Pixel Scroll 8/13/22 Never Mind The Shoggoth, Here’s The Pixel Scroll

(1) RUSHDIE MEDICAL UPDATE. “Agent: Rushdie off ventilator and talking, day after attack” reports SFGate.

“The Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie was taken off a ventilator and able to talk Saturday, a day after he was stabbed as he prepared to give a lecture in upstate New York.

Rushdie remained hospitalized with serious injuries, but fellow author Aatish Taseer tweeted in the evening that he was “off the ventilator and talking (and joking).” Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed that information without offering further details.

Earlier in the day, the man accused of attacking him Friday at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime.

An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York…. 

(2) THAT TODDLING TOWN. “Neil’s Native Guide, Chicon 8 Edition” is Neil Rest’s updated array of suggestions about how everyone coming to year’s Worldcon can enjoy the city it’s in.

This compendium is for members of Chicon, who are only in town for a few days, with hours or half-days (or empty stomachs!) to fill, so “here” is the Hyatt Regency on East Wacker (city center map  We’re part of Illinois Center on the south side of the mouth of the river.). Except for Hyde Park (Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago, site of the first nuclear “pile”, site of 1893 Columbian Exposition), marked with the Ferris Wheel, I’ve tried to restrain myself from things more than a couple of miles from the Loop….

(3) A “PARADE OF HORRIBLES.” At Discourse Magazine, Adam Thierer discusses “How Science Fiction Dystopianism Shapes the Debate over AI & Robotics”.

… AI, machine learning, robotics and the power of computational science hold the potential to drive explosive economic growth and profoundly transform a diverse array of sectors, while providing humanity with countless technological improvements in medicine and healthcarefinancial services, transportation, retail, agriculture, entertainment, energy, aviation, the automotive industry and many others. Indeed, these technologies are already deeply embedded in these and other industries and making a huge difference.

But that progress could be slowed and in many cases even halted if public policy is shaped by a precautionary-principle-based mindset that imposes heavy-handed regulation based on hypothetical worst-case scenarios. Unfortunately, the persistent dystopianism found in science fiction portrayals of AI and robotics conditions the ground for public policy debates, while also directing attention away from some of the more real and immediate issues surrounding these technologies….

(4) ABOUT THE BLURB. At the Guardian, Louise Willder talks about “Killer crabs and bad leprechauns: how the best book blurbs excite our brains”.

…Part compression, part come-on, blurbs can also, as I found when I wrote a book about them, open up a world of literary history and wordy joy. Here are some things I discovered….

5 Old blurbs are unhinged

Most blurbs written more than 30 years ago now sound highly eccentric. Many don’t want to be liked: the anti-blurb on an elderly paperback of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory informs us that: “A baleful vulture of doom hovers over this modern crucifixion story.” Some bear little or no resemblance to the books they describe, such as the gloriously tin-eared 1990s Tor editions of Jane Austen’s novels. “Mom’s fishing for husbands – but the girls are hunting for love” is the sell on Pride and Prejudice.

Horror blurbs, especially those on the night-black Pan paperbacks found in holiday cottages, are their own special brand of nonsense, whether summoning up killer crabs (“A bloody carnage of human flesh on an island beachhead!”) or psychotic leprechauns (“They speak German. They carry whips…”).

(5) SPSFC 2022. Book Invasion has a shiny new video promoting Year Two of the Self Published Science Fiction Competition and introducing their judging team.

(6) INDEX OF LGBT RIGHTS IN COUNTRIES CURRENTLY BIDDING FOR WORLDCON. Equaldex publishes the Equality Index, which measures the current status of LGBT rights, laws, and freedoms as well as public attitudes towards LGBT people. [Tammy Coxen pointed out this site.]

2025

2026

2027

2028

2029

2031

(7) HOW TECHNOLOGY HELPS HUMANS CONNECT. The National Air and Space Museum’s “One World Connected” exhibition opens October 14.

One World Connected will tell the story of how flight fostered two momentous changes in everyday life: the ease in making connections across vast distances and a new perspective of Earth as humanity’s home. Featuring an array of satellites and other tools that have increased human connection, the exhibition will ask visitors to consider how global interconnection touches their lives and to imagine how advances in technology might impact our near-future.

