Pixel Scroll 9/10/23 The Scroll Goes Ever On And On, Far From The File Where It Began

(1) GETTING COVERS BACK OUT FRONT. Entrepreneur assesses “Why Book Covers Are Making a Comeback”.

…Driven by visual social media and digital reading innovations, book cover design is reclaiming significance. Publishers are investing more in illustrated covers over text-dominant designs. Authors are regaining control over cover direction. Book cover reveals have become standalone social media events driving buzz. In many ways, we are witnessing a renaissance in the aesthetics and art of book covers. Let’s examine the forces driving this comeback.

…. Another paradoxical force spurring the comeback of print-style covers is the rise of e-books. With e-readers like Kindle gaining adoption, publishers feared print covers would lose significance. But an unexpected opposite effect occurred.

E-readers triggered innovations in e-book cover design that looped back to influence print covers. Interactive e-book covers came to life through animation and video. Digital-first elements like neon textures or holographic finishes became popular. E-book-first series that went viral, like ambitious illustrated covers for epic fantasy novels, crossed back over to print.

Reading ecosystem convergence is also elevating covers. Services like Amazon Matchbook give e-book copies of print purchases, keeping hardcover artwork relevant. Companies popularized custom dust jackets as consumable cover accessories. Display-worthy book boxes and monthly subscription book packages rely on striking cover reveals….

(2) STINKERS ALSO EDUCATE THE PALATE. “Legendary writer Alan Moore explains why it’s important to read ‘terrible’ books not just good ones” at Upworthy.

…“As a prospective writer, I would urge you to not only read good books. Read terrible books as well, because they can be more inspiring than the good books,” Moore says in a clip taken from his BBC Maestro online storytelling course.

“If you are inspired by a good book, there’s always the danger of plagiarism, of doing something that is too much like that good book,” Moore says in the video. “Whereas, a genuinely helpful reaction to a piece of work that you’re reading is, ‘Jesus Christ, I could write this sh*t!’ That is immensely liberating — to find somebody who is published who is doing much, much worse than you.”

Moore also believes that being exposed to bad writing can help you learn from other writers’ mistakes. Knowing why something doesn’t work can be as valuable as understanding why something succeeds….

(3) BLAZING THE WAY. Slashfilm documents “How Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling Pioneered The Sci-Fi Genre For Years To Come”.

…On the PBS website for American Masters, several notable artists were put on the record as to their fandom of Serling’s show. One might easily guess that Jordan Peele was a fan of “The Twilight Zone” as he served as executive producer and narrator for the 2019 revival. It will also shock no one to learn that Stephen King and Guillermo delt Toro are massive fans. King said in Marc Scott Zicree’s sourcebook “The Twilight Zone Companion” that he was inspired by Matheson in particular, while del Toro, although a “Twilight” fan, was more fond of Serling’s follow-up series “Night Gallery.”

One might be a little more surprised to learn that comedian Mel Brooks was a fan. Brooks, of course, had taste in entertainment that extended far beyond the comedies he was known for writing, as the maker of “Blazing Saddles” also produced films like “The Elephant Man” and “The Fly.” Brooks clearly had a thing for the unusual and the macabre and was impressed by Serling’s mastery over his production. In Mark Dawidziak’s 2020 book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life,” Brooks offered the following observation:

“The greatest lesson I learned is that you need to reserve judgment and seriously buy into the creation and design of the filmmaker. You’ve got to give it all up and go along with the magic. Every time I watched ‘The Twilight Zone,’ I was completely ready to surrender to it. That’s what the mystery of creation is all about. Give yourself over to that wonderful, wonderful mystery.”…

(4) CAPED FUN. A small-town gathering uses superheroes to raise money for childhood cancer research: “Superhero day kicked off in Athens to raise money for childhood cancer” on WAFF in Athens, Alabama.

Every child wishes they could be a superhero, right? On Saturday, kids had the opportunity to take part in the action, as part of Eli’s Block Party.

