Pixel Scroll 3/3/19 My File Went So Pix’ly, I Went Lickety-Split, Scrollin’ My Old ‘55

(1) NAME THAT ROCK. In the Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan profiles the “byzantine and marvelously nerdy naming guidelines” of the International Astronomical Union (“The bizarre and brilliant rules for naming new stuff in space”). Among them:  the mountains and plains of Titan have to be named according to references in Dune or Lord of the Rings, Names for asteroids have relatively few rules, but one of them is not to name an asteroid after your cat, as James Gibson found out when he named an asteroid after his cat, Mr. Spock, and was told that while his asteroid remains “2309 Mr. Spock,” he really shouldn’t do it twice.

[Names for the moons of Jupter] must come from a character in Greek or Roman mythology who was either a descendant or lover of the god known as Zeus (in Greek) or Jupiter (Latin). It must be 16 characters or fewer, preferably one word. It can’t be offensive, too commercial, or closely tied to any political, military or religious activities of the past 100 years. It can’t belong to a living person and can’t be too similar to the name of any existing moons or asteroids. If the moon in question is prograde (it circles in the same direction as its planet rotates) the name must end in an “a.” If it is retrograde (circling in the opposite direction), the name must end in an “e.”

(2) TEMPORARILY CUTE. Sooner or later they’re going to need a new naming convention for these things (Popular Science: “FarFarOut dethrones FarOut for farthest object in the solar system”).

Most people don’t kill time by finding the most distant object ever discovered in the solar system, but most people aren’t Scott Sheppard.

Last week, the Carnegie Institution for Science astronomer announced he had just discovered an object that sits about 140 astronomical units away. One AU equals the 93 million miles between Earth and the sun, so that means this object is 140 times the distance of Earth from the sun, or 3.5 times farther away than Pluto.

This is just a mere couple months after he and his team discovered 2018 VG18, nicknamed “Farout,” which sits 120 AU away, and for a brief moment was the farthest known object in the solar system. Sheppard and his team have already given a pretty apt tongue-in-cheek nickname to the usurper: “FarFarOut.”

(3) SAN DIEGO 2049 SPEAKER SERIES. Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous and co-founder, io9, will give a talk “San Diego 2049: Your Dystopia Has Been Canceled” on April 4 at UCSD. Free and open to the public; RSVP required.

Realistic worldbuilding requires that we get out of the dystopia/utopia binary and imagine futures that are a diverse mix of worlds. To imagine a plausible future world, we need to look critically at our own history, where progress is uneven and resistance is not futile. Annalee Newitz, journalist, co-founder of the website io9, and author of the acclaimed science fiction novel Autonomous joins us to share her insights into worldbuilding as part of the San Diego 2049 series of programs.

(4) SALAM AWARD JUDGES. The 2019 jury for the Salam Award will be Jeffrey Ford, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Maha Khan Phillips, John Joseph Adams, and Saba Sulaiman. The award promotes imaginative fiction in Pakistan. (Via Locus Online.)

Last year’s winner was Akbar Shahzad for his story Influence

(5) HUGO PICKS. Abigail Nussbaum comments on 20 stories that either made her ballot, or came close, in “The 2019 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Short Fiction Categories” at Asking the Wrong Question.

From what I’ve seen–and the effects of the last decade in the genre short fiction scene have been to render it even more diffuse than it already was, so I really can’t say that I’ve had a comprehensive view–2018 was a strong year for SF short fiction, with venues including Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Uncanny delivering strong slates of stories.  I was interested to observe how easy it is to discern an editorial voice, and a preoccupation with certain topics, when reading through a magazine’s yearly output.  Uncanny, for example, had a strong focus on disabled protagonists in 2018, with stories that often turn on their struggles to achieve necessary accommodation, with which they can participate and contribute to society.

One topic that I expected to see a great deal more of in my reading was climate change.  Only a few of the pieces I’ve highlighted here turn on this increasingly important topic, and very few stories I read dealt with it even obliquely.  Given how much climate change has been in the public conversation recently (and not a moment too soon) it’s possible that next year’s award nominees will deal with it more strongly, but I was a bit disappointed not to see SF writers and editors placing an emphasis on it already.

(6) WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A GAME? This Kickstarter will fund a table top game, “Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred with Cthulhu pawns & Idol”.

The Necronomicon is undoubtedly the most emblematic book in the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft. In this game you will assume the role of Abdul Alhazred with the aim of completing all sections of the aberrant book. It is a game for 2 to 4 players with game modes for 20 or 60 minutes.

(7) PLAYING IN THE FIELDS OF D.C. John Kelly in the Washington Post went on the press tour for Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, a Ubisoft video game in which Washington, wiped out by a pandemic, has turned the National Air and Space Museum into an armory and the Lincoln Memorial into a graffiti-covered headquarters for paramilitary groups. (“A new video game invites players to wallow in a dystopian Washington”.)  But Ubisoft couldn’t use the World War II Memorial for copyright reasons and decided not to have shooters blast away at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial because “the gamemakers thought it would be disrespectful to have players shooting at each other around the statue of the famous pacifist.”

The game is set in the months after a deadly pandemic has swept the country and transformed the area around the Tidal Basin into a flooded wasteland, the National Air and Space Museum into a heavily guarded armory and the Lincoln Memorial into the smoke-blackened, kudzu-shrouded headquarters of a paramilitary group.

On the plus side, rush hour traffic is pretty light.

The challenge facing anyone designing a video game set in an actual place is making it realistic. The purpose of this junket — events were spread over two days, with a shuttle bus squiring the group from site to site — was to explain that process.

(8) COSPLAY IN CLEVELAND. The Cleveland Plain Dealer) highlighted cosplay in an article about an upcoming convention: “Wizard World shines light on cosplay and the art of transforming (photos)”.

Four years ago, Stephanie Lauren looked into a painting and had an epiphany… “I could do this.”

