Pixel Scroll 7/14/16 I Am the Pixel in the Darkness

(1) READERCONTROVERSY. Mikki Kendall’s “#Readercon: Low Point & Lessons” rounds out an ongoing conversation about a panel at last weekend’s con.

For those who weren’t at Readercon—or who didn’t attend the Beyond Strong Female Characters panel—Sabrina Vourvoulias’ post lays out the panel I was going to write about as my low point for the weekend. I expect a certain amount of fail at sci fi conventions, and as failures go this wasn’t one of the majors for me. (Ellen Kushner has already apologized to me on Twitter, and I will be talking to her shortly after this post goes live. I accept the apology and this post isn’t really about Ellen so much as the phenomenon she was a part of at this particular panel.)….

Ultimately, cons are supposed to be fun. They’re a chance to meet people who love the same kinds of things that you do, a chance to geek out with them about whatever it is that you love. They are also a major part of networking in the industry. You can share a table with an agent, an editor, and your potential audience. Cons are important for fans, for authors, for the publishing industry as a whole.

Dissuading new authors and fans from con spaces this way won’t keep them out of publishing. It might make it more difficult, it might make for fewer amazing stories. But mostly it will make for the end of con culture. Maybe that’s the point. If the panels aren’t welcoming, if some con spaces feel closed, then as sad as it might be to lose con culture, maybe that’s for the best because endlessly fighting for space at the table is energy that can be used to build a new table.

(2) POLLBUSTERS. FiveThirtyEight uses Ghostbusters as a springboard to examine the problems with online ratings systems.

But this “Ghostbusters” thing? It lays bare so, so much of what we’re investigating when it comes to the provenance and reliability of internet ratings.1 Namely, they’re inconsistent, easily manipulated and probably not worth half the stock we put in them.2 Here are a few stats I collected early Thursday for the new “Ghostbusters” movie:

The movie isn’t even out in theaters as I’m writing this, but over 12,000 people have made their judgment. Male reviewers outnumber female reviewers nearly 5 to 1 and rate “Ghostbusters” 4 points lower, on average.

(3) STUDYING THE HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS. This week on James Davis Nicoll’s Young People Read Old SF the panel looks at Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall”. Jamie comments —

I’ve actually read this one before, in a collection of Asimov stories. I had forgotten the details but knew what the big reveal was. Maybe because I read and liked the Foundation stories I don’t find the prose in this story so foreign. And foreign is the word for all these stories. They were clearly written by people who lived in a different time and place. People just don’t speak like that anymore and writers don’t write dialogue like that anymore.

The format is one that I’ve seen in other stories, a journalist chasing a story as a means to give the scientists someone to explain to. It’s a good trick, and kept the story moving.

(4) MANY AUTHORS NOTIFIED. Bence Pintér sent the link to the final article in his investigation of a Hungarian sf magazine – “Piracy by Galaktika: They Are Doing It Since 2004”.

Galaktika placed emphasis on reprinting stories by the grand masters of sci-fi, fantasy, horror genres dating back to even the 19th century. This can be witnessed from the very beginning when in the first edition in November 2004 authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen Baxter, Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley and Poul Anderson were included. We were able to reach the agencies of Poul Anderson, Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke, who stated that Galaktika magazine had no right to publish their clients’ work (not only in this case, but in all concerned cases). The agency representing the Asimov estate has only recently taken control and therefore was unable to give a statement.

When we last contacted the agency representing the Anderson estate (and fifteen other affected authors), they claimed that negotiations were underway with the publisher – more on that at the end of the article. The agency representing the Clarke estate stated that after our first article on this issue all previous debt was settled by the publisher. ?Copyright protection is essential to the survival of these stories and our industry, and we are very reassured to know that there is such a strong SF community in Hungary which is holding those like Galaktika to account for their actions? – stated that representative of the company towards Mandiner. We also inquired towards the books of Arthur C. Clarke reprinted by Galaktika. It turned out that besides the reprinted short stories, there was also at least one novel that needed to be discussed between the parties; but we have no further information about this issue. (Sources tell us that this novel may be 2001: A Space Odyssey reprinted last year.)

