Pixel Scroll 5/7/20 They Probably Still Use Feet and Inches

(1) FIRST FIFTH. Camestros Felapton’s fifth anniversary celebration is in progress and he’s rolling out the party favors, like today’s “Book Launch: How To Science Fictionally, “a new collection of posts spanning the nearly two-thousand day history of the blog.”

We answer all the important topics! How can you make your space ship travel faster than light? How can you make your teleporter work? How are you going to send a message home and how are you going to style your beard?

(2) ESTATE SALE. Doug Ellis alerted Facebook readers to the availability of a catalog for the Spike MacPhee estate sale of original art, books and other material.

From 1977 to 1989, the Science Fantasy Bookstore operated in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Deb and I hung out there when we were in law school and became friends with the owner, Spike MacPhee. Spike was a member of NESFA and also founded the small press, Paratime Press, which published several checklists in the 1970’s. He was also GoH at the first Arisia convention in 1990.

Besides reading SF, Spike was a devoted science art collector. From the late 1960’s into the 1990’s, Spike attended several SF conventions – among them Boskone, Lunacon, Nycon III, Noreascon, Discon, Torcon and Disclave – where he would often buy art at the art show auction. He also became friends with many SF artists of the 1970’s and bought art directly from them as well. Spike remained a passionate fan until he passed away on November 13, 2019.

The second catalog is now available, and can be downloaded until May 10 as a 30 MB pdf file here.

If you’d like to download actual jpgs of the images, those can be downloaded in a zip file until May 10 directly here.

(3) WHAT KEEPS HIM READING. In “Cosmic Horror: The Worst Possible Discoveries A Detective Could Make”, CrimeReads’ Scott Kenemore ponders why, even if the face of the author and his characters’ failings, he finds Lovecraft’s stories so compelling.

….The answer—I eventually decided—was that Lovecraft’s unlikable, stuffy, racist neuters have a way of stumbling onto things that hint at some of the most dramatic and gripping revelations one could bring to light.

Namely, Lovecraft’s protagonists tend to encounter clues that point to the fact that humans—their hopes and dreams, their institutions and religions, and most certainly their accomplishments—don’t, for lack of a better word, matter. That the universe doesn’t give a damn what we do, and that our opinion of ourselves is a case of vast overestimation.

Crime fiction is full of stories in which a detective seeks to solve one mystery, but his or her digging unintentionally unearths other, deeper, more disturbing secrets. So it is with Lovecraft. . . just to the nth degree….

(4) MR. SMITH GOES TO LAKE-TOWN. Not quite as handsome as Jimmy Stewart, but his heart is in the trim:“Gollum actor Serkis to raise cash by reading entire Hobbit live online”.

Andy Serkis will give a continuous live reading of The Hobbit online, to raise money for charity.

The Gollum actor will read JRR Tolkien’s 1937 novel from start to end, breaking only to nip to the loo.

Money raised from the 56-year-old’s expected 12-hour performance will be split between NHS Charities Together and Best Beginnings.

Serkis played the corrupted character, originally known as Smeagol, in the The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.

“So many of us are struggling in isolation during the lockdown,” he said.

“While times are tough, I want to take you on one of the greatest fantasy adventures ever written, a 12-hour armchair marathon across Middle Earth whilst raising money for two amazing charities which are doing extraordinary work right now to help those most in need.”

,,,His reading will take place from 10:00 BST on bank holiday Friday, with streaming details to follow via his Hobbitathon Covid-19 Go Fund Me Page.

(5) REMOTE TOUR. BBC tells what it’s like when “Sir Quentin Blake does ‘The Robot'”.

The cartoonist and illustrator Sir Quentin Blake is famous for his collaborations with the writers Roald Dahl and David Walliams.

But now he has stumbled on a story of his own involving a mysterious taxi driver and a robot.

Sir Quentin has created a massive new artwork following a “bizarre” encounter with a taxi driver two years ago.

“We live in worrying times,” the driver had told Sir Quentin, when he picked him up from his home.

“He [the taxi driver] went on to say that he’d seen Picasso’s Guernica a couple of times in Spain. And then he said, ‘what we need is a picture like that for our time and you are the person to do it.'”

Sir Quentin could not resist the challenge and felt: “I must try something.”

…He completed the “narrative picture” in a day. It forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition called We Live in Worrying Times, which was due to open at Hastings Contemporary last month.

But the coronavirus pandemic put paid to that.

At the age of 87, Sir Quentin is self-isolating. And the Museum has been closed to the public since March.

That, though, is where the robot comes in.

A camera, mounted on a thin black pole attached to wheels, is able to tour the gallery and stream pictures back to viewers watching on their computers at home.

Up to five people at a time, plus an operator, can join the tour and explore and examine Sir Quentin’s new work.

(6) EIZO KAIME OBIT. Special effects modeler Eizo Kaime, who worked on the original Godzilla movie, died of leukemia on April 24. He was 90.

In the 1954 film “Godzilla”, he was in charge of the modeling of special effects costumes based on the prototype created by the sculptor Sadazo Toshimitsu.
Japanese paper and cloth were piled up on the mold made of wire, wire mesh, and bamboo, and the raw material synthetic latex of rubber was used for the hull. It took about two months to make the production. 

He then contributed to Godzilla Raids Again (aka Gigantis The Fire Monster), King Kong Vs. Godzilla, Godzilla Vs. The Thing, Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion Of The Astro-Monster, and many other such movies. In 1966 he formed his own company, Kaimai Productions, where he continued working on TV shows, including the Ultra Q and Ultraman, until the early 1980s.


