Pixel Scroll 8/12/19 Far From The Files We Know, Where The Pixels Flow

Editor’s Note: My mother’s pacemaker update went very smoothly. Her tech is good for years to come. Thanks for all the good wishes – which I relayed to her and she was pleased. And voilà, there’s a Scroll today after all.

(1) VERBAL KNIT. The official site says there will be text-based coverage of the Hugos and Retro Hugos: “Live Coverage of Hugo Award Ceremonies”. Details to come.

As usual we will be providing live, text-based coverage of this year’s Hugo Award Ceremony, which takes place at 8:00pm on Sunday evening, Dublin time.

This year we also plan to bring you live, text-based coverage of the Retro-Hugo Award Ceremony, which will take place as part of the Worldcon Opening Ceremonies at 8:00pm on Thursday evening, Dublin time.

(2) ST:TOS DID IT RIGHT. Next Big Future declares “Old Star Trek Was Right As US Navy Returns to Manual Switches”. So says the headline they’ve unrolled above a story ganked from the USNI News (“Navy Reverting DDGs Back to Physical Throttles, After Fleet Rejects Touchscreen Controls”).

The Navy will begin reverting destroyers back to a physical throttle and traditional helm control system in the next 18 to 24 months, after the fleet overwhelmingly said they prefer mechanical controls to touchscreen systems in the aftermath of the fatal USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collision.

The investigation into the collision showed that a touchscreen system that was complex and that sailors had been poorly trained to use contributed to a loss of control of the ship just before it crossed paths with a merchant ship in the Singapore Strait. After the Navy released a Comprehensive Review related to the McCain and the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) collisions, Naval Sea Systems Command conducted fleet surveys regarding some of the engineering recommendations, Program Executive Officer for Ships Rear Adm. Bill Galinis said.

In the same vein, Elissa tells why she prefers sci-fi shows with physical ship controls. Thread starts here.


(3) FLAME ON. Alan Weisman takes two books with dire warnings about climate change as his texts for “Burning Down The House” in New York Review of Books.

David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth expands on his 2017 article of the same name in New York, where he’s deputy editor. It quickly became that magazine’s most viewed article ever. Some accused Wallace-Wells of sensationalism for focusing on the most extreme possibilities of what may come if we keep spewing carbon compounds skyward (as suggested by his title and his ominous opening line, the answer “is, I promise, worse than you think”). Whatever the article’s lurid appeal, I felt at the time of its publication that its detractors were mainly evading the message by maligning the messenger.

Two years later, those critics have largely been subdued by infernos that have laid waste to huge swaths of California; successive, monstrous hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—that devastated Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico in 2017; serial cyclone bombs exploding in America’s heartland; so-called thousand-year floods that recur every two years; polar ice shelves fracturing; and refugees pouring from desiccated East and North Africa and the Middle East, where temperatures have approached 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and from Central America, where alternating periods of drought and floods have now largely replaced normal rainfall.

The Uninhabitable Earth, which has become a best seller, taps into the underlying emotion of the day: fear. This book is meant to scare the hell out of us, because the alarm sounded by NASA’s Jim Hansen in his electrifying 1988 congressional testimony on how we’ve trashed the atmosphere still hasn’t sufficiently registered.

(4) FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTPRINTS. Doug Ellis told Facebook readers that his company, Adventure Pulp LLC, has acquired the rights to the works of A. Merritt.

I’m already chatting with some folks regarding a few possible projects, and I hope to have some exciting Merritt publishing news soon!

Along with the rights, I acquired the remaining papers and art owned by the Merritt estate. Argosy reprinted Merritt’s classic “Seven Footprints to Satan” in five installments in 1939, starting with the June 24, 1939 issue. Merritt insisted that they use Virgil Finlay (with whom Merritt was working at American Weekly) to provide the illustrations for the story. This was Finlay’s entry into the Munsey pulps, and besides further work for Argosy, he would shortly be turning out great work for the Munsey pulps Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Fantastic Novels. All five Finlay originals for this story were among the art I acquired.

(5) BIRD BRAINS. NPR’s Ilana Masad says “Humans Are Gone In ‘Hollow Kingdom,’ So It’s Up To The Crows”.

