Pixel Scroll 3/30/22 Everybody In This Scroll Is Wearing A Pixel, And Don’t Kid Yourself

(1) GAME MAKER SETTLES HARASSMENT SUIT. “Activision Blizzard to pay $18 million to harassment victims” reports the LA Times. However, a number of other such suits remain active.

Activision Blizzard agreed to set up an $18-million fund for employees who experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, pregnancy discrimination or retaliation as part of a settlement with a federal employment agency Tuesday.

The consent decree, which a federal judge said she intended to sign after a hearing Tuesday, comes in response to a lawsuit filed against the Santa Monica video game company in September by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which alleged that Activision employees were subject to “severe” and “pervasive” sexual harassment in the workplace.

Anyone who worked at the company after September 2016 and believes that they were subject to harassment, discrimination or retaliation will be eligible to apply for a share of the cash payout. The company officially denied all wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which also included requirements for regular audits overseen by the federal agency over the next three years, changes to workplace policies and anti-harassment training.

(2) MARK YOUR WESTEROS CALENDAR. TechRadar reports “Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon finally has a release date on HBO Max”.

Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon has finally been given a release date on HBO Max – and fans don’t have long to wait for Westeros’ return.

The 10-episode series, based on George R. R. Martin’s 2018 novel Fire and Blood, will begin streaming in the US and other HBO Max territories on August 21. Those in the UK will be able to access episodes at the same time as their US counterparts (on the morning of August 22) on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.

House of the Dragon will tell the backstory of the Targaryen dynasty, with events taking place 200 years prior to the events of the original show. Fans were treated to an ominous teaser trailer for the series back in 2021, but we’d expect a full-length trailer to drop imminently, given the recent news confirming its release date….

(3) FLASHBACK TO 2000AD’S 40TH BASH. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Alas, I could not make the 2017 event but one of my old college SF soc mates did a write up: “The 40th 2000AD anniversary event” at SF2 Concatenation.

PSIFA (my college SF society) has official permission from 2000AD (along with Cambridge U SF Soc) to have the Gronk as its mascot. We also visited its Command Module a couple of times back in the day (1979 and 1980) when it was based in London and had the 2000AD team as guests at one of our Shoestringcons, and Alan Grant as a guest of honour at one of our annual dinners. Indeed, at our college the SF soc was quite active as indicated by 2000AD being the second best-selling weekly (after New Scientist) at the college’s main campus Students Union shop.  So my links with 2000AD are somewhat historic. I must say, we never dreamed back then that it would last for the best part of half a century.  Indeed, I recall when some of us were chatting with them, that they themselves never thought the comic would last as evidenced by the fact they dubbed it with the then futuristic title 2000AD.  Well, we’re well past that milestone now…

The 40th anniversary celebratory bash cum one-day mini-con was very much a fan event with all the 2000AD Great & Good, script and art creator-droids present (there must been over 60 or so there), many with long queues for signings and sketches. And when the queues died off, you just wondered up for a chat. Tharg’s Nerve Centre and Pat Mills were particularly busy.

(4) HONEY, I’M HOME. “NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Russian cosmonauts return safely to Earth”, and the Washington Post assesses how the two countries’ support teams cooperated.

Two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan on Wednesday after undocking from the International Space Station and flying back to Earth in a historic mission that came amid mounting tensions over the war in Ukraine.

…The landing marks the end of a triumphant mission for Vande Hei, whose 355 days in space set a record for the longest single spaceflight for an American. His safe return, along with his Russian counterparts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov, also serves as a powerful symbol of partnership amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over the war in Ukraine — strain that has surfaced persistent questions about whether the relationship in space can endure.

Ever since Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine began more than a month ago, NASA has steadfastly maintained that the station has been operating normally and that its relationship of more than 20 years with the Russian space agency has been unaffected by the turmoil on the ground.

NASA deployed a team of about 20 personnel to Kazakhstan to retrieve Vande Hei, who would be whisked away in a helicopter to a NASA aircraft at a nearby airstrip. He is scheduled to fly directly back to Houston to be reunited with friends and family. The Russian and American teams appeared to be working well together in the recovery effort, which they have done many times before over their long partnership in space.

NASA has said it cannot operate the station without the Russians, which provide the propulsion that allows the ISS to keep its orbit and maneuver when needed. Russia needs NASA, as well, as the space agency provides power to the Russian segment of the station….

(5) GARRY LEACH (1954-2022). Artist Garry Leach died March 26 at the age of 67. The 2000AD website has an extensive tribute.