No, she wasn’t imagining herself as a painter. She already was one, and the painting she was looking at was hers – a colorful portrait of a cute, furry kitty cat.

Rather, she started to imagine herself as one of her works come to life – a character, an expression of childhood and innocence. A new reality, purely of her own making. 

Stitch by stitch, using cloth and Ethylene-vinyl acetate foam and beads, a cosplay character was born…. 

(9) WYNDHAM MEMORIAL. Triffid Alley is a website intended to become a memorial to the author John Wyndham, author of Day of the Triffids, who died in 1969.

It takes its name from Triffid Alley in Hampstead, London, which is the only known existing memorial to John Wyndham in the United Kingdom.

The website reports there will be a 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Wyndham’s death in London on March 11.

It will consist of a talk by David Ketterer and Ken Smith on Wyndham and the Penn Club where he lived from 1924 to 1943 and from 1946 to 1963 followed by drinks and food at a pub on the nearby Store Street, a street which figures on page 98 of the Penguin edition of The Day of the Triffids.

David Ketterer has more or less completed a full scale critical biography entitled TROUBLE WITH TRIFFIDS: THE LIFE AND FICTION OF JOHN WYNDHAM…

Anyone who is interested is invited to gather outside the Penn Club at 21-23 Bedford Place, London W.C.1 (near the British Museum) at 6.00 pm on Monday, 11 March 2019.  We shall move to seating in the Penn Club lounge around 6.15 pm for the talk and questions.  Around 7.00 pm we shall walk to The College Arms at 18 Store Street (near Senate House).

(10) HUGH LAMB OBIT. British anthologist Hugh Lamb, editor of many paperback collections of vintage horror, died March 2. His son, Richard, tells more in a “Tribute to My Father”.

On the night of 2nd March 2019, Hugh Lamb passed away. He died peacefully, in his sleep, after a long illness that had left him frail and weak. At the end he chose to move on, rather than suffer long months of treatment with no guarantees. We, his family, chose to honour his wishes and were with him at the end.

Hugh Lamb was, to many, one of the country’s foremost authorities on Victorian supernatural literature and a respected anthologist of those stories. To me, however, he was just dad. Certainly, I inherited a great love of ghost stories, as well as the cinema of the macabre, from my father. We would recommend movies to each other and enjoy critiquing them. As a child I used to thrill at tales of the supernatural, both real and fictional, all because of my father’s influence. When I wrote a series of screenplays, two of which were optioned by producers, they were all either ghost stories or stories with a supernatural flavour. And when one of my screenplays won the 2008 Rocliffe/BAFTA New Writers award, it was my father who positively glowed with pride. The screenplay was a father and son story, and he recognised himself in the pages with a mischievous delight.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 3, 1863 Arthur Machen. His novella “The Great God Pan” published in 1890 has garnered a reputation as a classic of horror, with Stephen King describing it as “Maybe the best horror story in the English language.” His The Three Impostors; or, The Transmutations 1895 novel is considered a precursor to Lovecraft and was reprinted in paperback by Ballantine Books in the Seventies. (Died 1947.)
  • Born March 3, 1920 James Doohan. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on Trek of course. His first genre appearance was in Outer Limits as Police Lt. Branch followed by being a SDI Agent at Gas Station in The Satan Bug film before getting the Trek gig. He filmed a Man from U.N.C.L.E.film, One of Our Spies Is Missing, in which in played Phillip Bainbridge, during 5he first season of Trek.  Doohan did nothing of genre nature post-Trek. (Died 2005.)
  • Born March 3, 1945 George Miller, 74. Best known for his Mad Max franchise, The Road WarriorMad Max 2Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome andFury Road.  He also directed The Nightmare at 20,000 Feet segment of the Twilight Zone film, The Witches of Eastwick, Babe and 40,000 Years of Dreaming
  • Born March 3, 1948 Max Collins, 71. Best known for writing the Dick Tracy comic strip from 1977 to 1993 giving The it a SF flavor. He also did a lot of writing in various media series such as Dark Angel, The Mummy, Waterworld, The War of The Worlds and Batman.  
  • Born March 3, 1955 Gregory Feeley, 64. Reviewer and essayist who Clute says of that “Sometimes adversarial, unfailingly intelligent, they represent a cold-eyed view of a genre he loves by a critic immersed in its material.” Writer of two SF novels, The Oxygen Barons and Arabian Wine, plus the Kentauros essay and novella.
  • Born March 3, 1970 John Carter Cash, 49. He is the only child of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. To date, he’s written two fantasies, Lupus Rex which oddly enough despite the title concerns a murder of crows selecting their new leader, and a children’s book, The Cat in the Rhinestone Suit, which I think Seuss would be grin at. 
  • Born March 3, 1982 Jessica Biel, 37. A number of interesting genre films including The Texas Chainsaw MassacreBlade: Trinity, StealthThe Illusionist, the remake of Total Recall which I confess I’ve not seen, and the animated Spark: A Space Tail.


  • Rich Horton, quite rightly, calls this a “very Eganesque” Dilbert.

(13) VARIANT COVERS. Brian Hibbs in his Tilting at Windmills column for Comics Beat “Heroes in (Sales) Crisis” says variant covers are helping to break the market:

Again, the new Marvel catalog leads with a mini-series called “War of the Realms” that has seventeen different covers attached to it. For one single issue worth of release. Even if you try to “ignore variants” they take up catalog and “eye” space, they increase the amount of time it takes to order (let alone find) the comics you want to stock; they also consume distributor resources, ultimately increasing overages, shortages and damages, hurting everyone as a result.

The January 2019 order form features 1106 solicited periodical comic books. Of those, only 454 of those SKUs are new items – the other 652 are variant covers. That means a staggering fifty-nine percent of all solicited comics are actually variants. That’s completely and entirely absurd! It is deluded, it is dangerous, and it actively works against the best interests of the market.

