Roberta Pournelle left our stage on August 3rd (1935-2020). She survived her husband Jerry (1933-2017) by three years.
There was no public church service. Interment was at Forest Lawn on the 14th. Forest Lawn said “We’ll provide ten chairs. Don’t bring any more people than that.” I said I’d not go. There were plenty who had a better claim.
Christened Roberta Jane Isdell at her birth in Victoria, Idaho, she was reared in Seattle by a family of readers and singers. She put herself through Univ. Washington working as a secretary at Boeing. She met Jerry in 1958. Their romance included aerospace, fencing, philosophy, plays, religion, science fiction, writing.
Jerry had several careers, some of them simultaneous. To name two sometimes neglected, he was was board chairman of the Seattle Civic Playhouse, and founding President of the Pepperdine Research Institute. He eventually earned fame with science fiction and user’s tests of computer hardware and software.
With these, and four children, and visitors, and dogs, he came to call the Pournelles’ house in Los Angeles (Studio City neighborhood) Chaos Manor. It may not be fair to say Roberta was Lady of the Lake – there was a swimming pool – nor was it plain who captivated or restored whom – but anyway mistress of the manor. At the end a woman who’d known her for decades said she was queenly, the kind you felt glad to be with.
Meanwhile Roberta taught English for thirty years at the Kirby Center for Delinquent Minors, twenty miles southeast in Commerce, California. When I last looked she and Jerry went to St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church, Sherman Oaks. She sang in the choir.
Stories abound of Roberta and Jerry’s different styles. Waiting in what seemed an endlessly slow line to be seated at a ceremonial banquet, you might hear Jerry bellow “Donner, party of 16!” – then after more waiting, “Donner, party of 15!” You might also see Roberta quietly finding the shyest contest winner and engaging in conversation for ten or fifteen minutes, then quietly finding the next-shyest and doing it again.
The electronic may see the very moving eulogy by Jennifer Pournelle, Ph.D., [here]. She is Jerry’s daughter by a previous marriage. As it happens I was the lawyer who arranged her adult adoption some years ago.
My appreciation of Jerry can be seen [here]. As I just now wrote to a friend – whose politics I have never asked about –
James Blish in his novel Doctor Mirabilis (1964) about Roger Bacon (1220-1292) has a character observe that we human beings are part honey, part aloes. Exploring whatever agreements and disagreements I may have had with Roberta seems immaterial to me now.
The Donner-Reed party was a band of migrants to California snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-1847. Their sufferings were terrible. Some resorted to cannibalism.
Chinese film authorities issued a new document outlining policy measures to boost the country’s production of science fiction movies.
Entitled “Several Opinions on Promoting the Development of Science Fiction Films,” the document highlights how the sci-fi genre fits into the ruling Communist Party’s broader ideological and technological goals. It was released earlier this month by China’s National Film Administration and the China Association for Science and Technology, a professional organization.
The document focuses on domestically developing pro-China science fiction film content and high-tech production capability. It comes in the wake of the country’s first VFX-heavy sci-fi blockbuster hit, “The Wandering Earth,” which remains the third highest grossing film of all time in the territory with a local box office of $691 million.
…To make strong movies, the document claims, the number one priority is to “thoroughly study and implement Xi Jinping Thought.” Based on the Chinese president’s past pronouncements on film work, filmmakers should follow the “correct direction” for the development of sci-fi movies. This includes creating films that “highlight Chinese values, inherit Chinese culture and aesthetics, cultivate contemporary Chinese innovation” as well as “disseminate scientific thought” and “raise the spirit of scientists.” Chinese sci-fi films should thus portray China in a positive light as a technologically advanced nation.
…Nevertheless, China’s lack of strong sci-fi is primarily due to a lack of innovative ideas and scripts, the document said. The country should focus on generating strong sci-fi scripts through talent incubators and prizes, and by urging film festivals to set up specific sci-fi film departments. The adaptation of sci-fi literature, animation and games should be encouraged to stimulate the production of new original content.
Elementary and middle school students should be made to watch “excellent sci-fi movies,” while universities should be urged to “strengthen the training of sci-fi related talent.”
…I have been accused of being a writer. I’m not. My 1962 writing instructor was right when he told me, “You can’t write. You’re wasting your time. You’ll never be a writer.”
