(1) VINTAGE OR VINEGAR? At Young People Read Old SFF, James Davis Nicoll tasked the panel to read Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson. Click through to hear what they thought about it.
Young People Read Old Hugo Finalists focuses on Spider Robinson’s 1982 Hugo-winning “Melancholy Elephants”. Readers of my vintage might remember Robinson as the author of the once-popular Callahan’s stories (to which series “Melancholy Elephants” does not belong) as well as a prolific reviewer whose pieces appeared in Galaxy, Analog, and Destinies Magazine and no doubt elsewhere. “Melancholy Elephants” is a stand-alone focusing on the issue of perpetual copyright. It’s a subject still relevant today. I am curious what the Young People make of Robinson’s story….
(2) IT’S A RISKY BUSINESS. And at Tor.com, James Davis Nicoll picks out “Five SF Stories About Space Scouts and Cosmic Exploration”.
Of all the career paths offered to player characters in the venerable tabletop roleplaying game Traveller, few were as memorable as that of the scout. Stalwart explorers of empire’s hinterlands, scouts could expect a charmingly informal command structure, a good chance of a loaner starship on retirement, and, oh yes, the life expectancy of a newborn puppy in a crocodile-filled swamp. Classic Traveller was notorious for its character generation system: player characters could and often did expire during the process. Few careers offered the harrowing mortality rate of the scout class.
Traveller author Marc Miller drew inspiration from classic science fiction, whose authors delighted in dropping explorers into situations for which the explorers soon discovered they were insufficiently prepared. Here are five tales of the sort that inspired Traveller….
(3) UNION AND HARPERCOLLINS ANNOUNCE AGREEMENT. Vox’s overview “What the hard-won HarperCollins union contract means for the future of books” actually does little to answer its own question. But it does supply this snapshot of how the strike ended.
…On January 26, HarperCollins management agreed to enter federal mediation with the union. Five days later, it announced that it would be laying off 5 percent of its workforce. A HarperCollins spokesperson attributed the layoffs to supply chain pressures and declining revenue, saying, “The timing had nothing to do with mediation.”
Because HarperCollins is the only union shop among the Big Five, the stakes here are high. It is pushed by necessity to set the labor standards for the rest of the industry: when it raises its wages, Penguin Random House raises its wages too. The hope among supporters both in and out of the union was that the new agreement would spark similar structural changes at the other Big Five houses, and maybe even inspire other houses to unionize.
Finally, at 8 pm on February 9, the union and HarperCollins together announced they had reached a tentative agreement. “The tentative agreement includes increases to minimum salaries across levels throughout the term of the agreement, as well as a one-time $1,500 lump sum bonus to be paid to bargaining unit employees following ratification,” said HarperCollins in a statement. Currently, there’s no word on whether the union also succeeded in bringing in new diversity initiatives or in getting a union security clause. The contract doesn’t become official until it’s ratified….
Publishers Weekly’s coverage put the agreement in perspective with HarperCollins’ recent business reverses: “Deal Reached in HarperCollins Strike as Publisher Has Another Bad Quarter”.
…News of the tentative agreement came shortly after HC parent company News Corp. released financial results for the quarter ended December 31, 2022. The company reported that earnings tumbled 52% at HC, falling to $51 million, from $107 million in the comparable quarter a year ago. Sales dropped 14%, to $531 million.
News Corp. attributed the revenue decline to slowing consumer demand for books, difficult comparisons to a strong frontlist performance a year ago, and “some logistical constraints at Amazon.” In the first quarter of the 2023 fiscal year, HC attributed the decline in sales and earnings largely to a steep drop in orders from Amazon, and in a conference call, News Corp. executives said the negative impact of Amazon on second quarter sales was less than in the first quarter. Sales were down in both print and digital formats.
In addition to lower sales, News attributed the plunge in profits primarily to “ongoing supply chain, inventory, and inflationary pressures on manufacturing, freight, and distribution costs.” A change in the product mix also depressed earnings, with the share of e-book sales falling in the second quarter as that of the the less-profitable print books rose.
With financial results also down in the first quarter, in the first six months of fiscal 2023, profits declined 53%, to $90 million, and sales fell 12%, to $1.02 billion.
