(1) RELUCTANT MONSTER. “Patton Oswalt Is the Greatest Kaiju in This Goofy Short Film” — io9 points the way.
This is, honestly, a whole ton of fun. Made with an obvious love for Japanese game shows and humiliating Patton Oswalt, Giacchino’s film also functions as a sort of ersatz tribute to kaiju flicks, with Patton’s silly arc being reflective of the kind of storylines given to, say, Godzilla in some of his films. Just much more absurd, and in moderately brighter colors.
(2) VOICE OF EXPERIENCE. “I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share” – a New York Times op-ed by former astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.
… But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share — because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there.
Follow a schedule
On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. Sometimes this involved a spacewalk that could last up to eight hours; other times, it involved a five-minute task, like checking on the experimental flowers I was growing in space. You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without….
(3) PANDEMIC GOOD TIMES! In the Washington Post, Travis M. Andrews interviews author Max Brooks, Robert Schenkkan, who adapted The Andromeda Strain, and Mick Garris, who directed The Stand, about their works and how the horrific pandemics and epidemics they portrayed differ from today’s reality. “Sure, binge ‘Contagion’ and other pandemic movies right now. But their creators urge you to watch with caution.”
“I think in the early stages of any crisis, there is curiosity” that leads people to consume (or re-consume) these types of stories, [Max] Brooks told The Washington Post. Like many others, one of the first things he did when news of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, began breaking out of China was watch “Contagion.”
That doesn’t surprise Robert Schenkkan, who adapted “The Andromeda Strain” for television in 2008. “By recasting our experience in real life within the confines of a story, it is easier to absorb and explore the ‘what if’ notion of such an event in a way one is less able to do while sitting in your living room and wondering if you should go outside and buy toilet paper from the grocery store,” he said. “Framing it within a story with a beginning, a middle and an end gives a kind of confinement that makes it more accessible.” Since the movie ends, it gives people the feeling that the real crisis will….
(4) COLOR ALONG. With everyone in quarantine, YouTuber irishtrekkie released these starship designs as coloring book pages [Google Docs link].
(5) ANTICIPATION. Guess what Rogers Cadenhead found on his Mount Tsundoku?
R.A. Salvatore’s response:
And the fourth book is about a plague on the world of Corona where the leaders “protect” the peasants by lying and false hope.
We need a Brother Francis right now.
(6) GENRE SJWC. NPR’s Jason Heller finds that “Under The Quirk, ‘Hearts Of Oak’ Beats With A Thoughtful Pulse”.
The current landscape of speculative fiction is teeming with astounding innovations and lavish spectacles — from the lesbian necromancers of Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb books to the world-shaking power dynamics of N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. In the midst of all that genre-expanding sprawl, however, there’s still room for short, humble, understated works.
Eddie Robson’s new novel, Hearts of Oak, is exactly such a story. Brief in page-count and quiet in voice, the book is a gleaming gem of offbeat weirdness and oddball humor, a work that blends fantasy and science fiction more cleverly than almost anything in recent memory. But underneath that quirky whimsicality beats a deeply thoughtful, even melancholy pulse.
So how exactly does Hearts of Oak blend fantasy and science fiction? That’s a hard question to answer — not because Robson doesn’t execute this blend brilliantly, but because explaining this blend is, in and of itself, a major spoiler. Here’s what it’s safe to say: The book takes place in an unnamed city, one constructed mostly of wood, that feels vaguely familiar and somewhat fairytale-esque, but is impossible to place.
The city has a king. The King talks to a cat. The cat talks back. In fact, Clarence the cat is the King’s closest advisor, and their exchanges are the stuff of Monty Python absurdity and satire, an extended riff on the petulance and ineffectiveness of our chosen leaders that’s more acidic than most overtly political novels being written today. The King is obsessed with constructing more buildings and increasing his city’s size, a never-ending process that consumes the city’s labor and resources.
(7) BLISH SPEECH. Fanac.org has made available an audio recording of James Blish’s Guest of Honor speech from Pittcon, the 1960 Worldcon — “A Question of Content.”
