Pixel Scroll 6/8/24 This Is A Test Of The Multiverse Emergency Response System

(1) POWER ON BOARD. MIT Technology Review checks out CATAN: New Energies, an updated version of the popular board game that will be released June 14: “This classic game is taking on climate change”.

…Given Catan’s superstar status, I was intrigued to learn late last year that the studio that makes it had plans in the works to release this new version. I quickly got in touch with the game’s co-creator, Benjamin Teuber, to hear more. 

“The whole idea is that energy comes to Catan,” Teuber told me. “Now the question is, which energy comes to Catan?” Power plants help players develop their society more quickly, amassing more of the points needed to win the game. Players can build fossil-fuel plants, represented by little brown tokens. These are less resource-intensive to build, but they produce pollution. Alternatively, players can elect to build renewable-power plants, signified by green tokens, which are costlier but don’t have the same negative effects in the game. 

As a climate reporter, I feel that some elements of the game setup ring true—for example, as players reach higher levels of pollution, disasters become more likely, but there’s still a strong element of chance involved. 

One aspect of the game that didn’t quite match reality was the cost difference between fossil fuels and renewables. Technologies like solar and wind have plummeted in price over the last decade—today, building new renewable projects is generally cheaper than operating existing coal plants in the US.

I asked if the creators had considered having renewables get cheaper over time in the game, and Teuber said the team had actually built an early version with this idea in place, but the whole thing got too complicated. Keeping things simple enough to be playable is a crucial component of game design, Teuber says….

Åke Schwartz

(2) ONE OF THE ABOVE. Rich Horton shares his ballot in “Hugo Nominees for Best Novel, 2024: review summary” at Strange at Ecbatan.

…As I think my reviews make clear, none of these books are terrible — they all have redeeming values, and I’m glad I read them all. Having said that much, it also might be clear that I’m having a hard time enthusiastically supporting any of them for the Hugo. Is that a statement about the state of SF today, or the state of me as a reader of SF today? Probably both, in all honesty….

…So — in summary, what do I think of these books — how do I rank them? I’ll state my prejudices first. As hinted above, I do prize ambition — both literary ambition (I definitely give extra points for good prose) and thematic ambition — asking difficult questions, and presenting intriguing and original ideas. Especially science fictional ideas: cool extrapolation, and the treatment of technologies or scientific ideas that raise interesting question or that throw light on broader ideas, such as, say,  what does it mean to be intelligent….

(3) THE PIONEER FANZINE THAT “BOMBED” THE RUSSIANS. [Item by Ahrvid Engholm.] Imagine Ray Palmer popped up and told how the very first fanzine, The Comet, May 1930, came about?

A pioneer fanzine maker from 1952, Åke Schwartz, now surfaces after 72 years of silence. Not his fault, others didn’t know about him or Sweden’s first fanzine: Vår Rymd (“Our Space”).

Every issue of my PDFzine Intermission covers sf and fandom history. And Intermission 143.5 has a bombshell, all about the forgotten or lost Vår Rymd, directly from Åke (soon 89). Those pioneer fanzine makers once —

…gathered after lunch in a big room at Åke Henriksson’s on 13B Villa Street and produced it. It took a weekend. I worked the typewriter. I put up the typwriter on a big dining table. It was a bit difficult to write on stencils. If there was a typo you had to smear some substance on it, wait and then type the correction. We began with discussing what ideas each one had and if he had brought the material so it could be written. Then we decided the contents. Sven could draw what he wanted. He was a good artist. Then we began. A lot of milk and buns were consumed during the afternoon. We didn’t drink beer at the time. The next day we took the stencils to dad’s office at the company Gränges on Gustaf Adolf Square to print it.

But this was unexpected:

The Russian Ambassador lived below Henrikssons. Every day he went to the Russian Embassy on Villa Street 17. Once we put explosives in his keyhole. It was a fairly innocent mix called “blast dough”. It was Karl who studied chemistry who made it. When the ambassador put in the key it exploded.