(14) RUH-ROH! The former last man on Earth is among those getting animated (The Hollywood Reporter: “Will Forte, Gina Rodriguez and Tracy Morgan to Star in Animated Scooby-Doo Movie (Exclusive)“).

Last Man on Earth star Will Forte voicing Shaggy, Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez [Velma], Tracy Morgan [Captain Caveman] and Frank Welker [Scooby-Doo] are going for a ride in the Mystery Machine.

The actors have closed deals to voice star in the untitled Scooby-Doo animated movie being made by Warner Bros. and its Warner Animation Group division.

Tony Cervone is directing the feature, which counts Chris Columbus, Charles Roven and Allison Abbate [as] producers.

[…] The story sees the Mystery Inc. gang join forces with other heroes of the Hanna-Barbera universe to save the world from Dick Dastardly and his evil plans…and this time, we are told, the threat is real. The movie is slated for a May 2020 release.

(15) WHERE NO WOMAN HAS GONE BEFORE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Sure, some Star Trek projects—going back to Next Gen—have been directed by a woman; but none have taken the helm for the first episode in a series. And certainly no woman of color has been the leadoff batter. Until now. Deadline has the story—”‘Star Trek’: Hanelle Culpepper Will Direct Picard Pilot, First Woman To Launch Starfleet Series“.

Star Trek is boldly going on a new mission where only men have gone before. Hanelle Culpepper will direct the first two episodes of the upcoming untitled Star Trek Jean-Luc Picard series, making her the first woman to direct a pilot or debut episode of a Starfleet series in the franchise’s 53-year history. All 13 feature films in the Trek universe have also been directed by men.

Culpepper has directed two episodes of Star Trek Discovery on CBS All-Access. She helmed the episode titled Vaulting Ambition in Season One as well as an upcoming episode in Season Two, now underway on the subscription streaming site.

Culpepper’s other genre credits include various episodes of CounterpartSupergirlThe CrossingThe FlashLuciferGothamGrimm, and Sleepy Hollow.

(16) THE LOST CAUSE. Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s post “’Incidentally, there is support for Wijeratne’s story’: a response to file770 and a record of the Nebula Award madness” has attracted notice and comments from people who assume after his experience he should to be ready to lend a sympathetic ear to their propaganda justifying past awards slates.

There’s a comment signed Francis T., which judging from the Gravatar is the Francis Turner who in 2006 tried to convince people not only to vote Baen the Best Editor (Long Form) Hugo the following year but to visualize “A Baen Sweep of the Hugos”.

Also, Sad Puppies 3 leader Brad Torgersen left a lengthy comment touting himself as the hero of an ahistorical version of 2015’s events.

On Torgersen’s own blog he’s worked hard to couch the immediate controversy in cleverly Orwellian terms: “When the Inner and Outer Parties of SFWA attack”.

…Try as they will to style themselves international, the Inner and Outer Party members of American literary SF/F are hopelessly provincial, sharing a painful overlap in ideology, as well as a kind of homogeneous, mushy globalist-liberal outlook. Which, being “woke”, puts a premium on demographics over individualism. Fetishizing ethnicities and sexualities. While remaining borderline-militant about a single-track monorchrome political platform.

So, certain Inner and Outer Party folks proceeded to step all over their own unmentionables in an effort to “call out” the “slate” of the indie Proles from the dirty ghettos of indie publishing. And now the Inner and Outer Parties are in damage control mode (yet again!) trying to re-write events, submerge evidence, gaslight the actual victims of the literary pogrom, blame all evils on Emmanuel Goldstein (cough, Sad Puppies, cough) and crown themselves the Good People once more. Who would never, of course, do anything pernicious, because how could they? They are Good! They tell themselves they are Good all the time! They go out of their way to virtue-signal this Goodness on social media! It cannot be possible that they have done anything wrong!

Rabid Puppies packmaster Vox Day not only reprinted Torgersen’s post at Vox Popoli (“Puppies redux: Nebula edition” [Internet Archive link]), he appropriated to himself others’ credit for indie authors being in SFWA:  

It was funny to read this in my inbox, as it was the first time I’ve had any reason to give a thought to SFWA in a long, long time. Possibly the most amusing thing about this latest SFWA kerfluffle is that it is a direct consequence of SFWA adopting my original campaign proposal to admit independent authors to the membership. Sad Puppy leader Brad Torgersen observes, with no little irony, the 2019 version of Sad Puppies…

(17) DIAL 451. The New Indian Express’ Gautam Chintamani uses a famous Bradbury novel as the starting point to comment on news coverage of the recent Pakistan-India incident in “White Noise”.

Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature but considering the times we live in, it is doing more than that. Following the February 14 Jaish-e-Mohammed fidayeen attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama that left 44 Indian soldiers dead, most television news channels bayed for blood. There is no denying that the national emotions were running high and it was only natural for citizens of a nation that have been at the receiving end of a proxy war conducted by a neighbour that as a national policy believes in causing loss of life in India to ask for a befitting reply. Yet the fashion in which many news anchors assumed the mantle of judge, jury, and executioner was nothing less than appalling. The constant white noise emanating from most news debates, where everyone was urged to shout louder than the next person, offers a greater emotional bounty to the one who would teach Pakistan a lesson and this showed a committed effort from media to not allow the average citizen a moment to think. 

(18) GAHAN WILSON FUNDRAISER. A GoFundMe to “Help Gahan Wilson find his way” wants to raise $100,000 for the artist’s care. Neil Gaiman gave $1,000. Other donors include artist Charles Vess, editor Ellen Dtalow, and Andrew Porter.

Gahan Wilson is suffering from Dementia

Gahan is suffering from severe dementia. We have helped him through the stages of the disease and he is currently not doing very well.

His wife, Nancy Winters, just passed away

My mother, and his wife of fifty three years, Nancy Winters, passed away on March 2, 2019. She was his rock. His guide through the world. While we all helped with his care, it was my mother who grounded him. He is currently distraught and out of sorts with the world.

