Pixel Scroll 3/24/17 No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You To Scroll

(1) ALIEN HECK. Yahoo! Movies has the latest Alien: Covenant poster: “’Alien: Covenant’: Third Poster Welcomes Moviegoers to Extraterrestrial Hell”.

After decades away from the franchise that he began back in 1979, director Ridley Scott has become unbelievably gung-ho about the Alien series, promising that he’s got perhaps another half-dozen sequels already planned out for the near future. Before he can get to those, however, he’ll first deliver the follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, which by the looks of its recent trailer, is going to be a no-holds-barred descent into extraterrestrial madness. And now, its third theatrical poster (see it below) makes plain that its action won’t just be otherworldly; it’ll be downright hellish.

(2) BRAGGING ON BATMAN. Is this claim big enough for you? Why “Batman: The Animated Series 1992-1995” is far better than any other incarnation before or since.

(3) EVIDENCE OF GENIUS. Up for auction the next six days — “Remarkable Letter Signed by Albert Einstein, Along With His Initialed Drawings”. Minimum bid is $15,000.

Albert Einstein letter signed with his hand drawings, elegantly explaining his electrostatic theory of special relativity to a physics teacher struggling to reconcile it with experiments he was conducting. In addition to the letter, which is new to the market, Einstein generously replies to a series of questions the teacher asks him on a questionnaire, providing additional drawings and calculations, initialed ”A.E.” at the conclusion. Dated 4 September 1953 on Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study letterhead, Einstein writes to Arthur L. Converse, the teacher from Malcolm, Iowa, in part, ”There is no difficulty to explain your present experiment on the basis of the usual electrostatic theory. One has only to assume that there is a difference of potential between the body of the earth and higher layers of the atmosphere, the earth being negative relatively to those higher layers…[Einstein then draws Earth and the atmosphere, referring to it for clarification] The electric potential p rises linearly with the distance h from the surface of the earth…For all your experiments the following question is relevant: How big is the electric charge produced on a conductor which is situated in a certain height h, this body being connected with the earth…” Also included is Einstein’s original mailing envelope from ”Room 115” of the Institute for Advanced Study, postmarked 7 September 1953 from Princeton. Folds and very light toning to letter, otherwise near fine. Questionnaire has folds, light toning and staple mark, otherwise near fine with bold handwriting by Einstein. With an LOA from the nephew of Arthur Converse and new to the market.

(4) PROFESSIONAL FAKE REVIEW. As announced in comments, Theakers Quarterly have posted their fake review of There Will Be Walrus. They’re doing these as a fundraiser for Comic Relief on Red Nose Day. This is the first of four paragraphs in the review:

Military science fiction is a part of the genre that does not always get the attention it deserves, but thank goodness Cattimothy House is on the case, producing an anthology of stories and essays that ranks with the very best sf being produced in the world. Overrated social justice writerers such as John Scalesy and Jim B. Hinds might knock this kind of stuff and despise the fans who love it, but us real fans know the real deal when we see it, and here we do!

(5) NEW TAFF REPORT. Jacqueline Monahan published her TAFF trip report and earned a $500 bounty for the fund from the Southern California Institute for Fan Interests. More details when I find out how fans can get a copy.

(6) SALLY RIDE. At UC San Diego, where Ride served as a professor, a new graduate fellowship — the Sally Ride Fellowship for Women in Physics – has been established in her name to inspire future generations of boundary-breaking physicists who will contribute to the public good.

The pioneering astronaut Sally Ride was a beloved professor at UC San Diego for years. Brian Keating, professor of physics and Associate Director of the Clarke Center, and his wife, Sarah, recently provided the lead gift to fund the Sally Ride Graduate Fellowship for the Advancement of Women in Physics. “We thought this would be a great way to honor Sally Ride’s accomplishments and at the same time, motivate young scientists,” said Brian. “We hope that UC San Diego students will be inspired by her contributions to science and society.”

(7) STATISTICAL ACCURACY. Lately Cecily Kane has tweeted more than once about File 770 not linking to the Fireside Report


File 770 has linked to the Fireside Report. Before that it was discussed last September in comments. The thing I have never done is written an article about it, as I recently did with the FIYAH Magazine Black SFF Writer Survey.

This latest tweet came after I quoted Lela E. Buis in yesterday’s Scroll. That wasn’t the most popular thing I’ve ever posted and the comments section is open — it’s a shame to think we’ve been stuck reading Vox Day’s ridiculous attacks when we might be hearing something useful from Cecily Kane.

(8) SCRIMSHAW. We Hunted The Mammoth understands what’s happening — “Vox Day publishes book with near-identical cover to John Scalzi’s latest, declares victory”.

Beale’s master plan here, evidently, is to convince enough of his supporters to buy Kindle copies of the ersatz book out of spite so that it outranks Scalzi’s book in Kindle sales, a somewhat meaningless metric given that Beale’s books is priced at $4.99, compared to Scalzi’s $12.99, and that Scalzi is also selling actual paper copies of his book, while Beale’s is only available as an ebook. (Beale’s book has been taken down from Amazon several times already in the brief time it’s been out, apparently because, you know, it looks almost identical to Scalzi’s book, but at the moment it’s up on the site.)….

Beale, for all of his many defects, does seem to understand the art of the publicity stunt.

(9) THE LINE STARTS HERE. Can it be true that Kelly Freas and Pablo Picasso agreed about how nude women look? Go ahead, look at this Freas abstract now up for bid and tell me I’m wrong.

(10) DOUBLE UP. Rich Horton takes a lighthearted look back at “A Forgotten Ace Double: Flower of Doradil, by John Rackham/A Promising Planet, by Jeremy Strike”.

The covers are by probably the two leading SF illustrators of that time: Jack Gaughan (in a more psychedelic than usual mode for him), and Kelly Freas. So, I spent a fair amount of time on the background of these writers. Could it be that the novels themselves are not so interesting? Well — yes, it could.

