The King Arthur Case by Jean-Luc Bannalec (Minotaur, 2022)
By Warner Holme: Jean-Luc Bannalec’s The King Arthur Case represents a new entry in the author’s Commissaire Georges Dupin series. It also sports a connection to one of the western world’s most well-known schools of folklore and mythology.
Georges Dupin is an entertaining individual, a sour man disillusioned with the Paris police yet frequently finding himself working to do a favor connected to them. This is in the midst of a butter shortage oh, something that sounds amusing as it is described in a way which simultaneously creates that emotional reaction and helps to illustrate aspects of French culture as well as Dupin’s reaction to them.
He is helping out with deaths at a conference for the International Arthurian Society, specifically the French branch of it. Now the international Arthurian Society is a real group that has existed since at least the 1940s, although certainly none of the names within this volume directly correlated to anyone listed on their website. Still, the use of such adds a nice weight for those familiar with the subject matter. Dupin is called on with a couple inspectors to help him deal with one murder in the area, only four more bodies to quickly pile up even as the various academics from different fields attempt to explain their own importance.
The reflection of acadamia, the jealousies and backbiting and tunnel vision, is quite well entrenched in this book. As a result anyone unable to grasp this, or any one simply uninterested, will likely not appreciate large swaths of the book. The personalities of each serve well of course, yet a bulk of the story is given to the question of undiscovered artifacts proving the existence of a King Arthur or the like.
For an Arthurian scholar there will be nothing new in this volume, debated French names and alternative interpretations of symbols and texts abound. None of these are exceptionally deep dives into the material, however most of them will entertain or not offend a scholar. The bulk amount of material dealing with the grail is on slightly rougher ground, however as the term did not come into common usage until many centuries after other Arthurian lore had already begun to build up this is perhaps appropriate.
One aspect which might cause chuckles due to book formatting is the name of a victim. Specifically one of the scholars killed is named Paul Picard. Due to the author name is Jean-Luc being on every other page, those in which the surname of the victim of a nearby will likely remind the reader of a certain famous Frenchmen from science fiction. It is a small coincidence, but may cause a moment of pause for some readers.
In a lot of ways The King Arthur Case is very much a cozy mystery. There are significant light moments scattered throughout, an entertaining but not overly broken detective, and connections to matters that would otherwise not seem life and death. While the high bodycount pushes away this idea to a small degree, it remains a relatively easy read. For fans of the series it is easy to recommend, and also for fans of Arthurian lore. While not the best place to first meet the detective, it is not a bad way to introduce oneself to Commissaire Georges Dupin.
As environmental problems caused by industrialisation and post-industrialisation continue to increase, the public is looking for ecological solutions. As pandemics, economic crises, and wars plague our society in different ways, thoughts turn to the good old times. But were they really all that good? People are escaping increasingly into fantastical stories in order to find a quantum of solace. But at what point was there a utopia in our society. If so, at what or whose cost did it exist? Whether or not we ever experience living in a utopia, the idea of finally finding one drives us to continue seeking ideal living conditions.
Most myths are about a loss of power and/or balance. The idea of creating a utopia, or for trying to recover a lost one goes back to mythic times. For example, in the great Indian myth, entitled the Ramayana, there’s a utopia of sorts within the kingdom of King Dasharatha. But his second queen asks him for a boon, which is to send the king’s heir-apparent, Lord Rama into exile in the forest for ten years. That’s where trouble begins, and though Lord Rama manages to recover his kingdom, and establish Ramaraj, or good governance, it’s not without a price.
Also, in the Mahabharata, there’s trouble and outright war between two sets of step-brothers the Pandavas (who are five in number) and the Kauravas (who are one hundred in number). Their ideal world is shattered, and never fully recovers. Lots of heroes on both sides lose their lives, and a lot of fantastical weapons are mentioned in it. Some authors think that the outcome of the war mentioned in these Indian myths was akin to nuclear devastation. The Mahabharata also describes different types of flying vessels, which even had the capability of travelling between places on earth, and also between stars. However, that technology was lost after the great war in the Mahabharata.
In the Greek myths, the Hesperides and Elysium are ideal realms where not everyone is allowed to enter. Even heroes have difficulties to enter these spheres. For example, Mount Parnassus, home of the Nine Muses, is supposed to be an ideal, and sacred place in pagan myths.
The prosperous and flourishing city of Troy, which was a utopia of its kind, was lost in Greek myths. Odysseus ended up on the islands of Circe and Calypso respectively, and could have lived in these utopias, but had to leave to go back home. However, he didn’t find any peace at Ithaca after his return either. It wasn’t his utopia anymore.
In the Celtic Myths, the Tuatha Dé Danann (a race of supernatural beings) lose their homeland, which was their own utopia. They are obliged to go underground by the Milesians. There are many stories of paradise lost, also at the individual level in these myths. Lyonesse is an island thought to have disappeared beneath the seas off the coast of Cornwall. Though it was a fair land in the beginning with hard-working folks in it, due to a horrible crime committed by its inhabitants it was sunk beneath the sea by a storm, as a punishment to its people. It’s yet another land that disappeared.
Biblical stories are about the fall of Man from legendary Eden, and the efforts of human beings to be allowed back into it. Consciousness in the Occident is filled with the idea that our paradise is lost, mainly due to Eve’s mistake. However, long before the advent of the three book-based creeds such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of which outline the story of the fall of man, these kinds of stories abound in myths.
Camelot as Utopia
In the Occident, Arthurian legends are about establishing or seeking utopias. Camelot was a utopia of sorts with its fabled Round Table. All the knights who were allowed to sit at this table were supposed to be equals. But all this was before trouble began. With the fall of King Arthur, the utopia at Camelot dissolved.
The Castle of the Holy Grail was a utopia of sorts for the questing knights. Sir Lancelot wasn’t allowed to go in that castle because of his ‘sin’ with Queen Guinevere. Sir Percival was allowed to go in the castle because he was pure of heart. The Isle of Avalon was also a utopia of sorts and not everyone was allowed to go there. It’s Arthur’s final resting place and he’s supposed to come back from there after being healed, since he’s the once and future king.
Camelot; excerpted from Castles. Artist: Alan Lee
Utopia in LOTR
Since Tolkien based his stories on myths and legends, it shouldn’t be surprising that the concept of a lost utopia can be found in his Legendarium as well. The new Amazon TV serial, Rings of Power (ROP) will touch upon how the utopia of the Elves was tampered with by Morgoth, and how the Elves spent a long time defending Middle Earth and ultimately their Blessed Realms against threats. Then they defeated Sauron at the end of the Second Age, and then again at the end of the Third Age
Photo above: Rivendell; Artist: Alan Lee
In Middle earth, the Elves founded some peaceful realms such as Doriath, and Gondolin, and later on Rivendell, and Lothlorien which were kept hidden from the enemy. The Shire was a utopia for its inhabitants before it was attacked by Saruman at the end of the Third Age. In a way Tolkien’s long saga can be seen as attempts to restore the peace of the utopia in the worlds of the Elves, the Blessed Realms.
Dwarves arrive at Rivendell:
Dwarves have dinner at Rivendell:
The Fellowship reaches Lothlorien:
A utopia of sorts was also restored in Middle-earth when Aragorn became king, with Lady Arwen by his side at the end of the Third Age. And finally all Elves led by Lady Galadriel were able to go back to their version of paradise, ie the Undying Lands.
Utopia in ASOIAF
The world of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF)is much darker and grittier than that of Middle Earth. Yet, it can also be interpreted as being that of a search for a lost paradise in a way. Winterfell for its problems was a utopia of sorts for the Stark children.
Feast at Winterfell:
Danaerys Targarayen thought King’s Landing and Westeros would become her own personal utopia, but at least in the TV show, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Theon Greyjoy’s personal utopia was going to be his native Islands of Pyke, but that turned out to be just a pipe dream. He was pressured by his father to turn upon the Starks who’d treated him so well that he’d forgotten he was supposed to be a hostage there. In fact, once Theon helped turn the relative peace of Winterfell into a dystopia, he had cause to regret his actions very deeply.
Bran Stark thought he would find his own version of utopia beyond the Wall, but that didn’t work out for him quite as well as he’d imagined it. Although it’s arguable who is really the person on the Iron Throne at the end? Bran Stark or the three-eyed raven controlling him? The three-eyed crow was Ser Brynden Rivers, a Targaryen. So is a Targaryen sitting on the Iron Throne at the end of the GOT TV series? Or are some parts of Bran Stark somewhere inside his own head too?
