(1) POWELL ARRESTED. Longtime fan Rickland Powell was arrested December 1 in connection with “assaulting a female child who is known to him” according to the Middlesex (MA) District Attorney. Their press release follows.
Powell is on the list of people who have been banned from Arisia. Prior to that he worked on Arisia over the past couple of decades in positions ranging from Division Head to logistics and art show help.
(2) UNCATCHABLE. Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ “Maybe We Already Have Runaway Machines”, a discussion of David Runciman’s The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States, and AIs, is a rather Strossian article in The New Yorker.
…Yet we citizens of modern states have always labored under the shadow of a partly mitigated alignment problem—a “mismatch between the drives of these artificial persons and the needs of the planet,” as Runciman describes it—that provides a frame, a vocabulary, and a sense of foreboding as we seek to process the automation on the horizon. The concern about unaligned machines is that even if we can program, so to speak, their ultimate ends, we can’t necessarily anticipate the instrumental subgoals they might pursue as an intermediate measure. If you instruct a machine to complete a task, the likeliest instrumental subgoal is to “gain control.” If the danger of the alignment problem seems indistinct or preposterous, Runciman suggests, you haven’t been paying attention….
“… States and corporations reflect two different sides of our contemporary fear of machines that have escaped human control. One is that we will build machines that we don’t know how to switch off, either because we have become too dependent on them or because we can’t find the off switch. That’s states. The other is that we build machines that self-replicate in ways that we can no longer regulate. They start spewing our versions of themselves to the point where we are swamped by them. That’s corporations….”
(3) FOLLOW-UP ON ALASKAN MUDSLIDE. Max Florschutz wrote in November that his mother survived the mudslide in his hometown of Wrangell, Alaska but at that time he did not know the fate of his father. Unfortunately, his father passed on. He has an update in “Emergency News and Classic Being a Better Writer: Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling” at Unusual Things.
(4) BEST XX. Esquire’s list of “The 20 Best Books of 2023” is topped by a genre work.
…Our selections range from debut works by emerging voices to new outings for canonical writers. They delve into everything from prisons to shipwrecks, ghost stories to extraterrestrials, American dreaming to American failures. Whether you’re into novels, short stories, memoirs, or nonfiction, we’ve covered the whole waterfront here with a bumper crop of incredible books. They’re all worth their weight in gold (believe us, we know exactly how much they weigh).
Below, here are Esquire’s 20 best books of the year…
Ranked number one:
Chain-Gang All-Stars, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Ever since his breakout debut, Friday Black, we’ve been eagerly awaiting Adjei-Brenyah’s sophomore outing. Nearly five years later, it arrived this past spring, and it surpassed all expectations. In a dystopian United States, the prison-industrial complex has gone private, leaving incarcerated people with no choice but to compete for their freedom in the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment system. Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker have traveled together for years as Links in the same Chain-Gang, but as Thurwar nears her freedom, she contemplates how to bring dignity to her multi-racial and multi-gendered coalition of fellow gladiators. Reading Chain-Gang All-Stars in a nation addicted to violent sports that brutalize athletes of color, Adjei-Brenyah’s acerbic vision lands like a lightning bolt of truth.
Read an exclusive excerpt here at Esquire.
(5) WILKINS GOFUNDME. Cory Doctorow signal boosted an appeal to help Pacific Northwest bookseller Duane Wilkins.
Nearly every sf writer who’s ever toured the west coast knows Duane – he’s the encyclopedically knowledgeable sf buyer for the U Washington Bookseller, who has organized some of the best sf signings in Seattle history. He’s a force of nature.
He’s also broke. A two-week hospital stay left him drowning in medical debt – despite being insured! – and now he’s being threatened by a collection agency.
Now, Duane is forced into participating in one of the most barbaric of contemporary American rituals, fundraising to cover his medical debt. He’s raised $6k of the $10k he needs (I just pitched in $100).
