(1) ON THE JOB. Slate has posted the June short story from Future Tense and Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination: “The Skeleton Crew,” by Janelle Shane, about a haunted house (supposedly) powered by AI.
Aroha had been a closet skeleton for two weeks now, the longest anyone had managed to hold the position. At first the job had been utterly undoable, but she and her co-workers had hacked in some we’d-totally-be-fired-for-this improvements…
It was published along with a response essay by Melissa Valentine, an expert on how data and algorithms are changing work: “Ghost work, artificial intelligence, and Janelle Shane’s ‘The Skeleton Crew’”.
“The Skeleton Crew” asks us to consider two questions. The first is an interesting twist on an age-old thought experiment. But the second is more complicated, because the story invites us to become aware of a very real phenomenon and to consider what, if anything, should be done about the way the world is working for some people….
(2) FOUNDATION AND TEASER. What would I do if my civilization was about to end? Uh, log into Facebook? Of course, I’m not head of a galactic empire.
(3) HWA PRIDE. Horror Writers Association’s “A Point of Pride” series continues with an “Interview with Larissa Glasser”.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was more of a TV baby than a reader when I was little. The year after my dad died, I saw the original cartoon version of The Hobbit (1977) and it was the first time I’d seen the portrayal of an invented world—well, like mine it had darkness and evil but also hope and magic, and that was a great place to start from. I was so hooked in to the idea the something could be different in my own world of grief and losing my dad, so I sought out Tolkien and there was no turning back after that. The idea of having an experienced wizard and guardian helping you through trauma and hardship, and yet taught you to self-rely on your own cunning and imagination really appealed to me. In its own way, Tolkien’s novel surpassed the film adaptation. It expanded a world that I needed to see. So, I sought out other fantasy literature. Not long after, I discovered Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and I was astonished not only by its visceral brutality but also by its variety and diversity of setting and plotlines. As a trans kid, I needed different worlds, and to have even the most vague impression that I could create one or many from dreams and imagination drew me in to the creative process. All uphill from there.
(4) VERDICT OF FANHISTORY. Camestros Felapton has assembled the first 33 chapters of The Debarkle into downloadable free ebook: “Catch up on the Debarkle with ebook of Volume 1”.
Volume 1 in the epic saga of the culture war within science fiction. This volume covers the story up to 2014 of the people and events that would lead up to the 2015 Sad Puppy controversy at the prestigious Hugo Awards.
Links to Books2Read, Apple Books, and Rakuten Kobo in the post.
(5) NOT COMING BACK. Nicholas Whyte begins his series of blog reviews of this year’s Hugo nominees by putting some speculation to rest: “2021 Hugos: Best Graphic Story or Comic” at From the Heart of Europe.
A couple of people have asked me if I will return to the staff of DisCon III now that the Chair has resigned. Whoever the new Chair is, I will decline any such invitation. My former position as WSFS Division Head was filled within twenty-four hours of my own resignation, by someone who (unlike me) has actually done that job before, and who does not need me looking over their shoulder. I have no information about the rest of the vacancies, and frankly it’s none of my business whether others of the former team decide to return if invited to do so. Whoever does pick up the reins, I wish them well; I think that we left the Hugo Administration side of things in pretty good shape, and there is of course continuity in Site Selection and the Business Meeting. (One of my few regrets about the way things ended is that we had not yet set up systematic monitoring of the votes coming in, so I have absolutely no idea who is winning.)…
(6) READING THE FUTURE. Given all the interest a few years back about how sf writers were cooperating with the Defense Department, what the Germans are doing might be of interest: ‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war in The Guardian.
…His favourite example of literature’s ability to identify a social mood and cast it into the future is a retelling of the Cassandra myth by the East German novelist Christa Wolf. Kassandra, published in 1983, casts Troy as a state not unlike the late-stage German Democratic Republic, succumbing to the paranoia of a Stasi-like secret police as it veers towards a not-so-cold war. Kassandra, cursed with the gift of prophecy, is also a cipher for the author’s own predicament: she foresees the decline her society is heading for, but her warnings are ignored by the military patriarchy.