In the entire series, we’re rooting for the Stark children to go back to Winterfell. At last Sansa Stark becomes the ruler and Lady of Winterfell. At least in the Game of Thrones TV series.
Finale for the Stark children:
Utopia in the Percy Jackson series
In the YA Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Camp Hallf-Blood is a safe haven for all the half blood demi-gods. It’s located in a hidden place on the north shore of Long Island near NY. Though there’s plenty of competition and squabbling between the demi-gods, they all feel protected from monsters and threats from the outer world. The Golden Fleece keeps the place protected.
Training at Camp Half-blood:
Finding strength at Camp Half-blood:
After every adventure, the heroes come back safe and sound to this haven. In the Heroes of Olympus series, Camp Jupiter is another safe place near San Francisco for the demi-gods. These utopias serve as anchoring places for these young protagonists. It also gives them a purpose to defend these mini-utopias when they come under threat. And they have a place to look forward to returning to when their quest or adventure is over.
Search for equilibrium & survival in Dune
In Dune, after the Atreides family is destroyed when they first land on the desert planet, the whole arc of Paul Atreides (and his descendants) is to restore their house to its rightful place in their inter-planetary society. And at least in the beginning to help the Fremen get their independence too. Make Dune a utopia for its inhabitants. Since the series stretches over thousands of years and across many planets, things don’t always go according to any one character’s plans. However, the overall quest for most protagonists of this series is to restore some kind of balance in society, even if the story stretches across time and space. Things evolve in surprising ways. But at least humanity strives to find better conditions, and is saved from the threat of extinction in the end.
While dystopias may be very much in fashion, a stable and sustainable society can function in the long term in its own version of utopia. Therefore, it can be argued that utopias are more important than dystopias. In fact, if there wasn’t a balanced and sustainable society to begin with, then it couldn’t be distorted to form a dystopia. For example, in Star Wars, the Empire took over planets and societies which had been functioning independently for years. And the mission to overthrow the evil Empire is a bid to restore balance of power, and/or utopias of different kinds on the planets in its iron grip. Just escaping the oppressive regime of the Empire would be the beginning of a more steady and calmer society on most planets. Utopias also enable growth and evolution both at the individual and the macroscopic levels.
In a way dystopias are dependent on utopias (even distant ones) in order to come into existence. A social structure that is out of balance wouldn’t last too long anyway, as it would collapse one way or the other. Most stories are about restoring some kind of stability so that the protagonists can continue to live or exist in a sustainable world.
Note: Some of these ideas were mentioned/discussed at the Utopias Panel, entitled ‘Better Worlds are Possible’ held at Chicon 8 in September 2022. ++ Sultana Raza
By Lis Carey: Joseph Campbell was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, and wrote extensively about comparative mythology. His “hero’s journey” theory has been extremely influential.
This book is a collection of his lectures and writings on the Arthurian adventures and Grail Quests of the Middle Ages, specifically the “Matter of Britain” stories of the 12th and 13th centuries. These are the stories, or the basis of the stories, of Arthur’s court and its knights and ladies that we are most familiar with, and have nothing to do with the probable historical Arthur figure of the late 5th/early 6th centuries who may have led the Celtic Britons in resistance against the invading Saxons. If the historical Arthur existed, Arthur would have most likely been a nickname or title, not his name.
And that’s not the Arthur Campbell was interested in. He was in it for the mythology, the fantastical adventures, the stories of the Grail, the Fisher King, the Dolorous Stroke, Tristan and Isolde. He makes it fascinating.
In these lectures, essays, and his previously unpublished master’s thesis, “A Study of the Dolorous Stroke,” he traces the origins of these myths and legends, the sources in Celtic mythology, influences from Greek, Islamic, and Indian myths and poetry, and the transition from originally religious mythology to perhaps the first secular mythology, influencing and influenced by the emerging customs of courtly love.
That Greek mythology would have influenced European poetry and story-telling is of course just a given. Islamic influence is also not very surprising, given that much of Spain was occupied by Muslims who had conquered the territory. I was initially quite startled by the idea of Indian influence. That seemed a reach–until I reminded myself of the Silk Road and the trade and communication between Muslims in Europe and the Middle East, and Muslims in India. The contributions to one of the most popular, influential, and lasting story cycles of Europe was truly not just international, but from the entire Eurasian world. That’s part of why we see repeated themes told differently, including the “dolorous stroke” that wounded the Fisher King and made his kingdom a wasteland until the true and proper knight arrived to set things right, occurring several different times, with kings of different names. And while the “dolorous stroke” is most often from a spear, sometimes it’s a sword.
There are even echoes of some of the Arthurian themes in African stories from cultures distant enough to wonder if this is influence, or an underlying theme arising in more than one culture.
It’s interesting, complex, not always an easy read, but well worth the time and the effort. Highly recommended.
I received a copy of this book as a gift, and am reviewing it voluntarily.
Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, by Joseph Campbell (author), Evans Lansing Smith (editor); New World Library, ISBN 9781608688289, first paperback printing August 2022
285 people have submitted The Hugo Awards nominations. Are you one of them? You do not have to submit your nominations in one go, start submitting now and come back later to add more up until the deadline of March 19, 11:59pm Pacific Time.
I hereby pledge that when I am a senior citizen, I will not be afraid of, resist, or complain about technology or cling to old-timey ways. I will learn how to use quantum conferencing suppositories and listen to electro-shamisen sea chanteys or whatever young people are doing. I will be part of Today tomorrow. Will join me in this pledge, pre-seniors?
“Percy,” the life-hunting Mars Perseverance rover, is scheduled to set down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater. The rover launched on June 30, 2020.
What does it feel like to be a scientist embedded in the engineering team of a spacecraft? And to have Ray Bradbury speak at your commencement? Listen as NASA’s Dr.Sarah Milkovich, Ph.D. planetary geology, tells RBEM’s Dom Loise.
(4) JOURNEY PLANET. In the 57th issue of Journey Planet, James Bacon, Chris Garcia, and Chuck Serface handle the editing duties and the theme is King Arthur, a topic Chris has wanted to tackle since they started the zine back in 2008! Download here: Journey Planet 57: Arthur, King of the Britons.
Spanning multiple arenas of the Arthurian legend, there’s a massive 92 pages of material including looks at literature, theatre, comics, film, and even Vegas, baby!!! Bob Hole, Julian West, Steven H Silver, and the good Cardinal Cox handle the history, and Chris interviews Arthurian scholar and editor of Arthuriana Dorsey Armstrong. Laura Frankos gives us a marvelous view of the ‘legendary’ musical Camelot, while Neil Rest, Tony Keen, and Chris handle the world of film. There’s great comics coverage from Derek McCaw, Helena Nash, and Chuck, and a great fiction reprint from the exceptional Ken Scholes. All this wrapped in a cover by Vanessa Applegate, with art by Chris, Fionnula Murphy, Derek Carter, Bob Hole, the DeepDreamGenerator, and Matthew Appleton! We even have letters of comment!!!
This supersized beast also marks the first time Chris ever did layout on his phone!
When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, it struck the author and illustrator John Jennings as so unprecedented, such a break from American history, that it was like an event from some far-flung future.
“Before then, the only time you would see a president who was Black was in a science-fiction movie,” he said in a phone interview last month. Jennings compared it to the sorts of imaginative leaps one finds in the most forward-thinking works categorized as “Afrofuturist.”
This year, fans of Afrofuturism will see a bumper crop of comics and graphic novels, including the first offerings of a new line devoted to Black speculative fiction and reissues of Afrofuturist titles from comic-book houses like DC and Dark Horse.
“Afrofuturism isn’t new,” said Ytasha L. Womack, a cultural critic and the author of “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture,” a primer and history of the movement and aesthetic. “But the plethora of comics and graphic novels that are available is certainly a new experience.”
Graphic novels published in January included “After the Rain,” an adaptation of a short story by the Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, and “Infinitum,” a tale of African kings and space battles by the New York-based artist Tim Fielder….
(6) BLACK PANTHER. While others are taking readers beyond, Ta-Nehisi Coates is still finishing his redefining work on the comic which ends with Black Panther #25 in April. The issue will bring fans the triumphant end to the “Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” storyline.
Since taking over the title in 2016, the National Book Award winner and New York Times Best-Selling author has transformed the Black Panther mythos. Now five years later, he departs, leaving the world of Wakanda forever changed and laying the groundwork for the next bold era of this iconic Marvel hero.
