Pixel Scroll 6/10/18 Ascroll Just Off The Pixels Of Langerhans

(1) LICENSE TO THRILL. Steven H Silver spotted an unusual collectible in traffic the other day —

I was unaware that Illinois issued such event specific license plate until I saw this one today (June 6).  The text around Superman indicates it is for the 40th Annual Superman Festival in Metropolis, Illinois from June 7-10.  On the right you can see that the plate expires on June 10, 2018.

(2) SATISFYING SPACE OPERA. Abigail Nussbaum delivers insightful and fascinating sff analysis in “A Political History of the Future: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente”, at Lawyers, Guns & Money.

To which the answer is, because talking about Space Opera gives me an opportunity to point out a glaring lacuna in almost all the works we’ve discussed so far—the way that nearly every one of them leaves out the centrality of culture, and particularly popular culture, in shaping a society and reflecting its preoccupations.

When I say “culture”, I’m talking about several different things, each integral to the believability of any invented world. Culture can mean shared cultural touchstones, classic and modern, that give people a common frame of reference, like humming a pop song or quoting the Simpsons. It can mean characters who are artists, professional or amateur. It could refer to the way that culture can become a political battleground, as we were discussing just a few days ago in response to the news that conservatives want their own version of SNL. Or it could be a discussion of material culture—fashion, design, architecture—and how it allows people to express themselves in even the most mundane aspects of their lives.

It’s very rare, however, to see science fiction try to engage with any of these aspects of culture. Even as it strives to create fully-realized worlds, art—high and low, functional and abstract, popular and obscure, ridiculous and serious—tends to be absent from them. So are artists—try to remember the last time you encountered a character in a science fiction or fantasy story who had an artistic side, even just as a hobby. Even worse, few characters in SFF stories have any kind of cultural touchstones.

(3) KILL YOUR DARLINGS. Delilah S. Dawson tells what she thinks is the real meaning of that traditional writerly advice “kill your darlings.” The thread starts here —

(4) IN THE BEGINNING. The International Costuming Guild presents its research into what fans wore to the masquerade at the Second Worldcon (1940) — “Convention Costuming History: The Pre-WWII Years – Pt. III”.

The earliest Worldcon masquerades were more like informal costume contests, with several well known authors of the time participating. The costumes worn were a mix of original designs, interpretations of literary characters and what would come to be known as media recreations. 1940 – Chicon I

Following the novelty of Ackerman’s and Douglas’ costumed appearance the previous year, a “Science Fiction Masquerade Party” was featured as part of the convention programming.(1) By Forrest Ackerman’s count, there were 25 people in costume there. The co-host masters of ceremonies were fans and writers Jack Speer and Milton Rothman. Judging from the accounts of the party, the occasion was informal – there was no stage, but there were one or two skits, including one by Ackerman and “Morojo” (Douglas) wearing their outfits from the previous year.

There were several reports of who was there for the first official costumed event. Among that first group of convention costuming contestants were…

(5) ICG IN PASSING. The International Costuming Guild’s in memoriam video, presented at Costume-Con 36 (2018) to recognize those in the community lost in the previous year, is posted on YouTube.

(6) WITH CAT IN HAND. Yoon Ha Lee will be doing an Ask Me Anything on June 12.

(7) THIEVES LIKE US. A recent movie premiere inspires B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s listicle “12 Fantasy Heist Novels”.

There are genre tropes, and then there are those archetypes that are mainstays of not just science fiction and fantasy, but of popular culture in general. One of the best examples is the character of the Gentleman Thief (who doesn’t always have to be a gentleman). These rogues are witty, engaging, and will rob you blind with a rakish wink and a smile. You can’t help but be charmed by them. From Robin Hood to Danny Ocean, the character is a permanent favorite in books and on film….

The Holver Alley Crew, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Maresca’s interconnected Maradaine books (multiple series examining life in the same fantasy city) are a real treat. The latest series is about the Holver Alley crew, a ragtag group of formerly retired thieves are forced to return to a life of crime when their new, respectable shop burns down. When they learn the fire was no accident, they are forced to take desperate measures. All of the Maradaine books are a treat, but this one really stands out because of the especially strong characters. In fine Oceans tradition, Asti and Verci are both brothers and ringleaders, and must assemble a skilled crew to pull of a job to rob a gambling house that took everything from them.

(8) HAWKING OBSEQUIES. Are any of you trying to get in? “Stephen Hawking: Ballot opens for Westminster Abbey service”.

The public is being offered the chance to attend a service of thanksgiving for Professor Stephen Hawking, who died in March aged 76.

It will take place in Westminster Abbey on 15 June and up to 1,000 tickets are available in a ballot.

During the service, the scientist’s ashes will be interred between Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

His daughter, Lucy Hawking, said she wanted to give some of her father’s admirers the chance to remember him.

(9) LAST DAYS. Christopher Stasheff’s son, Edward posted the following to his Facebook page on June 9:

My father, Christopher Stasheff, is currently in hospice and expected to die from Parkinson’s Disease within the next two weeks, quite possibly this week. If anyone would like to say goodbye to him, post it as a response here, and I’ll read it to him the next time I see him (I visit him in the nursing home daily). Thanks.

The most recent reports are suggesting that he may only have a day or so left.