  • May 7, 1895 — H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine is first published in book edition by Henry Holt & Co. (after having been serialized.)
  • May 7, 1966 — BBC first aired Doctor Who‘s “Don’t Shoot The Pianist”.  A First Doctor Story, It involved the TARDIS landing at Tombstone as the Doctor needs a dentist, which results in the Clantons believing the Doctor to be Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp taking him into protective custody while the Companions of course get in danger. It is one of the surviving episodes of that Doctor and despite the fan myth is not the lowest rated story of all time.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge, with an assist from John Hertz.]

  • Born May 7, 1912 Clyde Beck. Fan and critic who wrote what Clute says in EoSF is the first work of criticism devoted to American SF: Hammer and Tongs which waspublished in 1937 by Futile Press. It was assembled from four essays and the reviews Beck wrote for The Science Fiction Critic, a fanzine by his brother Claire P. Beck with a newly written author’s preface by Clyde. He wrote four pieces of genre fiction between the Thirties and Fifties. None of what he wrote is in-print. (Died 1986.)
  • Born May 7, 1918 – Walt Liebscher.  His fanzine Chanticleer was a finalist for the 1946 Retro-Hugo; Harry Warner said “Liebscher did incredible things with typewriter art.  He specialized in little faces with subtle expressions…. the contents page was frequently a dazzling display of inventive borders and separating lines.”  His later pro writing was collected in Alien Carnival (1974).  He was given the Big Heart, our highest service award, in 1981.  (Died 1985)
  • Born May 7, 1922 Darren McGavin. Oh, I loved him being Carl Kolchak on Kolchak: The Night Stalker — How many times have seen it? I’ve lost count. Yes, it was corny, yes, the monsters were low rent, but it was damn fun. And no, I did not watch a minute of the reboot. By the way, I’m reasonably sure that his first genre role was in the Tales of Tomorrow series as Bruce Calvin in “The Duplicates“ episode which you can watch here.
  • Born May 7, 1923 Anne Baxter. The Batman series had a way of attracting the most interesting performers and she was no exception as she ended playing two roles there, first Zelda and then Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. Other genre roles were limited I think to an appearance as Irene Adler in the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes film The Masks of Death. (Died 1985.)
  • Born May 7, 1931 Gene Wolfe. He’s best known for his Book of the New Sun series. My list of recommended novels would include Pirate FreedomThe Sorcerer’s House and the Book of the New Sun. He’s won BFA, Nebula, Skylark, BSFA and World Fantasy Awards but to my surprise has never won a Hugo. (Died 2019.)
  • Born May 7, 1940 Angela Carter. She’s best remembered for The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories where she took fairy tales and made them very adult in tone. Personally, I’d recommend The Curious Room insteadas it contains her original screenplays for The Company of Wolves which starred Angela Lansbury and The Magic Toyshop films, both of which were based on her own original stories. (Died 1992.)
  • Born May 7, 1951 Gary Westfahl, 69. SF reviewer for the LA Times, the unfortunately defunct Internet Review of Science Fiction, and Locus Online. Editor of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders; author of  Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy (with George Slusser) and A Sense-of-Wonderful Century: Explorations of Science Fiction and Fantasy Films.
  • Born May 7, 1964 Craig Hinton. He’s best remembered  for his work on various spin-offs from Doctor Who. He wrote six novels set in the Whoverse plus two more in Tomorrow People audio series as produced by Big Finish. (Died 2006.)
  • Born May 7, 1968 Traci Lords, 52. Yes she did a number of reasonably legit genre appearances after her, errr, long adult acting career. She was for example in The Tommyknockers series along with the first Blade film. She’s also in the the SF comedy Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II (I know, weird title that.) And finally, I should note she was Dejah Thoris in Princess of Mars.  By the way her first post-adult film was a genre undertaking and that was Not of This Earth. Yes, it is a remake of Roger Corman’s 1957 film of the same name.
  • Born May 7, 1972 Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 48. She is the director of Kung Fu Panda 2Kung Fu Panda 3, and The Darkest Minds. Yuh is the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio. The Darkest Minds is a dystopian SF film which Rotten Tomatoes gives a rating of 17% to. Ouch. 


  • Danish artist Striber’s political cartoon translates: “And the award for best Representation of Bats in media this year goes to…”

(10) CAP. “Finding Space for Art in Dark Times” at LitHub is about “Megan Margulies on Her Grandfather [Joe Simon], Captain America, and the Purpose of Creation.”

…My grandfather worked for Fox Publications at the time, but he and fellow artist Jack Kirby rented an art studio where they worked after-hours. Hunched over their desks all night, they brainstormed new character ideas and worked on freelance assignments that offered needed extra income. It was here in this studio, their own bubble of imagination, that Captain America was created. While the newspapers reported the horrors overseas, as the city buzzed with fear and heated debate over whether the United States should enter the war, my grandfather put his pencil to paper.

While writing, there are moments when I stop typing, my eyes lose focus, and I’m gone. It’s as though I’ve entered another dimension where I take pieces of the world, rearrange and jostle, until I can understand what it is I’m trying to put on the page. I’m grateful for the escape, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I picture my grandfather in this dimension, leaving the buzz of the city, the photos of war in the newspapers, his hand frozen over the blank sheet of paper.