Rackham, as I have said before, was a pretty reliably producer of competent middle-range SF adventure. And that describes Flower of Doradil fairly well. Claire Harper is an agent of Earth’s Special Service, come to the planet Safari to investigate some mysterious activity on the proscribed continent Adil. Safari is mostly devoted to hunting, but Adil is occupied by the humanoid (completely human, it actually seems) natives. But some plants with tremendous medical properties are being smuggled out, and the agents sent to investigate have disappeared.

(11) POETRY OF PHYSICS. In advance of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination’s upcoming event, “Entanglements: Rae Armantrout and the Poetry of Physics”, they have produced a bonus episode of their podcast: a conversation between poet Armantrout and Clarke Center cosmologist Brian Keating.

The event takes place April 13 at UC San Diego. Armantrout, Keating, the writer Brandon Som, and the critic Amelia Glaser will discuss how Rae’s poems mix the personal with the scientific and speculative, the process of interdisciplinary creativity, and what her poetic engagement with physics can teach those working in the physical sciences.


  • Born March 24, 1874 – Harry Houdini
  • Born March 24, 1901 – Disney animator Ub Iwerks.

(13) TEN MYTHS. Carl Slaughter, recommending “10 Sci-Fi Movie Myths That Drive Scientists Crazy” from CBR, says “Instead of discussing science movie by movie, this debunk video is organized by topics.  I would add lasers, but more about laser myths another time.”

Outer space is vast and holds a multitude of mysteries that have yet to be solved. But for some reason, the mysteries we have solved are still be represented incorrectly by Hollywood today. We understand these movies are all fiction, but with our growing knowledge of the universe it’s hard to ignore the glaring mistakes made in movies that make them less realistic. Here are 10 space facts movies ALWAYS get wrong.

The video covers: gravity, no helmet, black holes, sound, explosions, speed, time, distance, dogfights, and Mars.

(14) THEY DELIVER. According to the maker of “Futurama:  Authentic Science, Sophisticated Comedy, Cultural Commentary,” their video takes “A look at the show that brought humor and emotion into the sterile world of science and arithmetic.”

(15) FINNISH WEIRD. Europa SF reports that the latest issue of Finnish Weird is available.

This is a fanzine from Finland that features stories on speculative fiction, this time from Magdalena Hai, J.S. Meresmaa and Viivi Hyvönen.

The text includes an English translation. The issue is available as a free download here.

(16) FIVE STAR TREK CAPTAINS AND ONE DOCTOR WHO CAPTAIN. Another Carl Slaughter pick: “There are so many delightful memories and insightful comments during this discussion with 5 Star Trek captains, I can’t even begin to list them.  Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer were all on stage in London in 2012.  To top it off, the discussion is hosted by yet another captain, Captain Jack Harkness of Doctor Who/Torchwood fame.”

(17) BOMB OR NO BOMB? Digital Antiquarian tries to answer the question “What’s the Matter with Covert Action?”, game designer Sid Meier’s biggest disappointment – mostly to Sid himself.

But there are also other, less scandalous cases of notable failure to which some of us continually return for reasons other than schadenfreude. One such case is that of Covert Action, Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley’s 1990 game of espionage. Covert Action, while not a great or even a terribly good game, wasn’t an awful game either. And, while it wasn’t a big hit, nor was it a major commercial disaster. By all rights it should have passed into history unremarked, like thousands of similarly middling titles before and after it. The fact that it has remained a staple of discussion among game designers for some twenty years now in the context of how not to make a game is due largely to Sid Meier himself, a very un-middling designer who has never quite been able to get Covert Action, one his few disappointing games, out of his craw. Indeed, he dwells on it to such an extent that the game and its real or perceived problems still tends to rear its head every time he delivers a lecture on the art of game design. The question of just what’s the matter with Covert Action — the question of why it’s not more fun — continues to be asked and answered over and over, in the form of Meier’s own design lectures, extrapolations on Meier’s thesis by others, and even the occasional contrarian apology telling us that, no, actually, nothing‘s wrong with Covert Action.

(18) UNEARTHLY VISIONS. In Jaroslav Kalfar’s A Spaceman of Bohemia, “A Czech Astronaut’s Earthly Troubles Come Along for the Ride”: a New York Times review by Hari Kunzru.

The reason the Czech Republic is launching a manned spacecraft is the arrival of a strange comet that has “swept our solar system with a sandstorm of intergalactic cosmic dust.” A cloud, named Chopra by its Indian discoverers, now floats between Earth and Venus, turning the night sky purple. Unmanned probes sent out to take samples have returned mysteriously empty. Likewise a German chimpanzee has returned to Earth with no information save the evidence that survival is possible. The Americans, the Russians and the Chinese show no sign of wishing to risk their citizens, so the Czechs have stepped up, with a rocket named for the Protestant reformer and national hero Jan Hus. At many points in the novel, Kalfar sketches key moments in Czech history, and the very premise of a Czech space mission is clearly a satire on the nationalist pretensions of a small post-Communist nation. Financed by local corporations whose branding is placed on his equipment, Jakub is the epitome of the scrappy underdog, grasping for fame by doing something too crazy or dangerous for the major players.

(19) NO GORILLA. The Verge interviews visual-effects supervisor Jeff White about “How Industrial Light & Magic built a better Kong for Skull Island”.

When you have a featured character like this, how do you determine what techniques you’ll use to realize him? Particularly when it comes to performance — do you go through different approaches as to whether to use pure motion-capture, or pure animation?

We definitely did. We were very fortunate to work with [actor] Terry Notary, who I’d worked with before on Warcraft. He did a lot of body performance work. We had a couple days in mo-cap where Jordan could iterate very quickly with Terry to work through different scenes, then also try different gaits. And try things like, “Give us 10 chest pounds.” So he’d try different cadences. Is it three, is it alternating hands, is it hands together? Just trying to give us a nice library of things to pull from.