Children were inspired and had some fun with superhero characters for the free family-friendly event hosted by Athens-Limestone Tourism for childhood cancer research.

The special day was established in 2011 for Eli Williams, who fought medulloblastoma for almost six years. In 2017 Williams passed away and his mother, Kristie Williams remains a vital part of keeping his memory alive through the organization, Eli’s Block Party.

“The goal for Superhero Day is to honor this decade-long annual event by preserving it and continuing it,” said Tina Morrison, Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association Event Coordinator. “This kids event makes a positive change for children by providing a fun, free environment for all kids of all economic backgrounds. While having fun, they will also learn the importance of serving in their community, the importance of saving and donating money, and the opportunity to inquire with caring, professional adults about becoming community leaders when they grow up.”…

(5) A RED LETTER DAY. The date of next year’s LA Vintage Paperback Show has been set: Sunday, March 17, 2024.

(6) SURPASSING THE MASTER. ScreenRant stands behind “The Orville & 10 Other Sci-Fi Parodies As Good As The Franchises They’re Based On”.

Even though they’re often mocking their source material, sci-fi parodies can be as good as the franchises they’re based on. The Orville is better than modern Star Trek to some fans, and similar series have actually contributed to the genre as a whole with fun plots, memorable characters, and engaging visuals, with a moral lesson or two for good measure. Far from spoofing George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, movies like Spaceballs actually elevate it, making its rich lore and world-building come across as even more distinct and iconic within the pop culture zeitgeist.

Unexpectedly in first place:

1. Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks focuses on the goings-on of the lower decks of Starfleet’s USS Cerritos, an unimportant vessel often called upon to engage in extraordinary adventures despite the mediocre nature of its crew. This animated series is actually a part of Star Trek canon but does an ingenious job of subverting it with humor. Everything fans have made fun of about the franchise for years is lovingly incorporated into jokes about cleaning bodily fluids from the holodeck, and this sci-fi parody is now touted as one of the best new Star Trek series of the last ten years.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 10, 1914 Robert Wise. Film director, producer, and editor. Among his accomplishments are directing The Curse of The Cat PeopleThe Day the Earth Stood StillThe HauntingThe Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Though not at all genre, he also directed West Side Story and edited Citizen Kane, two exemplary accomplishments indeed. (Died 2005.)
  • Born September 10, 1952 Gerry Conway, 71. Writer who’s best known for co-creating with John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru the Punisher character and scripting the death of Gwen Stacy during his long run on The Amazing Spider-Man. (ThePunisher comic is far, far better than any the three films is. I broke my vow of not watching anything I like and deeply regret it. I really mean that.) I’m also fond of his work on Weird Western Tales at DC. A truly odd and deeply entertaining series.  At DC, he created a number of characters including Firestorm, Count Vertigo and Killer Croc. Not genre at all, but he wrote a lot of scripts for Law and Order: Criminal Intent, one of my favorite series.
  • Born September 10, 1953 Pat Cadigan, 70. Tea from an Empty Cup and Dervish is Digital are both amazing works. And I’m fascinated that she co-wrote with Paul Dini, creator of Batman: The Animated Series, a DCU novel called Harley Quinn: Mad Love. In many ways, it was better than the damn series is which I’ll discuss with anyone here. 
  • Born September 10, 1955 Victoria Strauss, 68. Author of the Burning Land trilogy, she should be praised for being founder along with AC Crispin for being founder of the Committee on Writing Scams. She maintains the Writer Beware website and blog. 
  • Born September 10, 1958 Nancy A. Collins, 65. Author of the Sonja Blue vampire novels, some of the best of that genre I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. She had a long run on Swamp Thing from issues 110 to 138, and it is generally considered a very good period in that narrative.  She also wrote Vampirella, the Forrest J Ackerman and Trina Robbins creation, for awhile.
  • Born September 10, 1964 Chip Kidd, 58. Graphic designer. And isn’t that an understatement. He did Batman: Death by Design which was illustrated by Dave Taylor, and there’s his amazing homage to Plastic Man with Art Spiegelman, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits. He also created the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton design for the original Jurassic park novel which was later carried over into the film franchise. Neat. Really neat.
  • Born September 10, 1968 Guy Ritchie, 55. Director of Sherlock Holmes and its sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, both of each I rather liked, and the live-action Aladdin. He did also directed / wrote / produced the rebooted The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which got rather nice reviews to my surprise as well as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which apparently is quite excellent as audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give it a seventy percent rating. 