He was right. I’m not a writer.
I’m a storyteller.
A story is — pay attention now, this is the good stuff — a story is about a person with a problem.
Let me repeat that. A STORY IS ABOUT A PERSON WITH A PROBLEM.
This is why stories are the essential part of human intelligence. Because all human beings have problems. We either defeat them or they defeat us.
But either way, we end up with a story about the problem.
The essential definition of a story is this: “Here’s a problem. Here’s what didn’t work. Here’s what did work. And here’s what I learned.” It’s that last phrase that’s important. The problem is an access to the lesson. Even if the problem didn’t get solved, the lesson is still critical. And if there is no lesson to be learned, then it wasn’t a real problem, just some stuff to be handled. (“I have to do the dishes,” isn’t a problem. Just do the damn dishes.)…
On June 22, Charles Brownstein resigned from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund after serving as executive director for 18 years. The exit came following pressure from comic industry professionals as details of his alleged assault of creator Taki Soma 15 years earlier re-emerged online. More than a month after his departure, the CBLDF is attempting to rebuild both itself and trust from the comic book community.
In 2005, Soma reported to police that Brownstein assaulted her during the Mid-Ohio Con convention, with details becoming public the following year. In 2006, Brownstein admitted to the assault, calling it “a stupid, drunken prank, of which I’m ashamed” in a public statement, although he kept his position inside the CBLDF following an independent third party investigation.
… “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen a response from the fund that would make me feel comfortable supporting them after Brownstein’s departure,” Batman writer James Tynion IV told The Hollywood Reporter. “I want to see who they put forward as the voice of the fund, and see what kind of work they’re open to doing to make a better community. Until they do that, I’ll be a skeptical observer, and my money will keep going to the [another comic book non-profit] Hero Initiative, where I can see measurably good work being done.”
Harrow County artist Tyler Crook is also skeptical about the continued viability of the organization.
“I’m very glad to see Brownstein gone, but I won’t be supporting them until after we see what changes they make to reform the organization,” said Crook, adding that Brownstein remaining with the organization for so many years despite his alleged behavior identified structural problems that need to be addressed. “Right now, I’m feeling pretty pessimistic about the CBLDF’s ability to change. I think our industry might be better served with a new, organization built on stronger foundations and with a stronger moral compass.”
Trexler will oversee and update the CBLDF’s operations and its mission. He will also be charged with restoring the organization’s credibility and stature in the comics community after the departure of Brownstein, who held the executive director position at CBLDF for 18 years.
“The original mission of CBLDF is one I passionately support as a longtime member of the comics community,” Trexler said in a statement. “This is a time of evolution for the organization, and I am honored to be a part of it.”
Before joining the CBLDF, Trexler was associate director of the Fashion Law Institute. He is a member of the ethics committee at Kering Americas, and has served on the board of the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art. Trexler is also a lifelong comics fan as well as a lawyer, and has provided legal analysis on a variety of issues surrounding the comics industry….
A story arc about a giant tardigrade in “Star Trek: Discovery” didn’t infringe a copyright in an unreleased video game that also featured a giant tardigrade, the Second Circuit affirmed Monday.
Many elements of the work that CBS Broadcasting Corp. and Netflix Corp. allegedly infringed covered uncopyrightable scientific facts and ideas about tardigrades, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said.
Anas Osama Ibrahim Abdin owns a copyright in the “distillation” of the concept for his video game “Tardigrades,” a compilation of images, descriptions, and illustrations detailing the game’s characters and backstory. It features a space-station botanist who travels through space after being absorbed into a giant tardigrade, based on the real-life microscopic creature that can endure extreme heat, cold, pressure, and radiation.
Three episodes in the first season of CBS’ “Star Trek: Discovery” also involve a space encounter with a massive tardigrade-like creature, and Abdin sued CBS for copyright infringement in Manhattan federal court. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Abdin’s claims in September.
The Second Circuit affirmed that CBS and Netflix—which is licensed to air “Discovery” outside of the U.S.—didn’t infringe because the works aren’t substantially similar. Abdin’s use of tardigrades largely wasn’t copyrightable, the court said.