Then I would say the same is true of the face. We had a day of capture with Toby Kebbell (A Monster Calls, Warcraft), where he works through some of the scenes — particularly the less action-heavy scenes, where you really have a lot of time to look at Kong’s eyes, and the movement of the face. There are some shots where that facial capture is used directly, but through the production process and the reworking of the scenes, a lot of what Kong needed to do changed so much that the capture was used a lot more as inspiration and moments to pull from. And then ultimately a lot of the animation was key-framed. I think that was actually important to do, especially when trying to sell that Kong was 100 feet tall. Because even weighted down and moving slower, anyone that’s six feet tall is going to be able to change direction and move much faster than Kong would ever be able to.

It’s not even just a matter of saying, “Let’s take that and slow it down by 25 percent.” Once the arm gets moving, it can actually be pretty fast. But then when he needs to change direction, you need to have that appropriate, physically accurate process of getting this massive arm to move a different direction. With the animation in particular, it was a real challenge between making sure Kong felt slow enough where he was huge, but at the same time not letting the shots drag on so long that it no longer became an action movie.

(20) AN ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION. Carl Slaughter explains:

“Chain of Command” is usually included in lists of Star Trek’s best episodes.  This is the one with “There are 4 lights !”  The antagonist in this two-parter is Captain Jellico, who clashes with the Enterprise’s crew and even deliberately endangers Picard’s life. This video essay depicts Jellico as the protagonist who made all the right decisions for all the right reasons.


[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, rcade, Michael J. Walsh, Iphinome, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]

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154 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/24/17 No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You To Scroll

  1. I don’t accept the ‘this is totally SFF and how dare you say it isn’t?’ approach. (Sometimes followed by ‘and what’s more you’re doing it wrong!’.)

    Heh. Yes, I’ve seen those together, too.

  2. Im quite a Mitchell-Fanboy, and I really digged the Bone Clocks… up to the “infodump chapter”. The pacing was totally off. It got better though.
    Slade house also had this info dump chapter AND was kind of repititve AND the end was a bit deus ex machina esk… But I dont think this is a problem because its “lterary SF” – its just a problem because, it kind of is…

    Touched by the hand of Gorn!

  3. Genres are not just defined by subject matter, but by communities and traditions and expectations. If it’s addressed to a mainstream audience, building on their expectations rather than those of an SFF audience, it can be reasonably seen as a mainstream work.

    Well put.

    I think genre expectations are why I sometimes decide against a book like Spaceman of Bohemia. I enjoy general fiction, but sometimes I want the experience of reading within the SF/F genre and being more connected to what a community like this one is reading.

  4. 18) I don’t mind “slipstream” stuff, or genre books marketed as mainstream, or mainstream books with significant genre elements… whatever it is, if it’s interesting and decently written, I’ll read it. (Of course, if it’s got an overt SF label, I will probably read it even if it isn’t interesting or decently written. Let’s not talk about how many posthumous “Doc” Smith collaborations I can see on the shelves in front of me.)

    I am inclined to look askance, though, at mainstream writers who use genre conventions to skate over plot holes (“a wizard did it”) or just to get out of doing a basically decent story. One example was discussed here last year, I think: Anna Smaill’s The Chimes. Beautifully evocative descriptive language creates a memorable image of a new and different world (good) in which a poor farm boy is chosen by fate to go up against the Evil Empire and destroy its insidious war machine by striking its one vulnerable point (not so good). Now, if it had had all that beautifully evocative language and a story which wasn’t hackneyed when George Lucas did it in 1977, I’d have been better pleased.

  5. The Chimes sucked, and was nonetheless bewilderingly well-reviewed, but both of those are issues I have also had with any number of genre SFF books. I think you’d have to work pretty hard to convince me that this is a problem of literary SFF in specific rather than, well, a whole lot of books in general.

  6. @Matthew Johnson: (TV pilot whitewashing)

    Ever notice how the articles justifying this sort of whitewashing tend to say “we reached out, but nobody of the correct ethnicity was interested”? That tells me the studio made a couple of token calls, probably to the actors who are on everyone else’s lists and therefore would tend to have full schedules.

    The studio has a couple of reasonable options at that point. One is to give up and use their much deeper bank of white actors. The better one is to spread the word further, to make a serious effort to cast the role correctly. Hold a casting call, contact some agencies, something – because if Hollywood ever wants to have an ethnically rich selection of actors, at some point they’ll need to do that work. Sooner is better.

  7. I didn’t think The Chimes sucked, exactly, but I found the musical overlay walked the razor’s edge between “clever” and “precious”. There came a point where I felt like the author had done a find-and-replace to change “quickly” to “presto” and the like.

    Otherwise? I kinda keep forgetting I read it. Not high praise.

  8. @RevBob

    The studio has a couple of reasonable options at that point. One is to give up and use their much deeper bank of white actors. The better one is to spread the word further, to make a serious effort to cast the role correctly.

    This is exactly what the producers of The Expanse did to find their Bobbie Draper. Nice article on it here: http://www.indiewire.com/2017/02/the-expanse-bobbie-draper-frankie-adams-season-2-casting-1201779336/

    But, of course, most studio heads are only looking at $$$, which is why we have stuff like Scarlett Johansson’s “Ghost in the Shell.”

  9. The one-star review on Amazon by William R. of Corroding Empire is pretty interesting. He’s a verified purchaser and sounds like someone legitimately bewildered by Beale’s decision to package an Asimov pastiche like it was a parody of a Scalzi book:

    What’s really confusing me is the cover. (Yeah yeah, don’t judge a book by it.) Maybe it’ll be changed at some point, because it’s clearly a rip-off not of Asimov, but specifically of a John Scalzi novel. The title, font, image, even the pen name is all a rip-off of The Collapsing Empire. I don’t get it. I can understand writing an Asimov… satire? Parody? But why make a copyright violation cover of a completely unrelated other novel and author that has no connection to the content? Except maybe to try to ride the coat-tails of the more successful one? Try to steal sales? Seems pretty juvenile and petty to me. Kind of like the schoolboy without social skills who picks on the girl he has a crush on because bad attention is better than no attention? Seems like a pretty beta-dog thing to do, yipping and nipping the heels of a bigger dog that couldn’t care less about your existence, desperately trying to be noticed. I don’t know. Just seems weird and creepy.

