Pixel Scroll 9/7/18 Pixel Yourself On A Spinning Space Station, With Alien Porters With Arthropod Eyes

(1) HAPPENS TO THE BEST OF US. Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes about battling website and ISP) problems in “Business Musings: Website Issues”. The post begins —

It’s tough to write my blog when my website is down…for the second time in two weeks. Both times had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the website hosting service, which is so monumentally incompetent that I’m speechless.

I learned a lesson during this incident. A big important lesson.

And it ends —

…And as I (and the kind folks at WMG) rebuild, we will be doing so with an eye to a 2018 website, not a 2010 website. We’ll make information easy to find. The weekly features will remain as well.

It’s going to take a bit of time, but it was something I needed to do. Bluehost forced me into it.

They also taught me a valuable lesson. Every few years, I need to re-evaluate every service that I hire to help with my business, not just to see if the service is doing well, but also to make sure the service itself is the same company that I hired a few years before.

Things change quickly in this modern world, and I really need to incorporate that awareness of change into my own business planning…

In between, Rusch explains how she learned the lesson the hard way.

(2) ABOUT GRIMDARK. Paul Weimer analyzes “The Fugue of Fantasy and the Grimdark Interregnum” at Nerds of a Feather.

…In the history of epic fantasy, following this analogy and paradigm, there has always been a voice in a minor key, a strain of fantasy with antiheroes, shades of dark grey and darkness, worlds where hope and optimism are not valued or are even punished. Violence is the name of the game, dystopic amorality the norm and the worlds are often the successor states or the  ruins of another, brighter time. The classical Western European model of the first few centuries after Rome fell is the historical ur-model, and indeed, many novels use thinly disguised or even explicitly set in that time period. The latest iteration of this minor-key fantasy, which had in recent years become a dominant theme in epic fantasy, is what we call Grimdark….

(3) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites you to share a steak dinner with legendary comics creator Don McGregor in episode 76 of the Eating the Fantastic podcast.

I reached out to Dauntless Don — we all had nicknames back them; he was Dauntless, I was Sparkling — and said, hey, how about if when I’m on the way back to the airport at the end of Readercon, I swoop down, take you out for dinner, and we chew over the old times. And that’s exactly what we did, at the Safehouse in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, along with Dauntless Don’s wife, the Marvelous Marsha, whose voice you’ll occasionally hear in the background of this episode.

Don started out his career in comics by writing some of the best horror stories to appear in the pages of Creepy and Eerie — and I remember well reading the first of them in the early ’70s. When he moved on to Marvel Comics, he did groundbreaking work with such characters as Black Panther, Killraven, and Luke Cage. In fact, his two-year “Panther’s Rage” arc was ranked as the third most important Marvel Comics storyline of the ’70s by Comics Bulletin. In 2015, he was awarded the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing at San Diego Comic-Con International.

We discussed how meeting Jim Steranko led to him selling his first comics story, why when he was 13 years old, he wanted to be Efrem Zimbalist Jr., what he learned from Naked City creator Stirling Silliphant, how his first meeting with future Black Panther artist Billy Graham could have been disastrous, why the comics he wrote in the ’70s wouldn’t have been able to exist two years later, the reasons Archie Goodwin was such a great editor, how he convinced Stan Lee to allow the first interracial kiss in mainstream comics, what life lessons he took from Westerns in general and Hopalong Cassidy in particular, why he almost stopped writing Lady Rawhide, and much more.

(4) ALIEN ENCOUNTER NUMBER CRUNCHING. James Davis Nicoll discourages the idea that we’ll be meeting aliens in reality: “Doing the Math: Aliens and Advanced Tech in Science Fiction”. After reading Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem, maybe that’s a relief?

Everyone loves them some aliens. But …if the encounter is to work out to the satisfaction of all concerned, it is best if the aliens not be too advanced (because they could brush us aside like ants) or too primitive (we might brush them aside like ants). No, there’s a Goldilocks zone for aliens, in which they are close to the same tech level as humans … and can interact peaceably with us.