“Abdin’s space-traveling tardigrade is an unprotectable idea because it is a generalized expression of a scientific fact—namely, the known ability of a tardigrade to survive in space,” the court said. “By permitting Abdin to exclusively own the idea of a space-traveling tardigrade, this Court would improperly withdraw that idea from the public domain and stifle creativity naturally flowing from the scientific fact that tardigrades can survive the vacuum of space.”…
(6) WELL WORTH YOUR TIME. [Based on notes from John Hertz.] Roberta Pournelle left our stage on August 3, 2020.
There was no public church service and no public interment. Her remains were laid to rest at Forest Lawn on August 14th, as it happens not far from OGH’s father’s.
… I was hardly an “only child,” and I’m not merely referring to my wonderful brothers. Roberta taught in schools where most would not. She taught kids who were guilty of being poor, or black, or Latinx, or homeless. or abused, or dyslexic, or otherwise illiterate and/or desperate. Kids with “form,” kids with little future; kids who were pregnant or fathers or incarcerated for crimes real or imagined and precious little hope of anger management. The kids nobody wanted. The kids dismissed as “juvvies.” The kids about whom precious few truly, actually, cared.
Advised to leave, advised to cease, advised that her talents lay elsewhere, she taught on. She was there….
(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
August 18, 1950 — Destination Moon, produced by Geotge Pal, premiered in the United Kingdom. It would be voted a Retro Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation at the Millennium Philcon. It was directed by Irving Pichel from the screenplay by Alford Van Ronkel and Robert A. Heinlein and James O’Hanlon. It’s based off Robert A. Heinlein‘s Rocketship Galileo novel. It starred John Archer, Warner Anderson, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Tom Powers and Dick Wesson. Mainstream critics usually didn’t like but Asimov said In Memory Yet Green that it was “the first intelligent science-fiction movie made.” Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give it a mediocre 48% rating. It is not in the public domain but the trailers are and here is one for you.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
Born August 18, 1929 — Joan Taylor. Her first genre role was Earth vs. the Flying Saucers as Carol Marvin, and she followed that with 20 Million Miles to Earth as Marisa Leonardo. Her last genre role was as Carol Gordon in Men into Space, a late Fifties series about a USAF attempt to explore and develop outer space. She retired from acting in the early Sixties. (Died 2012.) (CE)
Born August 18, 1931 — Grant Williams. He is best remembered for his portrayal of Scott Carey in The Incredible Shrinking Man though he did have the role of the psychopathic killer in Robert Bloch’s The Couch. Of course, he shows up in Outer Limits where he plays Major Douglas McKinnon in “The Brain of Colonel Barham”. And he’s Major Kurt Mason in The Doomsday Machine. (Died 1985.) (CE)
Born August 18, 1931 – Seymour Chwast, 89. French ed’n of Doctor Dolittle; Odyssey; Canterbury Tales; Divine Comedy; three dozen more. Here is We. Here is Analog 6 (anthology). Here is Lord Tyger. Much outside our field too; see here, here, here, and this archive. Saint Gaudin Award, Art Directors Hall of Fame, American Inst. Graphic Arts Medal, honorary doctorate from Parsons. [JH]
Born August 18, 1934 — Michael de Larrabeiti. He is best known for writing The Borrible Trilogy which is noted by several sources online as being an influence by writers in the New Weird movement. Ok folks, I’ve not read so please explain how The Borrible Trilogy influences that literary movement as it doesn’t seem like there’s any connection. (Died 2008.) (CE)
Born August 18, 1935 — Brian Aldiss. He’s well known as an anthologist and SF writer with Space, Time and Nathaniel, a collection of short stories being his first genre publication. I’ll single out Space Opera and other such anthologies as my favourite works by him. His “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” is the basis for A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Much honoured, he’s was named a Grand Master by SFWA and inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He also has received two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and one John W. Campbell Memorial Award. (Died 2017.) (CE)
Born August 18, 1943 –Richard Bober, 77. Three dozen covers. Here is Lake of the Long Sun (in Polish). Here is Shards of Empire. Here is the 2003 Chesley Awards Retrospective (at left, top to bottom, images by Bober, Ledet, Eggleton, Bonestell). Gallery, Feb 98 Realms of Fantasy. [JH]