A modest and unassuming talent, by the time of his first work for 2000 AD – inking Trevor Goring’s work on the Dan Dare story ‘The Doomsday Machine’ in 1978 – his confident brushwork was already unmissable and although appearances were sporadic – whether on high-tech superspy series M.A.C.H.1 or on one-episode Future Shocks, including working with future collaborator Alan Moore – his self-assured style brought a solidity to its pages.

…His greatest and most famous work was co-creating the new Marvelman with Alan Moore in 1981. A revival of the unauthorised and believed-abandoned British version of Captain Marvel from the 1950s, this series for Dez Skinn’s Warrior anthology was a stunning deconstruction of the superhero genre that presaged Moore’s better-known work on Watchmen.

Garry’s sharp-lined realism brought a languid, sinewy quality to Marvelman that befitted Moore’s intense psychological script…. 

… After a spell working in advertising, Garry returned to comics in the late 1990s as John McCrea’s inker on Hitman, and worked for other DC Comics titles such as Legion of SuperheroesMonarchy and Global Frequency. He also inked fellow 2000 AD artist Chris Weston on J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve for Marvel Comics and returned to 2000 AD in 2004 to produce covers for the Judge Dredd Megazine….

(6) MEMORY LANE.

1978 [Item by Cat Eldridge.] Forty-four years ago at IguanaCon II where Tim Kyger was the Chair and Harlan Ellison was the pro guest and Bill Bowers was the fan guest, Frederik Pohl’s Gateway wins the Hugo for Best Novel. 

The other nominated works for that year were The Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Time Storm by Gordon R. Dickson and Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin. 

It was serialised in the November and December 1976 issues of Galaxy prior to its hardcover publication by St. Martin’s Press. A short concluding chapter, cut before publication, was later published in the August 1977 issue of Galaxy. (Huh? Why was this done?) 

It would win damn near every other major Award there was as it garnered the John Campbell Memorial for Best Science Fiction Novel, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, the Nebula Award for Novel and even the Prix Pollo-your Award for Best Science Fiction Novel published in France. It was nominated for but did not win the Australian Ditmar Award. 

It of course the opening novel in the Heechee saga, with four sequels that followed. It is a most exceptional series.

I’m chuffed that Pohl was voted a Hugo for Best Fan Writer at Aussiecon 4. Who can tell what works got him this honor? 

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

Born March 30, 1928 Chad Oliver. Writer of both Westerns and SF, a not uncommon pairing of occupations at the time he’s was active. He considered himself an anthropological science fiction writer whose training as an academic informed his fiction, an early Le Guin if you will. Not a terribly prolific writer, with just nine novels and two collections to his name over a forty-year span. Mists of Dawn, his first novel, is a YA novel, which I’d recommend as it reads a lot to similar what Heinlein would write. (Died 1993.)

Born March 30, 1930 John Astin, 92. He is best known for playing as Gomez Addams in Addams Family, reprising his role in the Halloween with the New Addams Family film and the Addams Family animated series. A memorable later role would be as Professor Wickwire in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and I’d like to single out his delightfully weird appearance on The Wild Wild West as Count Nikolai Sazanov in “The Night of the Tartar” episode.

Born March 30, 1948 Jeanne Robinson. She co-wrote the Stardance Saga with her husband Spider Robinson. To my knowledge, her only other piece of writing was “Serendipity: Do, Some Thoughts About Collaborative Writing”‘ which was published in the MagiCon Program. (Died 2010.)

Born March 30, 1950 Robbie Coltrane, 72. I first saw him playing Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald on Cracker way back in the Ninties. Not genre, but an amazing role none-the-less. He was Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky in GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough, with a much less prominent role as a man at an airfield in Flash Gordon being his first genre role. Being Rubeus Hagrid in the Potter franchise was his longest running genre gig. He’s also voiced both Mr. Hyde in the Van Helsing film and Gregory, a mouse, in The Tale of Despereaux film. 

Born March 30, 1958 Maurice LaMarche, 64. Voice actor primarily for such roles as Pinky and The Brain (both of which Stross makes use of in The Laundry series) with Pinky modeled off Orson Welles, near as I can tell the entire cast of Futurama, the villain Sylar on Heroes, the voice of Orson Welles in Ed Wood, a less serious Pepé Le Pew in Space Jam, and, though maybe not genre, he’s voiced  Kellogg’s Froot Loops spokesbird Toucan Sam and  the animated Willy Wonka character in Nestlé’s Willy Wonka Candy Company commercials.

Born March 30, 1990 Cassie Scerbo, 22. She’s only here because in researching Birthdays for this date, one site listed her as being a member of the cast of Star Trek: Progeny, yet another Trek video fanfic. Though IMDB has a cast listed for it, that’s about all I could find on it. If I was betting a cask of Romulan ale, I’d wager this was one of the productions that Paramount got shut down before it actually was shot.