Memory care is needed immediately

Gahan and my mother had been residing in an assisted living facility in Arizona. With my mother’s passing, the facility is about to discharge him. We must find him a memory care facility immediately.

… Memory care is wildly expensive. More so than assisted living. If we could cover the cost ourselves, we would. We can’t, and Gahan and my mother did not save for anything like this. We are asking his fans to help us, help Gahan.

(19) CANADA SIGNS ON. Another international partner lends NASA a hand, well, a robotic arm, anyway: “Gateway Moon station: Canada joins Nasa space project”.

Canada will contribute US$1.4bn to a proposed Nasa space station that will orbit the Moon and act as a base to land astronauts on its surface.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the step would “push the boundaries of innovation”.

The space station, called Gateway, is a key element in Nasa’s plan to return to the Moon with humans in the 2020s.

As part of the 24-year commitment, Canada will build a next-generation robotic arm for the new lunar outpost.

“Canada is going to the Moon,” Mr Trudeau told a news conference at Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters near Montreal, according to AFP.

Nasa plans to build the small space station in lunar orbit by 2026. Astronauts will journey back and forth between Gateway and the lunar surface. It will also act as a habitat for conducting science experiments.

(20) SURE OBI-WAN, POINT-OF-VIEW BLAH BLAH BLAH. Gizmodo/io9 says that, “From a Certain Angle, It Looks Like the Dark Phoenix Trailer Takes a Subtle Jab at the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Um, how is it, again, that you change your viewing angle for a non 3-D movie trailer? Oh, I see what you mean…

new Dark Phoenix trailer dropped in the dead of night this week and gave us another look at how Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey will transform into her darkest, most cosmically-empowered self on the big screen for the second time in the character’s cinematic history. But a fan also spotted something peculiar…

[…] At one point in the trailer, all of the film’s mutants (save for Jean) are being transported by armed officers on what appears to be an armored tank. Wired UK writer Matt Kamen spotted three very familiar letters on their uniforms. If you look closely they read “MCU” which, as Kamen pointed out, could stand for “mutant containment unit.” But it could also be a clever nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the cinematic rights to the X-Men.

(21)  JAVA. Mashable’s post “Pierce Brosnan drinking a latte of his own face is extremely good” identifies him with James Bond, but he also has the lead in The King’s Daughter, based on Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun, which is still awaiting its U.S. release (IMDB says sometime in 2019).

(22) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Motion Makes a Masochist” on Vimeo, Dev warns that if you want to be a motion designer for movies, you should be prepared to suffer a lot for your art.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Rich Horton, Mike Kennedy, Frank Olynyk, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Brian Z., Andrew Porter, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day John Winkelman.]

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100 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/3/19 My File Went So Pix’ly, I Went Lickety-Split, Scrollin’ My Old ‘55

  1. Ah, you only read the beginning of Birds. Yeah, that was rather over the top. Which I did find amusing (I–correctly as it turns out–assumed it was parodic), but I was definitely glad the book didn’t continue in that vein for too long.

    In any case, yeah, if that’s your complaint (and I certainly understand it) then I’m pretty sure you have nothing to worry about with City. Definitely not cutesy, and pretty-much treacle-free. 🙂

  2. I figure if I give a book 65 pages and I still think it sucks, then I’ve given it a fair shot. I shouldn’t have to slog through 200-300 pages to get to something I might actually enjoy. 🙂

    Anyway, good to know about City, thanks.

  3. @JJ–Personally, I swear by the Page 117 test.

    It doesn’t have to be literally page 117, of course. Just a random page somewhere near but not past the middle of the book. If that makes you feel a need to know more, rather than being annoyed at these people doing things with no context, it’s probably worth reading.

  4. @ Lis Carey: Then, of course, there’s that annoying subset of books, where you want to know how things are going to end, but you’re not entirely sure you can stand the protagonists for long enough to find out.

  5. Lis and Ingvar, exactly!

    I was assured by a few people that the book got better once you got to the section where they were adults. The problem was that, by the time I got to page 65, I was kind of hoping that both of the main characters would die in a fire, and I didn’t think that slogging on until I got to the transition to adulthood would suddenly make me want to spend more time with them.

    The other problem that Birds faced was that it was the first book I read after Too Like the Lightning, another book where I kind of hoped that all of the characters (except the little boy) would also die in a fire — but due to the number of people raving about it, I stuck it out and slogged through 430 pages of what I felt was a muddled mess in the hope that it would all pay off brilliantly in the end. And on the 433rd page, instead of resolving the muddled mess, the book rewarded my patience and goodwill by punching me in the face and shouting “HAHAHAHAHA SUCKER, THIS IS ONLY THE FIRST HALF OF THE NOVEL!”

    So at that point, Lightning had drained my well of readerly goodwill and benefit-of-the-doubt completely dry, and though I don’t think I would have disliked Birds any less in the long run, I might have otherwise been willing to stick it out a little longer. But a second shitty book right after the first shitty book was just too much too bear at that point, so I went and found another novel that I would actually enjoy.

  6. @JJ, @Xtifr: Oh, wow.

    Yeah, my experience with Birds was exactly like yours, JJ.
    The focus of the story seemed to be on these two contrasting characters, plus at some point this Absolutely Random And Ferociously Competent Assassin character shows up, and… I just felt like the book wasn’t for me; a mash-up of tropes and styles that just didn’t have a hook I felt like following. Particularly with a bunch of other Hugo finalists to read…

    So hearing all that described as “parodic” is honestly a bit of a surprise! I’d love to hear a little more about what it becomes, and what the purpose of the parody is 🙂

  7. Hate reading can be a thing, and I’ve done it, when I felt a book really needed a negative review. I don’t do it often, though not even as much as once a year. And if a book doesn’t hit that sweet spot, of really bad but inspiring me to want to say why, I stop.

    I never encourage anyone else to do it, though. If you’re not going to get some fun out of it, what’s the point.