If states could learn to read novels as a kind of literary seismograph, Wertheimer argues, they could perhaps identify which conflicts are on the verge of exploding into violence, and intervene to save maybe millions of lives….
.. In 2018, weeks after the Bundeswehr officers had travelled to Tübingen, Wertheimer presented his initial findings at the defence ministry in Berlin. He drew attention to a literary scandal around Jovan Radulovi?’s 1983 play Dove Hole, about an Ustashe massacre against their Serbian neighbours, and the expulsion of non-Serbian writers from the Serbian Writers’ Association in 1986. In the years that followed, he showed, there was an absence of tales about Albanian-Serbian friendships or love stories, and a rise in revisionist historical novels. Literature and literary institutions, he told the military men, had “paved the way for war” a good decade before the start of the bloodshed of the Kosovo war in 1998.
Carlo Masala was at the presentation. “At the beginning, I thought: this is crazy shit,” he recalls. “It won’t fly.” But Masala, who had spent a part of his academic career studying the conflict in Bosnia, remembered how the hardening tensions in the regions had been preceded by a decline in interfaith marriages. “In Kosovo, it seemed, you could detect similar early warning signs in the literary scene.”
“It was a small project that created a surprising amount of useful results,” says one defence ministry official who attended the presentation. “Against our initial instincts, we were excited.”
In its bid for further government funding, Wertheimer’s team was up against Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute, Europe’s largest organisation for applied research and development services, which had been asked to run the same pilot project with a data-led approach. Cassandra was simply better, says the defence ministry official, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Predicting a conflict a year, or a year and a half in advance, that’s something our systems were already capable of. Cassandra promised to register disturbances five to seven years in advance – that was something new.”…
(7) UNREAL ESTATE. James Davis Nicoll has the listings for “Five SFF Homes from Hell” at Tor.com.
… Unsurprisingly, speculative fiction authors have been swift to see the narrative potential in home renovation, whether for those who wish to own their own homes or who merely wish to find an affordable rental. Consider these five examples:
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
Hill House’s no doubt substantial real-estate potential has one impediment: a reputation for inducing madness in the inhabitants. Hill House was built by the cruel, eccentric Hugh Crain and is subtly, disturbingly, out of true. It has a long and bloody history, which has so far deterred occupation by the sane and the living.
A quartet of occult investigators sees opportunity here. Luke Sanderson is present to keep an eye on his aunt’s cursed property; bohemian Theodora appears to be intrigued by novelty. Doctor John Montague hopes to find scientific proof of the supernatural; Eleanor Vance wants to escape a life of being exploited and disparaged by her kin. What better place to find one’s dreams than an estate legendary for its nightmares?
(8) BLADES AND BIRKENSTOCKS. The Saturday Evening Post remembers “When Sword & Sorcery Cast a Spell on the 1980s”.
Between the time of the rise of disco and when the oceans drank the polar ice caps, there was an age undreamed of . . . and the name of this age was . . . The Eighties. And unto this age was born a seemingly sudden explosion of mystic tales about mighty warriors. For years, those stories shook the theaters with the strength of their steel before they diminished into perennial cable reruns and cult fandom. Now, forty years hence, cast your gaze back upon a time of stop-motion dragons and barbarian queens. Let me remind you of the days of HIGH ADVENTURE . . .
The Sword & Sorcery is a subgenre with an adventure-oriented style that contains elements of fantasy, like magic (hence the “sorcery” part). The name arose from correspondence between American writer Fritz Leiber and British writer Michael Moorcock in the 1960s as they debated what to call the kinds of tales that Robert E. Howard wrote (and which frequently featured his most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian). Leiber landed on “Sword and Sorcery” as a way to differentiate it from historical fantasy and “high fantasy” (which often dealt with world-shaking threats versus the more personal or sword-for-hire quests of “sword and sorcery”). It’s also a nod to the “sword and sandals” nickname that some myth and fantasy films had acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, generally movies featuring the likes of Steve Reeves or Reg Park as Hercules.
