Pixel Scroll 3/1/21 Second Pixel On The Left, Scroll On Till Morning

(1) A KIND OF HOUSING CRISIS. In “Jonathan Lethem on Robert Heinlein and Other Influences” at The New Yorker, Lethem answers questions about his story in this week’s issue, “The Crooked House.”

The story’s protagonist, Mull, has found himself living in a once spectacular tesseract house—an architect’s grandiose solution to L.A.’s housing crisis—which has collapsed yet is still habitable. The structure keeps shifting and Mull struggles to find his way around. A corridor he used one day may have vanished the next. When did you first imagine this building? Do you see it as a three-dimensional space in your mind’s eye? Do you know it better than Mull? Or as well as Mull?

The idea of a tesseract as building comes from Robert Heinlein’s famous 1941 short story, “—And He Built a Crooked House—” (an influence my story wears on the sleeve of its title). It was one of my favorite stories growing up, and, for a lot of readers my age, it might be as responsible for the introduction of the idea of a tesseract as Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” It’s also an L.A. story, and Heinlein was a resident when he wrote it. The house in the story is across the street from his own address, if I’m remembering right.

That people in Los Angeles live outside right now, in tents and under overpasses, is such a cruel and overwhelming reality that it may be atrocious to make reference to it in passing (though it probably isn’t better to leave it unmentioned at all, which is what happens constantly). I’ll try saying simply that I sometimes find it easiest to let certain realities express themselves in my thinking when I give them a surreal or allegorical expression. 

(2) MORE COMMENTS ON BAEN’S BAR AND DISINVITING WEISSKOPF. Here are three recent posts that go beyond rehashing others’ opinions.

LawDog: “Freedom of Speech by LawDog”, a guest post on According to Hoyt, is a non-lawyer’s defense of Baen’s Bar hosting the sort of comments called out in Jason Sanford’s article.

…This, however, isn’t where the deplatformers come from (I’m looking at you folks taking a thunder run at Baen’s Bar in particular), they’ve decided that “Incitement to Violence” isn’t Free Speech, as they clutch their pearls.

Lawdog briefs a Supreme Court case, then proceeds —

“How,” I hear you ask, “Does this pertain to Baen’s Bar?”

Simple. If someone has been yacking about doing violence unto the Fed.gov for ten or fifteen years … it’s pretty safe to say that lawlessness is not “imminent”, and thus fails the Brandenburg test. That speech, distasteful though you may find it, is protected Free Speech.

And what is speech protected from? Protected from suppression by the government. So the government can’t prevent Baen’s Bar from hosting, for example, Tom Kratman’s advice about a Trumpian militia.

However, the pertinent question is do fans want to honor a figure in the sff field that hosts this speech? Lawdog’s cite does not bridge that divide.

Ben Sheffield takes a 360-dgree look at the topic in “Baenposting” at Coagulopath.

… That’s the main issue under consideration: are these “threats” on Baen’s Bar any more substantial or interesting than symbolic posturing, like a Twitter leftist with a guillotine avatar saying “eat the rich”? I don’t think they are.

So the expose has problems, and avenues of counterattack. But the reaction from the forum’s defenders has largely been to shoot themselves in the foot.

Baen’s publisher Toni Weisskopf had a hard row to hoe. If she deletes the mentioned posts and bans the offenders, her users will perceive this as a craven surrender to a bully’s demands. But if she ignores the expose, it will be spun as a further endorsement of violence.

She tried to have it both ways, temporarily closing the forum pending an investigation while refusing to condemn the violent threats. “We take these allegations seriously, and consequently have put the Bar on hiatus while we investigate. But we will not commit censorship of lawful speech.” She might have hoped that the scandal would blow over in a week, and she could reopen the Bar without doing anything. This approach blew up in her face, and caused her to lose her Guest of Honor spot at the 2021 Worldcon.

As I’ve said, you can’t win with forums. In chess, zugzwang is when you’re forced to make a bad move, because there’s no other way. Jason Sanford put her in zugzwang on February 15. There was no way she could have responded without suffering reputational damage, either from the SF community at large or from her own fans.

