Pixel Scroll 4/26/24 A Pixel Lives Forever, But Not So Files And Scrolls

(1) NOBODY’S HOME. [Item by Steven French.] Extract from a new book in that old chestnut, where is everybody? Smithsonian Magazine asks “Where Is Everybody in Our Universe?”

…There is no doubt that the simplest answer to the questions “Why the Great Silence? Why don’t we hear any SETI signals?” is that we don’t hear signals because no one is sending them. There are a number of other explanations that have been put forward, and we can look at them briefly before taking William of Ockham seriously. Basically, the explanations can be divided into three categories:

1. They really are out there, but they’re not interested in us.

2. They really are out there, but they’re protecting us.

3. They really are out there, and we’re going to get it unless we mend our ways.

An example of the first category would be a race of extraterrestrials living in a Dyson sphere, happy as clams with their star’s energy and supremely uninterested in anyone else. Another possibility would be extraterrestrials on a rogue planet who can’t imagine a planet near a star being inhabitable. An example of the second item in the list is seen in the Star Trek series, where spacefarers obey the Prime Directive, which forbids them from interfering with the development of other life forms. The last category is portrayed in the classic 1950s film The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which an extraterrestrial visitor warns that Earth will be destroyed unless we control our use of atomic weapons:

Klaatu barrada nikto!” …

[Excerpt condensed for print from Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life beyond Our Solar System © 2017 by Michaels Summers and James Trefil]

The authors’ conclusion makes for grim reading: there is no one out there and that’s because evolution produces warlike, aggressive species that use their newly developed scientific expertise to wipe themselves out, a fate that awaits us too.

(2) SIMULTANEOUS TIMES. Space Cowboy Books has posted episode 74 of the Simultaneous Times podcast with Eric Fomley & Tonya R. Moore. Stories featured in this episode:

  • “Control” by Eric Fomley; with music by Phog Masheeen
  • “Halfway House” by Tonya R. Moore; with music by Patrick Urn
    Theme music by Dain Luscombe

(3) SHORT OF PERFECTION. [Item by Steven French.] When you’re looking for a disappointing utopia … “The Illustrated Map of America’s Worst Utopias” at Atlas Obscura.

THERE ARE MANY WHO WANT to believe that a utopia—a perfect society, an ideal world—can exist. Even in America.

Yet, as quickly as leaders eagerly build utopias, they often crumble in a glorious heaping mess. Some fall to sex scandals, others toil in hunger, while many are struck with bad luck. From nudist colonies to bioterrorist cults, we map and explore six of the most disappointing and unfortunate utopias in the United States.

(4) CORA BUHLERT VISITS 1969. Here are links to Cora Buhlert’s recent contributions to Galactic Journey, the blog that keeps track of the latest in science fiction – 55 years ago.

She reviewed The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Cora says, “I lobbied for the Slaughterhouse Five review, considering I actually knew people who survived the bombing of Dresden”: “[March 14, 1969 ] (March 1969 Galactoscope)”.

Cora also wrote an article about the non-Conan Robert E. Howard works that came back into print in the late 1960s in the wake of the huge success of the Conan reprints: “[March 28, 1969] Life Beyond Conan: The Other Heroes of Robert E. Howard”.

(5) GEORGE LUCAS, REAL ESTATE TYCOON. “Chicago’s Most Expensive Condo Being Constructed By Director George Lucas” at Chicago YIMBY.

“Star Wars” creator George Lucas, have expanded his real estate portfolio with the purchase of a $11.2 million 66th-floor penthouse in Streeterville’s 800 N Michagan Avenue building from Citadel founder Ken Griffin. They plan to merge this penthouse with their existing 65th-floor condo, bought in 2015 for $18.75 million, to create a 16,000-square-foot duplex penthouse. The total cost for this project is estimated at $33.5 million, setting a new record for Chicago’s most expensive condo. Architect Scott Fortman of Gibbons, Fortman & Associates is overseeing the design, which includes adding two new interior staircases and upgrading electrical and mechanical systems as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

(6) JUBILEE CHO (1998-2024). SFWA today posted “In Memoriam – Jubilee Cho”, honoring the author of the upcoming middle grade fantasy novel Wishing Well, Wishing Well who died on March 6 at the age of 25.

