(1) FINE POINTS. “Your Genes Aren’t Your Destiny: On Ann Leckie’s ‘Translation State’”: a review by David M. Higgins in the LA Review of Books.
… Ultimately, Qven’s determination to have eir pronouns recognized is fundamental to the entire story: whether you can be recognized on your own terms, or whether you must have categories of identity (such as gender, ethnicity, species, and legal citizenship) inflicted upon you or withheld from you by others, is the central problem the book addresses. But for Qven, everything comes down at key moments to the way Pirate Exiles inspires em to joyfully envision emself as “a princex in disguise,” like Kekubo. “What would a princex in disguise do?” Qven asks emself multiple times as the novel builds toward its climax, and eir most important decisions are consistently influenced by the inspiration they draw from identifying with Kekubo.
This thematic emphasis—the way that small details (like a character’s obsession with trashy adventure serials) can ultimately shape and influence the largest possible events (such as the fall of an empire)—is one of the hallmarks of Leckie’s work. Her recurring argument is that minor details, events, actions, and influences are never truly minor: everything has consequence, even if it is not immediately visible….
(2) SAFETY LAST. Evgeny Morozov, author of To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, wrote an opinion piece about “The True Threat of Artificial Intelligence” for the New York Times.
…The mounting anxiety about A.I. isn’t because of the boring but reliable technologies that autocomplete our text messages or direct robot vacuums to dodge obstacles in our living rooms. It is the rise of artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I., that worries the experts.
A.G.I. doesn’t exist yet, but some believe that the rapidly growing capabilities of OpenAI’s ChatGPT suggest its emergence is near. Sam Altman, a co-founder of OpenAI, has described it as “systems that are generally smarter than humans.” Building such systems remains a daunting — some say impossible — task. But the benefits appear truly tantalizing.
Imagine Roombas, no longer condemned to vacuuming the floors, that evolve into all-purpose robots, happy to brew morning coffee or fold laundry — without ever being programmed to do these things.
Sounds appealing. But should these A.G.I. Roombas get too powerful, their mission to create a spotless utopia might get messy for their dust-spreading human masters. At least we’ve had a good run.
Discussions of A.G.I. are rife with such apocalyptic scenarios. Yet a nascent A.G.I. lobby of academics, investors and entrepreneurs counter that, once made safe, A.G.I. would be a boon to civilization. Mr. Altman, the face of this campaign, embarked on a global tour to charm lawmakers. Earlier this year he wrote that A.G.I. might even turbocharge the economy, boost scientific knowledge and “elevate humanity by increasing abundance.”
This is why, for all the hand-wringing, so many smart people in the tech industry are toiling to build this controversial technology: not using it to save the world seems immoral.
They are beholden to an ideology that views this new technology as inevitable and, in a safe version, as universally beneficial. Its proponents can think of no better alternatives for fixing humanity and expanding its intelligence.
But this ideology — call it A.G.I.-ism — is mistaken. The real risks of A.G.I. are political and won’t be fixed by taming rebellious robots. The safest of A.G.I.s would not deliver the progressive panacea promised by its lobby. And in presenting its emergence as all but inevitable, A.G.I.-ism distracts from finding better ways to augment intelligence….
(3) DELANY AT 81. “How Samuel R. Delany Reimagined Sci-Fi, Sex, and the City” in The New Yorker.
… In the stellar neighborhood of American letters, there have been few minds as generous, transgressive, and polymathically brilliant as Samuel Delany’s. Many know him as the country’s first prominent Black author of science fiction, who transformed the field with richly textured, cerebral novels like “Babel-17” (1966) and “Dhalgren” (1975). Others know the revolutionary chronicler of gay life, whose autobiography, “The Motion of Light in Water” (1988), stands as an essential document of pre-Stonewall New York. Still others know the professor, the pornographer, or the prolific essayist whose purview extends from cyborg feminism to Biblical philology.
There are so many Delanys that it’s difficult to take the full measure of his influence. Reading him was formative for Junot Díaz and William Gibson; Octavia Butler was, briefly, his student in a writing workshop. Jeremy O. Harris included Delany as a character in his play “Black Exhibition,” while Neil Gaiman, who is adapting Delany’s classic space adventure “Nova” (1968) as a series for Amazon, credits him with building a critical foundation not only for science fiction but also for comics and other “paraliterary” genres….
(4) E.T. 2023 A.D. “Henry Thomas on life after ET: ‘We got a lot of weird visitors – some people were fanatical’” in the Guardian.
…After ET came out in 1982, life was never the same for Thomas, who had only appeared in one film before being cast in Spielberg’s smash hit. Now 51, he recalls a six-year-old Drew Barrymore tottering over to him on set to ask how many films he had been in. “Oh, you poor thing,” she answered airily. “I’ve been in four.” But aside from reading lines and knowing his cue, the little boy from rural Texas didn’t really know what acting was, let alone fame. “It was a total unexpected side-effect of doing this fun thing I had wanted to do,” he says now, from his home in Oregon. “I had no clue that my life would change in any way. I worked on this movie, then I’m back on the farm, I’m back at school – but now people are pointing at me in the street.”
