Pixel Scroll 6/21/22 The Upside Down

 [Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Daniel Dern, Cora Buhlert, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day HGO.]

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Trailers, Halo” the Screen Junkies say that Microsoft has been trying to develop Halo as a movie or TV series for 20 years (Ridley Scott and Neill Blomkamp were attached to the project so it’s a bad sign the show has landed at Paramount Plus. The show features three battle scenes in nine hours, one character who runs the only “libertarian paradise” with a churro stand, and “a girl with a backstory as tragic as her haircut.”  The narrator suggests that gamers may find more entertainment playing Halo than watching this plodding series.

(16) A HAMMER FILM. Gizmodo declares “Thor Love and Thunder Footage Is Pure Marvel Studios Excitement”.

This new featurette for Thor: Love and Thunder is more exciting than all of its trailers combined. Which is saying something: the trailers for Taika Waititi’s latest, starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Christian Bale, have been excellent. There’s just something about seeing all that footage cut with the actors and filmmaker gushing over it that gives a whole new level of energy….

(15) NAPTIME FOR VOYAGER. “NASA is starting to shut down the Voyager probes, which launched in 1977 and made it deeper into space than anything since”: Yahoo! has the story.

The epic interstellar journeys of NASA’s acclaimed Voyager probes are due to come to an end as the agency starts switching off their systems, Scientific American reported.

The probes launched 45 years ago, in 1977, and have pushed the boundaries of space exploration ever since. They’re farther away from Earth than any other man-made object, a record that will likely stay unbroken for decades.

The decision to reduce power on the probes is meant to extend their life span a few more years and take them to about 2030, Scientific American said….

…The instrument’s hardwired electronics have survived the test of time remarkably well, in spite of its age.

The primitive computers onboard the probes don’t require much power. All of the data collected by the instruments on Voyager is stored on an eight-track tape recorder and sent to earth using a machine that uses up about as much power as a refrigerator light bulb, Scientific American said.

They have “less memory than the key fob that opens your car door,” Spilker said.

(14) GLUE GUY. Joe Moe holds forth on “The Importance of Building Monster Models!” for Heritage Auctions.

…Amidst the deluxe monster masks, 8mm film reels, books, magazines, and other horror novelties, there lurked the coveted monster models. These cast-plastic, puzzle figures came in a cardboard box with a glorious full-color lid featuring a vivid image (painted by the brilliant James Bama) of your favorite movie monster, which we’d ultimately use as our paint master. Once newspapers were spread across the kitchen table, the tight-fitting lid would vibrate and practically hum as we pried it off the box bottom to reveal, first, the industrial perfume of fresh plastic. Next, we’d regard all the split, hollow pieces of our particular creature, suspended in a plastic spider’s web matrix of flashing that we would twist each model piece free of as carefully as you’d extract a loose, wiggling baby tooth. Once the pieces were laid out, we’d unfold the graphic instructions, which weren’t needed, but served to get you even more excited about the finished masterpiece you were about to assemble and paint. Unlike other collectibles you could buy, once you’d finished painting and detailing, your monster model would be a one-of-a-kind display piece – unique from anyone else’s…. 

(13) ONE TOKEN OVER THE LINE. Archie McPhee expects the people who like their catalog will want to play “Go Go Gargoyle! The Game”.

The Horrible Horseman has defeated the gargoyles that defended Crowning Castle and thrown everything into chaos. A new batch of baby gargoyles has been birthed from the fire demon to retake the castle and protect it from future attacks. These gargoyles have got to save the kingdom! This simple game takes you through a magical kingdom full of ghosts, cryptids and grumpy wizards. Includes a fantastic detail-filled game board, four 1-1/8″ tall gargoyle tokens and 54 standard-sized, 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ illustrated cards.

(12) BRITISH TV NEWS. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the Financial Times behind a paywall, Gabriel Tate discusses “The Lazarus Project,” which premiered on Sky Max and NOW in Britain on June 16.

