(1) NO FLY ZONE. John Brunner in The Shockwave Rider said that ‘The future arrives too soon and in the wrong order.’ And here’s proof of that — “French hoverboard inventor banned from flying in France”.
The man who invented the Flyboard Air has been barred from flying his jet-powered hoverboard in France, sparking a debate over the country’s policies on innovation. In a Facebook post on March 10th, Franky Zapata, founder of the company that bears his name, said there is a “strong probability that the Flyboard Air will never fly again in France,” after officials from the French air gendarmerie told him he would be placed under criminal investigation if he continued to pilot the craft. Zapata added that he will now be “obliged to leave France” in order to continue his work.
“That is how innovators are treated in our country,” Zapata wrote in a French-language post. “I leave you [to] imagine my disgust after having produced more than 10,000 ‘made in France’ Flyboards.”
(2) DO YOU DIG IT? A road that is too close to Stonehenge will probably be buried, but there are many issues with the proposed tunnel.
It’s one of the world’s most famous ancient monuments: an instantly recognisable icon from a forgotten world, a place for quiet wonder and contemplation.
And yet for many people, the first and perhaps only glimpse they get of Stonehenge is from a traffic jam on the A303, one of the main routes between London and southwest England.
This could be about to change. A bold £1.4bn plan proposes ripping up much of the existing road and replacing it with a new route that includes a 2.9km (1.8 miles), deep-bored tunnel just a few hundred metres south of Stonehenge….
A far bigger priority is ensuring that the context of the wider landscape is preserved, such as that the sightlines between the area’s various monuments and barrows – thought to have been deliberately designed by the Neolithic engineers of ancient Britain – are left intact.
For instance, a key area of concern with the current proposal, and something that McMahon and others hope to be able to persuade Highways England to address, is the positioning of the western entrance. “It’s too close to one of the major funerary monuments in the landscape called the Normanton down barrow cemetery,” says McMahon, “and the road coming out also sits for part of its route on the same astronomical alignment as the midwinter setting Sun.”
(3) GRAMMAR’S SLAMMERS. Walter Jon Williams declares “Victory for the Oxford Comma”:
I stand proudly with the Oxford comma, as it stands for reason, clarity, and mitigates against incertitude. (Try reading that sentence without the Oxford comma and see where it gets you.)
I am pleased to know that the US Court of Appeals agrees with me, insofar as they ruled that a missing Oxford comma was the deciding factor in the case of Kevin O’Connor v. the Oakhurst Dairy….
(4) 10-SIDED DICE YES, BLACK HELICOPTERS NO. An Ars Technica writer at SXSW found “The CIA uses board games to train officers – and I got to play them”.
Clopper recalls one day in 2008 when his “boss’s boss” called him into a meeting and asked him to develop new internal training exercises. Normally, these exercises test whether recent lessons and seminars have been absorbed by officers, and they usually involve “teams, flip charts, and briefings,” Clopper says. “Incredibly boring.” But Clopper had now been at the CIA long enough to reshape its exercises, his boss said, and he got excited: “I’m a gamer. I enjoy games, video games, tabletop games. Could we bring games into learning?”
He used SXSW to present three board games made for his training exercises over the span of a four-year period, one of which is still in development. The first is the one we got the most hands-on time with during SXSW: Collection. If that dry-as-a-desert name isn’t a good indicator, rest assured—this is not a game meant for retail or for the highest ratings at BoardGameGeek.
Collection compares favorably to the popular cooperative game Pandemic. In Clopper’s game, a group of players must work together to resolve three major crises across the globe. The object is for players, who each represent different types of CIA officers, to collect enough relevant intel to resolve all three crises. If any one of the three impending disasters boils over (as represented by three increasing “fire” meters), the team loses. Every game must have at least three players to fill the roles of “political analyst,” “military analyst,” and “economic analyst.” Those three are only able to collect intel in their specific fields, while additional players (up to seven on a team) have their own specialties.