Coming back to the grand masters: besides Clarke, Anderson, and Baxter, the agencies of Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, Robert J. Sawyer, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Heinlein, Nancy Kress, Jack Williamson, Michael Flynn, Kim Stanley Robinson, Hal Clement, Leigh Brackett, Cordwainer Smith, Philip José Farmer, Jack McDevitt, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, Jack Vance and Richard Matheson also gave no permission for the reprinting of the authors’ works; similarly, Larry Niven was also not informed that his works were being reprinted. Vance’s agency later informed us that the two parties came to an agreement. A regularly occurring author was Michael Swanwick, winner of the Nebula Award and nominee for many others; he too was oblivious to his works being reprinted; neither were the successors of Philip K. Dick or Tanith Lee informed. These authors alone had a work reprinted nearly every year, all of which were illegal. This however is only the tip of the iceberg….

(5) AMAZON BITES. Mary Rosenblum’s guest post at the SFWA Blog, “Amazon Bites Author”, argues that a client’s receipt of a warning letter that they were about to suspend his Amazon account and stop selling his books shows writers can innocently run afoul of the online bookseller’s anti-fraud algorithims.

Meanwhile, I’ve been changing my client advice for career authors regarding Amazon.com. I no longer suggest going the Select/KU route. Clearly, Amazon is casting a net for scammers there and if you use book discounters and other promotions well, you may find yourself in Brad’s shoes. You can make your ebook free in other ways. Use the book discounters and free downloads to reach a lot of new readers and stay off the KU system. If your book is good and readers like the freebie, they’ll pay for the next book and become loyal fans.

Here are my new ‘rules’.  It’s a depressingly long list, isn’t it?

  • Never offer any kind of thank you gift, incentive, or what have you for a review.
  • Never post a free book offer on your Facebook page to solicit reviews.
  • Use only the email list you’ve acquired from your website (and this is why that list is SO important) to send an offer of an epub or mobi or pdf copy of the new book to those people and ask them to review the book when it’s out.
  • Never ask for a positive review, only ask for an honest review.
  • Never let family members review your book.
  • Never use a paid review service.
  • Use only honest book discounters such as Fussy Librarian and BookBub.
  • Never swap reviews with other authors.

(6) HARDY OBIT. Robin Hardy, director of the horror film The Wicker Man (1973), died July 1 at the age of 86.

When Mr. Hardy, a television director, decided he wanted to make a horror film, he found an enthusiastic collaborator in Anthony Shaffer, who wrote the play “Sleuth” and the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film “Frenzy.” Mr. Hardy and Shaffer, partners in a production company, were avid fans of the horror films made by Hammer Studios. Together they set about making a film that would take the Hammer approach in a new direction.

Shaffer, using the novel “Ritual” by David Pinner as a basis, came up with the story of a devout Christian policeman, Sergeant Neil Howie, who travels to a Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a girl. In Mr. Hardy’s hands, the island and its inhabitants — led by the priestlike Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee, took on a mystifying aura, with bizarre events unfolding….


  • Born July 14, 1910 – William Hanna: The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Top Cat etc.

(8) ANIME. Petréa Mitchell runs down more than 20 stfnal anime premieres for Amazing Stories.

Gray-man HALLOW premiere – In Fairytale Britain, a villain called the Millennium Earl is creating demonic constructs and sending them out to take over the world or somesuch. Opposing him is a vaguely religious order armed with everything from magical powers to amped-up mundane weapons. At the center of it all is Allen Walker, a particularly talented exorcist, who is slowly being taken over by the personality of one of the Milliennium Earl’s former allies. There are people in the power structure moving against him, and something unfortunate is about to happen to his mentor.

While most of this episode is spent catching new viewers up, there’s still room for some supernatural monster-killing action. It does a decent job at both. All around, it’s a perfectly serviceable action-adventure.

The big caveat for a Western audience is that it takes the European setting and religious trappings and does very weird things with them. It operates at about the same level of fidelity in its depiction of Japanese culture as a typical Western cartoon.

(9) PUMPKIN IS THE NEW ORANGE. The Halloween Daily News urges one and all to sign a petition to make Ray Bradbury’s favorite day of the year a real holiday. (They don’t mention Ray, but we know it’s true.)

Have you ever wished that your favorite day of the year, Halloween was recognized as an actual federal Holiday like Christmas and Thanksgiving? Of course you are not alone, and one person is taking this request to the White House in the form of an online petition that needs at least 100,000 signatures by July 25 to be taken seriously. But we can do that, right?

(10) THE VOTE. Hugo ballot picks for Novella by Jonathan Edelstein.

I wasn’t able to put the best novella of 2015 on the top of my Hugo ballot, because that story, The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik, didn’t make the finals.  That said, I can’t complain too much about the choices I had: the novella can be an awkward length, but most of this year’s entries carried it off and some were very good indeed.

