(1) COLUMBIA SHUTTLE TRAGEDY ANNIVERSARY. NPR is “Remembering the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy 20 years on”.
…SIMON: Twenty years later, what have we learned about that day? What happened there in the sky? And what might have prevented it?
DUGGINS: Well, you know, it’s funny. I mean, if you talk to historians, who are much better at this than I am, they’ll say, you know, the Titanic, it can’t sink. Challenger – routine launch and landing, no problems there. And that hubris always seems to catch up with us. And with Columbia, it was the piece of falling foam that hit the vehicle. And NASA asked the engineers, do you know it’s a problem? And they said, well, we can’t be sure. And so the manager said, fine, we’ll just keep going with the mission and not tell anybody about it. And it wasn’t until the very end that they informed the astronauts ’cause they figured it was going to come up in a press conference. And that was what ultimately doomed the crew….
Throughout a celebrated career that spanned five decades and multiple genres, Ursula K. Le Guin was first and last a poet. This sixth volume in the definitive Library of America edition of Le Guin’s work presents for the first time an authoritative gathering of her poetry—from the earliest collection, 1974’s Wild Angels, through her final publication, So Far So Good, which she delivered to her editor a week before her death in 2018. It reveals the full formal range and visionary breadth of a major American poet.
Le Guin’s poems engage with themes that resonate throughout her fiction but find their most refined expression here: exploration as a metaphor for both human bravery and creativity, the mystery and fragility of nature and the impact of humankind on the environment, the Tao Te Ching, marriage, aging, and womanhood. Often traditional in form but never in style, her verse is earthy and playful, surprising and lyrical.
This volume features a new introduction by editor Harold Bloom, written shortly before his own death in 2019, in which he reflects on his late-in-life friendship with Le Guin and the power of her poetic gift. “For many years I have wondered why her poetry is relatively neglected,” he writes. “Her lyrics and reflections are American originals. Sometimes I hear in them the accent of William Butler Yeats and occasionally a touch of Robinson Jeffers, yet her voicing is inimitably individual.” The book also presents sixty-eight uncollected poems, a generous selection of Le Guin’s introductions to and reflections on her poetry, including a rare interview, and a chronology of her life and career.
(3) OH GOODY. Futurism assures readers, “By 2030, You’ll Be Living in a World That’s Run by Google”.
…By 2030, Google will have that World Brain in existence, and it will look after all of us. And that’s quite possibly both the best and worst thing that could happen to humanity.
To explain that claim, let me tell you a story of how your day is going to unfold in 2030.
You wake up in the morning, January 1st, 2030. It’s freezing outside, but you’re warm in your room. Why? Because Nest – your AI-based air conditioner – knows exactly when you need to wake up, and warms the room you’re in so that you enjoy the perfect temperature for waking up.
And who acquired Nest three years ago for $3.2 billion USD? Google did.
You go out to the street and order an autonomous taxi to take you to your workplace. Who programmed that autonomous car? Google did. Who acquired Waze – a crowdsourcing navigation app? That’s right: Google did….
(4) WISH WE COULD BE THERE. Dr. Phil Nichols will speak about “Literacy, Censorship and Burning Books: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451” at the Wolverhampton Literature Festival on February 3.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the classic dystopian novel of book-burning firemen, is as relevant today as when it debuted seventy years ago. Its insights into censorship, television, drug abuse and the fall and rise of civilisation retain a freshness and plausibility rarely seen in other science fiction of that era.
Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s most successful novel. Ironically for a book which rages against censorship, it frequently shows up on lists of “banned books”. Adapted for the stage by Bradbury himself and twice filmed, it somehow doesn’t date, despite being seventy years old in 2023.
Phil Nichols is the editor of The New Ray Bradbury Review and Senior Consultant to the Ray Bradbury Centre at Indiana University. In this extensively illustrated talk, he explains the curious history of this classic science fiction dystopia. It’s a tale of diverse influences (Huxley and Koestler; but surprisingly not Orwell) and extensive re-writing, resulting in a work which Neil Gaiman calls “a love letter to books . . . a love letter to people.”
(5) DEFINITELY BELONGS TO THE SCIENCE FICTION CANNON. ScreenRant celebrates that “The First Science Fiction Movie Is Over 120 Years Old” and they’ll fight anyone who says it isn’t genre.
