection from the Lake Shore Limited doesn’t work going east-to-north, only south-to-west.

    I also generally don’t trust the connections in Chicago, so we expect to spend the night at the Holiday Inn near Union Station on our way through Chicago to DC for Worldcon rather than risk missing the connection. The only time we’ve ever risked it was Montreal-Schenectady-Chicago-Los Angeles after the 2009 Worldcon because the connection times at each city were so long that we figured that we’d make it, which we did.

  43. @Dan665: I lost which post you left that comment on, offering to loan Kindle ebooks to folks. My TBR already runneth over, but I wanted to say thanks for the offer.

  44. @ Mike – good point. It seems there’s actually quite a lot of really funny SFF. But it’s true it can be painful when done badly, as can humour in any genre. Like the author of the piece, I never much cared for Red Dwarf or Space Balls.

  45. Writing humor well is hard, which is why I really admire people who can do it. I think it’s sad that they tend to be underrated just because they write humor. Which they do. (Also, I like humor. A lot. But still, that first thing I said.)

    I think part of the problem is that humor tends to be a bit more subjective than drama. It is easier to bring most of your audience to the edge of tears than to reliably make most of them laugh. (And it’s not all that easy to bring them to the edge of tears.) Also, topical humor is often a relatively easy laugh today, but may get nothing but blank looks in a dozen years, so humorous works often don’t age well either.

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