(1) WHAT ELSE BELONGS ON THAT SHELF? At Kalimac’s corner, blogger DB answers “if Tolkien is …” —
A recent conversation presented me with a chance to answer the question, “If Tolkien is my favorite fantasy author, who are my other favorites?”
To answer this, I’m going to have to turn back to a long-ago time, before recent fantasy giants like Martin and Pratchett, before even Donaldson and Brooks, not quite before the Ballantine Unicorn’s Head series but before I was aware of it, and report on my perplexity at the recommendations I was getting from friends and helpful librarians for “things like Tolkien” to read after him. They were sword-and-sorcery authors like Robert E. Howard, and the likes of comic-book superheroes. I tried these things, but I was not even remotely attracted to them. I could see the superficial resemblance – battles involving mighty heroes, often in a semi-barbarian pseudo-medieval landscape – but that’s not what Tolkien was about, or what he was like. They were badly written, crudely plotted, and their heroes were all like Boromir. The likes of Frodo and Sam didn’t even exist there. They only had the crude surface resemblance, and not what I went to Tolkien for: his soul, his depth of creativity, his sense of morality. I quickly learned that surface resemblance has nothing to do with what makes Tolkien distinctive or worthwhile. That inoculated me against falling for all the Tolclones to come just because they were Tolclones, as so many did (and the Jackson movies are Tolclones in that respect).
What gave Tolkien quality I learned when I read the original Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin. These books were not very like Tolkien in surface appearance, but they had the depth of creative impulse, and a sure sense of moral imperative. Le Guin’s moral principles were different from Tolkien’s, but they were consistent, and morally defensible, and above all they were palpable. That’s what taught me that a coherent moral vision was what made for a real resemblance to Tolkien….
(2) CAPTAIN JACK. “John Barrowman gives his side of the story after tales of his naked antics on TV sets re-emerged” in a Daily Mail interview. He seeks to justify or mitigate several reports of his past on-set behavior, the details of which come after this excerpt.
…Then a couple of months ago the sky fell in. Following accusations of sexual harassment against Noel Clarke, who played Mickey Smith – the boyfriend of Billie Piper’s character Rose – in Doctor Who from 2005 until 2010, historic footage emerged on YouTube of a sci-fi convention, Chicago Tardis, in 2014, released by The Guardian newspaper which had investigated Clarke’s behaviour on the Doctor Who set.
In an interview in front of a live audience, Clarke is seen regaling fellow cast members Annette Badland and Camille Coduri with tales of John’s behaviour on the set of Doctor Who, exposing himself ‘every five seconds’. Clarke then jokes with the audience not to do this at their workplace or they might go to prison.
The allegations levelled against Clarke are extremely serious. At least 20 women have come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and bullying, ‘inappropriate touching and groping’ and secretly filming naked auditions before sharing the videos without consent.
He denies all the allegations, but BAFTA has since suspended the Outstanding Contribution award it bestowed on him just weeks earlier, and the BBC has shelved any future projects he was working on with them.
Now John’s behaviour on the sets of both Doctor Who and Torchwood has come under scrutiny once again. The furore has led to a video of Captain Jack Harkness being expunged from the current immersive Doctor Who theatre show Time Fracture, a planned Torchwood audio production featuring John and former Doctor Who lead David Tennant being scrapped and doubt about whether he will be invited back to the Dancing On Ice panel.
… ‘The moment has come to set the record straight,’ he says from the Palm Springs, California, home he shares with his husband Scott Gill. ‘This is the first time – and the last – I will address this subject. And then I plan to draw a thick black line under it.’…
(3) FOR SOME OF YOU, BEWARE SPOILERS. In an appearance on The Tonight Show, Mark Hamill talks about voicing Skeletor in the He-Man continuation Masters of the Universe: Revelation and how he pulled off the coolest surprise ever in The Mandalorian.
(4) RESCUE MISSION. In “The Haunted Mind of Shirley Jackson”, New Yorker reviewer Zoë Heller argues the importance of a new Shirley Jackson biography.
Here’s how not to be taken seriously as a woman writer: Use demons and ghosts and other gothic paraphernalia in your fiction. Describe yourself publicly as “a practicing amateur witch” and boast about the hexes you have placed on prominent publishers. Contribute comic essays to women’s magazines about your hectic life as a housewife and mother.
Shirley Jackson did all of these things, and, during her lifetime, was largely dismissed as a talented purveyor of high-toned horror stories—“Virginia Werewoolf,” as one critic put it. For most of the fifty-one years since her death, that reputation has stuck. Today, “The Lottery,” her story of ritual human sacrifice in a New England village (first published in this magazine, in 1948), has become a staple of eighth-grade reading lists, and her novel “The Haunting of Hill House” (1959) is often mentioned as one of the best ghost stories of all time. But most of her substantial body of work—including her masterpiece, the beautifully weird novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” (1962)—is not widely read….
… In a new, meticulously researched biography, “A Rather Haunted Life,” Ruth Franklin sets out to rescue Jackson from the sexists and the genre snobs who have consigned her to a dungeon of kooky, spooky middlebrow-ness….