Born August 18, 1947 – Paul Skelton, 73. Long-active fanziner, in his own zines (sometimes with wife Cas Skelton) and letters of comment to others’. Five FAAn (Fan Activity Achievement) Awards, four for Best Correspondent and one for life achievement thereat. [JH]
Born August 18, 1949 –Takeshi Shudô. Known for Magical Princess Minky Momo (television animé), Pokémon (pocket monsters; TV, film, novels), and Eternal Filena (serialized light novel, then OVA – original video animation, made for home release without prior theater or television showing – then role-playing video game). For Pokémon, coined Team Rocket’s motto. Won Best Screenplay at first Japan Animé Awards. Memorial exhibit at Suginami Animation Museum, Tokyo, 2011. (Died 2010) [JH]
Born August 18, 1950 — Mary Doria Russell, 70. The Sparrow series, The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God, are awesome. The Sparrow won the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and Tiptree Awards, and it was the reason she won the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. Though not genre, Doc and its sequel Epitaph are mysteries using the historic character of Doc Holliday. (CE)
Born August 18, 1966 – Alison Goodman, 54. Seven novels, five shorter stories. Translated into ten languages. Part of “Time Travel, Time Scapes, and Timescape” in NY Rev. of SF with Benford, Blackford, Broderick, McMullen, Townsend. Two Aurealis Awards. Website here. [JH]
Born August 18, 1981 – Bridget (“B.R.”) Collins, 39. Seven novels. Bradford Boase Award. Blog is called jugjugjug “because ‘jug jug jug’ is supposed to be the noise a nightingale makes (the way ‘tu-whit tu-whoo’ is supposed to be an owl).” Website shows bookshelves with The Complete Sherlock Holmes and The Sot-Weed Factor. [JH]
(10) FACE THE MUSIC. Stephen Colbert repurposed the last Avengers movie trailer:
(11) CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE. David Langford’s contribution didn’t make it into the CoNZealand edition of Worldcon Order Of Fan-Editors (W.O.O.F.) for whatever reason, so he posted it on his own site: Cloud Chamber #164.
…But some decades ago, wanting more solitude, I bought the house across the street and made THAT my writer’s retreat. No longer would I write all day in my red flannel bathrobe; now I would have to dress and put on shoes and walk all the way across the street to write. But that worked for a while.
Things started getting busier, though. So busy that I needed a full-time assistant. Then the office house had someone else in it, not just me and my characters. And then I hired a second assistant, and a third, and… there was more mail, more email, more phone calls (we put in a new phone system), more people coming by. By now I am up to five assistants… and somewhere in there I also acquired a movie theatre, a bookstore, a charitable foundation, investments, a business manager… and…
Despite all the help, I was drowning till I found the mountain cabin.
My life up here is very boring, it must be said. Truth be told, I hardly can be said to have a life. I have one assistant with me at all times (minions, I call them). The assistants do two-week shifts, and have to stay in quarantine at home before starting a shift. Everyone morning I wake up and go straight to the computer, where my minion brings me coffee (I am utterly useless and incoherent without my morning coffee) and juice, and sometimes a light breakfast. Then I start to write. Sometimes I stay at it until dark. Other days I break off in late afternoon to answer emails or return urgent phone calls….
… The Communications Manager will lead SFWA’s communications initiatives to produce high-quality content to engage both SFWA members and potential members within the SF/F community, as well as expand the organization’s brand recognition.
… SFWA Executive Director Kate Baker said, “Because of the nebulous nature of the organization, and because our members are located around the world, having a steady and engaging presence via social media is more important than ever. I am thrilled that Rebecca has joined the organization to help shape our messaging, to build upon the excellent work done by past volunteers, and to promote not only the organization and its members, but communicate what is important to all SF/F writers, wherever they may be. Please join us in welcoming Rebecca to the team!”
“Since joining in 2012,” said Gomez Farrell, “my fiction career has benefited greatly from the events and services SFWA offers its members, but most importantly, from the community we share. I’m thrilled to lend my skills in new media communication to fostering more of that community for my fellow members.”
(14) SPECTRUM. The new Spectrum Advisory board was announced on Muddy Colors. Arnie Fenner listed the names with short bios at the link.