(11) TEMPERATURE RISING. Kate Paulk’s comments in “Hugo Finalist Highlights – Best Short Story and Best Novelette” for once venture beyond indifference. There were some stories she even warmed up to.

“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015) – Another cute piece, but with a liberal side of “hmm” that kept me thinking after I’d finished. This is one of my personal contenders for this category.

(12) THE ANSWER MY FRIEND. Teri Windling shares ancient knowledge in “Hedgies”.

“Aristotle says that hedgehogs can foretell a change of wind,” writes mythologist J.C. Cooper, “and accordingly shift the outlook of their earth-holes.”


(13) SIDE OF HAM. Entertainment Weekly’s view is that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a movie about acting”.

For the moment, stuff the subtext: The Kobayashi Maru is a scene about the Enterprise crew – highly-skilled space-naval pioneer coworkers – putting on a show. They’re performing. And “performance” is both running plot point and underlying theme in Wrath of Khan. Khan fools Kirk with a performance, and Kirk fools Khan with three performances. In the second scene, Spock performs the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of…” etc. In the penultimate scene, Kirk quotes Dickens’ closing: “It is a far, far better…” etc.

(14) ABOUT FACE. Handimania supplies a recipe for the head in a jar prank.

The thing is to blend two pictures together in order to prepare flat image of a human head. Afterwards, the photo has to be laminated and placed in a jar filled with fluid to create the illusion of a decapitated head. This nasty prank was prepared by Instructables’ user, mikeasaurus, who advises to personalize the gag for the best effect.

(15) E.T. ON LINE 1. Listserve knows “10 Bizarre Ways Scientists Believe Aliens Will Contact Us”

  1. Flashing A Billion Stars

Astrophysicist Ragbir Bhathal works with SETI to scan the skies for possible communications from extraterrestrial intelligence. Unlike most SETI facilities, which look for radio signals, Bhathal’s facility looks for laser pulses at his lab. The pulses sweep a nearby volume of space—within about 100 light-years—to find laser bursts that come in regular patterns. Scientists are now capable of detecting signals as faint as a single photon of light every few fractions of a second.

Lasers can, in principle, help transmit messages over extraordinary distances. While scientists have monitored a large number of stars looking for alien laser signals—like the facilities at Harvard and Princeton that scanned more than 10,000 Sun-like stars for several years—no evidence for any alien communication has been found.

(16) RESPECT. In “Should Pokémon Go?”, Kim Stahl offers a defense of Pokémon Go at the Holocaust Museum.

Following the articles about the D.C. Holocaust museum’s reaction to Pokémon Go, it struck me how very differently game-theory people and other people react to what’s going on with this game. The spots in the museum have been targets in another game (Ingress) for a few years, apparently without incident. Hundreds of thousands of people play that game, and many have played it inside the museum. But Pokémon is a very different sort of game. It is much more popular, and appeals to younger people, and unlike a game that is essentially a game-ified version of Geocaching, Pokémon is lighthearted and people are excited about it because it is new….

But the important difference I’m seeing is that the challenge the museum is facing made me think “great! People are visiting a place with so much to teach them because of the game! Now, how should they take the next step to encourage appropriate behavior from those visitors?” In other words, “how could the museum gamify getting the behavior they want from visitors instead of the behavior they don’t?” Quiet, respectful behavior and attention to the exhibits presumably.

When I was in Milan, one of the official pamphlets from the Duomo had information for Ingress players about a mission there. One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, a historical wonder intended for silent, respectful contemplation of God, used a game to get more people to visit and to get them to see the best parts of the church. That surprised and impressed me, of all of the places I would expect to clamp down on frivolous things or modern things, instead they embraced the possibilities.

(17) GO FOR PARENTS. Matthew Johnson wrote “A Parents’ Guide to Pokémon Go” for MediaSmarts.

Over the last week our world has been invaded: cute cartoon creatures can now be found lurking in parks, restaurants, museums, and even people’s houses. If you haven’t seen them, it’s because they’re only visible on a smartphone screen, and only if you’re playing the new game “Pokémon Go”.

While most parents are probably at least a bit familiar with the thirty-year-old Pokémon franchise, Pokémon Go is something new: the first widely popular alternate reality game (ARG). These games use GPS and similar location-finding technologies to overlay a game onto the real world. As a result, both public spaces and news stories have filled up with people looking to “catch ‘em all.”