The difficulty comes from the low number of actions each player can do per turn, along with how quickly the fire meter ratchets up.
(5) WIZARDRY. Bradbury biographer Sam Weller tells why you should “Pay Close Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: 8 Things I Learned About Writing from Ray Bradbury”.
In 12 years, as one might imagine, I observed many of Bradbury’s creative secrets. I peered behind the Oz-ian curtain, as it were, and paid close attention. Bradbury was a master storyteller and visionary artist who created across an unprecedented nine decades. Fahrenheit 451. The Martian Chronicles. Dandelion Wine. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Massive collections of poetry. Massive collections of essays. Hundreds of short stories across every conceivable genre. He owned and operated his own theatre company. He wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. On a whim, he scripted an animated short film that was later nominated for an Oscar. He earned an Emmy for an animated television adaptation of his own YA novel, The Halloween Tree. Bradbury developed architectural concepts for shopping malls, the 1964 World’s Fair and EPCOT. There is a crater on the moon named, by NASA, for Ray Bradbury’s book 1957 novel-in-stories, Dandelion Wine.
The man was a force.
Not surprising then, that much of my own creative ethos is culled from what I learned working alongside Ray Bradbury….
(6) HARRIS OBIT. Jack Harris, producer of the original horror film The Blob (1958) died March 14 at the age of 98. He was also a producer or executive producer of Paradisio (1962), Beware! The Blob (1972), Schlock (1973) and other genre films.
(8) TODAY IN HISTORY
- The Ides of March – Julius Caesar finds out what happens when you keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
(9) TODAY IN BEER HISTORY
- March 15, 1937 – H.P. Lovecraft joins the choir invisible.
(10) FRANCHISE CROSSOVER. CBS gets its clicks on Route 66 with “19 Star Trek References on The Big Bang Theory”. First is —
“Game over, Moon Pie.”
Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Wil Wheaton is a regular guest star on The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon’s arch nemesis makes his first appearance in “The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary” (Episode 5, Season 3), where he tricks Sheldon into throwing a Mystic Warlords of Ka’a card tournament.
(11) APOCALYPSE IN REVERSE GEAR. The Guardian interrupted the memorial service for paper books with this flash – “Ebook sales continue to fall as younger generations driver appetite for print”.
Readers committed to physical books can give a sigh of relief, as new figures reveal that ebook sales are falling while sales of paper books are growing – and the shift is being driven by younger generations.
More than 360m books were sold in 2016 – a 2% jump in a year that saw UK consumers spend an extra 6%, or £100m, on books in print and ebook formats, according to findings by the industry research group Nielsen in its annual books and consumer survey. The data also revealed good news for bricks-and-mortar bookshops, with a 4% rise in purchases across the UK.
While sales through shops increased 7% in 2016, ebook sales declined by 4%. It is the second year in a row that ebook sales have fallen, and only the second time that annual ebook sales have done so since industry bodies began monitoring sales a decade ago.
(12) PERIODICAL PERFORMANCE. The March ratings are up at Rocket Stack Rank. Sarah Pinsker, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, and Michael Flynn have the top-ranked stories.
(13) EQUALS? Natalie Luhrs does her annual slice-and-dice of the Locus Recommended Reading List to show how many listed works are by people of various genders and races.
I wrote yesterday that one problem with pure counting exercises is that they don’t tap into the experience or emotion of the subjects. Today in Luhrs’ report I ran into a further question – if the goal is diversity, and an analyst is considering numbers in isolation, what number equals winning? This came to mind when I read this passage in her section on race. Luhrs found that works by people of color on the list increased from 15.61% to 26.47% in one year. She commented —
Race Breakout by Year, Percentages
Nearly three quarters of the works are still by white people. Representation of POC has jumped by over 10% and that is a really good thing, but I believe there is still room for improvement.
Does Luhrs have a target number in mind that Locus has yet to reach, or is she failing to put in perspective what seems to be a radical effort to get diverse works listed?