(9) LONG AND SHORT OF IT. Mental Floss catalogs “15 Facts About ‘Flowers for Algernon’” – many of which you already know, though maybe not all of them.
4. DANIEL KEYES FOUND INSPIRATION FOR CHARLIE IN HIS WORK.
Charlie Gordon isn’t based on a specific person or an existing experiment, but the character’s resolute drive to become smarter was inspired by one of Keyes’s students. In interviews over the following decades, Keyes would recount how one of his pupils in a class for children with intellectual disabilities asked to be transferred out. “Mr. Keyes, this is a dummy class,” the child said, according to the author’s recollection. “If I try hard and get smart before the end of the term, would you put me in a regular class? I want to be smart.”
(10) SHATNER HEALING UP. William Shatner, now 90, told The Guardian he is recovering from falling off a horse, as he answered their questions about his work in Senior Moment, playing a retired Nasa test pilot and self-proclaimed ladies’ man who loses his driving license and meets a woman who changes his life, and about his next album.
…Shatner, who will release an album called Love, Death and Horses later in the summer, said he wishes he knew when he was younger that fame and success do not prevent loneliness.
He said: “The album is autobiographical and one of the songs is about loneliness, how much loneliness was a part of my life. It is a part of everybody’s life, no matter how much attention you get, and how happily married you are, and how many children you have. As the song says, we’re all essentially alone and the big mystery is will there be anybody there at the end?”
Shatner said he attributes the energy he still has to “DNA, no question about it” and added: “I have lived a good life. I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink and smoke, and I try to exercise as much as possible, with good food.”
However, he revealed he is currently suffering from a serious injury, saying: “My shoulder is shattered right now. I cracked the bone falling off a horse a couple of weeks ago. So my left arm is bad but I keep exercising it. It’s getting better and better.
“But I’ve had the good luck of not having anything really debilitating. So nothing has sapped my energy.”
(11) MEMORY LANE.
1982 – Thirty nine years ago, John Crowley’s Little, Big would win both the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. It would place fifth in the voting at Chicon IV for Best Novel Hugo. (C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station won that year.) It would also be nominated for a Balrog, BSFA and Nebula as well.
(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born June 28, 1920 — James Doohan. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on Trek of course. His first genre appearance was in Outer Limits as Police Lt. Branch followed by being a SDI Agent at Gas Station in The Satan Bug film before getting the Trek gig. His first genre series would’ve been Space Command where he played Phil Mitchell. He filmed a Man from U.N.C.L.E.film, One of Our Spies Is Missing, in which he played Phillip Bainbridge, during the first season of Trek. After Trek, he was on Jason of Star Command as Commander Canarvin. ISFDB notes that he did three Scotty novels co-written with S.M. Stirling. (Died 2005.)
- Born June 28, 1926 — Mel Brooks, 95. Young Frankenstein (1974) (Hugo and Nebula winner) and Spaceballs (1987) would get him listed even without The 2000 Year Old Man, Get Smart and others. Here is an appreciation of Mel on YouTube. (Alan Baumler)
- Born June 28, 1946 — Robert Asprin. I first encountered him as the co-editor along with Lynn Abbey of the Thieves’ World Series for which he wrote the superb “The Price of Doing Business” for the first volume. I’m also very fond of The Cold Cash War novel. His Griffen McCandles (Dragons) series is quite excellent. I’m pleased to say that he’s well stocked on both at the usual suspects. (Died 2008.)
- Born June 28, 1947 — Mark Helprin, 74. Author of three works of significance to the genre, Winter’s Tale, A City in Winter, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella and The Veil of Snows. The latter two are tastefully illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. I know Winter’s Tale was turned into a film but color me very disinterested in seeing it as I love the novel.