  10. @Arifel: LOL, thanks for the link to Tingle’s take. “wow guess bad dogs blues actually cant beat love still this is scientific proof.” – indeed! Good to know love is still real. 🙂

  11. @Kyra: You might or might not like “The Bone Clocks” (many didn’t think as highly of it as I did), but I will say that this is kind of like reading, say, “Heretics of Dune” and concluding that “Dune” probably isn’t all that good.

    Fair point. It’s a little difficult for me to respond to this since I haven’t read The Bone Clocks, so possibly I’m being unfair to Mitchell – who, to be clear, l think is an extremely talented writer and I have very much admired some of his other novels. However, if I had read Heretics of Dune and discovered that the framework of the Dune novels was An all-cheese diet gives you superpowers!, then it would be quite understandable that I passed on reading Dune – and the metaphysics (metamagics?) underlying Slade House and, I presume, The Bone Clocks, struck me as just that silly. (Rot13’d for spoilers: Vs gurl unqa’g orra pbzcyrgryl cnenylmrq, V guvax ng yrnfg unys bs gur ivpgvzf va Fynqr Ubhfr jbhyq unir orra ebyyvat gurve rlrf naq fnlvat “Jbhyq lbh whfg uheel hc naq xvyy zr nyernql fb V qba’g unir gb yvfgra gb nal zber bs guvf tvoorevfu?” )

    But then, I love many works of both “genre” SFF and “literary” SFF, and consider the theoretical distinctions between them mostly a matter of marketing, coupled with a few minor differences in storytelling conventions.

    I don’t think this is related to our disagreement, because it describes me to a T, as the saying goes – except that I also read a lot of “literary fiction” without the SFF. As I’ve said in other threads, I think my tastes run much more to the “literary” end of the spectrum than most of the folks around here. I thought the best SF novel of 2015, hands down, was Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, which was marketed as literary fiction and is barely even a novel by conventional standards.

  12. @Kyra: I think there is, sometimes, a tendency for “mainstream” writers dipping their toes into “genre” to think “oh, I can write any old rubbish, this is only SF” – though I agree, The Chimes might not be an example of that, specifically. (I don’t even think its good reviews are entirely inexplicable – it does have a powerful sense of atmosphere to it, and if that’s what you’re looking for in a book, you might be inclined to give it a pass on dodgy plotting. [I’m not, though.])

    Some reviewers – Hugo Rifkind springs to mind (only to be pushed back down with a shiver of revulsion) – affect not to be able to follow SF plots, because, after all, SF writers can make up anything they like, so conventional plot logic need not hold, and anything can happen for any reason or no reason at all. Those of us who, y’know, actually read SF know that this is rubbish – but a mainstream writer who decides to try SF and has swallowed this particular bilge… is liable to come up with something pretty darn unreadable. I’ll try and think of some specific examples, though they’re bound to be contentious.

  13. (7) Well, since I’ve been invited: hello! Thanks for the welcome (and the clarification).

    To be honest, the reason I hadn’t wandered in here prior is that this situation is making me a bit nervous. I found it awfully weird to encounter a group of editors and authors being framed as being bullied and intimidated, as opposed to the virtually-unknown-and-relatively-new-female-critic whose one stressfully viral article they attempted to counter with a textwall-o’-strawmen from behind the veil of anonymity.

    Which is not to say that I desire to be framed as being bullied and intimidated; indeed I do not. I knew there were risks going in, which are substantially less for me than for black people in the field; I wouldn’t hesitate to make the same decision again. Nonetheless, since it’s become apparent in the three years since I found myself in SF/F fandom that there are social forces at work that tend to obfuscate its power dynamics, and because bullying by definition involves the application of power, I thought I’d offer an alternative perspective here, especially given that this issue is not unlikely to come up again.

    (A perspective which I do not think should be shared any more widely than this comments section; the last thing this situation needs is white feelings being centered, IMO. Nonetheless, I’ve been having them, and they are stressed-out ones.)

    That said: once again, thank y’all for the welcome, and I look forward to participating in future discussion.

  14. @Bonnie: (casting call for The Expanse)

    I actually had that incident in mind as an example of Doing It Right. 🙂

  15. Hello, Cecily, even more welcomes to you! Beware, you might get too many book recommendations and drown. You have been warned.


  16. Cecily Kane: I’m glad you came in to make some observations and are taking a fresh look at SF/fandom.

  17. Combination genre/literary comment & request for book comments:

    My brother’s visiting and as usual picked up various books – some mainstream & literary, a non-fiction, and one of the Jonathan L. Howard “Johannes Cabal” books. He’s also reading a one of Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London books. He’s not what I’d call an SFF fan, but he reads broadly and some is SFF (frequently the more literary sort), while more of it is non-SFF mainstream or literary, with some non-fiction here and there. Then he’ll show up with a book that’s very squarely in-genre, just to keep me guessing. 😉

    Anyway, he rec’d the “Johannes Cabal” books*, but our tastes differ. (I read almost all SFF, and am not as into the literary side, though not because of marketing.) A couple of people rec’d this series here, but one person said something like it was the funniest book they’d read in decades. Uh-oh, is it comedic SFF (not my thing)? Or is it a regular book that just has some amusing moments and laugh-out-loud stuff, but isn’t just played for laughs?

    Am I even making sense, or is that an impossible question (“who knows what crosses the line for you, Kendall”)?

    * And the Peter Grant books; I already have the first in my audiobook queue.