Here are two examples of what will be included.

Artifact Spotlight: Sirius FM-4 Satellite

Sirius Radio (later Sirius XM Radio) developed the first generation of space-based, commercial radio service, launching in 2001 with three satellites. The stowed solar panels on the first-generation Sirius satellites would span 78 feet once opened in space and provided service to North America with access to more than 150 channels. The Sirius FM-4 Communications Satellite pictured above was built as a flight-ready backup for the system but was never used and will be on display in One World Connected.

Person Spotlight: Vikram Sarabhai

As one of the primary architects of the Indian rocket and space program, Vikram Sarabhai believed that science and technology could transform his country. He felt that an Indian space program promised both self-reliance and economic benefits. Sarabhai’s efforts led to the creation of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). In the 1970s, ISRO collaborated with NASA on the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment, which provided educational programming to 24,000 Indian villages and led to the development of India’s own satellites.

(8) MEMORY LANE.  

1974 [By Cat Eldridge.] It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria. Alongside the platform at Aleppo stood the train grandly designated in railway guides as the Taurus Express. It consisted of a kitchen and dining car, a sleeping car and two local coaches. — Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted several times into films and into film versions, all rather successful. 

The first, and I have the film poster (not a reproduction) on the wall behind as I write this up as it is by far my favorite version, was the 1974 version directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Albert Finney as the Belgian detective who no, he didn’t resemble at all. The screenplay was written by Paul Dean which did a marvelous job. The casting of the suspects was amazing: Jacqueline Bisset, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Rachel Roberts, Anthony Perkins, Richard Widmark and Wendy Hiller.

Though the train exteriors were shot throughout Europe, alas interiors were filmed at Elstree Studios. 

Critics loved it, audiences loved it and it made far than it cost retuning thirty-five million against one point four million. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give it a seventy-eight rating. 

The next film version of Murder on the Orient Express was almost fifty years later.  It would be 2017 when Kenneth Branagh decided to take a turn portraying Hercule Poirot. And no, like Finney, he’s not even remotely close to Christie’s description of her detective (Short, somewhat vain, with brilliantined hair and a waxed moustache, the aging bachelor) as only the television actor really is him. And we will get to him in a minute.

Liket the first version, it had an all-star cast: Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley. I still prefer the first version as this one seemed to do a lot of stunt casting. 

It did well at the box office making back six times its fifty-five million production cost. But critics noted, and I’ll only quote two of them, that “it never quite builds up to its classic predecessor’s illustrious head of steam” and another echoed what several noted this Poirot was “less distinct and, ultimately, less interesting”. 

It gets a sixty rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m skipping the 2001 Murder on the Orient Express film directed by Carl Schenkel as it is set in the present day, and I refuse to watch it as I’ve absolutely no interest in that premise.  If you’re interested, and I have no idea why you’d be, Alfred Molina plays the Belgian detective. 

And we finally get to the only performer who actually looks and acts like Christie described her fussy little man in the form of David Suchet. It aired on Agatha Christie’s Poirot on the 11th of July 2010 first in the States and it was a ninety-minute film length production in which everything was done just right.  It was directed by Philip Martin with screenplay by Stewart Harcourt.  

It’s a wonderful production but then than the entire run of that series was stellar, wasn’t it?

The interior of the Orient Express was reproduced at Pinewood Studios in London. Other locations include the Freemason Hall, Nene Valley Railway, and a street in Malta which was shot to represent Istanbul as it wasn’t modern like most of present-day Istanbul.