I often study his artwork that hangs on my walls. If you look closely enough, you can see the ghost of an erased line where his hand worked, moving—rearranging and jostling—the shapes and movements of a character. Sometimes it’s the letters that were erased, the words that he reconsidered. He was a writer as well, his mind always spinning tales of adventure and humor.

(11) JAILBREAK. Matt Patches, in “The post-disaster artist” on Polygon, has a profile of Josh Trank, whose new film Capone is the first effort of his since his widely-panned Fantastic Four film in 2015. Trank says he was offered a Boba Fett film what was never made, but which eventually became The Mandalorian.

…“If Josh Trank is not in Movie Jail,” one critic tweeted after the announcement of Capone, “does Movie Jail even exist anymore?” Trank doesn’t believe it does. Hollywood has sentenced directors to careers in TV or general obscurity, but to Trank, escaping the metaphorical lockup is about writing and directing one’s way out of it, doing the work. There’s undeniable privilege to the perspective, considering the struggle marginalized groups face in breaking into the industry, yet little to argue with, logically — the best way to get a movie made, if all you want to do in the world is make movies, is to write a movie to make and go get it made.

I spoke to Trank off and on for four years as he reeled from Fantastic Four and set out to make Capone. And while he sidestepped Movie Jail, there may be no escape from the larger requirements of the industry and his own personal hang-ups. There are costs to every step of the process, and some personalities are more susceptible than others.

“Whatever I’m sacrificing just has to be sacrificed,” he said. “It’s worth it for me […] I’m just here to do this.”

(12) RIVERDALE EPISODE RECAP – BEWARE SPOILERS. [By Martin Morse Wooster.] Last night on Riverdale Archie and the gang were getting their acceptances to college, and Jughead Jones was admitted to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop — a highly unusual move, because while the workshop has undergraduate courses, nearly everyone there is working on their M.F.A.’s.  But Jughead has to write an additional story to be admitted, so he spends much of the episode writing a story about killing their enemy, Mr. Honey the principal. and the fantasy of Mr. Honey’s death is dramatized along with what really happened to Mr. Honey.

Also, a character named Chuck is introduced just so a character can say, “What’s up, Chuck?”

(13) A MARTIAN ODYSSEY. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City invites you to come along for “Field Trip Mars” this Friday, May 8 at 1:30 pm ET on YouTube.

Are volcanoes still active on Mars? What does Mars smell like? Where did the water that was once on Mars go? Get answers to these questions—and ask your own! Join the Museum’s Director of Astrovisualization Carter Emmart and astrophysicist Jackie Faherty during a real-time flyover across the Martian landscape on the Museum’s YouTube channel

(14) PLANTING A FIELD OF DREAMS. Todd Zaleski, in “Harper joins Phillie Phanatic for bedtime story” on MLB.com, says that Phillies slugger Bryce Harper decided to read The Phillie Phanatic’s Bedtime Story on Instagram, a tale that turns out to be sf, because the notorious green blob dons a virtual reality helmet and time-travels to the Colonial era, where he flies a kite with Ben Franklin and cracks the Liberty Bell!

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Lise Andreasen, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Michael Toman, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus who was inspired by Xtifr’s comment.]

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54 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 5/7/20 They Probably Still Use Feet and Inches

  1. So, reading. Books I mean. I read some books. Yes Iphinome make words good.

    Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs. Meh. Mercy Thompson novels have been on a treadmill for three or four books now. I don’t dislike episodic stories at all, I do mind having omigosh this is a super big change followed by the bottle episode and then a whole bunch of the same. As it is, if it weren’t for the library copy I’d not have bothered. Reading the next one will entirely depend on whether or not the library gets a copy.

    Two Stars.

    Little Free Library by Naomi Kritzer. Cute little reverse portal-fantasy. I liked it.

    The Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman. YA. The Library is a pocket dimension in the form of a (duh) library. Shelves, meeting rooms, computers for research and email, no wifi. Size unknown but you can walk for days before you find the door you need.

    Those doors? They open into alternate worlds, thousands of them. Any portal fantasy you’d like to have, there’s a door for it.

    Irene is a junior librarian which makes her a spy and a book thief. Using her it’s-not-magic and the library’s portals she’s sent out to obtain works of fiction unique to the world they come from. Need the series of cozy mysteries that Jane Austen wrote? Need the Anderson’s fairy tales with the vampire story? Need the one version of The Catcher in the Rye that doesn’t suck kangaroo balls? Irene will find it for the Library.

    So together with her apprentice Kai, and steampunk pseudo-Victorian London’s greatest detective Vale, Irene must steal books, solve murders, steal books, pull of daring rescues, steal books, pull off daring escapes, steal books, settle ruffles diplomatic feathers, steal books, face off against fae, steal books, face off against dragons, steal books, and maybe get the chance to curl up and a read a book.

    The Invisible Library – Pseudo-Victorian Penny Dreadful world.
    The Masked City – Rennesance Venice, The Borjyas world.
    The Burning Page – Tsarist Russia Anna Karenina world with flying reindeer.
    The Lost Plot – Prohibition America world.
    The Mortal Word – Pre-industrial Paris, Phantom of the Opera world.
    The Secret Chapter – 1980’s heist movie world. This one played out in my head with a slightly oversaturated recorded on videotape look with sets that would be at home on Charlie’s Angels.

    3.5 stars.