(8) COMICS SECTION.

  • Existential Comics pits Iron Man against the Villains of Society. (And don’t miss the alt text.)

(9) THOSE GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Sarah A. Hoyt explains her concept of a “contract with the reader,” and what it took for her to learn the importance of foreshadowing in “Just Sign on the Dotted Line” at Mad Genius Club.

… There was for instance the notable book whose description says that Mr. Bennet had improved the family fortunes, and so Lizzy and Darcy met on equal footing, which I stopped reading halfway through.

It wasn’t because our protagonists had not yet met. Yes, sure, the promise of any Jane Austen fanfic is that the couple will meet and have a happy ever after. I could have stayed with it, if they were having adventures leading up to “Everything between them changed in these ways.” It was that with that premise, the writer proceeded to give us exactly how Mr. Bennet improved family fortunes. To do her credit, she’d researched regency money and investment structures, and landowning, and how to improve land, and the price of cereals and….. Did I just fall asleep and drool on the table?

Yeah, after a first chapter that introduces the Bennet family, the author decided she’d suffered for her knowledge and we should too. When I got to the actual calculations pages, I gave up and hied to easier pastures. To be charitable, perhaps she’d been driven insane by the people who write regencies that assume that noblemen are businessmen, doctor is a revered status, and some dukes are accountants. It was still a major welshing on her contract with the reader.

Also in my own defense, my problems with foreshadowing were never as bad as the bad examples above. I just failed to establish the “range of the possible” in a book, and then had things happen that — to the reader — amounted to dropping an elephant from the ceiling onto the main character, with no warning….

(10) OCTOTHORPE. In episode 54 of the Octothorpe podcast, “John Coxon is dancing, Alison Scott is listening, and Liz Batty is Batman. We discuss the Chengdu Worldcon and the recent controversies they’re at the centre of, before moving onto discussing the FAAn Awards and books by Jo Walton and Naomi Novik.” Note: The episode was not yet loaded at the time this Scroll was posted.

A man with a beard wears a Necron-themed Christmas jumper, standing next to a Necron wearing an Octothorpe-themed Christmas jumper.

(11) ARTIFICIALLY INTELLIGENT STARGATE SCRIPT. Giant Freakin Robot announces “Richard Dean Anderson Joining The SG-1 Cast For New Stargate Episode”. (Subscription to The Companion is necessary to access the episode which is coming in May.)

When SG-1 entered its ninth season, Richard Dean Anderson ended his status as star and producer of the series. Instead, he opted to make several guest appearances. Now, much like his character, the former SG-1 star is being coaxed of retirement for a special reunion of the popular sci-fi show. According to Gate World, he is set to suit up Jack O’Neill for version 2.0 of Stargate A.I. The project, which was a table reading of a script written by artificial intelligence, was such a hit last November that The Companion has decided to give it another shot.

(12) FUTURE TRIAGE. In the Washington Post, Pranshu Verma says the US military is creating a program called In The Moment which would use AI to calculate military triage, while bioethicists debate whether it’s a good idea to let an algorithm determine who lives and who dies on the battlefield. “U.S. military wants AI to make battlefield medical decisions”.

…To that end, DARPA’s In the Moment program will create and evaluate algorithms that aid military decision-makers in two situations: small unit injuries, such as those faced by Special Operations units under fire, and mass casualty events, like the Kabul airport bombing. Later, they may develop algorithms to aid disaster relief situations such as earthquakes, agency officials said.

… Matt Turek, a program manager at DARPA in charge of shepherding the program, said the algorithms’ suggestions would model “highly trusted humans” who have expertise in triage.But they will be able to access information to make shrewd decisions in situations where even seasoned experts would be stumped.

For example, he said, AI could help identify all the resources a nearby hospital has — such as drug availability, blood supply and the availability of medical staff — to aid in decision-making.

“That wouldn’t fit within the brain of a single human decision-maker,” Turek added. “Computer algorithms may find solutions that humans can’t.”…

(13) THE NEED FOR SPEED. “Turing Award Won by Programmer Who Paved Way for Supercomputers”  — the New York Times has the story.

In the late 1970s, as a young researcher at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, Jack Dongarra helped write computer code called Linpack.

Linpack offered a way to run complex mathematics on what we now call supercomputers. It became a vital tool for scientific labs as they stretched the boundaries of what a computer could do. That included predicting weather patterns, modeling economies and simulating nuclear explosions.

