Snapshots 75 Diamond Jubilee

Here are 14 developments of interest to fans.

(1) Andrew Porter passes along some holiday cheer, a link to a video made in his Brooklyn neighborhood: “That nice Karl Junkersfeld catches the spirit of the Christmas Tree lighting at the foot of Montague Street, next to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. From, where I post comments under the pseudonym ‘Andrew Porter.’ A great time of the year to peep into windows, to see how the one percent (a bunch of whom live in the area) decorate for the holidays.”

(2) Once you have YouTube open, Francis Hamit would be more than gratified if you would watch two short bits about his projects. In the first, Director Mike Donahue tells why he plans to direct a film about Christopher Marlowe, the poet, playwright and spy, based on Hamit’s play Marlowe: An Elizabethan Tragedy. Marlowe worked for the early English Secret Service which gave him entry to the highest levels of society and ultimately led to his downfall and death. Donahue’s credits are Pooltime, The Visitor From Planet Omicron, The Extra and Mansion of Blood, the last three not yet released.

And like many other authors Hamit also has taught himself to make a book trailer using a Flip camera with Picassa and Youtube editing software. Click on the link to see what he says about his new novel, The Queen of Washington.

(3) Steve Green says in the Fortnightly Fix [PDF file] that friends have been importuning Martin Tudor and him to revive Critical Wave in time for its 25th anniversary:

[Critical Wave] began as a mimeographed newsletter handed out at science fiction conventions and grew into an out-of-control moneypit which very nearly bankrupted both of us. By the time our survival instincts kicked in and we called it quits, we’d published forty-six issues (including one double edition) over a nine year period and racked up five grand in debts, not counting the many generous souls who told us to forget the money we owed them.

Instead he is entertaining the idea of a collection selected from things they published in past issues – which includes contributions by Michael Moorcock, Graham Joyce, Stephen Baxter and Iain Banks. It might be done as a print-on-demand offering, possibly with profits going to charity. Steve is waiting to hear the reaction to his trial balloon.

(4) While you’re waiting, you can read the online edition of Mimosa 8, originally published in paper in August 1990, which has now been added to the Lynch’s Mimosa website. Rich says the contents include “Now You See Them…” by Harry Warner, Jr., which considers the possibility of an alien conspiracy of sorts right there in Hagerstown, Guy Lillian’s recounting of a Christmas Eve visit to the home of Harry Warner, the fourth in Sharon Farber’s series about medical life (this time about medical slang), a short but amusing article from John Berry about forensic chemistry, Richard Brandt’s remembrance of his short career working for a TV station, and Dave Kyle’s remembrance of an epic motorcar trip to the 1940 Chicago Worldcon.

(5) Every day there’s more and more evidence that we’re living in the future SF writers of the Sixties warned us against. Like this LA Times editorial, “When Droids Take Your Job”

Computers still aren’t very good at creative tasks, such as generating ideas or finding ways to apply lessons from one experience in a totally different context. But in Tucson, McAfee asserted that “the list of things humans are demonstrably better at than computers is shrinking pretty dramatically.” Brynjolfsson observed that about 60% of U.S. workers perform “information processing tasks,” and “it’s hard to think of any of those that won’t be profoundly affected and possibly eliminated by these technologies.”

At the same time, the ability of computers to make humans more productive is growing exponentially. Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, said at the conference that an expert animator can create only about 3 seconds’ worth of a movie in a week because of the many hours spent waiting for computers to render the images in 3D. With the next generation of computers, he said, those workers will be able to animate and apply effects in real time, creating scenes 50 to 70 times as fast.

That’s astounding, and it’s great for DreamWorks and its animators, who can turn ideas into movies faster.

(6) By the way, that future we’re living in now includes people being convicted for organlegging. Although Reason wants to argue that legalizing the trafficking of human organs would save lives and protect the poor. Niven and Spinrad thought otherwise when they wrote stories about it.

(7) The actor who plays Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons, will play Elwood P. Dowd in the 2012 stage revival of “Harvey”.

Sheldon Cooper has a new friend: a giant, imaginary rabbit. Bazinga!

Actually, it’s Cooper’s alter ego, Emmy-winning “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons, who’ll be cavorting with the faux friend, as the star of a 2012 revival of “Harvey.”

