Snapshots 145

Here are a lucky 13 developments of interest to fans.

(1) After the Jurassic World trailer went online paleontologists shed Sarcosuchus-sized tears to see that the movie is ignoring everything they’ve learned in the past 20 years about the way dinosaurs really looked:

As Hans-Dieter Sues, National Museum of Natural History Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, said in an e-mail to The Post: “Meh.”

“It looks like a standard monster movie,” Sues said after viewing the clip. “The prehistoric animals represent reconstructions from the 1970?s and ’80?s. The reconstructions are totally out of date.” ….

“The raptors and ostrich-mimic dinosaurs would have been feather-clad,” the Smithsonian’s Sues noted. The dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” are featherless, even though researchers now know that many prehistoric creatures would have sported feathers.”

While some have argued that feathered raptors might not look quite as intimidating as the more nostalgic models seen in the trailer, Sues suggests another reason: “Animating feathers is hard, and the producers probably wanted to cut costs.”

(2) While Hans-Dieter Sues was melting down about Hollywood’s work on dinosaurs no one’s ever seen alive, Gary Campbell has been worrying about how long it’s ben since anyone’s claimed to see the Loch Ness monster. He wonders: Has it died?

According to Gary Campbell, who maintains a record of sightings, in the last 18 months no one has spotted the Loch Ness monster. He resides in Inverness and has been maintaining a record of Loch Ness monster sightings for the past 17 years.  He has records that date back to some 1,500 years.

Campbell said, “It’s very upsetting news and we don’t know where she’s gone. The number of sightings has been reducing since the turn of the century but this is the first time in almost 90 years that Nessie wasn’t seen at all.”

Don’t worry. According to the Percy Jackson series when mythical monsters die they always come back eventually. Nessie may be in Tartarus right now. But I don’t recommend Gary go there to check.

(3) The USB Typewriter gets File 770’s stamp of approval as the greatest invention of this century.

(4) The rush to nitpick and snark about the new Star Wars trailer upset one critic, quoted in the New York Times:

Linda Holmes, a culture writer for NPR, said she also enjoyed the trailer, but expressed dismay at the volume of vehemently negative comments she had seen — remarks directed at the trailer as well as at other commenters.

As often happens in the lengthy buildup to a work of mass entertainment, Ms. Holmes said in a telephone interview: “It’s all about being mad all the time. No matter whether people wind up liking it or not liking it, the conversation becomes negative.”

“There are times when enthusiasm can only be expressed through dissatisfaction with the product that you get,” she said. “Or if you like the product you get, it becomes all about expressing your dissatisfaction with other people’s failure to appreciate it.”

With the “Star Wars” franchise, Ms. Holmes said, some moviegoers already feel burned by the so-called “prequel trilogy,” three follow-up films released between 1999 and 2005, “that people really substantively didn’t like.” Some of the knee-jerk negativity directed at “The Force Awakens,” she said, “is baked-in skepticism from actual experience.”

(5) John Cleese and Eric Idle appeared before a sold-out crowd at Live Talks Los Angeles on November 18. Here’s the video (runs 77 minutes).

(6) Here’s some more analysis of the Antikythera mechanism, one of antiquity’s most fascinating creations.

The new study, published in the journal Archive for History of Exact Science, involved a detailed look at the Saros dial (eclipse predictor) of the Antikythera mechanism. Their results revealed that the prediction calendar includes a solar eclipse that occurred on May 12, 205 BC. This suggests that the device is at least this old, and may in fact be the year of its creation. Researchers had previously dated the mechanism to around 100 to 150 BC based on  radiocarbon dating and an analysis of the Greek letters inscribed on the device. However, the new date pushes the origin back by 50 to 100 years, and suggests that Archimedes is unlikely to be its creator, as he was killed in 212 BC, seven years prior to the new date of 205 BC.

