(1) PICS AND IT STILL NEVER HAPPENED. David Brin stares into the abyss, discussing “All those ‘chat’ programs… and the End of Photography as Proof of Anything At All” at Contrary Brin.
One of the scariest predictions now circulating is that we are about to leave the era of photographic proof. For generations we relied on cameras to be the fairest of fair witnesses. Images of the Earth from space helped millions become more devoted to its care. Images from Vietnam made countless Americans less gullible and more cynical. Miles of footage taken at Nazi concentration camps confirmed history’s greatest crimes. A few seconds of film shot in Dallas, in November of 1963, set the boundary conditions for a nation’s masochistic habit of scratching a wound that never heals.
Although there have been infamous photo-fakes — such as trick pictures that convinced Arthur Conan Doyle there were real “fairies” and Mary Todd Lincoln that her husband’s ghost hovered over her, or the ham-handedly doctored images that Soviet leaders used to erase “non-persons” from official history — for the most part scientists and technicians have been able to expose forgeries by magnifying and revealing the inevitable traces that meddling left behind.
But not anymore, say some experts. We are fast reaching the point where expertly controlled computers can adjust an image, pixel by microscopic pixel, and not leave a clue behind. Much of the impetus comes from Hollywood, where perfect verisimilitude is demanded for fantastic onscreen fabulations like Forrest Gump and Jurassic Park. Yet some thoughtful film wizards worry how these technologies will be used outside the theaters….
…The new technologies of photo-deception have gone commercial. For instance, a new business called “Out Takes” set up shop next to Universal Studios, in Los Angeles, promising to “put you in the movies.” For a small fee they will insert your visage in a tete-a-tete with Humphrey Bogart or Marilyn Monroe, exchanging either tense dialogue or a romantic moment. This may seem harmless on the surface, but the long range possibilities disturb Ken Burns, innovative director of the famed Public Broadcasting series The Civil War. “If everything is possible, then nothing is true. And that, to me, is the abyss we stare into. The only weapon we might have, besides some internal restraint, is skepticism.”
Skepticism may then further transmute into cynicism — Burns worries — or else, in the arts, decadence….
(2) NO LONGER BEING OVERLOOKED. Lila Shapiro spends time “In Northampton with Kelly Link and her community of like-minded writers”.
….In the stories of Kelly Link, strange things happen in otherwise ordinary settings. A teenage girl from Iowa travels to New York to find an older guy she met online and ends up at a hotel hosting a pair of conventions: one for dentists and one for superheroes. A girl from the Boston area discovers a lost world preserved inside her grandmother’s old handbag (which is made from the skin of a dog that lives inside it). Her stories do not abide by the rules of conflict and resolution — they make sense in the way that dreams make sense. Pressed to explain these phenomena, Link’s characters tend to change the subject. “The mechanics of how I can speak are really of no great interest, and I’m afraid I don’t really understand it myself, in any case,” a talking cat insists in a story from Link’s new collection, White Cat, Black Dog. Since 2001, Link has published four books of short stories, with the fifth — a series of unsettling retellings of classic fairy tales — out this month. For much of that time, she has worked in relative obscurity. Early reviewers were impressed by her originality, but she remained largely unknown outside of M.F.A. programs and fantasy circles. When her first book was published more than 20 years ago, serious literature, for the most part, meant one-pound tomes of psychological realism.
That has changed as Link’s stature has grown. In 2016, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; a few years later, the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a “genius” grant for “pushing the boundaries of literary fiction.”…
… After getting an M.F.A. at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Link enrolled in the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. “I thought, This will be a group of people who are doing the same kind of work. But in fact, the feedback I got from many of the people was, Well, I don’t know what this is.” While she and her fellow students admired some of the same authors — Heinlein, Asimov, Tolkien — Link’s indifference to genre conventions was apparent. If her heroines start an epic quest, they’re likely to get distracted or lost or turn into someone else entirely. “I remember thinking she already wrote better than I did and there was really no point in her coming to this workshop,” said Karen Joy Fowler, one of Link’s professors at Clarion…..