On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest society of computing professionals, said Dr. Dongarra, 71, would receive this year’s Turing Award for his work on fundamental concepts and code that allowed computer software to keep pace with the hardware inside the world’s most powerful machines. Given since 1966 and often called the Nobel Prize of computing, the Turing Award comes with a $1 million prize.

In the early 1990s, using the Linpack (short for linear algebra package) code, Dr. Dongarra and his collaborators also created a new kind of test that could measure the power of a supercomputer. They focused on how many calculations it could run with each passing second. This became the primary means of comparing the fastest machines on earth, grasping what they could do and understanding how they needed to change.

(14) CHIPS ON THE TABLE. With Love From Sweden has some big news about the country’s SJW credentials:  “Issue 66: The status of cats & scilla season”.

…Earlier this month riksdagen (the Swedish parliament) voted in favour of an amendment to the law on supervision of dogs and cats, which means that cats will soon have the same status as dogs. From January 1 2023, all cats in Sweden are to be registered and either chipped or tattooed – or the owners could face a fine. Cat shelters and other animal welfare organisations have advocated for this change for many years, to raise the status of the cat. According to the last count, there are approximately 1.159,000 cats in Sweden.

Since 2001, all dogs that live in Sweden need to be marked with an identity number and recorded in the dog register of the Swedish Board of Agriculture. The registered owner is responsible for the welfare and behaviour of the dog, and the same will go for cats. Many dogs were already id marked before 2001 and many cats are already id marked today….

(15) LONG TIME PASSING. “Hubble telescope detects most distant star ever seen, near cosmic dawn” – the Washington Post picks up the story from Nature.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was a large and magnificently brilliant star that shined across the young, expanding universe. The starlight skewed blue. It was the cosmic morning, when everything in the universe was still new, raw, the galaxies still forming not long after the first stars had ignited and lit up the heavens.The light from that blue star traveled through space for billions of years, and then one day a few thin beams crashed into a polished mirror — the light bucket of the Hubble Space Telescope.

In a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a team of astronomers asserts that this is the most distant individual star ever seen. They describe it as 50 to 100 times more massive than our sun, and roughly 1 million times brighter, with its starlight having traveled 12.9 billion years to reach the telescope….

(16) EYE BEFORE AIYEE.The Sea Beast is a new animated feature from Netflix coming in July.

In an era when terrifying beasts roamed the seas, monster hunters were celebrated heroes – and none were more beloved than the great Jacob Holland. But when young Maisie Brumble stows away on his fabled ship, he’s saddled with an unexpected ally. Together they embark on an epic journey into uncharted waters and make history.

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Spider-Man:  No Way Home,” the Screen Junkies say that Spider-Man. having played second fiddle to Iron Man, Iron Man’s personal assistant, and Iron Man’s astrologer, now has to play second fiddle to two other Spider-Men.  This “2 1/2 hour brain vacation” has “all the characters you loved” from the previous Spider-Man movies, “some of the characters you forgot about, and none of the characters Sony would like you to forget about.”

[Thanks to Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Jeffrey Smith, John A Arkansawyer, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, John King Tarpinian, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Russell Letson.]

Pixel Scroll 9/8/18 Space Zamboni!

(1) WHO TO LISTEN TO. Nicholas Whyte enthusiastically reviews four audio Doctor Who stories in “Jenny – the Doctor’s Daughter”.

Big Finish have scored a major coup by persuading Georgia Tennant to return to her brief role as Jenny, the Tenth Doctor’s cloned daughter, for more sfnal adventures across space and time, flanked by Sean Biggerstaff as the innocent but mysterious Noah, and both pursued by Siân Philips (who was Livia in I, Claudius forty years ago) as a vengeful cyborg, the Colt-5000. (Georgia Moffatt, as she then was, had a part in a Big Finish audio back in 2000, when she was only 16.)

 

(2) EVERMORE. Utah’s VR theme park Evermore opens today: “Evermore Park immersive experience from former Disney Imagineer invites you to enter fantasy world”.

Walt Disney Imagineers work diligently to create the most incredible experiences in the world. Sometimes, however, they take their immeasurable talents and create these experiences elsewhere. That’s the case for former Imagineer Josh Shipley.

According to his LinkedIn page, Shipley started with the Walt Disney Company in 1992 and became an Imagineer in 1996. He left Disney Imagineering in 2017 and began working on an immersive new experience park (located in Pleasant Grove, Utah) known as Evermore.

 

(3) ALL YOUR BASE. The Hugo Awards official site now has some very nice photos of the 2018 Hugo Award base created by Sara Felix and Vincent Villafranca, including closeups of the figures, inscriptions, and other details.

