Snapshots 141 USS Alchemy

Here are 16 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Maybe the thing to follow steampunk will be phonepunk. People seem to get a kick out of their ancestors’ enthusiasm for ridiculously primitive versions of today’s technology. Consider this NPR article about the 1964 World’s Fair:

1. We had picture phones back then?

Vito Turso was at the fair when he used one of the first picture phones. Back then, he was a boy selling pizza at the fair. He says the picture phone was one of his favorite exhibits.

“To walk into this room and have a conversation through what was like a small television — it was incredible,” Turso said. “The lines to use the picture phone were unending.”

But the picture phone was expensive back then — and it took decades before the technology became affordable. Also, it turns out, people don’t always want to see the person they’re talking with. Even now, in the era of Skype and Facetime, people mostly just want to talk on the phone, without seeing the person on the other end.

Fifty years ago people objected because they’d feel obliged to make themselves presentable before getting in front of the camera. Today they’re unwilling for a different reason: looking at a screen interferes with simultaneous multi-tasking, like driving erratically through traffic….

(2) In “Selections From H.P. Lovecraft’s Brief Tenure as a Whitman’s Sampler Copywriter”, Luke Burns has mated Monty Python with Cthulhu. Which I doubt he learned to do in 4-H.

Peanut Butter Cup

In 1856, a fisherman from a tiny hamlet on the New England coast made a terrible pact with serpentine beasts from beneath the sea, that he might create the most delicious sweet seen upon the Earth since the days of the great Elder Race. Thus was forged the satanic pact between peanut butter and chocolate that resulted in the mutant offspring you see before you!

(3) But talk about your basic eldritch horror. The Gothamist asks “The Reappearance Of The Toynbee Tiles: What Does It Mean?” Another batch of these tiles was recently scattered in New York City intersections. I’m guessing your first question is —

So what the hell are Toynbee Tiles? Glad you asked. The Toynbee Tiles are pieces of linoleum that appear in the asphalt of random intersections in major North American cities, mostly in the northeast, although some have even been spotted as far as South America. They (for the most part) bear a variation on the following message:


So who is Toynbee? What does Stanley Kubrick have to do with this? Students of the tiles believe that Toynbee could be referring to one of two things. Either its based off of the teachings of British Historian Arnold Toynbee or Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Toynbee Convector.” Tile enthusiasts have found a specific passage of Toynbee’s that has to do with resurrection of the dead, where he elucidates the idea of actual physical resurrection being scientifically and religiously plausible. It’s pretty trippy.

As for Kubrick, Jupiter is the destination for the doomed astronauts in his 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the conclusion of 2001, astronaut Dave Bowman is taken through a portal just outside of Jupiter and experiences death, and then, remarkably, rebirth.

A Bradbury reference makes nearly anything a good bet for inclusion in Snapshots. You betcha.

(4) Between now and whenever the ashes of the last reader of paper books are scatted at sea news services will be publishing studies that justify preferring the old technology. Here’s the latest, from the New York Times:

In most respects, there was no significant difference between the Kindle readers and the paper readers: the emotional measures were roughly the same, and both groups of readers responded almost equally to questions dealing with the setting of the story, the characters and other plot details. But, the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

OMG!!! Real books win!!! And why is that? According to Forbes:

Researchers theorize that the reason for the discrepancy might be due to readers of a print book being able to feel how far they’ve gone, giving them a tactile way to mark time and events, something the digital group didn’t get with a plastic e-reader. Another theory was that readers just don’t digest digital texts the way they do print texts.

(5) Writers are just as adamant about this as anyone. Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians trilogy, is quoted in The Huffington Post

I’m very crusty on this issue. When I die I want to leave my kids a roomful of books, not a chunk of plastic that they have to guess the password to. I think Maurice Sendak said it best: “It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book.