Cho grew up near Disneyland, enamored with stories of fantastical princesses. Yearning to see herself included in such tales, she wrote her own to help give new generations of children something she’d needed to create for herself. Cho planned a long writing career and wanted to use her platform to foster awareness about disability and mental health, and to share the beauty of trans joy with the world.

Author Kwame Mbalia who had reached out as a mentor says, “In the briefest of moments that I was able to interact with Jubilee, her desire to not only write, but to write for young readers about drawing upon their own identity and sharing that with others, was an inspiration. She is an inspiration, and her light is gone too soon, though its glow will live on in the hearts of those who knew her.”

Author E.D.E. Bell said, “Jubilee was a princess who wanted everyone to know that they too can be included in stories, in joy, in femininity, in Pride, in gathering, in any magic they desired. I hope children will find their own spirit in her lovely, hopeful story, and let it lift them to soar.”


[Written by Paul Weimer.]

Born April 26, 1945 M. John Harrison, 79.

Paul Weimer wrote this Birthday.

M John Harrison taught me about the joy of inconsistent and contradictory worldbuilding.

For most writers of fantasy, for most works of fantasy, I am always looking for the consistency and the power of the worldbuilding. Inconsistent, and worse, lazy and weak worldbuilding, can catapult me right out of a story or a novel, permanently. This has happened for me as a reader just this month with a brand-new novel. 

M. John Harrison

M John Harrison is the exception to that for me. My reading of his work is almost exclusively Viriconium. But it is precisely in Viriconium, Harrison’s carved out territory in the Dying Earth subgenre, that I learned that worldbuilding is not the be all and end all of fantasy writing. The contradictions, the inconsistencies, the lack of cohesion is part of the point of the dying world of Viriconium. Not being able to rely on previous stories and novels in the sequence to understand what is happening in a particular work is something that Harrison relies on, and it is something that I learned to accept, and even expect in the Viriconium stories. 

Really, Viriconium’s world building is beside the point, and that is why Harrison writes it in a way that you can’t rely on it. Instead, to use modern parlance, Viriconium is much more all about the “vibes”, and what vibes!  Vance and Wolfe may have perfected Dying Earth as a subgenre, but Harrison gives it a feel that few authors have managed to hit ever since. There are few authors I’ve read that have managed to embody the vibe of the subgenre they are writing in as well as M John Harrison has. And with such language and writing. On a sentence by sentence level, Harrison is one of the most talented writers I’ve ever read, of any genre. 

A singular talent.


  • Free Range has a guest who’s forgotten it’s a talk show.
  • Close To Home has an ethical use of a time machine.
  • Off the Mark shows that patience is not unlimited.
  • Bizarro launches an alternate astronaut/
  • Macanudo might be a Zelazny reference. Or if not, then certainly Bradbury.
  • Rhymes with Orange discovers something about homemade phones.

(9) WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MY NEIGHBOR? Eh, maybe not: “How Scientists Are Preparing for Apophis’s Unnervingly Close Brush With Earth” at Gizmodo.

In about five years’ time, a potentially hazardous asteroid will swing by Earth at an eerily close distance of less than 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers). During this rare encounter, Apophis will be ten times closer to Earth than the Moon and scientists want to take full advantage of its visit….

…Private space companies like Blue Origin and startup Exploration Labs, or ExLabs, have come up with proposals for missions to rendezvous with Apophis before its anticipated flyby, SpaceNews reported. During a recent workshop at a European Space Agency center in The Netherlands, the companies pitched their mission concepts in an effort to learn more about the asteroid and other space rocks that could pose a potential risk to Earth….

…NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft, formerly known as OSIRIS-REx, is already on its way to study Apophis and observe changes the asteroid may endure from its close encounter with Earth. After dropping off samples from the Bennu asteroid in the Utah desert, the spacecraft was repurposed for a new errand, having to carry out close passes to the Sun, as well as three Earth gravity assists, to reach Apophis in five years….

(10) NASA BRINGS HOME THE HARDWARE. “NASA Wins 6 Webby Awards, 8 Webby People’s Voice Awards”.

NASA was recognized [April 25] by the 28th Annual Webby Awards with six Webby Awards and eight Webby People’s Voice Awards, the latter of which are awarded by the voting public. The Webbys honors excellence in nine major media types: websites and mobile sites, video, advertising, media and public relations, apps and software, social media, podcasts, games, the metaverse, and virtual and artificial intelligence (AI).

Full List of NASA’s 28th Annual Webby Award Wins

Webby Winner, People’s Voice Winner
Websites and Mobile Sites-General Desktop & Mobile Sites | Government & Associations
This is the fifth Webby Award and the 12th People’s Voice Award for the agency’s website

NASA’s Curious Universe: Suiting Up for Space
Webby Winner, People’s Voice Winner
Best Podcasts-Individual Episodes | Science & Education

NASA’s Immersive Earth
Webby Winner, People’s Voice Winner
Artificial Intelligence (AI), Metaverse & Virtual-General Virtual Experiences | Science & Education

NASA: Message in a Bottle
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Webby Winner, People’s Voice Winner
Advertising, Media & PR-PR Campaigns | Best Community Engagement

OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return (Official 4K NASA Live Stream)
People’s Voice Winner
Video-General Video | Events & Live Streams

NASA’s First Asteroid Sample Return Mission
Webby Winner, People’s Voice Winner
Social-Social Campaigns | Education & Science

NASA+ Streaming Service
Webby Winner
Websites and Mobile Sites-General Desktop & Mobile Sites | Television, Film & Streaming

Annular Solar Eclipse
People’s Voice Winner
Social-Social Campaigns | Events & Live Streams

Hubble’s Inside the Image
NASA, Origin Films
People’s Voice Winner
Video-Video Series & Channels | Science & Education

(11) CLIPPING SERVICE. Here’s a Heinlein photo from the San Pedro CA News Pilot, dated August 14, 1948.

(12) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Ryan George shares footage of “The Focus Group That Gave Us The Internet”.

[Thanks to Kathy Sullivan, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Paul Weimer, Bill, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, and Teddy Harvia for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]

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21 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/26/24 A Pixel Lives Forever, But Not So Files And Scrolls

  1. Thanks for the Title Credit!

    (11) We never did get that novel (or am I forgetting something obvious).

  2. Still here. Cider and I have had a rough week, as she’s been ill, and we’ve made several visits to her veterinarian. She’s much improved, and it may be all over but paying the vet bills.

    (9) Apophis is a very bad neighbor. Brave and noble of OSIRIS-APEX to take on this new mission.

  3. (1) I’ve given the answer a thousand times, and I’ve yet to see anyone pay attention. It’s really, really simple: if their tech isn’t within 150 years, plus or minus, of ours, either we’re never going to hear them, or they’re never going to hear us. And they haven’t “found us”, because we’ve only been making noise for about 125 years. Now, the odds on them being that near our tech level, within that distance? Really? Trust me, if the comet hadn’t hit, the evolved dinosaurs wouldn’t hear us.
    (2) Um, isn’t it “Space Cowboy Books“, not “Boys”?
    (3) And then there are the utopias that never had a chance, because their neighbors’ religious or economic preferences led the neighbors to destroy them.
    (9) As I’ve been proposing since I pushed it in the early nineties on usenet, I say we meet it, and slow it down, and push it into geosync orbit. THEN we’d have a real space station to work from.

  4. (3) My parents had a book on American utopian communities. They all failed, in one or another way. (I can’t remember the name of the book, so I can’t point anyone at it. It was from the 60s, IIRC.)