(4) STILL TIME TO HELP. A GoFundMe created to help Samanda Jeude is still open for donations. It’s received only a little over $1,000 so far. One of the incentives was a 1986 Hugo Award trophy.

“Helping The Helper -Electrical Eggs”

Science Fiction Fandom lost a long time friend and organizer in January, in the form of Donald (Dea) Cook. He left behind another well-known fan, his wife of over 30 years, Samanda Jeude.  Samanda is best known for establishing the organization Electrical Eggs, the first Disability Access organization in the Science Fiction community. Don was Sam’s sole career. She had polio as an infant, and that was complicated later in life by a couple of strokes. She now resides in a nursing home in Canton, Georgia. We helped to clear out the house to get it sold, and are now selling all of the contents to pay for Samanda’s ongoing care needs. How does any of this involve a Hugo, you might ask, and rightfully so!

Marcia Kelly Illingworth organized the appeal, and says the Hugo will stay in the fannish family, so to speak:

Update #2

The votes are in! The people have spoken! You have voted overwhelmingly to donate the Hugo to Fandom. I think I always knew that you would. Samanda thanks you, and I thank you!

We are leaving the fund open for a while longer for those who still wanted the opportunity to donate. Thank you again for all of your support.

Since donors have voted to donate the Hugo to fandom rather than have it be auctioned off to the highest bidder, that means less money raised for Samanda’s ongoing care. Given her service to fandom, it would be great to see further donations from fans.

(5) HIS PREFERRED WINNER. Nicholas Whyte has one thing in common with all Hugo voters – he thinks sometimes the wrong book loses — in this case, “Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson”.

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But there are worse places to live. There are much worse places right here in this U-Stor-It. Only the big units like this one have their own doors. Most of them are accessed via a communal loading dock that leads to a maze of wide corrugated-steel hallways and freight elevators. These are slum housing, 5-by-10s and 10-by-10s where Yanoama tribespersons cook beans and parboil fistfuls of coca leaves over heaps of burning lottery tickets.

This popped to the top of one of my lists just at the moment that I have been reading some of the other award winners from 1994. Snow Crash was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (won by Jeff Noon’s Vurt) and the BSFA Award (won by Christopher Evans’ The Aztec Century); also on both of those shortlists was Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, which won the Tiptree. The Hugo for Best Novel was shared between A Fire On The Deep and Doomsday Book, the latter winning the Nebula as well; Snow Crash was on the Hugo long-list, but nowhere for the Nebula. (It did win two awards in French translation, and one in Spanish.)

This is surely one of those cases where the awards in general (and particularly across the Atlantic) failed to spot the classic in the making: Snow Crash now has more owners on LibraryThing than any two of the other books named above combined (which is why I read it; see below). I think it’s much the best of them.

(6) YOUR DIGITAL GOOD PLACE. Courtesy of io9, (“Google Chrome Has a Forking Clever Good Place Extension”) I learned about Google Chrome’s The Good Place extension:

Replace new tab page with a personalized dashboard that brings your very own version of The Good Place right to your desktop.

Calling all Good Place fans! Make The Good Place your Chrome home with an all-new tab page that features your favorite characters, quotes and photos from the show. Complete with weather updates, calendar reminders, and daily “inspiration” from Eleanor and the crew, you can become more productive and feel like you’re getting into The Good Place every single time you go online.

FEATURES:

-Replace curse words from your Chrome with the Obscenities Censor

-Search the web using your very own Janet

-Pry yourself away from the internet with the “Joy of Missing Out” built-in break reminders

-Replace “Thumbs up” and “Thumbs down” buttons on YouTube with “Good Place” and “Bad Place”

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 8, 1966  — A little TV show, Star Trek, aired its first episode, “The Man Trap,” written by George Clayton Johnson.

And earlier this week The Hollywood Reporter reprinted the show creator’s article about his new series: “When Gene Roddenberry Explained ‘Star Trek’ in 1966”.

Just over two months after Star Trek first beamed up to audiences on NBC during the 8:30 p.m. hour on Sept. 8, 1966, creator Gene Roddenberry wrote a column explaining the scope of his ambitious space series — and why it aimed for much more “science” than “fiction.” His original column in The Hollywood Reporter, “Science Fiction Thing of Past,” is below: 

Imagine a space vessel, larger than any naval vessel known, crossing our galaxy at a velocity surpassing the speed of light. Fourteen decks, a crew of over 430 persons. A whole city afloat in space.

Science fiction? Absolutely not. Rather, real adventure in tomorrow’s space. Based upon the best scientific knowledge and estimates of what our astronauts of the future may face when they move out of our own solar system and into the vastness of our galaxy. Other worlds like ours? Other peoples? What?