    The Last Emperox by John Scalzi. I expect everyone to have the same feelings for the finale as they did for the first two books. More of the same, satisfying resolution. Was meh on the first book, liked the second, liked this one by about the same amount.

    Three Stars.

    Network Effect by Martha Wells. Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot.

    You know what you’re in for, you’ll like it.

    First half of the book’s pacing is a little fast. Not quite the Space Opera beat you about the head and neck leaving behind sparkling pink cotton candy-scented bruises pace but I could have used a bit more time to catch my breath. Back-half pacing was normal enough.

    I’m still not convinced that bots and Murderbots can be friends.

    Not as awesome as Artificial Condition.

    Four Stars.

    The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow: Non genre and yet anything Jane Austen related simply must be considered genre-adjacent. I’ll hear no disagreement.

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Pride and Prejudice adaptation must treat Mrs. Bennet harshly. In this case, her characterization has two modes, indifference to Mary and belittling Mary’s looks, demeanor, interests, and wishes. This is not a story where relieved of the fear that her daughters will be turned out to live in the streets Mrs. Bennet gains the chance to move from characterization to character and gain some redemption. Then again it isn’t her story at all.

    We open with Mary Bennet, her elder sisters are close with each other and have not much room for her while the younger two consider her to priggish to have fun with. Very much the middle child. We follow her to her first ball where for reasons passing understanding she’s unaware of social conventions about which young men are acceptable for a gentleman’s daughter and that dancing together twice means like and three means courting. Charlotte Lucas is on hand to provide the exposition. From there we proceed in bits and bobs through the next year and into Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins with a bounce to Lydia running off.

    Then a time jump. Kitty marries a minister. Mr. Bennet dies in his sleep.

    This is where we get to the meat of Mary’s story. Mrs. Bennet movies in with the Bingleys and Mary feels uncomfortable and unwanted there. She feels the same at Pemberly where the Darys behave like your best-friend in high0school with a first boyfriend. Oh, hi. You’re uh, there, I’ve missed-oh yes darling snugglemuffin I’ll be right there, you understand, don’t you Mary?

    So no luck.

    A visit to the Collins’ at Longbourn provides some redemption for Mr. Collins and Mary must move on again, this time to the Gardiner’s house in Cheapside.

    This is the part of the book that hit me far too close for comfort. Mary Bennet, shy, bookish, awkward, priggish, plain and to her mind unattractive, a sad girl with no self-esteem lost in the world finds herself–just as her two elder sisters before her–in the home of her Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. I had so many of the feels.

    From here you should get the rest. Mary gets to know herself and gain a little self-respect. Maybe things will work out after all for the only unmarried Bennet Sister.

    Four stars for the feels.

  2. Paul Weimer says Readying: Right now working on Emily B Martin’s SUNSHIELD

    I’m re-listening to the sixth of the Ishmael Jones novels by Simon R. Green as a sort of palate cleanser before tackling something more weighty which I think will be Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy. I did all six of them this time, some forty hours in total. Definitely popcorn literature.

  3. 8) I’m one of the fans whose mind was blown open by Gene Wolfe’s books. Reading books like The Fifth Head Of Cerberus was like climbing a mountain. After all the effort invested in reaching the top, your world was transformed by the vistas below you. Thanks, Gene.

  4. //@Iphinome Then a time jump. Kitty marries a minister. Mr. Bennet dies in his sleep.//

    I was initially just scrolling past the comments without reading them and that sentence caught my eye. So I read that first and then went back to read your full comment but…I was still under the impression that you were talking about cats…and for a moment I thought it was going to be a story that’s Pride and Prejudice but from the perspective of cats that live with the various people involved.

  5. @8: I’m not surprised Wolfe never won a Hugo. The people who like his work really like it, but IME it’s non-trivial to get into; at 4th St. some years ago TNH said “The basic unit of construction of the Wolfe story is the trap door.” contra the Puppies, Hugo voters do tend to like a story they can follow.

    @8: Lords’s “long adult acting career” was a couple of years, ending a couple of days after her 18th birthday. (Shades of yesterday’s discussion about parental abuse?) Maybe it’s time to let that period go, considering how long ago it was and her journeyman work since then?

    @Iphinome: I don’t recall that description of Catcher in the Rye in Cogman; congratulations if it’s yours.

    Much reading I won’t summarize as it was meh — not awful but not commendable.
    x I did finally get a copy of Oor Wombat’s The Minor Mage, which is in some ways written down and some ways very much not, and frequently unexpected; worthwhile, but short.
    x Garth Nix’s Angel Mage starts slowly (due to having to introduce all 4 of the not-exactly-Musketeers), plays all sorts of interesting changes on Dumas, and keeps making you think it can’t possibly wrap up in one book (and I hate reading the first part of a trilogy when I can’t get to the others) — and then it does. Some substance, a lot of fun, and some fiendishly clever bits (e.g., one of the aliases of the lead villainess).
    x I also enjoyed Sara Hanover’s The Late Great Wizard; the setup (resurrected wizard is gormless) could easily have been mechanical, trite, and generally shoddy, but the voice of the narrator (teen girl scrabbling through high school after father left the family in debt and vanished) seemed clear and plausible, and enough of the story wraps in this volume that I wasn’t left hanging even if it’s subtitled “Wayward Mages #1”.
    I don’t know why the most commendable stuff I’ve read has all been YA….