  5. 7) Harrison is a really powerful writer. I think he’s going to be an E. R. Eddison, a Greer Gilman, or a Clark Ashton Smith—an unfortunately obscure author who will be rediscovered with joy in the future.

  6. @mark: And they haven’t “found us”, because we’ve only been making noise for about 125 years.
    We haven’t even done that: there have only been a handful of man-made signals powerful enough to be detected** at the distance of even the nearest stars, mostly military radar systems used in the 60s through the 80s.
    **Assuming technology comparable to ours.

    (7) Harrison’s Kefahuchi Tract trilogy (Light, Nova Swing, and Empty Space) is also singular and amazing.

    Not to be that guy, but both ISDB and Wikipedia list Harrison’s birthday as July 26, not April 26.

  7. @mark: I agree completely. The universe is not just bigger than we can easily imagine, it’s older than we can easily imagine, and our little over a century of using radio doesn’t even count as an eye blink. The dinosaurs lasted far longer than we seem likely to, and they never developed radio at all. The Fermi so-called paradox consists of making a bunch of assumptions, without evidence and with no way of estimating their probability, asserting that they must all be true, and then wondering why the predicted result isn’t evident.

    Also, however our hypothetical aliens explore the universe, it won’t be using Bussard ramjets.

  8. 9) “Rendezvous with Apophis”… yes, that sounds like a good idea, and absolutely not like the title of a Lovecraftian SF/horror novel that ends with everyone on Earth being eaten by demons. Not in the least.

  9. There is no doubt that the simplest answer to the questions “Why the Great Silence? Why don’t we hear any SETI signals?” is that we don’t hear signals because no one is sending them.

    … No.

    Space is really, really big.

  10. (11) It’s long been known that RAH was researching this and that no book resulted from him, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an explanation of why. The muses didn’t cooperate, or Heinlein got distracted in some other direction? Plenty of other writers wrote on the theme before and after, however.

  11. (3) Ellen Klages wrote Harbin Hot Springs: Healing Waters, Sacred Land, a history of a community centered around a Northern California hot springs. It was her first published book, and it is a gem. Klages’ writing sparkles, and the facts she dug up are amazing. Harbin Hot Springs has been the site of more than one utopian community, in-between more ordinary uses such as hotels, and a boxing camp. More recently, the Harbin Hot Springs was devastated by wildfire, but the springs are still flowing, the community is still there, and they are rebuilding.

    SF fan Robert Lichtman, editor of Trap Door, wrote about living on The Farm, a counter-culture utopian community that is still going.

    Ray Nelson told me about the bohemian artists colony in Carmel, California. It lasted for only a decade, but the amount of drama it produced was epic.

  12. “There is no doubt that the simplest answer to the questions “Why the Great Silence? Why don’t we hear any SETI signals?” is that we don’t hear signals because no one is sending them.”

    I agree, and here’s why:

    The history of life on Earth is so full of random chance: a planetoid of just the right size hits Young Earth at just the right trajectory to create our moon and our tectonic plate structure; five mass extinctions, some resulting in an entirely different biosphere (oxygenation); countless environmental upheavals (including a billion-year long deep freeze); not to mention that Cretaceous-ending asteroid….

    ..and then, when you do finally get a sapient species capable of creating the technology to get into space… that species turns out to be a murderous, careless, greedy collection of pure appetite that seems inevitably bent on destroying itself and every other lifeform on the planet.

    I used to take it for granted there was other sapient life in the universe. I no longer do.

  13. JimJanney: thanks for that link. Oh, gee, what were we just reading recently, about whether sf influences tech… “This detailed analysis was led by Peter Schattschneider, a physicist and materials science specialist with the University of Vienna and a science fiction author.”
    CaseyL: about 100,000,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way alone… do you want to talk about odds? I’m sure they’re there. They will not, however, look like humans in rubber suits…

  14. mark – I’m distinguishing between sentient and sapient. I have no doubt there is other life in the galaxy, and of course in the universe. There may even be sentient life, since (IMO) just about everything alive and multicellular is sentient: I’m very hopeful there are critters on Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons, deep in their oceans’ depths, similar to the critters who live in Earth’s deep sea vents.