    Confession time: If I can’t stand to spend more time with the jerks in the book, but want to know what happens to them, I will skip to the end.

    Bad Lis, I know!

    I have never forgiven whatshisname, Scott Westerfield? For his Risen books. It sounded really interesting, and I got an omnibus edition of books one and two. There was no indication there was more than those two books.

    I wasn’t disturbed when book one ended in a very abrupt cliffhanger. After all, I just had to turn the page to keep reading.

    Book two also ended in an abrupt cliffhanger.

    Book meets wall, also abruptly.

    If book three existed at that point, I never found any evidence of it.

    Never picked up anything else by him. Don’t expect I ever will.

  8. @Ingvar:

    Then, of course, there’s that annoying subset of books, where you want to know how things are going to end, but you’re not entirely sure you can stand the protagonists for long enough to find out.

    I’ve become more and more allergic to books that are exclusively about how they’re going to end. That is, they’re 100% focused on something that can’t possibly be resolved until the very end of the book.
    So I get this sense that the last 50 pages of the book might well be fantastic — but all the ones before that will just be treading water, and whyyyyy.

  9. @ Standback: As long as the journey to the (book’s) end is worthwhile, the end is allowed to be kinda meh, but if that journey is a painful, unrewarding, slog, the end can be as delightful as it may be, but no one will appreciate it.

    The flip side is that there are books where the journey is fantastic, but the end is… indeterminate, and they can still be an amazing read for the right person.

    Like, for me, Anathem (and, yes, I know there are quite a few people that detest the book, and that’s fine), where there’s multiple ends (because it makes sense in the context of the book) and the journey is 9to me) delightful.

    As opposed to Seveneves, where the journey is, well, passable, and there’s something of an end, but it doesn’t rise to enough to compensate for the somewhat “meh” journey.

    And those are two books by the same author, with similarities and differences, as experienced by a single reader. Which, I guess, means there’s no single formula for what makes a “good book”.

  10. JJ, I thought it was just me. I disliked All The Birds In The Sky (I didn’t even engage with the characters when they were grownups) and I never got more than 1/3 of the way into Too Like The Lightning. The Eight Deadly Words got me on both books; I absolutely did not care what happened to any of those characters.

    Which just goes to show how much tastes can differ. Anyone who thinks Filers are a hivemind is deluding themselves…

  11. I didn’t think Birds was “cutesy treacle”, although @JJ’s following description as teenage scribbling seems on-target; is there a name for the sort of reverse-GaryStu book where the author embarrasses or otherwise sends-up / puts-down all their adolescence bêtes noirs rather than presenting their own idealized self? (I suppose the two can go together — part of the idealization often is all the other characters Realizing They Were Wrong — but Birds seemed to be entirely the let’s-dump-on-the-“cool”-kids side.) What really got me about the book was that every plot turn seemed to be designed-for-Message, rather than coming out of previous events; I’ve grumbled about this in other authors’ works. This sort of manipulation may be common to new authors; from what I’ve read of Heinlein’s long-unpublished For Us, the Living, it was Beyond This Horizon with more Wellsian posing and less plot. The new Anders sounds interesting enough that I’ll give it a try.

    (*) e.g. Becky Chambers; although in Birds the mess was slightly relieved by the no-they-don’t-have-all-the-answers ending — a mild antidote to the (IMO) overappreciated unmasterpiece “The Rose” (Harness).

    @Ingvar (re the annoying subset): I know someone who reportedly reads the last page first of everything, then reads the rest if they care about how the ending happened. I’m not sure of this because the report came through a notably contrarian proud parent, but it’s one way of dealing with annoying characters.

  12. Thanks for the input on City. There’s a wait list for it at my library, so that gives me time to decide.

    I don’t mind dark but don’t particularly like grimdark. If the protagonists are all terrible people doing terrible things, surrounded by other terrible people in a terrible world with no hope, then you’ve lost me. And I don’t mind stories that make me angry but if the point of becoming angry is to dehumanize the villain so that I can revel in their torturous death without remorse, then I’m out.

    But the bane of my existence as a reader are the protagonists who are adolescent jerks (no matter what age they are) and that’s what I’m supposed to admire/identify with. I try to avoid those people in real life, I’m not hanging out in their heads during my off time.

    (And wow, that last comment makes me sound old. ::brandishes cane, shakes it at clouds::)

  13. Lorien Gray: (And wow, that last comment makes me sound old. ::brandishes cane, shakes it at clouds::)

    “You are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear.”

  14. Heh, Lorien, that sounds a lot like the reason I dislike so much MilSF. Jerky jocks acting macho is really not my cup of tea. I can’t stand people like that in real life–why would I want to read about them?

    And no, City is not grimdark. It does have a fair bit of “humans are the real monsters”, but it also makes it clear that it’s #NotAllHumans. 🙂

    Re. All the Birds in the Sky:
    Standback on March 5, 2019 at 2:06 am said:

    So hearing all that described as “parodic” is honestly a bit of a surprise! I’d love to hear a little more about what it becomes, and what the purpose of the parody is ?

    Well…I don’t really want to keep banging on about the book. I mean, if people didn’t like it, they didn’t like it. But since you asked…

    What it becomes is a clash of tropes. And the purpose of the parody is to highlight by exaggeration those classic tropes found in so much fantasy and SF. (But not usually in the same book, because they are so conflicting.)

    Basically, I read it as literary criticism (and I don’t think I’m the only one who read it that way, since it did go on to win the Nebula). There are a lot of unquestioned assumptions behind a lot of fantasy–and a lot of quite different but equally unquestioned assumptions behind a lot of SF. Anders decided to challenge some of those assumptions by putting them all in the same book, and showing what an obvious mess would result. It reminded me a little bit of Spinrad’s The Iron Dream–although it wasn’t quite that over-the-top. (Fortunately.)

    City, though, is just straight SF.