Our starship, designed with the help of space experts, is the United Space Ship Enterprise. The place — NBC-TV, Thursday nights. In full color, this new action-adventure format boasts flesh and blood stars like talented William Shatner playing Ship’s Captain Kirk; love Grace Lee Whitney playing Yeoman Janice Rand; and Leonard Nimoy in an unusual new role as the half-alien Mister Spock. Plus talents such as DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Jimmy Doohan and Nichelle Nichols.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 8 – John Boardman, 85. Editor, fanzine Knowable; his Diplomacy zine, Graustark turned fifty a few years ago. Active in civil rights as a student as Florida State University which got him expelled from his doctoral studies program there.
  • Born September 8 – Michael Hague, 70. Illustrator of his own work including The Book of Dragons, Michael Hague’s Magical World of Unicorns,  The Book of Fairies, The Book of Wizards and Michael Hague’s Read-to-Me Book of Fairy Tales; also interior and cover art for such genre works as The Hobbit, The Wizard of Oz and The Wind in The Willows. 
  • Born September 8 – Gordon Van Gelder, 54. Editor, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The New York Review of Science Fiction and a smattering of anthologies including Go Forth and Multiply and Welcome to the Greenhouse. Reviewer as well.
  • Born September 8 – Matt Ruff, 53. Author of quite a number of genre novels including Fool on The Hill, Lovecraft Country which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, and Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls which may or may not be genre fiction but never-the-less won a James Tiptree Jr. Award.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Cutting-edge humor: Bizarro
  • Copernicus’ theory of SJW credentials: Free Range.
  • They’re not phoning home: Bliss

(10) GAP IN EXHIBIT. Holly Ordway, in “The Maker of the Maker of Middle-earth” at Christianity Today, reviews the Bodleian Tolkien exhibit and examines why it says little about Tolkien’s strong religious faith.

…There are many ways that Tolkien’s Christian faith could have been represented, even in the relatively limited space available. One item already on display was a 1914 letter to Edith. The display label transcribes, from Tolkien’s small and difficult-to-read handwriting, a paragraph about officer-training maneuvers on Port Meadow.

Immediately following this portion of the original letter is Tolkien’s comment that the next day “I got up at 7.40 and just reached church on time, and went to Communion.” Just one more sentence on an already existing display label would have given a glimpse of Tolkien’s faith in practice. As it is, nearly all visitors will miss this reference entirely; I very nearly did.

Other extracts from letters could have been shown, such as the 1956 letter in which Tolkien relates Frodo’s failure to give up the Ring to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Or perhaps the 1944 letter in which Tolkien discusses modern healing miracles and describes the Resurrection as the “happy ending” of human history.

Several examples of his Elvish calligraphy were displayed; one could have been selected from the prayers that Tolkien translated into Elvish, such as the Lord’s Prayer. Both the 1956 letter and this translation show the way that Tolkien’s faith, and indeed specifically his prayer life, had an influence on his writing—exactly the kind of influence we would hope to see emphasized in an exhibit on an author.

…These references, if they had been included, need not have been emphasized, but for one who knows of Tolkien’s faith, the absence of any such small detail is striking.

Playing It Safe

Why might the Tolkien Estate and the Bodleian have chosen to downplay Tolkien’s faith? And why does it matter? …

(11) FUTURE FICTION AUTHOR. Listen to “Nexhuman, an interview with Francesco Verso” conducted by Filer Mlex at Yunchtime.

In this free-form interview, Francesco Verso, explores the topics of transhumanism, consumer culture, and the philosophical aspects of Nexhuman. He also discusses his work in the context of English language publications and the emergence of global voices in Science Fiction, including his own anthology, called Future Fiction, which was co-edited by Bill Campbell and published by Rosarium Press.

(12) NZ NATCON REPORT. SF Concatenation has posted a report on the New Zealand national sf convention by Lee Murray (with an assist from Simon Litten) — “Conclave III”. The convention was held the weekend of March 30-April 2, 2018 in Auckland.

Then we were on to Norman Cates’ WETA presentation to get the skinny on all the new techniques making our movie viewing epic. As is customary with Norman’s presentation, I could tell you about all the wonderful clips he showed us, but then I’d have to kill you, or Norman would, or WETA’s lawyers would have to engage a hitman. In any case, it was cool.

Next up, was the Other Voices panel, moderated by Stephen Litten, where we were joined by Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body author Simon Petrie and Indiana fantasy writer, Laura VanArendonk Baugh. It’s a lively discussion, with some great insights from my fellow panellists around the definition ‘other’ and the value of including marginalised and foreign-to-us voices on our reading lists. We discussed the vagaries of translation and the layering of culture that occurs when works are translated by a second voice. We touched on appropriation and the discourse surrounding Aboriginal and Maori mythologies. Panellists and audience members raised some seminal works from other cultures, including French, Italian, Japanese titles, which we all felt should be included on our must-read lists.