The smart thing to do, of course, would have been to never allow posts like that on Baen’s Bar to begin with.

But moderation is tricky, particularly with regards to powerful, respected users who are also personal friends. Forums founded on an ethos of “everything goes!” are generally moderated as little as possible, and this establishes precedent that’s hard to break. Like a roof with a hole in it, “everything goes” only seems fine until it starts raining. Moderation is almost always necessary, regardless of your friends’ feelings.

I’ve seen some attempted defenses of Baen’s Bar, and they’re not impressive….

Linda Bushyager, who in the Seventies edited the fannish newzine of record (Karass) before passing the torch to File 770, told Facebook readers that Toni Weisskopf didn’t deserve this outcome:

… I went to Discon’s website to read what they had to say about their decision. Basically the committee said because some users of Baen Books discussion had said violent or nasty or non PC or whatever comments, Toni, as the main editor at Baen would be disinvited. Note, Toni never made those comments, but I guess did not criticize them or ban them. However after complaints Toni did close down the “offensive” forum.

So it’s like you rent a room in your house to someone (a stranger) who turns out to be a robber, or Nazi, or racist, or whatever — well now let’s ban you too for whatever they said or did. Or maybe I belong to some club or organization or political party and someone else in this group said abhorrent stuff and I didn’t immediately withdraw from that group, so ban me from whatever honor you were going to give me, even if I disagree with those spoken views. Etc. There are many examples one could imagine. Am I responsible for everything not only my relatives and friends may say or do, but for acquaintances and people I work with or casually ride an elevator with? Where is the line?

Guilt by association.

All in all a sad day for Science Fiction fandom, as I see it — especially where in years past we were known for being tolerant to people who were different and who may have had different views. And when we found fans who had abhorrent ideas or said awful things, we tried to understand where they were coming from and tried to be tolerant and sympathetic where possible in an effort to understand and change minds, not just rebuke bad behavior thoughtlessly….

(3) [email protected] AGAIN. Comic-Con International has cancelled this spring’s WonderCon, and once more will run both it and the San Diego Comic-Con as virtual events: “Statement Regarding Comic-Con 2021”

As you may be aware, due to concern for public health and safety, San Diego Comic Convention had to cancel both of its in-person events in 2020 and recently announced that our spring 2021 show, WonderCon in Anaheim, will also be canceled. In its place, [email protected] will once again be held as a free online event on March 26 and 27, 2021.

It is the policy of the organization to continue to closely monitor information from local and national healthcare officials as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic. Never could we have imagined what the world experienced in 2020 and continues to experience today. While we are buoyed by the rollout of the vaccine and the growing number of individuals being inoculated, it appears that July will still be too early to safely hold an in-person event of the magnitude of Comic-Con. For this reason, we have made the challenging decision to postpone Comic-Con 2021 as an in-person gathering until our 2022 dates, and once again hold this year’s celebration as the free online [email protected] Unfortunately, the challenges of this past year and the multiple postponements of our two largest events have left us with limited financial resources, so this year the online experience will be reduced to a three-day event, spanning July 23-25, 2021.

(4) VIABLE PARADISE. The Viable Paradise SF&F Writers’ Workshop is also postponing til 2022: “ANNOUNCEMENT: Viable Paradise 2021 and Covid-19”.

Despite a decline in the number of new Covid-19 cases and the increasing rate of vaccinations, we cannot be certain there will be no threat come October. Last year, a major surge of the disease began just as the workshop would have been taking place. The new variants of the virus represent a wild card. No one is more disappointed with this outcome than we are, but we will not take risks with the safety of our students, instructors, and staff.

(5) TACKLING THE GENDER DIVIDE IN WANDAVISION. [Item by Olav Rokne.] Writing at the DailyDot, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor on Twitter) examines how differing standards for male and female magic users in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are indicative of existing prejudices about men and women. It’s an illuminating article about how often in comics (and superhero movies) a woman’s superpower is undercut by her own helplessness. “What ‘WandaVision’ and ‘Doctor Strange’ say about magical gender roles”. BEWARE SPOILERS.