  15. Xtifr: What it becomes is a clash of tropes. And the purpose of the parody is to highlight by exaggeration those classic tropes found in so much fantasy and SF… Anders decided to challenge some of those assumptions by putting them all in the same book, and showing what an obvious mess would result.

    The danger of attempting to parody something like that is that it requires a great deal of skill to make clear to the reader that it’s a parody; otherwise, it just reads like shitty writing.

    And you’re the first person I’ve ever seen claim this. If this was actually the author’s intent, almost nobody “got it”. All the other reviews I’ve read praise it as a straight SFF novel that gets its tropes from both science fiction and fantasy.


  16. Actually, the very first review there says right in its title “overturns sci-fi and fantasy gently.” That’s hardly the same as playing it straight! And the Strange Horizons review goes into a lengthy sidebar about CP Snow’s Two Cultures, and goes on to say “at its heart, you might say that All the Birds in the Sky is about the divides between science fiction and fantasy […]” (Granted, it goes on to say that there’s more to the novel than just that, but it certainly acknowledges that element of the book.)

    Granted, none of them may outright say “this parodies fantasy and SF tropes”, but when you have a six-year-old inventing a time machine that only travels two seconds, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable description!

    But again, I’m not here to convince you to like the novel. I mean, I certainly don’t think it was the greatest thing ever. I’m just saying, I think there’s a reason the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America chose it as the best novel of that year. And I don’t think it was because professional writers are willing to overlook shitty writing if the story is treacle-y enough.

    WSFS, I might almost believe that of, but not SFWA. 🙂

  17. Oddly enough, I liked the fantasy aspects way more than the allegedly science fictional aspects, mostly because the science fiction was soft enough that I felt it didn’t really create that much of a contrast with the fantasy (which by comparison felt pretty standard and I found much more enjoyable). I have no general objection to soft-SF (or science fiction as aesthetic) and usually don’t care to draw bright genre lines, but it did kind of came off to me as “magic-flavored fantasy vs science-flavored fantasy” and I felt the book needed a harder distinction to make it work.

    Probably doesn’t help that “magic vs science” is something I’ve encountered a fair bit of (it tends to be a semi-recurring plot in DC Comics).

  18. …a six-year-old inventing a time machine that only travels two seconds

    I thought he and at least one other character built their two-second time machines from schematics they found online.

    While I do think that All The Birds was a bit of a muddle and its ending needed work I loved it. I loved the smooshing together of all of the tropes just to see what oozed out. Something about Charlie Jane Anders’ style and voice in All the Birds and her short fiction just works for me and has done since the very first line of Six Months, Three Days.

  19. @JJ:

    The danger of attempting to parody something like that is that it requires a great deal of skill to make clear to the reader that it’s a parody; otherwise, it just reads like shitty writing.

    Ah, a corollary to Scalzi’s Maxim (“The failure mode of clever…”)

  20. @Master Dalliard: Yeah, Isobel the rocket scientist describes figuring out the online diagrams as “a little test of engineering skill and moxie and stuff”. (p. 28)

  21. @Xtifr:

    What it becomes is a clash of tropes. And the purpose of the parody is to highlight by exaggeration those classic tropes found in so much fantasy and SF. (…) There are a lot of unquestioned assumptions behind a lot of fantasy–and a lot of quite different but equally unquestioned assumptions behind a lot of SF. Anders decided to challenge some of those assumptions by putting them all in the same book, and showing what an obvious mess would result.

    Thank you! 😀 That actually really helped click things into place for me. I haven’t heard the book described in those terms, but that makes a lot of sense, and IMHO tracks well with what I have heard about it.

    I feel like I have a better sense of this book that’s frequently discussed and appreciated, even if it wasn’t to my own taste 🙂

    There’s certainly a fair amount of current fiction that deconstructs tropes and underlying assumptions, and that can be a lot of fun — and/or, extremely powerful.
    “…And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes” takes some random magic powers, and gives a deadpan map of how completely and utterly they break the universe.
    “Seasons of Glass and Iron” juxtaposes two fairy tales, showing how they have stark contrasts outwardly but the same toxic patriarchy underlying them both.
    “The Venus Effect” cycles through common tropes and iconic storylines, and a lot of the point is how they break down completely if you don’t assume the protagonist is white.

    So, yeah, I can definitely see the appeal 🙂 And OTOH, the failure mode is also pretty clear to me — if you’re not into the attempt, it can come out as a kind of, “Huh, so you can choose a bunch of cliches and implement them in a way that they sound bad and clash with each other, OK.” In this case, not being too much into the characters and arcs at the beginning, seems like something that would also keep me personally from enjoying the continuation as something interesting and representative of genre tropes at large.

    Thanks, that was really helpful, and much appreciated 🙂

  22. I guess it depends on the nature of the book, and the kind of entertainment we want from it, but I don’t believe it’s reasonable to expect likeable, upstanding characters that we relate to. So many counter-examples come to mind: Proust’s narrator in In Search Of Lost time is incredibly manipulative; pretty much all of Martin Amis’s protagonists are morally deficient; most of the characters in War and Peace are flawed, but drawn with such generosity that they’re likeable anyway; Macbeth, King Lear…. I guess though it’s true though that we expect to relate to at least parts of these characters, or at least be fascinated by them.

  23. Cliff, I don’t have to LIKE the characters… I didn’t LIKE the characters in The Library At Mount Char…. but I have to find them compelling enough to care about what happens to them.

    I grant you, liking them helps quite a lot, but it’s not required. Utter bland indifference to their fate, however, will kill a book for me.

  24. Cliff: I guess it depends on the nature of the book, and the kind of entertainment we want from it, but I don’t believe it’s reasonable to expect likeable, upstanding characters that we relate to.

    I hesitated to post what I did about not wanting to read a book with nothing but “terrible people doing terrible things, surrounded by other terrible people in a terrible world with no hope” because someone inevitably reduces it to the above. There is a huge amount of ground between “terrible” and “upstanding” – plenty of room for interesting characters with flaws and the drama that springs from them.