- Born June 28, 1951 — Lalla Ward, 70. She is known for her role as the second actress to play Romana (or Romanadvoratrelundar in full) on Doctor Who during the time of the Fourth Doctor. She has reprised the character in Dimensions in Time, the webcast version of Shada, and in several Doctor Who Big Finish productions. In addition, she played Ophelia to Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet in the BBC television production. And she was Helga in an early horror film called Vampire Circus.
- Born June 28, 1954 — Raffaella De Laurentiis, 67. Yes, she’s related to that De Laurentiis, hence she was the producer of the first Dune film. She also did Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, both starting Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kull the Conqueror. She also produced all films in the Dragonheart series. She was the Executive Producer of the Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
- Born June 28, 1954 — Alice Krige, 67. I think her first genre role was in the full role of Eva Galli and Alma Mobley in Ghost Story. From there, she plays Mary Shelley (née Godwin) in Haunted Summer before going onto being Mary Brady in Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers. Now it’s in Star Trek: First Contact in which she first plays the Borg Queen, a role she’ll repeat in the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, “Endgame”. She’s had a number of other genre roles but I will only note that she was Eir in Thor: The Dark World.
- Born June 28, 1954 — Deborah Grabien, 67. She makes the Birthday list for her most excellent Haunted Ballads series in which a folk musician and his lover tackle the matter of actual haunted spaces. It leads off with The Weaver and the Factory Maid. You can read the first chapter here. Oh, and she makes truly great dark chocolate fudge.
(13) COMICS SECTION.
- Tom Gauld foresees the future of job interviews:
- And don’t miss the Bloom County / Calvin & Hobbes crossover –
(14) GENRE DICTIONARY. Nick Mamatas revises an entry:
(15) LEGO KERFUFFLE. “Disney drops ‘Slave I’ name for Boba Fett’s ship, prompting outcry from ‘Star Wars’ fans, actor” – Yahoo! has the story.
…Nonetheless, each attempt to bring inclusivity to Star Wars has been met with backlash from a small but vocal group of Star Wars fans lamenting the saga’s “social justice warriors” and “woke” approach to its latest endeavors.
Now, some Star Wars fans are mad again. This time at a Lego set.
As originally noted by the fan site Jedi News, the new Mandalorian-themed toy line features beloved bounty hunter Boba Fett’s spaceship; however, its traditional Slave I moniker has been changed to “Boba Fett’s Starship.” Per the definitive Star Wars reference site Wookieepedia, Fett’s heavily modified “Firespray-31-class patrol and attack craft” formerly belonged to this father, Jango. While originally built as a police craft with cells to transport criminals, Fett revamped the holding area into prisoner cages, “coffin-like cabinets that were less humane but better controlled his prisoners.”
Speaking to Jedi News, Lego designer Michael Lee Stockwell said the toymaker was no longer using the Slave I name, with fellow designer Jens Kronvold Frederiksen adding, “It’s probably not something which has been announced publicly but it is just something that Disney doesn’t want to use any more.”…
(16) ON THE RECORD. NPR interviews Sally Ride’s life partner in “Loving Sally Ride, The First American Woman In Space”.
Tam O’Shaughnessy and Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space — in 1983, aboard the space shuttle Challenger — shared a passion for getting girls involved in STEM. It led them to co-found Sally Ride Science, a company focused on equity and inclusion in science education.
There was much more to O’Shaughnessy and Ride’s relationship, however. They met as kids in the early 1960s and developed an instant connection. Years later, they fell in love.
But their relationship remained largely private until after Ride’s death in 2012 at age 61. In an interview with Short Wave host Madeline Sofia, O’Shaughnessy remembers how Ride opened the door to that revelation shortly before she died.
O’Shaughnessy says she asked Ride, “Who am I going to be in the world?”
“And she kind of thought about it for a second,” O’Shaughnessy remembers. “And she said, you decide. Whatever you decide will be just fine. …
“Very few people in general knew that she was gay. So it was really Sally telling me to do what I thought was best and then my friends helping me realize that I needed to be true to myself. And it changed my life, and I wish Sally could experience that.”…
(17) UNDER THE LID. Spencer Kornhaber endeavors to show “How Disney Mismanaged the Star Wars Universe” at The Atlantic.