Last month, HC began implementing a program to cut its North American workforce by 5% by the end of the fiscal year ending June 30. In a conference call announcing results, News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said News is making a 5% workforce cut in all its businesses, which will result in the elimination of about 1,250 positions….
(4) KGB. Ellen Datlow shared her photos from the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series event on February 8 at Flickr. Jeff Ford and Marie Vibbert were the evening’s readers.
(5) SKY HIGH DINING. The Torrance (CA) Public Library hosts a Zoom presentation by Richard Foss, “Food in Space in Science Fiction and Reality”, on February 15 at 6:30 p.m. Pacific. Email [email protected] for the invitation link.
Early science fiction stories about space travel ignored the most basic need of any pioneer – what did they eat, and how? The science fiction authors did get around to addressing this question, their solutions were sometimes novel but impractical.
How do their fantasies match up with reality, and are authors getting it right now? Join Richard Foss, author, culinary expert and lecturer as we explore this fascinating subject.
Please email [email protected] for the invitation link to join this discussion on Zoom.
(6) START YOUR OWN INKLINGS. “Writers Need Writers: In the Footsteps of the Inklings” at Inspire Christian Writers.
… Writing is a solitary pursuit. Only the writer understands the intent. Hunched alone over our notepads and computers, we snaggle our words and graft them onto the page, prayerfully hopeful they will touch hearts. But we can’t know the true strength of our writing unless we are willing to share those words with another who will render kind and honest feedback. Our mothers don’t count. Neither does a stranger. One lacks honesty, the other an understanding of the writer’s heart.
Twelve members of the Inklings steadfastly met for almost twenty years. Weathering war and broken friendships, they left us with poetry, Christian essays, and stories that delight and instruct to this day. That’s what I want. I want their journey. How? Here’s some gleanings from Bandersnatch.
[Dr. Diana] Glyer believes it’s possible to have what the Inklings had. Start small but keep at it, she says. The Inklings began with just two, Tolkien and Lewis….
(7) MANTELL OBITUARY. The New York Times marks the passing of the co-creator of a spoken word record business: “Marianne Mantell, Who Helped Pave the Way for Audiobooks, Dies at 93”.
Marianne Mantell, who in her early 20s helped start the audiobook revolution by co-founding a record company [Caedmon] that turned recordings of countless literary giants, including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Dylan Thomas, into mass-market entertainment, died on Jan. 22 at her home in Princeton, N.J. She was 93….
… In an era when American business was dominated by Fortune 500 companies, it was rare enough for two recent college graduates to create what was in essence a tech start-up aimed at disrupting two industries, book publishing and the record business. And in an era when those corporate giants were run largely by men in Brooks Brothers suits, it was even more unusual for two women to do so.
“Caedmon was the era’s only female-owned record company, and its remarkable success stood out in a male-dominated record industry,” Mr. Rubery said. “At the time, only around 5 percent of record industry employees were women, and those women were almost all in marketing and retail roles. The rise to the top by two female entrepreneurs represented a remarkable exception.”
As Ms. Mantell wrote in a 2004 remembrance for AudioFile magazine, “Although poets had been recorded before as vanity efforts, it was Barbara and I who realized that there was an audience of literate people and made a business out of it.”
… The labels had no interest, so Ms. Mantell and Ms. Holdridge scratched together $1,800 to start a label of their own, which they christened Caedmon after the seventh-century cowherd considered the first recognized English poet. The company’s slogan: “A third dimension for the printed page.”
…“We were not just out to preserve celebrity voices (to the extent that a poet is a celebrity),” she wrote. “Our purpose was literary: to capture on tape as nearly as possible what the poet heard in his head as he wrote.”
(8) MEMORY LANE.
1974 – [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
I think I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed in University when a classmate recommended it. I had a keen interest in politics, particularly those on the Left, so the politics of the novel interested me.
I think it works much better for its politics than it does for the strength of the character therein. The politics and the set-up of two planets was fascinating though I admit that it’s not a novel by her I’ve re-read, unlike her exemplary Earthsea series.
It won both a Hugo and a Nebula, and deserved them.
And with that, here’s the Beginning…
THERE was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.
Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.
Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple of large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful; it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long. It was in fact a quarantine. The wall shut in not only the landing field but also the ships that came down out of space, and the men that came on the ships, and the worlds they came from, and the rest of the universe. It enclosed the universe, leaving Anarres outside, free.
Looked at from the other side, the wall enclosed Anarres: the whole planet was inside it, a great prison camp, cut off from other worlds and other men, in quarantine.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born February 10, 1904 — Lurton Blassingame. Literary agent for Heinlein. He makes the birthday list because Grumbles from the Grave has more letters to Blassingame than to any other correspondent. And even some of Blassingames’s letters to Heinlein are included. (Died 1988.)
- Born February 10, 1906 — Lon Chaney Jr., 1906 – 1973. I certainly best remember him as playing Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man but he has a lot of other roles as well: The Ghost of Frankenstein as The Monster (hey, correct billing!), The Mummy’s Tomb as The Mummy Kharis or Son of Dracula as Count Dracula, he played all the great monsters, often multiple times. (Died 1973.)
- Born February 10, 1920 — Robert Park Mills. He was the managing editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine beginning in 1948 and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction the following year. He also edited Venture Science Fiction for several years. Under him, F&SF won an impressive three Hugo Awards for best magazine in 1959, 1960 and 1963. (Died 1986.)
- Born February 10, 1929 — Jerry Goldsmith. Composer whose music graces many a genre undertaking including, and this is not complete listing, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Poltergeist, Planet of the Apes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series, Star Trek: Voyager, The Mummy, The Twilight Zone (need I say the original series?) and he even did the music for Damnation Alley! (Died 2004.)
- Born February 10, 1953 — John Shirley, 70. I not going to even attempt a complete précis of his career. I read and much enjoyed his first novel City Come A-Walkin and oddly enough his Grimm: The Icy Touch is damn good too in way many of those sharecropped novels aren’t. I see that to my surprise he wrote a episode of Deep Space Nine, “Visionary” and also wrote three episodes of the ‘12 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. His latest novel which I’ve not read so do tell me about it is A Sorcerer of Atlantis.
- Born February 10, 1967 — Laura Dern, 56. I’m going to note she’s in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as Sandy Williams which is not genre but which is one weird film. Jurassic Park where she is Dr. Ellie Sattler is her first SF film followed by Jurassic Park III and a name change to Dr. Ellie Degler. Such are the things movie trivia is made of. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has her showing as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. I think her first genre appearance was on Shelley Duvall’s Nightmare Classic.
- Born February 10, 1970 — Robert Shearman, 53. He wrote the episode of Who called “Dalek” which was nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form at L.A. Con IV. (There were three Who entries that year and “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” won.) His first book, a collection of short stories called Tiny Deaths was a World Fantasy Award winner. He’s written a lot of short fiction since then, collected helpfully into two collections, Remember Why You Fear Me: The Best Dark Fiction of Robert Shearman and They Do the Same Things Different There: The Best Weird Fantasy of Robert Shearman. Some, but by no means all, of his works are up at the usual suspects.
- Born February 10, 1976 — Keeley Hawes, 47. Ms Delphox/Madame Karabraxos in my favorite Twelfth Doctor story “Time Heist”. She also played Zoe Reynolds in MI5 which is at least genre adjacent given where the story went. She has also provided the voice of Lara Croft in a series of Tomb Raider video games.
(10) COMICS SECTION.
- The Far Side is present at the Creation.
- Edge City tries to figure out what all the remotes are for.
- Sheldon predicts who will be AI art’s mortal enemy.
- Sheldon also illustrates the limits of dog science.
(11) SHORT REVIEWS. Lisa Tuttle supplies “The best recent science fiction and fantasy – reviews roundup” for the Guardian. The four titles covered this time are Hopeland by Ian McDonald; Ten Planets by Yuri Herrera; Observer by Robert Lanza and Nancy Kress; and Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett.
(12) PLAYING GAMES. Them is reporting that “Hogwarts Legacy Features the Harry Potter Franchise’s First Trans Character”.
