Pixel Scroll 7/23

Six stories, a French rant and a video adorn today’s Scroll.

(1) “Cap’n, it’s a Class M planet.”

“Any lifeform readings?”

Described in media reports as an “earthlike planet” is the Kepler space mission’s first discovery of a world smaller than Neptune in the middle of its star’s habitable zone.

Also called the Goldilocks zone, the habitable zone is the region around a star where a planet’s surface is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water—and thus life as we know it—to exist.

(2) Atlas Obscura has posted its “Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips”. I’ll bet there are some fan fund reports crying out for the same treatment.

The above map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.

(3) Thunderbirds fans are very enthusiastic about the plan to combine old-fashioned “Supermarionation” with audio lifted from three original 21-minute mini-albums released in the 1960s (each was a 7″ single, but played at 33-1/3 rpm). The Kickstarter appeal to fund production, with a goal of $115,789, has already gathered $206,325 in pledges from over 2,000 contributors. The original goal would have paid for one – the current total should pay for all three.

[Director] Stephen La Rivière says: “We have shot new sequences with the puppets using the old-fashioned techniques. Whilst many of the methods used seem a little archaic and time-consuming by today’s standards, we thought that it would be very special to do a one-off project bringing Thunderbirds back to life 1960s style. Sadly, many of the original voice cast have passed away since 1965. However, thanks to the original audio footage we’ve rediscovered, we have new, authentic stories that have never been adapted for screen.”


(4) Being a critic is a higher calling for Jonathan McCalmont than most sf bloggers who spend a lot of energy churning other people’s advertising in return for pageviews. (Pay no attention to the man behind the file…) McCalmont inquires “What Price, Your Critical Agency?” on Ruthless Culture.

These days, few cultural ecosystems operate independently of commercial interests. The ability to artificially engineer an interest bubble means that commercial interests will always have some control over the agenda of an enthusiast press. Reviewers will request DVD screeners and ARCs of books they have been encouraged to look forward to and editors will always be happy to slipstream a wave of hype by providing content that satisfies the readership’s artificially-engineered interest in a particular subject. Money and effort devoted to creating buzz translates into traffic and so anyone who is interested in getting more traffic will always go out of their way to chase the hype.

While traffic is a significant carrot to offer in return for collaborating with commercial interests, review copies are another great way of controlling the agenda. At an institutional level, it is difficult to run a reviews department without review copies you can pass on to your reviewers and so the output of a reviews department will always be dependent upon the nature of the screeners and ARCs provided. At an individual level, a commitment to operate any kind of reviews platform means an open-ended commitment to media consumption and while you may very well be willing to pay for the media you choose to consume, the volume of reviews required to build an audience realistically means deep pockets, a relationship with publicists, or a willingness to obtain review materials for free by either borrowing or stealing.

One of my favourite recent discoveries has been S.C. Flynn’s Scy-Fy, a blog that features no fewer than 100 different interviews with book bloggers, magazine editors, podcasters and something he somewhat alarmingly refers to as ‘booktubers’. One thing that struck me about these interviews is that despite many of them warning about the dangers of writing only about new books and how setting your own critical agenda is the best way to stay productive and stave off burnout, most of the interviewees operate platforms that lavish their attention on new releases. In other words, they know that allowing commercial forces to influence their critical output is dangerous and yet they continue to let it happen.

(5) But at the very tip of the cultural pyramid is the blogosphere’s most highly evolved parasite, with an enviable track record of breaking stories before the studios’ own PR staffs ever hear about them. Alex Pappademas on Grantland tells how El Mayimbe creates those leaks.

El Mayimbe’s real name is Umberto Gonzalez, born 41 years ago in Queens, New York, of Dominican and Colombian descent, and as a self-proclaimed “fanboy journalist” and “ace scooper,” he lives for moments like these. If a studio’s measuring an actor for an iconic leotard or cowl or enchanted helm or loincloth, if a director signs up to reboot a trilogy based on an action figure, Gonzalez wants to be the first to know, and the first to trumpet that information on the Internet, via a fistful of social-media accounts and a new website called Heroic Hollywood, which went live in June. In an era when the movie business sometimes appears to be rebooting itself as a machine that cranks out nothing but superhero movies, Gonzalez is far from the only reporter whose beat includes stories like these, but no one follows it as closely or as aggressively. Gonzalez broke that Brandon Routh would play Superman, that Heath Ledger would play the Joker. He knew that Bradley Cooper would be supplying the voice of Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, he says, before Cooper’s own publicist did.

(7) You don’t need to know French to catch the drift of this Telerama article about the Puppies, titled “Hugo Awards : le plus grand prix de SF menacé par des groupes d’extrême droite.”