Even as a child, he was aware that his mother, Carolyn, resented how his fame was impacting the whole family. She would take him to auditions and shoots until his late teens, and always felt the need to protect him. “She was doing the best job that she knew how to do,” he says. “My whole family weren’t really well equipped to deal with anything like that. And other than a few precautions, we didn’t change our lives that much. Consequently, we got a lot of weird visitors to our residence and things like that, phone calls.”
Complete strangers would want to speak to a little boy? He nods. “We had to call the authorities a few times. ET was a real sensation, some people were fanatical about it.”
Former child actors are often asked: would you let your children act? Thomas, who has three children, has given varying answers over the years, but he’s resolute when I ask. “Pursue it when you’re older,” he says. “I still don’t think it’s a great way to grow up. It was exciting for me, I went to some strange locales and met some interesting people. But it was also very disruptive to my parents’ marriage. Our social life got weird. You get famous and suddenly every cousin that you never knew looks you up. People are strange, they do weird stuff. As a kid, that’s a lot to deal with. And when you’re an adult [too], but at least then you have all of the faculties, hopefully, to deal with fame.”
(5) MEMORY LANE.
1981 – [Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]
At Chicon IV in 1982 where Marta Randall was Toastmaster, C. J. Cherryh would win the Best Novel Hugo for Downbelow Station which was set in her Alliance–Union universe during the Company Wars period.
It was published by DAW forty-two years ago and originally had been called The Company War by the author with the cover art by David B. Mattingly. The format was paperback.
It is, I believe, a splendidly written novel that has aged rather well. Is it the best novel in the series? I think so, though there’s an argument that can be made for Cyteen which won the Hugo at Noreascon 3.
Now for her Beginning…
EARTH AND OUTWARD: 2005–2352
The stars, like all man’s other ventures, were an obvious impracticality, as rash and improbable an ambition as the first venture of man onto Earth’s own great oceans, or into the air, or into space. Sol Station had existed profitably for some years; there were the beginnings of mines, the manufacturies, the power installations in space which were beginning to pay. Earth took them for granted as quickly as it did all its other comforts. Missions from the station explored the system, a program far from public understanding, but it met no strong opposition, since it did not disturb the comfort of Earth.
So quietly, very matter of factly, that first probe went out to the two nearest stars, unmanned, to gather data and return, a task in itself of considerable complexity. The launch from station drew some public interest, but years was a long time to wait for a result, and it passed out of media interest as quickly as it did out of the solar system. It drew a great deal more attention on its return, nostalgia on the part of those who recalled its launch more than a decade before, curiosity on the part of the young who had known little of its beginning and wondered what it was all about. It was a scientific success, bringing back data enough to keep the analysts busy for years . . . but there was no glib, slick way to explain the full meaning of its observations in layman’s terms. In public relations the mission was a failure; the public, seeking to understand on their own terms, looked for material benefit, treasure, riches, dramatic findings.
What the probe had found was a star with reasonable possibilities for encouraging life; a belt of debris, including particles, planetoids, irregular chunks somewhat under planet size with interesting implications for systemic formation, and a planetary companion with its own system of debris and moons . . . a planet desolate, baked, forbidding. It was no Eden, no second Earth, no better than what existed in the sun’s own system, and it was a far journey to have gone to find that out. The press grappled with questions it could not easily grasp itself, sought after something to give the viewers, lost interest quickly. If anything, there were questions raised about cost, vague and desperate comparisons offered to Columbus, and the press hared off quickly onto a political crisis in the Mediterranean, much more comprehensible and far bloodier.
The scientific establishment on Sol Station breathed a sigh of relief and with equal quiet caution invested a portion of its budget in a modest manned expedition, to voyage in what amounted to a traveling miniature of Sol Station itself, and to stay a time making observations in orbit about that world.
And very quietly, to further imitate Sol Station, to test manufacturing techniques which had built Earth’s great second satellite . . . in stranger conditions. Sol Corporation supplied a generous grant, having a certain curiosity, a certain understanding of stations and what profits could be looked for from their development.
That was the beginning.
(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born July 3, 1898 — E. Hoffmann Price. He’s most readily remembered as being a Weird Tales writer, one of a group that included Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. He did a few collaborations, one of which was with H. P. Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”. Another work, “The Infidel’s Daughter”, a satire on the Ku Klux Klan, also angered many Southern readers. (Died 1988.)
- Born July 3, 1926 — William Rotsler. An artist, cartoonist, pornographer and SF author. Well, that is his bio. Rotsler was a four-time Hugo Award winner for Best Fan Artist and one-time Nebula Award nominee. He also won a “Retro-Hugo” for his work in 1946 and was runner-up for 1951. He responsible for giving Uhura her first name, created “Rotsler’s Rules for Costuming”, and well, being amazing sounding. (Died 1997.)
- Born July 3, 1927 — Tim O’Connor. He was Dr. Elias Huer in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for much of its run. (I really, really liked that series.) Other genre appearances were on The Six Million Dollar Man, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Wonder Woman, Knight Rider, Next Gen and The Burning Zone. (Died 2018.)