(3) TIME IN A BOTTLE. Dorothy Grant persuasively explains why people should listen to Neil Gaiman’s entire advice about the freelance life in “Saying No” at Mad Genius Club.
…He [Neil Gaiman] went on, though, to warn about the problems of success… and that’s what gets dropped out of a lot of the advice. He noted the problems of success are harder, in part because nobody warns you about them… and what do people do? Not listen to the warning, and drop it out of their quotes. They include:
“The point where you stop saying yes to everything, because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and have to learn to say no.”
(4) PLUS ÇA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MÊME CHOSE. “50 Best Short Stories for High School Students” at We Are Teachers is surprisingly chock full of sff – Bradbury, Le Guin, Poe, Dahl – though I’m a little more surprised at how many of these stories were already part of the canon when I was in high school and are still on a list like this.
If there is one thing that my students and I share, it’s our love for short stories. High school kids may not choose to read short stories on their own time, but they get very excited when the story I choose to teach a concept is short. I find that short stories pack a stronger emotional punch. They elicit real reactions, especially if the author manages to surprise them. In fact, short stories are the thing I use most often in my high school lessons to teach literary devices, act as mentor texts for our writing, and get students excited about reading. Here is a collection of 50 of my favorite short stories for high school students….
(5) GIRARDI Q&A. The Horror Writers Association blog has a new “Women in Horror” entry: “Women in Horror: Interview with Jill Girardi”.
Jill Girardi is the internationally best-selling, award-nominated author of Hantu Macabre, a novel which was optioned for a film starring MMA Fighter Ann Osman and directed by Aaron Cowan (a senior member of the Visual Effects team that won four Oscars for Avatar and Lord of the Rings.)…
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
This is something I’ve found difficult to explain over the years. Going back to the subject of du Maurier’s work, I found her simple, direct form of writing to be both beautiful and haunting, evoking so many emotions in the reader. The symbolism of it struck such a deep chord with me. For example, in one of my favorite stories, The Apple Tree, a mere tree takes on the qualities of a deceased woman, one who withered from neglect and lack of love all her life. The image was one that stayed with me long after I first finished reading the story. Many people believe that horror is all about shock value, that there’s no emotion or any deep meaning in it. Those of us who read or write horror know otherwise. We know that something as simple as a tree can haunt you, and bring you close to your own pain. This is what I adore about horror. There is so much more lurking under its surface….
(6) GODZILLA NOVELIZATIONS. [Item by Ben Bird Person.] Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, there is finally an English translation by Jeffrey Angles to the Shigeru Kayama’s novelizations for Godzilla (1954) and Godzilla Raids Again (1955). According to its Amazon listing, it’ll be published by University of Minnesota Press and released October 3, 2023.
(7) MEMORY LANE.
2003 – [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Sharyn McCrumb’s Ghost Riders is the seventh of her Ballad Novels, her mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains. It features a strong dash of magic realism as you’ll see in the Beginning from this novel which was published twenty years ago by Dutton Adult.
I like the novels because they feel authentic which reflects McCrumb’s being born and raised in the Appalachian region. The novels are richly detailed, the characters are fully developed, particularly the continuing ones such as Rattler, and the stories are certainly some of the better ones set in the Appalachian region.
And if her name sounds familiar, that’s because of Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool which she wrote.
And now our Beginning…
The boy stood still in the moonlight watching the riders approach. The chill of the night air had shaken the last bit of sleep-stupor from him, and he shivered, feeling the wind on his legs and the sensation of his bare feet touching the rough boards of the porch, and knowing that he was not dreaming. He had stumbled outside to make his way to the privy, but now something–not a sound, more like a feeling–made him stop a few feet from the door, and for long minutes as he stood there he would forget the push in his bladder that had sent him out into the cold darkness of an October night.