Fervent défenseur des armes à feu

Cette année, le débat est autre. Un groupe de fans extrêmement conservateurs, les sad puppies (« chiots tristes »), dirigés par un fervent défenseur des armes à feu, Larry Correia, s’était déjà fait attaquer pour ses choix. En 2014, il avait mis de l’eau dans son vin, proposant aussi sur ses listes des auteurs progressistes. Trop, au goût de certains de ses membres, qui ont formé un groupe dissident, les rabid puppies (« chiots enragés »), l’ont débordé sur sa droite et ont réussi, en faisant voter en masse leurs soutiens, à faire inclure dans toutes les listes de nominés la plupart de leurs candidats. Démarche parfaitement en accord avec les règles du prix. Mais les livres ainsi proposés deviennent les fers de lance d’une percée idéologique forte. Et le prix est aujourd’hui au bord de l’implosion.

[Thanks to Steve Green and John King Tarpinian for some of these links.]

213 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 7/23

  1. 1 vote that Shelly and LeGuin should engage in fusion, so we can have a giant, four-armed, four-eyed author, most likely with a magical pen as a weapon

    So Shelly and LeGuin are both aspects of the Eternal Champion?

  2. JJ on July 24, 2015 at 8:15 pm said:
    That is going to be one unintentional joke that I remember for a very, very long time. I don’t think that was the “claim to fame” that Kate Paulk was going for — but it’s what she got, at least with me.

    “Paulk’s Tavern” should be the generic name of getting confused about the genre of a novel based on surprisingly dubious criteria.

    Sample usage.
    Simplicio: ‘I thought The Hobbit was going to be a Ms. Marple style detective novel because it opens in what seems to be a quaint English village’
    Sagredo: ‘I think you just visited Paulk’s Tavern’
    Simplicio: ‘Perhaps it is a bit of a Paulk’s Tavern but the apes at the start of 2001 made me assume I was going to see a nature documentary’

  3. Any “artist’s conception” of the surface of any supposedly Earth-like extra-solar planet is as likely to be accurate as all the old paintings of the steamy jungles of Venus and the dead cities alongside the canals of Mars. We don’t know rotation rates, any spin axis, whether there are a large moons to stabilize a spin axis, whether there would be a magnetic field which would prevent solar wind from stripping the atmosphere away (which is probably what happened to Mars for lack of such a field), the frequency with which it’s received meteorite bombardment (or as Heinlein called them, “cosmic love-pats”), or so many other variables which would spell the difference between an Earth-like planet, or a Mars- or Venus-like planet incapable of supporting life, a planet which would be stable enough long enough for humanoid or other intelligent life to evolve, or no further up the ladder than cephalpod-equivalents, or perhaps even just bacterial life.

    Given the multiple factors which all have to be just right for the chance of intelligent life to evolve, it just may be that the most common form of life in the galaxy, if not the universe, is green bacterial slime, or an equivalent photo-synthetic color for a given planet’s atmosphere.

    I wouldn’t be so certain we’ve found Gaia’s distant sister yet.

  4. “Paulk’s Tavern” should be the generic name of getting confused about the genre of a novel based on surprisingly dubious criteria.

    It could join “it’s a gazebo, Eric” in the fannish lexicon!

  5. Jim Henley wrote:

    “Did anyone say they were certain we’d found ‘Gaia’s distant sister?'”

    Just me, as a metaphor for some of the celebratory news items I’ve seen in the last few days, plus an “artist’s conception” (which looked like it had been snagged from some pre-existing web posting) showing mountains, volcanos, surface water, plant life, blue sky, etc.

    Just because we found one planet in a habitable zone of near-Earth (although larger) mass with an orbit of not-quite 385 Earth days, doesn’t mean we found another Earth on which human beings could live or humanoids could have evolved, but that’s the point to which far too many articles I’ve seen posted have jumped.

  6. @David: Gotcha. If those articles are out there, and I take it as read that they are, then yeah, they’re way ahead of themselves for the reasons you state.

  7. “Paulk’s Tavern” should be the generic name of getting confused about the genre of a novel based on surprisingly dubious criteria.

    Paulk’s Tavern is no ideal place to have tea. They’ve only the one set, and it’s missing its sugar bowl and the teapot’s lid.

    (But at least the tea set isn’t on a space ship….)

  8. Nicole, I got as far as “Paulk’s Tavern is no ideal place to have tea”, and my brain jumped immediately to “, in fact it’s cold as hell, and there’s no place to put the teabags if you did”.

  9. Bruce Baugh: I got as far as “Paulk’s Tavern is no ideal place to have tea”, and my brain jumped immediately to “in fact it’s cold as hell, and there’s no place to put the teabags if you did”.

    Invoice for new keyboard sent to Bruce. How about a Spew Warning on that next time? 😉

    Dammit, people, I’m getting tired of having to continually remove and reattach my Puppy gargoyles and torches to a new keyboard every time one of you gets a flash of brilliance (which happens incredibly often here).

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