(14) GROWTH IN AFRICAN SFF. This isn’t the first time someone has asked “Why Is science fiction so white?” The news is that the question was posed today by a journalist in Zimbabwe, Mako Muzenda.
The presence of these spaces – websites, magazines and publications – goes a long way in introducing readers to different writers, and getting aspiring authors the visibility they need. Ivor Hartmann has been involved in speculative fiction since 2007, with the release of his first book Earth Rise. After going from publisher to publisher, looking for someone to put his book on the market, Hartmann (a Zimbabwean) was finally able to get his story out with Something Wicked, which at the time was the only science-fiction magazine for the whole of Africa.
“While I did publish it with them (Something Wicked), I was distressed at the lack of publishing venues for speculative fiction in Africa. So rather than moan about it I started up an online weekly magazine,” explains Hartmann. His decision led to the creation of StoryTime, which ran for five years until Hartmann switched to solely publishing anthologies. With enough experience in the industry behind him, Hartmann decided to take the plunge and address the inadequacies in African science fiction head-on with AfroSF, the first Pan-African science fiction anthology.
“Of course, now there are loads of African online magazines but back then it was all new territory for writers and readers. No longer were we held back by the excruciating logistics and heavy capital needed to run a print magazine.”
What had started off as a fringe movement is growing into a vibrant community of people dedicated to letting Africa’s voice be heard in speculative fiction….
(15) IN THE JURY ROOM. The Shadow Clarke Jury has produced three more thoughtful reviews.
The Underground Railroad is, perhaps, the best novel of 2016.
I qualify that statement only because I have not read every novel published in 2016. Nobody has. But I have seen nothing to suggest that I am wrong in this assessment. And I am not alone in this view; the novel has, after all, won America’s National Book Award.
I consider it the best, in part, because it is a novel that speaks to the moment the way that few other books do. It captures the screams of Ferguson, the anger of Black Lives Matter, the despair in the face of the renewed racism that celebrated the last American election. It is a book that places the experience of being black in America today on a trajectory that puts it closer to slavery than we ever like to think. And it does all of this with intelligence, with beauty, with subtlety, with wit and with invention. It uses the tools of the novel the way those tools are meant to be used, but so seldom are.
It is a book that held me with its first sentence, and continued to hold me, with horror and delight, through to its last sentence.
It is a good novel, perhaps the best novel; but does that mean it is the best science fiction novel?
What is Kavenna’s book actually about, though? This question is harder to answer than it first appears, no doubt intentionally so. As suggested above, the outline appears simple: Eliade Jencks, having failed to enter Oxford as a student, takes a job waiting tables in the cafe of the Tradescantian Ark Musuem and continues to conduct her researches in the evenings and weekends. While working at the cafe she makes the acquaintance of a Professor Solete, an eminent don whose magnum opus is the eponymous Field Guide to Reality, a theory of everything that will finally bring together his lifelong researches into the nature of life, death and the origins of the universe. Unfortunately, Professor Solete dies before the book can be published, and when his acolytes enter his rooms in search of the manuscript they find only a locked box, labelled ‘For Eliade’.
I start with Achimwene because he reminds us that one of the central themes of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is the telling of stories, and science-fiction stories in particular. Indeed, the narrative itself is an embodiment of a pivotal moment in sf storytelling: the move from short story to novel. The earliest sf novels weren’t novels as such; they were formed from several closely connected short stories, sometimes reworked to strengthen those connections, and were known as ‘fix-ups’. Central Station is a fix-up par excellence, bringing together Tidhar’s various Central Station stories, some of them substantially reworked, with a couple of new stories added to the mix, and a Prologue that introduces the novel as an act of storytelling, while itself participating in the act of storytelling not once but twice.
(16) A (SUIT)CASE OF CONSCIENCE. Is this “the perfect Tyrion Lannister cosplay” as Reddit says, or in incredibly bad taste? YOU decide!
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Merrick Lex, Andrew Porter, JJ, Mark-kitteh, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]