    (Unrelated: I saw some un-recs for Howard’s Carter & Lovecraft along with the recs for the “Johannes Cabal” books.)

  18. @Cecily Kane

    I’m a 58-year-old gay, white, male, formerly a gay activist. I’ve worked with black civil rights groups in San Francisco (when I was with GLAAD) and at Microsoft (when I sat on the Diversity Council), and I consider myself a friend and supporter of the black community. I also have a deep background in statistics, which I used regularly in my day job at Amazon.com, where I was a Principal Research Scientist.

    Analyzing your data myself, I get slightly different results from the anonymous study. I find only Analog, Asimov’s, and Daily SF show statistically-significant under-representation of black writers. However, if you discovered that you overlooked even one single black writer at Analog or Asimov’s, then even they wouldn’t have a statistically-significant result.

    Across the sample as a whole, the effect is much stronger. I do find statistically-significant bias across the whole sample, which would require 27 more black authors to erase.

    For this estimate, I’m using the 4% number not the 13.2% one, and I’m using a total confidence interval of 95% for the separate magazines, which means 99.92% for each one. (0.95^(1/63)). For the confidence calculation, I’m using an inverse-beta distribution with a Jeffreys prior. It’s the kind of calculation we did at Amazon a lot for the same purpose; to decide what sort of binomial distributions a sample could plausibly have come from.

    A similar analysis on the FIYAH data shows no evidence of discrimination on stories that were actually submitted. That is, once a black author submitted a story, it was at least as likely as anyone else’s submission to get printed. This is as we’d expect, since race is largely invisible to editors of short fiction.

    What I conclude from the data overall is that between 1/3 and 2/3 of black writers (that is, of the 4%) are discouraged from submitting short stories to the SFF magazines one way or another. The N.K. Jemisin interview suggested that a lot of black writers submit to venues that target only black readers, although I’d be surprised if that were the whole story.

    The sort of remedies I’d see would be a) for magazines to do more outreach to the black community to let writers know that their manuscripts are welcome and b) think of something to do to encourage more black people to become writers in the first place.

    Anyway, that’s my analysis. I’d love to discuss it, if you’re interested.

  19. Interesting stuff about how beyond the simple presence of science fiction or fantasy elements, genre conventions might set most books aside in a way not reflected in ‘literary’ sf/f. I think fanfiction also does that, although sometimes on a by-fandom basis.

    @Bonnie McDaniel

    Now, there’s the kind of casting story I wish I saw more often!

    @Cecily Kane

    Hi! It can occasionally get a bit rough and tumble on more contentious issues but by and large we’re a reasonably friendly bunch. Especially if your definition of ‘friendly’ includes ‘willing to bury you in a pile of book recommendations so high you will never dig yourself out’.


    I hope you enjoy the Peter Grant books! They were one of my Best Series* nominees and I’m very fond of them. Never read the Johannes Cabal ones, though. I have a vague feeling the author guest posted on Dr Nerdlove for a comedy column recently if you want a mini taster. (Yup, I was right. Johannes Cabal column.)

    *I know I’ve been awfully grumpy about the creation of a Best Series Hugo, on grounds of practicality, but when it came down to it I thought I’d at least give it a go before I make up my mind.

  20. Greg Said: “For this estimate, I’m using the 4% number not the 13.2% one, and I’m using a total confidence interval of 95% for the separate magazines, which means 99.92% for each one. (0.95^(1/63)). For the confidence calculation, I’m using an inverse-beta distribution with a Jeffreys prior. It’s the kind of calculation we did at Amazon a lot for the same purpose; to decide what sort of binomial distributions a sample could plausibly have come from.”

    I concur with using 4% as the benchmark.

    I have a data question about this. I need to explain this in two parts.
    1] If someone is published previously and the issue sells reasonably well, would not the editors have a predisposed preference for accepting previously published authors?
    2] And if 1 is true, then would it be better to compare the sample of first time published authors as a distinct group?

    This may have already been looked at, but it seems both testable with the data and a reasonable decision as an editor.

  21. @airboy
    To paraphrase someone, you do analysis with the data you’ve got–not the data you’d like to have. 🙂

    But you’re right; a possible interpretation of the data is that black authors were even more scarce twenty or thirty years ago (there should be data on that) and as a result comprise relatively few of the established authors who account for 50% of all sales. Since we’re looking for a number between 1/3 and 2/3, that would land right in the middle.

    I’ll just point out that if you really do think that’s the cause, it would actually argue in favor of a limited form of affirmative action. That is, magazines should deliberately try to identify black manuscripts and give them deluxe attention–including feedback–with an eye towards developing more black writers. Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.

  22. Steve Wright on March 25, 2017 at 4:48 pm said:

    Some reviewers – Hugo Rifkind springs to mind (only to be pushed back down with a shiver of revulsion) – affect not to be able to follow SF plots, because, after all, SF writers can make up anything they like, so conventional plot logic need not hold, and anything can happen for any reason or no reason at all. Those of us who, y’know, actually read SF know that this is rubbish – but a mainstream writer who decides to try SF and has swallowed this particular bilge… is liable to come up with something pretty darn unreadable. I’ll try and think of some specific examples, though they’re bound to be contentious.

    My personal example of this is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Other members of my book group loved it, but I hated it. I kept waiting for the plot to start, and at page 155 I figured out that it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t care about the characters, and places where I should have felt visceral emotion left me blah and bored.

    Apparently, Cormac McCarthy is an acquired taste that I have no interest in acquiring.

  23. Beth in MA

    Apparently, Cormac McCarthy is an acquired taste that I have no interest in acquiring.

    I’m with you. I tried but I don’t see the appeal

  24. @Meredith: Thanks. I’ve seen humorous fake interviews for characters from non-humorous SFF that didn’t represent the books at all – just some light-hearted fun (which I appreciated!). If the books are like that column, though, they’re probably not for me.