The news on the fanzine dug up after 7+ decades is truly explosive…

(4) MEMORABLE EFFECTS OF LATE NIGHT SNACKS. The Guardian salutes “Gremlins at 40: Joe Dante’s untamed classic is a love letter to chaos”.

…The Peltzers have no business taking care of Gizmo, who must be kept away from bright light and water and must not, under any circumstances, eat after midnight. (The fact that it’s always after midnight is a bit of pedantry that Dante tackles in the sequel.) It takes absolutely no time at all for Billy and the family to violate all those rules, which result in the mogwai first multiplying into mischievous clones and then cocooning like the xenomorphs in Alien, later emerging as scaly, malevolent beasts hellbent on destruction. Credit Dante and his soon-to-be-famous screenwriter, Home Alone’s Chris Columbus, with establishing some key supporting players before things go awry, including Billy’s love interest, Kate (Phoebe Cates), the cantankerous Murray Futterman (Dante mainstay Dick Miller) and Mrs Deagle (Polly Holliday), the town’s miserly widow.

Released just two weeks after Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins cracked open a nationwide conversation about violence in family films and led to the creation of PG-13, intended to covering the wide gulf between all-ages fare and films aimed at adults. How that new rating would reshape American movies is a massive and mostly deflating discussion, but Dante’s willingness to spook his younger audience rather than infantilize it is laudable, because it’s done in the right spirit. …

(5) WALL-TO-WALL MAD. PRINT Magazine alerts readers to the opening of a museum exhibit in “The Daily Heller: MAD and the Usual Gang of Idiots”.

Richard Williams: “Alfred E. Neuman and Norman Rockwell”, 2002
Cover illustration for Mad Art: A Visual Celebration of MAD Magazine and the Idiots Who Create It (Watson Guptill, 2002)

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, has replaced its historic Leo Lionni exhibition with What, Me Worry? The Art and Humor of MAD Magazine, which runs through Oct. 27.

The show covers the full legacy of MAD, from Harvey Kurtzman’s inspired comic book, to Bill Gaines’ outwitting the Comics Code Authority by transitioning from comic book to magazine format, up through the present. The NRM curatorial staff, headed by Stephanie Plunkett, together with guest curator Steve Brodner (assisted by an unusual gang of experts), has brought MAD—which ended newsstand distribution in 2018, continuing in comic book stores and via subscription—back to the fore with a richly filled treasury of printed and original material. I prevailed on Plunkett and Brodner before the opening on June 8 to discuss what and what not to worry about while visiting this MAD wellspring of humor in the jugular vein….

Here’s the direct link to the exhibit: “What, Me Worry? The Art and Humor of MAD Magazine”. The Norman Rockwell Museum has also put together two short videos to go with it.

  • MAD: Making A Magazine
  • What, Me Worry? The Art and Humor of MAD Magazine


[Compiled by Paul Weimer.]

June 8, 1928 Kate Wilhelm. (Died 2018.)

By Paul Weimer. Even beyond her fiction, Wilhelm’s influence and effect on the field can be best defined with one word: Clarion.

The Clarion Workshop (and its splinter and descendant groups) was the brainchild of herself and Damon Knight, and its influence on the field cannot be underestimated. It remains to this day the premier workshop for science fiction writers, and many of the best writers, past and present either attended Clarion, or have taught at Clarion, or attended a workshop that came out or was inspired by Clarion. Thanks to Wilhelm, Clarion permanently and profoundly changed how science fiction writing is taught. 

Kate Wilhelm

As far as that fiction, the one Wilhelm work that stays with me, and it will be no surprise, is Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Part of the round of post-apocalyptic novels and stories that was a strong strain in cinema and in written science fiction in the 1970’s, I think it might have been the first time I had come across the idea of clones. I first read the novel in that first burst of Science fictional reading in the early 1980’s (again, from my older brother’s collection).  I was struck by the setting, the conflict between the clones and those seeking to return to biological means of reproduction, and the slow continued apocalypse of the world. 