Although most people playing Pokémon Go are probably adults, Pokémon’s popularity among kids means that many of them will want to play it too. Here’s a quick rundown on what to consider if your kids ask if they can play: ….

(18) POKESONG. Then Matthew Johnson took a break and insta-filked a bit of Pokémon trivia.

Darren Garrison on July 14, 2016 at 5:50 am said: My son sez Mew is the rarest Pokémon.

Okay, somebody, quick–filk “Mew is the rarest Pokemon” to the tune of “One is the Loneliest Number” for Paul_A.

As you wish:

Mew, is the loneliest Pokémon you’ll ever do
Mew is just the saddest one, he’s so lonely that they had to clone Mewtwo
It’s just no good anymore since Mew went away
I spent my time just catching Grimers yesterday
Pokémon Go is the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Because Mew is the loneliest Pokémon
Mew is the loneliest Pokémon
Mew is the loneliest Pokémon you’ll ever do

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Aziz Poonawalla, Chip Hitchcock, Will R., and Petréa Mitchell for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Greg Hullender.]

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95 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 7/14/16 I Am the Pixel in the Darkness

  1. Mike Glyer on July 15, 2016 at 3:28 pm said:

    Camestros Felapton: The Scroll and the Pixelcat Went to Sea in a Seven and Seventy Blog

    A distant relative of Timothy’s?

    Yes, but with less resolution.


    I read Nightfall for the first time in the last year or two. My understanding was that the people went insane, not because they couldn’t deal with not having light, but because once they could see all those stars, they realized that their world (and by extension, they themselves as a race) was not necessarily a unique-and-special thing and that it was just one of billions, utterly insignificant.

    That does seem to me to be legitimate explanation for mob madness. After all, the ancients invented mythologies and religions as a way to cope with the fact that there were many things they did not understand, and with the fact that there were forces far more powerful than them, which had no recognition of, or concern for them, whatsoever. The people in Nightfall had never had a need to do that, and when the reality became apparent to them, they had no comforting myths to fall back on.

    Did I just make that up? Why do none of the analyses I’ve read talk about that?

  3. JJ: Thanks. On the list of Mike’s 5 Biggest Faults is the tendency to think It’s All About Me….

  4. Mike Glyer on July 15, 2016 at 4:13 pm said:

    JJ: Thanks. On the list of Mike’s 5 Biggest Faults is the tendency to think It’s All About Me….

    Scrollipsism 😉

  5. @Greg Hullender I don’t think the story is “beyond racist” I think it was intentionally supposed to be dark and disturbing to the reader. There was nothing glorious shown about genocide. It was, frankly, horrifying that someone could not only contemplate it, but implement it. That, I think, was the point. As the introduction noted, once something like this becomes possible, sooner or later some evil SOB will use it to advance whatever cause they think is so important. Like nukes, chemicals and other WMDs

    The story has problems (it’s certainly not my top choice), but racist? No, we’r enot supposed to be cheering Zedong on.

  6. With regard to “Seven Kill Tiger”, it struck me as a delicious fantasy for white supremacists, in that not only are all the black Africans dead, but also it’s the evil Chinese Commies who did it, meaning the virtuous white races have completely clean hands (and will then, presumably, be entirely morally justified in unleashing their own genocide bug on the Chinese.)

    I would agree that the story does not approve of Zedong, but it doesn’t disapprove to the extent of, y’know, anyone in it so much as lifting a finger to stop him.

    Left a very nasty taste in my mouth, that one did.

  7. We’re also, apparently, expected to believe that Zedong’s starting assumption, that sub-Saharan Africans are inherently criminal.

    And I can only conclude that Shao believes, in a fine disconnection from reality, that the most genetically diverse population of humans on the planet have a clear genetic marker sufficient that it’s theoretically possible, or at least imaginable, that you could design a killer virus that would only kill sub-Saharan Africans. Not even African-Americans, because they’re sufficiently mixed that they’d be immune…?

    Or, sorry. Irredeemably racist.

  8. 1. Readercon sure spawns more than its share of kerfuffles, doesn’t it? I must say that even if it were closer to me, I’d be skipping it.

    5. I agree in that this list is only depressing in that some people ever thought some of these were good/ethical ideas. They look like “well duh” items to me. Anyone who pays for reviews deserves to have all their books pulled forever. It’s simple enough to have your Facebook pals NOT mention that they “know” you in their reviews, isn’t it? I can see deleting reviews if they’re from people who you hang out with IRL, but not even Amazon can detect who you work with or if a reviewer is your cousin or your college roommate. But buying reviews, feh.