  6. @Camestros Felapton

    An easy mistake to make since the Anglican church has long sanctioned the union of humans and cats. First, it was ordained for the production of kittens. Secondly, as a remedy against sin–one being too busy playing with the kittens to do the sins–and to avoid fornication, which is so much harder when there’s a cat jumping on you, throws you off your stride it does. Thirdly for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, a condition well understood by anyone who’s lived with a cat.

  7. (2) I have very fond memories of the Science Fantasy Bookstore; I still own quite a few books I purchased there. They were pretty well stocked with British SF paperbacks that were otherwise unavailable. I’m not sure if I ever met McPhee – yes if he was the guy who was usually behind the counter.

  8. @Iphinome —

    The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow: Non genre and yet anything Jane Austen related simply must be considered genre-adjacent. I’ll hear no disagreement.

    Oddly enough, I just got through watching the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. I’ll stand in solidarity with you!

  9. My experience of Wolfe thus far is A Borrowed Man, which was decidedly underwhelming, and Seven American Nights, which fell into the subgenre identified by Foz Meadows of “story where you can’t tell if the straight white male protagonist is meant to be unlikable or if the creator really doesn’t realise this dude is Trash” and had me by the 3rd page begging for someone to kill the main character.

    His Sun books are on the TBR, but so far I haven’t felt compelled to make them a priority. If someone can recommend a shorter Wolfe work that might give me a taste of the good stuff, I’d be glad to find it and read it.

  10. Iphinome declares that The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow: Non genre and yet anything Jane Austen related simply must be considered genre-adjacent. I’ll hear no disagreement.

    Why not? I hold. I hold that anything by by Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan is genre adjacent, so why not her works as well. Doctor Who at least twice in the modern era has mined Christie For story ideas and I’m a little surprised that they’ve not used her as well.

  11. @Cat Eldridge You have a point. Clara Oswald had an affair with Jane Austen, that constitutes proof of genre-adjacency.

  12. @JJ I am a great admirer of Gene Wolfe’s work, and I would admit that some of his later novels are not his best work, though I still find them enjoyable. However, I think that you are very unfair to “Seven American Nights”. The protagonist may be a straight male but is certainly not white. He has come from his rich home in the Middle East for seven days of tourism around a shattered, bankrupt and polluted America. The whole story could be read as a comment on Western tourists wandering around poorer countries.
    He does behave very badly, and Wolfe shows how conscious he is of this by the punishment he receives at the end of the story.

    If you are looking for more stories by Wolfe, I would suggest “The Island of Doctor Death” which is a real heart-breaker, or “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, which has a readable surface story, but gives much more on re-reading several times.

  13. Iphinome Say to me You have a point. Clara Oswald had an affair with Jane Austen, that constitutes proof of genre-adjacency.

    Huh. Which episode was that? I think I’d have remembered a lesbian story line involving Austen on Who and I’m not.

  14. @Cat Eldridge

    The Magician’s Apprentice. Clara (teaching class): Jane Austen, amazing writer, brilliant comic observer, and strictly amongst ourselves a phenomenal kisser.

    Face the Raven. Clara: Sometimes Jane Austen and I prank each other. She is the worst, I love her. beat Take that how you like.

  15. @JJ

    Yes, the protagonist of Seven American Nights is meant to be unlikeable – an inversion of the Ugly American trope – and not white by contemporary standards, though whiteness is very much the position he occupies in the book. And he gets his comeuppance in the end… perhaps.

    Wolfe was a very clever writer, but I’ve found him harder to read once I understood from his later work just how much of a conservative Catholic he was. It taints a lot of his work – not least The Book of the New Sun – for me. I remember Seven American Nights fondly, though, and I’d unhesitatingly recommend The Fifth Head of Cerberus.

  16. @Sophie Jane

    I am not a Catholic, or religious in any specific way (I think the term Agnostic was invented for me!) , and I agree that Wolfe’s work is deeply influenced by his beliefs, but I have always enjoyed his work despite or because of this. Some people would say that I don’t get much of his work because of this. I don’t find him very conservative in his political ideas, though many do.

    However, for some reason I am attracted to writers with Catholic beliefs. I like Wolfe, Tim Powers, James Blaylock, etc perhaps because their beliefs are not mine, and they bring fresh ideas which enlighten their stories in ways that I would not normally have thought of.

  17. Yes Iphinome make words good.

    Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs. Meh. Mercy Thompson novels have been on a treadmill for three or four books now. I don’t dislike episodic stories at all, I do mind having omigosh this is a super big change followed by the bottle episode and then a whole bunch of the same. As it is, if it weren’t for the library copy I’d not have bothered. Reading the next one will entirely depend on whether or not the library gets a copy.

    I’ve thought the series was going downhill since Mercy and Adam hooked up. I know Briggs is making money on the books; I’m happy for her, but I wish she’d write some books she cares about, too.
    I’d buy a Ward sequel in hardcover. Maybe even a sequel to Sham’s story.

  18. Allan Lloyd: The whole story could be read as a comment on Western tourists wandering around poorer countries.

    Sophie Jane: the protagonist of Seven American Nights is meant to be unlikeable – an inversion of the Ugly American trope

    I’m curious how you know this — is it from commentary by the author? Because I really didn’t get that from the text. After I finished it (6 months ago), I went looking for commentary on the internet, and what I found was mostly speculation about the clues as to the mystery of when the horrible man died based on what’s in his diary. My response to that, after having read the interminable catalog of his bad behavior, was “not nearly soon enough”. No one seemed to even notice what a horrible person he was; they were all focused on trying to figure out jurer gur snyfvsvrq cneg bs gur qvnel ortvaf.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve gotten Cerberus from my library via Overdrive, but Island will have to wait until my library reopens and I can get the Best of.