…A Trip to the Moon is considered the first science fiction movie by most – but some say it is not science fiction, because it is not based on any realistic form of science, classing it more as a space fantasy. A Trip to the Moon features classic elements of the current sci-fi genre, such as aliens and sleek rockets, that would now be considered sci-fi because of how the genre has developed. However, some people do not classify films such as Star Wars as sci-fi because the science in it lacks plausibility, the same way A Trip to the Moon is not realistic with its science – highlighting how differently the genre is considered amongst audiences, as many would consider it a quintessential sci-fi series….
(6) QUITE A BUNCH OF CHARACTERS. Fonts In Use unravels “The Mystery of the Dune Font” and how devotees are keeping it alive.
… The liaison between Dune and Davison Art Nouveau started in September 1975, when the typeface was used by Berkley Medallion for a paperback edition of the first two novels. At the time, the Berkley imprint was owned by New York-based publisher G.P. Putnam’s Sons. When Berkley Putnam published the first hardcover edition of the third novel, Children of Dune, in 1976, the new typographic identity was applied there, too. Later on, Putnam used the typeface on the jackets for hardback editions of other, unrelated books authored (or coauthored) by Frank Herbert…
… In 2009, a Dune aficionado who goes by the moniker DuneFish (DFUK) and/or MEP made a digital font called Orthodox Herbertarian, “painstakingly traced from scans of the typeface that was used on the American Ace editions […] of Dune and many other Frank Herbert books”. This amateur digitization is freely available at kullwahad.com. The font is caps only (A–Z), with a basic set of punctuation characters and scaled-down caps in the lowercase. Because it’s based on the book covers (as opposed to the original typeface), it naturally adopts the narrowed proportions. Orthodox Herbertarian is a laudable effort, but it doesn’t include any of the alternates or the numerals. In 2020, Reddit user purgruv added lowercase letters and numerals to this freebie and offered it for download as Extended Herbertarian. The additions aren’t faithful to the original and unfortunately aren’t well drawn, either….
(7) MEMORY LANE.
1923 — [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Following up on my essay yesterday, the quote tonight is from Agatha Christie’s “The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim”.
It was first published in March of 1923 in Britain in the Sketch. The story was published in the States in the Blue Book Magazine in December of 1923 as “Mr Davenby Disappears”. In 1924, the story appeared as part of the Poirot Investigates anthology.
And yes, David Suchet got to perform the story here in which is Poirot wagers Chief Inspector Japp that he can solve the mystery of a missing banker without leaving his flat.
And here’s the quote now…
Poirot and I were expecting our old friend Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard to tea. We were sitting round the tea-table awaiting his arrival. Poirot had just finished carefully straightening the cups and saucers which our landlady was in the habit of throwing, rather than placing, on the table. He had also breathed heavily on the metal teapot, and polished it with a silk handkerchief. The kettle was on the boil, and a small enamel saucepan beside it contained some thick, sweet chocolate which was more to Poirot’s palate than what he described as ‘your English poison’.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born January 28, 1910 — Arnold Moss. Anton Karidian a.k.a. Kodos the Executioner in the most excellent “The Conscience of the King” episode of Trek. It wasn’t his only SFF role as he’d show up in Tales of Tomorrow, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Time Tunnel and Fantasy Island. (Died 1989.)
- Born January 28, 1920 — Lewis Wilson. Genre wise, he’s remembered for being the first actor to play Batman on screen in the 1943 Batman, a 15-chapter theatrical serial from Columbia Pictures. A sequel to the serial was made in 1949, but Robert Lowery replaced Wilson as Batman. (Died 2000.)
- Born January 28, 1929 — Parke Godwin. I’ve read a number of his novels and I fondly remember in particular Sherwood and Robin and the King. If you’ve not read his excellent Firelord series, I do recommend you do so. So who has read his Beowulf series? (Died 2013.)
- Born January 28, 1965 — Lynda Boyd, 58. Let’s start off with she’s a singer who starred in productions The Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Film-wise, she had roles in Final Destination 2, The Invader, Mission to Mars and Hot Tub Time Machine. She’s had one-offs in X-Files, Highlander, Strange Luck, Millennium, The Sentinel, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (where she had a recurring role as Darla Mohr), Outer Limits, Twilight Zone and Smallville.