“Ta-Nehisi has come up with a truly special finale here, one that not only wraps up the current story of T’Challa’s attempt to stop Emperor N’Jadaka’s conquest of Wakanda, but also deals with elements that reach all the way back to the beginning of Ta-Nehisi’s run….” said editor Wil Moss.
Throughout his run, Coates has taken the Black Panther to hell and back and expanded Wakanda into the distant stars. In his final issue, he’ll bring T’Challa full circle, back to the home he left behind…and the crown he has never fully accepted. The journey will conclude, but the legend remains.
…I really love a somewhat minor subplot in the book—Taryn’s father, the movie actor who has had roles in what are clearly the Lord of the Rings movies, going back to Wellington for what he thinks is a screen test for a new Peter Jackson project. Weta, Peter Jackson’s studio, plays a sometimes oversize role in the culture of your city. Has your writing life ever intersected with their work?
Oh, I can tell my Peter Jackson story. I saw his first movie, Bad Taste, in the film festival, and I really loved it. I mean, it’s fun, but it’s also the work of a very, very good director. And then he came into the bookshop and the museum where I was working, and my boss had been one of his helpers on the movie. He introduced me and said, “Elizabeth’s a writer.” And at that point I had just published my first novel. Peter Jackson gave me his WingNut Films card and said, “Do you want to write a screenplay for me?” And I said, “Oh, no, I don’t think I could do that.”
What a missed opportunity!
Well, it was very early on in both our careers.
(8) RAISING TWINS. “Superman & Lois” – “Their family is anything but ordinary.” Premieres Tuesday, February 23.
(9) THROWBACK. Here’s some artwork of Doctor Who’s seventh Doctor in the “rubber hose” cartoon style:
(10) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
February 9, 1966 — Lost In Space’s “War Of The Robots” first aired as the twentieth episode of the first season. It is worth noting because the second robot in this episode is Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. Robby the Robot would make a number of appearances in series such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Addams Family. Robby the Robot was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame in 2004.
An officially acknowledged day in New Mexico (Roswell), Extraterrestrial Culture Day celebrates extraterrestrial cultures, and our past, present and future relationships with extraterrestrial visitors.
(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
Born February 9, 1867 – Natsume Sôseki. (Personal name last, Japanese style; Sôseki is a pen name, Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese idiom meaning “stubborn”.) I Am a Cat is ours, indeed narrated by a cat. You can read a little about it here. A collection “Ten Nights’ Dreaming” and “The Cat’s Grave” is in English. He was a novelist, a poet – most of his work outside our field – and among much else a student of English literature. See this comparison with Shakespeare. (Died 1916) [JH]
Born February 9, 1928 – Frank Frazetta.A Hugo, three Chesleys (two for artistic achievement); Spectrum Grand Master, Writers & Illustrators of the Future and World Fantasy Awards for lifetime achievement; SF Hall of Fame, Eisner Hall of Fame, Kirby Hall of Fame, Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. In comics, Westerns, fantasy, mystery, war, historical drama, funny animals; Buck Rogers; Flash Gordon; Li’l Abner with Al Capp. In our field perhaps most famous for Tarzan, Carson, Conan. Two hundred covers, sixteen hundred interiors; portfolios, sketchbooks, posterbooks; see e.g. Testament with Cathy & Arnie Fenner. (Died 2010) [JH]
Born February 9, 1935 — R. L. Fanthorpe, 76. I’m including him as he was a pulp writer for UK publisher Badger Books during the 1950s and 1960s during which he wrote under some sixty pen names. I think he wrote several hundred genre novels during that time but no two sources agree on just how many he wrote. Interestingly nothing is available by him digitally currently though his hard copy offerings would fill a wing of small rural library. He’d be perfect for Kindle Unlimited I’d say. (CE)
Born February 9, 1936 — Clive Walter Swift. His first genre appearance was as Snug in that version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Several years thereafter he was Dr. Black in A Warning to the Curious” (based on a ghost story by British writer M. R. James).Then he’s Ecto, whoever that character is, in Excalibur. He shows up next in the Sixth Doctor story, “The Revelation of a The Daleks” as Professor Jobel. (Died 2019.) (CE)
Born February 9, 1942 — Marianna Hill, 79. Doctor Helen Noel in the excellent “Dagger of The Mind” episode of the original Trek. (The episode introduces the Vulcan mind meld.) She also had roles on Outer Limits (in the Eando Binder’s “I Robot“ story which predates Asimov’s story of that name), Batman (twice as Cleo Patrick), I-Spy, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible and Kung Fu (ok the last one has to be least genre adjacent). (CE)
Born February 9, 1951 — Justin Gustainis, 70. Author of two series so far, one being the Occult Crimes Unit Investigations series which he’s written three superb novels in so far, and the other being the Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations series which has seven novels and which I’ve not read yet. Who’s read the latter series? (CE)
Born February 9, 1952 – Ben Yalow, F.N., age 69. Having attended eight hundred SF conventions, working on a third of them, his trademark Black Watch bowtie has become a symbol of SMOFfery. “SMOF” is “Secret Master Of Fandom”, as Bruce Pelz said a joke-nonjoke-joke, besides the Marty Balin comment; it’s come to mean the folks who put on SF cons, particularly those who study, argue about, and try to act on doing them better. Co-founder of SMOFcon. Edited four books for NESFA (New England SF Ass’n) Press; Fellow of NESFA (service); Fan Guest of Honor at Windycon X, OryCon ’87, ConDiego the 5th NASFiC (North America SF Con, since 1975 held when the Worldcon is overseas), Loscon 17, FenCon XIV; scheduled for Discon III the 79th Worldcon. His dry but not unsympathetic sense of humor is shown by his receiving the Rubble Award, and by remarks like “Running a Worldcon is impossible. Running a NASFiC is harder.” Big Heart (our highest service award). [JH]
Born February 9, 1954 – Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, age 67. A dozen novels, twoscore shorter stories. Her Star Wars novel (with Michael Reaves) Shadow Games was a NY Times Best-Seller. Besides prose writing, she’s a filker; she and husband Jeff Bohnhoff have won two Pegasus Awards as Best Performers, one for Best Parody; Guests of Honor at LepreCon 24, TusCon 30, Archon 30, Balticon 41, DucKon 17, 2t0nic the 20th British Filk Convention, FenCon VII, LepreCon 38, Windycon 42, Boskone 52; they are in the Filk Hall of Fame. [JH]
Born February 9, 1956 — Timothy Truman, 65. Writer and artist best known in my opinion for his work on Grimjack (with John Ostrander), Scout, and the reinvention of Jonah Hex with Joe R. Lansdale. His work with Ostrander is simply stellar and is collected in Grimjack Omnibus, Volume 1 and 2. For the Hex work, I’d say Jonah Hex: Shadows West which collects their work together. He did do a lot of other work and I’m sure you’ll point out what I’ve overlooked… (CE)
Born February 9, 1960 — Laura Frankos, 61. She’s written a bakers dozen of genre short stories. She’s more known for her Broadway history column “The Great White Wayback Machine” and has also published one mystery novel, Saint Oswald’s Niche. Wife of Harry Turtledove. Her Broadway Quiz Book is available on all digital platforms. (CE)
Born February 9, 1977 – Rhiannon Lassiter, age 44. Started writing young, sent a few chapters to her mother (Mary Hoffman)’s agent and to family friend Douglas Hill: result, two novels accepted by Macmillan when she was nineteen. A dozen novels, four shorter stories; book reviews in Armadillo and Strange Horizons. [JH]
Born February 9, 1981 – Amber Argyle, age 40. Sixteen novels, two shorter stories. She “grew up on a cattle ranch, and spent her formative years in the rodeo circuit and on the basketball court.” She and her husband are “actively trying to transform [three children] from crazy small people into less-crazy larger people”; a note elsewhere, however, says she is “fluent in all forms of sarcasm”. Has read Heart of Darkness, The Secret Garden, All Quiet on the Western Front, six Shakespeare plays. [JH]
(13) BOOKSTORE IS OVERNIGHT SUCCESS. Yesterday’s Scroll ran the Super Bowl-style commercial The Late Show with Steven Colbert did for a small business — Foggy Pine Books in Boone, North Carolina. The follow-up Colbert did last night starts at 1:32.
Foggy Pine Books owner Mary Ruthless said, “Three weeks ago, we were like… wondering how we were going to make it through winter. And now I’m having to hire, you know, a couple of extra people to help process all of the orders.”