Which leads me to wonder: just how likely is it that two unconnected civilizations could reach the same technological level (roughly) at the same time?

Time for some large, round numbers….

(5) EXCEEDING THE READ LIMIT. Walter Mosley declares, “Enough with the Victors Writing History”, at LitHub.

I have studied the great powers that vie to control what they want us to believe about the past; but I don’t identify with them. I identify with the librarians who, when asked by GW Bush to report on their visitors’ reading habits, held up a hand and said, “First Amendment.” I identify with outsider artists and labor organizers and autodidacts who either refuse to or are unable to believe in the lies foisted upon us by the conquerors. I identify with the belief that there exists a history out there just beyond the reach of our powers of cognition. And I believe that a lie is a lie; that if you coexist with a population that helped to build your house, your culture, your music, a population that helped to raise your children and fine-tune your language, and you deny that culture’s impact on who you are… then your knowledge of history will fail you and the past will devour you and your children.

If you deny your past your future will be a detour around your fondest hopes and dreams…

Daniel Dern sent the link with a note, “While best known for his detective fiction, Mosley has written a handful of sf… and is a big sf fan… I’ve got a photo from Millennial PhilCon (Worldcon 2001) of him and Orson Scott Card, just after they met and near-simultaneously said to the other ‘I’m a huge fan.’”

(6) WOMBAT TO RETURN TO ALBUQUERQUE. Kevin Sonney boosts the signal –

(7) A MARTIAN ODYSSEY. Chabeli Herrera in the Orlando Sentinel reports that the Kennedy Space Center has opened up the Astronaut Training Experience, which simulates a trip to Mars by having visitors “strap onto a microgravity simulator: and then carry out a repair on the space station.  There’s also a simulation of Mars Base 1, where visitors can “work together to solve various technical problems” including “programming a team of robots to clean dust off the base’s solar panels.” — “Like real astronaut training, Kennedy Space Center’s new simulators let you work in zero gravity, drive Mars rover”.

Like a scene from “The Martian,” the botany lab in Mars Base 1 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex grows vegetables under the glow of fluorescent purple lights.

But it’s not all potatoes like in the 2015 film. This room can grow anything from cress to tomatoes, and all of the crops are planted and harvested by guests playing astronaut for the day.

The botany room is one of several new features at Kennedy Space Center’s Astronaut Training Experience Center, a two-year project designed to simulate astronaut training and work on Mars. The attraction opened in February, but officials gathered Thursday to officially kick off the opening of the ATX with representatives from its sponsor, aerospace company Lockheed Martin.

(8) SPEAK MEMORY. Hear the Harlan Ellison Memorial Panel at Worldcon 76:

(9) SHELLEY OBIT. Actress Carole Shelley (1939-2018), who appeared on stage in The Odd Couple and Wicked, and voiced characters in the Disney animated movies The Aristocats (1970) and Robin Hood (1973), died August 31 reports the New York Times:

A new generation of theatergoers knew Ms. Shelley for originating a less sympathetic character in the musical “Wicked,” a prequel of sorts to L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

The show opened in 2003 with Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, the putatively good witch, and Idina Menzel as Elphaba, who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. (“Wicked” was still running on Broadway, with a different cast, when Ms. Shelley died.)

Ms. Shelley played Madame Morrible, a college official who pairs Glinda and Elphaba as roommates. She later helps arrange a series of events that push Elphaba toward wickedness.


  • September 7, 1958  — Queen of Outer Space premiered.
  • September 7, 2017 – Jerry Pournelle died. Cat Eldridge notes: “Author, The Mote in God’s Eye with Larry Niven, numerous other works including the Janissary series, and superb tech commentary writer as well. His Byte column was something I very much looked forward to reading every month.”


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 7 – Karen Frenkel, 63. Author, Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (1985) with Isaac Asimov. Available on her website.


  • A Hollywood in-joke you’ll all get – Long Story Short.
  • Scene from a comic con by Nigel Auchterlounie —

(13) HIGH CONCEPT. This December in Infinity Wars: Fallen Guardian #1.