    BTW I’ve been grumpy about the Best Series Hugo concept, too. I nominated several series that I feel are Hugo-worthy, anyway; if it’s a category (even a one-off), I’ll participate even if don’t like the concept! Heck, if I’d read any related works, I’d probably have nominted in Best Related Work, despite not liking that category. 🙂

  25. @Greg Hullender: working it out himself sounds typical; I’ve seen a Campbell quote about having to convince RAH that he (a) wanted something and (b) could spend less effort writing a story to pay for it than doing it himself.

    @Jayn: how much does holding one’s breath do vs pre-loading? The comments all point to unprepared decompression….

    @Darren Garrison: thanks for the link. So an unprepared person becomes non-functional in 20 seconds, but fatal physical damage takes longer? That doesn’t sound like Clarke country, but is still a few times what has been suggested here. It also sounds like Clarke missed something a diver should have thought of, that blood doesn’t literally boil but does fizz fatally as gas comes out of solution. That seems to happen faster than I intuit, given that the specs I’ve seen on deep dives don’t require a stop every 30 feet (1 atmosphere) to avoid the bends — but this was never an area I studied seriously and I’m 38 years past academic-level study of any hard science.

  26. @Beth in MA: My personal example of this is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
    I thought the early part was extremely well-written, which persuaded me to read it, but overall I found it ludicrously melodramatic and not at all well thought out; I really don’t understand why it received so much aclaim.

  27. I’ve become convinced that a lot of the acclaim the so-called “literary SF” books get is coming from people who don’t ordinarily read SFF, and that what looks “hackneyed, cliched, underdeveloped, and has been done better 10 times before” to those of us who do read a lot of SFF looks “fresh, innovative, and daring” to those who don’t.

  28. @JJ – I tend to agree. As far as The Road goes, I enjoyed it, but I did not think it was the best example of that story that I’ve read. I do think McCarthy’s prose is always beautiful, but it wasn’t even close to the best I’ve read of that, either. My favorite scene is, I think, a very early scene (maybe the opening), when the kid is trying a Coke for the first time. It goes downhill from there.

  29. @Greg – The individual issue sales data is probably not available. However, if someone has been published before in that magazine (or similar) or has had a book published should be available. I think part of the analysis is possible.

  30. @Meredith, Greg, Mike, & Hampus: thank youuu!

    (7) APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE FOR THE TL;DR. I spent some time on individual issues here and only touched on structural ones at the end; systems self-reinforce, and fixing those issues may actually be more important (and in some cases more difficult problems to solve). But I wore myself out, and said topic may be better broached in the 2016 follow-up to the FR, which should include and examine more data points.

    @Greg: sure thing! One of the authors of the report, Weston Allen, has a much stronger background in statistics than I do (my field is adjacent, but any quantitative expertise I bring to this is somewhat different); he’s unlikely to join this discussion as he isn’t a part of SF/F fandom, but rather worked on this project because we’re buddies.

    I do remember that applying only the internal data (the second N of 1.9%), he came up with very similar numbers as you, i.e. the field-wide number of stories by black authors would have to almost double to erase statistically significant bias, though I don’t recall the exact details. Again, that’s just using the internal N. The 4% figure has problems as an N — indeed, all the seemingly-possible N’s are flawed — and is probably a lowball, but these findings do strengthen the FR’s central premise.

    Since, as the authors point out, Fiyah’s study sample (like all that are opt-in) contains selection bias, and because submission and rejection (as well as a host of other factors) are recursive in a way that’s difficult to mathematically pinpoint, I’m not sure if we can make many concrete conclusions from it regarding bias. One finding that I think we can be relatively confident about was the lack of correlation between author name and story acceptance, which I am glad to at least know but didn’t find surprising — not because race is largely invisible to (white) short fiction editors, exactly; sort of? But I think it’s more complicated than that.

    Phenderson Clark’s response to the FR went into great depth about a multitude of factors going on here; especially pertinent to this discussion are his points (2), (6), (7), and (10). It should be read in its entirely, but I’ll just quote a bit from it here:

    Listen, I literally (LI-TRULL-LY) know of instances where stories written by black SFF authors were lifted out of the doldrums of the slush only by the keen eyes of black readers who had to painstakingly explain cultural and social identifiers that non-black readers and editors just didn’t get…

    If I say ‘Anfernee’ or ‘scrawberries’ in my story, I need a slush reader who gets it. If I say somebody look ‘obzokee’ and call somebody ‘schupidee,’ need them to get that too. If I submit a story about a non-binary identifying character named Wisdom Allah whose secret powers emerge from reciting alchemical Supreme Mathematics, imma need a slush reader who got the slightest idea what I’m talmbout–and why that character itself is friggin profound. Might some of that still baffle a black slush reader? Maybe. I just ran down about three different Black Atlantic cultures. But they might just have enough insight to dig a bit deeper to give the story a chance…

    Show of hands from my fellow white people who know even half of those references without looking them up? I only know “scrawberries,” and it’s not because I’m particularly enlightened but rather because that’s my part of the Atlantic.

    From Mikki Kendall’s FR essay:

    So what’s happening?

    Well, I have a few working theories. One is that many Black writers are telling stories that are unfamiliar to white editors. The context clues of Black culture may slip right past an editor who has no connection to the community the writer hails from, or to the cultures that the writer chooses to include. Most American editors are used to a steady diet of the monolithic cultural myth of Black America. So, they gravitate to stories that fit their preconceived ideas. Meanwhile Black American cultures (note the plural) have each developed their own traditions, before, during, and after the Great Migration.

    All I have to add here — speaking of fiction recommendations! — is an example of a short that doesn’t seem to have any cultural signifiers period (indeed, the ambiguity of its “who” and “when” is part of its workings), and thus worries me as a potentially even more subtle aspect of this dynamic. Through a series of perspective reversals and cathartic moments, it shows how colonialist SF and apocalyptic fiction are often two perspectives of the same story; and further, it puts the reader in a position of reckoning with the fact that they are (likely) a settler colonist. It’s a perspective that the narrative treats with empathy, but it’s unflinching. This is a story that I could see whiteness tending toward political discomfort with or simply not understanding.