    I have gotten items free for review, and I do generally give them good ones because people only send me stuff they’re pretty sure I’ll like (or have even begged asked for). But not always. Sometimes I chicken out and “forget” to write one, or sometimes I give a less-than-glowing review. I went one-star once; haven’t heard from them again and didn’t expect to. But the product was terrible!

    @Camestros: A song about Timothy and Straw Puppy!

    @JJ: That’s always been my interpretation of “Nightfall”. It’s even said in some of the dialogue “there’s so MANY, we never knew!”. Being in the middle of a globular cluster, it’s not going to be completely dark anyway, so it isn’t light that’s the problem, it’s having to see all those stars. So the fires block ’em out.

    It’s the equivalent of a few people living in an isolated area and thinking “Aha, we are the only upright-walking, thumb-having, speech-using beings, yay us”, and then instantly transporting them to the middle of a city. Instant madness.

    @Steve Wright: exactly.

  9. @lurkertype I can see deleting reviews if they’re from people who you hang out with IRL

    You mean Patrick Rothfuss shouldn’t review books? I’ve read a number of his reviews. Mary Robinette Kowal knows way to many authors – would you say she shouldn’t review books? Jemisin shouldn’t review books? Tempest Bradford shouldn’t review books by most of the well known authors of color? I love both of their reviews and recommendations. How many filers shouldn’t be reviewing books/comics because we know the authors, editors, colorist?

    In the publishing industry friends have always blurbed and reviewed each other’s books. Indies are being held to higher standards while traditional publishers go out of their way to have their authors ask friends to blurb and review their books. I’ve read a number of blog posts by them about this. It’s fascinating.

    This is the same in the gaming, movie, and TV business. People know each other, bump into each other at social events, hangout together on the Internet, belong to organizations, collaborate on projects, mentor each other, and more. It’s crazy to think people work in bubbles and don’t know each other. Even before the Internet they did.

  10. @James Davis Nicoll: apologies; I fixed one part of my wired-in spelling and not the other.

  11. John A Arkansawyer: How do you folks feel about Kaleidoscope Century?

    Having just read the Wikipedia description, I feel that I will have no regrets about not wasting any of my precious bookreading time on it.

  12. @ lurkertype

    It’s simple enough to have your Facebook pals NOT mention that they “know” you in their reviews, isn’t it?

    It isn’t that simple at all. Facebook shares data with Goodreads. I know this, because Goodreads offered to automatically convert all of my Facebook friends into Goodreads friends. And Goodreads is owned by Amazon. You can bet they share data. If you have any social media presence at all, the various platforms can know all sorts of things about what you’re doing on other platforms.

    The anecdotal examples I’ve heard of involved cases where no personal relationship between the reviewer and author was mentioned in the review, and in fact the only connection between the two (as reported in the anecdote) was being friends on Facebook.

    Ever tweeted book information from Amazon? Now Amazon has your account linked to your Twitter handle. And if it were important to them, they could identify all your mutual friend relationships with authors on Twitter. This isn’t paranoia, it’s a statement of fact. Whether or not they choose to do anything with those data relationships, they have them available. And if Amazon decided you were a Bad Actor, they could do anything from block you from posting any reviews at all to cancelling any future business relationship with you. Authors that Amazon has fingered as Bad Actors have found all their books removed from listings. And like so many internet giants, Amazon doesn’t consider it cost effective to respond to individual complaints about such things.

    I’m not trying to be alarmist. Not at all. Most people won’t ever get penalized for reviewing the books of people they know…or having their books review by people they know. Most people won’t know anyone personally who gets penalized by these algorithm-driven policies. But the people most likely to get slammed by them are indie and self-published authors, and marginalized authors are disproportionately indie and self-published.

  13. I am playing two Turkish opponents in the 14th Africa-Asian Zonal Championship Final (chess) and both have taken leave. I have international opponents who live in rather dangerous places who disappear, and in some cases they never come back. For example, in the last two years, all three Syrians I faced wound up running out of time (and while two of them were losing, the other had barely begun the game). None has resurfaced in other events, so at the very least their lives have changed significantly. I always hope for the best but fear the worst.

  14. Ah, well, never haven fallen into the Facebook honeypot (or it is a tar baby?), I didn’t know they were in collusion with Amazon.

    Clearly, I can thus go about blurbing anyone I want, since I have neither Facebook nor Goodreads accounts. Or Twitter. Mwah ha. Authors, befriend me!

