Pixel Scroll 9/29/16 “–We Also Stalk Gods”

(1) THERE’S A SKILL I’D LIKE TO HAVE. It sounds like something you’d see in a movie about dope dealers, says The Hollywood Reporter, but it’s behind the scenes at for-profit fan conventions — “Stars Getting Rich Off Fan Conventions: How to Take Home ‘Garbage Bags Full of $20s’”.

Fan conventions, where stars can take home hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for a few hours of time, once were the domain of has-beens and sci-fi novelties. But the business has become so lucrative — think $500,000 for Captain America‘s Chris Evans or The Walking Dead favorite Norman Reedus to appear — that current TV and film stars are popping up at events like Salt Lake City Comic-Con and Heroes and Villains Fan Fest. The demand has become so overwhelming that agencies including WME, CAA, UTA, ICM, APA, Paradigm and Gersh have in the past three years added “personal appearance” agents to sift through the hundreds of annual events, book talent and (of course) score their 10 percent commission….

Here’s how it works: Actors typically ask for a price guarantee — often paid up front — to show up, sign autographs, pose for photos and sometimes take part in a panel discussion or two. Most conventions charge an entry fee, collect $5 for every autograph and $10 per photo (with a photographer taking another $10). The stars — who receive luxury travel and accommodations — pocket the rest. Anything over the guarantee is icing on the cake….

According to multiple sources familiar with convention deals, the basic guarantee rate for genre stars is in the $5,000 to $10,000 range per appearance — with leads on such current TV series as The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Netflix’s Marvel shows and The CW’s DC Comics fare commanding anywhere from $35,000 to $250,000 and up, depending on their popularity and the frequency with which they appear. At top conventions, it’s not uncommon for a star to earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 on top of their guarantee (more if they spend extra time signing)…..

As if the conventions weren’t already lucrative enough, many stars also are contacted independently by autograph dealers looking to arrange meet-ups outside of events and can score anywhere from $6,000 to $250,000 to sign a few hundred items that will wind up on eBay. That’s one reason why Hamill and other stars are especially sensitive about fakes and are backing a new California bill that would require autographed collectibles sold in the state to come with a certificate of authenticity (yet another extra charge at conventions)….

Three big companies dominate the paid-convention space: Wizard World, Informa and ReedPop (each with about 20-plus events set for 2017), all of which are publicly traded. But while conventions are rewarding for attendees and talent, the financial picture for those running them often is less rosy.

(2) ALWAYS TO CALL IT RESEARCH. From A.V. Club we learn that Timeless creators are being sued for allegedly stealing premise for their show”.

Now it’s NBC’s turn to deal with the litigious, as Deadline reports that the creators of Timeless are being sued for allegedly absconding with the idea for their show, not unlike how Goran Visnjic does with a time machine in said show. NBCUniversal and Sony have also been named as defendants.

The suit was filed by Onza Entertainment for breach of contract and copyright infringement. The Spanish company that claims its idea for a government-backed team of time-machine-thief hunters was pinched, if you will, by Timeless creators Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural and Revolution). The suit lays out Onza’s premise for the show, and how it “relates to the adventures of a three-person government team (consisting of one woman and two men) traveling through time to thwart undesired changes to past events.” Timeless does feature its own group of timeline monitors, similarly comprising one woman and two men, though they have more academic backgrounds. Abigail Spencer plays a history professor, Matt Lanter her muscle, with Malcolm Barrett rounding out the ensemble as an engineer.

(3) THE PRICE FOR MARS. In “Musk’s Mars moment: Audacity, madness, brilliance – or maybe all three” on Ars Technica, Eric Berger says that Elon Musk’s plan to put a million people on Mars is actually technically plausible provided Musk raises $30 billion, which he isn’t going to be able to do without substantial government help.

Elon Musk finally did it. Fourteen years after founding SpaceX, and nine months after promising to reveal details about his plans to colonize Mars, the tech mogul made good on that promise Tuesday afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico. Over the course of a 90-minute speech Musk, always a dreamer, shared his biggest and most ambitious dream with the world—how to colonize Mars and make humanity a multiplanetary species.

