(1) SFF GROWING IN INDIA. Jaya Padmanabhan explores “Myth, AI, & Reality Power A Thrilling New Genre Of Indian Sci-Fi!” at IndiaCurrents.
…Presently, more and more writers are experimenting with the genre. While only a handful of SF novels have thus far been traditionally published in India every year, a slate of new science and speculative fiction domains is giving space to new voices and ideas, like the magazine Mithila Review and the feminist collection Magical Women (2019).
Vandana Singh, Anil Menon, Samit Basu, Mimi Mondal, and Gautam Bhatia, among others, headline discussions on Indian SF today. Their storylines expose the chaos, upheavals, and power structures of an ethnically, religious, and linguistically diverse India.
Unique to Indian SF is the manner in which mythology and folklore undergird much of the storytelling. From the Vedas and Puranas to the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, historical plots continue to have relevance in Indian SF. As a result, science fiction from India is emerging as a singular genre rich with its own vernacular lexicon….
(2) PROBLEMS THAT ARE WORSE THAN AI. “’We Have Built a Giant Treadmill That We Can’t Get Off’: Sci-Fi Prophet Ted Chiang on How to Best Think About About AI” at Vanity Fair.
…The “AI as McKinsey” piece also articulates an underlying capitalist critique in your work. You clearly hold a lot of skepticism about the idea that Silicon Valley can provide magic fixes for social ills; you wrote this BuzzFeed News essay in 2017 that was so saucy. When reading “Seventy-Two Letters,” your short story from 2000, I gravitate toward this conversation between a craftsman and an inventor trying to create labor-saving robots, where the craftsman tells the inventor:
“Your desire for reform does you credit. Let me suggest, however, that there are simpler cures for the social ills you cite: a reduction in working hours, or the improvement of conditions. You do not need to disrupt our entire system of manufacturing.”
At a moment when we’re being promised “labor-saving” AI, this feels…relevant.
There’s this saying, “There are two kinds of fools. The first says, ‘This is old and therefore good.’ And the second one says, ‘This is new and therefore better.’” I think about that a lot. How can you evaluate the merits of anything fairly without thinking it’s good simply because it’s new? I think that is super difficult.
There probably was a time in history where most people were thinking, “This is old and therefore good,” and they carried the day. Now I think that we live in a time where everyone says, “This is new and therefore better.” I don’t believe that the people who say that are right all the time, but it is very difficult to criticize them and suggest that maybe something that is new is not better….
(3) STEPPING OFF THE MORAL HIGH GROUND. Beatriz Williams celebrates “The Return of the Cold War Novel and Its Glorious Uncertainties” at CrimeReads.
I was a kid playing Atari with my best friend when she informed me, as she sent her frog darting through traffic, that Nostradamus had predicted the world would end in nookuler destruction in August of that year. The exact date she named happened to be my birthday. Since Nostradamus lived hundreds of years ago and didn’t even know what nookuler was, she continued confidently, he must have had special powers and his predictions were therefore true. It was the early eighties and we had no internet, so I accepted her logic and spent the remaining weeks of summer assuming I would die before the leaves fell.
If you were born in the 1970s, like me, or the sixties or the fifties, the Cold War was the backdrop of life, like wallpaper. It had no beginning and no end. It just was. You trundled to school each day under partly cloudy skies and a chance of nuclear annihilation, and when you went to the bookstore or the movie theater you found spy novels, spy movies that pitted Us against Them—the Soviet Union. In these stories, men chased each other around the world while some bomb ticked somewhere, some web of loyalties required untangling. Their manly brows furrowed under the weight of so much responsibility. Their wives worried cluelessly at home. The hot girl in the black sequined dress with the cleavage turned out to be a honey trap….
(4) REMEMBER DOS? “’Indiana Jones’: One of the Best Sequels Wasn’t a Movie” according to Collider.
During an ample period of growth for the LucasArts division of Lucasfilm Limited, the company began experimenting with the new games centered around their tentpole properties; as the Star Wars franchise began developing the initial Rebel Assault and Super Star Wars games, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was pitched as a canonical sequel to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The game takes place in 1939 during which Indy discovers that his former archeological collaborator Sophia Hapgood has given up her profession to become a psychic. Fearing that she’ll be targeted by the Nazis, Indy teams up with his old flame on an adventure to discover the ancient city of Atlantis and unlock its secrets before the Nazis take it for themselves to use as weaponry in World War II.
