Pixel Scroll 6/5/24 Call Any Pixel, Call It By Name

(1) DEPICTING CULTURE. Kanishk Tantia discusses the difference between using set dressing and true engagement in the representations of a culture at the SFWA Blog: “Culture: Moving Beyond Set Dressing”.

… But perhaps we can do better. I hope I have been doing better. When I wrote “I Hear the Starwhale Sing”, which was published in Canadian SFF magazine Heartlines Spec, I was consciously possessed of the urge to write something truer to my experience, something more genuine than a list of Indian foodstuffs to convince the reader they were in a diverse setting.

What does “better” look like? Let’s draw out the issues with the Rajpur sample above, and contrast what better replacements could be used.

First, there’s the shallowness of the writing. The passage above does not need to be set in Rajpur, India. It could take place on Mars, or in London, or Atlantis. The setting exists only for flavor and can be quickly hot-swapped out without changing what we have seen of the story so far.

Next, the simple goodness, or stereotyping. It’s a dirty word, isn’t it? Even positive stereotypes can be harmful. In the paragraph above, I elicit color, food, and smell, all in a positive way. But these are flashy tricks, forcing my reader to imagine richness and depth by drawing on their own biases about India rather than trying to show them something new or deeper. That’s what stereotyping does; it simply pulls from a reader’s existing bank of experiences, without challenge or comment.

Most egregious are the loanwords. And there are indeed so many. Sari, kachoris, modaks, gulab jamuns, beedi, Diwali. These are all Hindi words, but they are given no real meaning and treated as arbitrary objects. The cultural impact of these words is lost entirely, because they exist only to fill space and create an illusion.

Can we do better? Perhaps. Here’s another sample….

(2) MANIFESTO DESTINY. WIRED eavesdrops as “China Miéville Writes a Secret Novel With the Internet’s Boyfriend (It’s Keanu Reeves)”.

… My next question to Mr. Reeves was an innocent “What do you make of China’s politics?” Did the Internet’s Boyfriend fully understand, in other words, that he was partnering with China Miéville here? “I don’t really know his politics per se,” Keanu replied. He knew exactly what China’s politics were. As any interviewer would, I waited. Keanu then told me he had recently read, “and enjoyed,” the Communist Manifesto.

Whether he meant the short text by Marx and Engels, itself a commissioned project, a tie-in of sorts for the revolutions of 1848, or China Miéville’s most recent book, A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto, about the same, I could not tell. The ambiguity made me giggle. Sensing it well up in me like a sneeze, I muted the phone just in time. I was forming my own speculative fiction: Keanu Reeves as communist, the Engels to China’s Marx. I suppose this makes perfect sense. Because science fiction—the kind China Miéville writes, but also, maybe, all of it, the entire genre—is, or so the great critic Fredric Jameson tells us, bent toward utopia. Possibly even a communist one….

(3) WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE SKY. “Paramount, Skydance agree to terms of a merger deal”CNBC has the details.

A Paramount special committee and the buying consortium — David Ellison’s Skydance, backed by private equity firms RedBird Capital and KKR — agreed to the terms. The deal is awaiting signoff from Paramount’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, who owns National Amusements, which owns 77% of class A Paramount shares… [National Amusements has movie theaters in the U.S., U.K. and Latin America.]

The agreement terms come after weeks of discussion and a recent competing offer from Apollo Global Management and Sony Pictures.

“We received the financial terms of the proposed Paramount/Skydance transaction over the weekend and we are reviewing them,” said a National Amusements spokesperson.

The deal currently calls for Redstone to receive $2 billion for National Amusements, Faber reported Monday. Skydance would buy out nearly 50% of class B Paramount shares at $15 apiece, or $4.5 billion, leaving the holders with equity in the new company.

Skydance and RedBird would also contribute $1.5 billion in cash to Paramount’s balance sheet to help reduce debt.

Following the deal’s close, Skydance and RedBird would own two-thirds of Paramount, and the class B shareholders would own the remaining third of the company, Faber reported. The negotiated terms were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal….

(4) SF IN SF. Science Fiction in San Francisco will host readings by Robin Sloan, Rudy Rucker & Clara Ward on June 23 at The American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina Street, San Francisco CA. Doors open at 6PM – event gets underway 6:30PM. $10 at the door – $8 seniors and students. No one turned away for lack of funds. CASH PREFERRED. All proceeds benefit the American Bookbinders Museum.

(5) JOURNEY PLANET CALL FOR ARTICLES. For the August issue of Journey Planet, Chris Garcia and James Bacon are joined by Jean Martin for an issue featuring food and drink in sci-fi and fantasy stories. 

Chris says, “A key part of worldbuilding is creating comestibles and libations that offer the audience an elevated sensory experience along with the characters. Share articles and artwork with us about your favorite made-up gustatory delights in novels, movies, etc. And if you know where to get them and/or have actually made them, let us know how they tasted!”

Submissions to [email protected]. Deadline – July 1.