Update:  His son reports Stasheff died this evening.

My father Christopher Stasheff died at 6:45 PM on June 10th, 2018, surrounded by his wife and two of his children. The other two were able to phone in and say goodbye before he passed. He is survived by hundreds of his students and uncountable fans, and his legacy will live on in all the lives he touched.


  • Born June 10, 1952 – Kage Baker

(11) VOLLEYED AND THUNDERED. Edmonton’s Hugo Book Club just put out a new blog post, “Is that The Canon in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”, in which they muse about literary awards and their relation to posterity and questions of enduring value. Is science fiction the new Western Canon?

It is worth noting that Harold Bloom’s 1993 list of The Western Canon included only two works that are traditionally categorized as science fiction: Ursula Le Guin’s Hugo Award winner The Left Hand of Darkness and George Orwell’s 1984.

But of Bloom’s list, I would argue the majority of the works cited are less relevant to the broad public – and to a concept of cultural literacy – than the recent Hugo Award winners and popular works of science fiction.

For example, references and allusions to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th century poem Parzival are lost on the broader public, while Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One protagonist Parzival is familiar to many.

(12) ICE NINE. Galactic Journey’s Victoria Lucas has just read the new Vonnegut release – in 1963: “[June 10, 1963] Foma: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Cat’s Cradle)”

When a friend lent Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s newest novel, Cat’s Cradle to me, I thought, “Oh, I know this book!” because I saw, as I flipped through it, the “ice-nine” and “Bokonon” I’d heard people buzzing so much about.  So I was glad to read it and understand the phenomenon.

But that’s where my joy ended.  Vonnegut is a fine writer.  His style is idiosyncratic, askew; this is a novel novel.  But no one would accuse him of being optimistic or hopeful about the human future.  No Pollyanna he….

(13) BBC RADIO STAR TREK DOCUMENTARY. BBC Radio 4 has just re-broadcast “Star Trek – The Undiscovered Future”, first aired December 2017. It’s available to listen to online right now.

How far have we voyaged towards Star Trek’s vision of the future and what of it is likely to be fulfilled or remain undiscovered in the next 50 years?

Kevin Fong presents archive material of the likes of Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) talking about the inception and filming of the original Star Trek series, and their thoughts about Roddenberry’s vision of the future and its impact in the United States at the time.

For example, Nichols relates how she had a chance encounter with Martin Luther King the day after she had told Roddenberry that she intended to leave Star Trek after the first series. King told her he was her number fan and almost demanded that she didn’t give up the role of Uhura, because she was an uniquely empowering role model on American television at the time.

For a perspective from today, Kevin also talks to George Takei who played Mr Sulu. Takei laments the ethnically divisive politics of the United States in 2016.

He meets Charles Bolden – the first African American to both command a shuttle mission and lead NASA as its chief administrator. In the age of the International Space Station, he compares himself to the ‘Admiral of Star Fleet’. But the former astronaut also talks about the anger he first felt in 1994 when he was asked to fly the first Russian cosmonaut ever to board an American space shuttle.

Kevin also talk to cultural broadcaster and Star Trek fan Samira Ahmed about the sexual and racial politics of the Original series.

(14) ST:D SEASON TWO. Comedian and new Star Trek: Discovery cast member Tig Notaro opened her set on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert poking fun at her inability to understand any of the tech talk from her Trek dialog. See “‘Star Trek: Discovery’: Tig Notaro Talks Technobabble” at Comicbook.com.

Tig Notaro is one of the new additions to the cast of Star Trek: Discovery in the show’s second season and while she’s excited to be a part of the Star Trek universe she doesn’t exactly speak the language.

Notaro was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote her new comedy special Happy to be Here. She greeted Colbert by saying his theater was “like a room full of pleasant subspace particles wrapped in a tachyon field of good vibes.”
The comment is obviously a reference to her role on Discovery, though she admits “I have no idea what I’m saying on that show…I can’t even picture what I’m talking about.”
She revealed that her character is human and that she plays Commander Jet Reno, a name she got to choose for herself. As for how she got the job, “They just asked if I wanted to do it” she says.


(15) BAD WITH NUMBERS? Deadline interviewed the president of Marvel Studios: “Kevin Feige Talks Marvel’s Success, Female Directors, ‘Infinity War II’ & How He’s ‘Bad With Numbers’”.

More female directors on Marvel pics: Captain Marvel is the first Marvel title to have a female director at the helm Anna Boden (who is co-helming with Ryan Fleck. And having more female directors behind his superhero pics is a trend he plans to maintain, “I cannot promise that (the next) 20 Marvel movies will have female directors but a heck of a lot of them will,” he said in response to an audience member’s question. The Marvel boss mentioned that agencies are sending more female directors than men for Marvel directing jobs.

On the $1.3 billion success of Black PantherFeige said that Marvel “wanted to destroy the myth that black movies don’t work well around the world,” and being at Disney with its platinum marketing department allowed the comic book studio to swing for the fences.

“The budget for Black Panther was bigger than Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and you can’t do that without the support and encouragement from the leaders of the company,” he said.

Feige also applauded Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s championing his diverse below-the-line team in Hannah Beachler as production designer, Ruth Carter’s costumes, and DP Rachel Morrison. Their resumes, like Marvel’s directors, didn’t scream tentpole experience, but Feige is grateful he heard them pitch rather than rely on his regular team.