- Born July 3, 1927 — Ken Russell. Film director whose Altered States based off of Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay is certainly his best-remembered film. Though let’s not overlook The Lair of the White Worm he did off Bram Stoker’s novel, or The Devils, based at least in part off The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley. (Died 2011.)
- Born July 3, 1937 — Tom Stoppard, 86. Screenplay writer, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead which is adjacent genre if not actually genre. Also scripted of course Brazil which he co-authored with Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeow. He also did the final Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade rewrite of Jeffrey Boam’s rewrite of Menno Meyjes’s screenplay. And Shakespeare in Love which he co-authored with Marc Norman.
- Born July 3, 1943 — Kurtwood Smith, 80. Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, Federation President in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and voiced Kanjar Ro in Green Lantern: First Flight. He’s got series appearances on Blue Thunder, The Terrible Thunderlizards, The X-Files, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Men in Black: The Series, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Judtice League, Batman Beyond, Green Lantern and Beware the Batman. His last role was as Vernon Masters as the superb Agent Carter.
- Born July 3, 1946 — Michael Shea. Shea’s first novel, A Quest for Simbilis was an authorized sequel to the first two of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novels. Vance was offered a share of the advance but declined it. (It was declared non-canon when the next novels in the series were written by Vance.) A decade, he’d win a World Fantasy Award for his Nifft the Lean novel, and a second twenty years later for a novella, “The Growlimb.” (Died 2014.)
- Born July 3, 1948 — Marc Okrand, 75. A linguist in Native American languages who’s the creator of the Klingon language. He first applied it by dubbing in Vulcan language dialogue for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and then was involved in the Search for Spock, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, and the both rebooted Trek films. Later he developed the language for the Kelpien race in the second season of Discovery.
(7) COMICS SECTION.
Loose Parts shows why pirate cosplay is difficult for certain aliens.
Tom Gauld keeps busy.
(8) IT’S TIME. Moses Ose Utomi’s “My Little Time Demon” is a free read at Sunday Morning Transport, offered to encourage subscriptions.
I have a sixth sense: I can tell when someone’s given up on life. In this case, though, the guy’s ice-cream-cone face tattoo says enough….
(9) GUEST MESS. Charon Dunn went to BayCon where “a staff member misunderstood the concept behind a ‘VIP and Guest Welcoming Event’ and 86’d me and a few other guests from it, so I’m doing my alchemical ‘turning BS into art’ thing.” “Mister Gatekeeper”: Here’s first stanza.
You sent me back into the crowd
You told me that I was not allowed
According to my badge, I was on the list
But you turned me away, and now I’m pissed
Mister Gatekeeper, someday that gate’s gonna slam on you
Mister Gatekeeper, someday that gate’s gonna slam on you
(10) 500 MILLION-YEAR-OLD TURF & SURF. “Fossil-rich Welsh quarry yields trove of soft-bodied animals at dawn of modern life” reports Science.
Between 540 million and 485 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, so many new, complex animal life forms arose that paleontologists speak of the Cambrian Explosion or the Biological Big Bang. But by 400 million years ago, almost all of those species disappeared, eventually replaced by the ancestors of most modern animals. There have been few clues about what happened in between, but fossils from 462 million years ago recently discovered in a quarry in central Wales are filling in that gap, researchers report today in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“It is wonderful,” says Douglas Erwin, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History who was not involved with the work. There are “some beautiful specimens, including some surprising discoveries.”
The Welsh fossils, discovered by a paleontologist couple who live near the quarry, reveal some Cambrian life forms held on for millions of years longer than paleontologists had thought before going extinct, and certain classes of modern animals got their starts earlier than expected. There are also some familiar creatures, including arthropods such as crustaceans and horseshoe crabs, as well as sponges, starfish, and worms. Many of them by that point already had long histories and continue to thrive to this day, so their presence among the fossils isn’t surprising. But the quarry also holds strange creatures thought to have arisen and vanished during the Cambrian period, such as opabiniids, which had five eyes and a long proboscis, and scaly slugs called wiwaxiids. Newcomers spotted in the deposits include modern families of glass sponges and a group of crustaceans called horseshoe shrimp, which were thought to have arisen much later….
(11) IN BRIT CIT, IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD ON B. BEEB CEEB RADIO 4 THIS SUNDAY. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] The BBC aired an audio SF play. Following a global plague, in a future where there is no longer communication between countries, some of humanity seeks solutions, perhaps to seek a new home, and Britain’s Albion has discovered a habitable planet…
Yes, this is a re-run of a previously aired radio play, but for those into SFnal audio-drama, it is one arguably worth noting. You can download the programme here: “The Goldilocks Zone”
Astrophysicist Sofia Khaled’s discovery of a potentially habitable planet opens up painful memories for her but a startling new truth for humanity.
When future Earth discovers an uncorrupted “cosmic” truth, data finally becomes a force for good as a cover-up with catastrophic global impact is revealed in this thrilling drama spanning fifty years.
The Goldilocks Zone by Tanika Gupta was developed through OKRE Experimental Stories. The consultant scientists were Professor Caswell Barry and Dr. Adam Kampff.
[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip WIlliams.]