  19. (1) Got it!

    (8) Wasn’t Wolfe the one whose name was announced by Asimov as winning the Hugo (when No Award had won)?

  20. @JJ I’m curious how you know this — is it from commentary by the author?

    No, just the title and my reading of the text. And perhaps a sense of Wolfe’s worldview and the kind of tricks he liked to play, too. He’s more likely to work from a slightly smug distance than sympathise entirely with his protagonists. (And if you don’t enjoy the kind of games the people on the internet were speculating about you may not get on with Fifth Head of Cerberus either, so be prepared for that.)

    @Alan Lloyd I am not a Catholic, or religious in any specific way… However, for some reason I am attracted to writers with Catholic beliefs.

    And that’s entirely valid. In my case, I think I… burned out? That’s not quite the right term. I read enough Chesterton, and Lafferty, and Wolfe, and Powers, and commentary on them that I started to see the worldview behind the flashy tricks too clearly and it became a bit too familiar. (Though I still like Lafferty a lot, and my problem with Powers isn’t the religion so much as his utter inability to write women or romantic relationships.)

    As for the conservatism… by implication, it’s all through Wolfe’s pessimistic view of human nature and the accompanying belief that there can never be anything genuinely new, but on a few occasions it slips into basic own-the-libs mode. How the Whip Came Back is an easy example – and as one of his earliest stories, it shows the views were always there.

    (And of course, these days I have to consider that the Catholic church considers me an abomination who’s destroying nature and obliterating God, or vice versa. But they’re hardly the only ones, and it’s not actually a big deal in my daily life.)

  21. On an unrelated note, I can’t remember who was recommending Etiquette and Espionage the other day, but I’m about half way through and it’s great fun. Thank you.

  22. Sophie Jane: if you don’t enjoy the kind of games the people on the internet were speculating about you may not get on with Fifth Head of Cerberus either, so be prepared for that

    I love a good science-fictional mystery. But the main character was such a vile excuse for a human being, who did such terrible things that from almost the beginning of the story the 8 Deadly Words for me weren’t “I Don’t Care What Happens To This Person” but instead “I Hope This Person Dies In A Fire”. It’s pretty hard for me to give a shit about the mystery of the death of a protagonist who is so irredeemably awful. In fact, parts of the story were essentially torture and abuse porn, which I really don’t enjoy.

  23. I also have fond memories of Spike MacPhee and the Science Fantasy Shop.

    1) In the dark times before internet shopping, one would be forced to shop in person for sf… The SF Shop was conveniently around the block from Harvard Square’s “Wordsworth” – which sold new books at a DISCOUNT.
    I specifically recall that I bought several of the Analog ‘bedsheets’ from him.

    2) When I was a young man on my very first credit card, I noticed with amusement that my purchases from the Science Fantasy Shop would show up on my statement as (dba as) “GENERAL PRODUCTS OF TERRA”.
    I recall seeing this and asking my partner, “Hon, do you recall buying a spaceship hull last month?”

  24. (8) Andrew, it was at the 1971 Nebula Awards ceremony where Isaac Asimov announced Gene Wolfe’s “The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories” as the short story winner when in fact No Award had “won” in that category. Wolfe then wrote “The Death of Doctor Island” which won the 1974 Nebula novella award.

  25. @ JJ

    It’s pretty hard for me to give a shit about the mystery of the death of a protagonist who is so irredeemably awful. In fact, parts of the story were essentially torture and abuse porn, which I really don’t enjoy.

    First of all, I am not the Gene Wolfe Defense Council.

    That said, I had a different take than JJ. When characters aren’t sympathetic, the tolerance of such characters may vary. While I haven’t read Cerberus in a while, I don’t recall anything meeting my definition of S&M type “porn” (de Sade, Sacher Masoch, etc.) But given the harshness in the book, I can see how views differ.

  26. Roger: Wolfe eventually wrote four “Death” stories — I did a post about them here.

  27. Rob Thornton: While I haven’t read Cerberus in a while, I don’t recall anything meeting my definition of S&M type “porn”

    My apologies for not being clear. I haven’t read Cerberus yet, I was referring to Seven American Nights. And when I said that parts of the story were essentially torture and abuse porn, I’m referring to the graphic descriptions of the horrible things the main character says and does, rather than mutually-erotic BDSM.

  28. Iphinome, I think I’m a bigger fan of Briggs than you are, and I was very disappointed with Smoke Bitten. The previous book set up two other major sequel arcs and didn’t follow through on either of them. The thread she picked up could have been great, but it is treated as the B story when it should have been the A story and is completely unresolved by the story’s end. I am expecting to be annoyed by this in the next book too. The A story was basically a short story padded out to novel length.

    I hadn’t thought about the stories getting less interesting after she and Adam get together but my favorite novel of the series is Silence Fallen where they are apart for most of the book.

  29. My favourite Gene Wolfe is Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete also available as an omnibus edition Latro in the Mist. I also enjoyed the lighter Free Live Free

    The belated sequel Soldier of Sidon didn’t really work for me.

  30. @PhilRM: Spike was easy to recognize — round face with black hair all around (IIRC) the edge, thick round glasses that made him look almost bug-eyed.