  25. Standback on March 6, 2019 at 3:31 am said:

    So, yeah, I can definitely see the appeal 🙂 And OTOH, the failure mode is also pretty clear to me — if you’re not into the attempt, it can come out as a kind of, “Huh, so you can choose a bunch of cliches and implement them in a way that they sound bad and clash with each other, OK.”

    Yeah, I certainly can’t fault someone for that reaction. Humor in general seems to trigger more idiosyncratic reactions than other forms of writing. Which, I think, is one of the reasons it tends to struggle to win awards. (A fact I don’t like, but have learned to live with.)

  26. @Xtifr: Humor in general seems to trigger more idiosyncratic reactions than other forms of writing.

    Most people don’t like humor. They like humor aimed at things they don’t like. A beautifully crafted joke that slips between their own ribs? Not so much, most people.

  27. @John A Arkansawyer: you seem to be assuming that humor is always negative, which seems bizarre to me. Sarcasm is generally negative, and satire frequently is, but parody is often affectionate, and puns or wordplay are generally neutral.

    Just as an obvious example: people buy caricatures of themselves from street artists all the time, even though the humor of those caricatures is aimed directly at them. So I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “people like humor aimed at things they don’t like”.

  28. Cliff: I don’t believe it’s reasonable to expect likeable, upstanding characters that we relate to.

    Of course not, but as Cassy says, there has to be something about the story which makes me want to read it. Interesting worldbuilding! Compelling characters! Intriguing plot! Scintillating prose! At least something! Give me a reason to actually want to read more!

    The Library at Mount Char is a perfect example of that. It was grim, it was horror, it had characters doing terrible things — all of which I don’t care much for, especially the first two. But yegods, I could not put that book down. The worldbuilding was utterly brilliant and fascinating, and the story was totally compelling.

    If All the Birds in the Sky was meant to be a humorous parody of science fiction and fantasy tropes, it was nowhere apparent to me in what I read that that was the case. It just read to me as if the author threw in a whole bunch of things in the hope that something would stick.

  29. @JJ
    I have “Mount Char” on Mt Tsundoku. As you say, it’s compelling, even if it’s horrifying. (I looked at it in a bookstore and couldn’t forget the bits I read. That’s one of my tests; the other is if I read the first couple of pages or so and don’t want to stop.)

  30. PJ Evans, be aware, I nominated Mt. Char for the Hugo, but it’s got EVERY trigger warning. For everything nasty you can think of, and possibly some nasty things you wouldn’t have thought of.

    But’s it’s incredibly well-written and compelling. Just… maybe have some comfort-reading standing by, just in case.

  31. @Cassy B
    Thanks, and I have lots of comfort reading. Plus knitting…. (I saw enough to know it’s going to be rough reading.)

  32. @Xtifr: What you say is true, but not exhaustive of types of humor. Parody is indeed often affectionate, but its mean cousin lampoon is often not.

    I like your example of street artists and caricature. It points up where I made an overly broad generalization. It also makes me consider an experiment. I’d like to get a prosthetic broken front tooth–I had one for nearly two decades–and wear it to get street artists to draw caricatures of me. I’d bet almost none of them would show the tooth.

  33. @Cliff–

    I guess it depends on the nature of the book, and the kind of entertainment we want from it, but I don’t believe it’s reasonable to expect likeable, upstanding characters that we relate to.

    Yeah, yeah, anyone who doesn’t like books focused on utterly shitty characters doing utterly shitty things for utterly shitty reasons, causing utterly shitty tings to happen just doesn’t appreciate real literature.

    Except, no, I don’t find anything at all interesting, artistic, or creative about hat sort of crap. Solid, believable, human characters, with both flaws and virtues, people who give me a reason to care what happens to them, and who grow over the course of the story are what impresses me and I find to be worth my time.

    Nor do I need triggers on every page.

    And no, most substantial and lasting literature isn’t grimdark. Grimdark strikes me as a particularly lazy form of cheating, layering on lots of horrible stuff for cheap emotional reactions. Do some work; give me real people who aren’t total shit any more than they’re total saints.

  34. I read The Fifth Season and hated every character in it with a passion. While I’m absolutely impressed by the craft and the wordsmithing, I refuse to read anything more in the series and am skeptic towards ever trying Jemisin again. So I do want books with character I care about. Which I absolutely did about those in The Library at Mount Char which is one of my favourites.

  35. And starting to dislike the characters in Joe Abercrombie’s books is one of the reasons I stopped reading stuff by him.

  36. @ Cassy – yup.

    @Lorien – agreed there is a huge amount of ground between those two positions. I wasn’t attempt to be reductionist when countering your initial point. My original phrasing was more polar, but I attempted to add nuance to make the point that you have made. That being said, there are some books that are generally well thought of and whose protagonists are positively awful. I’ve not read it myself, but American Psycho would be an example. Your comment about adolescent jerks brings to mind Catcher In The Rye. I think I remember some folks on this very blog saying how they hated Holden Caulfield. Myself, I read it when I was young so didn’t feel that way about him. I loved the book, though. Last night I wound up discussing it with another fan, and his opinion was that we were *meant* to see Caulfield as an annoying jerk, and the book was about his failure to transition into adulthood.

    @ JJ – yup.

    @ Lis – I think you’ve exaggerated my position there. As for grimdark, I’ve not read any, but most of the works I mentioned are indeed substantial and lasting works.

  37. “I don’t care what happens to these people” doesn’t always mean actively disliking them, or vice versa. But if there’s nobody in the book who I like or can connect to, I’m not going to enjoy spending time with them/readng about them, and I read fiction for various sorts of pleasure.

    “I’m bored” and “reading this is making me unhappy” are both valid reasons to stop, since I’m not enrolled in a class where I have to write a paper about them, or a book club where having read Book A or Author B is going to be expected when we when we go on to discuss Books C and D that I am interested in. Your mileage may vary, of course–“this is important and I want to keep up with the field” is also reasonable, as is the sort of completism that leads to reading everything by a given author because you liked some of their work.