Compared to Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise, the Indiana Jones saga doesn’t quite have the same extensive expanded universe. While there are a few novel series, comic storylines, and adventure games focused on different aspects of Indy’s life, they’re merely a fraction of the massive expanded timeline developed in the Star Wars “Legends” and modern canon sagas. However, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis didn’t just expand upon the character and tease a new chapter of his story; it developed Indy’s motivations under dire circumstances and featured a compelling storyline that actually surpassed some of the cinematic installments. Even if it never hit theaters, it’s easy to rank Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis among the best projects in the Indiana Jones universe….
(5) GOODER ENGLISH. [Item by Danny Sichel.] The mention of Downbelow Station in Monday’s file reminded me of the “lost in translation” thread from rec.arts.sf.written back in, oh god, 1999.
In particular, it reminded me that Susan Stepney did an archive thereof, which Filers may find amusing. “Lost in the Translation”.
Certain competition threads start spontaneously on the science fiction newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written. One of my favourites was about title/author pairs that can be read as a single phrase (with possibly the best being The Sheep Look Up John Brunner). In May 1999 someone quoting an alleged funny mistranslation, by a translator who missed the point, of a well-known SF book title A Very Important Mission, and a thread took off from there. Below are some of the submissions I’ve collected from that thread, and from ones sent to me later. (The contributors of the titles – either the devisers themselves, or telling of titles they remember from earlier competitions – are noted afterwards.) I’ve also provided answers – but no peeking before trying to work them out – that’s most of the fun!…
Here are couple:
- Hispanic Mendicants — (Angus MacSpon)
Ursula K. LeGuin
- On the Other Hand, It’s Dark — (Joe Slater)
(6) ANTI-FAN MAIL. “Gene Roddenberry’s Threatening Star Trek Letter To Leonard Nimoy And William Shatner” at Slashfilm.
…Gene Roddenberry, writing in 1967, was clearly reacting to various stories from the “Star Trek” set claiming William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were on their worst behavior. It seems they were swapping lines, taking dialogue from co-stars, and going all-out to get as much screen time as possible. “Star Trek,” unlike some other shows at the time, had an open-door policy at [NBC], allowing actors to air grievances, explore ideas, and examine characters earnestly with those at the top. By Roddenberry’s description, this privilege was being abused. Shatner and Nimoy would cause delays in shooting and their characters would start to change on camera. Roddenberry, wanting to put the kibosh on his prima donnas, wrote the following letter, which was addressed to both actors equally:
“Toss these pages in the air if you like, stomp off and be angry, it doesn’t mean that much since you’ve driven me to the edge of not giving a damn. […] No, William, I’m not really writing this to Leonard and just including you as a matter of psychology. I’m talking to you directly and with an angry honesty you haven’t heard before. And Leonard, you’d be very wrong if you think I’m really teeing off at Shatner and only pretending to include you. The same letter to both; you’ve pretty well divided up the market on selfishness and egocentricity.”
Roddenberry knew that actors all have egos and that petty grievances would indeed arise from time to time. Gene evidently instructed the production offices to overlook any foul moods from the cast, as tensions can run high and forgiveness will keep hackles lowered and production smooth. But after too many complaints, Roddenberry admitted, “‘Star Trek’ is going down the drain.”…
(7) IMPOSTOR PRODROME. Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss warned Facebook readers about fraudsters trying to use her name.
So…after years of reporting on impersonation scams (rampant right now), the scammers have done me the ultimate honor: impersonating ME.
(8) TODAY’S TRIVIA. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] The following CNN video (well, link to a video) by SE Cupp includes a quote from Isaac Asimov at the end. “SE Cupp: Was ‘Idiocracy’ real? The Musk-Zuckerberg cage match could not be dumber”
In case you were wondering whether the quote was correctly attributed, see the information at this link.
(9) MEMORY LANE.
1983 – [Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]
Our Beginning tonight is a true one as Bruce Bethke tells us the origin story of a now familiar word and the story that he’d use it in.
The essay and story itself were published in Amazing Science Fiction, November 1983. If after reading the Beginning here, you can do so at Infinity Plus where it is up with the permission of the author.
In the early spring of 1980 I wrote a little story about a bunch of teenage hackers. From the very first draft this story had a name, and lo, the name was —
And you can bet any body part you’d care to name that, had I had even the slightest least inkling of a clue that I would still be answering questions about this word nearly 18 years later, I would have bloody well trademarked the damned thing!