(6) Bill Watterson’s original artwork for three comic strip collaborations with Pearls Before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis sold at Heritage Auctions in August for $74,090. Proceeds will benefit The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

(7) If you failed to make the top bid in the Watterson auction maybe you’re still in the market for an expensive fannish trinket. How about a Godzilla made of gold?

golden godzilla

There’s a pretty predictable pattern that merchandising for anime and youth-oriented movies in Japan follows. New hits get inexpensive trinkets, at a price point where kids can purchase them with their allowance. After a decade or two, higher-quality, items start to show up, like Sailor Moon jewelry and Gundam cars, which are priced more in line with what the franchise’s nostalgic and employed fan base is willing to spend.

Since it’s now been 60 years since the first Godzilla movie, some fans who weren’t even in preschool for the legendary kaiju’s debut are now getting close to retirement. With possibly a whole career’s worth of earning, prudent financial decisions, and wise investments, some Godzilla fans can afford to lay out big money to show their respect for the King of the Monsters, which is where this solid gold Godzilla figurine comes in.

The statue sells for 150 million yen (US $1.47 million).

(8) I was intrigued to read about this 1600-year-old board game invented by the Vikings.

Viking warriors storm into the torch-lit camp of a rival clan. Outnumbered, the ambushed Norsemen are far from their boats. Their one goal: flee to a nearby castle while keeping their king alive.

At first glance, Hnefatafl (prounounced “nef-ah-tah-fel”) might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Norse helms and impressive beards, but the game is at least 600 years older — already well-known by 400 A.D. — and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

“I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent,” emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command’s Intelligence Directorate. “Geography, force structure, force size, and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can’t think like your opponent, you can’t win. I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”

The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Hnefatafl is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered — like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.

The game might seem unbalanced. The attacking black player has 24 total pieces — known as “hunns” — to white’s meager and surrounded 12 hunns. But white has several advantages.

(9) Kyle Anderson published this early scouting report about a different numbered science fiction personality — the Twelfth Doctor:

Some people have already seen “Deep Breath,” the feature-length premiere of the eighth series of Doctor Who and the first to feature Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. I am not one of those people and will likely be watching the premiere on Saturday, August 23rd, just like everybody else. But already from the trailers and interviews given by the cast and crew, it’s pretty clear that Capaldi’s take on the millennia-old Time Lord is darker, angrier, certainly less nonsense-taking, even though he’s also been said to have a sense of fun and excitement about traveling through time. Just from these little bits, it seems to me that the Twelfth Doctor is a bit of an amalgam of the First Doctor, the Third Doctor, and what the Sixth Doctor SHOULD have been, which is what the actor who played him wanted in the first place.

(10) Peter Capaldi’s own view of things can be found on the Doctor Who website:

Then there was a glorious interview on BBC Breakfast, in which Peter discussed first the Doctor’s new, flinty demeanour: “I was keen that he be a little darker, less user-friendly, but he’s funny, y’know, he’s still a very joyful character. He’s just a little more… he doesn’t care very much what people think about him. But he’s still full of joy, he still loves the universe, he still loves his life.”

He also addressed the possibility that peope might be put off such a huge jump in age between Matt Smith and himself, with neat reasoning: “I think there’s a magic about him that is not about being in your 20s or your 30s. We don’t consider the Wizard of Oz to be too old, and we don’t consider Father Christmas to be too old. These are mythical, magical characters. And the fact that they’ve been around the block only adds to their magic, I think.”

“One of the wonderful things about Doctor Who is that I believe somebody somewhere will love me, for somebody somewhere I’ll be somebody’s favorite Doctor, even if everybody else hates me. Someone will think I’m just the bee’s knees.”

(11) William Ledbetter hit the bull’s-eye with his SFWA Blog post “The Scientist Next Door: Or How to Approach Experts with Research Questions”:

A few years ago, I was researching a scientific principle called “Invariant Transit Tubes,” or more commonly known as the “Interplanetary Superhighway.” I stumbled across a paper on the topic that was, shall we a say, a bit over my head. I noticed that the paper had been co-published by three researchers, all from different establishments: MIT, JPL and the University of Turin in Italy. The publication also included email addresses. In a sudden fit of “oh hell, why not” I emailed each of these guys a simple question, hoping that at least one of them would reply. The email was short and straightforward. I identified myself as a science fiction writer who was curious about one aspect of their paper. “Could effect X be used in situation Y?” Much to my surprise, all three of them replied. It turns out that no, effect X could not be used in situation Y, which of course saved me from what could have been an embarrassing hard SF faux pas, but one of the researchers was interested in my project, asked questions, made suggestions, and over an email string that bounced back and forth for about a week, I learned a great deal about that topic and several related ones. Evidently scientists, researchers, and experts of every ilk tend to like talking about their field of expertise. Who knew?