(14) CATS IN THE VICINITY OF SFF. David D. Levine made a fan —

(15) ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Data from the Chandra X-ray telescope has been combined with optical data to image a distant galaxy that seems to be encircled by black holes and/or neutron stars (International Business Times: “Ring Made Of Black Holes? Massive Cosmic Structure Found Encircling Distant Galaxy”). Galaxy AM 0644-741 was involved in a recent (astronomically speaking) collision with another galaxy that boosted star formation. The most massive of those stars had a very short life and have since gone supernova, leaving behind black holes and neutron stars.

Out of the newborn baby stars, the most massive ones probably led a short life, spanning on the scale of millions of years. They lost their nuclear fuel with time and exploded as supernovae, where the majority of the stellar material is blown away, leaving black holes 5 to 20 times heavier than the sun or dense neutron stars carrying approximately same mass as the sun.

This indicates the ring is either made from stellar-mass black holes or neutron stars that are accompanied by close companion stars. The dense objects are drawing gas from their stellar counterparts, forming a super-hot spinning disk which acts as a detectable X-ray source for Chandra.

Though the researchers behind the discovery — a team from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Italy — couldn’t confirm the identity of individual sources making up the ring, they believe this could either be a case of all black holes or all neutron stars, or a mix of both.

The NASA website (“Cosmic Collision Forges Galactic One Ring—in X-rays”) that AM 0644-741 is only one of several galaxies with such X-ray rings and adds a link to the pre-print article on the arXiv service.

The paper describing the study of AM 0644 and its sister ring galaxies appeared in the August 10, 2018 issue of the Astrophysical Journal and is available online. The co-authors of the paper are Antonella Fruscione from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and Michela Mapelli from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova in Padova, Italy.

(16) PULPFEST DATES IN 2019. The dates for PulpFest 2019 are the same weekend at the Dublin 2019 Worldcon but that may not represent an actual conflict for more than a few fans.

PulpFest 2019 will take place from Thursday, August 15, through Sunday, August 18. We’ll be returning to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, just north of Pennsylvania’s “Steel City.” PulpFest will be joined by FarmerCon. Hopefully, they’re not too hung over from this year’s Philip José Farmer centennial.

Start making your plans for the 48th convening of PulpFest and its celebration of mystery, adventure, science fiction, and more. Join us for “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories” at “Summer’s Great Pulp Con.” Please bring your friends!

(17) ALMOST. James Davis Nicoll credits John Varley for showing us “How to Make a Near-Utopia Interesting: John Varley’s Eight World Stories” at Tor.com.

Peace and prosperity sound like they’re good things, but perhaps not for authors. What kind of plots can be imagined if the standard plot drivers are off the table? How does one tell stories in a setting that, while not a utopia, can see utopia at a distance ? The premise seems unpromising, but thirteen stories and a novel argue that one can write absorbing narratives in just such a setting. So how did Varley square this particular circle?

(18) AN OSCAR ON HOLD. About that new “popular film” Oscar? Like the Magic Eight-Ball says – “Ask again later” — “Oscars postpone plans for new popular film category”.

…The award, which could have recognised films popular with audiences but not critics, was only announced last month.

In a statement, the Academy’s CEO said she had “recognised the need for further discussion” with its members about the proposal first.

…In previous years, films which have done well at the box office with audiences – including Mamma Mia, Avatar and the Mission Impossible franchise – have been snubbed by the Academy.

The Oscars’ organisers did not elaborate in their August announcement how eligibility for the new category would have been established.

Some Hollywood critics suggested the new category’s “popular” tag was confusing and could risk creating a two-tier system among films.

It was feared films praised by critics and audiences alike, such as Dunkirk and Get Out, would risk being relegated to the new category rather than standing a chance in the prestigious Best Film award category.

(19) MORE RUBY SLIPPER NEWS. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Smithsonian has a little more info, including how the recovered shoes were authenticated, as well as more info about the ownership of this pair and the others pairs still extant: “After 13-Year Chase, F.B.I. Nabs Pair of Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers”.