The study also supports the idea that the maths used for eclipse prediction was based on Babylonian arithmetical models borrowed by the Greeks. “We… find that a Babylonian-style arithmetical scheme employing an equation of center and daily velocities would match the inscribed times of day quite well,” write the study authors. “Indeed, an arithmetic scheme for the eclipse times matches the evidence somewhat better than does a [Greek] trigonometric model.”

(7) Ann Leckie says Ancillary Justice has been optioned for TV.

So who has this option, you ask? It’s production company Fabrik and Fox Television Studios. They have previously worked together on THE KILLNG for four seasons on AMC and Netflix, and they started their relationship with BURN NOTICE, which ran for seven Seasons on USA.

Fabrik is currently in production on BOSCH, Amazon’s first ever hour-long drama pilot based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling Harry Bosch book series

(8) Greg Bear is one sf writer who is pretty happy with Amazon as a book publisher. He recently was interviewed in the Seattle Weekly.

From his home overlooking Lynnwood’s Lake Martha, Greg Bear describes how he came to be published by Amazon imprint 47North. Bear has worked with a variety of publishers, including his current, Hachette. And, yes, the current dispute endangers sales of the book he released last month, War Dogs, which is why he signed both of the recent protest letters against Amazon.

Yet he talks appreciatively of his experience with the company’s publishing arm. The story begins, oddly enough, with swordfighting. As a writer interested in long-ago worlds, he liked to practice the medieval art. He did so regularly at a circus school in Georgetown, along with renowned Seattle science-fiction author Neal Stephenson, a few sword-makers, and other friends and science-fiction fans. Afterward, they’d sit around “talking story,” as Bear puts it. Jointly, they created a tale about a 13th-century fight against a Mongolian khan bent on destroying Europe. Eventually it became a collaboratively written manuscript of half a million words.

A work of that length written by seven authors, many of them unknown, did not fit the traditional publishing model. “New York just couldn’t seem to get it,” Bear says. Genre publishing has been hammered over the past two decades by the decimation of the mass market—the cheap paperbacks, once seen in great variety in grocery stores and airports, which are no longer as plentiful due to a complex set of factors linked to the consolidation of distributors. Publishers eyeing The Mongoliad were not in the mood for risk.

Amazon, however, was eager both to try new things and create a new mass market. In 2012, its 47North imprint launched a Mongoliad series of books, promoting them at Comicon conventions and the Experience Music Project Museum, where it staged a swordfighting contest.“We sold hundreds of thousands of copies,” Bear says.

(9) Brains have been missing from the University of Texas for years. Now that they’ve been found will anybody notice the difference?

The case of the missing 100 brains in Texas has been solved, officials said on Wednesday. And, no, this is not a joke. 

The brains, missing from a facility at the University of Texas in Austin have been found at the University of Texas in San Antonio, Timothy Schallert, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the Austin school, told the Los Angeles Times.

“They have the brains,” Schallert said. “They read a media report of the missing brains and they called to say: ‘We got those brains!’

“I know the brains will be treated very well there,” Schallert said.

The case of the missing brains began in the 1990s, Schallert said, when officials noticed that about half of 200 brains stored at the Austin school had gone absent without leave. The brains were individually stored in formaldehyde, used as a preservative.

(10) Writers suffer some wounds that never heal. Stephen King dished about one of his in a Rolling Stone interview:

A lot of critics were pretty brutal to you when you were starting out.
Early in my career, The Village Voice did a caricature of me that hurts even today when I think about it. It was a picture of me eating money. I had this big, bloated face. It was this assumption that if fiction was selling a lot of copies, it was bad. If something is accessible to a lot of people, it’s got to be dumb because most people are dumb. And that’s elitist. I don’t buy it.

(11) How much would you pay for the original handwritten Theory of Relativity? Guess higher.

This is how Aristophil justifies the stupendous “value increase” for some of its holdings, including the piece of paper on which Albert Einstein scribbled the theory of relativity, which, according to L’Express, was bought at Christie’s New York in 2002 for $559,000 and is now estimated by the company at $28.5 million.

(12) I don’t think it’s “revisionist history” when all a writer really does is crap all over Donald Wollheim’s reputation.