“We can’t imagine the movie without them, and the future movies we hope to make with them,” he said.

(16) JURASSIC LARK. In Parade, “Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard Talk Dinosaurs, Parenting and Friendship”.

After their wildly successful first dino film in 2015, the pair reunited last year to film much of Fallen Kingdom on the Kualoa Ranch in Oahu, Hawaii. But even surrounded by tropical paradise, they faced more than a few challenges on camera, from filming in a chlorinated pool that fried Pratt’s hair and skin to riding in a zero-gravity gyrosphere that made Howard nauseous. And Pratt had to do some awkward face-offs with a velociraptor that wasn’t really there—until the special-effects department created it. He acts out how he’d say to the air in front of him, “Get back, get back . . .” and then “Whoa!” as he’d throw himself on the ground. The camera crew, watching on monitors nearby, “didn’t want to say how stupid it looked!”

(17) SCARIEST MOVIE. The Washington Post’s Monica Castillo, in “The story behind ‘Hereditary,’ the Toni Collette horror movie that scared the bejesus out of Sundance”, interviews Hereditary director Ari Aster who, “in his first feature, marries the horror and melodrama genres into an unnerving movie about grief.”

Aster said he deliberately amped up the drama in the film slowly. “I’m not affected by anything in a film unless I’m invested in the people at the center of it,” he said. “I wanted to take my time and immerse people in this family’s life and their dynamic, which is quite complicated. I just wanted to make a film in the tradition of the horror films I grew up loving, like ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘The Innocents.’ Films that take their time are very much rooted in character.”

Setting also plays an important role in the creepiness in “Hereditary.” The family’s luxury cabin in the woods has the right dark corners and haunted attics to make it feel like a trap where its inhabitants are left to slowly die. Annie’s miniature houses become a motif. “The miniatures just struck me as a potent metaphor for the family’s situation,” Aster said. “They have no agency, and they’re revealed over the course of the movie to be like dolls in a dollhouse, being manipulated by these outside forces.”

(18) SPONGEBOB TONY. In “How ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ invaded our brains”, Washington Post writer Sonia Rao interviews the cast and creators of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, which is up for 12 Tonys as best musical tonight and is making a lot of Millennials very happy.

Tom Kenny never thought SpongeBob SquarePants, a character he originated on the children’s program almost 20 years ago, would one day end up on Broadway. Why would he have? Parents clamp their hands over their ears whenever they hear SpongeBob’s helium voice, let alone his nasal laugh. The anthropomorphized sponge is no Hugh Jackman.

And yet, “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” is up for 12 Tonys on Sunday, tied with “Mean Girls” for the most nominations. Its resonance with serious theatergoers is surprising until you consider that even as adults, those of us who watched the series can’t shake its omnipresent songs, references and memes. Somehow, it became a cultural earworm.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Lexica, Olav Rokne, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, Jonathan Cowie, Steven H Silver, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Niall McAuley.]

146 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 6/10/18 Ascroll Just Off The Pixels Of Langerhans

  1. Guy Kay often makes a particular art central to a novel’s plot, theme and characters: music for Tigana and Arbonne, poetry for Al-Rassan and Under Heaven, mosaics for Sarantium. One of the many things I love about his work.

  2. Meredith: I would still rather Americans didn’t call 1940 pre-WWII, though. It wouldn’t be that difficult to acknowledge that WWII had already started and just wasn’t impacting on USA daily life yet rather than speaking as if it didn’t start until the USA was attacked.

    I understand why you feel this way, and I agree to some extent. But the reason that wording is used isn’t because WWII was impacting on USA daily life after 1941; it’s because the people who were organizing and attending Worldcons were actually going off to serve in the war in 1942.

  3. @ August

    The fact that there was so much controversy around what it means was, from a professional writing standpoint, frankly embarrassing

    Quotes and concepts change meaning over time, and people are told the new meaning in earnest. Is it really “embarrassing” to challenge a current common understanding of a term that has been given to real writers and real people by people ostensibly teaching writing, just because decades upon decades ago, the original writer didn’t mean it? This isn’t like arguing a mondegreen is correct. This is arguing that the accrued layers of new meaning over time are damaging what little utility the phrase ever had.

    Besides, Jeannette Ng at least is challenging even the original concept, and its utility as advice.

  4. It’s interesting that the invasion of Poland is considered more significant than the invasion of China for deciding when the WWII clock started ticking.

  5. Presumably, that’s because the invasion of Poland made the UK, France and other countries join in and declare war. All the invasions before had been bilateral events.

  6. Russell Letson: I don’t know how much it happens in the books, but in the tv version of Sharpe, his regular team are often seen singing the sort of folk songs popular with soldiers, and occasionally telling stories. The sort of portable culture that’s common in the situation.

    And pastry chef sleuths would be cultural creator sleuths.

    I’m having a harder time remembering any book I’ve read and appreciated where nobody is doing some kind of cultural consumption or creation, that didn’t involve amnesia or survival situations, and even those tend to include it somewhere; someone tells a story, sings a song, paints colours on their sharpened stick.