…The slippers, it turns out, were not actually owned by the Judy Garland Museum. Instead, they were property of a collector named Michael Shaw, who purchased them in 1970 for a mere $2,000, reports Jennifer Medina for The New York Times. Shaw, who also owns one of Dorothy’s dresses, a witch’s hat and a munchkin outfit from the 1939 movie, was in the habit of loaning out the slippers to museums around the country, donating his display fee to children’s charities. The slippers were on display as part of a 10-week traveling tour when they were stolen on the night of August 28. According to a press release from the Grand Rapids police, a thief or thieves broke into the museum’s back door and smashed open the plexiglass case. There were no cameras on the premises and the museum’s alarm failed to sound.

…After the shoes were apprehended, the F.B.I. brought them to the Smithsonian, which owns another pair of slippers used in the filming, to confirm their ruby slippers were the real deal. For the last two years, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has been analyzing and conserving a different pair of slippers donated to the museum in the late 1970s as part of a Kickstarter campaign. The F.B.I. brought the purloined pair to objects conservator Dawn Wallace for a look.

“We were able to spend two days looking at them and doing close examination as well as some analysis,” Wallace tells Smithsonian.com. “Not only did we have a physical examination, but we were able to conduct some technical analysis of the material to confirm that they were in fact consistent.”

Wallace says two other details cinched the case: First, it’s difficult to fake 80 years of aging on a pair of shoes. Second, the pair in the Smithsonian’s collection is actually a mismatched pair of ruby slippers, with the left sized “5C” and the right sized “5BC.” The pair recovered by the F.B.I. turned out to be the mates of the museum’s shoes (which are set to go back on display in a climate-controlled case on October 19)….

Since Mr. Shaw had received an $800,000 insurance settlement quite some time ago, the shoes belong to the insurance company now.

(20) FOYLES SOLD:BBC reports “Waterstones buys Foyles to defend bookshops against Amazon” – the Foyles Charing Cross Road location hosted this year’s Clarke Award announcement.

Waterstones is buying the 115 year-old family-owned chain Foyles, saying the deal will help to “champion” real bookshops in the face of online rivals.

The sale includes Foyles’ well-known Charing Cross Road store in central London, which was relocated to larger premises in 2014.

Waterstones said the deal would help booksellers fight back against Amazon’s “siren call”.

The larger chain has 283 bookshops across the UK and northern Europe.

[Thanks to Scott Edelman, Mike Kennedy, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, James Davis Nicoll, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day jayn.]

33 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/7/18 Pixel Yourself On A Spinning Space Station, With Alien Porters With Arthropod Eyes

  1. Waterstone’s Foyles is my name
    Charing Cross is my nation,
    Mount Tsundoku is my dwelling place
    A Scroll’s my destination

  2. 2) Hey, I’m a scroll item!

    6) Don’t forget to make the right turn. 🙂

    (I do need to visit it one day, for Bugs Bunny reasons alone…)

    5) I do remember reading a Mosley SF novel…back just before I started seriously trying to review and write SFF type stuff.

    4) Those numbers are hard…and yet a SF without aliens in it, in a universe where if we even get beyond Earth orbit it’s temporary, feels like a diminishment of the potential of the genre. (c.f. Mundane SF).

  3. In (1), Kristine Kathryn Rusch posts some enlightening speculations about increasing suckitude at Orem, Utah-based WordPress-specialised hosting outfit Bluehost, Inc. She appears to have a point.

    2003: firm is founded
    2008: a private equity firm gets a controlling stake
    2010: the firm gets merged into the Borg (a holding company); founder is whisked out
    2011: a vulture capital firm acquires the holding company
    2013: IPO on the NASDAQ
    2014: 2/3 of firm is laid off; Orem, UT office is to be closed

    I’m reminded of my old joke about Computer Associates.