    @Sophie Jane: wrt Lafferty: Past Master is still on Mt. TBR; I tried to read it under trying circumstances (very busy, and possibly too young at ~19), and have seen enough recommendations that I haven’t passed it off. I got a few pages into ? Aurelia ? (novel sequel to the Camiroi shorts) and just gave up. OTOH, much of his short work is brilliant and doesn’t seem as laden with beliefs (except for the Camiroi shorts, which are blatant); Gaiman’s note-perfect pastiche captured what I treasure about these pieces ever since reading “Narrow Valley” at age ~16. I appreciate Powers for what he does — especially his sense of the strange — and don’t expect him to handle everything; different parts of a story matter to different people. But I’m not the best calibrant of religious underpinnings that aren’t particularly blatant, e.g. I didn’t catch L’Engle at it until she started going off the rails in later books.

    Addendum to my blurbs (since I got reminded that there was one recent not-YA that I thought was good): Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a very weird Holmes pastiche: the Holmes is a worse sociopath than Cumberbatch’s, the Watson is a trans, estranged from his family, who’s oddly prissy in a very Victorian way, and the setting has twin cities separated by a drowned-but-still-living one that can be visited, which is a small sample of the scale of magic that’s wandering around. It ropes in other late-Victorian fiction from Stevenson (a flash reference) to Chambers (a big chunk of the setting) as they try to find which of a client’s five major enemies has sent a threatening letter — which lets them tour a lot of the strange bits (but I suspect not nearly all). Sags a bit in places but a satisfactorily surprising solution; I think I’ll pass on his gay romances but I’ll read another of these if it happens. (Nothing listed on his website so far.)

  31. @Chip Hitchcock

    Past Master didn’t really thrill me either – Fourth Mansions and The Reefs of Earth are my favourites, and my recommendations. But the short stories are his best work, as you say.

    With Powers, I enjoyed The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides very much, but got rapidly diminishing returns from the novels after that. Perhaps I needed the edge of pulp ridiculousness to really enjoy his style?

  32. Sophie Jane: For Tim Powers, hitting his stride meant constructing books around faux conspiracy theories (of his own invention), and while I tended to like those quite a bit, there’s no doubt the works that he produced in quest of this formula were looser with more of a sense of “oh, here’s this amusing thing I just discovered along the way.”

  33. @Chip Hitchcock: Spike was easy to recognize — round face with black hair all around (IIRC) the edge, thick round glasses that made him look almost bug-eyed.

    That was indeed the person I remember.
    I’m sorry to hear of his passing.

  34. I tend to be oblivious to religious themes in things unless they either beat you over the head, or someone points them out later.

    With Wolfe, I really like his use of language. His characters and plots can be hit or miss for me, but I do like the way he tells a story. I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by him, but I haven’t felt compelled to read all his works.

    As for Powers, I tend to like his lighter-hearted stuff more. His darker stuff can be a slog sometimes, but I think he has a gift for subtle humor. And overall, I like him enough that I’ve read most of his output. I think his early The Drawing of the Dark is too often overlooked. Of the stuff he’s done this decade, I think Medusa’s Web might be my favorite.

    Much like Chip Hitchcock, I bounced off of Lafferty at what was probably too young of an age, and have been meaning to try again, but haven’t gotten a round tuit.

  35. @Sophie Jane

    With Powers, I enjoyed The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides very much, but got rapidly diminishing returns from the novels after that. Perhaps I needed the edge of pulp ridiculousness to really enjoy his style?

    This very much mirrors my experience with Tim Powers. I loved The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides. Then someone told me I should read Declare, because it was even better. So I read Declare and disliked it immensely. There were a lot of reasons why I disliked Declare. The major ones were that I found involving people who had died less than ten years before and still had living children in Powers’ imaginary conspiracies hugely problematic, that turning the Berlin Wall – a place where more than 140 people from age 2 to 80+ died – into some kind of magical barrier was bloody offensive, that he insulted the Rote Kapelle anti-Nazi resistance group (at a time when Germany was just beginning to honour them), that he got the name of one of the few streets in Berlin which never changed their name in 200 years wrong, that his character hate Berliner Weiße mit Schuss, even though Powers has obviously never had it (okay, that one is petty) and also that Powers’ Catholicism became impossible to ignore.

    Now I really, really dislike religion in my SFF. Some of the Mormon stuff in certain US SFF went over my head, simply because Mormons are extremely rare in Germany. But blatant Catholicism (or blatant Protestantism, e.g. I can’t abide C.S. Lewis’ SF either) really turns me off. I bounced hard of Wolfe, Lafferty and Dan Simmons for this reason and never even bothered with Chesterton’s SFF, because I dislike his mysteries so much. As for Tim Powers, once I had noticed his blatant Catholicism, I couldn’t unsee it. I tried reading some of his other pre-20th century set works (where most of my issues with Declare wouldn’t pop up), but I never enjoyed anything by him again as I had enjoyed The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides.

  36. I’d got the vague impression from previous discussions of Wolfe that he’s very fond of using either unpleasant or outright nasty protagonists, in their own person or in their actions, so since that’s a bit of a nonstarter for me (with rare exceptions), can anyone point to a story which has a more likeable main character?

  37. I loved Anubis Gates but haven’t read any other Powers (I’ve taken some runs at Declare, but bounced off).

  38. Once again, tastes differ; I was blown away by Declare, despite having personal issues with the religiosity he was building on — and I don’t know how I would have felt if I had the local knowledge/connections that @Cora found him abusing.