    I keep my identities pretty separate — cutting and pasting, no direct links with referrers — so they’d have more work to do to connect this me, my Amazon review me, my B&N review me, and my person who knows authors under both our real names me. Which also have different email addresses. I mean, if they really wanted to, IP addresses might do it, but it’s not so simple as all being in the same database and automatic.

    So I can safely blurb Heather as she does not know Amazon-me or B&N-me. 🙂

    @Tasha: I actually think it’s fine for famous authors to blurb their friends. It’s all out in the open, expected, they serve as brand-name endorsements as it were. But among the… hmm… people who didn’t realize stuff in (5) was bad, it is much more overused and badly-disguised. Trading reviews for reviews without bothering to read the books or even knowing them other than in this review circlejerk. Plus, the… (5) people (make up your own jokes) don’t take no for an answer. If Mary doesn’t wanna blurb or review Pat this book around, neither of them go around casting anathema on each other and telling everyone else UNCLEAN! CUT THEM OUT OF YOUR FB GROUP! GIVE ALL THEIR WORKS ONE STAR!

    Plus, I’m tired of crappy self-published books (not good ones like HRJ and others write) getting glowing reviews from the guy in the next cubicle who never reads in that genre, or in fact hasn’t read a book in 40 years. And so many of them say this openly! Why isn’t Amazon taking those down? So Bob in Accounting’s tome is the most original thing ever, except that it ends “so Adam and Eve called their new planet Earth!” Or Susie in Legal’s book which is so fresh and exciting, with the college girl doing* BDSM with the billionaire.

    Now perhaps I’m spoiled, having met so many really good authors over the years (pro and fan, Big 5 or self), but just because someone can churn out 50K+ words and put it up on Amazon doesn’t mean they deserve 5 stars. I’ve “forgotten” to review books by people I know because I frankly didn’t think they were very good. People can be swell friends and crappy writers.

    *I first typed that as “dong”. Heh. It’s past my bedtime. Heh.

  15. (2) POLLBUSTERS.

    Well, I saw the new Ghostbusters on the SuperMegaScreen, and I can say this:
    1) The effects are great on a big screen with SuperMegaSoundSystem.
    2) Some of the dialogue is pretty lame.
    3) Anytime someone who is not a main character is on the screen, take a close look — it’s probably a cameo. There are tons of them in this movie.
    4) Stay in your seat and watch all the way until the end of the credits.
    5) The cast clearly had a great time making this movie.
    6) If you don’t waste time worrying about faithfulness to the original movie, whether the plot makes a lot of sense, and how any of the “science” works, you can relax and and enjoy it as just great fun.
    7) I’m really tired of that certain subclass of men who just like to shit on anything which doesn’t focus solely on straight white males.

  16. @JJ

    Not in a rush to see it, I don’t want to encourage Hollywood in its reboot/remaking everything in sight. I did have some initial unease at how quickly it was commissioned after Ramis died too, that just felt a little off.

    If others in my social circle want to go then I’ll go with but doubt I’ll be the one organising it, that’s all I’m saying. Now if it gets lots of rave reviews…

  17. @ Steve Wright:

    I would agree that the story does not approve of Zedong, but it doesn’t disapprove to the extent of, y’know, anyone in it so much as lifting a finger to stop him.

    It also doesn’t disapprove to the extent of suggesting that he might actually be wrong in his views of Africans. Early on, his inner monologue is that Africans are useless rapists and robbers, and the only things the story shows Africans doing is… raping and robbing people. And when he characterizes the genocide plan as revenge for the “restless ghosts” of Chinese people massacred by Africans, no one in the story gainsays him – certainly, no African does, because no African person is given a speaking part.

    I seem to be in the minority on this, but I came away with the distinct impression that Shao considered Zedong the good guy – not positively heroic, to be sure, but not a villain either.

    (Also, the Africans in in the background of the story are from the Chewa ethnic group. I happen to count several Chewa people as friends, which doesn’t incline me toward a positive view of a story that portrays them as fit only for death.)

  18. @Jonathan Edelstein–

    I see I wasn’t nearly as clear as I had thought I was.

    I agree, Zedong is at a minimum at least not a bad guy. At no point are the Africans treated as people, or Zedong suggested or implied to have done anything objectionable.

  19. Heather Rose Jones said:

    The rule “never swap reviews with other authors” is nice in principle, but in a tightly-knit community like SFF, the chance that authors will be reading—and potentially reviewing—works similar to their own makes this problematic. I consider it unlikely that Amazon’s algorithms can distinguish between swapped reviews and two authors in the same field reviewing each other’s work because they both like the same types of books.