A community that had survived the apocalypse and was slowly surviving and outlasting global warming, was nevertheless succumbing, inexorably, to lacking the parts and technology to keep their new clone society alive.  (This would come to mind recently, when I read Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas, which takes this idea as well but in a different direction). It’s a sad and elegiac novel in the end, and very representative in general of her work.

Sadly, a lot of her non-mystery work (her mystery work output being far vaster than her science fiction) is not readily in print, which is, I think, a disservice and a shame.


(8) COMING TO AN EAR NEAR YOU. The Mary Sue introduces the “Chuck Tingle Bury Your Gays Audiobook Cast”.

…Now our favorite buckaroo is back with a new horror novel—and the audiobook version has a cast that will make speculative fiction fans scream.

Bury Your Gays, coming out on July 9, 2024, is Tingle’s second full-length horror novel. The book tells the story of Misha, a screenwriter in L.A. who’s been nominated for his first Oscar. However, the network executives in charge of Misha’s streaming show are pressuring him to kill off all his gay characters “for the algorithm.” When Misha refuses, he puts himself in mortal danger, while monsters of his own creation begin to stalk him in the hills outside the city.

A slate of beloved authors are in the audiobook’s cast, including Charlie Jane Anders, CJ Leede, Liz Kerin, Mark Oshiro, Sarah Gailey, Stephen Graham Jones, T. Kingfisher, and TJ Klune. The audiobook will be primarily narrated by Andre Santana, with Georgia Bird and Mara Wilson also contributing….

(9) THE SHAPE OF SPACE. Somebody tell Scott Edelman! “’We’re trying to find the shape of space’: scientists wonder if the universe is like a doughnut” – in the Guardian.

We may be living in a doughnut. It sounds like Homer Simpson’s fever dream, but that could be the shape of the entire universe – to be exact, a hyperdimensional doughnut that mathematicians call a 3-torus.

This is just one of the many possibilities for the topology of the cosmos. “We’re trying to find the shape of space,” says Yashar Akrami of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Madrid, a member of an international partnership called Compact (Collaboration for Observations, Models and Predictions of Anomalies and Cosmic Topology). In May, the Compact team explained that the question of the shape of the universe remains wide open and surveyed the future prospects for pinning it down.

“It’s high-risk, high-reward cosmology,” says team member Andrew Jaffe, a cosmologist at Imperial College London. “I would be very surprised if we find anything, but I’ll be extremely happy if we do.”

…. “Knowing what the curvature is, you know what kinds of topologies are possible,” says Akrami. Flat space could just go on for ever, like an infinite sheet of paper. That’s the most boring, trivial possibility. But a flat geometry also fits with some topologies that cosmologists euphemistically call “nontrivial”, meaning that they’re far more interesting and can get pretty mind-boggling.

There are, for mathematical reasons, precisely 18 possibilities. In general, they correspond to the universe having a finite volume but no edges: if you travel farther than the scale of the universe, you end up back where you started. It’s like the screen of a video game in which a character exiting on the far right reappears on the far left – as though the screen is twisted into a loop. In three dimensions, the simplest of these topologies is the 3-torus: like a box from which, exiting through any face, you re-enter through the opposite face….

(10) SALLY RIDE BIO COMING TO TV. Deadline learns “Kristen Stewart To Play Astronaut Sally Ride In ‘The Challenger’ TV Series”.

 Kristen Stewart will make her TV series-starring debut in The Challenger, a limited series in which she’ll play Sally Ride, the astronaut and physicist who became the first American woman to fly in space. She did this as part of a NASA space shuttle astronaut class of 1978 that was the first to be diversified and not comprised of all white men.…

…The series is based on The New Guys, a book written by Meredith E. Bagby, who partners with Sedgwick and Valerie Stadler in Big Swing. They are also executive producers.