So there are two versions I really like: the 1974 version for the setting more than for the Detective and the latter for the David Suchet performance of Poirot. Branagh’s version just feels like play by the numbers. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born August 13, 1895 Bert Lahr.  Best remembered and certainly beloved as The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, as well as his counterpart who was a Kansas farmworker. It’s his only genre role, though in the film Meet the People, he would say “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” which was later popularized by a cartoon character named Snagglepuss. (Died 1967.)
  • Born August 13, 1899 Alfred Hitchcock. If he’d only done his two Alfred Hitchcock series which for the most part were awesome, that’d be enough to get him Birthday Honors. But he did some fifty films of which a number are genre such as The Birds and Psycho. Though I’ve not read it, I’ve heard good things about Peter Ackroyd’s Alfred Hitchcock. (Died 1980.)
  • Born August 13, 1909 Tristram Coffin. He’s best remembered for being Jeff King in King of the Rocket Men, a Forties SF serial, the first of three serials featuring this character. He showed up on the Fifties Superman series in different roles, sometimes on the side of Good, sometimes not. He played The Ambassador twice on Batman in “When the Rat’s Away the Mice Will Play” and “A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away”. (Died 1990.)
  • Born August 13, 1922 Willard Sage. He showed up on Trek as Thann, one of the Empaths in, errr, “Empath”. He was Dr. Blake in Colossus: The Forbin Project, and had roles in The Land of GiantsInvadersThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Outer Limits and The Sixth Sense. (Died 1974.)
  • Born August 13, 1965 Michael De Luca, 57. Producer, second Suicide Squad film, Childhood’s EndGhost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of VengeanceDracula Untold, Lost in SpaceBlade and Blade IIPleasantville and Zathura: A Space Adventure which is not a complete listing. Also writer for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the first Dredd film (oh well), the Freddy’s Nightmares series and the Dark Justice series which though not quite genre was rather fun. Anyone remember the latter?
  • Born August 13, 1990 Sara Serraiocco, 32. She plays the complex role of Baldwin on the Counterpart series which I finally got around to watching and it’s absolutely fascinating. I will also admit it’s nice to see a SF series that’s truly adult in nature. 

(10) WEIRD AND WONDERFUL. Let CBR.com introduce you to “The Most Obscure DC Superheroes With The Weirdest Powers”.

8. Danny The Street Is Only Just Starting To Get Their Due

Danny The Street’s inclusion in the TV series Doom Patrol (2019-) has raised the character’s profile a bit but they’re still wonderfully obscure and notably less recognizable than their allies, Robotman and Elasti-Girl. Since they regularly rearrange their molecules and appearance, they don’t have a single, signature “look,” though they enjoy playing with historically gendered imagery.

Being a teleporting sentient street is as weird as any superpower but Danny knows how to use their abilities to their advantage. Their flexibility actually makes them all the more effective not just at fighting evildoers but at providing a haven for the world’s outcasts and oddities.

(11) FEELING THE FORCE. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] You know how it is. You are with a couple of friends minding your own business when the forces of the dark side collar you…  Actually, this was Northumberland Heath SF Society member Kel Sweeny’s (centre) 50th. Fellow N.Heath SF member, Mark (left) and myself (right). (Yes, those knees are his own and rumoured to be bionic: well, they’ve lasted half a century but mysteriously haven’t aged much! It’s either that or there is a portrait of them in his attic.)

No surprise, Kel is into Star Wars and even has his own, screen-ready storm-trooper kit. He belongs to UK Garrison, a nation-wide group of storm troopers who occasionally hire themselves out, or volunteer if it’s for what they consider is a charity/good cause, to events. This being his birthday, Kel came as himself, but a couple of his local storm-trooper comrades were in the mix to give his 50th added colour.

(12) ROUND FOUR. On the way – more Love, more Death, and more Robots. And will John Scalzi be involved again? He told Whatever readers:

Seriously, the answer to any question you might have at this point for LD+R (including any possible involvement by me) is: I don’t know, and if I did know, I couldn’t tell you. I swear I’m not being obstinate. I just don’t have anything to share at this point. When or if I do have something to share, obviously I will share it at the appropriate time.

(13) DECREASING SNAPPY DUMBACKS. “‘Data void’: Google to stop giving answers to silly questions”  explains the Guardian.

Google will stop giving snappy answers to stupid questions, the company has announced, as it seeks to improve its search engine’s “featured snippets” service.

That means users should see fewer answers to questions such as “When did Snoopy assassinate Abraham Lincoln?”, to which the service would once merrily respond with “1865” – the right date, but very much the wrong assassin.