- Born January 28, 1981 — Elijah Wood, 42. His first genre role was Video-Game Boy #2 in Back to the Future Part II. He next shows up as Nat Cooper in Forever Young followed by playing Leo Biederman in Deep Impact. Up next was his performance as Frodo Baggins In The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit films. Confession time: I watched the very first of these. Wasn’t impressed. He’s done some other genre work as well including playing Todd Brotzman in the Beeb superb production of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
- Born January 28, 1986 — Shruti Haasan, 37. Indian film actress known for the Telugu fantasy film Anaganaga O Dheerudu, and the Tamil science fiction thriller 7aum Arivu. She voiced Queen Elsa in the Tamil-dubbed version of Frozen II.
- Born January 28, 1998 — Ariel Winter, 25. Voice actress who’s shown up in such productions as Mr. Peabody & Sherman as Penny Peterson, Horton Hears a Who!, DC Showcase: Green Arrow as Princess Perdita and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as Carrie Kelly (Robin). She’s got several one-off live performances on genre series, The Haunting Hour: The Series and Ghost Whisperer.
(9) COMICS SECTION.
- Six Chix shows how hardcover books have learned to play rough at the airport.
(10) CATZILLAS. “The Army Corps of Engineers Made a Glorious 2023 Cat Calendar” and Gizmodo has a slideshow of the whole thing.
It’s hard to believe that the mighty, stone-faced U.S. Army would ever adapt adorable cat babies as its representatives, but this is the internet in the year of our lord 2023. Anything is possible.
That’s certainly what I thought when I stumbled upon this glorious 2023 cat calendar made by the Portland District of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While it’s not the product of a Photoshop wizard, the calendar earnestly features gigantic cats being their amazing furry selves. They play, they scratch, they think about life, and they stretch—all the while interacting with the Army Corps’ various dams, jetties, and heavy machinery….
(11) PLAUDITS FOR NEWITZ. Paul Di Filippo reviews The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz in the Washington Post [Archive.is link].
… This generously overstuffed tale has enough ideas and incidents to populate half a dozen lesser science fiction books. But the reading experience is never clotted or tedious, never plagued by extraneous detours. The story — which begins nearly 60,000 years in the future and unfolds over more than a millennium — rollicks along at a brisk clip while allowing Newitz space to dig into characters and milieu, and pile on startling speculative elements….
(12) NUKE THE MOON. In the New York Times: “‘The Wandering Earth II’ Review: It Wanders Too Far”
Upon its release, “The Wandering Earth,” Frant Gwo’s 2019 film about a dystopia in which Earth is perilously pushed through space, was minted as China’s first substantial, domestic sci-fi blockbuster, with the box office returns to prove it.
The film was entertaining enough, but its ambitious scope had something of an empty gloss to it, partly because the story’s drama wasn’t grounded in anything beyond the showy cataclysm. Its audaciously messy sequel, “The Wandering Earth II,” seems to have taken note and sprinted, aimlessly, entirely in the other direction. Losing all of the glee of its predecessor, the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted story lines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext….
(13) KEEP YOUR DRAWERS ON. The Takeout tells how “Fox News Fell for an A&W Joke About Its Pantsless Mascot”.
…As you can see, the A&W tweet is simply parroting M&M’s tweet closely (the internet age is weird, everyone) and riding the same jokey wave. Rooty, typically pantsless, will wear jeans now. Funny gag! However, Fox News took A&W’s post as an opportunity to wage a culture war.
At first the outlet reported A&W’s Rooty announcement as a serious matter….
“First it was an M&M’s, now a bear has to wear [pants],” noted Fox Business anchor Cheryl Casone. “This is the woke police. Cancel culture has gone—ridiculous.”
Later, however, after all that lamentation, Fox realized the error, clarifying that A&W followed up its original tweet with another one that said, “Is now a good time to mention that this is a joke?”
(14) IT COULD HAPPEN ANYWHERE. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] It’s Saturday, I’m up early, had croissant and coffee and done work chores for today already 10.20. (I’m so hot it’s untrue…) So here is an extra from today’s Science. “Earth-like planets should readily form around other stars, meteorites suggest”.
Samples from space rocks suggest water and light elements are present in warm inner part of planet-forming disks
How hard is it to give birth to an Earth? To assemble the right mix of rock, metal, and water, in a balmy spot not too far from a star? For a long time, planetary scientists have thought Earth was a lucky accident, enriched with water and lighter “volatile” elements—such as nitrogen and carbon—by asteroids that had strayed in from the outer edges of the early Solar System, where those materials were abundant. But a series of new studies, including two published today in Science, suggests all the ingredients were much closer at hand when Earth was born…
Also Matt over at PBS Space Time contemplates Silicon based aliens
(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Everything’s up to date on Ukraine’s farms.
[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editors of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]