(8) COMICS SECTION.

  • In case you wondered, Tom Gauld shows it’s harder to find the right book than the right porridge.

(9) WEAK AND OTHER AI. Rich Horton reviews “Machinehood, by S. B. Divya” at Strange at Ecbatan.

…The novel is told primarily from the POV of Welga Ramírez, with a number of chapters from the POV of her sister-in-law Nithya. It is set in 2095, and its themes are stated to some extent in extracts from the Machinehood Manifesto, a document issued during the action of the novel. The first two declarations from the manifesto we see are: “All forms of intelligence have the right to exist without persecution or slavery.” and “No form of intelligence may own another.” We are quickly aware that this is a significant issue in this future, as the society is heavily reliant on bots of various forms — a fairly obtuse vendor bot is immediately introduced — and by WAIs, or “weak artificial intelligences”, such as Welga’s personal aide Por Qué. A key issue, clearly, is “what is intelligence?” (The Machinehood defines it very expansively.) Another issue, already fraught for this future society, is labor rights — the economy is largely a gig economy, and humans have struggled to compete for jobs as many jobs are performed by bots or WAIs….

(10) FOCUSED HISTORY. From Paul Weimer at Nerds of a Feather: “Review: The Lion House: The Coming of a King by Christopher de Bellaigue”.

…I have been speaking in terms as if this were a historical novel rather than an actual piece of non fiction, and I do think that this book really does borrow a lot from the novel tradition. The tradition expansive and sometimes dry history book of the past that turned off as many or more readers than they drew in is not so much a thing in modern history and non fiction. The rage these days is for the microhistory, for the history of sometimes not even just a particular person, but a moment in time, a decision, a small aspect of the world that can be illuminated, described and brought to life. Capturing Suleyman the Magnificent at the beginning of his reign, when he rising to his power and the crest of his reign (and arguably the height of the entire Ottoman Empire) is definitely in that microhistorical frame….

(11) ANOTHER SIDE OF TOM GAULD. In “Microreview: Mooncop” at Nerds of a Feather, Alex Wallace shows “Tom Gauld has more up his sleeve than just funny cartoons.”

…Mooncop is a slim volume; I read it in a single sitting, and I think most people could do it in a rather short amount of time. It is, in a sense, exactly what it says on the tin, being about a policeman on a lunar colony sometime in the not-too-distant future. Even the title feels like Gauld, in some way, with a bluntness that only obscures the greater depths of the work with a seeming irreverence towards standard titles….

(12) AND COME OUT FIGHTING. The Guardian referees the “Battle of the AIs: rival tech teams clash over who painted ‘Raphael’ in UK gallery”.

…Both studies used state-of-the art AI technology. Months after one study proclaimed that the so-called de Brécy Tondo, currently on display at Bradford council’s Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, is “undoubtedly” by Raphael, another has found that it cannot be by the Renaissance master.

In January, research teams from the universities of Nottingham and Bradford announced the findings of facial recognition technology, which compared the faces in the Tondo with those in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna altarpiece, commissioned in 1512.

Having used “millions of faces to train an algorithm to recognise and compare facial features”, they stated: “The similarity between the madonnas was found to be 97%, while comparison of the child in both paintings produced an 86% similarity.”

They added: “This means that the two paintings are highly likely to have been created by the same artist.”