(6) ONLINE FLASH SF NIGHT. Space Cowboy Books presents Online Flash Science Fiction Night with Eliane Boey, Jendia Gammon, and Jonathan Nevairon June 11 at 6:00 p.m. Pacific. Register for free tickets at the link.

Join us online for an evening of short science fiction readings (1000 words or less) with authors Eliane Boey, Jendia Gammon, and Jonathan Nevair. Flash Science Fiction Nights run 30 minutes or less, and are a fun and great way to learn about new authors from around the world.

(7) TAKING GAS. Cora Buhlert was on the autobahn and filled up at Dammer Berge, the “service station of the future” (in 1969). Her encounter is part of Galactic Journey’s roundup “[May 16, 1969] Strange Dreams (May Galactoscope)”. Cora makes clear that the cuisine is not a reason to visit:

The structure is spectacular, a beacon of modernism, though sadly the food itself was rather lacklustre: a cup of coffee that tasted of the soap used to clean the machine and a slice of stale apple cake.

Cora then goes on to review Zero Cool, a pseudonymous Michael Crichton thriller from 1969.

(8) BLOCKED. “Franz Kafka letter shows author’s anguished struggle with writer’s block” – the Guardian has details.

A rare letter written by Franz Kafka to his publisher shows just how anguished a struggle it was for the Bohemian writer to put pen to paper, especially as his health deteriorated.

The letter, which will soon be auctioned, coincided with Kafka’s diagnosis with tuberculosis, which would end up killing him and which, scholars say, very probably added to his sense of mental paralysis and helplessness.

“When worries have penetrated to a certain layer of existence, the writing and the complaining obviously stop,” he wrote to his friend and publisher, the Austrian poet Albert Ehrenstein. “My resistance was not all that strong either.”

Undated, the letter is believed by scholars to have been written between April and June 1920, when Kafka was being treated for his illness at a clinic in Merano, northern Italy. Writer’s block famously haunted Kafka throughout his life but was exacerbated by his poor physical condition.

Neatly handwritten in polite, legible German, the letter is thought to be Kafka’s response to Ehrenstein’s request for the established author to contribute to Die Gefährten (The Fellows), the expressionist literary journal he was editing at the time. He had recently seen new work by Kafka in print, possibly his short story collection Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), written in 1917 and published two years later. But Kafka quickly disabused him of the notion that he was actively writing….

(9) WILLIAM RUSSELL (1924-2024). One of Doctor Who’s four original cast members, William Russell, has died reports the BBC: “William Russell: Original Doctor Who cast member dies aged 99”.

…Russell played schoolteacher Ian Chesterton in the first two series of the BBC’s sci-fi show and was the Doctor’s first companion.

He left the show in 1965, but in 2022 he reprised his role and made a cameo in Jodie Whittaker’s final episode, The Power of The Doctor.

The actor broke a Guinness World Record for the longest gap between TV appearances.

In the first ever episode, An Unearthly Child, which aired in 1963, Russell’s character meets the Doctor, played by William Hartnell.

Russell’s character mistakenly calls him Doctor Foreman, before Hartnell then replies “Doctor Who?”…


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

June 5, 1928 — Robert Lansing. (Died 1994.) Let’s talk about Gary Seven, errrr, Robert Lansing.

For us, his most important performance was as the secret agent Gary Seven on Star Trek’s “Assignment: Earth” in which the Enterprise ended up in the Sixties. His companion was Teri Garr. He was sent there by an alien race on a mission that he’s now afraid the Enterprise will compromise. And then there’s Isis, a shapeshifter who’s a black cat in one form. Nice kitty. 

Sources agree that this episode was designed at least in part as a pilot for a new series featuring Gary Seven and his mission. Trek was seriously on the edge of cancellation late in its second year, and Roddenberry hoped to get a new show going for the fall season, hence this episode. The first draft pilot script of November 14 of 1968 had no mention of Star Trek or its characters which suggests that this was not intended as an episode for this series at all. 

Robert Lansing as Gary Seven in Star Trek.

Indeed, somewhere there’s a draft of “Seven” as it was titled before that was revised two years after the first outline of what would become “Assignment: Earth” written by Gene Roddenberry and Art Wallace in October of 1967.  I want that script! 

Garr was quoted in a Sci-fi article about this episode: “Garr feared (correctly) that Starlog wanted to talk Trek and had to be persuaded to chat so as to promote her new flick. Warren sat down with her on the balcony of her publicist’s office for an in-person session and from there, things went sour. ‘I have nothing to say about it,’ Garr declared of ‘Assignment: Earth’ in Starlog #173. ‘I did that years ago and I mostly deny I ever did it.’ Turns out she was glad the Gary Seven show didn’t go to series.” 

Lansing did do some other genre work…

His major role was as Dan Stokely in The Empire of The Ants, he’s a charter boat captain in Fort Pierce, Florida. He’s a primary character here and is in almost every scene. 

Following up on that fillm, he has the lead role of Elias Johnson in The Nest where a small New England town is overrun by genetically engineered killer cockroaches. Ants.  Cockroaches. 