…A Firefly Aerospace lander will launch to the moon in 2023 as part of NASA’s Artemis program. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Firefly?”
…A janitor’s cart is far less interesting than the truth – that this is an artist’s rendering of the Blue Ghost, a robotic lander being built by Texas-based Firefly Aerospace to deliver 10 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface in 2023. It will touch down in a lunar mare called Mare Crisium, a low-lying basin on the near side of the moon that measures more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) wide. The lander will carry instruments to study several aspects of the lunar surface in preparation for future human missions to the moon.
They came under the shadow of darkness – quite literally. Just as Dracula star Bela Lugosi was no doubt being tucked up for the night, director George Melford, cast and crew made their way on to the Universal studio lot in 1931 to shoot a Spanish-language version of the Bram Stoker 1897 horror novel, filmed using the same sets and costumes as the much more familiar Tod Browning masterwork….
Shot in half the time the Lugosi vehicle was allotted, and on a much smaller budget, Drácula contains revealing differences. It’s 29 minutes longer the Browning’s film, with more dialogue – we see more of Dracula’s castle; and the framing of shots are argubly superior – thanks to Melford’s crew having access to Dracula’s dailies when they arrived at night, thereby being able to make revisions to lighting and camera angles….
A working Apple-1, one of the tech giant’s first line of computers introduced back in 1976, is now up for auction on eBay for $1.5 million USD.
If you’re familiar with the history of Apple, then you’ll know that the Apple-1 is now rare memorabilia. Designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak, then sold wholesale by Steve Jobs, the two sold off some of their belongings to raise enough money to cover manufacturing costs — Jobs sold his Volkswagen van and Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator.
… Leo has a point. All Things Considered is about to turn 50 years old. NPR’s archivists found the word “dinosaur” appearing in stories 294 times in the show’s history. By comparison, “senator” has appeared 20,447 times.
To remedy the situation, All Things Considered invited Leo to ask some questions about dinosaurs to Ashley Poust, a research associate at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Leo wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up….
Much like the coronavirus, monoliths refuse to be left behind in 2020.
The discovery of a new mysterious metal slab in Turkey on Friday was a throwback to a momentary craze from the olden days of November and December. Back then, a shiny, metal monolith appeared in the Utah desert without explanation, followed by copycats from California to Romania.
Perhaps art projects or perhaps the manifestation of pandemic-induced boredom, the monoliths captured the world’s attention for a fleeting moment. It remains unknown who created many of them, or why they were created, but they largely faded from cultural relevance as the world focused on other things, like the presidential transition, a coup in Myanmar or the Netflix show “Bridgerton.”
But the new monolith was gone after just four days. It vanished without explanation on Tuesday, according to local reports.
This despite the presence of something its predecessors didn’t have: armed guards.
The military police started an investigation to identify the people who planted the monolith in a rural area of Sanliurfa, a province in southeastern Turkey, according to DHA, a local news agency. The military police and village guards — government-paid civilians who work with the military police — stood watch as the investigation unfolded, protecting the monolith from any threats, DHA reported.
Also unlike previous monoliths, this one has an inscription. In the Gokturk alphabet, an ancient Turkic language, it reads: “Look at the sky, see the moon.”…
The United Arab Emirates’ orbiter reaches Mars on Tuesday, followed less than 24 hours later by China’s orbiter-rover combo. NASA’s rover, the cosmic caboose, will arrive on the scene a week later, on Feb. 18, to collect rocks for return to Earth — a key step in determining whether life ever existed at Mars.
Both the UAE and China are newcomers at Mars, where more than half of Earth’s emissaries have failed. China’s first Mars mission, a joint effort with Russia in 2011, never made it past Earth’s orbit. “We are quite excited as engineers and scientists, at the same time quite stressed and happy, worried, scared,” said Omran Sharaf, project manager for the UAE.
All three spacecraft rocketed away within days of one another last July, during an Earth-to-Mars launch window that occurs only every two years. That’s why their arrivals are also close together. Called Amal, or Hope in Arabic, the Gulf nation’s spacecraft is seeking an especially high orbit — 13,500 by 27,000 miles high (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers) — all the better to monitor the Martian weather.
China’s duo — called Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth” — will remain paired in orbit until May, when the rover separates to descend to the dusty, ruddy surface. If all goes well, it will be only the second country to land successfully on the red planet.
The U.S. rover Perseverance, by contrast, will dive in straight away for a harrowing sky-crane touchdown similar to the Curiosity rover’s grand Martian entrance in 2012. The odds are in NASA’s favor: It’s nailed eight of its nine attempted Mars landings.
(21) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In a new “Pirates of the Caribbean Pitch Meeting” on ScreenRant, Ryan George says Pirates Of The Caribbean is “a wacky adventure where you disregard physics and probability and all that bring stuff. But it’s more fun that way!”
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, John Hertz, JJ, Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Alan Baumler, Daniel Dern, Ben Bird Person, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]
NASA civil servants and contractors at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are bracing for high winds and rain from Hurricane Dorian. Ahead of the storm, they are securing rocket stages, spacecraft assembly areas and even hauling a 6.7-million-pound mobile launch tower, designed for the huge rocket being built for the Artemis moon program, back to the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building for safekeeping.
The 355-foot-tall gantry structure, carried atop a squat Apollo-era crawler-transporter, is scheduled to begin the 4.2-mile trip from launch complex 39B back to the protection of the VAB at dawn Friday — a journey that’s expected to take more than eight hours to complete.
Thursday (15th August) was the first full day – I spent a while in the morning doing some running for the Chair’s office – up and down the elevator with bits and pieces – highly important bits and pieces, of course! Then I got to attend two brilliant panels – ‘Invasions and the Irish Imagination’ and ‘When scientists write science fiction’ – before a quick bite for lunch with my friend Karina, and then a 3-hour Writers’ Workshop with the amazing Diane Duane. What was great about this workshop was the amazing DD, and the other fantastic participants – I made 2 lovely new friends – Eliana all the way from Paraguay, and Caoilfhionn from Kilkenny – we hung out at the bar lots together. There was an ‘interesting’ bit in the middle of the workshop when I was terribly rude and had to answer a phone call from my Featured Artist, Jim, who was having technical difficulties at his presentation – SO SO sorry to interrupt the flow of the workshop, but we got it sorted. The opening ceremony then was great, including the Retro Hugos. And seeing 3 members of my (real-life, work) company onstage with the rousing choir at the close : ‘where the strawberry fields…’.
…GRRM The Irish Connection with Colm Lundberg (Moderator) William Simpson, Peadar O’Guilin and Parris McBride Martin. It was a really enjoyable panel on their Irish Connections and great to have it confirmed that Westeros is indeed a map of Ireland upside down!
Afterwards he walked right by me and I said hello which is probably the closest I’ll ever get to him! We got chatting with William Simpson who is absolutely lovely, very passionate about climate change as is Abigail. William drew all of the storyboards for Game of Thrones and while we were chatting he drew a dragon for Abigail in her notebook! So very cool.
(3) NEXT YEAR’S WORLDCON. CoNZealand invites everyone to view
their promotional video from the Dublin 2019 closing ceremony, featuring
their Author Guests of Honour, Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, NZ Artist Guest
of Honour, Greg Broadmore, and special guests, Tania Taylor, Sir Richard
Taylor, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Right Honourable Jacinda
“I just want to thank all the people who have contributed to my GoFundMe appeal. I’m still weak, but I can walk about 50 feet without a cane or a walker. Carol and I have been overwhelmed by your numbers, and by the absolute love we read in your messages. I’m back to work — not as fast as I’d wish — but I did sell 3 short stories in the last two weeks, so at least you know your good wishes and outporing of affection aren’t going into a black hole. I have been moved beyond belief.”
The donations passed $19,000 today.
(6) ROBOTS AND KNIGHTS. Jewish in Seattle recently published two items of interest to Filers. The first
is a short story entitled “Next
Year In” by Merridawn Duckler. It won the magazine’s short story
…The day of Team meeting for the spring robot fashion launch, it was raining hard. Other protectorates have man-made precipitation but here in New Cascadia we still have the real thing, from little eyelash dusters, to the full, sideways sliding downpour. I like real rain. I’ve experienced the human-made stuff and it’s just not the same; too uniform, each drop perfect, dries too fast. Plus, it stops. Still, I complain about the rain like everyone else. The last thing we need is for more people to emigrate here….