By permission of the Blish family, we have an almost complete audio recording of James Blish’s Guest of Honor Speech. This is a thoughtful, not always complimentary look at the state of contemporary science fiction literature, where it falls short and where it can improve. Very much worth listening to, this short recording (enhanced with images) is just what you’d hope to hear from William Atheling, Jr , Blish’s serious and constructive critical pseudonym.
(8) TODAY IN HISTORY.
- March 22, 1984 — The first part of “The Twin Dilemma” first aired on BBC. This was the first serial to star Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor after his regeneration. The Companion Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown was played by Nicola Bryant who was so to the Fifth Doctor as well. You can see the first part here.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born March 22, 1908 — Louis L’Amour. Two of his Westerns definitely meet genre inclusion, one having a lost world theme, The Californios, and the other supernatural elements, The Haunted Mesa. (Died 1988.)
- Born March 22, 1911 — Raymond Z. Gallun. An early SF pulp writer who helped the genre to become popular. “Old Faithful” published in Astounding (December 1934) was his first story and led to a series of that name. “The Menace from Mercury,” a story published in the Summer, 1932, issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly was penned based on a suggestion by Futurian John Michel and is considered famous among fans. His first published novel, People Minus X, didn’t appeared until 1957, followed by The Planet Strappers four years later. You can get all of his fiction at the usual digital suspects. (Died 1994.)
- Born March 22, 1920 — Werner Klemperer. Yes, Colonel Wilhelm Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, But he had a fair amount of genre of work starting with One Step Beyond, and continuing on with Men in Space, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, Batman (where he appeared as Col. Klink) and Night Gallery. (Died 2000.)
- Born March 22, 1920 — Ross Martin. Best known for portraying Artemus Gordon on The Wild Wild West. I watched the entire series on DVD one summer some decades back which included all the films in less than a month from start to finish. Now that was fun! It looks like Conquest of Space, a 1955 SF film, in which he played Andre Fodor was his first genre outing. The Colossus of New York in which he was the brilliant Jeremy ‘Jerry’ Spensser came next followed by appearances on Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone, Zorro, The Immortal, Night Gallery, Invisible Man, Gemini Man (a far cheaper version of Invisible Man), Quark (truly one of the dumbest SF series ever), Fantasy Island and Mork & Mindy. (Died 1981.)
- Born March 22, 1923 — Marcel Marceau. Professor Ping in Roger Vadim‘s Barbarella. A French mime, and I assume you know that, this is first time Marceau’s voice is heard on film. This is his only genre appearance unless you count the Mel Brooks film Silent Movie as genre adjacent in which case he says the only words in that film. (Died 2007.)
- Born March 22, 1931 — William Shatner, 89. Happy Birthday Bill! Ok, that was short. We all know he was Captain Kirk, but how many of us watched him as Jeff Cable on the rather fun Barbary Coast series? I did. Or that he was The Storyteller in children’s series called A Twist of The Tale? I was I surprised to discover that T.J. Hooker ran for ninety episodes!
- Born March 22, 1946 — Rudy Rucker, 74. He’s certainly best known for the Ware Tetralogy, the first two of which, Software and Wetware, both won Philip K. Dick Award. Though not genre, I do recommend As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel.
- Born March 22, 1950 — Mary Tamm. She’s remembered for her role as Romana, the Companion to the Fourth Doctor, in “The Key to Time” story. It seemed like she was there longer only because another actress, Lalla Ward, played her in the following season. Ward was soon to be married to Tom Baker. She also appears briefly in the 20th Anniversary special The Five Doctors through the reuse of footage from the uncompleted story Shada. Tamm had only one other genre gig, as Ginny in the “Luau” episode on the Tales That Witness Madness series. (Died 2012.)
- Born March 22, 1969 — Alex Irvine, 51. I strongly recommend One King, One Soldier, his offbeat Arthurian novel, and The Narrows, a WW II Detroit golem factory where fantasy tropes get a severe trouncing. He also wrote The Vertigo Encyclopedia which was an in-house project so, as he told me back then, DC delivered him one copy of every Vertigo title they had sitting in the warehouse which was a lot. For research purposes, of course. And he’s written a fair number of comics, major and minor houses alike. His newest novel, Anthropocene Rag, sounds intriguing. Has anyone read it?
(10) COMICS SECTION.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal with something sadly omitted from “The lifecycle of software objects.”