But algorithms involved in a new study by Dr Carina Popovici, a scientist with Art Recognition, a Swiss company based near Zurich, have now returned an 85% probability for the painting not to be painted by Raphael….

(13) PLANKING THE SCRIPTURES. Thanks to AI you can own the Pirate Bible: The Whole Bible in Pirate Speak.

The Pirate Bible is a full translation of the Bible (including Old and New Testaments). It was translated using a complex algorithm and artificial intelligence to create a realistic translation of the Holy Book while striving to maintain content accuracy. We hope it inspires you to engage with the Bible in new and meaningful ways.

What’s the difference? Compare how the King James Version and the Pirate Bible render this verse:

Matthew 6:3 (KJV)

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

Matthew 6:3 (Pirate Bible)

But when ye scuttle booty, let not yer port hand know what yer starboard hand be doin’!

(14) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Ryan George plays the entire Solar System when “The Planets Hold An Intervention For Earth”. I mean, the Earth is just crawling with you-know-whats!

[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Joe H.]

38 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/10/23 The Scroll Goes Ever On And On, Far From The File Where It Began

  1. (13) To go with the biblical theme, there is nothing new under the sun.

    Before there was The Pirate Bible, before there was large language model AI, way back in 2007, there was the LOLcat Bible. It was an open source project. Honestly, it wasn’t very good. But we thought it was really funny at the time. These happen to be among the best verses:

    Ecclesiastes 1-9 – 1-10
    KJV:

    The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
    Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.

    Lolcat:

    Has happen? Gunna be agin. Nuthing new undur teh sunz.
    Kitteh can not sez “OMFGZ sumthing new!” is jus REPOST!.

    Now available only through the Wayback Machine. See Wikipedia for more.

  2. Title credit!

    1) I hope this means that we’ll start seeing fewer covers that are, well, godawful. And it’s kind of depressing how many TOR eBooks I own where the cover is just a TOR logo splashpage rather than an actual cover.

  3. 1) Does this mean covers by actual artists are coming back? Most covers today consist of two elements from digital files arranged together.

  4. (1) “Authors are regaining control over cover direction.” That was news to me, since my impression has been that authors seldom has had any real or consistent control over cover direction, that being firmly with the art and marketing departments of the publishers.

  5. Karl-Johan Norén: For tradpub I think you’re right, however, for the ever-growing number of authors going indie, they have control.

  6. (6) From the linked article: “Starship Troopers began as a satirical novel . . .”
    Don’t think so.

  7. 6) Bill, it’s hard to say what RAH was thinking of with “Starship Troopers.” If he actually was intending satire, he fell miserably flat, just as he did with “Farnham’s Freehold.” He was a great admirer of two of America’s best satirists, Mark Twain and James Branch Cabell. However, in that department he was nowhere near their equal–although I think he came closer to the mark with “Job” and “Friday.” But that was much later.

    Back in the mid-1970s, two friends of mine who were US Army veterans had poor-to-rotten opinions of ST. One said it read like an Army recruiting film, while the other dismissed it with two words: “Stormship Troopers.”

  8. Mike, re covers: not just self-pub. Both the late Ring of Fire Press, and my new publisher, Novus Mundi Books, solicited input from me on a cover; in fact, NM gave me three possibilities, and I got to choose.

  9. (1) Covers can’t make a comeback fast enough for me. Yet at the same time, publishers have come under fire for using very plain and basic covers instead of hiring a great illustrator — and then wondering why the sales aren’t the same. And some big publishers have been caught using AI for covers — even for the covers of best-selling authors like Sarah J. Maas. Talk about penny-pinching. It reflects badly on the publisher — but also sometimes on the authors because some people somehow still believe that authors are responsible for their own covers.

    (3) Yay for Rod Serling recognition. BTW there are some recent sources for Serling fans out there. His daughter (Anne Serling) has a book out called “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.” There is also “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination” by Nicholas Parisi (with a foreword by Anne Serling).