    Someone mentioned the page 117 test. I first saw that presented as a thing to do if the first page of a random book (not recommended by someone you trust, nor by an author you’ve consistently liked) seemed interesting. The idea was that a significant number of books had a good, or intriguing, page or three and then fizzled. And one possible reason for that is that many people will pick a book up, read a page or two, and then decide whether to take it home, so beginnings tend to get more attention and polishing. Opening to a random page further on is a way of testing whether this is a good/readable/appealing to me book rather than just two good pages followed by two hundred that would be a waste of my time and money. (I am more likely to take a chance on library books without that test, because dislike or boredom just means returning the book sooner than I otherwise would.)

  38. Worth mentioning that the “eight deadly words” kept me from getting past the first chapter of Dune for years. Fortunately, I had enough faith in the tastes of my fellow fen that even after three hard bounces, I still went back, tried one more time, got past the difficult beginning, and discovered a wonderful book that remained one of my all-time favorites for many years!

    It doesn’t always play out like that, of course–there are plenty of books that have been lauded by fandom which have turned out to not be to my tastes at all. But I’m no longer willing to go entirely by first impressions.

    @John A Arkansawyer: Yeah, I wasn’t trying to enumerate all possible flavors of humor. I’m glad you liked the caricature example though. I was hesitant to include it because it isn’t at all genre-related, but I thought it illustrated the point really well. I’m pleased that you agreed.

  39. @Hampus Eckerman: I haven’t read parts 2 & 3 of Jemisin’s trilogy because I’m waiting for a calmer chunk of time than I’ve had for a while — but I will definitely read them; I found characters in the first one that were desperately trying to do the most decent or effective thing despite being abused and enslaved by the rest of the world. Different people have different empathy triggers….

    @Lis: reductio ad absurdum is useful in math; it’s not useful in discussing writing.

    I personally found The Library at Mount Char to be over-the-top more than compelling — not to mention what I thought at the time was at least one gaping logic hole — but it was still the problem of how to deal with a monster, which I typically find worthwhile even if these days it comes closer to reality than I care for.

  40. @Chip–Yes, I was rather disgusted with Cliff’s shallow equation of wanting characters who have some redeeming characteristics and aren’t completely unlikable with not having any taste for good literature.

    No one had suggested that characters had to be completely morally perfect and likable; only that they should have something that makes it worth spending that much time inside their heads to read the story.

  41. @Xtifr: It’s a good example in part because it’s productive to work with. The person pleased by a street artist’s caricature could be equally outraged at a political cartoonist’s caricature. Both artists are working with the same subject and most likely exaggerate the same features, yet they get an entirely different affect.

    One thing I admire about Bill Clinton (there aren’t many) is that he hated the editorial cartooning of the late Mike Gauldin so much that he hired him. Gauldin wasn’t an enemy of the Clintons, just a great all-around mocker who drew Bill in a way–as an overgrown child on a tricycle–that got Clinton’s goat and probably did him real political harm.

    That is the attitude I try to take toward humor which cuts me and people like me. If it’s good enough to draw my blood, I admire it, and try to enjoy it, For me, producing humor, even at the amateur level, takes study of how it works. Learning to swap different values into the formula that hurt me so I can repurpose it? That’s my idea of a good time.

  42. John A. Arkansawyer: But you might understand how that kind of humour is neither universally appealing… nor universally desirable. Punching up at Bill Clinton, President of the United States, is something Bill Clinton, secure in power and prestige, and indeed more powerful than the caricaturist (proven by Clinton choosing to hire him – even magnanimity towards someone with less power is evidence of the power one has), *should* be able to appreciate.

    But not everyone should feel the obligation to appreciate humour which cuts, especially if it cuts them. And — back to the very original point — not all humour is indeed cutting.

  43. Most people don’t like humor. They like humor aimed at things they don’t like. A beautifully crafted joke that slips between their own ribs? Not so much, most people.

    I don’t believe that generalization. A lot of people are self-deprecating and can enjoy humor that calls attention to their own foibles. Some people make their own flaws the focus of their humor.

    The point of a roast is to mock other people *and* receive mockery yourself. It’s a cherished tradition in comedy. Nobody performs at a roast without knowing they will be cut by beautifully crafted jokes.

  44. @Lenora Rose & rcade: I’m responding to part of what both of you have said at the same time. I’ll try not to misattribute anything in the process.

    Lenora Rose: “But not everyone should feel the obligation to appreciate humour which cuts, especially if it cuts them.”
    rcade: “Nobody performs at a roast without knowing they will be cut by beautifully crafted jokes.”

    Between you, you’ve laid out the extremes, and you are both right. The average person doesn’t and shouldn’t want to hear a joke aimed at ripping their heart out. Professional humorists will rip their own or anyone’s heart out and hit you over the head with it like a rubber chicken in the hopes you will do the same or worse to them.

    I’ll say one important difference between those two is that the average person does not love humor, any more than the average person loves SF. The average person does enjoy humorous (and these days, SF-nal) things, I think, but there’s one big difference between ‘love’ and ‘enjoy’, and another between ‘humor’ and ‘humorous things’.

    When the two get mixed up, even in fiction, the results can be painful to watch:

  45. @John A Arkansawyer: but most of what you’ve said about humor applies equally well to drama or tragedy as well. People don’t enjoy drama or tragedy if it’s not well-crafted. People don’t generally enjoy drama or tragedy that aims to hurt them, personally. So none of that really explains why comedy is so often snubbed when it comes to awards, which is, I think, where we started.

  46. I’ll say one important difference between those two is that the average person does not love humor, any more than the average person loves SF.

    Humor is not a niche interest like SF. It’s a fundamental part of the experience of being human. Everybody laughs (except Trump).

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