(5) SCARY MOVIES. SYFY Wire says these are “The 25 scariest sci-fi movies ever made, ranked”.
… As Aliens celebrates 35 years of thrilling audiences, SYFY WIRE revisited some memorable sci-fi scare-fests and ranked the best of the most terrifying movies both science fiction and horror have to offer….
15 Scanners (1981)
Director David Cronenberg’s Scanners is firmly indoctrinated into the Cult Movie Hall of Fame, thanks in large part to an iconic scene early in the film that features an exploding head.
Scanners is a barebones sci-fi thriller about a man capable of telekinesis and psychokinesis forced to hunt down others like him. His hunt takes him and audiences on a dark and unsettling tour of where government bureaucracy and supernatural science intersect, where individuals with the ability to weaponize thoughts are subjugated by those who think of them only as threats. Despite its low-budget trappings, Scanners packs in a considerable amount of deep thematic ideas among all the gore and unsettling bits.
(6) WINCHESTER. Edward M. Lerner suggests his book signing in Virginia on August 7 is the right destination if you’re ready to fly the coop. “SF and Nonsense: Has the time come? Are we (as opposed to my protagonists) *less* doomed?” (And the area boasts some historic sites worth visiting, too.)
Is anyone ready to get out of the house and resume “normal” life? And I don’t mean to observe Bastille Day. (I hear a resounding chorus of “YES!“)
Then please join me for my first post-COVID book signing, upcoming on Saturday, August 7th (2 to 4 PM) for Déjà Doomed.
Unfamiliar with this, my latest novel? That’s easily remedied. “DÉJÀ DOOMED is … finalement here 🙂” is what I posted on its recent release date. Naturally, I’ll be happy to discuss it — or pretty much anything — in person.
Where? you ask. The Winchester Book Gallery, on the lovely walking mall of scenic, historic Winchester, VA.
(7) NOT OFF THE SHELF. Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s video “A Moment of Tiki: The Wall Is Lava” is a progress report on his DIY tiki bar.
Episode 29 of A Moment of Tiki is now live on the YouTubes! This time out I walk viewers through a build of a faux lava accent wall. I spent the bulk of last summer building out this project in the Lagoon, and it was more of a time-consuming than I’d anticipated. Editing all the footage taken over the course of several months proved a challenge unto itself.
Still, this is a vision I had way back when I started this whole crazy home tiki bar build project…
(8) MEMORY LANE.
- 2006 – Fifteen years ago, Eureka premiered on the SciFi Channel. It was created by Andrew Cosby and Jaime Paglia. It had a very large ensemble cast: Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Joe Morton. Debrah Farentino. Jordan Hinson, Ed Quinn, Erica Cerra, Neil Grayston, Niall Matter, Matt Frewer, Tembi Locke and James Callis were the principal performers. It had a five-year run and lasted seventy-seven episodes plus a handful of webisodes. Though set in Oregon, it, like so many SF series, was filmed in British Columbia. Though critical reception was decidedly mixed, it did very well in the ratings and the SciFi Channel allowed it to wrap up properly. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give it a most excellent eighty-eight percent rating.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born July 18, 1913 — Red Skelton. Comedian of the first order. The Red Skelton Hour ran for three hundred and thirty-eight episodes. I remember Freddie the Freeloader. He’s here because ISFDB says he wrote A Red Skelton in Your Closet which is also called Red Skelton’s Favorite Ghost Stories. He also has cameos in Around the World in Eighty Days and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, both of which I consider at least genre adjacent. (Died 1997.)
- Born July 18, 1913 — Marvin Miller. He is remembered, if he’s remembered for it, for being the voice of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet. He would reprise that role myriad times in the next few decades in such films and series as The Invisible Boy, the first Lost in Space series and Gremlins. (Died 1985.)
- Born July 18, 1933 — Syd Mead. Best remembered on his design work on such films as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Tron, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Short Circuit, Aliens, Johnny Mnemonic, and Blade Runner 2049. There’s an excellent look at him and his work, Visual Futurist:The Art & Life of Syd Mead. (Died 2019.)
- Born July 18, 1938 — Paul Verhoeven, 83. Responsible for Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Hollow Man and Robocop. He’s made the final list for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation three times (Starship Troopers, Total Recall and Robocop) but has not won it.
- Born July 18, 1966 — Paul Cornell, 55. Author of both the Shadow Police series and the Witches of Lychford novella series which are quite excellent as well as writing a lot of television scripts for Doctor Who including his Ninth Doctor story”Father’s Day” which was nominated for a Hugo, Primieval and Robin Hood. He was part of the regular panel of the SF Squeecast podcast which won two Hugo Awards for best fancast, one at Chicon 7 and one at LoneStarCon 3. And he scripted quite a bit of the Captain Britain and MI: 13 comic series as well — very good stuff indeed.
- Born July 18, 1967 — Van Diesel, 54. Guardians of The Galaxy franchise (“I am Groot!”) and other MCU films, The Iron Giant, xXx which is more or less genre, the Chronicles of Riddick franchise and The Fifth Element which I absolutely adore. He’s apparently in the third Avatar film.