  4. @5: Mosley describes this process as if it was almost one-time, and very recent; ISTM that it is very long-standing, and continuous (perhaps with spasms to paper over discontinuities, as in the Tudor-era descriptions of Richard III).

    @12: that’s a very forbearing artist.

    edit: sacrificial pre-fifth!

  5. 2) — I’m currently rereading Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books, and was thinking he was also a grimdark precursor, if not outright grimdark himself.

  6. 1) Hooboy, does that resonate. My partner desperately needs to revamp his aging website In His Copious Spare Time, but at least it’s just a matter of it being ridiculously dated, not that it keeps going down.

    As for me… I mostly like my website host, but sometimes the site gets kind of flaky. I keep hearing about inexpensive hosting sites, but (1) I suspect that none of them are inexpensive for a business selling actual merchandise as opposed to, say, an author promoting books, and (2) the thought of migrating ALL THAT PRODUCT to a different site is daunting. And any new site I looked at would have to be at least as easy to use as my current one, which I can maintain myself.

    6) Ooh, Oor Wombat and Allen Steele (who’s an old friend) at the same con! And it’s not up against NASFIC, either. That might tempt us to get tables.

  7. @Lee: Am certainly (very much) not saying this is for everyone, but, every single day, I give thanks that I keep my (linuxmafia.com aka unixmercenary.net) Web presence deliberately dirt-simple and self-maintaining, so that it can run on a throwaway Pentium III Linux server at my house and require next to zero maintenance with low security exposure — basically, running itself. (If it were for a business selling actual merchandise, I’d probably move that to a virtual private server, or at least have a hot spare on standby.) Migration is a breeze, backup and restore is a breeze, and I can look at all the hosting follies and problems with horrendously overcomplicated, brittle, and migration-defeating software with sympathy and no small amount of schadenfreude.

    ETA: If nothing else, always, always, always do the gedankenexperiment of ‘My hosting outfit’s gone down, out of order, and is apparently going out of business. What are my next steps?’ If you don’t have a good plan, that’s your next problem to fix. Seriously.

    ETA2: And if you can’t do better than Bluehost, you really haven’t looked, IMO. (But OTOH, I’m not sure GoDaddy isn’t worse.)

  8. I can’t get no scrollisfaction
    I can’t get no pixel action
    When I’m reading pixel scroll
    And some blogger wants to tell me
    I’m an anomalous girl ‘cause my grimdark books are mostly a white dude thing
    I can’t get no!

  9. Heart-warming fan-related story on the BBC website here.

    The letters-page cartoon in this week’s New Scientist is also worth a look. (It’s in the dead-tree version, for which I have a subscription. I can’t find the cartoon on the NS website, but doubtless someone less IT-inept can figure out how to link it.)

  10. The filer and the pixel scroll should be friends

    I’m just a pixel who cain’t say scroll

    They went an’ built a pixel scroll twenty stories high

    The file is as high as a puppy dog’s five
    And it looks like it’s scrolling clear up to the sky

    That shiny little pixel with the scroll on the top

  11. Rock Moen says ETA2: And if you can’t do better than Bluehost, you really haven’t looked, IMO. (But OTOH, I’m not sure GoDaddy isn’t worse.)

    GoDaddy is worse. And all hosts have their weird quirks. I just moved thegreenmanreview.com from a host who had an arbitrary maximum sql database limit which meant any changes we made on the site, ie modified a post, exceeded the that limit. And exceeding that limit meant WordPress editing went down.

    Yes we were unusually old for sites in going back to the early 90s but I couldn’t even purchase a higher limit.

    So I moved to a new host, one whose maximum limit is ten times the old limit. That should keep us quite a while. So far it’s been quite quiet as it should be.

  12. @Terry That story about the bookstore is sweet–as is the bit at the end about the new owner’s intended business partner.