(11) A STORY OF THE SPANISH FLU. The Library of America’s “Story of the Week” is “Influenza on a Troopship” by Henry A. May, a fascinating (if horrible) account of Spanish flu racing through a ship taking new soldiers to Europe during World War I. Told so matter-of-factly that you really have to imagine how bad the reality was.
COURSE OF THE EPIDEMIC
THIS WAS influenced materially by these main factors:
First, the widespread infection of several organizations be- fore they embarked, and their assignment to many different parts of the ship.
Second, the type of men comprising the most heavily in- fected group. These men were particularly liable to infection.
Third, the absolute lassitude of those becoming ill caused them to lie in their bunks without complaint until their infection had become profound and pneumonia had begun. The severe epistaxis which ushered in the disease in a very large proportion of the cases, caused a lowering of resisting powers which was added to by fright, by the confined space, and the motion of the ship. Where pneumonia set in, not one man was in condition to make a fight for life….
(12) ONCE UPON A TIME. “Don’t make children’s books like they used to,” notes Andrew Porter, who sent this image along.
(13) FREE READ. Jonathan Edelstein has shared a short story online — “The Stars That Bore Us” — that’s set in the same universe as his published short stories, “First Do No Harm” (Strange Horizons, 2015), “The Starsmith” (Escape Pod, 2016), “Iya-Iya” (Kaleidotrope, 2019) and “The Stranger in the Tower” (Andromeda Spaceways, 2019).
Edelstein says, “This is a donation to the public, for those who may be stuck at home during the pandemic and looking for something to read.”
(14) FROM THEIR HOUSE TO YOURS. Dread Central spreads the word that “Winchester Mystery House Offering Virtual Tours To Homebound Horror Fans”.
While Winchester Mystery House is closed to the public due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is offering fans a free digital tour of the Estate for guests to enjoy from the comfort of their own homes. This tour is available online now at winchestermysteryhouse.com/video-tour/ and will be accessible until Winchester Mystery House reopens.
[Thank to Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Michael Toman, Ben Bird Person, Jeff Smith, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Lise Andreasen, Aziz H. Poonawalla, rcade, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day m.c. simon milligan.]
(8) – err, actually the actress was Nicola Bryant, and the Companion was Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown!
Mary Tamm also guest started in one episode of Crime Traveller, a show about detectives using a time machine to solve crimes… It’s one of those flawed, short-lived and offbeat TV shows that are, nonetheless, interesting in their own way.
(9) I should read more Rucker.
Captain COVIDeo and his Pixel Scrollers
Arwel Parry: Thanks for the saving throw!
(9) L’Amour’s The Walking Drum is a historical fiction novel that is tangientially of genre interest since it is set in 12th century Europe and the Middle East. Also, the protagonist is trained as a druid and that plays a role in the book early on.
@9: today is also Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. His only real genre work is Into the Woods (although Assassins isn’t exactly mimetic, like Copenhagen with characters spanning over a century), but that work has so much to say about genre tropes and says it so well. (The movie has a lot of good parts, but suffers from having to make a continuous run out of something that was specifically designed to be in two acts; see the original-cast video — done at a video-specific performance, so the quality is pretty good — if you can.) The New York Times had a number of good articles, e.g. on ambivalence (his and the public’s) and on his dramatic skills
(9) It was Bruno Ganz’s birthday. I mainly know him from Wings of Desire/Der Himmel über Berlin, but he was also Jonathan Harker to Klaus Kinski’s Dracula in Nosferatu the Vampyre. If those don’t ring any bells, you’ve probably seen him as Adolf Hitler in countless recaptionings of Downfall.
We usually mention Common People when William Shatner comes up, but he’s also worked with Ben Folds. He has a good rant in the Over the Hedge version of Rockin’ the Suburbs. (Rant starts around 2:18. Sony approved upload.) “In Love” from Fear of Pop is worth a listen.
And if you want a good Shatner tribute, The Scofflaws do a nifty ska tune called William Shatner. You can find it around the interwebs.
Steve Wright says Mary Tamm also guest started in one episode of Crime Traveller, a show about detectives using a time machine to solve crimes… It’s one of those flawed, short-lived and offbeat TV shows that are, nonetheless, interesting in their own way.