(12) LA Weekly seemed astonished to discover “A Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention That only Charges $10?”

There was a piece of paper taped to the front entrance of the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday afternoon, its opening paragraph reading like a manifesto. “For those attending for the first time, this is a medium size show not to be compared with Comic-Con International,” it said. “There’s no pipe and drape around the tables or carpet that adds to the expense of a show. This allows the show to only charge $10.00 and allows collectors to spend more on their hobby.”
In recent years, fan conventions have mushroomed into high-profile, weekend-long events where studios announce new releases, cosplayers are photographed like celebrities and lines are everywhere. There was no line to get inside the Shrine for Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention. By mid-afternoon, the longest wait here was to buy a caricature from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. If you wanted to buy something, you could easily get the attention of one of the dealers. There were no costumed con-goers, no impromptu photoshoots blocking the aisles. It was a convention without the frills that, for some, are part of the experience and, for others, are an annoyance.
Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention launched the same year that Star Wars hit theaters. The idea of summer blockbuster movies was still novel. Comic book conventions as we know them today were still decades away. In 1977 Los Angeles, there were only a few, mostly short-lived events that catered to comic book fans. Bruce Schwartz took “the skeleton” of one of those smaller gatherings as it was folding. Out of that, he built Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention. Thirty-seven years and more than 350 shows later, he still promotes the convention.

(13) In September, San Diego area playgoers will have the option to see “Red Planet Respite” at the La Jolla Playhouse.

American firm GlobalCom Venture Capitals develops the first interactive resort experience on Mars in 2044 with the Marsimerica space research institution.

“Red Planet Respite” is the story of the debut crew sent to test out the luxurious resort intended for the socially elite. An unexpected phenomenon that takes place in the universe during their voyage forces the crew to face consequences and psychological extremities they could never prepare for.

It will be on stage two nights, September 12 and 13.

(14) Does anyone need a Christmas gift for Larry Correia? May I suggest Drive-A-Tank. I saw this story in Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol

A business named Drive-a-Tank offers drivers the chance to pilot surplus military tanks and other armored vehicles around an old limestone quarry and smash junk cars like an action movie hero.

The ride is loud, grinding, hot and dirty – ideal for satisfying one’s inner Rambo.

“It was awesome. I mean, controlling that machine, it’s incredible,” said Jacob Ostling, 19, of New Canaan, Conn., among the customers who took a turn under the turret on a recent Saturday and flattened a car in an explosion of glass.

Owner Tony Borglum, a construction and heavy equipment contractor, opened the tank park three years ago after seeing similar attractions during a visit to England. He said he knew it would fit nicely into American culture – a more visceral version of what millions of guys are doing in video games anyway.

He began buying up old Cold War-era surplus and now has 11 armored vehicles available for use on a 20-acre site near this town 50 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Customers spend hours churning up and down a hilly, wooded course, getting a firsthand sense of what armored warfare might be like….

A basic package that includes driving a tank and shooting a machine gun costs $399, with more expensive options for driving several models and shooting other weapons such as assault rifles. Drivers who want to smash a car pay an additional $549; for about $3,500, a customer can drive a tank through a trailer house.

(15) Those of you seeking gifts for more sedentary friends should consider the Gauntlet Press edition of The Best of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Scripts.