Horses were not an every day sight in the mountains nowadays, as they had been in his daddy’s time. Now that the Great War had ended in Europe, the world had changed. People talked about aeroplanes and automobiles and store-bought clothes. Every year brought more Model A’s into the county, and those folks that didn’t run an automobile could take the train into Johnson City or Asheville if they needed to go. You sent money to the mail-order catalogue, and the postman would bring you the goods, all parceled up in brown paper, whatever you’d asked for. They called it “the wish book.” But nobody ever wished for the old days, not in these mountains. They all wanted the future to get here double quick.
But tonight was an echo of the old days… there were horsemen at the edge of the woods.
The boy wondered who these riders were, out on the ridge past midnight, far from a road and miles from the next farm. He could make out three of them just this side of the trees beyond the smokehouse, but in the faint light of the crescent moon their features were indistinguishable. They carried no lantern, and they rode in silence. It took the boy three heartbeats longer to register the fact that the horses made no sound either. He heard no rustle of grass, no snapping of twigs beneath their hooves.
One of the riders detached himself from the group by the woods and trotted toward the porch where the boy stood. He was a tall, gaunt man in a long greatcoat and scuffed leather boots, and he had a calculating way of looking through narrowed eyes that froze the boy to the spot like a snake-charmed bird. The rider looked to be in his twenties, with dark hair and black whiskers outlining his chin, as if he were growing a beard by default and not by design. The boy stared at the face, a pale oval in the moonlight, and he forgot to move or cry out.
The man smiled down at him as if he had trouble remembering how. “Evenin’, Boy,” he said in a soft mountain drawl. “What’s your name then?”
“Rat–they called me Rattler, mister.” It took him two tries to get the sound to come out of his throat.
The rider grinned. “Rattler, huh? Mean as a snake, are you, boy?”
The boy lifted his chin. Even if he was shivering in his nightshirt, he was on his own porch and he would not cower before a stranger. “I don’t reckon I’m mean,” he said. “But I give salt for salt.”
“Fair enough.” The dark man looked amused. “I guess I do the same.” He glanced back at the woods where his companions waited, motionless, shadows in moonlight. “And you’d be–what? About twelve?”
“About,” said the boy. He would be eleven in January.
“Well, snake-boy, what do you say? You want to ride with us?”
The boy shrugged. “Got no horse.”
“Reckon we could rustle you up one.”
The smile again, cold as a moonbeam. The boy hesitated. “You never said who you are, Mister.”
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born March 19, 1821 — Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS. He was a geographer, translator, writer, soldier, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat. He worked on the translation of an unexpurgated version of One Thousand and One Nights. Also, Vikram and the Vampire or Tales of Hindu Devilry. Mind you, he was also the publisher of both Kama Sutra and The Perfume Garden. Philip Jose Farmer made him a primary character of the Riverworld series. (Died 1890.)
- Born March 19, 1926 — Joe L. Hensley. Long-time fan and writer who was a First Fandom “Dinosaur” (which meant he had been active in fandom prior to July 4, 1939), and received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award in 2006. Very impressive! His first genre fiction sale was the short story “And Not Quite Human,” published in the September 1953 issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction. His co-authors included Alexei Panshin and Harlan Ellison. Though he wrote nearly fifty pieces of short fiction, and much of that is not genre, he wrote just one genre novel, The Black Roads. (Died 2007.)
- Born March 19, 1928 — Patrick McGoohan. Creator along with George Markstein of The Prisoner series in which he played the main role of Number Six. (The one and only Prisoner. I know it’s been remade but I refuse to admit it exists.) I’ve watched it at least several times down the years. It never gets any clearer but it’s always interesting and always weird. Other genre credits do not include Danger Man but comprise a short list of The Phantom where he played The Phantom’s father, Treasure Planet where he voiced Billy Bones and Journey into Darkness where he was The Host of. (Died 2009.)
- Born March 19, 1932 — Gail Kobe. She has genre appearances with the more prominent being as Jessica Connelly in Twilight Zone’s “In His Image”, in another Twilight Zone episode as Leah Maitland in “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”, and two Outer Limits episodes, first as Janet Doweling in “Specimen, Unknown” and then as Janet in “The Keeper of the Purple Twilight”. (Died 2019.)