  13. 1) Website woes… Feeling Kristine’s pain… I’ve gone through that entire arc with many different scenarios over the years. My recent strategy has been to actually migrate OUT of the CMS systems (such as WordPress and Drupal) to static site generators. So basically websites are just static content that gets pushed to webhosts. The breakthrough for me was the appearance of javascript search engines (like lunr.js and insight.js) that can search static websites… even faster than Drupal on Varnish. What this means is that hosts can explode or go bankrupt, but as long as I have all my content locally and control over DNS, I can spin up a Digital Ocean droplet in something like 60 seconds, and rysnc it all back up.

    6) My home town. As an alumni of Albuquerque High, Bubonicon 2019 is looking pretty good to me! Monroes, Cervantes, El Patio: green. Sadies and Dos Hermanos: red.

  14. @Paul Weimer
    That a great post.

    @Joe H.

    2) — I’m currently rereading Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books, and was thinking he was also a grimdark precursor, if not outright grimdark himself.

    I’d argue that the whole sword and sorcery tradition, whether its origins in the 1930s or the sword and sorcery revival in the 1960s/70s are precursors to today’s grimdark fantasy. And of course, sword and sorcery was heavily influenced by horror, which accounts for the darker tone.

    Urban/contemporary fantasy is another fantasy tradition that’s strongly influenced by horror and pops up occasionally from the 1920s on, though it usually plays second fiddle to secondary world fantasy. It became more common (and got its current name) from the mid 1980s on, took on influences from hardboiled crime fiction and later romance and exploded in popularity in the early 2000s, at around the same time that horror collapsed as a genre and grimdark began to dominate secondary world fantasy.

    I suspect the two are connected, because as Paul explained, grimdark is/was often heavily misogynist, while urban fantasy, even when written by straight white men, is a lot more friendly towards women and minorities. So when grimdark fantasy put off a lot of women and minority readers and SF didn’t have much to offer either (SF in the early 2000s was a wasteland of singularity fiction and new British space opera), they migrated to urban fantasy, which promptly exploded in popularity. At any rate, that’s what I did and I doubt I’m the only one. And since urban fantasy is more accessible than secondary world fantasy and often heavily influenced by other genres, it also got a lot of crossover reads from romance and mystery readers.

    And of course, all three speculative genres (science fiction, fantasy and horror) as well as the mystery, crime and thriller genres grew from the common root of the gothic fiction of the late 18th and 19th century.

  15. @Cora — Excellent points all, especially about the influence of horror and the gothic roots. (And yes, Paul, that’s a great post.) I’d posit that Kane in particular is more grimdark (or grimdark-adjacent or grimdark-precursor) than even most other sword & sorcery because in most of the stories he’s an anti-hero at best if not a straight-up villain.

  16. While I’m always happy to see bookstores survive, I admit to mixed feelings when it’s a big chain, since they’re the ones who originally put so many of the small indies out of business. In this case, we seem to have a relatively small chain being swallowed by a fairly large one, which is not the sort of thing I would normally celebrate.

    In fact, I’ve heard that the indies have been making a bit of a comeback lately, in part because of Amazon’s threat to the bigger chains. The indies offer a more personalized service which neither Amazon nor the big chains can really match, so the big chains are suffering more in the face of Amazon. Which makes me wonder if this is really a good thing for Foyle’s in the long run.

  17. @Joe H.
    It’s notable that the second wave of sword and sorcery protagonists like Kane and Elric are darker characters than the first wave like Conan, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, Jirel of Joiry, Solomon Kane, etc… And the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, which bridge both waves, become darker and more melancholy as time goes on, though a melancholy undertone is always there (I’m currently in the middle of rereading those).

    I wonder whether the reason is that the original sword and sorcery protagonists predate Tolkienian fantasy, while the second wave was written after Lord of the Rings came out and transformed the genre, so second wave sword and sorcery writers were reacting to Tolkienian fantasy as much as they were reacting to their predecessors. After all, Moorcock has never been shy about his views on Tolkien.

    And does this make grimdark the third wave of sword and sorcery? After all, they seem to hit roughly every thirty years. First wave: 1930s/40s, second wave: 1960s/70s, grimdark: 1990s/2000s.