“This clearly isn’t the most helpful way to display this result,” said the company’s head of search, Pandu Nayak, in a blogpost announcing the changes. “We’ve trained our systems to get better at detecting these sorts of false premises, which are not very common, but there are cases where it’s not helpful to show a featured snippet. We’ve reduced the triggering of featured snippets in these cases by 40% with this update.”…

More examples of false premise questions at the link.

(14) NOT QUITE THE GRAIL, BUT CLOSE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Tested’s Adam Savage explains some of his favorite replica props from sf and fantasy movies in this video: “Ask Adam Savage: Props That Have NEVER Been Properly Replicated”.

In this livestream excerpt, Tested Members Thomas Esson and King Sponge & Leech ask Adam about a prop that he feels has eluded accurate replication and if Adam ever considered making Hellboy’s Big Baby.

(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Vicki Bennett explains how to trap a golem in this 2013 piece for Britain’s Channel 4. “The Golem – An Inanimate Matter.”

[Thanks to Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, P J Evans, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, and Chris Barkley for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ken Richards.]

9 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 8/13/22 Never Mind The Shoggoth, Here’s The Pixel Scroll

  1. (10) I’m a big fan of Danny the Street as portrayed on “Doom Patrol”.

  2. (1) Wonderful news.

    (3) … AI, machine learning, robotics and the power of computational science hold the potential to drive explosive economic growth and profoundly transform a diverse array of sectors, while providing humanity with countless technological improvements in medicine and healthcare, financial services, transportation, retail, agriculture, entertainment, energy, aviation, the automotive industry and many others. Absolutely none of which our tech overlords have any intention of ever delivering.

    Maybe Thierer should consider that the attitudes he’s complaining about are not the result of dystopian science fiction, but the reality that Silicon Valley has actually delivered. And anyone who thinks we don’t have flying cars because of government over-regulation shouldn’t be allowed near sharp objects.

  3. (4) One of the least appropriate science fiction blurbs I’ve seen was on the 1988 paperback edition of Thomas Disch’s Camp Concentration, which tried to make it sound like a Reaganite technothriller. In case you haven’t read that novel— it involves evil neurological experiments by the US military on political prisoners, in the context of an endless Vietnam-type war. Whoever got the job from Carroll & Graf to write the back cover copy decided that it was really about “a frightening future world when Third World guerrillas are busy at work undermining the shaky foundations of Western democracies.”

  4. 10) As a fan of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol I’m sad (but not surprised) to learn Danny the Street’s gone from a drag queen who talks polari to “they enjoy playing with historically gendered imagery”.

  5. (4) This Ace blurb is hard to beat for awful:

    Tomorrow’s answer to the anti-missile-missile, Podkayne of Mars. An interplanetary bombshell who rocked the constellations when she invaded the Venus Hilton and attached the mighty mechanical men with a strange, overpowering blast of highly explosive Sex Appeal

  6. I absolutely loathe Albert Finney in his version of Orient Express. His Perot was so annoying I avoided anything by Agatha Christie for years. My wife finally convinced me to see the Suchet version, which I did like, but I have to say I consider Brannagh’s the best. He managed to make Perot an engaging, likeable character, with his obvious awareness of the problems created by his anal retention disorder. I thought both his Christie films were fantastic. I hope he does more, and gets better luck with his casting problems.

  7. I’m not sure what universe PhilRM lives in, but in this one machine learning is already improving medicine to a substantial degree. While my car is not self-driving, the safety features, such as lane detection, are an undoubtable improvement and those safety features definitely prevented one accident when a man, wanting to get across the street, ran out in front of my car and the automatic breaking reacted much faster than I could. The widespread availability of large scale open source language models practically insures that an increasing amount of what you read will be, in part, written by an AI. The argument that the tech industries won’t deliver on these technologies completely ignores the extent to which those developing technologies are already imbedded in the fields mentioned. I can only assume the comment is based on ignorance.

    Are companies going to look at how what they do affects their bottom line? Yes. Oddly enough, companies are conspiracies’ to make money. Ignoring AI, Machine Learning and developments in Robotics will quickly make their products obsolete and so it is something that we can confidently predict will not happen.

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