…And Yiddish? One Arthurian figure, Wigalois, has piqued the interest of Annegret Oehme, a University of Washington assistant professor of Germanics who specializes in pre-modern literatures and languages. She argues that the story of Wigalois (pronounced vee-gah-loy) is an intercultural production between medieval German and Jewish societies. Not only does Wigalois appear in Yiddish, but Oehme argues that it interacted with and influenced Germanic versions of the story.
“It’s really important to see that the Jewish community was familiar with courtly literature, they participated with transmission, and didn’t just read and produce religious texts,” Oehme says.
The son of prominent Arthurian knight Gawain, Wigalois grows up in a fairylike land with his mother before setting off to find his father in Camelot. While at court, he accepts the quest of a maiden seeking aid for her kingdom, which is under siege. Battling dragons and giants along the way, Wigalois successfully defeats the usurper and frees the kingdom, becomes a knight, and marries a princess.
The tale packs enough action for an HBO series, yet Oehme argues the real stakes of the story lie in what it tells us about early modern Yiddish culture….
(7) HINES’ SAD ANNOUNCEMENT. Jim C. Hines told Facebook
readers that his wife, Amy, died yesterday after a nine-month fight with
cancer. Read more on Facebook.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born August 30, 1797 — Mary Shelley. Author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus which I’ll admit that I’ve not read. Who here has read it? It certainly has spawned a multiverse of novels and films since it came, some quite good, some quite bad. (Died 1851.)
Born August 30, 1896 — Raymond Massey. In 1936, he starred in Things to Come, a film adaptation by H.G. Wells of his own novel The Shape of Things to Come. Other than several appearances on Night Gallery forty years later, that’s it for genre appearances. (Died 1983.)
Born August 30, 1942 — Judith Moffett, 77. She won the first Theodore Sturgeon Award with her story “Surviving” and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the Nolacon II for her Pennterra novel. Asimov wrote an introduction for the book and published it under his Isaac Asimov Presents series.
Born August 30, 1943 — Robert Crumb, 76. He’s here because ISFDB lists him as the illustrator of The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick which is likely they say an interview that Dick did with Gregg Rickman and published in Rickman’s The Last Testament. They’re also listing the cover art for Edward Abby’s The Monkey Wrench Gang as genre but that’s a very generous definition of genre.
Born August 30, 1955 — Jeannette Holloman. She was one of the founding members of the Greater Columbia Costumers Guild and she was a participant at masquerades at Worldcon, CostumeCon, and other conventions. Her costumes were featured in The Costume Makers Art and Thread magazine. (Died 2019.)
Born August 30, 1963 — Michael Chiklis, 56. He was The Thing in two first Fantastic Four films, and Jim Powell on the the No Ordinary Family series which I’ve never heard of. He was on American Horror Story for its fourth season, American Horror Story: Freak Show as Dell Toledo. The following year he was cast as Nathaniel Barnes, in the second season of Gotham, in a recurring role. And he voiced Lt. Jan Agusta in Heavy Gear: The Animated Series.
Born August 30, 1965 — Laeta Kalogridis, 54. She was an executive producer of the short-lived excellent Birds of Prey series and she co-wrote the screenplays for Terminator Genisys and Alita: Battle Angel. She recently was the creator and executive producer of Altered Carbon. She also has a screenwriting credit for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a film the fanboys hate but which I really like.
Born August 30, 1967 — Frederique van der Wal, 52. She appeared in exactly one genre film — Wild Wild West as Amazonia. Oh well.
Born August 30, 1972 — Cameron Diaz, 47. She first shows as Tina Carlyle in The Mask, an amazing film. She voices Princess Fiona in the Shrek franchise. While dating Tom Cruise, she’s an uncredited Bus passengers in Minority Report. Oh and she’s Lenore Case in the cringingly awful Green Hornet.
Born August 30, 1980 — Angel Coulby, 39. She is best known as Gwen (Guinevere) in the BBC’s Merlin. She also shows up in Doctor Who as Katherine in the “The Girl in the Fireplace”, a Tenth Doctor story. She also voices Tanusha ‘Kayo’ Kyrano in the revived Thunderbirds Are Go.
(9) COMICS SECTION.
Incidental Comics by Grant Snider – “Reader’s Block”
(11) SUPERREALISM. In “Review:
The Boys (Amazon)”, Camestros Felapton indicates the show suffers from
certain inconsistencies in storytelling.
…Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) is a young man whose girlfriend is brutally killed accidentally by the superhero A-Train — a Flash like superhero whose superspeed essentially explodes Campbell’s girlfriend in front of him. This early scene sets the confused tone of the series: gory, comical and shocking, with events often set up like jokes but then played out for emotional impact.
A distraught Hughie is recruited by Billy Butcher — Karl Urban sporting the accent he used as Skurge in Thor: Ragnarok. Butcher is a foul-mouthed cockney rogue CIA agent on his own personal mission of revenge against the seven….
By the time a fetus is 6 months old, it is producing electrical signals recognizable as brain waves.
And clusters of lab-grown human brain cells known as organoids seem to follow a similar schedule, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
“After these organoids are in that six-to-nine-months range, that’s when [the electrical patterns] start to look a lot like what you’d see with a preterm infant,” says Alysson Muotri, director of the stem cell program at the University of California, San Diego.
The finding suggests that organoids can help scientists study the earliest phase of human brain development and perhaps reveal the earliest biological beginnings of conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.
But the presence of humanlike brain waves in a dish is also likely to focus attention on the ethical questions surrounding this sort of research.
Two real-life hoaxes managed to fool the creator of Sherlock Holmes – and they help to reveal our own ‘metacognitive illusions’ that influence our memory and perception.
On 21 March 1919, a committee including a paranormal investigator, a viscountess, a mind reader, a Scotland Yard detective, and a coroner were all assembled in a small flat in Bloomsbury, London. “I have spent years performing with fake mediums all over the world in order to disprove spiritualism,” declared their host. “Now at last, I have come across a genuine medium.”
The woman who entered the room was wearing a veil that concealed the lower half of her face. She began with a séance which involved a demonstration of “clairvoyance”. Each member of the committee had been instructed to bring with them a small personal item or written letter. Before the medium arrived all the objects were placed into a bag, which was then locked inside a box.
The medium held the locked box in her lap, and while the committee watched carefully, she proceeded to not only name the objects within, but to describe them in vivid detail. She divined that one of the objects was a ring belonging to the deceased son of the paranormal investigator, and even read the faded inscription.
…The creator of Sherlock Holmes declared that he was highly impressed with the clairvoyant demonstration, although he said he would need to see the ghost again before he would attest to its paranormality.
Today, Conan Doyle is best known for his detective stories, but the good doctor was also an illustrious paranormal investigator who often failed to see the frauds in front of his eyes. He famously fell for the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies, for instance, faked by two children – Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. He attended séances, too. As a spiritualist, Conan Doyle also asserted that he witnessed mediums make direct contact with the spirits of the dead.
…Conan Doyle’s reactions to these hoaxes are clearly problematic, but they are also an illustration of psychological phenomena known as “metacognitive illusions”.
“Metacognition” is the idea of thinking about thinking. By extension, metacognitive illusions occur when people hold mistaken beliefs about their own cognitive systems. We all tend to feel like we are experts about the nature of our own perceptions and memories. After all, we generally perceive things and remember things successfully throughout most of our day-to-day lives. However, in many cases our intuitions about our own cognitive systems can be surprisingly unreliable – we are not always nearly as observant as we think we are and our memories can be surprisingly malleable.
In case there were any lingering doubts, Sarah Connor is most definitely back. Reprising her signature role for the first time in nearly 30 years, Linda Hamilton asserts her authority in the latest trailer for Terminator: Dark Fate by delivering the franchise’s most famous line … you know the one. (Watch the trailer.)
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Danny Sichel,
Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Michael Tolan, Jerry
Kaufman, and Chip Hitchcock, for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to
File 770 contributing editor of the day Nigel.]
By Martin Morse Wooster: I’ll guess that Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 musical Camelot is a musical you’ve heard about but probably haven’t seen. Yes, there was a movie in 1967 and an HBO version in 1982, but my sense is that this musical is lost in the mists of theatrical history. Most of us know about how Jacqueline Kennedy, a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, declared that the musical was one of JFK’s favorites. A few of us know a few of the show’s songs. But I suspect this is a show most people haven’t seen.