    So before one starts talking about how these principles are morally/ethically self-evident, take some time to think about how principles like these differentially affect marginalized literary communities.

    As one of the people taking the “ethically self-evident” argument, I stand by my original comment. You’re eliding two separate problems:

    1) Amazon’s fraud detection algorithms mistakenly categorize some number of reviews as swapped when instead they’re the result of shared interests within literary communities. This is a regrettable limitation of technology (and/or a result of its inability to read people’s minds) and is unfair to authors who’ve done nothing wrong but who are treated as though they have.

    2) Some authors deliberately and knowingly swap reviews, saying to each other, “I’ll review your new book if you review mine.” This practice encourages authors to write dishonestly positive reviews and is unethical.

    I agree with you that Amazon’s software is not infallible, and it follows that not everything that gets flagged as fraud deserves that label. But actual review swapping–which is what I read Rosenblum as addressing in her rule, “Never swap reviews with other authors”–isn’t just the appearance of impropriety; it is improper, no matter how small or marginalized the literary community where it occurs.

  20. @JJ:

    That does seem to me to be legitimate explanation for mob madness. After all, the ancients invented mythologies and religions as a way to cope with the fact that there were many things they did not understand, and with the fact that there were forces far more powerful than them, which had no recognition of, or concern for them, whatsoever.

    Yes, and the thing is, that worked for them. IOW, it kept them from destroying their civilizations in a spontaneous but somehow total spasm of self-destruction.


    t’s the equivalent of a few people living in an isolated area and thinking “Aha, we are the only upright-walking, thumb-having, speech-using beings, yay us”, and then instantly transporting them to the middle of a city. Instant madness.

    Which, I would submit, doesn’t happen. Culture shock is real. But a sudden manic episode of “Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fthagn!” self-destruction? No. People are more resilient than that. Even when people break, they break more variously than that.

    “Nightfall” is a surprisingly well-written story. The passage where they are all sitting in the newsroom in the gloaming is quite lovely. But the premise reeks of “Fans are Slans” prejudice by way of negative example. Regular people just can’t hack the knowledge of the universe! Except they can.

  21. @JJ:

    John A Arkansawyer: How do you folks feel about Kaleidoscope Century?

    Having just read the Wikipedia description, I feel that I will have no regrets about not wasting any of my precious bookreading time on it.

    That’s not a totally uninformed opinion, but I was rather hoping for a response from someone who’d actually read, or at least started, the book.

  22. Further to “Seven Kill Tiger,” I’d very much like to think that I would have the courage of my convictions to speak out to save a billion people, even knowing that I and a dozen people I love would die for it. And CDC scientists go into plague areas; they’re braver than I am.

    I agree with all above that the Africans depicted were cardboard caricatures. (So, of course, were the Chinese, as gloating villains.)

    And I agree that this is really bad cardboard science. Cardboard science can be done tolerably well, as in “Folding Beijing” (you simply cannot “fold” a brick building as described; doesn’t have the shear strength required) or it can be done badly. Here, the genetics were done really badly…

  23. @Cassy B. et al re “Seven Kill Tiger”

    Another point worth making is that the hero is a “typhoid Mary Sue”: a bad guy who accomplishes his evil plans and meets only token resistance.

  24. What I minded most about Seven Kill Tiger was that it seemed to expect the reader to understand the actions of the protagonist, as if however unreasonable genocide was as a response to a crime wave, it at least should make a sort of sense to the observer.

    I’m no stranger to the process of thinking or reading about horrible things, and I don’t object to understanding some of why a particular course is chosen, but I don’t want to that process to include being steered toward some kind of acceptance.

  25. nickpheas on July 15, 2016 at 2:53 pm said:
    Don’t know if we have anyone from Turkey, but if so, hope you and yours can stay safe.

    There is me. Thank you for your thoughts.

    I missed all the, errm, excitement in Istanbul last night as I’m away in central Anatolia for a weekend of high altitude trail-running and not near civilisation. My wife was supposed to join me but ended up stranded at the second airport overnight. Thankfully she’s made it back home now safe and sound.

    Worrying times ahead, I feel. I’m glad the coup failed but democracy here is pretty much broken and Erdogan will use this to tighten his grip.

  26. Re: Seven Kill Tiger, I refused to even read that one because I recalled that decades ago, Asimov wrote a similar-ish story, “The Winnowing”, in which heads of state blackmail a scientist into providing a poison that would mimic the effects of a contagious plague among the overpopulated areas they plan to feed it to.