    Forefronting a pop cultural touchstone that shapes society at least for its duration, the way Space Opera does, is rarer, but that’s because most of us don’t base our lives (on all the weeks Eurovision isn’t happening, anyhow) around Eurovision. Or the Olympics, for a similar common touchstone. Or the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which up till the Jets were taken out, swept over my hometown in a BIG way.

    But even when cultural touchstones aren’t filling up all the local community like that, hockey fans still talk hockey around the water cooler, knitters still knit in front of the TV, then talk about the show with their roommate before the roomie leaves for her guitar lesson…

  7. Yeah, @RedWombat’s story is exactly the sort of thing that soured me on “kill your darlings.”

    It’s self-evident that one needs to cut things that aren’t helping your project in some way. Nobody needs to be told this. It is also self-evident that sometimes one is reluctant to cut those things because one is attached to them for some reason.The question is what things those are, that actually need to be cut. And when you really really love something and are loathe to cut it–that’s not automatically a sign that you need to put on your grownup pants and sacrifice your loved thing to your art, it’s a sign that this particular thing is really important to you, the writer, for some reason. Ask why. Sometimes that reason is “it’s really super necessary to what I’m doing in a way I’m not able to articulate well, or that isn’t endorsed by current fashions in writing advice.”

    It’s way too easy for someone to say “well it doesn’t advance the plot, you could do what this is doing more efficiently” and miss that the thing in question is conveying the emotional core of the work, or hooking the readers into the story in an important way–all of which are important and necessary but often get ignored when folks talk about “efficiency” or what’s important to a narrative. And it’s way too easy for someone insensitive or even flat out malicious to convince baby writers to cut the heart out of their work in the name of “improving” it–after all, you have to kill your darlings to make your work better, of course it’s unpleasant and you don’t like it but you don’t want to be self indulgent, do you?

    Which brings me to the idea that a writer ought not write to please themselves. I am so not on board with this idea I can’t even begin to express it. One of the ways you know your writing is working–to the extent you know that, which is its own issue–is that it’s working for you. Now, it’s possible to go off track into pleasing your id in a way that just looks unseemly and strange to anyone else, but once again, it’s a case-by-case thing. And there, it’s often not a question of cutting the thing, removing it, so much as turning it around and refining it so that all those other folks out there with similar grooves and folds in their ids can enjoy that feeling of it fitting into place. So, again, it’s a matter of asking why do I want this in the story so much? and not automatically cutting it because it’s self-indulgent. Hell, even long political screeds can please some readers. If that’s what does it for you, and you have readers who respond to it, well, go to. Indulge yourself!

    And I’m about done with people telling me I don’t understand what kill your darlings means, thank you.

  8. @ Chip & Cora: I think I heard this advice (from my mother) as “take one thing off” — not necessarily jewelry, but accessories in general. And indeed, there are times when I look in the mirror and say either “that’s too much” or “this piece of jewelry is wrong for this outfit” and go back and make changes, but I deeply resent the implication that I’m incapable of exercising discretion on my own. (Not to mention, what does this say about the parure, which is fashionable among the aristocracy?)

  9. Not shocked that a white dude read three sets of tweets by women suggested by a woman and came back with “take a piece of jewelry off” analogy. In the same comment after reading several men’s takes suggested by a man which were similar to those by the women and commented those were thoughtful.

    Unconscious bias is strong, hurtful, leads to microaggression, and something everyone needs to work on throughout their life.

  10. there are a few schools of thought on when world war 2 actually began. Firstly, Japan and China were already at war as early as 1937, and this conflict later folded into what we call WW2. Secondly you could take the beginning of the war in Europe, 1939, as the start. Thirdly, the point at which the two wars merged in much larger conflict (1941).

    Plus, lest we forget, there was a whoooole lot of buildup even until the declaration of war in Europe in 1939. It seems just as callous for us to declare that the start was 1939, ignoring both the buildup to an official declaration of war in Europe and a war in Asia.

    Eta: ninja’d by OGH!

  11. Chip Hitchcock: I sometimes find something enlightening in Nussbaum’s work, but ISTM that she leans toward absolutist positions even when using the language of reasonableness.

    Yes. I think that helps her work as fanwriting, because it suggests a passion for the subject. It would be less attractive in an academic study.

  12. Russell Letson:

    Certainly the range of crime fiction could be seen to short-change the arts, though perhaps someone will come up with a composer- or sculptor-sleuth to go with the armies of detectives who are also B&B proprietors, pastry chefs, and the occasional poet-chief-inspector.

    Dunno about artist-sleuths, but after just a moment’s thought I can think of several Golden Age detective novelists who have much ado about visual artists, especially painters. Many of R. Austin Freeman’s John Thornedyke novels (I am very fond of them) have narrators who are artists or deeply interested in the arts (central in Helen Vardon’s Confession, The Jacob Street Mystery, For the Defense, Dr. Thornedyke, and others, including some in which malign doings were hidden by untalented non-artists pretending to be modern artists). He also has a fun mystery (not murder) solved by a couple of amateur artist sleuths, “The Great Portrait Mystery.” Ngaio Marsh of course had a detective who married an artist and had a lot of doings with the art world (starting with Artists in Crime, which has a nasty murder with nitric acid that still makes me shudder, BTW), and Margery Allingham had at least a couple. There are many more.