If you can afford to help out someone who’s done so much for our community, please kick Duane whatever you can spare.
Shawn Speakman, who set up the GoFundMe (“Please Help Duane Wilkins Pay His Medical Debt”) says there are reward for certain levels of donation. (Also note – as of this writing the appeal has brought in $15,567).
I told him that I’d help him relieve that debt and raise some extra funds for any future situation that might require aid.
That’s where you come in.
If you donate $10 or more, Grim Oak Press will email you free ebooks of our amazing anthologies Unfettered, Unfettered II, Unfettered III, Unbound, and Unbound II. These are filled with amazing SF&F short stories. Google them to view their incredible author line-ups.
And if you donate more than $20 to Duane’s GoFund Me, several of these writers are willing to give free ebooks of some of their novels. Starting with me and my newly-edited edition of The Dark Thorn.
I hope you will consider donating to Duane’s GoFundMe and help spread word about it. Together, we can help one of our best SF&F booksellers….
(6) MONSTER MASH. They’re at it again: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Official Trailer is coming to theaters April 12, 2024.
(7) FAITHFUL EEYORE. John Boston reviews the latest (in 1968) issue of Amazing at Galactic Journey. “[December 4, 1968] Sign Me Up (January 1969 Amazing)”.
In this January’s Amazing, on page 138, there is an editorial—A Word from the Editor, it says, bylined Barry N. Malzberg—which suggests a different direction (or maybe I should just say “a direction”) for this magazine. First is some news. There will be no letter column; Malzberg would rather use the space for a story. Second, “the reprint policy of these magazines will continue for the foreseeable future,” per the publisher, but “A large and increasing percentage of space however will be used for new stories.”
Pointedly, the editor adds, “it is my contention that the majority of modern magazine science-fiction is ill-written, ill-characterized, ill-conceived and so excruciatingly dull as to make me question the ability of the writers to stay awake during its composition, much less the readers during its absorption. Tied to an older tradition and nailed down stylistically to the worst hack cliches of three decades past, science-fiction has only within the past five or six years begun to emerge from its category trap only because certain intelligent and dedicated people have had the courage to wreck it so that it could crawl free. . . . I propose that within its editorial limits and budget, Amazing and Fantastic will do what they can to assist this rebirth—one would rather call it transmutation—of the category and we will try to be hospitable to a kind of story which is still having difficulty finding publication in this country.”
As far as I know fifty years later Malzberg is still disappointed in science fiction. G.W. Thomas took inventory of some of his past predictions for the genre in “The Fate of Science Fiction According to Barry N. Malzberg” at Dark Worlds Quarterly.
(8) MEDICAL UPDATE. Erwin “Filthy Pierre” Strauss, who fell down some stairs at Smofcon thie weekend, suffered a broken wrist and was taken to New England Hospital, wrote Kevin Standlee yesterday. “They expect to keep him at least one more night. Sufford and Tony Lewis will retrieve him from the hospital when he is released.”
(9) TIM DORSEY (1961-2023). Crime novelist Tim Dorsey, who wrote about the eccentricities of Floridians long before Florida Man became a meme, died November 26. The New York Times obituary is here: “Tim Dorsey, Who Turned Florida’s Quirks Into Comic Gold, Dies at 62”.
…Mr. Dorsey gave his books comic titles that reflected the blend of Jimmy Buffett and Raymond Chandler that filled their interiors.
“The Maltese Iguana,” published this year, was Mr. Dorsey’s most recent book.via HarperCollins
He reveled in the diversity of Florida — the dog tracks and swamps around Miami, the Redneck Riviera along the Panhandle, the morass of state politics in Tallahassee, the nostalgic weirdness of the Keys.
His novel “Atomic Lobster” (2008), Mr. Dorsey said in an interview with Powell’s Books, was “the dissection of a Florida neighborhood populated almost entirely by degenerates, con men, the terminally dysfunctional, golf freaks, trophy wives, and prescription-abusing retirees in Buicks tying up traffic. In other words, a documentary.”