    Judging from the descriptions I’ve heard of SKT, “The Winnowing”, Asimov dedicated more thought to the scientific and plot implications of what he was doing (the poison will only affect a limited number of people in any population due to genetic factors that cannot be predicted in advance; so that some who eat the poisoned food will not be affected by it, and so no one will realize the food is poisoned; and the poison will be spread in a few ‘First World’ locations to mimic “plague outbreaks” there too, to mask the fact that the Third World is being specifically targeted).

    He also dedicated more thought to the psychological implications; even his villains are not entirely dead to the immorality of their plan. They excuse themselves by pointing out there will be individuals spared in every targeted population, and therefore no culture or race will be obliterated (so they are not committing genocide). They minimize their guilt by sententiously saying it will be “the finger of God” pointing out who lives and who dies. They paint themselves as heroes for being willing to apply a terrible remedy for the ills of an overpopulated Earth.

    So Asimov did it already; do I have to spend money to see someone do it less skillfully years later?

  27. I’ve read Kaleidoscope Century once, and I have the feeling I get with all gvzr geniry [rot13] stories that I want to read it again so I can map out the tricks and turns that the author put in — but I never have because it’s just such an awful story. Not bad writing, you understand, just awful characters who do awful things, again and again, with no moral upbeat at all. You know, I got the TV news for that kind of story, don’t need it in my fiction.

  28. @ lurkertype

    Plus, I’m tired of crappy self-published books (not good ones like HRJ and others write)

    Well, my books aren’t self-published, but I appreciate the thought! (I’ll have a self-published book out sometime next year. My first venture into those particular waters.)

  29. re: Kaleidoscope Century

    I got a couple of chapters in and stopped due to dislike of the characters. A friend read it independently of my attempt and loved it. However, their description of the book can be summarized as “This is a brilliant book that is so bleak I cannot recommend it to anyone who isn’t me.” So there’s that.

  30. There can be books that are brilliant and bleak and still recommendable; last year we had “The Fifth Season” and (to a lesser extent) “The Library at Mount Char”.

    The ones we’re talking about here lately, not so much.

    I went with the conceit in “Folding Beijing” after a moment of “buildings do not work* that way!” But that’s not the point of the story, it’s just the gizmo, like easy FTL travel in space opera. So it worked there, as part of the metaphor. The story is more fantasy/magical realism than SF, so I’m good with it. And the people behave like real humans, with a variety of feelings and motivations.

    And, yes, when Asimov (never known for his deep characters) did it better decades ago, why read a mean-spirited, scientifically stupid, badly-written version of the same?

    @JJ: Sounds promising! Literal remakes miss the point, anyway — like that crappy shot-for-shot one of “Psycho” a few years back. You’ve got to do something different. The “science” never made any sense in the original, either. And much of the fun of the original was that you could tell the cast was friends having fun.

    *And I typed that as “wok” at first!

  31. lurkertype: I went with the conceit in “Folding Beijing” after a moment of “buildings do not work that way!”

    I love the move Dark City, and I just pictured what happens in that movie at midnight when reading about the folding. So I was prepared to really love that story — but it did not quite have the je ne sais quoi it needed to make it a “wow!” story for me.

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  33. Thanks to all for your comments on Kaleidoscope Century. It’s my go-to example of an beautifully written book telling an unbearably ugly story, and I’m always curious how others see those. It also seems to me to be a somewhat prescient novel, as did his Earth Made Of Glass. Depressing books.

  34. @jayn: I, too, thought of “The Winnowing”, though I’d forgotten its name. It’s one of Asimov’s very best stories, I think. Thanks for bringing the title back to me!

  35. Another point worth making is that the hero is a “typhoid Mary Sue”: a bad guy who accomplishes his evil plans and meets only token resistance.

    That is in fact one of my problems with the story. It’s overall bleakness and how the one person who might have been able to stop it, doesn’t even try (albiet he is being coerced). The story does not speak well of humanity in general regardless of race.

  36. I forget which of you here are costumers. I’m looking for a recommendation for a speculative fiction book which might be especially appealing to someone who does costume design for a hobby; suggestions would be appreciated.

  37. @John: You’re welcome. It took me awhile to find it…I didn’t remember the title, only that Asimov had used the phrase ‘the finger of God’ in it – but discovered he’d used the phrase more than once in his extensive work…thankful that File770 provided the occasion to look it up.

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