Well, I came to the show, currently at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, prepared. Last year, thanks to my book club, I had read the great novel this musical is based on, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Weirdly, the normally well-prepared Shakespeare Theatre bookshop, which would happily sell you books by Sir Thomas Malory or Howard Pyle, or a 33-piece “build your own castle” toy set, had no copies of White’s novel for sale.
White’s book is in two parts. The first part, The Sword in the Stone, is a funny novel about young Arthur, before he became king, and his education by sorcerer Merlyn, who turns him into various animals to teach him what the world is like. Disney turned this part into a carton in 1963.
The second part, which encompasses several hundred pages, is about Arthur, once he became king, and how he built the Round Table as a way of having knights do something constructive rather than endlessly bash each other. White then shows the Round Table’s collapse, in part due to the adulterous relationship between the best knight in the realm, Sir Lancelot, and King Arthur’s wife, Guenevere.
In his notes in the program book, Shakespeare Theatre dramaturg Drew Lichtenberg explains that Camelot was the last great “book musical,” where the story mattered as much as the songs. Lerner, Loewe, and director Moss Hart began work on the show in 1956, after their previous collaboration, My Fair Lady, became a hit. They eventually had 4 ½ hours of story that they boiled down, in a process that ended up with Loewe retiring, Hart having the first in a series of heart attacks, and Lerner developing “a bleeding ulcer brought on by amphetamine abuse.”
After all this work, how much of The Once and Future King is left? My sense is that the first half is reasonably close and the second half does a great deal of condensing.
The story begins with Arthur about to be married reminiscing about his days being educated by Merlyn, and how he was once called “Wart.” But Merlyn teaches Arthur to move forward with his life, and Arthur recalls that when he was an eagle, he noticed there were no physical boundaries between all of the little kingdoms that constituted the England of his time. He then reveals how he became king by pulling the sword out of the stone and resolves to have all the knights work together in the Round Table, a place where no one is the head.
The call for knights includes people from all over the world, including France, where Lancelot shows up. Lancelot is the most accomplished knight, but he also falls in love with Arthur’s wife, Guenevere. Their infidelity, fueled by the appearance of Arthur’s son Mordred, ultimately leads to the collapse of Camelot.
Most of this is in White, but there’s a great deal of simplification as well as the lack of several major characters. If you’re a fan of Sir Galahad or Sir Bors, you won’t find them in Camelot. Still, Lerner and Loewe did a good job in boiling down White’s complex novel.
The Internet Movie Database tells me that The Once and Future King has never been filmed. Surely companies hungry for fantasy miniseries might want to give it a try? Meanwhile, Variety says that The Sword in the Stone, which has been in development with Disney since 2015, is scheduled to be filmed as a live-action remake in 2019, with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo attached as director.
The Shakespeare Theatre production of Camelot was excellent, with the three leads—Ken Clark as King Arthur, Alexandra Silber as Guenevere, and Nick Fitzer as Lancelot de Lac, having superb voices, although director Alan Paul shouldn’t have made Fitzer use a plummy French accent. Two long-established character actors in Washington, Ted van Griethuysen as Merlyn and Floyd King as King Pellinore, were also good in their parts. Merlyn is a small part in Camelot, but King Pellinore is a substantial role, and King was very funny.
I think the last time Camelot played in Washington was in 2003. I hope I will not have to wait another 15 years to see this great fantasy musical again.
 Which should not be confused with a “camel lot,” which is where you park your camel.
 The proof White’s book is a great book is that it’s not easy to answer the question, “What books are like White’s? Who did he influence?”
According to Lussier, Eric Roth, who won an Oscar for his adapted screenplay for Forrest Gump, has been hired to adapt the Frank Herbert novel Dune for director Denis Villeneuve.
(2) NEW AFRICAN SF AWARD. Since the Hugo announcement date was only known a few days ahead of time, the African Speculative Future Society may not have known that April 4 was a less-than-optimum date to announce the inaugural 2017 Nommos shortlist.
The categories are:
The Ilube Award for Best Speculative Fiction Novel by an African – 1000 USD prize,
The Nommo Award for Best Speculative Fiction Novella by an African – 500 USD
The Nommo Award for Best Speculative Fiction Short Story by an African – 500 USD
The Nommo Award for Best Speculative Fiction Graphic Novel by Africans – 1000 USD to be shared.
The award has been funded for four years, by Mr Tom Ilube.
“Science fiction is important because it looks ahead to African futures. Fantasy and fiction based on traditional tales are important because they link us back to our forebears. Both are important for African development. I wanted to make sure that the explosion of African science fiction gets the recognition it deserves.” Mr Tom Ilube.
The first award ceremony will be held at Aké Festival in Nigeria, November 2017. After that they hope to alternate the location of the awards ceremony between West and East Africa.
Here are links to the Short List and the rest of the nominees in all 4 categories:
(3) OLD OPERA HAS NEW ACTS. Cora Buhlert couldn’t find what she liked 20 years ago, but there’s enough good stuff now for her to be writing about “The Space Opera Resurgence”.
I didn’t like any of those books. But I was an SF fan and a space opera fan and this was all the space opera there was, with very few exceptions (mostly published by Baen Books, which are notoriously difficult to find in Europe). So I kept trying the highly regarded New Space Opera of the early 2000s, until I found myself standing in the local Thalia store, the latest offering of New British Space Opera subgenre in hand (it was this one – I remember the cover very clearly), when I suddenly dropped the book to the floor and exclaimed, “Why do I keep buying this shit? I don’t even like these books.” So I turned my back on New British Space Opera and on science fiction altogether (I did put the book back on the shelf first) and read other genres for a few years, until I came back in a roundabout way via urban fantasy and science fiction romance and found a whole universe of SFF books that weren’t on the radar of the official genre critics at all.
Now, some ten to fifteen years later, there is a lot more space opera on the shelves than back in the early 2000s. It’s also a lot more diverse the than just pale Banks clones. Nor is it just written by white, overwhelmingly British dudes – indeed, some of the best space opera of today is written by women and writers of colour. And even some of those authors whose novels almost put me off science fiction altogether some ten years ago are writing much more enjoyable works these days. …
(4) MAIL CALL. It’s not easy to get letters from the year 1962 unless you’re The Traveler. Galactic Journey today unveiled – “[April 5, 1962] Pen Pals (Letter Column #1)”. The first missive comes from University of Arizona student Vicki Lucas….
Of course, to pay the tuition and room & board, I also take in ironing, do tutoring, deliver newspapers, etc., and they helped me get a student loan. It’s been a real eye-opener to go to school here. Now I know what “scholarship” means. At the University of Arizona, from which I transferred last year, I did have some great learning experiences, but nothing as rich as this.
Not that I didn’t have some great experiences at UA, meeting an English Professor who is an avante-garde composer (Barney Childs), and since I worked in the Fine Arts College I went to most concerts & saw the harpsichord played for the first time (double keyboard!) & heard Barney’s music played. (I admit, I have a crush on him — see the enclosed photo.) And then I’ve been to San Francisco & seen jazz trumpeter Miles Davis & a lot of other stuff….
(5) CAMESTROS FELAPTON EXPLAINS IT ALL TO YOU. Thank goodness somebody can. In “Hugo 2017: How to vote for best series” he looks at 8 different approaches to dealing with the vastness of the Hugo nominated series. Sure, 8 is also a lot — just be grateful he didn’t try to match the number of ways Cyrano described his nose.
The issue is that Best Series is not unlike Best Editor Long Form – the normal way of voting in the Hugo Awards doesn’t work (read the relevant stuff and vote). However, unlike Best Editor Long, best series at least has accessible information and works. The problem is that it is way too much volume of stuff to evaluate if you haven’t already been following the series in question. So here are some approaches to choose from.
(6) CHOP CHOP. Shouldn’t Wolverine co-creator Len Wein be getting a cut of this?
A medical clinic in the Philippines is using an unusual mascot to advertise its circumcision service: claw-bearing X-Men super hero Wolverine.
The advertisement for Dionisio M. Cornel Memorial Medical Center in Antipolo features an image of Hugh Jackman as the adamantium-clawed character he played in the X-Men and Wolverine films next to text promoting the clinic’s circumcision service.
The Atlanta, GA based convention AnachroCon might be more aptly named “AnarchoCon” these days. Earlier this week the convention’s Chair and legal counsel Sarah Avraham stepped down in what sounds like an extremely complicated situation.
In a public Facebook post Avraham detailed the reasons for her departure, and while you should really read that post in its entirety, I’ll do my best to summarize it. It starts when Avraham was approached by William and Cindy MacLeod in the spring of 2016 to take over the event in an attempt to rehabilitate the convention’s image and get it back on track financially.