…Had Lucas’s galaxy lost its power, or had its new stewards simply mismanaged it? The recent success of a remarkable Star Wars television series suggests the latter. When the streaming-TV service Disney+ launched in late 2019, it featured The Mandalorian, which picks up five years after the events of the original trilogy, and follows the adventures of a mysterious mercenary who has sworn never to take off his helmet. By the end of Season 2, a critical consensus had emerged: It was the best live-action Star Wars product to arrive since the early 1980s. Millions of viewers cooed over the short-statured enigma known to fans as Baby Yoda, who has a price on his adorable head for unknown reasons. As The Mandalorian’s laconic and lethal hero travels from one planet to the next, the sublime feeling of immersion that laced Lucas’s early movies reemerges. To watch the show and then look back at the sweep of Star Wars history is to understand where that feeling comes from—and why most of Hollywood’s hero-driven, special-effects-laden fantasies never attain it….
(18) SLEEP NUMBER. “This Implant Could One Day Control Your Sleep and Wake Cycles” – Smithsonian Magazine discusses an innovative idea.
In 1926, Fritz Kahn completed Man as Industrial Palace, the preeminent lithograph in his five-volume publication The Life of Man. The illustration shows a human body bustling with tiny factory workers. They cheerily operate a brain filled with switchboards, circuits and manometers. Below their feet, an ingenious network of pipes, chutes and conveyer belts make up the blood circulatory system. The image epitomizes a central motif in Kahn’s oeuvre: the parallel between human physiology and manufacturing, or the human body as a marvel of engineering.
An apparatus currently in the embryonic stage of development—the so-called “implantable living pharmacy”—could have easily originated in Kahn’s fervid imagination. The concept is being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in conjunction with several universities, notably Northwestern and Rice. Researchers envision a miniaturized factory, tucked inside a microchip, that will manufacture pharmaceuticals from inside the body. The drugs will then be delivered to precise targets at the command of a mobile application. DARPA’s initial, modest goal for the four-and-a-half-year program, which awarded contracts to researchers this May, is to alleviate jet lag….
(19) WHO BOOKS FOR BLIND FANS. There is a Crowdfunder for tactile Doctor Who books for blind fans: “Louis’ Campaign – Doctor Who for Blind Children – a Community crowdfunding project in Kingsclere for Living Paintings”. At present, it’s raised £5,317 of its £15,000 goal.
Learn more about the campaign at Living Paintings “Doctor Who Touch to See Books”.
Louis Moorhouse, from Bradford has been blind since he was 18 months old.
Now aged 19, and about to finish his first year at University, Louis has been a beneficiary of Living Paintings Touch to See library since childhood; enjoying and learning from the audio tactile images and books, developing skills and experiencing things his sighted peers take for granted….
… Recently Louis approached us with a brilliant idea: to create a Touch to See book based on the greatly loved character: Doctor Who.
“I’m a big fan of the show Doctor Who, but I have yet to fully meet the weird and wonderful characters, aliens, monsters and devices from the show because I can’t see them.
If I could sum up what I think is the most important thing about my campaign I would ask a sighted person to just imagine – close your eyes and now imagine you can’t open them ever again. This is how it is and now you want to read a book or watch Doctor Who. How are you going to do that? How important is reading a book to you? As a sighted person how would you feel if that was taken away from you and you couldn’t read anymore?
Then you discover Living Paintings and the books are full of characters you’ve heard about and imagined all the time, they’ve been on TV, you’ve listened to the audio books, you may have had the books read to you and you never quite understood what they looked like and now, because of Living Paintings you do.”
[Thanks to Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Rob Thornton, Cora Buhlert, Joey Eschrich, Jeff Warner, Lise Andreasen, James Davis Nicoll, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]