    My other favorite story of 2015, which is about a Haitian-American girl with a steamclock heart and a badass sword named Tonton Macoute, and features prosodic devices I just don’t see very often in SF/F, often using Haitian Creole to do so? A more direct potential example of what Phenderson and Mikki referred to.

    So on that note: explicitly welcoming black authors and affirmative action are musts, yes; definitely immediately pressing as short-term actions. Intermediate term, speaking solely for myself here? If I were an editor in this field, I’d be working overtime to familiarize myself with different black literatures and cultures so as to, y’know… not be bad at my job? (And if for one reason or another I was unable to do that work, I’d pass the torch.)

    But long-term the critical objective is for these magazines to hire more black editors (as Phenderson, Troy Wiggins, and K. Tempest Bradford have all noted). Fiyah’s study’s “Going Forward” section includes this prescription amongst several others.

    Not sure if I covered everything you brought up, Greg, but I just ran out of steam as it’s way past my bedtime and zzzzz.

  31. Nancy Sauer on March 24, 2017 at 9:24 pm said:
    20) Not going to lie, when Jellicoe told Troy to put on a uniform I cheered. That alone is enough to put me on his side.

    Marina Sirtis was tired of wearing the low cut (and often revealing in other ways) outfits and asked if she could switch to the uniform, Ron Moore happily agreed, as did the show’s executives.

  32. @Cecily Kane

    (7) Addendum: somehow I spaced on linking Mikki Kendall’s FR essay referenced above.

    That’s an interesting hypothesis, if I’m reading it correctly. She seems to be arguing that something in the text of a story by a black author signals that the author is black–more than merely having a protagonist who is black. Obviously a great deal of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a story would be a problem, but that’s true of any attempt to represent dialect in a story. Stories in which the narration itself is in AAVE would, obviously, have to be published in dedicated venues. I’m skeptical that this amounts to more than a small fraction of the stories that people write, though. If nothing else, it can only apply to stories set in the near future, and those are just a small fraction of SFF.

    As I do reviews at Rocket Stack Rank, I’ve been making notes (in the database, not the reviews themselves) about the age, race, orientation, gender, aspect, etc. of the protagonists, with an eye toward looking to see how well different groups are represented, but I don’t have enough data yet for a meaningful analysis. Maybe in a year or so.

  33. I can’t speak for AAVE, but YA here in the UK has a pretty strong line in both UK-based ethnic dialects and some Commonwealth-past-and-present-based dialects, and they’re not really ‘specialist’ publications. It isn’t particularly difficult to follow, although admittedly I grew up somewhat immersed in the UK ones due to location, despite my vampire-pale skin.

    I don’t think it’s obvious that an AAVE narration story would have to be published in dedicated venues. Sf/f uses invented dialect from time to time, and if we can manage to follow that, I expect we could puzzle out a well-written AAVE story.

    (My qualifications: Former YA and children’s lit quiz writer, who was sadly banned from writing the questions and answers in the same dialect. Sulk. I still maintain it would have been book- and reader-appropriate. Stupid house style.)

    @Cecily Kane, I’m sure Mike will dig your post out of the moderation queue once he sees it – multiple links always end up there for awhile, it’s a spam protection measure. It came through on the email notification system, though.

  34. Whoops, I missed –


    I don’t know if the fake-column is exactly like the books, but it didn’t make me want to trot over to Amazon and see if they were on sale. Still, maybe the books are better?

    I don’t nominate (or vote) in Best Editor Long on the basis that I don’t think the category should exist, but I’m willing to change my mind about Best Series if it seems manageable this time around. I have my doubts, but if I’m proved wrong, hey, a new shiny category. I don’t nominate in Fancast because, um, I don’t listen to podcasts. I try and vote in it once there are samples, but nominating is neeever going to happen.

    I like Best Related Work, though – I used to spend a lot of time on Metafandom back in its heyday and I enjoy commentary about fandom and fannish works a great deal. I just wish it was easier to find book recommendations for it, and that the ones I do see were less likely to come from academic press (£30 for an ebook! *shudder*). I mostly end up nominating articles. I’m curious: Why don’t you like it?

  35. … what looks “hackneyed, cliched, underdeveloped, and has been done better 10 times before” to those of us who do read a lot of SFF looks “fresh, innovative, and daring” to those who don’t.

    While not exactly disagreeing, I think there’s a danger to that perception, too, though … when Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life came out, I knew people who were seriously pissed off that the reviews lauding it were calling it innovative and failed to give credit to earlier works with a similar concept, such as Ken Grimwood’s Replay, and they got angry at the book as a result, not just the reviews. Which was a pity, because Life After Life is a great book and I don’t recall Atkinson ever claiming she was the most innovative author ever to innovate an innovation by writing it. I think it resulted in an unfair view of the book which would not have happened if the book had been by a “genre” author … in fact, there was not a similar backlash when the more genre-established author Claire North later wrote a book along similar conceptual lines.

    I bounced off Cormac McCarthy, too, when I tried him, but I think David Foster Wallace’s SFF is unbelievably good (although there are many, including lit fic fans, who disagree with me on that.) I love Atkinson, think Mitchell is hit or miss but when he’s on he’s ON, same goes for Atwood although she has more hits and fewer misses, didn’t like The Chimes or The Word Exchange … basically I think it depends more on the author and the book than anything else. If “literary” authors are sometimes lauded for being original when they’re not, that may be true, but, well, that’s hardly their fault. They seem no more likely to be hackneyed and trite than “genre” authors do, as far as I can tell. Blame the critics!

  36. @Kyra: I did like the Word Exchange, but I thought it was flawed by Graedon’s failure to work out what the mechanics of what was going on really were.

    On the other hand, i thought Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” was excellent.