  13. Is it really “embarrassing” to challenge a current common understanding of a term that has been given to real writers and real people by people ostensibly teaching writing, just because decades upon decades ago, the original writer didn’t mean it?

    It’s embarrassing that the current common understanding was ever so painfully wide of the mark. It reminds me of someone I know who used some Johnny Cash lyrics as the epigraph for her book… except Cash hadn’t written the lyrics at all, and she didn’t look them up, just wrote out what she thought she was hearing, so the epigraph even contains words that don’t actually exist in the song. She had some shitty third-hand MP3 from Napster she got in 1999 and figured it didn’t require even another ounce of inquiry. I don’t see that as particularly different; just a symptom of the same problem.

    I also read Janet Ng’s comments yesterday, and found them pretty specific to genre writing. In other writing spaces *nobody thinks about details that way*. In (ugh) “mundane” fiction, details that don’t necessarily advance the plot or whatever are acknowledged to be a huge part of what make your characters real, and why readers believe that you understand the world you’re writing about. Back in ’90s I remember seeing a thing put out by (iirc) Karen Berger in the back of some Vertigo title, or maybe it was in an interview in a Wizard-type magazine, on advice about how to break into comics writing. Number one was this: don’t just read comics, and don’t just read books or watch films that are like the comics you like. Your stories will be insular and shallow, and when it comes time to touch on things that refer to the wider world both within and outside your stories, you will screw it up. You either won’t know it at all, or it will be a thing you know garbled and third-hand, like at the end of a long game of telephone. When I read most of those threads, and all this nonsense about “only if it’s relevant to the story” stuff and the “transparent prose” write-like-Stephen-King nonsense that gets passed around, that’s what I hear: the end of that long game of telephone. For amateurs? Whatever. But for professionals? That’s embarrassing.

    Another thing that was niggling at me as I sleepily posted last night: What about the role of “culture” in other kinds of fiction? Certainly the range of crime fiction could be seen to short-change the arts, though perhaps someone will come up with a composer- or sculptor-sleuth to go with the armies of detectives who are also B&B proprietors, pastry chefs, and the occasional poet-chief-inspector.

    While they often aren’t artists themselves, a great many fictional detectives are heavily invested in the arts, and so are the worlds they investigate. Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache loves literature, uses it to order and understand his life, and two of her recurring secondary characters are a poet and a painter. Ian Rankin’s Rebus loves music, and iirc some of P.D. James’ characters were also heavily invested in literature and film. So are those of Fred Vargas, and Tana French, too, iirc. A.S. Byatt (who wrote my all-time favourite book, the delightfully weird The Biographer’s Tale) isn’t a crime/detective writer, but her entire career is built around understanding how people connect to art and culture and use it to structure their lives.

  14. Well, I guess you could argue that beer and food and orchids do nothing to advance the plot (except the times they do) but Nero Wolfe without them? Properly done the irrelevancies help define the characters, their time and place, and set the tone for a story. The skill in how they are used is the key.

  15. Ugh. You know what?

    I apologize for my tone. I’m having a shitty few days and I’m getting overly aggressive. It’s about something that’s important to me, but that’s not an excuse. I’m sorry.

  16. I checked the comments before I post this, and was weirded out that no one mentioned Heinlein’s “Double Star” as an example of a story that incorporated both art and politics.

    That book taught me a lot about both the theater and how to run a political campaign. Heinlein was active in electoral politics in California before he learned better, and it shows.

    Not sure where he picked up the intimate knowledge of the theater, though.

  17. Certainly the range of crime fiction could be seen to short-change the arts, though perhaps someone will come up with a composer- or sculptor-sleuth to go with the armies of detectives who are also B&B proprietors, pastry chefs, and the occasional poet-chief-inspector.

    Sherlock Holmes and his violin. Morse and his opera.

    Off the top of my head, I also remember three amateur detectives in three different books: One artist-painter, one film director, and one glass-blower. I can probably come up with more if I think about it.

  18. GiantPanda: Presumably, that’s because the invasion of Poland made the UK, France and other countries join in and declare war. All the invasions before had been bilateral events.

    Presumably so. The League of Nations — which the US never joined but had as members many European colonial powers — was not going to intervene in Japan’s efforts to conquer China.

    But by the same token, the US Congress had no intention of participating in the European war until the necessity was forced upon them.

    Nor should it be overlooked that the title “World War II” itself was not immediately adopted, as it took awhile for the generation that had been through “the war to end all wars” to accept what was happening. Apparently when Roosevelt started referring to the Second World War Americans followed suit. When did people in Britain pick up the term? Probably not in 1939.

  19. @August: I’m pretty much of your opinion on this, but it’s no better to argue that practically everybody understands “kill your darlings” constructively, than to argue that practically nobody does.

    Some people find it helpful and some people don’t; in some circles it’s widely understood in one way and in some circles another; some people consider the meaning of the phrase self-evident, and others consider that meaning so self-evident it shouldn’t need a phrase. Arguing about which side “everyone” is on is no help.

    What I, personally, find dispiriting, is the sense of a useful toolbox being disassembled. Those phrases, that shorthand, can be extremely useful (although to be so, it needs to be clearly understood, and not revered as gospel). I haven’t had occasion to use “kill your darlings” in conversation too much; but I’m glad that I learned it and it’s informed my work. And on the other hand, a tool that’s useful in theory, but in practice is both dangerous and often misused, is not serving the purpose of a good tool.