(13) On the other hand, crapping all over H. P. Lovecraft is the “traditional history,” something that Nick Mamatas calls into question in his essay for the LA Review of Books titled “The Real Mr. Difficult, or Why Cthulhu Threatens to Destroy the Canon, Self-Interested Literary Essayists, and the Universe Itself. Finally.”

No writer of quality would write fiction in the mode of a writer known to be a bad one, but Lovecraft is “known” to be bad. Publishing in the pulps and the amateur press of his day, Lovecraft avoided the critical gaze during his lifetime, but in 1945 the legendary literary critic Edmund Wilson devoted a New Yorker piece to taking Lovecraft apart. “Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous” was reprinted in Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties, which guaranteed that the drubbing would be widely read for decades to come. There’s little actual criticism in the piece, though. Wilson just sniffs that Lovecraft’s prose was verbose and undistinguished, and not a patch on Edgar Allan Poe’s. He then provides zero examples of such inferior sentences, or even a single sentence of any sort from any of Lovecraft’s fiction. Wilson explains that Lovecraft stories frequently contain the words “horrible”, “frightful”, “unholy”, and the like, which he then explains should never appear in a horror story.

[Thanks for these links goes out to John King Tarpinian, David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter.]

9 thoughts on “Snapshots 145

  1. 12) That’s so wrong I don’t even want to risk raising the author’s wrath by trying to correct it.

  2. I’ve gone over in other posts in other areas that science fiction and fantasy does have more than a few stylistic eccentrics, like Lovecraft, or Lord Dunsany, or E.R. Eddison or Mervyn Peake. Or Clark Ashton Smith.

    And in the future (or is that Right Here Now?) people will wonder who Edmund Wilson is. I read that initial essay in 1965, and it seemed a case of “I don’t like this writer” and dismissing him.

    Didn’t he do any essay titled “Oo, Those Awful Orcs” about Tolkien?

  3. #12. I don’t believe a Bradbury title was ever published by Ace.
    The essay is so stupid the writer left his name off of it. Or it didn’t show up on my screen. No, complain all you want, but idiot criticism of this sort is not in short supply on the internet. I’ve read worse.

  4. Wilson also did a (in)famous takeout of Christe, Stout, and crime fiction in general called “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?”
    His approach to genre fiction in general seems to have been, “I don’t like this stuff because it’s bad. And why is it so bad? Because I don’t like it.”

  5. For decades, critics and other SF/F and horror writers have been telling us how bad Lovecraft was, and why his writing shouldn’t really work, and why we shouldn’t be reading him. I remember the opinion of L. Sprague DeCamp, whom I normally greatly respected, in his blistering 1975(?) bio of HPL, trashing him as unprofessional and unreadable. I was mentioning DeCamp’s biography and opinion to a roomful of people at a convention a couple of years ago, and all sorts of people said “who?”. Then I mentioned several other severe Lovecraft critics from SF’s past, and again people were saying “who???” to the critics’ names, even as they raved over poor disrespected Howard. It’s tragic that SF doesn’t seem to remember or respect its history anymore, and tragic that so many good writers are quickly forgotten if they’re not always on the bookstands or in current ebook promotions, but it’s amusing and fascinating that for all of his many flaws, Lovecraft keeps on delivering the old sense of wonder after all these decades, even as succeeding waves of generations of scolds have their protests – and their own reputations – disappear like farts in a thunderstorm……..

  6. I heard deCamp’s scowling about HPL at a lecture. One of the complaints was the weight of the old fashioned xerox copies caused his desk to warp.

    That fans and fandom are not recalling things and failing to keep the information alive has been noted before. People are failing to recall deCamp as a writer of fiction.

  7. The xeroxed copies of HPL’s letters, that is.

    Used to be that zebras and tigers were often not animated because of the stripes. But that was in 1935. Animating feathers on a dinosaur should not cause problems. The fur on various creaturesin a Pxar release contains thousands of co ordinating points to follow and plot. Excuses excuses.

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