Nonetheless, I didn’t, and as you’re probably aware, the c-word has gone on to have a fascinating career all its own. At this late date I am not trying to claim unwarranted credit or tarnish anyone else’s glory. (Frankly, I’d much rather people were paying attention to what I’writing now –e.g., my Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcash, Orbit Books, 5.99 in paperback.) But for those folks who are obsessed with history, here, in tightly encapsulated form, is the story behind the story.
The invention of the c-word was a conscious and deliberate act of creation on my part. I wrote the story in the early spring of 1980, and from the very first draft, it was titled “Cyberpunk.” In calling it that, I was actively trying to invent a new term that grokked the juxtaposition of punk attitudes and high technology. My reasons for doing so were purely selfish and market-driven: I wanted to give my story a snappy, one-word title that editors would remember.
Offhand, I’d say I succeeded.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born July 4, 1883 — Rube Goldberg. Not genre, but certainly genre adjacent. Born Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg, he was a sculptor, author, cartoonist, engineer, and inventor who’s certainly best known for his very popular cartoons showing overly complex machines doing simple tasks in a terribly convoluted manner, hence the phrase “Rube Goldberg machines”. The X-Files episode titled “The Goldberg Variation” involved an apartment rigged as a Goldberg machine. (Died 1970.)
- Born July 4, 1900 — Guy Endore. Writer of The Werewolf of Paris which is said by Stableford in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers as “entitled to be considered the werewolf novel”. He also wrote “The Day of the Dragon” which Stableford likes as well. He was a scriptwriter hence for writing Mark of the Vampire starring Bela Lugosi. He also the treatment for The Raven but never got credited. (Died 1970.)
- Born July 4, 1910 — Gloria Stuart. She was cast as Flora Cranley opposite Claude Rains in The Invisible Man in 1933, and 68 years later she played Madeline Fawkes in The Invisible Man series. She was in The Old Dark House as Margaret Waverton which is considered horror largely because Boris Karloff was in it. And she was in the time travelling The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan as well. (Died 2010.)
- Born July 4, 1949 — Peter Crowther, 74. He is the founder (with Simon Conway) of PS Publishing where he’s editor now. He edited a series of genre anthologies that DAW published. And he’s written a number of horror novels of which I’d say After Happily Ever and By Wizard Oak are good introductions to him. He’s also done a lot of short fiction but I see he’s not really available in digital form all that much for short fiction or novels.
- Born July 4, 1974 — Kevin Hanchard, 49. Canadian actor best known for his major role in Orphan Black as Detective Art Bell, whose partner’s suicide kicks off the whole show. He also had a significant role in the first season of The Expanse as Inspector Sematimba, Det. Miller’s old friend from Eros. Other genre roles include appearances in the movies Suicide Squad and the made-for-TV Savage Planet, and shows The Strain, Hemlock Grove, Wynonna Earp, and Impulse, among others. (Xtifr)
- Born July 4, 1977 — David Petersen, 46. Writer and illustrator of the brilliant Mouse Guard series. If you haven’t read it, do so — it’s that good and it’s still ongoing. It almost got developed as a film but got axed due to corporate politics. IDW published The Wind in The Willows with over sixty of his illustrations awhile back. I’d have love to seen that!
(11) CANCELLATION MARK. There’s a hole in the schedule where Crater used to be says Digital Spy: “Handmaid’s Tale star’s new movie removed from Disney+ seven weeks after release”.
The sci-fi adventure follows Caleb Channing (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), a young boy who was raised on a lunar mining colony and is about to be moved to a distant planet following the death of his father.
But despite its $50 million (£39 million) budget, the film – directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez – can no longer be watched on Disney+….
Crater, which debuted on May 12, scored a respectable 64% on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes….
(12) LITTLE ICE AGE. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in “Painting Climate Change in the 17th Century”, discusses art that documents a historic climate fluctuation.
The world has warmed by more than one degree Celsius since the late 19th century, and it is on course to warm by another two degrees by the end of this century. The combination of the speed, likely magnitude, and human cause of this global warming make it unprecedented in the history of our species.
Yet this is not the first time Earth’s climate has changed. In the 13th century, the climate of the Northern Hemisphere started to cool due to natural causes. Although cooling varied over time and from place to place, in general it persisted for several centuries. This period is commonly referred to as the Little Ice Age. Global temperatures declined by just a few tenths of a degree Celsius—significantly less dramatic a change than our current warming trend. Nevertheless, regional effects were often severe, including catastrophic droughts, torrential rains, and entire years in which winter never fully gave way to spring and summer.