Now that the review embargo for Hogwarts Legacy is up, more details about the forthcoming Harry Potter role-playing game, set to release on Friday, are surfacing. One particularly noteworthy new fact? The inclusion of a transgender non-playable character (or NPC) named Sirona Ryan, whom players can find at the Three Broomsticks pub.
The news came courtesy of a gameplay clip shared by YouTuber Doctor Gramma, in which Sirona serves a pair of characters Butterbeer and remarks upon a recent, unspecified attack on Hogwarts. Although Sirona was not confirmed as trans in the clip itself, Entertainment Weekly and other outlets have since reported on in-game dialogue referencing her transition. Speaking about her former classmates, the barkeep reportedly says, “Took them a second to realize I was actually a witch, not a wizard.”
Given Potter author J.K. Rowling’s well-documented transphobia, Sirona’s presence is unexpected, to say the least. Some in the video game world are even claiming the character was included in hopes of quelling a boycott from gamers who have chosen not to play the game based on Rowling’s dangerous anti-trans platform.
“An old acquaintance did some work on that Hogwarts game,” YouTuber Stephanie Sterling tweeted early Monday morning. “I’m told they added a token trans NPC to pivot the conversation away from JKR. They’re barely in it.”
“Did You Know Gaming” contributor and video game historian Liam Robertson backed up Sterling’s account, writing, “I was also told this. There was apparently some trans representation added after some of the initial controversy. I don’t know how it appears in the final product but one of the sources I talked to described it as ‘performative bullshit.’”…
(13) YOU’RE FIRED. While Elon Musk was making news for firing a Twitter engineer, his SpaceX was getting attention for test-firing an engine: “SpaceX Test Fires 31 Engines on the Most Powerful Rocket Ever” in the New York Times.
SpaceX moved one step closer to its future on Thursday with a successful ground test of the engines of the most powerful rocket ever built.
The company, founded by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, conducted what is known as a static fire of Super Heavy, a massive rocket booster. Super Heavy was made to send SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle toward orbit before returning to Earth.
More than 110,000 people watched a livestream broadcast by NASASpaceFlight.com, an independent space media company that has cameras monitoring the Starship test site in Boca Chica, Texas. The video feed showed clouds of vapor enveloping the launch stand when propellants started flowing into the rocket, and rings of frost forming around the rocket as the tanks filled with ultracold propellants.
Then the clouds mostly vanished when the fueling was complete — for the brief test, the tanks were not filled to the brim.
At 4:14 p.m. Eastern time, on a video feed provided by SpaceX, the engines roared to life for a few seconds and shut down, kicking up that rose clouds above the rocket and prompting masses of birds to flee the area. An update on Twitter from SpaceX indicated the test was a success, lasting as long as intended. The booster and launch stand appeared to be in good shape afterward.
(14) APOLOGIES. JUPITER-SIZED ERROR. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] I have to correct a stupid error I made in yesterday’s piece about one of the most distant exo-planet detected and first space-based detection of an exo-planet using gravitational lensing. It was not the close to smallest theoretical-sized Jupiter — close to the host mass threshold below which Jupiters are not expected to form. Instead, it was somewhat surprising to find a Jupiter-sized exoplanet around such a small star (a little over half the mass of the Sun). It is thought that the planetary mass around small stars is smaller than the planetary mass around larger stars. So to have a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting such a small star is a little unusual and close to the theoretical limit.
The error came about because I only quickly scan/read the abstracts of papers of interest at a cybercafé and then blat an e-mail off to Mike, and I only subsequently read papers in detail when I get home. Also, since we (SF2 Concatenation) lost our much missed physics and space science editor, I have taken over that coverage in addition to that of the bio- and geosciences about which I am more sure-footed.
See Specht, D. et al, (2023) “Kepler K2 Campaign 9: II. First space-based discovery of an exoplanet using microlensing”. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, stad212.
(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Honest Game Trailers gives its brutally frank opinion of “Fire Emblem Engage”.
…Discover yet another fantasy Kingdom on the brink of inevitable War as you take control of a protagonist so anime that they are actually a dragon, an amnesiac, and also a God who looks like a deviantART character where you took two cheesy anime protagonists and smashed them together in a hydraulic press…
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Ellen Datlow, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Dann, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day by Andrew (not Werdna).]