In some ways, this has the tapestry to tell the successor story to The Right Stuff, which was based on Tom Wolfe’s book about the culture clash that occurred when the cockiest world’s best fighter pilots jumped into the space race that America was engaged in with the Russians. Bagby tells the story of a group that was called by their predecessors ‘The F*cking New Guys,’ as NASA sought to diversify its pilots and crew for the space shuttle program. Ride was the first woman and the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to fly into space. Also in that program was the first Black and Asian American astronauts, and a married couple. They passed all the rigorous tests to become top of the class, and egos, ambition and romance were part of the cultural clash. They were also quite brilliant.In 1983, Ride became the first American woman to fly on the space shuttle, and became an instant celebrity. That joy was short-lived, however, when three years later the space shuttle Challenger blew apart 73 seconds into its ascent, killing all seven members of the crew. Ride then became the only astronaut to become part of the Rogers Commission, a presidential commission to investigate the disaster, and it later came out that she pinpointed the problems with O-rings that became stiff at low temperature, and that turned out to be the reason for the explosion. Ride died from cancer at age 61 in 2012, a true American hero.

(11) NASA IS IN TROUBLE. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Cool Worlds notes that NASA is in deep trouble.

In 2023 Congress spent US$1.5 billion (the same as NASA’s entire astrophysics budget) to buy extra F35 aircraft that the Department of Defense did not request. In terms of total tax revenue NASA’s astrophysics budget is 0.03% of total US tax spent and NASA’s overall budget 0.5% of US tax spent. For this year, NASA, through the White House, had requested US$27.2 billion but Congress only approved US$25.4 billion giving NASA its first budget cut in over a decade. Of course, there have been problems with things like the James Webb Space Telescope being massively over budget.

Cool Worlds suggests that we take NASA’s estimates for the cost of future missions with “a pinch of salt”. For example, will the Habitable Worlds Observatory (working title – bet it’s going to be called the Sagan telescope) really cost US$11 billion and launch in 2040? Cool Worlds also argues that a bigger telescope than that planned is needed as it is likely that the nearest habitable world around a Sun-like star will be further away than proposers think. It also notes that there are competing factors for US tax dollars. In the 1980s decade extreme weather events cost the US US$21.7 billion, but with climate change the half decade to the end of 2023 cost US$122.5 billion.

[Thanks to Steven French, Teddy Harvia, Kathy Sullivan, Paul Weimer, Mark Roth-Whitworth, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, and SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]

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16 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 6/8/24 This Is A Test Of The Multiverse Emergency Response System

  1. I see a fresh Scroll, so let me make comment upon it.

    I can read short stories despite my memory issues and I just read “Better Living Through Algorithms” by Naomi Kritzer which as you know is up for a Hugo. What a lovely story it is, but then everything by her is.

  2. (2) I haven’t gotten to the novels, but we were discussing the short fiction nominees after the WSFA meeting, and a lot seem to be short on story. Sorry, but whatever the editors’ desire for Literature – the emphasis on character overwhelming story is giving us, IMO, less good stories.
    (8) And here I’ve been saying I need to pick up one of his books. Really not into audiobooks, though this looks tempting.
    (9) The results of WIMP, what, about 20 years ago, they were certain (I know someone involved in that) that it showed a flat universe. So, now we have more data and it’s not so certain. To me, the only one that works is the toroidal universe… and if that “rotates” through the center, we can both simulate and avoid the Big Bang…
    (10) I may want to watch that… Wonder if she ever met Valentina Tereshkova…
    (11) The GOP has always hated civilian space – they always saw it as a program of the Democrats. This is std. procedure. The amount that the US spends on major science – mostly NASA and the NIH, is on the order of $60B… and the DoD gets more than 10 times that, and they still offer more than asked for. (Meanwhile, the DoD keeps failing audits.) snarl

  3. I once saw Sally Ride give a speech but have no recollection of what she said. Valentina was little more than cargo, so the Russians could say they’d put a woman in space. Sally, on the other hand, was a genuine working part of the mission.