    But sapient life? That doesn’t destroy itself? That’s where I get hung up. Maybe if there were still Neanderthal or Devisonian humans around, we’d have a rosier data set to work with – because, at least that would indicate that our forebears hadn’t up and killed other human species when they encountered them. But there aren’t, and so we don’t.

  15. CaseyL: we have no evidence, so far as I know, that we killed the other humanoids. Given that we know we have Neanderthal genes, more likely we interbred, and there were fewer of them, so we’re the result. Come on, humans will do it with anything.

  16. The other big assumption the article in (1) makes is “it is only a matter of a few centuries” before civilizations like ours not only can start colonizing other star systems, but will start colonizing them to the extent that we “engulf the entire galaxy” in short order.

    I’m not sure that’s true. Space colonization is an appealing basis for stories, but as many have pointed out (including Kelly and Zach Weinersmith in their recent book A City on Mars) Earth is way better a place for us to live that any other place we’re likely to either get to or build in what’s likely to be many centuries. And even if we do get to the point of building space colonies, it’s not clear there’s be any strong reason to build them outside the local solar system any time soon. (Some note that the sun will eventually become inhospitable, but we’re good on that score for at least the next billion years. The universe is not only very big, it’s also very long-lasting.)

    So if our population stabilizes, which it seems to be heading towards in the upcoming century, there’s not any need to “engulf the galaxy”. Explore it, sure, but I wouldn’t assume that any advanced civilization will occupy all of it, or even reach a large portion of it, let alone cross the vaster distances to other galaxies. There’s room in the universe for billions of civilizations even at the density of roughly one per galaxy. Assuming that density, and considering the vast separations between them, the limited detectable range of most of our communications signals, and the lack of need to colonize over galaxy-scale distances, many of them, including ours, may simply never end up in hailing distance of another one.

  17. @CaseyL–

    But sapient life? That doesn’t destroy itself? That’s where I get hung up. Maybe if there were still Neanderthal or Devisonian humans around, we’d have a rosier data set to work with – because, at least that would indicate that our forebears hadn’t up and killed other human species when they encountered them. But there aren’t, and so we don’t.

    We have no evidence of group violence between Sapiens and Neanderthals, or Denisovans and Sapiens, or between Neanderthals and Denisovans.

    We do have solid proof of interbreeding among them.

    We have a tiny bit of evidence of individual, one on one fights, but not a lot of them, between Neanderthals and Sapiens. That’s not what wiped out Neanderthals.

    We also know that Neanderthals lived in significantly smaller groups than Sapiens, at lower density and greater distance from neighboring groups, with apparently fewer gatherings and interactions with other groups than Sapiens.

    That would have meant less genetic diversity in any given group. Lower numbers in any given group, combined with lower genetic diversity, would have made those groups more vulnerable to being wiped out by any virulent new disease that reached them. That danger would have grown as the total numbers of Neanderthals and Neanderthal groups declined.

    There’s a lack of evidence that Sapiens wiped out Neanderthals, and plausible other explanations. I think the one I described is the most plausible.

  18. @mark
    ” I say we meet it, and slow it down, and push it into geosync orbit. ”

    Apophis is 6x 10^10 kg, with a delta-V relative to Earth of 6.4 km/s. That’s about 4 x 10^14 kg-m/s of momentum to change. A Saturn V first stage gives about 6.2 x 10^9 kg-m/s of momentum change (2.1×10^6 kg of fuel x 3 km/s of delta-V).
    Ballpark numbers, it would take a minimum of 64000 Saturn V 1st stages and their loaded fuel tanks installed on Apophis to place it into geosynch orbit.

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