This last weekend would have been the second annual Lebanon MEGA Con, if the Missouri based convention hadn’t announced its cancellation just one month before. While organizer Will Peden did say that everyone owed money would be paid, some parties are waiting for those promises to be fulfilled.
(9) TODAY IN FUTURE HISTORY
April 5, 2063 — The day the Vulcans landed. According to Memory-Alpha:
It does not seem surprising that reading Don DeLillo’s novel Zero K, in which an estranged son accompanies his tycoon father to the threshold of his journey into eternity, brought those memories of Cold Lazarus especially rushing back. Straddling the millennium, both [Dennis] Potter’s final teleplays and DeLillo’s sixteenth novel have a leached-out, end-times quality that puts human mortality centre stage and refuses to look away. That Potter’s scripts – almost a quarter-century old now and written while SF was still very much a pariah literature – leap naked into the science fictional abyss, while DeLillo’s novel appears to negate, to brush aside the very notion of science fiction altogether, seems just one further irony.
Imagine a table laden with all the food you can think of; things you like and things you don’t like; cuisines from all around the world; the fresh and the fast; three thousand calorie freak-shakes next to organic kale salads; dessert piled on top of nachos sitting on a bed of pears. The table is groaning, under the physical and the metaphorical weight of the feast. It’s wonderful and disconcerting and a bit horrifying and deliciously tempting at the same time. This is the gastronomic equivalent of Cathrynne M. Valente’s Radiance, a virtuoso outpouring of language, style, trope and intertext fit to overwhelm any appetite. It took close to a week for me to sit down and start this review after I finished the book; I needed that long to digest it. If you like your novels spare or clean this one probably isn’t for you.
His claim directly addresses the central conceit of the novel that the networks and routes by which African-American slaves escaped to the free states and the North exists as an actual underground railroad with stations and steam locomotives on rails. However, his mistake lies in imagining that the workings of the railroad can be reduced to information as legible as a map and a timetable. Earlier in the novel, when Cora visits this particular ‘ghost tunnel’ for the first time with the railroad operative, Royal, she reflects that the necessary secret of the railroad is not a bad type of secret but rather an intimate part of the self that is central to personal identity: ‘It would die in the sharing.’ The enigma of the railroad, as Royal observes, is that ‘it goes everywhere, to places we know and those we don’t’. The challenge it presents is not to classify it as a system of knowledge but to figure out both how it connects the different selves who use it and where it might lead to.
The Man Who Spoke Snakish is easily the least traditionally science fictional of my shortlist selections: not only does it feature no rockets, but it’s set firmly in the past (and is more about pasts than futures) and it includes talking snakes and something very much like a dragon. In the sense that science fiction is defined by the presence or absence of received ideas and familiar imagery—that is, using the least science fictional definition of science fiction—it would not be considered science fiction.
On Tuesday morning, the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards (the Oscars of sci-fi and fantasy writing) were announced by the World Science Fiction. Unsurprisingly, collected volumes of Marvel’s critically acclaimed Black Panther and Ms. Marvel series were both nominated for Best Graphic Story.
These nominations come just days after Marvel’s Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel, went out of his way to blame Marvel’s lagging sales on comics—like Black Panther and Ms. Marvel—starring people of color and women. Suffice it to say that the optics of this whole thing don’t reflect well on the publisher, but the Hugo nominations send a telling message to Marvel about just how the public actually feels about its “diverse books.”
Frustration, because the puppies’ ongoing presence on the ballot, even under extremely reduced circumstances, means that it continues to be impossible to talk about the nominees as their own thing, rather than a reaction to an attempted fascist takeover. There’s a lot to praise about this year’s ballot, including the continued shift towards a more diverse slate of nominees, but in the short fiction categories in particular, the Hugo has once again thrown up a fairly middle-of-the-road selection. Most of these stories aren’t bad, but quite a few of them are meh, and it would be nice to once again be able to have a proper discussion of that. Instead, we’re all still in bunker mode, still cheering the fact that publishable fiction was nominated for the genre’s most prestigious award, which increasingly seems like a low bar to clear.
The best novel category looks excellent. We have the sequels to two previous Hugo winners in the category, Death’s End by Liu Cixin and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin respectively. We have the long awaited and critically acclaimed debut novels by two accomplished short fiction writers, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee respectively. We have a highly acclaimed debut novel with a very unique voice, Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, as well as the sort of sequel to 2014’s highly acclaimed debut novel with a unique voice, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. A Closed and Common Orbit, Too Like the Lightning and Ninefox Gambit were also on my ballot, and I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three. And those who worry that science fiction is about to die out and be swamped by fantasy, which will inevitably lead to the collapse of the West or something, will be pleased that four of the six nominees in this category are unabashedly science fiction. The Obelisk Gate is an edge case, while the only clear fantasy novel is All the Birds in the Sky and even that one has a mad scientist character. Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 3 writers of colour, at least 3 LGBT writers, 1 international writer in translation, 0 puppies.
… I am very gratified to see Cixin Liu back where he belongs Death’s End a finalist for Best Novel. I loved it, as you can probably tell by my overenthusiastic review. I thought The Dark Forest was robbed, and I voted for The Three-Body Problem as the Best Novel two years ago. I would have loved to have seen the entire series go up for an award, but oh well. It perhaps says something about the incestual nature of the Hugo voting that the two books in the series edited by the popular Ken Liu were finalists, and the one that wasn’t didn’t even finish in the top 15 nominations….
The Rageaholic was a finalist last year, but I only saw my first few videos within the last month or so. And for the most part, I have no interest in watching his videos on video games or movies or politics. If only for the main reason I don’t watch many YouTube videos or listen to many podcasts. I ain’t got time for that stuff. But Razorfist has an encyclopedic knowledge of comics and Elric of Melnibone. And he’s got a great shtick. Usually in black-and-white, decked out in mirrored sunglasses and a leather jacket, long hair, wall covered in posters behind him. Complete with some metal thrown-in to start and finish things off, and a rapid-fire, eloquent, profane delivery.
H.P. also identifies himself as a contributor to the Castalia House blog.
(16) HUGO BY OSMOSIS. The nominations have inspired J.D. Brink’s latest theory.
Worldcon has released the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards, the science fiction and fantasy awards named after Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback. We’re pretty sure that’s the book Spider-Man first appeared in. In true snooty comics website fashion, we’ll only talk about the things that relate to comic books and ignore everything else.
First, in the most important category, Best Graphic Story (that’s fancy-speak for comics), nominees included Marvel’s Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and The Vision, two of the most successful and acclaimed books the likes of which Marvel “has heard” people don’t want anymore, and one written by a guy who “rode off into the sunset.” Monstress, Paper Girls, and Saga from Image took the other three slots, shutting out all other publishers. Shockingly, no prominent editors from the superhero comics community earned nominations in any of the editorial categories, though Sana Takeda, a familiar name to comics readers, did move the needle with a spot on Best Professional Artist list.
Dan Slott failed to secure a nomination in Best Fan Writer despite writing some of the most acclaimed Doctor Who fan fiction around in Silver Surfer, though Doctor Who’s Christmas Special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio, was nominated under the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category, which is a fancy way of saying “TV show.” Yes, we know we’re breaking out “only talk about comics” rule, but what could be more “comics website” than that?! Sir Robert Liefeld’s greatest creation, Deadpool, earned a nomination in the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category, which is a fancy way of saying “movie.”
Every image you’ve seen of a black hole is an illustration. A giant “virtual” telescope may change that….
We’ve never seen a direct image of a black hole. But if an audacious experiment called the Event Horizon Telescope is successful, we’ll see one for the first time.
Why we’ve never seen an image of a black hole
The biggest problem with trying to detect a black hole is that even the supermassive ones in the center of galaxies are relatively tiny.
“The largest one in the sky [is] the black hole in the center of the Milky Way,” Dimitrios Psaltis, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona, said in 2015. “And taking a picture of it would be equivalent to taking a picture of a DVD on the surface of the moon
(20) THAT REVOLUTIONARY NEW IDEA FOR SELLING BOOKS. The Verge has another Amazon bookstore on its radar screen – it will be the third in New York.
Amazon has confirmed plans to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore across from the Empire State Building, bringing its total number of announced but as-of-yet unopened stores in New York City up to three.