  18. @Xtifr
    Knowing what Waterstones has done to other chains/stores they gobbled up, I’m pretty sure this is not a good thing for Foyles.

    Twenty years ago, when I was in London for my semester abroad, I hung out in the many bookstores around Charing Cross Road all the time. Big stores like Books etc…, Dillons, Blackwells, Foyles (when it was still an unholy mess), Hatchards and Waterstones (which was always my least favourite), specialist stores like Murder One, Forbidden Planet, the feminist bookshop on Charing Cross Road whose names escapes me, the New Age bookstore at Seven Dials whose name also escapes me, as well as dozens of small indie shops and used book stores with basements and subbasements almost down to tube level.

    Now most of those stores are gone. Books etc… was dragged down by the Borders bankruptcy in the US. Dillons and Hatchards were gobbled up by Waterstones and rebranded as just another Waterstones branch, even though Hatchards was supposedly London’s oldest bookstore. Murder One was killed off when they lost their lease, because someone felt the need to tear down the perfectly acceptable building the store was in and replace it with an equally ugly building. Blackwells and Forbidden Planet are still there, though in different premises, but then they both fill their own unique niches. Most of the small indies are gone, though some still hang on. Plus, the bloody and unnecessary Crossrail development has cut a swath through the entire area.

    When Waterstones gobbles up Foyles, I predict that the traditional Foyles name will be gone in a year or so. Not to mention that Waterstones used to have (and probably still has) a store on Charing Cross Road only a hundred metres or so from Foyles, so Charing Cross Road will lose another book store. It’s also sad because Foyles had just managed to turn themselves around from the unholy mess (and it really was an unholy mess) they used to be and have nice new premises instead of the old building where I inevitably got sick.

    BTW, Gully Foyle from The Stars My Destination is named after Foyles, probably because you’d have to be able to jaunt to find anything in Foyles.

  19. @Cora: I’m curious about your statement that Crossrail is unnecessary; what are your arguments? Boston has been having arguments for decades over whether to connect its two terminals with a tunnel so that a commuter train from anywhere could go to anywhere else; the discussion is frequently personal rather than factual (e.g., one op-ed saying nobody under 70 likes the idea, versus another from an upsurgent Congressman (way under 70) supporting it). I haven’t seen anyone address the technical issues (e.g., possibly deeper than London over a distance of maybe half — how can trains handle such a grade?), or any surveys of how many people commute through/around rather than to/from Boston.

    Bester took other character names from England; I’ve read him copping to Dagenham and Sheffield, and Wikipedia cites 8 other instances (although I wonder about “Ceres”).

  20. Through stations are usually a better solution for public transport than railhead termini, but London made the decision for railhead termini more than a hundred years ago, so it’s kind of late to reverse it now. Besides, London has a very good public transport system. Commuters from outside the city take the train to the respective railhead terminus and then take to the tube or maybe the bus to wherever they’re going. The tube station is inside/under the railhead terminus, the bus station just outside. It’s a system that works.

    I lived in North West London as a student, about half an hour outside the city centre, and could take either the tube to uni or take the train to the nearest terminus (Euston) and then switch to the tube. The time difference was minimal, though train plus tube was usually a little faster than just tube. The bus was the slowest BTW. A taxi in the wee hours of the morning (when I had to catch a 6 o’clock flight) was the fastest, but also the most expensive way to travel the distance.

    Will Crossrail shorten commuting times for those living further outside London? Perhaps. Is it worth digging up half the city, tearing down buildings, driving shops and restaurants out of business and destroying entire neighbourhoods? No. Never mind that the areas hit hardest by Crossrail were those which still had more interesting businesses and were not quite as dominated by bland chain stores (though that was changing the last time I was there). Besides, Crossrail doesn’t go anywhere in Central London, where the tube doesn’t already go. What is more, Thameslink, an existing commuter train service, was shut down to build Crossrail, though apparently they’re planning a new and improved Thameslink.