…While Wanda Maximoff’s role is all about emotional upheaval and uncontrolled outbursts of power, her male counterpart (and future co-star) Doctor Strange develops his magic through rigorous academic training….

(6) FLASH FICTION CONTEST. Queer Sci Fi opened its annual Flash Contest today, and will be accepting entries through April 30. Full details at the link. (Via Locus Online.)

Every year, QSF holds a flash fiction contest to create an amazing new anthology of queer speculative fiction stories. We ask authors to do the nearly-impossible – to submit a sci fi, fantasy, paranormal or horror LGBTIQA story that has no more than 300 words.

The theme for 2021 is “Ink”…

We’ll be accepting works from across the queer spectrum, and would love to see more entries including lesbian, trans, bi, intersex and ace protagonists, as well as gay men. We also welcome diversity in ability (physical and mental) and in race. We had our most diverse set of entries yet in 2020 – let’s keep up the trend!

(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • March 1, 1997 –On this day in 1997, the Crime Traveller series premiered on BBC. It was produced by Carnival Films for the BBC. The premise being of  time travel for the purpose of solving crimes. It was created by Anthony Horowitz, and starred Michael and Chloë Annett. It would last but eight episodes being caught in the change of guard in the BBC Head of Drama position. You can watch the first episode here.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born March 1, 1885 Lionel Atwill. He had the lead roles in Thirties horror films Doctor XThe Vampire BatMurders in the Zoo and Mystery of the Wax Museum but his most-remembered role was the one-armed Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein which Kenneth Mars parodied in Young Frankenstein. He would appear in four subsequent Universal Frankenstein films. (Died 1946.) (CE) 
  • Born March 1, 1915 – Wyman Guin.  One novel, eight shorter stories.  Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.  Some have praised his focus on the human implications of enduring the future, but I’ve always loved “Volpla”.  (Died 1989) [JH]
  • Born March 1, 1918 Roger Delgado. The first Master in the Doctor Who series. The role was written especially for him. He would appear only with the Third Doctor as he died in car crash in Turkey. Other genre appearances were Quatermass IIDanger ManThe Mummy’s Shroud and First Man into Space. (Died 1973.) (CE) 
  • Born March 1, 1923 Andrew Faulds. He’s best remembered as Phalerus in Jason and the Argonauts in which he was in the skeleton fight scene that featured model work by Ray Harryhausen. He appeared in a number of other genre films including The Trollenberg TerrorThe Flesh and the Fiends and Blood of the Vampire. He had one-offs on Danger Man and One Step Beyond. Oh, and his first acting gig was as Lysander in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. (Died 2000.) (CE) 
  • Born March 1, 1946 Lana Wood, 75. She’s best remembered as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever. She was in The Wild Wild West as Vixen O’Shaughnessy in “The Night of the Firebrand” and Averi Trent in “The Night of the Plague” episodes. She was in both up the CBS televised Captain America films playing Yolanda, and she was still active in the genre as little three years ago playing a character named Implicit in Subconscious Reality. Be very suspicious that all the Amazon reviews of the later are five stars. (CE) 