    I personally hope that the toolbox I know, and have found so useful, isn’t turning obsolete — less for my own critiques (where I make a point to tailor advice to a particular story without relying on opaque catchphrases); more that I hope we still have the common terminology to discuss craft usefully, and for new writers and critiquers to learn the same things. But then, that’s all dependant on the advice being useful, and on it being transmitted clearly and helpfully.

    So I’m pretty unhappy about the idea of “killing ‘killing your darlings'” (alas, can’t we all just get along with darling-killing!), but that doesn’t mean the criticism is inaccurate or misplaced.

  20. @August: Ninja’d! You dialled back while I was still composing 😛

    Still helped me get some thoughts in place, which I found useful, so I hope you won’t take this as picking a fight 🙂

  21. Meredith on June 11, 2018 at 8:21 am said:

    Mm, if I’m reading the list correctly the first non-USA Worldcon seems to be Toronto in 1948, there wasn’t one outside of North America until 1957’s Loncon, and there wasn’t one in a country that doesn’t speak English as an official language until 1970’s Heidelberg. Worldcon took awhile to embrace the World part of its name.

    That is correct. The growing ease of international travel, coupled with the significant increase in the ease and speed of communication, has led to so many non-US Worldcons that there are some US-based fans and pros who have complained that Worldcon isn’t even relevant at all because it has to be held near major US publishing centers (i.e. easy distance of New York) much more often.

    Ironically, during a period when there happened to have been a period of alternating US and non-US (some of which were Canadian) Worldcons, someone noticed a bid what would be two non-US Worldcon in a row and complained that “the rules” prohibited it. Having only just discovered Worldcon in the past few years, they had assumed that Worldcon was required to alternate between US and non-US sites.

    There actually was an alternating-years requirement passed a long time ago, but it was repealed before it would have had any substantive impact. I understand that Heidelberg was the only non-US Worldcon held under that “off-and-on” scheme before it was repealed, as non-US fans complained that they wouldn’t be able to produce viable bids so often. I’d oppose such a requirement today for multiple reasons: the current system is designed to give bids a lot more flexibility; I don’t think requiring 50% of Worldcons to be in the USA is good for Worldcon; and I don’t know who would make a non-US Worldcon appear in a year reserved for them if none happened to be active. Besides, non-US Worldcon bids have proven that they no longer need “protection” from Big Bad Americans.

  22. Dorothy Dunnett’s Johnson Johnson novels. He was a portrait painter (with a yacht and a mysterious never-described background).

  23. @standback: Yeah, no worries. I honestly don’t see anyone here getting aggressive but me, and it’s not even about this discussion, it’s about something that happened to me on Friday that’s affecting my mood and bleeding over into this, and I can’t always see it until long after I’ve hit post.

    I just went out for a walk and am feeling a little better.

    And I take your point re: useful tools.

  24. @Mike Glyer

    A Danish newspaper seems to have referred to it as “The Second World War” in 1939, after the UK and France declared war. I’m still poking around to see if I can find a Brit reference.

  25. August, a few bits of tone aside, your second reply made a bit more sense than the first to me, so I’m glad you made the effort.

    Re: “pretty specific to genre writing” – Well, Lawrence Block is the first person I think of when it comes to writing advice meant to produce the extreme lean plot focused version of writing, so as long as you mean “all genres” or “several commercial genres” and not spec fic in specific. It is very much a commercial fiction attitude to make the story fast and simply-written and delineate character mainly by how the characters react to the action thrown at them.

    I’ve seen variations on Berger’s comment, and I might have gotten it originally from the same place you did, pointing out that the first writer writes a thing (After reading history and eddas and whatnot to inspire it), the second writer writes a copy of the first writer (With maybe a bit of research to find a few details, but trusting the first to be correct), and the third writer writes a copy of them (taking their spins on things as gospel and squashing their nuances into clichés), if they don’t pause and look outside their own genre only and explore.

    But in this case, I think it’s the third-hand version that these professional writers are trying to *debunk*.

    @Standback: I think it’s always been a thing that every set of writing tools and writing rules should end with “abandon any of these rules if abandoning them serves the story better than slavishly following them”. Orwell’s does, and every *savvy* writing teacher I’ve encountered has included an equivalent caveat — but there are a lot of not-as-savvy writing instructors and would be advice givers who don’t include it.

    The professionals are speaking up on this because their voice is heard by the amateurs. And amateurs, especially those looking for the quick and easy way to break in to publishing or actually sell their commercial Indie work, all too often take the rules with no sign of a grain of salt.

    I’m an exception (an amateur who ignores the advice when the advice feels more like a hobble than a useful guideline), but I have been on writing boards since the 1990s where the successful pros were pointing out the “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous” clause.

    I have found a great deal of 101 advice extremely useful even at what I hope is a 301 level of writing, but I have also found where some of it… is not so much a lie as an incomplete story. Just like visually, it’s not exactly a lie to describe the visible light spectrum as Red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet or that red yellow and blue are primary colours, or display a colour wheel with complementary colours, but an advanced painter had best be able to say “sure that’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s not the whole story.”