Plague, virus, and zombie apocalypse narratives tend to share a few common threads: Often, humanity brings such terrors upon itself; usually, survivors or those with immunity come together in ragtag groups and attempt to find a cure and/or fight their way through to where the other healthy people are; and, almost always, humanity survives — perhaps in drastically reduced numbers, sans modern technology — and must learn to rebuild itself anew. The central metaphor in these narratives tends to be that humanity is really quite an awful, violent species that wars with itself constantly, and that our boundless curiosity and hubris — whether that involves scientific research gone awry or meddling with forces beyond our ken — ultimately lead to our own near-complete destruction.

This metaphor is definitely present in Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel, Hollow Kingdom, but luckily for anyone drawn to its gorgeous cover (it’s an eye-catcher, a bright, near-neon green with a black and purple crow staring intensely from behind the white font), Buxton takes a joyfully original approach to apocalyptic fiction. See, instead of us humans being the focal point in the story of our own extinction, it’s the plethora of life that we leave behind that takes center stage.

The novel is largely narrated by a domesticated crow named S.T. — short for something unprintable — who has spent his life with a beer-drinking, junk-food-eating, sports-loving, breast-obsessed man named Big Jim, who raised S.T. from a hatchling. A dopey, lazy dog named Dennis rounds out their little Seattle-based family. When Big Jim’s eye unexpectedly falls out of his head, S.T. knows something is very wrong, but it takes him a good long while before he gives up on his beloved MoFo — S.T.’s term for humans, learned at Big Jim’s bosom — and leaves home, accompanied by Dennis.

(6) EATING THE FANTASTIC. While Scott Edelman’s flying to Dublin he invites you to listen to the new episode of Eating the Fantastic, and “Bite into a burger with P. Djeli Clark”.

P. Djèlí Clark won both the Nebula Award and the Locus Award for Best Short Story earlier this year for “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” — and is currently up for a Hugo Award not just for that, but for his novella “The Black God’s Drums” as well. His fiction has appeared online at Tor.com, Lightspeed, Fireside Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and elsewhere, and in print anthologies such as Hidden Youth and Clockwork Cairo. He is founding member of FIYAH Literary Magazine.

We got together for dinner Friday of [Readercon] at Quincy’s Fat Cat Restaurant, which specializes in comfort food like nachos, wings, mac and cheese, and ribs, though they also serve higher end items like duck and ribeye steaks. But our tastes were not quite so upscale that night, so we stuck to chicken quesadillas and burgers.

We discussed his upcoming first novel (the sale of which was announced only days before we spoke), the background which gave birth to his award-winning story “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” the reason The Black God’s Drums switched point-of-view character during his writing of it, what he learned about New Orleans due to an unfortunate encounter with the local police department, ….and much, much more.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born August 12, 1894 Dick Calkins. He’s best remembered for being the first artist to draw the Buck Rogers comic strip. He also wrote scripts for the Buck Rogers radio program. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Complete Newspaper Dailies in three volumes on Hermes Press collects these strips. (Died 1962.)
  • Born August 12, 1903 J O Bailey. ESF says that “his Pilgrims through Space and Time: Trends and Patterns in Scientific and Utopian Fiction (1947) was the first academic study of sf, which it analyses primarily on a thematic basis, and without ever using the term ‘science fiction’, referring instead to ‘scientific fiction’ and the Scientific Romance.” (Died 1979.)
  • Born August 12, 1910 Jane Wyatt. Spock’s mother of course. She also was In Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon. (Died 2006.)
  • Born August 12, 1921 Matt Jefferies. He’s best known for his work on the original Trek where he designed much of the sets and props  including the Starship Enterprise, the Klingon logo, and the bridge and sick bay. The Jefferies tubes are named after him. (Died 2003.)
  • Born August 12, 1931 William Goldman. Writer of The Princess Bride which he adapted for the film. Wrote The Stepford Wives script and King’s Hearts in Atlantis and Misery as well. (Died 2018.)
  • Born August 12, 1947 John Nathan-Turner. He produced the series from 1980 until it was cancelled in 1989. He finished having become the longest-serving Doctor Who producer and cast Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. (Died 2002.)
  • Born August 12, 1954 Sam J. Jones,  65. Flash Gordon in the 1980 version of that story. Very, very campy. A few years later, he played the lead role in a TV adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit.
  • Born August 12, 1992 Cara Delevingne, 27. She shows up in the Suicide Squad as June Moone aka The Enchantress, and in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as Laureline. I adore The Fifth Element, should I see this film? 