  • Born March 1, 1950 David Pringle, 71. Pringle served as the editor of Foundation during the Eighties which In turned spawned Interzone during that time. The Glasgow Worldcon committee gave Pringle a Special Award for his work on Interzone. With Malcolm Edwards and Ian Watson, he also edited Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction from the late Seventies through the mid Eighties. Besides his various guides to the genre such as The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, I see early on that he did a lot of work on J.G. Ballard such as Earth Is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard’s Four-Dimensional Nightmare and J. G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography.  (CE) 
  • Born March 1, 1952 Steve Barnes, 69. I remember him best from the Dream Park series with Larry Niven but the Insh’Allah series is quite stellar as is the Heorot series that he did with Niven. His only award to date is an Endeavour Award for Lion’s Blood.  (CE) 
  • Born March 1, 1954 Ron Howard, 67. Director of Cocoon and Willow. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And opinions are I believe are definitely divided on Solo: A Star Wars Story. As a producer only, he’s responsible for Cowboys & Aliens and The Dark Tower. (CE)
  • Born March 1, 1954 – Maureen Garrett, age 67.  Known as a fanartist – she did the Nine of Wands in Bruce Pelz’ Fantasy Showcase Tarot Deck (see the whole deck here [PDF]; after BP’s introduction the suits are Cups, Pentacles, Swords, Wands, then the Trumps; yes, that’s the model for her card, named elsewhere in these birthday notes), contributed to Rune, moderated “What Is an Artist’s Life Really Like?” at ConFrancisco the 51st Worldcon – she was also Director of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm.  [JH]
  • Born March 1, 1955 – Tracy Barrett, Ph.D., age 66.  Six novels for us, two dozen all told.  The Song of Orpheus, seventeen Greek myths we’re little acquainted with, has been called nonfiction, but I dunno.  Anna of Byzantium is her novel of Anna Comnena (1083-1153; wrote The Alexiad, hello Joe Major). Taught at Vanderbilt thirty years. Likes Dickens’ Bleak House (as do I), “anything by Jane Austen, James Thurber, George Eliot.”  [JH]
  • Born March 1, 1962 – Dave Weingart, age 59.  Variously active fan, celebrated as a filker.  InterfilkGuest at Consonance 2001.  Official Filk Waif at FilKONtario 12.  Music Guest of Honor at Apollocon 2010.  Featured Filker at 8Pi-con.  Filklore Award.  [JH]
  • Born March 1, 1968 – Dorian Vallejo, age 53.  Five dozen covers, a few interiors.  Here is the Jul 91 Asimov’s.  Here is The California Voodoo Game.  Here is Lone Star.  Here is Smoke and Mirrors.  Jack Gaughan Award.  Son of Boris, which some say irks him; his Website has “Born into an artistic family” and nothing of us; but like any artist he gets to do what he thinks best.  [JH]
  • Born March 1, 1987 – Maxmilian Meinzold, age 34.  Thirty covers, a few interiors.  Here is The Silmarillion (in German).  Here is The King of Camelot (in German; tr. of The Once and Future King).  Here is The Hidden Oracle.  Here is Zealand (spelled Seeland in German; subtitle, “hitch-hiking to the Strudel Throat”; yes, in English it’s too bad there’s an r).  [JH]