(13) UNKEPT ROBOTIC PROMISES. On Gizmodo, Matt Novak lists (and links) “99 Things That Robots Were Supposed to Be Doing by Now” (though many of the linked “predictions” aren’t really “by now”).

Below is a list of just some of the things people of the past said robots would do in the near future. Many of them are fun or weird, while others are downright scary. But they’re all still “futuristic.” For now.

  1. Robots were supposed to replace school teachers.
  2. Robots were supposed to be professional boxers.
  3. Robots were supposed to pay taxes.

[…]

  1. Robots were supposed to pull off their heads and become the sickest drum set you’ve ever seen.
  2. And by 2076, robots were supposed to run for president.

(14) WINTER IS COMING FOR AI, MAYBE. Popular Science looks at the idea that Artificial Intelligence may — once again — be overhyped, which could lead to a collapse in research/support (“Another AI winter could usher in a dark period for artificial intelligence”).

Artificial intelligence can take many forms. But it’s roughly defined as a computer system capable of tackling human tasks like sensory perception and decision-making. Since its earliest days, AI has fallen prey to cycles of extreme hype—and subsequent collapse. While recent technological advances may finally put an end to this boom-and-bust pattern, cheekily termed an “AI winter,” some scientists remain convinced winter is coming again.

The article goes on to discuss the first “winter” that occurred during the early Cold War when natural language translation proved to be a much more difficult task that anticipated and another beginning in the 70s/80s when the Lisp machine didn’t live up to its hype as an AI solution. Author Eleanor Cummins expresses concern that, among other things, self-driving cars are over-promised and may be under-delivered, then concludes that:

Much like actual seasonal shifts, AI winters are hard to predict. What’s more, the intensity [of] each event can vary widely. Excitement is necessary for emerging technologies to make inroads, but it’s clear the only way to prevent a blizzard is calculated silence—and a lot of hard work. As Facebook’s former AI director Yann LeCun told IEEE Spectrum, “AI has gone through a number of AI winters because people claimed things they couldn’t deliver.”

(15) AI PRIORITY. DARPA doesn’t seem worried by that weather forecast: “DARPA announces $2B investment in AI”.

At a symposium in Washington DC on Friday, DARPA announced plans to invest $2 billion in artificial intelligence research over the next five years.

In a program called “AI Next,” the agency now has over 20 programs currently in the works and will focus on “enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies, reducing power, data, performance inefficiencies and [exploring] ‘explainability’” of these systems.

“Machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly, but ultimately impossible,” said director Dr. Steven Walker. “We want to explore how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities, with the ability to recognize new situations and environments and adapt to them.”

(16) FOUNDATION ORDERED. Ars Technica says that, “Apple confirms TV series order of Asimov’s Foundation” for their nascent streaming service.

In April, we reported that Apple was working on developing a TV series based on Isaac Asimov’s highly influential Foundation series of science fiction novels. Today, Ars has confirmed not only that Foundation was in development, but it has now been given a full series order—meaning we’re definitely going to see it.

As previously reported, David Goyer (screenwriter for The Dark Knight and Batman Begins) and Josh Friedman (creator of the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and screenwriter for Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds film) will be the showrunners and executive producers. The series is being produced by Skydance Television, and Skydance CEO David Ellison will be an executive producer for the series (he is the son of famed Oracle executive Larry Ellison). Isaac Asimov’s daughter, Robyn Asimov, will also executive produce, along with Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross.

(17) THE LIGHTS IN THE SKY ARE…UHH. NPR says this wouldn’t be news if anyone besides photographers had been paying attention: “Scientists Are Puzzled By Mysterious Lights In The Sky. They Call Them STEVE”.

There’s a light in the night sky over Canada that’s puzzling scientists. It looks like a white-purple ribbon. It’s very hot, and doesn’t last long. And it’s named STEVE.

STEVE: as in, Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

Naturally.

Scientists don’t actually know what’s causing the atmospheric phenomenon, which has been known to amateur photographers of the night sky for decades but only recently came to the attention of researchers.

But in research published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, they pin down what it definitely isn’t. It’s not an aurora….

(18) HYBRID HUMAN. Nature reports: “Mum’s a Neanderthal, Dad’s a Denisovan: First discovery of an ancient-human hybrid”

Genetic analysis uncovers a direct descendant of two different groups of early humans.