And what mighty ambitions they are. The Interplanetary Transport System he unveiled could carry 100 people at a time to Mars. Contrast that to the Apollo program, which carried just two astronauts at a time to the surface of the nearby Moon, and only for brief sojourns. Moreover, Musk’s rocket that would lift all of those people and propellant into orbit would be nearly four times as powerful as the mighty Saturn V booster. Musk envisions a self-sustaining Mars colony with at least a million residents by the end of the century.

Beyond this, what really stood out about Musk’s speech on Tuesday was the naked baring of his soul. Considering his mannerisms, passion, and the utter seriousness of his convictions, it felt at times like the man’s entire life had led him to that particular stage. It took courage to make the speech, to propose the greatest space adventure of all time. His ideas, his architecture for getting it done—they’re all out there now for anyone to criticize, second guess, and doubt.

It is not everyday that one of the world’s notables, a true difference-maker, so completely eschews caution and reveals his deepest ambitions like Musk did with the Interplanetary Transport System. So let us look at those ambitions—the man laid bare, the space hardware he dreams of building—and then consider the feasibility of all this. Because what really matters is whether any of this fantastical stuff can actually happen.


(4) FREE EVERYTHING. In an article at Democracy, a liberal public policy journal, Joshua Holland reviews Manu Saadia’s Trekonomics, which explains what Star Trek has to say about economic principles, particularly automation and the idea that while we won’t have replicators we may be at an era where a lot of goods are costless — “Can We Live Long and Prosper?”

Saadia doesn’t believe we’re likely to achieve a future that looks like Star Trek. For one thing, hyperspace travel, he says, is incredibly costly, and will offer humanity little reward for the effort. So he doesn’t see us exploring strange new worlds, or seeking out new life and new civilizations in the next few hundred years.

Thus tethered to Earth, Trekonomics is ultimately an argument that economic growth and good governance can lead us to enjoy a standard of living that’s almost unimaginable today. At its heart is the concept of “post-scarcity economics”—a world where technology is an unalloyed good that meets all of our material needs. Competition for finite resources has been a constant since early humans started scratching out a living. It’s shaped not only our economic systems, but our cultures and societies in really fundamental ways. The core argument of Trekonomics is that technology will eventually allow us to produce goods and services in excess of what we need, and that freedom from want will, in turn, lead to a radically different social contract—and new norms of governance—that are difficult to imagine today. In a Trekonomics economy, those at the top would have no incentive to grab an ever-larger slice of the pie because the pie would be infinitely large.

(5) SUPPORT LEGISLATION TO PROTECT COPYRIGHT. Francis Hamit has made a video to generate support for proposed legislation to create a copyright small claims court, HR 5757 or The CASE Act of 2016.  He adds, “There are many ways to support passage of this important legislation.  One way is to buy and wear this t-shirt that you can get from Tfund by following this link.” — http://www.tfund.com/CASEAct

As Hamit explained in a post here:

Now a bill is before the House called the CASE Act (or Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act of 2016.)

It is not law yet, and it needs your support. Write and/or call your Congressional Representative and urge a favorable vote. It is not a perfect solution to the problem, but it’s pretty good.

The CASE Act establishes a Copyright Claims Board with three claims officers and a minimum of two full-time attorneys to examine small cases. Cases must be brought within three years of the infringement, and the plaintiff(s) must have a copyright registration certificate in hand. If the registration was within or before 90 days of publication, the maximum damages are $15,000. If not, then $7,500. No single case will generate statutory damages of more than $30,000. Or, you can roll the dice and go for the actual damages, which may be very hard to prove. You pay your own attorney’s fees. Hardly a bonanza in other words. You can still move the case to a Federal District Court, but my own experience tells me that copyright cases are considered a complicated horror show there.

This court will be centralized as an office at the Library of Congress. While you might make a personal appearance, the emphasis is in resolving claims by mail and/or telephone. You may be able to do this without an attorney, or certified law student, but it’s probably not a good idea.


(6) TWILIGHT ZONE TRIVIA. I learned all kinds of new things while reading “11 Timeless Facts About The Twilight Zone . The first is funny —

There were almost six dimensions.

While recording the opening to the pilot episode in 1959, Serling exclaimed there was a sixth dimension to explore. When a network executive overheard the introduction, he asked Serling what happened to the fifth dimension. Serling assumed there were already five dimensions, not four. Luckily, the mistake was corrected before the episode aired.

(7) X-15. Here’s a BBC article about the X-15 program and efforts to restore the B-52 that ferried the experimental craft to launch altitude – “The bomber that paves the way for the Moon missions”. (One of the cool things I got to do as a kid was attend a science-themed event on the aircraft carrier Kearsarge where X-15 pilot Scott Crossfield was on the program).

Joe Walker could be one of the greatest astronauts you have never heard of.

On 22 August 1963, Walker strapped into the cockpit of an X-15 experimental rocket plane for his final flight. He took off into the clear skies above Edwards Air Force base in sou thern California, his needle-shaped aircraft strapped beneath the starboard wing of a B-52 bomber.

At around 50,000ft, the X-15 dropped from the wing, Walker lit his engine and rocketed into the sky. When the plane ran out of fuel two minutes later, he was travelling at 5,600ft-per-second and the sky had turned from blue to black.

In another two minutes, Walker had reached 354,200 feet – 67 miles – above the Earth and beyond the air we breathe. He was no longer flying a plane but a spacecraft. 11 minutes and eight seconds after release, he was back on the ground – having glided at hypersonic speeds to a perfect landing on a dried-up lake bed

(8) IT IS GETTING TO LOOK LIKE HALLOWEEN AT DISNEYLAND. The Halloween Tree, inspired by a Ray Bradbury story, is back in season at Disneyland.

The four masks on the plaque are artwork done by Joseph Mugnaini. The oak tree is in front of the saloon in Frontierland.



(9) COMIC BOOK TRICK OR TREAT. Comic publishers invite fans to the Halloween ComicFest on October 29.

Celebrating its fifth year, Halloween ComicFest is an annual event where participating comic book specialty shops across North America and beyond celebrate the Halloween season by giving away comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their shops. The event takes place on Saturday, October 29th and is the perfect opportunity to introduce friends and family to the many reasons why comic shops are a great destination for Halloween themed comic books, products and merchandise. From zombies, vampires, monsters and aliens to costumes and more, comic shops have it all when it comes to Halloween fun!

Click here to see the offerings – and to download free sample pages.

(10) THE MIND BEHIND THE MASK. Popular Mechanics tries to argue “Why Westworld Matters” in an entertaining little article, however, my memory is rather different – I don’t think it had much influence because sf writers were already feverishly turning out warning stories of this type – anything from Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” to Bradbury’s “Downwind From Gettysburg.”

The Line Between Human and Android Keeps Shrinking

Crichton told American Cinematographer at the time of the film’s 1973 release that he was inspired by going to Disneyland and watching an animatronic Abraham Lincoln recite the Gettysburg Address. “It was the idea of playing with a situation in which the usual distinctions between person and machine—between a car and the driver of the car—become blurred, and then trying to see if there was something in the situation that would lead to other ways of looking at what’s human and what’s mechanical,” he said.

In Westworld, even the park’s administrators aren’t quite sure what their robots are capable of. Ominously, one overseer announces, “These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. … We don’t know exactly how they work.” It becomes clear that Brynner’s gunslinger has gone rogue at least in part because he’s tired of letting park patrons shoot him full of holes just to satisfy their he-man cravings. He’s not a piece of furniture. He’s become sentient, and he wants a say in what happens to him.

Everything from Blade Runner (based on the late-’60s Dick novel) to A.I. (based on the late-’60s short story from Brian Aldiss) has grappled with the ethical questions inherent in making computers that duplicate human characteristics. How will we be able to tell if it’s man or machine?

(11) ISLAMIC SF COLLECTION. Islamicates Volume I: Anthology of Science Fiction short stories inspired from Muslim Cultures is available as a free download in many electronic formats.

Better late than never I always say, the wait is over, I give you the Science Fiction short story anthology based on the first Islamicate Short Story contest. There are a total of 12 stories in the anthology and the first three stories are also the ones which won the best story awards. The anthology is titled Islamicates: Volume I Science Fiction Anthology of Short Stories inspired by Muslim Cultures. It is titled Volume I because we hope to continue this series in the future. It was eight years ago that the first anthology based on Science Fiction inspired by Islamic cultures was released. Not only has the Geek Muslim community increased in numbers considerably but interest in Islam and Muslim cultures has increased to a great extent in pop media in general. We hope that our readers will greatly enjoy the anthology. As always comments, suggestions, questions and feedback in general will be greatly appreciated.

(12) PYTHON-RELATED PROJECT. Matthew Davis recommended a video: “Reading about the recent death of the actor Terence Baylor (who appeared in assorted Monty Python-related projects) reminded me that he was in a Terry Gilliam-directed advert for Orangina which was only ever broadcast in France.”

(13) RIDLEY SCOTT ADS. Davis also pointed out some other advertising history.“While Ridley Scott’s 1984/Apple commercial is famous with film and sf fans I don’t think his very Blade-Runner-esque series of adverts for Barclays bank in 1986 are remembered at all.”

[Thanks to Matthew Davis, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

74 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/29/16 “–We Also Stalk Gods”

  1. @arifel

    I drifted off An Accident of Stars too. Same problem, too tell-y not show-y, plus the 16 yo was a bit annoying for the reasons mentioned. Maybe I’ll give it another trial based on Arifel’s review. Thanks for the nudge, I liked the worldbuilding and most of the characters to want to try again.

  2. Chip Hitchcock on September 30, 2016 at 8:22 am said:
    Three of the links are missing the : of http://

  3. PJ Evans: Chip’s links had the “http://” prefix twice. I’ve edited out the duplication, so they work now.

  4. 3) It’s consistently baffling how seriously people take rich techies when they go way outside their field and make ludicrous claims. Like, NASA thinks it’s going to be $10 billion per person (or more) to send some astronauts to Mars. Musk says he’s going to do it for $200k per person. That is, on the back of reusable rockets (which is, let’s not forget, SpaceX’s big thing) Musk is going to do it for fifty thousand times less money than NASA will. Sure. Sure, you will, champ. But let’s not stop there, let’s look at how seriously Musk himself takes his own ideas:

    To make the trip more attractive for its crew members, Musk promises that it’ll be “really fun” with zero-G games, movies, cabins, games, a restaurant

    “The radiation thing is often brought up, but it’s not too big of a deal,” he says. There is a “slightly increased risk” of cancer, he says, and there will probably be some sort of shielding.

    So, he knows for sure that the ship will have fun diversions. He basically knows nothing about the health risks, to the point where it’s only “probable” that there’ll be radiation shielding.

    Maybe instead of going to Mars he could get in the sea.

  5. Re (3)

    I’ll note the 200k per figure quoted is what they hope to get it down to at some point; it’s fully acknowledged that it will start higher. Musk is ambitious – but I’ve noticed that that the “if man had been meant to fly” denunciations of space travel as impossible are this year’s cheap way to seem smart and hard headed on the internet.

  6. @TYP: “…denunciations of space travel as impossible are this year’s cheap way to seem smart and hard headed on the internet”

    “Thinking that Elon Musk is wildly overselling his latest grandiose project” is not self-evidently the same thing as “thinking that space travel is impossible.” Also, mind-reading about how people must not be expressing real opinions but just trying to “seem smart” is one of my least favorite rhetorical devices ever, but that may just be me.

    (Edited to add: if you’re seeing more statements like “a Mars colony isn’t very practical”, that doesn’t mean people are saying it more because it’s just randomly a trendy opinion to have; it can also be the same opinion they’ve had all along, but there was less of a context to bring it up in when we weren’t seeing quite so much rah-rah talk about Mars on a regular basis.)

  7. @Dawn Incognito

    “Hyrmnal” was a very interesting setup although the end veered off in an odd direction for me. Thanks for the rec!

  8. @Petréa Mitchell:

    The premise: Two wacky composers claiming to be modern-day incarnations of Beethoven and Mozart fight giant robots with modern remixes of classical music.

    WHAT. I’ll be checking this out!

  9. Also about (3)— though the Ars Technica writer covers this point pretty well, I think it’s worth repeating since it tends to get lost in discussions of whether Musk-doubters are really anti-space-flight: the question of whether Musk’s project is feasible is not just a hypothetical one that only his investors and potential customers should worry about. The most likely path toward his project happening at all would be if he convinces NASA to fund it. There’s been mention of other countries getting involved, or trying to do it entirely privately, but he is a NASA contractor and this looks a lot like a pitch for public money.

    So it’s not “Can Musk do this for $X billion? Who knows, let’s see what happens”; it’s “Can Musk do this with $X billion that would otherwise go toward every other space exploration effort? Is that the best use for the money?”

  10. Darren Garrison

    Trade goods traveling between Europe and Eastern Asia has been going on for literally thousands of years. A coin can pass thorough a lot of hands in a thousand years.

    One of the stranger examples I know of is that cowry shells from the Maldives have been found in three different 7th century graves in northern Norway. And by “northern”, we’re talking about the same latitude as Proudhoe Bay, Alaska – admittedly the Gulf Stream makes the area much more habitable than Proudhoe Bay, but it’s still far from any trade route or population center. While a coin have a metal value regardless of which ruler’s face adorns it, those cowry shells have been traded and transported far outside the area where they had value as money.

    Recent reading: I have just found anachronism of the year in a Mary Robinette Kowal novel – which I have to say was highly unexpected. It’s perhaps not obvious for every reader, but there’s a sentence in “Valour & Vanity” that really only makes sense if we assume there where motor launches in Venice in 1816. Gaaah.

    Recent watching: I’m just home from “The King’s Choice”, which I think is the best film I’ve watched in years. It’s not SF – it’s historical, and quite close to history at that – and I don’t know what sort of international distribution it will get, but I recommend it highly.

  11. @MaxL

    The radiation thing is often brought up, but it’s not too big of a deal,” he says. There is a “slightly increased risk” of cancer, he says, and there will probably be some sort of shielding.

    He’s probably right about the radiation. Curiosity recorded 300 milli-Sieverts on its trip to Mars. It recorded about the same during the first 500 days. That’s high but not outrageous. It suggests that small amounts of shielding might be enough, and it’s possible you might get away with none at all.

  12. Mike, I’m used to copying the links into Notepad and fixing them. It’s so easy to bork a link (and I’ve done it a few times myself).

  13. it’ll be “really fun” with zero-G games, movies, cabins, games, a restaurant

    Does he have any clue how big cruise ships are, compared to actual (not fictional) space ships? He’s talking a commercial spaceliner.
    Not. Gonna. Happen. Soon.

  14. 1) And if you’re a vendor trying to make a living at those conventions, the constant ratcheting-up of booth fees, admission fees, and autograph/photo-op fees means that you’re constantly paying more for an ever-shrinking slice of the pie. ReedPop is especially notorious for their “we don’t give a rat’s ass” attitude toward vendors; Wizard’s World used to be better, but then they went into a big expansion phase and started pulling the same shit. We don’t do the big comic-cons for ourselves as a rule; we do it as a working team for a much larger business associate who generally has from 2 to 5 events on any given weekend. (And boy, I do NOT envy his logistics problems, with merchandise and personnel both!) He’s more or less dropped doing anything by Reed/Pop because they LIE to the vendors, and he’s tired of getting shafted.

    Another piece of the problem for vendors is that the market is hugely over-saturated. Dallas, for example, had TWELVE different media events during the first third of 2015. That’s going to drain even a large-city market after a while, especially in an economy that’s contracting on the people who are most likely to attend such events. We’ve been expecting to see a shakeout for a couple of years now, but aside from a few twitches it doesn’t seem to be happening.

  15. @ Chip: The demise of the laugh track is a consummation devoutly to be wished. It has always seemed to me to be a lazy-writers’ trick — “We don’t actually have to write something funny, we’ll just slot in the laugh track and the audience will think it’s funny whether it is or not.” And, as those comedy clips with the laugh track removed illustrate, a lot of times it was used to normalize behavior that ranged from the somewhat creepy to the flat-out abusive.

    @ Lee W. How can anybody have watched “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” and NOT noticed that it was political as all hell? Very heavy-handedly so at that; they’ve done better with other episodes, but sometimes they get really clunky about it.