  10. 1) Most small press publishers and fan-publishers who do it for love have known to go with illustrated covers for years. Big corporate publishers are run by accountants, marketers, and other non-creative parasites. This is a big part of the reason why almost all the SF I buy now comes from small press and self-publ;ishers…..

  11. (7) and Chip Kidd. IIRC, he did the wraparound cover, front and back inside pages, some interior art, and chapter heading design motifs showing who was narrating for Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible”. Definitely genre and a great piece of design that greatly enhanced the book.

    Which is worth reading on its own if you like capes.

  12. I have a memory of Heinlein, maybe in an afterword, talking about his complete sincerity when writing both Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land, but I am not able to articulate exactly where and neither is my buddy, Gee Peetee IV.

  13. Brian Z: The second volume of Patterson’s bio of Heinlein makes clear (with receipts) that the author was perfectly sincere.

  14. When further prompted to kindly check the Patterson bio and get back to me, GPT was able to be a lot more articulate.

    Regarding “Starship Troopers,” Heinlein wrote the book in part as a response to what he saw as the pacifist movement’s naïveté, especially in the wake of nuclear disarmament campaigns and the cessation of U.S. nuclear testing. He was sincere in his portrayal of a society where military service conferred citizenship and its associated rights, as it reflected his views on duty, responsibility, and sacrifice.

    Interestingly, it informed me that it was not willing to quote directly from the Patterson bio or writings of Heinlein. I pointed out giving me a direct quote would be fair use, and it told me sorry buster, go read it yourself.

  15. Brian Z: You could get short quotes by searching the volume on Google Books. Better than using ChatGPT to pretend to do research.

  16. That’s exactly the issue. There’s no relevant legal difference between Google Books giving me the short quotes and GPT or another AI doing it. It actually gave me full quotes last time I tried something like this, but that was a while ago. Apparently its refusal to provide even one inch of copyrighted text is a direct response by its programmers to impending lawsuits. But I don’t see a way around the clear Google Books precedent.

  17. Brian Z: There’s no way of knowing whether the ChatGPT material is a genuine quote without doing a comparison. And Google Books did give me quotes from the Patterson volume. (Which I know because I tried that first, to see whether I’d really have to pull up my Kindle copy of the book and search it.)

  18. For your use case of jogging your memory of something you already know, either would suffice. For actual research as opposed to spitballing, a quick query with either kind of tool must currently be checked against a full copy. But the checking of an AI’s short quotes against full text can and will be automated.

    Wolfram is doing a lot of work on incorporating real-world data and doing accurate calculations. LLMs could become an amazing tool for SF world building.

    Hallucinations are so interesting. They say the new Google one is 20 times as powerful or something (and that’s only the public AI deployments they are telling us some of the truth about). Could an LLM write for us, say, a deeply sincere anti-war Heinlein novel?

  19. @Brian Z–The fact that LLMs make up plausible-sounding crap in response to factual queries makes them, at best, worthless as research tools.
    New York lawyers sanctioned for using fake ChatGPT cases in legal brief

    To avoid that result, the lawyers or their paralegals would have had to (try to) look up every one of those fake cases, and then do more research to find genuine caselaw that had similar results. Assuming there really were suitable real-world cases, which is not guaranteed.

    Easier to just skip the ChatGPT step, and go right to doing the research themselves.

  20. My wife just got some student writing that I suspect was AI-generated, so I popped over to the ChatGPT site to reacquaint myself with it. Among the test prompts I tried was “Eleanor Arnason’s fiction,” the response to which included Elizabeth Lynn’s “The Woman who Loved the Moon” as an example of Eleanor’s work. So the reports of ChatGPT just making shit up are true. But to be fair, both their given names start with E. (Tomorrow we’ll check the AI’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the student’s.)

  21. @Lis Carey
    “Easier to just skip the ChatGPT step, and go right to doing the research themselves.”
    A lesson that was taught in “Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine” over 60 years ago . . . .