  37. @Cecily Kane
    Thanks for the reply. My main interest is the numbers, since that’s the place I can make the biggest contribution.

    In the course of analyzing the Fiyah report vs. the Fireside one, I just discovered a possible problem with the Fireside data. For my own purposes, I limited both the them to the 11 magazines that I regularly read and review for Rocket Stack Rank. (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Apex, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS), Clarkesworld, Interzone, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), Tor.com, and Uncanny.) When I did that, I was surprised that Fiyah found twice as many black stories as Fireside did. Now I realize they’re not for the exact same time period, but that’s too large a difference to explain by chance–especially when we expect Fiyah’s self-reported data to be skimpy.

    Looking a little closer, Fireside only accounts for 588 stories from those eleven magazines, but it should be closer to 800. Or did you not cover every issue of every magazine, and I just missed that somewhere?

    The trouble with the hypothesis that black-themed stories would be a hard sell is that, in reality, black-themed stories are doing very well indeed. Looking at my own reviews on RSR, out of 70 stories I’ve given 5 stars, 10 of them were black-themed. Also, the Hugo Awards for Best Novel and Best Novella went to works by black authors last year.

    The more I look at these numbers, the more I think that someone needs to fund an outreach effort to encourage black authors to give the mainstream magazines a chance. It’s something that at least ought to be tried. Even if it only fixed half the problem, it would be the cheapest, easiest fix imaginable.

  38. As for Phenderson Clark, he writes great stuff. I highly recommend his heartwarming short story. The Things My Mother Left Me.

    However, when he says:

    If I say ‘Anfernee’ or ‘scrawberries’ in my story, I need a slush reader who gets it. If I say somebody look ‘obzokee’ and call somebody ‘schupidee,’ need them to get that too. If I submit a story about a non-binary identifying character named Wisdom Allah whose secret powers emerge from reciting alchemical Supreme Mathematics, imma need a slush reader who got the slightest idea what I’m talmbout–and why that character itself is friggin profound. Might some of that still baffle a black slush reader? Maybe. I just ran down about three different Black Atlantic cultures. But they might just have enough insight to dig a bit deeper to give the story a chance…

    I think he’s way off base. A little of that is okay to give a story flavor, but a whole lot of unfamiliar vocabulary (whether it’s real or made up) is going to put readers off.

    I’m surprised he thinks a black slushpile reader would be more forgiving–at least in this respect. My experience has been that most people hold their own minority group to a higher standard than anyone else does. It’s the black slushpile reader who (I suspect) is likely to say “white folks won’t get this” and discard it.

  39. @Camestros: Hello!

    (Thank you for your comments on the threads from this week clarifying what the FR actually said!)

    @Greg: Fiyah’s study is on story sales, not story publications. (I saw that too! And looked and found the footnote.) That’s the probable reason for the discrepancy. Magazines have a turnaround time from sale to publication of anything from a couple of months to over a year, so many of the sales in Fiyah’s sample were likely published in 2016, 2017, or have yet to be published.

    As for the totals, we didn’t count reprints. Could that be the reason for the discrepancy? About half of Lightspeed’s volume are reprints, about 20-25% of Clarkesworld’s & Apex’s, etc.

    Regarding Phenderson’s quote, I don’t think he was referring to a story having all of those references at the same time, but rather was giving a list of potential examples.

    Thanks for the story rec!

  40. @Meredith: Best Related Work is varies year-to-year, but I’ve seen quite a mixture of non-fiction books, art books, music, etc. It’s like a dumping grounds for almost anything that doesn’t fit in other categories. Not everything needs to be Hugo eligible somewhere (this is also why I don’t want a category for every concept under the planet – not every concept needs a Hugo category).

    IMHO it’s absurd to try to compare an apple to a spiker monkey to a wrench, so I dislike this category a lot. (I frequently say “hate,” but that’s hyperbole; it’s just a poorly-designed category – I don’t hate it, but I do dislike it a ton.) How is a raven like a writing desk? It isn’t, so why do we put them into the same category?

    Lately, it seems more about non-art, non-fiction books. If it were more tightly focused like that, I’d probably be okay with it. But then, nowadays, people nominate single articles more and more; ugh, really? Compare one article to a book of articles? That leads me more in the direction of dislike.

    So, I feel like BRW is too broad and too poorly defined. I’m sure many feel it’s perfect as is and hate some other category I like; fair enough. 😉

  41. I think he’s way off base. A little of that is okay to give a story flavor, but a whole lot of unfamiliar vocabulary (whether it’s real or made up) is going to put readers off.

    Gentle nudge toward remembering that “readers” is not synonymous with “white readers,” much less “white readers in the U.S. and western Europe.”

    I expect that while “too much unfamiliar vocabulary at once” can indeed be a bad thing, different editors’ and readers’ ideas of how much is “too much” and what is “unfamiliar” will depend a lot on their culture and background, and their readiness (or not) to assume that what’s unfamiliar to them must be unfamiliar to everyone.

  42. @Greg, addendum: regarding an outreach effort, I agree, but as for who does it? I think it has to be the magazines themselves; otherwise, how would it be trustworthy?

    Bringing me back to the numbers. The most immediately striking quantitative information from Fiyah’s study for me was the tremendous rate by which submissions per magazine varied, even by magazines with similar volumes. (For instance: Clarkesworld and BCS have approximately equal volumes, but Clarkesworld received six and a half times the number of submissions that BCS did per Fiyah’s study.) Seems like that ought to be looked at in greater depth.

    I doubt a whole lot can be done with that information statistically speaking, either predictively (samples are too small) or in a causative sense (can see a lot of confounding variables being missed, both directly related — e.g. whichever magazines/editors have told someone “we already have a black author,” which is information likely only available in backchannels, and not directly related — some magazines are just a huge pain in the ass to submit to in general, e.g. Terraform). At least, not conclusively. But perhaps general correlations can be made, IDK?

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