…Some of the disasters of the Little Ice Age may sound familiar. Indeed, many scholars study how people of the past coped with extreme weather to better understand how our societies might respond to global warming. The 17th-century Low Countries (modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) provide striking models of just how adaptive and resilient people can be in the face of a changing climate. But they also provide warnings about how climate resilience can create or worsen inequality.
Fortunately, the 17th century has furnished us with a unique resource: millions of paintings, prints, and drawings, created by thousands of artists across the Low Countries, that depict elements of everyday life. By 1650 the inhabitants of Holland—the wealthiest province of the Dutch Republic, the precursor state to today’s Netherlands—collectively owned around 2.5 million paintings. Many of these paintings seem to reflect the presence of the Little Ice Age and record its consequences for ordinary people. Some remarkable examples are included in the National Gallery’s collection.
These include stunning winter landscapes, which seem to recreate, with plausible detail, real-life gatherings in frigid weather. For example, Adam van Breen painted Skating on the Frozen Amstel River amid a sequence of chilly winters in the Low Countries, and in 1646—when Jan van Goyen painted Ice Scene near a Wooden Observation Tower—winter was even colder.
Although there were forces other than climate change that influenced how artists chose and depicted their subjects, icy landscapes do shed light on how the Dutch adapted to a cooler climate. The coastal Low Countries were crisscrossed by waterways that allowed for the efficient transportation of goods, people, and information.
Paintings like those of Van Breen and Van Goyen accurately portray how ordinary people across the Low Countries used sleds and ice skates—a Dutch invention—to keep these transportation networks open in cold weather. To maintain crucial shipments of goods that were easier to send by water, intrepid traders even designed specialized icebreaker ships.
(13) ENGRAVED IN MEMORY. Catherynne Valente told Facebook readers why this quote is familiar.
OH MY GOD LOOK WHAT I JUST FOUND IN THE #BAYCON DEALERS’ ROOM!
I’m so completely delighted! I, big dumb #Trekkie, wrote that thing back when Twitter was fun! Ahh!
(14) THE END OF THE WORLD, AGAIN! [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] There nothing like the end of the world. It is spectacular. It is catastrophic. It has bags of sense-of-wonder. It is anything but mundane. What’s not to like..? Having said that, I prefer my ends of the world to be firmly in science fiction or alternatively in the future: certainly beyond my time; I’m dead sure I would not be personally partial to it and if I were I’d shortly be dead… On that cheery thought, it is time to check out Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur as he explores ‘Earth After Humanity’.
Isaac Arthur notes that there are many ways humanity’s world could end, but picks six basic scenarios:
- An extinction-level natural catastrophe
- Mass destruction by nuking ourselves or dystopian industrial scenarios
- A super plague
- Artificial Intelligence kills us off
- Humanity abandons Earth.
Isaac opines that a global-level natural catastrophe – say an asteroid hundreds of miles across – would be unlikely to thread the needle between wiping out humanity, but leave lesser creatures such as plants and insects alive from which the biosphere might recover. Along the way, he touches on problems such as genetic bottle-necking in recovering sparsely distributed, very small populations.
With a super plague, he notes that it would not be instantaneous, and almost certainly there would be time to land planes and turn-off nuclear power plants (though here I note that Ukraine has demonstrated that that is not as easy as Isaac suggests). So the planet would continue without humanity and wildlife would reclaim our farms and cities.
Isaac is more optimistic when it comes to considering whether an AI would want to take out humanity. He hovers between AI possibly being ‘human-like’ as we would create it, and AI being completely alien to us.
With regards to aliens coming along and killing us off, Isaac thinks they would be likely to value life even if they were ruthless about wiping out potential competitors, so again, life other than humanity would survive. Having said that, he reminds us that the first rule of warfare (the physicist Isaac served in the US forces) is that there is no such thing as overkill.
One issue would be our pets. Could larger dogs survive and evolve even better predatory skills? He does wonder who would end up at the top of the food chain?
Finally, Isaac cannot easily see us simply abandoning Earth (unless there was an existential threat). Some humans would not leave…
…By the way, this was the 401th episode of Science & Futurism with the 400th milestone happening the other week.
[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Danny Sichel, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]