Publisher’s Weekly reports that a sign reading “Amazon Books Coming Soon” has gone up in the 34th Street storefront, adding that an Amazon rep said the store will open this summer. The store has also been added to the Amazon Books website. This would presumably make it Amazon’s second store in New York. A location in Columbus Circle’s Time Warner Center (just off of Central Park) was announced in January, with the intent to open this spring.
Another, in Hudson Yards, the still-under-construction $20 billion shopping and luxury residential complex on Manhattan’s far west side, was widely reported last summer — with plans to launch alongside the rest of the development’s new stores in 2018 or 2019.
(21) CUTTING EDGE. Here’s the King Arthur: Legend of the Sword final trailer. The film will be out May 12.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, and Mark-kitteh for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]
(1) CLICHE KILLER. Charlie Stross has left the story! Or at least heaved the book across the room. He’s posted a rant about “Science-fictional shibboteths” with examples of “what makes me yell when I kick the tires on an SF/F novel these days.”
…Disbelief can be shattered easily by authorial mistakes—one of the commonest is to have a protagonist positioned as a sympathetic viewpoint character for the reader behave in a manner that is not only unsympathetic but inconsistent with the protagonist’s parameters. But there are plenty of other ways to do it….
But then we get to more specific matters: specific shibboleths of the science fictional or fantastic literary toolbox that give my book-holding hand that impossible-to-ignore twitch reflex.
(Caveat: I am talking about books here. I basically don’t do TV or film because my attention span is shot, my eyeballs can’t scan fast enough to keep up with jerkycam or pull in enough light to resolve twilight scenes, and my hand/eye coordination is too crap for computer games.)
Asteroidal gravel banging against the hull of a spaceship. Alternatively: spaceships shelting from detection behi nd an asteroid, or dodging asteroids, or pretty much anything else involving asteroids that don’t look like this….
(2) SILVER BELLS. A Krampus parade in Austria. The video (a public Facebook post) is highly entertaining. Jim Rittenhouse nicknamed the marchers “the 324th Krampus Brigade” but it’s a genuine local custom. (Well, I’m not sure about the giant silver bells on their buttcheeks….)
What is this…? An Austrian tradition!
The Krampus is an old tradition. It has its origins before Catholicism reached the mountains in Austria and Bavaria. In the past, were the winter was cold and strong, before the Krampus a so called Perchte should punch the winter away with a rod. When Catholicism reached the described areas, the Perchte was transformed into the Krampus, just like other profane rites. So the Krampus got the bad part of the Nikolaus-Krampus team. With the Krampus scaring the kids. The good kids are rewarded by the Nicklaus whereas the bad kids are punished by the Krampus.
The Parade called “Krampuslauf” serves to present the masks . Many hundreds or thousands of people look at this ” Krampuslauf ” in different locations in Austria.
Perhaps somewhat unwittingly, Zen Cho has become something of a poster-girl for the growing chorus of voices clamouring for more diversity in science fiction and fantasy literature.
It seems a given that a genre that deals with the different, the new, and the unfamiliar as a matter of course should quite naturally embrace diversity and progressiveness in both its practitioners and its characters.
But the recent debacle over the genre’s Hugo Awards – to cut a very long story very short, the awards nominations were flooded by a concerted campaign from a couple of fandom factions who think SF should really be the preserve of straight white males, and a spaceship should be a spaceship and not a metaphor for anything else – shows that there are still clearly-delineated battle lines over this….
Zen Cho’s response has been more measured, and delivered in really the best way an author can – she’s written a novel that simultaneously manages to tackle questions of race, gender, and social justice while being a thumping good read.
Sorcerer to the Crown is a Regency fantasy that posits an alternative-history England where magic is practised openly, but where political shenanigans within the source of the magic, the Fairy Court, are limiting England’s power … and just when it needs it most as the Government ramps up its war with the French.
But after a lifetime of sampling all these various versions, I’ve never really taken to this storyline. It’s a doom and disaster tale that turns on adultery. Not my cuppa.
I did have to teach Malory back in my teaching days, getting puzzled kids through fifteenth century English mainly by teasing out stories that could relate to their lives now, and then painting a picture of life then. We read it in spite of the story, kind of, because personality was pretty sparse: the characters are all pretty much one thing, especially the women.
But there’s one Arthurian story I really like a whole lot, and that’s this one, by Carol Anne Douglas, the first half of which is entitled Lancelot: Her Story. I’ve been reading drafts over a number of years, as she slowly reworked and layered the story into what it is now.
She’s studied those earlier versions, and it shows in the episodic nature of the narrative, the easily accessible prose, and of course the famous people and incidents. But she added a twist: Lancelot is a woman. And Arthur and his Knights don’t know it.
The Cylon Wars have been a founding event in both BSG series, and neither have been seen in any length until the 2012 web-only miniseries Blood & Chrome. In the 2004-2009 Reimagined Series, the rebellion of the intelligence machines, known as Cylons, was about fifty two years before the Cylon Holocaust (BCH), and lasted for 12 years. This war united the 12 Colonies of Kobol under the Articles of Colonization, and saw the construction of the Battlestars that we know and love. This conflict transformed the 12 Colonies and paved the way for its destruction decades later and the rise of our society here on Earth. But, we saw very little of the actually, despite the Caprica series.
In the original 1978 series, the Cylons were actually an reptilian alien race that used robotic soldiers to wages their wars after their own population was nearly exhausted to maintain their empire.
The Cylons of the original series waged an 1,000 year war with the 12 Colonies of Man, until finally achieving victory, and destroying the 12 Colonies of Man. Of course, both Cylons had help in destroying the 12 Colonies in the form of the Baltar characters. After the end of the SyFy Channel reimagined series in 2009, it was believed that a new series would be created around the Cylon War and William Adama’s experiences in the war, along with the series Caprica. Again, the Galactica would be front-and-center. This would have allowed us to see the war that had been floating around science fiction since the 1970’s. That promised series was not delivered in the form that we fans expected. BSG: Blood & Chrome was downgraded to an online miniseries of a 10 episodes. The show we thought we were going to get was just okay, and the Cylon Wars remains an unseen war. What is interesting about the Cylon War mentioned in both series, is that creators took two very different ideas on the war and the Cylons.
Take a virtual tour of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone – without leaving your sofa
The town of Prypiat is not a place which is likely to feature on many travel-lovers’ bucket lists.
Almost three decades ago, its 350,000 residents’ lives changed forever when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster turned their home into a terrifying radioactive danger zone.
Prypiat might not be the sort of destination you’d fancy visiting in real life, but soon you will have the chance to take an amazing virtual tour of this abandoned Soviet ghost city.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster next year, a Polish games developer called The Farm 51 is offering “anyone with access to virtual reality devices an unprecedented trip to the area without leaving the comfort of their homes”.
… “Virtual visitors will be free to explore and engage with places that have hitherto been off limits.”
The Farm 51 spent days filming the town’s eerie locations in unprecedented detail, digitising its spooky swimming pool, ferris wheel and bumper cars.
Anyone brave enough to take a virtual tour can do so starting from April 26 next year – the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
Avoid $1.99. For the fourth year in a row, $1.99 was a black hole in terms of overall earnings. On a unit sales basis, although $1.99 books outperformed all books priced $5.00 and above, it dramatically underperformed on overall earnings, earning 73% less than the average of all other price points. If you write full length fiction and you have books priced at $1.99, trying increasing the price to $2.99 or $3.99, and if your book performs as the aggregate does, you’ll probably sell more units. Or if it’s short and $2.99+ is too high, try 99 cents instead because the data suggests you’ll earn more and reach about 65% more readers. I’m not entirely certain why this is the case. It’s not because our retailers pay lower levels for sub-$2.99 books. They don’t. Our retailers pay the same for $1.99 as they do for $9.99. There’s something about the price point that readers don’t like. Who knows, maybe readers see 99 cents as an enticing promotional price, $2.99 and up as a fair price, and $1.99 as the price for lesser quality books that couldn’t make the $2.99 grade. Your theory is as good as mine.
Bestselling authors and social media. Bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and more likely to have a blog. Not a huge surprise, though it’s worth noting there are plenty of successful authors who have minimal presence on social media.
Top 10 Fiction categories during the one year period: 1. Romance. 2. Erotica. 3. YA and teen fiction. 4. Fantasy. 5. Mystery & detective. 6. Gay and lesbian fiction. 7. Science fiction. 8. Historical. 9. Thriller & suspense. 10. Adventure.
[Thanks to Mark-kitteh, Alan Baumler, Will R., John King Tarpinian, and Brian Z. for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus .]