Snapshots 125 Quasquicentennial

Here are 14 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Alex Pappademas, writing for Grantland, is ridiculously confident about his ideas for transforming Boardwalk Empire into a show that makes even more money:

The show’s not broken, but if HBO is at all concerned with its relative lack of buzz, I’m pretty sure I know how to fix it.

Two words:

Boardwalk Vampire.

That’s right. You heard me. You saw that I wrote those words in a one-sentence paragraph, which indicates that I am not kidding around. It’s time for this show to evolve from a period drama about the American criminal underworld of the 1920s into a period drama about the American criminal underworld of the 1920s in which the characters occasionally encounter the bloodthirsty undead.

I know what you’re thinking: “This is an incredible idea and I already agree with you.” But hear me out.

(2) An 11-year-old boy is set to become the first person to brew beer in space.

Michal Bodzianowski, from Colorado, won a national competition which called for proposals on experiments which could be conducted in space. But rather than examining the effect of zero-gravity on gerbils or making ice lollies using the freezing vacuum of space, he decided that astronauts might like to get a bit tipsy as they circled the Earth.

His proposal claims that the experiment is a trial for a “future civilization, as an emergency backup hydration and medical source”. The spaced-out brewer also suggested that beer was important for “both medical and survival reasons”, although we suspect neither of these capture the real reason astronauts might want to make a homebrew.

You trufans immediately realized, of course, how much quicker the beer can tower to the Moon will be finished if astronauts are doing their share of the drinking.

(3) “Has Isaac Asimov’s name has been mentioned anywhere around the new series Almost Human?” asks James H. Burns. “Ah, well… Perhaps someone rubbed it out, with BRILLO…”

(4) However, Asimov is getting his due publicity in a new Foundation manga adaptation. The rough translation of the Japanese title is "A History of the Galactic Empire" --

The first compiled volume of a manga adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation novel series was released on September 20. The manga (named Ginga Teikoku Koboshi after the Japanese title for the series), has illustrations by Uzuki and Keitaro Kumazuki. The original source material is translated by Hiroyuki Okabe, and is compiled by Side Ranch. The book is published by the Seldon Project.

(5) Superman is now on Ohio license plates.

 An Ohio lawmaker and relatives of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster unveiled a new state license plate bearing the super hero’s image.

State Rep. Bill Patmon stood outside the Cleveland home Monday where Superman was created more than 75 years ago and unveiled the new license plate, alongside family members of the creators and members of the board of directors of the Siegel and Shuster Society…

Society President Michael Olszewski read a letter at Monday’s ceremony from Jerry Siegel’s daughter, Laura Siegel Larson.

“My father, his artist/collaborator Joe Shuster, and my mother would have been absolutely thrilled about this,” Siegel Larson wrote. “I can just imagine them driving around Cleveland and excitedly pointing out the plates as they spotted them.”

(6) Maybe Elon Musk will get Superman plates if he ever drives his new acquisition in Lake Erie? He bought the Lotus submarine car prop from a James Bond movie and plans to convert it into a real car that transforms into a sub — with the benefit of a Tesla electric powerplant.

(7) Sunjammer, the world’s largest solar sail, passed a key test for its 2015 launch. The mission is named for an Arthur C. Clarke story illustrating the idea.

A NASA plan to launch the world’s largest solar sail into space and unfurl it like a giant parasol has passed a major test as the mission moves closer to a planned January 2015 launch. Sunjammer mission successfully deployed part of its huge solar sail in a test on Sept. 30, revealing the craft should be ready to function successfully following its January 2015 launch.

(8) We think of the digital age as having made everything available – but according to a writer at you still cannot get the full-length version of The Wicker Man.

While that tape with “The Slime People” et al had long since gone into the dumpster, I kept that copy of “The Wicker Man” through several moves as if it were some runic script on a piece of old parchment that had to be passed down from generation-to-generation. As VHS gave way to DVD, there were a few special editions of “The Wicker Man,” but all of them—even the 2-disc set from the reputable Anchor Bay—fell far short of the the version that I had preserved on a hand labeled videocassette.

Unfortunately, this newly restored version that’s making its way through a limited theatrical release right now is just 92-minutes long, dashing my hopes that I could retire that old home-recorded tape.

Nobody complained because not a second of Britt Eklund’s time onsceen was ever cut in any version.

(9) What is the right order for watching all the Star Wars movies?

There is only one proper way to watch the series, and it’s not from Episode 1 to Episode 6. There are lots of story arcs in the “Star Wars” saga that matter. The one that matters most, and every movie touches on, is the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader, also known as Luke’s dad.

Because of that, the best order to watch the movies is the original “Star Wars,” then “Empire Strikes Back,” then the second prequel, then the third, and then the final movie in the original trilogy, “Return of The Jedi.”

Watched that way, you get a story that introduces a hero and a terrible all-powerful monster, reveals that the monster is the hero’s father, goes back in time to show how the father became a monster, and ends with the monster redeeming himself.

(10) Cat Rambo outlines “How Writers Can Use Wikis” on the SFWA Blog.

One interesting way to use a wiki is to document the details of your fictional universe in an interesting form on your website. You can choose to restrict access level to yourself and chosen editors, or you can crowdsource its creation and let your fans build it with you. The latter engages fans more deeply with your universe, which in theory should make them more eager to consume new books set in it.

Rambo lists Wiki resources, and also links to several examples, such as The Trek Initiative Wiki sanctioned by Roddenberry Entertainment, which hopes to unite all of the various Star Trek fan communities.

More of Rambo’s helpful and provocative viewpoints are available on her personal blog, including her surprising post “Do Writers Need to Blog? No.”

I keep reading articles that say blogging is mandatory for writers nowadays. That agents and editors won’t take you on if you don’t already have a platform. This is hooey.

Let me repeat that. Hooey.

Who can resist the flat contradiction of some widely-accepted bit of writerly wisdom?

(10) Let’s see, if I place a Vox Day quote right after one from the SFWA Blog will this post self-destruct? Regardless, I found his observation about Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” series pinpointed a seismic fault running through what I otherwise praise highly as a collection of brilliantly-written stories in an ingeniously-conceived universe.

The problem with the Culture series is the same problem that Star Trek has faced for decades. First, imagine that all the Earth’s problems are solved! Okay… so now what?

…It’s remarkable how much war and violence there is in these officially peaceful cultures, is there not? Why, it’s almost as if the alternative it literally too boring to imagine!

Because he was considerably more talented and imaginative than Roddenberry and his heirs at the helm of the Star Trek franchise, Banks’s Culture feels much more rationally credible than Roddenberry’s UN Stormtroopers in Space nonsense, but it is still, at the end of the day, an artistic and imaginative failure. In fact, it is a testament to the man’s skill as a science fiction writer that he managed to make such a comprehensive failure so interesting.

(11) Singer Lou Reed died October 27. “Wasn’t there some type of science fiction connection, aside from the avant garde, with Lou Reed?” asks James H. Burns.

Sort of. Here’s what I found in his Wikipedia bio —

In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on “Poe-Try.” Besides Reed and his band, the album featured actors and musicians including singers David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Antony Hegarty, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and actors Elizabeth Ashley, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Amanda Plummer, Fisher Stevens and Kate Valk. The album consisted of songs written by Reed and spoken-word performances of reworked and rewritten texts of Edgar Allan Poe by the actors, set to electronic music composed by Reed. At the same time a single disc CD version of the albums, focusing on the music, was also released.

(12) Continuing Snapshots’ music segment, if you’d like to hear an example of how ancient Greek music sounded, check this BBC article.

The music of ancient Greece, unheard for thousands of years, is being brought back to life by Armand D’Angour, a musician and tutor in classics at Oxford University. He describes what his research is discovering.

The instruments are known from descriptions, paintings and archaeological remains, which allow us to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.

And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.

The Greeks had worked out the mathematical ratios of musical intervals – an octave is 2:1, a fifth 3:2, a fourth 4:3, and so on.

The notation gives an accurate indication of relative pitch: letter A at the top of the scale, for instance, represents a musical note a fifth higher than N halfway down the alphabet. Absolute pitch can be worked out from the vocal ranges required to sing the surviving tunes.

While the documents, found on stone in Greece and papyrus in Egypt, have long been known to classicists – some were published as early as 1581 – in recent decades they have been augmented by new finds. Dating from around 300 BC to 300 AD, these fragments offer us a clearer view than ever before of the music of ancient Greece.

(13) And completing the rule-of-three is a CBS News post about the inventor of the theremin:

It just might be world’s strangest, spookiest musical instrument. You can see it . . . you can hear it . . . but you can’t touch a Theremin.

“It’s like you’re fingerpainting in space,” says Rob Schwimmer. “Playing Theremin is like having sex with ghosts.”

…The Theremin is named for its inventor, Leon Theremin. Glinsky says his story is as mysterious as the instrument that bears his name, Russian scientist and musical savant Leon Theremin.

“Leon Theremin was a Russian scientist, [and] he was a spy,” said Glinsky. “And inventor of what is probably the most unusual musical instrument ever invented. You’re actually moving your two hands through two electromagnetic fields that are around two antennas.”

In 1919, 23-year-old Leon Theremin invented his namesake by accident.

“He was working in a laboratory in Russia as a young scientist, he was actually working on a gas meter to measure the density of gases,” Glinsky said. “So as he brought his hand closer to the gas meter, he heard kind of a higher squeal. And as he brought his hand back to his body and away from the machine, it was a slower squeal.

“And he started to play melodies on this thing. And lab assistants and his boss in the lab started to gather around and said, ‘Well, this is amazing.'”

(14) Although I have read Moby Dick, I admit never having heard of the true story that inspired Melville’s novel.

Herman Melville also left the cannibalism out of his novel, but this being the 21st century I think we can count on hearing plenty about it in two movies now in production about the life and death aboard the Essex. One of them, The Heart of the Sea, is directed by Ron Howard and stars Chris Helmsworth and Cilian Murphy.

Hard to believe anybody starved to death with that much beefcake aboard.
Here’s the trailer for Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction book —

[Thanks for these links goes out to John King Tarpinian, James H. Burns, The Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol, Petréa Mitchell and David Klaus.]

10 thoughts on “Snapshots 125 Quasquicentennial

  1. Fiction requires conflict. Most people’s definition if Utopia includes the absence of conflict. It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to write any utopian fiction.

  2. Thanks for the direct link — have updated the post. I had intended to use that link but I must have zoned …

  3. Why should Ohio have Superman license plates. Metropolis is in Illinois (the southern tip).

  4. 5) Gives a whole new meaning to the term, “licensed image.”

    6) The correct order to watch the Star Wars epic is “Star Wars.” End. There’s nothing to be gained from watching the rest but eye-candy.

  5. The initial three are what I would watch. With the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, Lucas began to loose his grip on what was needed for a story. The prequels are well made, but seem to be filled with all the kitchen sinks he could find and lose much human engagement.

  6. Not that anybody thought I COULD copyedit, but I just noticed today I have two items numbered “10”…

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