- Born March 19, 1936 — Ursula Andress, 87. I’m sure I’ve seen all of the original Bond films though I’ll be damned I remember where or when I saw them. Which is my way of leading up to saying that I don’t remember her in her roles as either as Honey Ryder in the very first Bond film, Dr. No, or as as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Bond girls aren’t that memorable to me it seems. Hmmm… let’s see if she’s done any other genre work… well her first was The Tenth Victim based on Sheckley’s 1953 short story “Seventh Victim”. She also appeared in L’Infermiera, oops wrong genre, The Mountain of the Cannibal God, The Fifth Musketeer, Clash of the Titans where she played of course Aphrodite, on the Manimal series, The Love Boat series and the two Fantaghirò films.
- Born March 19, 1945 — Jim Turner. Turner was editor for Arkham House after the death of August Derleth, founder of that press. After leaving Arkham House for reasons that are not at all clear, he founded Golden Gryphon Press which published really lovely books until it went out of existence. (Died 1999.)
- Born March 19, 1947 — Glenn Close, 76. I had not a clue that she’d done genre-friendly acting. Indeed she has, with two of the most recent being Nova Prime in Guardians of The Galaxy, Topsy in Mary Poppins Returns and voicing Felicity Fox in the animated film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Before those roles, she was Aunt Josephine in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Blue Mecha in A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her. Oh the latter is almost too weird in what it is.
- Born March 19, 1955 — Bruce Willis, 68. (It’s very sad what’s happening to him.) So do any of the Die Hard franchise count as genre? Even setting them aside, he has a very long genre list, to wit Death Becomes Her (yes another actor in it), 12 Monkeys (weird shit), The Fifth Element (damn great), Armageddon (eight tentacles down), The Sixth Sense (not at all bad), Sin City (typical Miller overkill) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (yet more Miller overkill).
(9) COMICS SECTION.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal asks the question: should we always go for the antiques?
- Tom Gauld imparts a publishing industry spin to the Cinderella story.
(10) PLUNKING TOGETHER. In “Krissy and I Have a Band: Introducing OEMAA and ‘Parking Space’”, John Scalzi lets fans hear a driver’s overflowing white-hot rage when supply exceeds demand.
…We agreed that we would form a punk band, whose musical theme would be venting furiously about the minor annoyances that beset ones such as ourselves, which is to say, comfortable middle-aged folks.
Fast forward to 2023, and right now, and I’m happy to announce that Krissy and I do, in fact, have a punk band in which we bemoan the inconveniences of the hugely privileged. We call ourselves OEMAA (pronounced “wee-ma”), which is an acronym for Outrageously Entitled Middle-Aged Assholes, and our first song, “Parking Space,” is the sonic blast of aggrievement emanating from the soul of a man in an SUV who sees the parking space he’s been hovering over get snapped up by another equally entitled jerk in a Lexus. Hell hath no fury like a dude in an SUV, missing out on a parking opportunity…
(11) INEXPLICABLE WRITING. Ryan George takes viewers inside the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Pitch Meeting.
With the first movie as well as the book series being massive international successes, Warner Bros was fast to get to work on adapting the second book in the Harry Potter series: The Chamber of Secrets. What adventures lay ahead for Harry Potter at his death trap of a magical high school?! People were anxious to see it play out on the big screen. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets definitely raises some questions though. Like why would Hogwarts hire Lockhart and why would he accept, knowing full well that he’s a fraud? Was the Whomping Willow really the best thing they could think of to put on school grounds? Why does the car have a mind of its own? Why did Hagrid send children off to speak to man-eating spiders in the most dangerous forest there is? How did Nearly Headless Nick get unpetrified? Is Fawkes the secret star of this movie?! To answer all these questions and more, step inside the Pitch Meeting that led to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! It’ll be super easy, barely an inconvenience.
(12) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Colonials debuts in select theaters on April 7 and on digital platforms on April 11.
On his mission from Mars, a space colonist’s ship is attacked by a Moon-based civilization and crash lands on Earth. Having lost his memory, he joins forces with a Resistance to save the galaxy from human extinction.
[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Lise Andreasen, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]