    And if someone else points out that in some media,the actual primary colours are cyan yellow and magenta or red green and blue, or tells someone that purple and green can work just fine together even though they aren’t complementary, they’re not necessarily throwing out the whole toolbox.

  26. Lord Peter Wimsey is a skilled and enthusiastic amateur musician, and has several artist friends. And his co-sleuth and eventual spouse, Harriet Vane, is a novelist–but writers are more likely to write books about writers than about painters, sculptors, etc.

  27. No argument on the presence of “culture” in crime fiction–I was more interested in the implication in Nussbaum’s piece that SFF was some kind of special case. The best crime fiction is as aware of cultural matters, both as background and as an element of character, as SFF or historical fiction or any other genre or category. My personal favorite example would be the late Reginald Hill, who made Ellie Pascoe an aspiring novelist and embedded her book (with its portrait of Dalziel-as-Odysseus) in Arms and the Women.

  28. Other music-related SF/F: Little Heroes (Spinrad), Armageddon Rag (Martin), Black Opera (Gentle), Glimpses (Shiner), Song for the Basilisk (McKillip).

  29. (2) By pure coincidence I just finished Radiance and while I loved the setting and Worldbuilding, I found it too thin on story for my taste. I usually dig these “Try to figure pout what happend”-books, but in this case, it fell flat.


    (2) Murderbot’s serial dramas!

    The Murderbot can!

    I scroll a lonely scroll
    The only one that I have ever known
    Don’t know where it goes
    But it’s only me, and I scroll alone

  30. @Mike:
    Very interesting question.

    The British Newspaper Archive is searchable for free, but one doesn’t get the articles themselves, only snippets.

    It has several mentions “A second world war is imminent” all through the 1930s. Including one commenter “The second world war started with the Italian invasion of Abyssinia” and others in early 1939 “The second world war is already ongoing”.

    As to when people began calling the 1939 war in Europe the Second World War: That came apparently slower.
    Middlesex Chronicle, Oct 07: “We have had a Boer War, a Great War, and now the Second World War.”
    Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Oct 25: “In America I see they are beginning to call this The Second World War.”
    Cheltenham Chronicle, Nov 05: “… have not yet settled down to a final name for the war. For many The Present War suffices. Others call it the Second World War, The Second German War, the Second European War…”
    Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Dec 09: ” It may turn out that this is the Second World War, though at the moment it is confined to four nations.”

    By 1940 the term was common, and usage grew steadily until 1950.

    “First World War” was used only after the Second had been named,
    but “World War” was apparently invented by Karl Marx in 1850.

    Great… now I have distracted myself from Hugo reading again…
    I was stuck in the Intertidal New York City. Not impressed with the plot and the characters, but the atmosphere and the drowning city itself… wow!

  31. Pretty tangential, but I remember that one of the things that threw me out of Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow (which movie I wanted to like more than I did; I loved the aesthetic and the setting, but the movie itself fell kind of flat) was seeing a newspaper headline referencing the First World War when, in the Sky Captain timeline, there had never been a Second World War.

  32. I don’t know if this is true, but I read a while ago that the term “First World War” appeared in very cynical print before 1920, in the title of a book called something like “Stories and Photos from the First World War.” But that was grim forecasting, and an anomaly, not what most people were calling it–“the Great War” was a, if not the only, common phrasing.

  33. Yeah, in Sky Captain, in context “The Great War” would’ve made a lot more sense. But I expect I’m one of half a dozen people for whom that particular detail was immersion-breaking.

  34. @Lenora:

    I think it’s always been a thing that every set of writing tools and writing rules should end with “abandon any of these rules if abandoning them serves the story better than slavishly following them”.

    I strongly agree in one sense; in another sense, it’s weird to me that these are even the terms being used. I don’t think writing advice should ever be understood in the form of “rules,” such that “exceptions” are even a meaningful concept. They’re considerations, and what you’re supposed to do is consider them.

    Like… “sugar isn’t healthy for you” isn’t something that “has exceptions,” it’s pretty much a constant. But sometimes you want to bake a cake! (Other times, you’ve got diabetes…) “Butter makes pastries yummier” is a fine consideration, but sometimes you want your pastry to be non-dairy. I wouldn’t describe these as “exceptions”; it’s just that sometimes one consideration wins out, and sometimes another does.

    And I guess this is part of what’s so disturbing here, from whichever way you look at it: if (when) “killing your darlings” or “show don’t tell” are being applied unthinkingly, as rules you’re meant to follow without even being able to justify what effect they’re achieving, then you’re already in a bad place. You’re making changes to your MS without knowing why; that can’t end well.

    This whole conversation made me curious, and now I’m browsing back at an archived copy of SFWA’s old list of essays on writing. That’s definitely where I first came across “kill your darlings,” in a piece by James Patrick Kelly.

    It definitely attributes importance to sheer wordcount, and sets the goal as “to prevent verbosity”:

    How much to trim at this point? Based on extensive reading, I estimate that the current rate of literary inflation is about 10%. I try to do my best to fight it; so should you. Thus, if the revision draft is twenty pages, the submission should be eighteen.