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • In today’s episode of Spaceman Spiff at Calvin and Hobbes, Spiff finds a huge monster camouflaged as a mountain range.

(10) STRATIGRAPHY. “Crossing Castes: Juliette Wade’s Transgressions of Power” is a Paul Weimer review at Tor.com of Wade’s new novel.

…. And that brings us to another theme of the series, and this book in particular (right in the title, Transgressions of Power). For, you see, Della and Tagaret do want to break down those adamantine boundaries of Caste. They see, even if darkly and imperfectly (and Wade does a great job in making them fallible and human in it) that the caste system is really the root of the problems of the crumbling civilization and if there is any hope for the Varin, from the Grobal on down, it will take crossing those boundaries…in making transgressions, if you will.  In keeping with that, not only do we see Tagaret and Della’s efforts, but we get an emphasis on a dreaded and whispered thing that can happen to the Grobal—to “Fall” down to another caste. This is shown as a dangerous and one possibility for Adon to escape the pressures on him, and while it is a societal safety valve,  it is treated as a fate almost worse than death. It is also a Chehkov’s Gun that the author effectively fires in the conclusion, as well….

(11) THE EVOLUTION OF MARIO. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the February 24 Financial Times, gaming columnist Tom Faber looks at the success of Nintendo character Mario.

Nintendo’s influential designer Shigeru Miyamoto came up with the blueprint for Mario when he was developing 1981’s Donkey Kong, in which a hero called Jumpman dodges obstacles to reach the top of a construction site where a gorilla is holding his girlfriend hostage.  Mario’s characteristics were determined by technical limitations and accidents:  his red and blue overalls were selected to contrast with a black background while his large nose and moustache were an effort to infuse personality into a character comprised of a handful of pixels.  According tto company lore, his name was inspired by Mario Segale, the irate landlord of Nintendo of America’s warehouse.

Mario was first cast as a carpenter, then as a plumber for Mario Bros., which featured him and his twin brother Luigi fighting off monsters which oozed up from the sewers of New York. Soon a polish formula was established, with nefarious king Bowser, hapless Princess Peach and a cast of surrounding characters drawn in broad brushstrokes.  Powers included mushrooms that made Mario grow or shrink, or items that turned him into a bee, a ghost, a flying squirrel, and, in the new release Super Mario 3d World, a cat. Mario appeared in educational games, a low-budget cartoon and an execrable 1993 live-action film–though an upcoming animated movie, co-produced by the studio behind the Minions films, might be better.

(12) CELESTIAL LODGINGS. “First-ever space hotel slated to be operational by 2027” in the New York Post. This design might look a bit familiar if you’re old enough to have watched Walt Disney’s original Disneyland series.  

… This decade will see the start and completion of construction on humanity’s first ever hotel in outer space, according to the group behind it, Orbital Assembly. 

The 3-year-old company plans to begin building Voyager Station in low Earth orbit in 2025, and believes its interstellar resort may be operational as soon as 2027, the Daily Mail reported. 

Renderings of the celestial hotel are cosmic-chic: Individual pods are attached to a rotating wheel, with tubes connecting the different areas forming an X, as if the wheel’s axle….

(13) SPOT MAKES ITS OWN SPOTS. “Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog Is Now Armed—in the Name of Art” reports WIRED. Video here.

…The project, called Spot’s Rampage, is the work of MSCHF (pronounced “mischief,” of course), an internet collective that regularly carries out meme-worthy pranks.

Previous MSCHF stunts include creating an app that awarded $25,000 to whomever could hold a button down for the longest; selling “Jesus Shoes” sneakers with real holy water in the soles (Drake bought a pair); developing an astrology-based stock-picking app; and cutting up and selling individual spots from a Damian Hirst painting.

Daniel Greenberg, a member of MSCHF, claims there’s a serious side to Spot’s Rampage though. “Anytime you see a TikTok or a dance it’s like, ‘Oh God, Spot is so happy,’” Greenberg says. “But if we actually talk candidly about what it’s going to be used for in the real world, you could say it’s police, you could say it’s military.”

Needless to say, Boston Dynamics isn’t very happy. The company tweeted on Friday: “We condemn the portrayal of our technology in any way that promotes violence, harm, or intimidation. Our mission is to create and deliver surprisingly capable robots that inspire, delight and positively impact society.”

Michael Perry, the company’s vice president of business development, says Spot’s terms of use prohibit violent uses of the robot. “The core things we’re trying to avoid are things that harm people, intimidate people, or break the law,” Perry says.

Perry adds that it is a particular concern because the company is trying to sell its robots. “It’s not just a moral point, it’s also a commercial point for us,” he says.

Because the robot periodically checks in with Boston Dynamics servers, it would theoretically be possible to disable the Spot that MSCHF is using. “We’re wrestling with that,” Perry adds. The MSCHF crew claim to have a workaround ready just in case.

(14) VIDEOS OF THE DAY. Fanac.org has made videos of the 1989 Worldcon Masquerade available on YouTube.

Norascon 3, the 47th Worldcon, was held in Boston, MA. In this recording, costumers make their appearance on the big stage, and showcase the physical results of their imaginations and their skills. The costumers range from Novices to Journeymen to Masters, and the themes from silly and playful to very serious. Note: Some sections have been muted due to copyright laws. There’s more to come in part 2.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Michael Toman, Olav Rokne, Michael J. Walsh, Andrew Porter, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, John Hertz, Darrah Chavey, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Olav Rokne.]