In 2004, publisher Gauntlet Press embarked on an ambitious new book series, AS TIMELESS AS INFINITY: THE COMPLETE TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS OF ROD SERLING. This ten-volume, limited edition run of signed hardcovers collected all 92 of the Twilight Zone scripts written by Serling, reprinted from the writer’s personal copies. Running for a full decade, the series was edited by writer and Rod Serling Memorial Foundation board member Tony Albarella with direct input from Serling’s wife, Carol. Contributors included Serling’s family, friends, contemporaries who worked with the writer, and current talents who were inspired by him.

Now, Gauntlet Press makes THE BEST OF ROD SERLING’S TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS available for the first time in paperback. By contract these will be the ONLY scripts from AS TIMELESS AS INFINITY to appear in paperback. They have been selected by Carol Serling and editor Tony Albarella.

This collection presents ten of Serling’s most iconic scripts, along with analysis commentaries, rare photos, and interviews with Twilight Zone actors, writers, producers, and directors. THE BEST OF ROD SERLING’S TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS includes the following scripts: “Walking Distance,” “Time Enough at Last,” “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “A Stop at Willoughby,” “A Passage for Trumpet,” “The Eye of the Beholder,” “The Obsolete Man,” “The Shelter,” “Death’s-Head Revisited,” and “To Serve Man.”

(16) Nicholas Whyte and the staff of the excellent Loncon 3 press office handled every request for help in a timely manner — except this one:

On the very morning that we were setting up, we received an email from a TV production company who are making a new show “offering expert advice to singletons, who are unlucky in lust. [We] will help both single men with their pulling problems & send them back in the world of pulling – armed with new techniques.” They wanted to come to Loncon 3 to recruit potential participants in the show; but, do you know, I’m afraid that we may not have replied to them in time. Apologies to any singletons, unlucky in lust, who were actually at the convention and might have relished the chance to get televised advice on their pulling problems.

[Thanks for these links goes out to Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian and John Mansfield.]

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8 thoughts on “Snapshots 141 USS Alchemy

  1. Another reason that picture phones did not catch on earlier was that they required special lines to use. You could not just connect them to a regular phone line. (Well, back then it wasn’t you who connected a phone, but the phone company [of which there was only one]. Modular jacks were not introduced until 1970. But that’s another story.)

  2. #4 shouldn’t really be news to SF readers, but then…. Not long ago, Scientific American had an article describing studies that pointed out that people who read real books developed a greater love of reading, and that students who used real textbooks rather than ebook versions had much greater retention. The point seemed to be that history is taking a wrong turn, and that electronic publishing is going to help billionaire computer tycoons invading education more than it will help students. I’ve been to SF conventions where the writers and the publishers can’t wait to bury the last paper books. As I pointed out in an earlier post, old-time writers like Frederick Pohl actually used to read Scientific American and its like for inspiration before writing educated speculation in real SF. With a field and a fandom ever more interested in zombies, dragons, vampires, werewolves, elves, fairies, etc. from an age of medieval ignorance and superstition, it somehow seems appropriate that fantasy on ebooks will provide Western Civilization and “Sci-Fi” publishing with a final push back into an age of illiteracy.

  3. I prefer ebooks by quite a margin myself, and my taste tends toward the abstruse and recondite. I think the real issue between e and tree is dependent on the reader’s comfort with third-party control of content.

    I’m willing to cede “possession” for portability. I also appreciate being able to manipulate text size, font and background light level.

    My e retention is as good as my tree retention: fair-to-middling.

  4. Because the article did not mention any titles read, I question the conclusion. I can read articles and some fiction on line and retain it fairly well. True, that book reading involes a few additional senses, like hearing the pages turn or the scent of the paper and the feel of the actual book itself. I know that I can recall an old title read from a purchase or some circumstances involved in obtaing it.

    Manipulating text size would be ideal for me, having failing eyesight. But with 1500 + books in my library I seek to read, I think I’ll hold off the e reader for the time being.

  5. Paper books have many advantages; they are relatively immune to platform changes, they can’t be removed by the vendor, they don’t depend on being able to recharge your batteries.

    E-books weigh nothing and take no space.

    After moving more than 2,000 books three times in two years, I found that characteristic of e-books utterly charming.

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