A female who died around 90,000 years ago was half Neanderthal and half Denisovan, according to genome analysis of a bone discovered in a Siberian cave. This is the first time scientists have identified an ancient individual whose parents belonged to distinct human groups….

(19) BEFORE MARVEL WAS A SURE THING. Looper has a roster of Marvel TV Shows You Completely Forgot About. Or in my case, never heard of to begin with….

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Daniel Dern, Chip Hitchcock, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Science Six-Pack

By Carl Slaughter:  (1) Google’s super secret anti-aging research. “Google is super secretive about its anti-aging research. No one knows why.”.

We should pause for a moment to note how strange this is. One of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world has taken an interest in aging research, with about as much funding as NIH’s entire budget for aging research, yet it’s remarkably opaque.

Google also prides itself for being a leader on transparency and for its open culture. And we’re living in a time when the norms in science, particularly biomedical science, are centered around openness and data sharing. But these values have somehow eluded Calico.

For now, I think it’s safe to say Google has not solved aging. Or if it did, they haven’t told anybody.

(2) Inside DARPA. “Inside DARPA, The Pentagon Agency Whose Technology Has ‘Changed the World'”.

Welcome back to FRESH AIR. What are some of the most impressive successes of DARPA?

SHARON WEINBERGER: Well, let’s start with the first success that has really cemented DARPA’s reputation today. And that would be ARPANET, which was the precursor and laid the foundation for the modern Internet. That is undoubtedly the agency’s biggest success. And because of the name itself, ARPANET is sort of synonymous with DARPA today. But there are many other innovations that they get less credit for but in fact go back directly to the agency’s work. The driverless cars, autonomous self-driving cars that are now coming to fruition date back to a series of robotic car races that DARPA sponsored beginning in 2004, 2005.

Some of DARPA’s other biggest, quote, unquote, “successes” are stealth aircraft. They sponsored the development of the first stealth prototype aircraft in the 1970s. Precision weapons is another DARPA innovation. Drones, particularly the Predator drone that we now associate with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere date back to DARPA sponsorship.

(3) Scientists versus politicians. “A Cold War theory for why scientists and the government have become so estranged”.

Indeed, a big reason why tens of thousands of scientists rallied in cities around the country last weekend was to counter what they see as “anti-science” attitudes taking hold in the United States — particularly in the US government. The March for Science, according to organizer Jonathan Berman, a biology postdoc at the University of Texas Health Science Center, sent “the message that we need to have decisions being made based on a thoughtful evaluation of evidence.”

But this raises the obvious question: Was the United States ever pro-science? Was there a golden age? And if so, why were things so different then? What’s changed?

(4) Space firms warn Congress. “US space firms tell Washington: China will take over the moon if you’re not careful”.

Robert Bigelow, a real-estate mogul who now operates an eponymous company dedicated to creating space habitats and building facilities on the moon, warned the Senate hearing that without a global legal framework, the US could be left behind.

“China is very pre-disposed to ownership, whether its creating the islands in South China Sea, properties in massive quantities that they’ve purchased in South America or Africa, whether you open a [foreign subsidiary in China] and can only own 49% of it,” he said. “China could exercise an effort to start to lay claim to certain lunar territories. I don’t think it’s a joke, I don’t think it’s something to be cavalier about. Such an ownership consequence would have an amazing impact on the image of China vis-a-vis the United States and the rest of the world, if they should own large amounts of territory on that body, if we stood back and we were not prepared.”

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (R), Chen Dong wave before the launch of Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft, in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016.

(5) Ted Cruz:  Unleash the commercial spaceships. “To infinity and beyond: Ted Cruz looks to encourage commercial space exploration”.

The Texas Republican convened a panel of top executives at private space exploration companies to solicit suggestions for reducing regulatory barriers to encourage further innovation.

By opening more commercial options for space exploration, Cruz said, they could be creating “the real possibility that in the not-too-distant future, American private citizens will be able to reach space from a launch pad or a runway in Texas.”

(6) Water covered planets. “Most Habitable Alien Planets May Be Totally Covered in Water”.

 Earth may be special because of its water, but not in the way you may think. A new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that we may actually have less of it than average.

Astronomer Fergus Simpson of the University of Barcelona ran a series of computer simulations to determine what planets orbiting in their star’s habitable zones would look like. Habitable zone planets like Earth are the perfect distance from their host stars for liquid water to form on the surface and are prime candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Simpson simulated what would happen to a wide range of habitable zone planets given a variety of starting conditions. The results were that planets tend to be either mostly water or mostly land, with very few in the middle. Most planets with any significant amount of water are likely to be dominated by it, and most planets in the habitable zone are almost completely waterworlds.