Yeah it got mentioned here in a post a few weeks back IIIRC. Lasted but a single series, didn’t it? It’s on YouTube if anyone wants to see it.
Michael Giacchino is IMHO the best contemporary film score composer (check out his NEW YORKER profile from a few years ago for proof) but I didn’t know he was a writer. Patton Oswalt is at least sf adjacent because of his friendship with Harlan Ellison. So I thought MONSTER CHALLENGE was a pretty good 14 minutes.
I thought Scott Kelly gave some pretty good advice particularly about nature. I similarly respect Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson for telling their followers that yes, coronavirus is nasty, but they are pulling through it. This gives all of us hope.
Looks like a trend is starting: first Capitol Hill Books tweeted
and then Brookline Booksmith chimes in, then Porter Square Books, then Half Price Books…
4) Brian Kessinger is also giving away a free coloring book. He is the artist behind the charming Victoria and Otto (the octopus) books.
Also, I have doubts about Worldcon. New Zealand’s Covid-19 alert level has risen to three and the country will go into a full lockdown at 11.59pm on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.
Nice to see an adult in charge there.
Check in with us in a month’s time. Wish us luck!
(Countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Denmark have shown what can be done to counter COVID19. Hopefully we have learned enough from them.)
Best case, it will be able to be held in some physical form. Basically no chance of significant overseas attendance, however (because we will be doing ok-ish, and quarantining arrivals if any are allowed).
More free reads:
Paul McAuley has made his A Very British History collection free on Amazon for this week.
I read his climate fiction novel Austral recently, which I thought was excellent.
(9) Alex Irvine: I haven’t read Anthropocene Rag, but Irvine just had a terrific novella in F&SF (Jan/Feb 2020), called “Chisel and Chime.” It’s about a sculptor given the honor of sculpting the Imperator; at its grand reveal, she will be killed, in the manner of her choosing, to keep this as her last and greatest work. It’s a great honor, have I mentioned. So until then, she’s working on this magnificent sculptor, with only a guard for company, and occasional Imperial visits. A great story 🙂
To possibly expand your TBR piles, I present my new Mind Meld “The 101 and 201 of SFF” over at Nerds of a Feather:
Jamoche: DreamHaven is doing something similar.
For $10 ($2.50+7.50 shipping) we will send you approximately two and a half pounds of specially-selected lightly-used paperbacks in one of a selection of genres. That is between 5 and 10 books
DreamHaven Care Package
14) As a former tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House, allow me to make a few suggestions on how to make your virtual tour more authentic.
1 – Crank the heat up to 90 degrees F.
2 – Arrange for a child to vomit somewhere in your vicinity.
3 – At least three times during your tour pause it as you wait for the tour in front of you to move on.
4 – Invite your neighbors over to loudly discuss what they had for breakfast right behind you.
5 – Finally, after the tour immediately go to the online store and drop at least $100 on tacky souvenirs.
Thank you for visiting the Winchester Mystery House, and we hope to see you again!
7) Odd that Blish was apparently unaware of Orwell’s other novels. They were all readily available when I was reading him 10-15 years later. (Burmese Days, A Clergyman’s Daughter, Coming Up For Air.)
Mine was missing most of those features. But the end of the tour dropped us in the gift shop. (We were local, so didn’t need the souvenirs.)
Some good news: the owner of my music store – they guy who got the big ol’ hug from Idris Elba – tested negative, so I’m probably okay. Until I have to go back to work, or go out foraging.
@Douglas Berry I liked the gardens outside much better.
@Patrick Morris Miller: So you’ve basically used a variation on the “Can’t afford to get tested? Sneeze on a rich guy!” method? 😀
I’m still not sure how Rudy Rucker ended up in Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, since his stuff (including that story) didn’t seem particularly cyber nor particularly punk. I like the way that Rucker finds interesting ways to weave interesting mathematics into his stories, but I find I often have trouble buying his premises–my disbelief fails to suspend. I have him filed under “mixed bag”. (Which is certainly not the worst place I’ve filed writers.)
Meredith moment: Staying Dead, by Laura Anne Gilman, the reissue of the first book of her Retrievers series, is on sale for the next two weeks for $2.50.
announcement with links
Chip Hitchcock on March 22, 2020 at 7:14 pm said:
@9: today is also Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. His only real genre work is Into the Woods
Are SS’s five songs in the DICK TRACY movie genre-adjacent (enough)?