    Besides, Crossrail doesn’t do anything to address the underlying problem, namely that a lot of people have extremely long commutes, because living in London is so expensive that hardly anybody can afford it, while rich people who don’t even live there buy up housing as an investment. If anything, Crossrail makes things worse, because the buildings torn down are not just businesses, but also housing, including some council estates in Camden.

    Yeovil is another character name in The Stars My Destination that is also a British city. Coincidentally, it took me a long time to realise why I felt a sort of instinctive dislike for the London suburb of Dagenham, even though I’d never been there and only knew the name from tube route maps. It was because I associated the suburb with the character that bears its name and I really hated that character.

  21. @ Chip Hitchcock
    Ceres is a village in Fife, Scotland (not England!), near which I used to live, but like you I doubt that it inspired the usage in The Stars My Destination. I wonder if Neil Gaiman (evidently the source of the assertion) was having a little joke.

    @ Cora
    Yes, the multi-story mess that was Foyle’s really was blasphemously bad, wasn’t it? I visited a few times in the later 80s looking for research material on obscure railway-related subjects (such as old German steam railway locomotives), and my former bookseller’s heart shuddered.

    Earlier that decade, in the Scottish bookshop where I worked for several years, I had a colleague who’d done the standard year at Foyle’s (they fired most people after a year to avoid legal obligations to longer-term staff). She told me that in the Customer Orders department, senior management regularly used to descend and remove any order records older than a month (I think it was).

    Since at this time independent bookshops normally dealt directly with publishers for such one-off title requirements, and many publishers routinely took several weeks* to deliver books from stock, even when there was no delay awaiting a reprint run, the fash that frequently ensued when customers (who would normally have paid either a deposit or the price in full) tried to chase up overdue orders of which there was now no record can be imagined.

    (* In that era the BBC were among the worst. In addition to taking routinely six or eight weeks to supply an existing in-print title, they frequently failed to get books meant to accompany broadcast language-lesson programmes published at all until many weeks after the start of the series. Of course, home videotaping was not then a thing for most people.

    The single worst example of all was NASA. A lecturer in the University of St Andrews Astronomy Department (from which I’d previously dropped out) once specified a NASA-published and quite expensive tome as a mandatory course text and we, being effectively the main University bookshop, duly ordered several dozen copies about three months before the start of the relevant term. The boxes eventually turned up about halfway through the subsequent term.

    I’d better stop now, before this becomes another Brightfount Diaries!)

  22. @ Cora Buhlert:

    Thameslink is back up and running, now with direct through-service from Brighton to Cambridge. The throuhg-service east-west 9as well as the (;limited) north-south through service) make sit a lot easier to transit through London with luggage.

    Imagine trying to get from (say) Ilford to Heathrow with luggage. As things stand, that’s “train to Liverpool Street”, foloowed by “lug the bags down a small set of stairs, up a rather impressiuve set of stairs onto a bridge crossing the tube tracks”, then “down a bunch of stairs, with a bonus 90 degree turn, left or right”. Thankfully, there’s lift service at Paddington, iff you arrive on Circle or Hammesmith&City, but the lifts from “concourse” to “platform level” does entail dragging the bags the entire length of the station, then back (without bags, you can simply use the crossing bridge at the “closer to where the tube from Kin’s Cross stops” end). With Crossrail, it’s “get on the train at Ilford, get off at Heathrow”.

    As someone whose daily commute will be improved by Crossrail, I semi-approve, especially since it’ll actually tie a bunch of east-west routes together, in something almost approaching a pleasing manner.

  23. I visited Foyles once, in my early years; I was so overwhelmed by the genre choices that I didn’t notice the mess, and I hadn’t heard until this story that they routinely fired people after a year — that makes me just as happy I never went back, as being a wonder is no excuse for crapping on people.

    @Ingvar: that sounds like an even worse trip than my last — and I was dealing with the immediate aftereffects of the 2005 bombings. I had to get from Heathrow to near King’s Cross (one hotel night before a night train to Scottish Worldcon 2); thanks to disruptions I think I climbed 6 flights of stairs, as I kept going up to trains that then went down.

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