Parsons will play Dowd in the revival, while Jessica Hecht (Ross’ nemesis Susan on “Friends”) will play his sister and “Murphy Brown” alum Charles Kimbrough will play the head of the sanitarium where Dowd’s sister tries to have him committed.

(8) Australian TV will launch a show being compared to Big Bang Theory next February. Click to view the “Outland Sneakpeak” [sic] trailer for the Australian Broadcasting Company’s comedy about “gay sci-fi geeks,” Outland.

(9) But only real life could supply us with Jurassic Park nerds, fans whose infinite fascination with the Spielberg movie leads to these kinds of observations.

First, some critics argue Jurassic Park is less about man versus dinosaur than man versus woman.

Gaze — but not too threateningly — at the paper “‘There Is No Unauthorized Breeding in Jurassic Park’: Gender and the Uses of Genetics” by Laura Briggs and Jodi I. Kelber-Kaye. Jumping off the work of critic Marina Warner, they read volumes into the fact that Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs (a) are female (Terry’s T. rex excepted), and (b) have managed to breed on their own.

Jurassic Park‘s real theme, Briggs and Kelber-Kaye say, is women run amok. The she-dinos are reproducing without men and trying to stomp out the two-parent nuclear family (consisting here of Alan Grant, Tim, and Lex, with occasional appearances by Ellie Sattler, Grant’s partner). The critics look at Jurassic Park and see a racial theme, too. The Costa Rican dinos, they argue, represent “Third World” women. So Jurassic Park is not just about a threat to nuclear families, but to white families.

Second, that’s right, don’t be sexist, or racist, or anthropocentric, either. Don’t you know who’s really the best actor in Jurassic Park?

The T. rex is a series of small gestures. Watch her pupil constrict, a touch Spielberg borrowed from E.T. Watch her breath fog up the windows. What she’s doing — and what the raptors will do later in Jurassic Park — is giving a performance. My god, Dr. Grant, she’s acting! And “she” doesn’t just consist of Dennis Muren’s brilliant computer effects. The computers tag-teamed with Stan Winston’s 13,000-pound model, which was dragged onto Warner Brothers’ Stage 16 for the shoot. The rex model was fully digitized, but Winston and his team often insisted on controlling it manually so they could get the nuance. It “acted its ass off,” Winston said later.

(10) Is William Shatner a billionaire? All his Star Trek residuals and appearance fees could never add up to such a figure. But he has another gig on TV that might have propelled him into the 1%:

When shares in shot from their post-dot-com-era low of $2 to $500 earlier this year, pundits theorized that the company’s TV pitchman, William Shatner, might have become a paper billionaire. It’s true that the Montreal-born actor accepted stock in lieu of cash for appearing in Priceline’s early ad campaigns, but the highest published estimate of his original stake is 125,000 units—a mere $62.5 million at that price.

(11) And a technology popularized by Star Trek, now approaching realization, perhaps someday will create some real space-faring billionaires — the tractor beam:

…[A] team of NASA scientists has won funding to study the concept for remotely capturing planetary or atmospheric particles and delivering them to a robotic rover or orbiting spacecraft for analysis.

The NASA Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) has awarded Principal Investigator Paul Stysley and team members Demetrios Poulios and Barry Coyle at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., $100,000 to study three experimental methods for corralling particles and transporting them via laser light to an instrument — akin to a vacuum using suction to collect and transport dirt to a canister or bag.

(12) But another whizzbang technology, the U.S. Navy’s electromagnetic railgun, is losing its funding.

Rather than relying on a explosion to fire a projectile, it uses an electomagnetic current to accelerate a non-explosive bullet at several times the speed of sound. The conductive projectile zips along a set of electrically charged parallel rails and out of the barrel at speeds up to Mach 7.

The weapon has been successfully fired over 1000 times. However, in April the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to axe two of the Navy’s most futuristic weapons, the free electron laser (referred to in the media as a death ray) and the railgun.

(13) Must have missed this episode of DS:9 because I never knew Captain Sisko fielded a baseball team. A writer for Baseball Prospectus took a look back and rated the talent. For example:

Catcher – Nog
Probably the biggest question mark on the whole team. Nog is a young Ferengi who recently joined Starfleet. He is roughly the equivalent of a nineteen year-old boy. He is also about 4’11” tall, weighing maybe 100 pounds. Somehow, though, he’s Sisko’s starting catcher. We know he’s a pretty good ballplayer (he’s the only one who shows actual talent during the team’s first practice), but no one that small should ever be behind the plate. Think of all the stolen base opportunities a physically-superior race like the Vulcans would have with Nog having to make the throw to second. It’s hard to say where Sisko should have put Nog, though.