  4. @mark–(2) Short stories don’t have room for a lot of plot. They are vehicles for character. And it’s fine not to like that! Some authors fudge the difference by dropping their short stories into an ongoing series that provides a plot framework.

    (9) I reject the donut-shaped universe. Not because I’m aware of any compelling evidence against it. I just don’t want a big, hungry multiverse to come along and take a bite out of it.

  5. (9) I would think a donut shaped universe would be extremely anisotropic.

  6. 6) One of my all-time favorite near-future SF novels is Kate Wilhelm’s Welcome, Chaos. Without giving away the premise, she calmly and coolly shows how one technological change can totally rearrange the world. Still readable today and highly recommended.

  7. LisC: Alternatively, there’s not a lot of room in a short story for character and plot. But you don’t get character, IMO, without the plot to display it. A lot of older short sf was all plot, but we got better…

    Yes, I do have trouble keep ing my shorts close to 5k, and not getting up to 7500.

  8. “This is a test of the Multiverse Emergency Response System. This is only a test. The editors of this fanzine in involuntary cooperation with federal, state and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just received would have been followed by comments from SF fans and pros that the WSFS Mark Protection Committee should do something about it. In another universe, the Time Patrol think you did it and are after you. Your best bet is to make your way to The Old Phoenix. There is no telling what might happen, but in the meantime, the beer is very good. In another universe, you are the only one who can save us. Find Jerry Cornelius in London and fly to Beszel or Ul Quoma. When you find Orciny, they have a can of Ubik in the kitchen cabinet. You will know what to do. Avoid Snakes and Spiders. This concludes this test of the Multiverse Emergency Response System.”

  9. (4) In keeping with the recent Harlan discourse, I’ll mention that I remember that Ellison panned Gremlins in F&SF back in the day for being a violent and cruel take on the gremlin concept which he loved from its 1940s and 50s versions.

    (6) Always loved Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

  10. Meredith Moments: Martha Wells’ Witch King is $1.99 and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time is $2.99.

  11. @Jon: At last Everything Everywhere All at Once is proven accurate.

  12. (9) This is another example in a semi-infinite series of a few scientists going “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Not only is there no evidence for this – “Previous analyses do not rule out there being possibly observable effects due to the universe having a nontrivial topology” is, let’s say, extremely careful phrasing – it’s almost impossible to test because there are literally an infinite number of possibilities, plus the complications of living in the real, messy universe.

    Also, they totally ignore the glazing problem.

    Something of a sidenote, but:
    Isn’t it, though, a little perverse to imagine that the universe may have some twisted-doughnut shape rather than having the simplest possible topology of infinite size? Not necessarily. Going from nothing to infinity in the big bang is quite a step.
    This is just head-bangingly wrong. If the universe is infinite, it’s always been infinite. That includes the moment of the big bang.

  13. 9) I don’t have to understand any of this stuff–I just live here. Kinda the way I feel about the plumbing in our 96-year-old house. It’s the plumber’s problem, and I pay the bill and say “Thanks.” I’m glad that somebody is worrying about the technical and theoretical ends of things, though.

  14. Two favorites of mine by Wilhelm, Oh, Susannah! and Death Qualified. Both of these are genre in my opinion, but in relatively subtle ways. Like Gene Wolfe, Wilhelm is a layered writer; there’s always more going on than a surface reading would suggest. Minor trivia: her first sale was in longhand, and she used the proceeds to buy a typewriter.

  15. (2) ONE OF THE ABOVE I’m having a hard time enthusiastically supporting any of them for the Hugo.

    Well, apart from Anne Leckie’s Translation State, none of the Hugo short-listers made our (SF² Concatenation) annual bit of fun. But then (scroll further down previous link) our bit of fun lists usually only overlap with one or two Hugo short-listed works even if overall many of the titles our team selects each January go one to be short-listed for, and even win, a number of genre awards…

    So, some sympathy, or at least understanding, for Rich H’s perspective….

    But I don’t think the Hugos are 100% good at being an indicator of the health of SF: there’s plenty of other good stuff out there…

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