….it’s Cathy’s and my pleasure today to present in alphabetical order our new Spectrum Advisory board!
… Talk about a Dream Team!
And what exactly does the Spectrum Advisory Board do? Well, they have two primary jobs: the first is to nominate, debate, and ultimately select each year’s Grand Master honoree. (I wrote about the criteria for the Grand Master Award in a previous Muddy Colors post for anyone that’s curious.) It’s a big responsibility, for sure, but the Board’s second job is even more difficult and crucial:
Job #2 is to help us not be stupid.
Cathy and I started Spectrum because of a sincere love for fantastic art in whatever guise it takes and a desire to help creators receive the recognition and respect we felt they deserved. Spectrum quickly became a welcoming home, a community, and a family, for all artists regardless of gender, race, religion, nationality, politics, or ethnicity, a celebration of diversity and imagination. Though we’re moving a little slower and our energy isn’t what it once was, that love and that purpose are as strong in us today as they were when we first began 27 years ago. But time and technology march on and nothing survives in a vacuum: with so many changes and challenges, with so many societal minefields to traverse, we count on our Advisory Board to help us avoid the avoidable mistakes (as best anyone can) and better serve the community as a whole….
(15) STAND UP, EMPTY POCKETS. The “Stand Still. Stay Silent. – Book 3” Kickstarter appeal invites donors to “Help us print the third book of Minna Sundberg’s award-winning Nordic fantasy and adventure webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent.” There being a lot of people wanting to lock down a copy of the book, they have raised $198,054 of their $35,000 goal with 26 days to go.
An underfunded, questionably selected, rag-tag team of explorers are assembled and launched into the unknown in a search for information and relics of the Old World – hopefully valuable relics. Stand Still. Stay Silent. follows six people (and a cat) on a journey filled with adventure, camaraderie and Nordic mythology. Who knows what they might find on their journey… and what they might lose.
(16) CATCHING UP. Nnedi Okorafor’s new book was released today – just in time for one feline’s appreciation.
Nearly two decades years after the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, fans are still discovering new things in Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s a lot of material to cover, with the three lengthy theatrical releases further extended in their home video editions. Which is why it’s so surprising that, all these years later, people keep spotting one particular detail for the first time.
We’re talking about Gandalf’s pipe, specifically where he keeps it…
For four years, researchers painted fake eyes on hundreds of cattle butts for the sake of science. What seems like a silly prank, the “eye-cow technique” proved lifesaving for the animals as it made predators rethink their attack, choosing another meal instead.
The scientists say their method is a more humane and “ecologically sound” alternative to lethal control and fencing used to separate cattle from carnivores. The team even theorizes the technique could be used to prevent human-wildlife conflicts and reduce criminal activity, according to a news release. A study was published Aug. 7 in the journal Communications Biology.
“The eye-cow technique is one of a number of tools that can prevent carnivore-livestock conflict—no single tool is likely to be a silver bullet. Indeed we need to do much better than a silver bullet if we are to ensure the successful coexistence of livestock and large carnivores,” study co-author Dr. Neil Jordan, a researcher with the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, said in the news release.
“But we’re hoping this simple, low-cost, non-lethal approach could reduce the costs of coexistence for those farmers bearing the brunt,” he added.
Eye patterns can be found — naturally — on butterflies, fish, molluscs, amphibians and birds to scare predators away. Images of eyes have even been shown to reduce bike theft in people, a 2012 study showed. But no mammals are known to possess eye-shaped patterns on their coats.
So, in the Okavango Delta of Botswana in Southern Africa, where livestock and lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs and wild dogs coexist, such a deceptive tactic could save animals from their death sentence, the researchers thought.
(19) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Honest Trailers: The Old Guard” on YouTube, the Screen Junkies take on the latest film from Netflix designed to “make you look up from your phone for two minutes so it counts as a view.” The film featured Charlize Theron leading a group of “illumi-hotties” who, although they’re thousands of years old, haven’t come up with a cool catchphrase.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Lise Andreasen, Chip Hitchcock, John Hertz, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Bill Higgins, Hampus Eckerman, Daniel Dern, Michael Toman, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W. (I had to come back and use the other half of Kip’s 2018 verse.)]