- Born July 18, 1982 — Priyanka Chopra, 39. As Alex Parrish in Quantico, she became the first South Asian to headline an American network drama series. Is it genre? Maybe, maybe not, though it could fit very nicely into a Strossian Dark State. Some of her work in her native India such as The Legend of Drona and Love Story 2050 is genre as Krrish 3, an Indian SF film she was in. She’s got a major role in the still forthcoming Matrix 4 film.
- Born July 18, 1994 — Taylor Russell, 27. Judy Robison on the current Lost in Space series. She had a recurring role as Evelyn on Falling Skies, and she’s done a lot of horror films given her age.
(10) MAX LEGROOM. Scott Stinson explains why “Mad Max: Fury Road is a ridiculous masterpiece — flaming guitar bad guy says it all really” at National Post.
…Fury Road is a thrill ride, is what I’m saying. Our hero Max is captured right off the jump by a bunch of marauding fellows, imprisoned and used as a blood donor. His captors call him a blood bag, which really underscores the unlikelihood of a fair trial and eventual release. It’s quickly established that the gang is beholden to a cult leader, Immortan Joe, who has respiratory and skin problems but does control the water supply, the source of his power. Next comes Furiosa, a bad-ass truck driver who is leading a supply run. (There is a shortage of everything in this world except sand and orange lens filters.) But, wait! Furiosa is actually double-crossing ol’ Joe and has stowed away his harem of wives. Joe is greatly displeased and a convoy heads off in pursuit, with Blood Bag Max strapped to the front of one of the vehicles rather awkwardly.
This all happens with such quick pacing that it feels like it could have been one of those “previously on” catch-up scenes on a TV series….
(11) MR. GREEN HAS ARRIVED. Here’s another argument why “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” BasedCon organizer Robert Kroese tweeted —
(12) CREATIVE DIFFERENCES. Fansided discusses “How Dr. McCoy’s age changed Star Trek’s The Way to Eden” in The Original Series.
…Once [D.C.] Fontana turned her draft of the script in, a producer told her McCoy wasn’t old enough to have a twenty-one-year old daughter because he was Kirk’s “contemporary,” even though DeForest Kelley, the actor who portrayed Dr. McCoy, would have been 48 in 1968.
Fontana was livid that the writers’ guide wasn’t even read so that the script could be considered. She requested her name be removed from it, choosing instead to use her pseudonym “Michael Richards.”…
(13) COPTER ON TITAN. The Planetary Society tells “How Dragonfly will explore Saturn’s ‘bizarro Earth’ moon, Titan”. But it won’t arrive until 2037.
Why send a typical lander when you can send a dual-quadcopter?
That’s the question Dr. Elizabeth Tuttle and her team at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory asked when they developed NASA’s next New Frontiers mission to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The dual-quadcopter, aptly named Dragonfly, will carry a suite of instruments designed to analyze Titan’s surface, which can vary from pure water ice to crumbly, orange-tinted organic sands.
Over a series of flights throughout its three-year nominal mission, Dragonfly will hopscotch over Titan’s surface, investigating new places to visit and previously identified safe sites. Dragonfly’s science instruments include a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer to analyze the elements beneath its ski-like legs, a UV light to detect fluorescent, organic molecules, and a mass spectrometer to analyze more complex, biologically relevant samples….
Life on Titan, if it exists or ever existed, would need to adapt to a life of Antarctic-like temperatures, near-constant twilight, and transient liquid water. What sort of life could possibly survive in such a hostile environment?
That’s exactly what Dragonfly aims to investigate by flying to Selk Crater, a geologically young impact crater just 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) north of where Cassini’s Huygens probe landed in 2005.
(14) THE CLAWS THAT CATCH. An #OwlKitty parody video from 2019: “If Baby Yoda was a Cat (Mandalorian + OwlKitty)”
(15) TENTACLE TIME. This link was sent together with a note of concern that Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s soliloquy “Octopuses” is probably too profane for a Scroll item, “but it’s genre-adjacent and really funny.” So you know. From the transcript —
…And before we start, I am fully aware that there are plenty of amazing animals in the ocean, which is, as we know, a big wet trash bin full of God’s weirdest typos….
(16) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Creating The World Of Harry Potter: The Magic Begins is a 2009 documentary, which Warner Bros. posted to YouTube in April, about the making of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. It has a lot of behind-the-scenes footage which if you’re a hardcore Harry Potter fan you’d want to see, I thought the footage of filming was interesting and the adults in the interviews are British pros who know how to be entertaining. The kids are a lot less interesting. I dunno what the British equivalent of “inside baseball” is but here are two things I learned: the Hogwarts uniforms come from the films and not the books because J.K. Rowling declared that Hogwarts students didn’t have uniforms. She was persuaded that uniforms were the right look for the movies. Dame Maggie Smith declared that her character, Professor McGonigall, was Scottish, so her hat isn’t a witch’s hat but some sort of Scottish hat. Harry Potter fans will find this worth an hour.
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]