Two SJW Credential comics today.

(9) POINT AND CLICK. A Polaroid camera revival, thanks to Stranger Things — “The OneStep 2 Starter Set – Stranger Things Edition”.

Polaroid Originals is also releasing collectable special edition film, perfect for super fans to capture their stranger moments. As a further ode to the Stranger Things universe, each pack of 8 will include 16 graphic design prints, which will transport you back to the summer of 1985 in Hawkins, discovering Scoops Ahoy at the town’s new Starcourt Mall and back to the flashing lights of Joyce Byer’s living room.

Stranger Things is renowned for re-imagining the early 80s, and is infused with popular culture from the period, from walkie-talkies and Fabergé Organic big hair to Dungeons and Dragons. Retro Polaroid cameras pop up throughout the series, capturing moments from the Hawkins middle school’s Snow Ball to the gang’s iconic Ghostbuster Halloween costumes. After all what would the 80s be without a Polaroid snap?

(10) DIGITAL CHARACTERS, GENUINE PATHOS. “Digital Fur, Digital Folks: Reality Is Starting to Feel Overrated” according to the New York Times.

If the historians of the future try to pinpoint the exact moment when the term “digital fur” became ubiquitous in our culture, they might eventually identify the evening of July 18, when the “Cats” trailer premiered online just as the first public screenings of Disney’s “The Lion King” remake were unspooling across the country.

Here were two state-of-the-art endeavors, using computer-generated fur — by all accounts an enormously difficult and time-consuming special effects undertaking — toward extremely different ends.

(11) EARHART’S PLANE? Dr. Robert Ballard is on his way to the site – he hopes. The New York Times has the story: “Finding Amelia Earhart’s Plane Seemed Impossible. Then Came a Startling Clue.”

…Dr. Ballard has always wanted to find the remains of the plane Amelia Earhart was flying when she disappeared in 1937. But he feared the hunt would be yet another in a long line of futile searches.

“You have it in a holding pattern in your head,” said Dr. Ballard, founder of the Ocean Exploration Trust. “You’re still saying, ‘No, no, it’s too big a search area.’”

Then, a few years ago, another group of explorers found clues so compelling that Dr. Ballard changed his mind. Now, not only is he certain he knows where the plane is, he has set course for a remote atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati to recover it.

If his expedition succeeds, he’ll not only solve one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century. The 77-year-old explorer will also be transferring his legacy of discovery to a new generation of oceanic detectives.

Until recently, Dr. Ballard accepted the Navy’s version of Earhart’s fate: On July 2, 1937, near the end of their round-the-world flight, the aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished over the Pacific. After a lengthy and costly search, the Navy concluded on July 18, 1937, that the two died shortly after crashing into the ocean.

But in 2012, an old friend presented Dr. Ballard with a startling alternative….

(12) HERE WE GO AGAIN. NPR explains how “With Congressional Blessing, Space Force Is Closer To Launch”.

It started as a joke.

Early last year, President Trump riffed on an idea he called “Space Force” before a crowd of Marines in San Diego.

It drew laughs, but the moment was a breakthrough for a plan that had languished for nearly 20 years.

“I said maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the Space Force,” Trump said at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in March 2018. “And I was not really serious. Then I said, ‘What a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.'”

But now, under a new name and with Congress’ support, Space Force is closer to becoming a new military reality. It would be the first new military service in more than 70 years.

In January 2001, a special commission chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said space needed to become a top national security priority. But the 9/11 terrorist attacks derailed those plans.

Since that time, military leaders, lawmakers and experts have warned that new resources were needed in space to get ahead of a potential, hostile nation setting out to destroy a U.S. satellite. Such a move could threaten our everyday lives, from our cell phones to the electric grid to the military’s ability to launch nuclear weapons.

As a result, proponents argue that the U.S. has fallen behind and needs to upgrade an existing Air Force office focused on space to become an official service.

(13) “BIRDS DO IT…” BBC reports “Berlin gay penguins adopt abandoned egg”.

Two male penguins at Berlin Zoo have been caring for an abandoned egg since July in their long quest to become parents.