    @OGH: sometimes the theories were based on weird facts, e.g. that somebody really was standing by with a vial to catch Edison’s last breath. But making a huge return in speculation from a trifling investment of fact isn’t to everyone’s taste.

  39. I have to admit that I was surprised how vehemently I reacted to Powers depicting the Berlin Wall as some kind of magical barrier, because up to then I didn’t think that I had particularly strong feelings about those who died at the inner German border. Growing up, people dying at the inner German border was a horrible thing that happened every couple of months (and because most victims didn’t die in Berlin or elsewhere, where they were visible, but drowned in the Baltic Sea, we never heard about them and we still don’t know how many victims there really were). But even though I knew people who had escaped East Germany and one person (a distant cousin) who had tried and failed (she was caught and imprisoned and later bought out by West Germany shortly before the fall of the wall), I didn’t personally know anybody who’d died. So I was surprised how furious Declare made me, because it trivialized the lives of the 140+ people, several of them young children, who died at the Berlin Wall alone.

    Powers’ dismissal of the Rote Kapelle resistance group infuriated me, because at the time I read the novel, the Rote Kapelle were only just gaining recognition in all of Germany, whereas previously they had been ignored, because they worked with the Soviet Union. Besides, some prominent members of the Rote Kapelle, including one who was executed by the Nazis at age 23, came from my hometown and one of them was still alive at the time Declare was written, though hopefully unaware of the existence of the book.

    Looking back, my main issue with Declare was that the more than 140 Berlin Wall victims, the executed members of the Rote Kapelle (and the survivors) and even Kim Philby, who was a KGB spy, but didn’t do any of the things Powers claims he did, were clearly not real people to Powers, but just material for his secret history. Their feelings and those of their descendants and families didn’t matter to Powers.

    And the people who recommended the book to me never even considered to warn me and probably never realised that I might find the book offensive. Finally, there is also the person who had issues with the way Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who died almost 200 years ago, was portrayed in The Anubis Gates, but didn’t have any issues with the way people who had died less than ten years before or were still alive were portrayed in Declare.

    The unpleasant Catholicism was just the cherry on top. BTW, I once got into a discussion about what happened to the main characters of Declare after the end of the book. I said, “They were arrested when they left the Basilius cathedral before they could even leave Moscow and they died horribly.” That did not go down well.

  40. I tend to really dislike religion in my SFF. This is why I have not yet been able to force myself to read A Case of Conscience or The Sparrow; the synopses of both those books make them utterly unappealing for pleasure reading, and I really hate it when my SFF reading feels like a chore that I don’t enjoy but feel compelled to do because it’s for my own good.

    Ted Chiang’s Hugo-nominated novelette “Omphalos” didn’t work for me; I was totally unable to suspend my disbelief in its premise. I was shocked that it actually made the Hugo ballot; it’s really not very good (in my opinion, of course), and it’s going under No Award on my Hugo ballot.

    The only Powers I’ve read are Salvage and Demolition which I really loved, and Down and Out in Purgatory, Alternate Routes, and More Walls Broken which were fine; readable but utterly unexceptional, but not overly religious as far as I remember — because if they were, I would remember that about them.

    One of these days I will get around to some of Powers’ more acclaimed works. Disruption of my normal activities due to the coronavirus has increased the level of my reading, so it may happen — but with both him and Wolfe, being told that their religion saturates their work kind of puts the big red stamp “CHORE” on it for me.

  41. It’s possible part of my tolerance for Powers comes from starting with his earliest non-Harlequin(Laser) works; in The Drawing of the Dark, the sacred substance is beer (which was a win right there), and the Fisher King seemed to be much older power than Xianity. In perspective, the idea of an Ottoman sorcerer powering a spell by “sacrificing” a job-lot of baptized souls (i.e., by sending Janissaries in a mass assault on a city wall) would be poorly-received today — but unlike the ravings of today’s paranoids, the Ottoman attack on Vienna was real.

    OTOH, ISTM that Powers’s religion has at least some subtlety; in the intro to her interview of Powers, Morgan says she’d never realized he was a serious Catholic. Different people, different triggers.

  42. (8) The problem with Traci Lords’ “adult movie” career is that she lied about being an adult when she entered the industry. Unable to verify her true age when challenged later, many of Lords’ employers had to adopt a precautionary stance and delete a large part of her back catalogue.

  43. @Steve Green: is it possible you’ve got that story backwards — that she was not in the industry voluntarily, and that nobody cared whether she was legal until she quit?

  44. @Cora Buhlert

    And the people who recommended the book to me never even considered to warn me and probably never realised that I might find the book offensive.

    If I had been the one to recommend the book to you, I wouldn’t quite know how to unwrap this. To be able to predict whether a book would be offensive to someone for these reasons, I’d have to know them pretty (very?) well, and I generally feel like recommending a book I like is something I can do casually. “Here, I liked this. Maybe you will too.”

    I don’t like to offend people, but my standards for offensiveness aren’t the same as everyone else’s.

  45. @Chip Hitchcock: As I heard it (from several different sources), she used a fake ID to get work, but someone tipped off the authorities just after her 18th birthday. Unlike, say, Linda Lovelace, I’ve never seen any claim Lords was forced into the industry, just a lot of resentment from distributors and retailers who had to junk product shot over the previous two years. Or do you have another source?

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