Assassins is genre-adjacent, isn’t it?
@Xtifr: In reverse, as it were. (Though it’s not so much that I can’t afford a test as that I can’t justify the need for one.)
Meanwhile, New Mexico is going stay-at-home tomorrow. (Not shelter in place, due to some technicality in the law that I have no interest in untangling.) Waiting to hear from the director if this means my two week staycation is getting longer.
Laffcon 5 (a one-day event about the works of R.A. Lafferty) is postponed until next year. Is there a place where cancellations and postponements are collected?
Nancy Lebovitz: I drop these notices into the Scroll as I get them, which is what I will do with this one.
Personally, although it isn’t genre, I always thought William Shatner’s best work was in Boston Legal. ‘Denny Crane!’
Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” has a scene where 20th century George is talking with the ghost of his 19th century great-grandmother.
@rochrist: Certainly the episode “Son of the Defender” which reused 50 year old footage from Shatner’s performance in “The Defender” showed off Shatner’s real acting chops.
@bill: there are a lot of magic-like things in SitPwG, starting with the beginning of the opening scene where a tree disappears when he erases it from his sketch pad — but I’m not sure whether any of that was intended to be real rather than in his mind (although the issue is confused when George’s mother complains about the missing tree…). I don’t know where it should be placed; I just dream of being in the west-coast theater where Patinkin introduced “Finishing the Hat” in the middle of the development run.
@ 9) Ross Martin appeared in The Great Race (yay!) as Baron Rolf von Stuppe, a Rupert-of-Hentzau analog, in the ‘Prisoner of Zenda’ segment. I reckon that the Hannibal Twin-8 qualifies the film as sf-adjacent.
Chip noticed on a previous post that I had mostly authors in the Birthdays on that post. I always start with authors before preceding to actors and other such creative folk. Sometimes I find enough authors so I can have all or mostly authors but that’s rare. And I do need to include noted entertainers like Shatner obviously.
I aim for eight Birthdays each outing with a high if need be of ten. Any in excess of that would make OGH grind his his teeth I think. And though I’d like to include more fandom Birthdays, it’s hard to find information on them.
We’re getting just about three thousand Birthdays per year. Some are repeated every year (and I love seeing how your comments on them differ from year to year — grin), but I aim for at least half to be new every day.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun too. And it amounts to an amazing learning experience!
@Cat Eldridge: First, I want to say that my fingers just typed “Eldritch” instead of “Eldridge”, and I’d never before noticed how close your name is to describing a truly fantastical being. 🙂
Second, if anyone is complaining that you have too many authors in the birthday list, I would like to counter by repeating my complaint that you have too few! I know it’s not your fault that the universe doesn’t provide enough SF authors to fill up the list each and every day, but I still don’t like it! 😉
(I also get a bit frustrated at the number of Who actors that appear on the list, which makes me feel similar to the way I feel when three to five Who episodes used to appear on the Hugo ballots. But I also realize it’s not your fault that the show has been on since the coronation of Elizabeth. The first.)
Finally, I’d like to thank you again for providing the birthday lists. They’re always interesting and fun!
I certainly wasn’t complaining; I’ve noticed that the lists tend to have more actors than writers, possibly because there are more actors who make occasional genre appearances than writers (who ISTM tend to specialize, where actors below the topmost level take what jobs they can get). Cat has previously mentioned looking for writers first, but I thought it was remarkable that a particular day turned up so many — probability theory suggests one should expect outliers in distribution (I also remember a day when there were no writers at all), but in theory theory and practice are the same…
Thanks again for doing the birthdays. I appreciate there is a fair bit of effort involved.
Thanks also to Mike for keeping this site going. The world is a bit screwy right now and being able to visit and see that some things still continue is a comfort.
I see what you did there!
I know some people say the episodes written by Christopher Marlowe were among the best the show ever had, but it was Richard Burbage’s turn as The Doctor that just made that season so special.
I wonder sometimes if the ratio of actors etc. to authors/writers is a function of how easy it is to get an actor’s birthday (IMDB). The ISFDB lists birthdays, but it isn’t as comprehensive.
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