The same-sex couple, Skipper and Ping, are keen to have a chick of their own, and have even been known to “try to hatch fish and stones”, spokesman Maximilian Jäger told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

He said the two king penguins adopted the egg, which had been abandoned by the sole female of the species at the zoo, and are “behaving like model parents, taking turns to keep the egg warm” by nestling it on their feet under a flap of belly skin.

The are now doing their best to protect their precious charge from jealous rivals, after a little encouragement from their human guardians.

(14) CONIC SECTION. Got to love the new art for next year’s Gallifrey One convention. Baskin-Robbins meets the TARDIS!

(15) GEICO’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. A time portal-themed commercial for GEICO insurance.

For her science fair project, Sophie creates a wormhole which release figures from the past like Abraham Lincoln.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Errolwi, John King Tarpinian, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, JJ, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Rob Thornton.]

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25 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 8/12/19 Far From The Files We Know, Where The Pixels Flow

  1. Glad to hear that your Mom is well.

    (1) A ceremony I can virtually attend at a convenient time!

  2. Good news on the procedure!

    @2: the thing about touch screens is that you never know when they’re going to die (as opposed to, e.g., being cranky because you’re using the wrong part of the finger); mechanical controls tend to give warning before seizing up, and can be serviced when they give such warning.
    I saw this story on the BBC, where it reminded me strongly of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Superiority” — not nearly losing a war yet, but the belief in higher-tech solutions echoes interestingly.

    Elissa is probably not familiar with a story Bova told at Boskone ~45 years ago; he felt that the one thing he’d made happen as science advisor to The Starlost was fixing their control room — which someone planned to show that the generation ship was no longer piloted by putting a sailing ship’s all-wood, wheel rocking back and forth, in the middle of an OST-ish setting.

    @11: I’ve seen several reports in which the kindest description of Ballard is “enthusiastic”. It will be interesting to see whether anything comes of this search.

  3. Mike, may your mother have a fast and easy recovery.

    2) The touch screens are the latest tech issue in our military, that has seen the debacles of the Littoral Combat Ship and the F-35. The US has had since the 80s a tendency to purchase gear beyond the tech curve, with subsequent backtracking and problems. Oddly, NASA tends to go for older, more reliable electronics.

    This is something to remember for SF and their quest for novelty- how many stories are there where the incredible game-changing technology doesn’t work all that well?

  4. 2) Well, maybe, but I wouldn’t want to go too far down the TOS road of “big unlabelled perspex buttons that do insanely specific things”. Although there’s no denying the crew knew their way around them… As in “Journey to Babel” , where at one point Kirk snaps out an order like “Cut all power to the starboard side of the ship, except for sickbay!” and Sulu says ” Aye, aye, sir” and he presses two countem two buttons on his console and lo, ’tis done. No, I don’t know why the “Cut all power to the starboard side of the ship” and “except for sickbay” buttons are on the helmsman’s control console. There’s probably a reason.

  5. Steve Wright, the two buttons Sulu pressed were the Do What I Want and the Do What I Mean buttons.

    All the other buttons are a holdover from 20th Century convenience stores, and dispense different flavors of soda.

  6. (1) Potentially related to the text-based coverage of the big ceremonies… When I was chatting with Ellen Klages at SFO (by coincidence we were traveling early on the same flight), she mentioned that she’d been asked to provide a written draft of her MC commentary for the Opening Ceremonies/Retro Hugos, for which she’s one of the hosts. I pointed out that it was probably to assist in the subtitle provision, but it was still a bit boggling that they’d recruit the author of the Scary Ham Speech (originally a spontaneous half-hour time-filling riff) and then expect her to stick to a script.

  7. 10) I was glad to read that this was more balanced than yet another ‘cgi is terrible and soulless’ article. Funny, though, that the author was most moved by the CGI Leia at the end of Rogue One, which I’ve mostly seen criticised as poor quality.

    Hair/fur is indeed difficult to render efficiently. For one thing, there’s the sheer density of geometry. There are many more surfaces to consider than there are for say, an Imperial Star Destroyer. In addition, where a Star Destroyer only reflects light, hair fibres also allow light to transmit through them. If you consider a hair fibre as a translucent tube, it’s possible for light to either reflect off the surface, enter the tube and then exit through the far side after refraction, or internally reflect off the far side and then exit through the near side back the way it came, roughly speaking. This is why you often observe two highlights on human hair, one typically broader than the other (the one that’s undergone a transmit->reflect->transmit light path). So to accurately compute all this light transport requires the computation of many more light paths. Blonde hair is worse than dark, since more path segments must be considered before the light is diminished to the point that it can safely be ignored.