(14) The creator of Schlock Mercenary told an interviewer that being a Hugo nominee is not an unalloyed joy:

“Hugo nominations are validating, but they’re also kind of devastating. Members of the Hugo community are rarely shy about dishing out criticism, especially of the things they just don’t think should be on the ballot. I’ve heard far more unkind words about my creations since getting ?validated? via nomination than I ever heard from the comic community.”

One other thing fans are not shy about dishing out is chocolate. If only there was a way for Hugo nominees to choose what we give them… 

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus, Andrew Porter, James Hay, Rich Lynch, Australian SF Bullsheet and The Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol.]

Update 12/19/2011: Critical Wave will be celebrating its 25th, not 21st, anniversary as Steve Green realized after publishing the latter number in his zine.

7 thoughts on “Snapshots 75 Diamond Jubilee

  1. Alas, there is no provision for saving a pdf of Mimosa!

    Perhaps many of the unexepected difficulties of the rail gun were overcome. The last I read about it was quite some years ago, when turbulence of some sort was experienced in the electromagnetic fields at high energies, and acceleration wasn’t following the mathematical model. But, even if the project was still on track, so to speak, perhaps funding was cut because there didn’t seem any especial need to send an explosive projectile at Mach 7 when an ordinary Naval gun will do the job to perfection at much lower speeds. And the sort of acceleration the rail gun was designed to produce would flatten even the toughest instrument package, ruling out a rail gun as a means of putting anything in low earth orbit.

  2. Hey, I’m a Hugo community member who got quite a kick out of Schlock Mercenary, which was new to me when I found it in this year’s Hugo voters packet. I’m sorry the creator got the reaction he reports. I think I owe him a fan letter.

  3. Schlock Mercenary’s nomination and the reception it received from many fans is probably an indication that the Hugo is different from other awards. I don’t know much about awards in the comics & media industries — who picks the names, if anyone votes on them, that sort of thing. The Eisners, at least, are a peer award and the voters are members of some professional organization or other. Perhaps other awards are decided in locked boardrooms, followed by a press release. In any case, I suspect the Hugos are as contentious as they are because its probably the most democratic of the lot… and the voters *really* care.

  4. To cancel the railgun project is to punish it for succeeding. The velocities a projectile could achieve were tremendous (remember this is the same device Heinlein used to bomb Earth from Luna in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) without the risk of gunpowder explosions at the wrong time, as took place on the U.S.S. Iowa — not to mention that the two most damaged ships at Pearl Harbor, the Arizona and the Oklahoma were crippled by direct bomb hits to their powder magazines. The projectiles launched by a railgun don’t even need a warhead — the energy of the launch was more than enough for the projectile to tear through an armored enemy ship, exiting the other side, without explosives. The railgun would herald the return of the Battleship as a ship of the line, which goes against current Navy doctrine….and in the U. S. Navy, when the reality is better than the doctrine, take the doctrine. Naval aviation went through the same thing with carriers having to prove repeatedly they were superior in force projection than the battleships and it still took the destruction at Pearl Harbor and a wholesale firing of the older generation of officers for the truth to be admitted. Now it’s a reversal of the way of thinking back to the other way, and it will be just as difficult.

  5. I don’t know about that… The last articles I’d read were clear that there was a long way to go to make the rail gun work. And there are other issues, such as how much energy does it take to fire. Would a ship carrying one have to have a nuclear generator aboard just to charge up the gun? In any case, most of what David says is what the rail gun is *supposed* to do — but has it been proven that it does it?

    Gun powder is cheap and pretty reliable… it hardly ever just blows up. The worst case scenario was back in WWI, where most of the British ships sunk in the Battle of Jutland were destroyed by flashing from the point of impact along the line of ammunition handling to turrets and armories. Regulation handling would have had the flash door closed, but to speed up the rate of fire the gun crews were leaving them open…

  6. Actually, I knew it was Critical Wave’s twenty-fifth birthday all along. The entry in The Fortnight Fix was a pure typo.

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