So what next? Crabs, yes crabs. In Island Crabs, he’s Captain Moody nearly ten foot long land crabs created by a biological experiment gone horribly wrong are killing everything in sight.

Oh he has other genre and genre adjacent  roles, but how can I not stop there? 

Well just one more as it’s a significant one — he was Commander Douglas Stansfield in Twilight Zone’s “The Long Morrow” where before leaving on a decades-long solitary mission to another system he meets a woman and they both fall deeply in love. But what kind of a future can there be for them in the Twilight Zone when he returns? 


(12) VANCOUVER COMICS FESTIVAL APOLOGIZES TO JEWISH ARTIST IT BANNED. “After backlash, Vancouver comics festival apologizes for excluding Jewish artist over IDF service” reports Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A Vancouver comics festival apologized to a Jewish artist it had banned over her past Israeli military service and a Seattle museum announced it was recommitting to an exhibit on antisemitism that prompted a staff walkout, in two reversals of arts-world sanctions connected to the Israel-Hamas war.

Both the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival and the Wing Luke Museum had faced significant backlash over the actions they took because of pro-Palestinian activism. 

“VanCAF has lost and continues to lose the trust of many we have sought to serve,” the Vancouver festival said in a social media apology late Sunday, days after announcing that it was banning American-Israeli comics artist Miriam Libicki following activist complaints over her past IDF service.

The festival didn’t name Libicki in either its initial statement banning her — which it quickly removed from social media following backlash — or its lengthy new apology. But the ban referenced Libicki’s previous IDF service, which she has turned into a comic, while the apology referenced another specific work of hers: “But I Live,” a collaboration with Holocaust survivors. 

(13) FREE AT LAST. Here’s the complete article we linked in yesterday’s Scroll, except no paywall – yay! “Sci-fi pioneer Harlan Ellison’s L.A. Shangri-la offers a window into his complicated soul”.

… As Straczynski moves through the rooms of the house called “Ellison Wonderland,” his deep affection and respect for his friend remains evident. He points out the care with which more than 250,000 books are shelved, each hardback jacket fitted with transparent archival covers, the dust-free groupings of comic-book figurines, the room full of shelves specifically made to hold jelly glasses from the 1960s. He touches only the things he must, in order to make something visible, such as when in Ellison’s office proper he opens a tiny door in one of the Bram Stoker Awards given by the Horror Writers Assn. and takes out the mini plaque inside that holds the winner’s name and book title

Harlan Ellison’s collection of books and awards

(14) VERBAL CATS. This article is paywalled, but you can enjoy the excerpt. “Written by Paw” by Kathryn Hughes in The New York Review of Books.

Cats were not, historically, great talkers (unless you counted Siamese). For much of their existence they had not needed to be. Consigned to barns, kitchens and alleyways for centuries, their main communication remained mostly among themselves. Apart from the unearthly wailing of queens during heat, or the involuntary screech of a tom scratched during a fight, cats conveyed their feelings by a twitch of the tail, a flattened ear, a crouch to the ground.

Only in the nineteenth century, once cats moved to the city and started to bump into humans more regularly, did direct communication become necessary with greater frequency….

… For the more suggestible owner, though, it was possible to imagine a darker side to this newfound articulation. For if the modern cat knew its name and could ask for food when hungry, who was to say that, when your back was turned, it wasn’t gossiping about you? If you added the cat’s well-known fondness for sitting on tops of piles of paper and books, it was quite possible to believe that it was reading your diary or browsing your letters. Worse still, perhaps it was at this very moment jotting in its own journal or cogitating a literary masterpiece—and, again, it might be all about you….

(15) SELLING BOOKS IS TOO MUCH WORK. “Costco Plans to Stop Selling Books Year-Round” reports the New York Times. (Story is behind a paywall.)

In a blow to publishers and authors, Costco plans to stop selling books regularly at stores around the United States, four publishing executives who had been informed of the warehouse retailer’s plans said on Wednesday.

Beginning in January 2025, the company will stop stocking books regularly, and will instead sell them only during the holiday shopping period, from September through December. During the rest of the year, some books may be sold at Costco stores from time to time, but not in a consistent manner, according to the executives, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss a confidential business matter that has not yet been publicly announced.

Costco’s shift away from books came largely because of the labor required to stock books, the executives said. Copies have to be laid out by hand, rather than just rolled out on a pallet as other products often are at Costco. The constant turnaround of books — new ones come out every Tuesday and the ones that have not sold need to be returned — also created more work….

(16) KAIJU STAR. The Guardian investigates “How Godzilla Minus One became a monster hit for Netflix”.

…Godzilla Minus One is by no means an artsy slow burn; like the other titles on the list of the highest-grossing foreign-language films in US history, it’s accessible and entertaining. It’s about reckoning with postwar survivor’s guilt, and it movingly challenges cultural notions of what constitutes honor, yes, but it’s also about the half-terrifying, half-exhilarating vision of a particularly mean-looking iteration of Godzilla laying waste to anything in his path…

[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, Cora Buhlert, Chris Garcia, Joel Zakem, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Teddy Harvia, Kathy Sullivan, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Tom Becker.]