    Skin and eyes are also translucent, of course, and finding ways to efficiently compute light interactions with these are both open and active areas of research. Viewers seem to be particular sensitive to accurate render of eyes.

    These are some of the reasons why a still image of a digital human is so hard to create. Convincing animation is difficult too, and may very well now be the primary reason for the uncanny valley effect, but that’s outside my area of expertise.

    The article mentions Gemini Man in relation to Looper (2012), but Gemini Man had been floating around for several years before then, and it was felt the tech wasn’t up to the job. Although I have to agree with the article that having De Niro play the young Vito Corleone in Godfather II was in no way a bad thing.

  8. 2: I don’t remember where it was or who it was, but I do remember reading or hearing, maybe it was Tom Wolf’s The Right Stuff, maybe it was Dr. Banzai, that one of the reasons to give pilots (and, by extension astronauts) lots of buttons and switches to play with is to give them something to do when everything goes sideways on them, just before the “spam in a can” analogy becomes all too accurate.

    I’m very much in favor of physical systems that someone can physically analyze, work on, evaluate, kludge – especially in military hardware that, ummm, might be subjected to a little jostling now and then – and totally so for human occupied (if not piloted) spacecraft. Thinking about the “Glass” interior of the Orion capsule makes a little pee come out of me.

  9. That’s really good to hear, Mike.

    7) Valerian seemed really convoluted to me and its worldbuilding was kinda dicey. I would not recommend it.

  10. @Rob Thornton / @7: Valerian was a very pretty film with a very squicky backbone: the male commander hitting on a female subordinate. IIUC some of this is in the original graphic, but it was enough in the foreground in the movie that it would probably turn off many viewers.

    @Rose Embolism: “Superiority” is the only story that comes to mind immediately; a lot of SF is about glorying in whizbang new technology, or in having everything go to pieces (so failures of advanced tech don’t stand out), but I expect Filers can come up with other examples. It’s a side thread in Pohl’s “The Wizard of Pung’s Corners”, where the invading tech is not only allegedly superior but also badly and hyperbolically documented — there’s a subtext (in keeping with other Pohl satires on advertising) that not letting Marketing write the manuals and name the controls would have at least given the invaders a chance.

  11. Also Dane DeHaan (the male lead in Valerian) has whatever the opposite of screen presence is — whenever he’d appear on screen, my attention would be drawn to everything in the frame EXCEPT him.

    (n.b. I don’t believe I’ve seen any of his other films, so maybe it was just an issue with this movie in particular?)

  12. Also, Meredith Moment: Gene Wolfe’s Home Fires is $2.99.

    As is Barbara Hambly’s Good Man Friday (one of her non-fantastical Benjamin January mysteries, which I suspect will still be very relevant to interests of one or more Filers out there).

  13. Were off to the Hugo, the wonderful Hugo of DUB.

    (well, not me, because I have to work, but, Ill be there in spirit)

    7) Big fan of Fifth element, Watched Valerian in the cinema and boy, it fell flat! World building and visuals were very good (many cool ideas) but the story was pretty much an And-Then and not original. But the two leads absolutely had no chemistry and its so unbelievable that they are top agents, and also in love? Or not? Really, really disappointing!

  14. @Rose Embolism: Oddly, NASA tends to go for older, more reliable electronics.
    That’s because for NASA missions all the hardware has to be space-qualified (satisfying fairly stringent radiation, temperature and vibration specifications) and is thus always at least several years behind what the current cutting-edge is.

  15. Glad to hear your mom’s procedure went well, Mike.

    Also, Meredith Moment: The Calculating Stars is on sale for $2.99.

  16. On Valerian, the male lead used charisma as his dump stat and it ended up negative. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at but the plot is kinda meh. I do like Cara Develigne, she has an edge to her in the movie. Also seconding the dodgy work environment mentioned above.
    I still think it’s worth watching, very ambitious but falls short.

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