Some people considered Serge to be Mr. Dorsey’s alter ego, but he corrected them. Serge was, he said, his ego, living the kind of life and doing the sorts of things he would love to do if not constrained by conscience and the law….
(10) TODAY’S WISDOM.
From Wole Talabi:
(11) COMICS SECTION.
- The Flying McCoys wondered how to get hold of Batman if the Batlight went out.
- Tom Gauld decodes some highly technical terminology so the layperson can understand it.
(12) LEGACY. Bobby Derie looks at an example of the Japanese Cthulhu Mythos in “The Cthulhu Helix (2023) by Umehara Katsufumi (梅原克文)” at Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein.
… Which is why The Cthulhu Helix works as a Lovecraftian novel. The characters are all conscious of Lovecraft’s legacy, but for them it’s all shorthand and metaphor, a way to frame and discuss these complex ideas and relationships without getting bogged down in Elder Signs and other minutiae. The particular approach Umehara took is fairly Derlethian, but that’s not surprising considering when and where it was published….
(13) SEEKING SUBSCRIBERS. Sunday Morning Transport’s free-to-read story for December is “Deconstruction in the Form of a Cat God” by LaShawn Wanak.
LaShawn Wanak opens with talking cats; then the tale only grows more wondrous — and we can think of nothing better
(14) CASTING CALL. Slashfilm tells readers “How David Tennant Ended Up Playing Huyang In Star Wars”.
… It’s brilliant casting, if I may gush for a moment. I love him in both franchises. I think part of the appeal is that David Tennant’s voice is pretty recognizable; “Doctor Who” fans have a built-in feeling that this is a wise person who has centuries of universal knowledge behind whatever he’s saying. I suppose you could say the same thing for fans of “Good Omens” (where he plays a fallen angel who has been around for all of time) who only discovered Tennant’s Huyang in “Ahsoka.” Of course, his performances are great across the board, but there is something to be said for many audience members having immediate feelings about him from his past work….
(15) IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. “Neuroscience Says 1 Rather Brainless Activity Can Lower Your Stress and Make You More Productive” says Inc.com. And we’re all into brainless activities, right?
…The activities included coloring in a mandala, doodling within or around a circle marked on a paper, and having a free-drawing session, each for three minutes, with rest periods in between. During all three activities, there was an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which forms a part of the wiring for our brain’s reward circuit.
“This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results,” said the study’s lead author.
The advantages of creating art go beyond just the pleasure of the activity itself. According to surveys before and after the art-making activities, participants who engaged in art-making felt more creative and were better able to solve problems….
(16) AI CON GAME. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] BBC Radio 4’s documentary programme File on Four has taken a fascinating look at how artificial intelligence (A.I.) is being used by criminals to con victims. A crime that, if written as a story a decade ago, would be decidedly SFnal. A.I.-generated deep fakes are no longer restricted to images but also to voices and even video. In the programme, the presenter gets a researcher to train an A.I. to simulate the presenter’s voice and then gets the A. I. to phone his mother: someone who arguably best knows what his voice sounds like. His mother is completely taken in by the A.I. voice.
The programme reveals that the banks, which have been using voice identification as an added security measure, are in an arms race with criminals. One A.I. researcher has even refused to let his bank use voice identification on his account!
Artificial intelligence, or AI, makes it possible for machines to learn – and in the future it will perform many tasks now done by humans. But are criminals and bad actors ahead of the curve? AI is already being used to commit fraud and other crimes by generating fake videos and audio; fast emerging threats that form just part of a potential new crime wave. File on 4 investigates.
You can listen to the half-hour programme here: “File on 4, Artificial Intelligence: The Criminal Threat”.
(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. How It Should Have Ended, strangely enough, has an opinion about how Transformers: Rise of the Beasts should have ended.
[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Ersatz Culture, Steven French, Andrew (not Werdna), Kathy Sullivan, Kevin Standlee, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]