    (Note that I don’t necessarily consider “message fiction” to be a bad thing. it’s just that you have to have a story too.)

    @ airboy: That’s a valid point, but you also have to watch out for the Law of Diminishing Returns. I won’t go so far as to say I’ve never paid $100 for an autographed item, but that was in a charity auction at a con. 🙂 I can’t imagine caring enough about any celebrity to find that a reasonable ROI for either an autograph or a picture otherwise.

    @ Darren: That’s also a valid point, but there’s a middle ground between you and airboy, to the effect that charging a modest admission fee filters out those who are only coming to gawk. This doubtless means more to me, looking at it from a vendor’s POV, than it does to you — but it’s a consideration nonetheless. It’s also possibly more true for crafts shows than for media-cons.

  16. @Lee: I’d also be fine with axing the laugh track if I were paying attention. (I got pushed away from series TV in 1968 and haven’t been back, except for a few years of Buffy.) I just thought it was amusingly relevant that (according to the story) the move away was started by SF.

  17. @Anthony

    Umm, for an article on the BBC website it’s very wrong about BBC programmes. The BBC never allowed canned laughter, only reaction from an actual live audience.

    It seems to me that article is conflating canned laughter with the reaction of a live audience, indiscriminately calling them both ‘laugh tracks’ and condemning them equally, which seems ridiculous to me. Some actors work better when they have an audience to play to and get their reaction; it’s why I Love Lucy invented the multi-camera filmed sitcom in front of a live audience to begin with.

  18. @ Lee

    I won’t go so far as to say I’ve never paid $100 for an autographed item, but that was in a charity auction at a con.

    And there’s another venue to be impacted. I know I’ve seen autographed items go for high prices at convention charity auctions, and it would be very hard to argue that the autograph isn’t the “primary generator of value” even if the impulse is primarily charitable. So now the (California) convention (or benefitting institution) would be on the hook for certifying and warranting the authenticity of the autograph. Setting aside that the items in question are frequently keepsakes that were autographed quite some time in the past.

  19. “The premise: Two wacky composers claiming to be modern-day incarnations of Beethoven and Mozart fight giant robots with modern remixes of classical music.”

    I heard Schwarzenegger and Stallone were interested. Stallone wanted to play Mozart, then Scwarzenegger got a bit irritated and said:

    – I’ll be Bach.

  20. I went to the ClassicaLoid website and my browser gave me this translation into English:

    Beethoven and Mozart in front of the high school-song seedling and Sosuke living in the thriving provincial city of music has appeared!
    “Classica Lloyd” claiming to be, strange forces … is to music “Musik” that this suspicious Futari is played. Stars or falling, with or appeared giant robot, every day fuss!
    Bach, Chopin, one after another appear Classica Lloyd and Schubert. Hidden was the great mystery in their power? Classica Lloyd is friend or foe or or … of the human race? !

    That…that is poetry.

  21. Like, NASA thinks it’s going to be $10 billion per person (or more) to send some astronauts to Mars. Musk says he’s going to do it for $200k per person. That is, on the back of reusable rockets (which is, let’s not forget, SpaceX’s big thing) Musk is going to do it for fifty thousand times less money than NASA will. Sure. Sure, you will, champ.

    I also noticed over the weekend he mentioned eventual trips to the Oort cloud. I looked at a little basic math, and at the speed of New Horizions–the fastest spacecraft that humanity has ever built–a trip to the Oort cloud would take nearly 600 years. So even if he could build a spacecraft 100 times faster than New Horizons we are talking about a journey longer than the mission of the starship Enterprise. (Hint: he ain’t gonna build a spacecraft 100 times faster than New Horizons.)

    He’s probably right about the radiation. Curiosity recorded 300 milli-Sieverts on its trip to Mars. It recorded about the same during the first 500 days. That’s high but not outrageous.

    1 Sievert is NASA’s limit of radiation exposure for an astronaut’s entire career. So going by your numbers, a trip outward plus around 3 years on the surface will place a NASA astronaut beyond safety margins. Does that sound like a place you would want to spend decades of your life?

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