  22. Danny still hasn’t learned. I replicated Mike’s method to see if it actually produced results superior to the Geepster.

    Searching within Patterson Vol 2 for “Starship Troopers”, it appears 32 times and a handful relevant to the question of Heinlein’s views say:

    There is a philosophy that has turned up most blatantly in Starship Troopers (doesn’t say what)
    An aspect of the book may derive from Bellamy’s Looking Backwards (doesn’t say what)
    He is said to have called it a description of an object of human love, “loving his fellow men enough to be willing to die for them…”
    Dedicated to his best friend Sarge Smith
    Got the basic thesis of the book from something his father said (doesn’t say what)
    Shortly after its publication, he set out core thoughts (doesn’t say what)
    Letters baring his soul included material in the book
    “I mean that’s what Starship Troopers is all about. You don’t get to vote unless you fight.” (unclear who said this)

    Take it away, Danny!

    Heinlein had a philosophy that turned up most blatantly in Starship Troopers, a book also influenced by Looking Backwards. The book is a description of loving your fellow men enough to die for them. He got the core idea from something his dad said, and dedicated it to his best friend Sarge. He wrote thoughts and letters about it, and it has been said it’s about the idea that you don’t get to vote unless you fight.

    Compare GPT:

    Regarding “Starship Troopers,” Heinlein wrote the book in part as a response to what he saw as the pacifist movement’s naïveté, especially in the wake of nuclear disarmament campaigns and the cessation of U.S. nuclear testing. He was sincere in his portrayal of a society where military service conferred citizenship and its associated rights, as it reflected his views on duty, responsibility, and sacrifice.

    Geep 4 knocks out GB in the first round, one arm tied behind its back. If allowed by its programmers to do what it did until recently – provide direct quotes – GB would not have dared step into the ring. Once the legal dust settles, future AI will do just that.

    In either case, Danny must continue his research. Both confirm Patterson’s book’s utility. Searches related to all of the terms and phrases appearing in GB’s excerpts added only that Tim Collins was the guy who says he said the love your fellow men bit. Whereas the bits from the Geep returned, quickly, a 4/13/1958 Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph article detailing Heinlein’s protest of the cessation of nuclear testing. When Google Search first came out they said it would make students lazy, too. We could do historical reenactments of looking up books in card catalogs in the costumes of 1970s grad students to help children learn about human researchers. I’ll play the librarian who comes around and goes “shh!”

  23. So the reports of ChatGPT just making shit up are true.

    Russel Letson, if you and your wife are new to this game, you might want to alert her to the probability that the students are using ChatGPT 4, which produces copy far superior to the free ChatGPT 3.5 that you probably started with. Not that it doesn’t make shit up; it is just better at it. Twenty bucks a month, but that’s so much cheaper than hiring someone to write all your essays that it must have put a lot of them out of business.

  24. “Could an LLM write for us, say, a deeply sincere anti-war Heinlein novel?”

    We don’t need ChatGPT to write “For Us, the Living” for us – it’s already there.

  25. I never got around to it. Interesting. Everybody eligible for conscription gets to decide whether to go to war. Whereas in Starship you have to have served already to decide.

  26. @Brian Z you haven’t “replicated Mike’s method” you’ve just strung some quotes together. Mike never suggested that you should write like that. All you’ve shown is that ChatGPT is a much better writer than you are,

    The Heinlein “article” you mention – actually a paid advert responding to another paid advert – is well documented and republished in Expanded Universe. It was certainly not protesting an actual end to testing – because the US was still testing, beginning a new series of tests on April 28 (the previous series was completed in March). Seems to me that real research can outdo ChatGPT. Especially as ChatGPT is known to invent references. As two lawyers found out to their cost:
    https://www.reuters.com/legal/new-york-lawyers-sanctioned-using-fake-chatgpt-cases-legal-brief-2023-06-22/

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