    I feel like the examples he gives are very clear, and help the author judge cuts for themselves. I feel like he’s pretty clear on the goal being improved clarity and focus, not sheer plot. I like that he includes finding phrasing that’s both concise and evocative, not merely being satisfied with brevity alone.
    On the other hand, rereading the text, I absolutely see the emphasis that Leckie and Ng are describing — “is this necessary,” “can this be cut,” which definitely gives the sense that if something can be cut, then it should be. (“Well, maybe not all of them,” he qualifies, “just the shiftless ones, those precious freeloaders who are too busy looking good to do any work.” Which I guess you can take either to “these ones are fine; they’re doing great work!” or to “gee, I guess looking good doesn’t count as work.”)

    That was interesting; I’m glad I looked back.

  35. “First World War” was used only after the Second had been named,

    Not so, it was already being used by historians in 1918 as they thought it inevitable that there would be more, and became widespread around 1940 when it was clear the next one was well underway.

  36. 2: seems to be a fair amount of pushback regarding Nussbaum’s assertion. I’ll throw Niven’s Belter society in there as another example of an SF author who actually spent a few words on culture (I mean, the guy did “invent/predict” “flash mobs, so no slouch there), and I’ll also mention a little known book by Pohl and Kornbluth titled “Gravy Planet”…or another planet titled book by a different author, titled “The Planet Buyer” for someone who may have “reintroduced” some culture to a far future Earth…

    My general overall satement regarding that piece is: either Nussbaum isn’t digging deep enough, has forgotten a lot of seminal reads or is discounting these efforts for some (unnecessary) reason.

  37. @Kevin Standlee: broken record here. I DO think requiring at least 50% of Worldcon’s to be held within walking distance of my home would be a good thing.

    Not that I expect that to ever happen, but then again, I’ve rarely allowed reality to interfere with my daydreaming.

  38. (Ok, self-awareness/netiquette moment — what’s a good way to refer to somebody, e.g. one marvelous Ann Leckie, when both (A) I am referring to her comments elsewhere, and (B) she is (/you are) also participating in the conversation?

    I default to “($Surname)” when talking about somebody’s public posts, but that feels really awkward when I should also maybe be writing that in second-person.)

  39. (6) Is it safe to assume the credential’s name is General Jedao?

    Regarding Kill Your Darlings – I am very happy oor Wombat did not kill the goldfish scene in Castle Hangnail. I can also see how it would seem like a sad necessity, misguided as that is.

    (14) TIG!!!!

    Dammit, I have to find a source for ST:D now. Weird, not usually an acronym I’d go searching out.

    Anyway, Tig Notaro is wonderful! I saw her stand-up act live once, and have watched any I could find. Her Amazon show was also great, though I haven’t got to season 2 yet, as I’m waiting to have time to watch it with my co-cat-wrangler. And Jet Reno sounds like a name she’d come up with.

  40. @August: “I honestly don’t see anyone here getting aggressive but me, and it’s not even about this discussion, it’s about something that happened to me on Friday that’s affecting my mood and bleeding over into this, and I can’t always see it until long after I’ve hit post.”

    Welcome to the club. I’m embroiled in a property dispute that dates back more than three decades now, and I just want it to end. The latest wrinkle is that when one co-owner attempted to buy another’s share (over twenty years ago), a flaw in the description on that paperwork created a gray area… and now that buyer’s estate wants me, as a completely different co-owner, to chip in on the legal bills to fix it. For some reason, they see my refusal to do so as unreasonable.

    I’m trying to keep it out of my reactions here and elsewhere, but it is damnably frustrating.

  41. @Steve: I think (2) was a bit of an unfortunate choice for a pull-quote, because Nussbaum’s focus and other points in that piece are more specific, more interesting, and less risible 🙂

  42. Ky on June 11, 2018 at 9:46 am said:

    Off the top of my head, I also remember three amateur detectives in three different books: One artist-painter, one film director, and one glass-blower. I can probably come up with more if I think about it.

    A lot of Dick Francis’s amateur sleuths were artistic. Amongst all the jockeys, trainers, pilots, and horse van drivers, there were: toy designer, photographer, glass artist, architect, painters, actor, wine connoisseur, journalist, and author.

    As for Dorothy L. Sayers, don’t forget Bunter is a gifted photographer. Not only does he photograph crime scenes, fingerprints and evidence, but he takes very insightful portraits as well.

  43. @ August
    Good for you. Hope you feel better.

    Thanks for all your knowledge of the arts in mysteries. Every time I thought, but what about …? somebody mentioned them. I just finished a fun series about a tea shop in Santa Fe (go figure), and even that has one about opera and another about painters.

  44. Is it worth mentioning that Jack Aubrey met Stephen Maturin at a concert?

  45. @Rev. Bob: It is very frustrating. I’ve had to step away from several conversations at work today entirely because I’ve been able to see myself starting to lose it big time over things that don’t justify anything like that reaction.

    My cat passed away on Friday after a sudden illness. We went from the vet saying “your cat has an easily manageable chronic illness and is responding extremely well to treatment” on Wednesday morning to “you need to pick up your cat so you can have one last night with her” on Thursday morning. I’d had her for 14 years, though she was older than that (I took her in as a stray; according to my vet at the time she was at least a year old when I found her, but could have been as old as three). Thursday through Sunday were depression, crying, and manic days, respectively, and apparently today is angry day.

Comments are closed.