The series begins on July 1,with George (Paapa Essiedu) waking up to his partner, Sarah (Charly Clive).  Later that day, he secures funding for his start-up app.  In the months that follow, Sarah becomes pregnant and the couple marry before the escalating pandemic puts everything off-beam.  Then one day George wakes up and finds it is again that same July 1. Everyone else seems oblivious…

…The field of time-loop-based fiction is a crowded one, from Groundhog Day and Source Code to Looper, among others. Yet while its predecessors have used the premise as a technical exercise, an excuse for action-packed thrills or a vehicle for humour, an eight-episode run allows “The Lazarus Project” to delve more deeply into moral considerations.  What could be a slightly silly show with good gags and terrific stuntwork becomes something else, asking serious questions about a modern world that feels increasingly out of control.  Who wouldn’t want to take hold of the tiller?

(11)  THEY PUT THINGS IN OUR EARS. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] As an sff fan you might be forgiven for thinking that NextSense was founded by a bunch of zombie Ferengis. They are, after all, obsessed with ears—but what they’re really interested in is brains. “This Startup Wants to Get in Your Ears and Watch Your Brain” at WIRED.

… For years, people have been shifting from tracking their health through sporadic visits to a doctor or lab to regularly monitoring their vitals themselves. The NextSense team is gambling that, with a gadget as familiar as an earbud, people will follow the same path with their brains. Then, with legions of folks wearing the buds for hours, days, and weeks on end, the company’s scientists hope they’ll amass an incredible data trove, in which they’ll uncover the hidden patterns of mental health.

For now, that’s the stuff of dreams. What’s real is that on one day in 2019, a patient tucked a bud into each ear, fell asleep, and proceeded to astound NextSense’s scientists—by churning out brain waves that showed exactly how this product could save a person’s life.

Jonathan Berent is the CEO of NextSense. On a recent evening, the 48-year-old was talking like a podcast at 1.5 speed while we waited for our entrées on the patio of an Italian restaurant in Mountain View, California. The subject of his filibuster was how he’d gotten into brain health. His obsession wasn’t ears or wellness; it was sleep….

(10) “EVERYTHING IS SEEN IN CHINA”. “US TikTok User Data Has Been Repeatedly Accessed From China, Leaked Audio Shows” reports BuzzFeed News.

For years, TikTok has responded to data privacy concerns by promising that information gathered about users in the United States is stored in the United States, rather than China, where ByteDance, the video platform’s parent company, is located. But according to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behavior that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States….

Adweek carried the corporation’s denial: “TikTok Looks to Counter Report That US User Data Was Repeatedly Accessed in China”.

…TikTok fired back, asserting that no user data was shared in China, but the Trump administration kept applying pressure. No action was taken during the remainder of his term, however.

Calamug stressed in his blog post that TikTok’s data center in Virginia “includes physical and logical safety controls such as gated entry points, firewalls and intrusion detection technologies,” adding that the Singapore data center served as a backup….

TechCrunch says the company is trying to restore confidence: “TikTok moves all US traffic to Oracle servers, amid new claims user data was accessed from China”.

TikTok said on Friday it is moving U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers stored in the United States. Overshadowing its migration announcement was a damning report that followed, claiming that TikTok staff in China had access to its U.S. users’ data as recently as this January.

The report from BuzzFeed News, which cites recordings from 80 TikTok internal meetings it obtained, claims that U.S. employees of TikTok repeatedly consulted with their colleagues in China to understand how U.S. user data flowed because they did not have the “permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own.”

“Everything is seen in China,” the report said, quoting an unnamed member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department as saying in a September 2021 meeting….

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born June 21, 1969 — Christa Faust, 53. It does not appear that she’s written any original fiction save one novel with Poppy Z. Brite called Triads but she’s certainly had a lot of media tie-in work including novels set in the Final DestinationFriday the ThirteenthFringeGabriel HuntNightmare on Elm StreetSupernatural and Twilight Zone universes.  Did you know there’s an entire ecology of novels, fan fiction, a game, comics, even an encyclopedia guide, September’s Notebook — The Bishop Paradox made around Fringe? I hadn’t until I was researching her. One of the perks of doing this. 
  • Born June 21, 1965 — Steve Niles, 57. Writer best  known for works such as 30 Days of NightCriminal Macabre, Simon Dark and Batman: Gotham County Line. I’ve read his Criminal Macabre: The Complete Cal McDonald Stories and the graphic novel — great bit of horror! Sam Raimi adapted 30 Days of Night into a film. 
  • Born June 21, 1964 — David Morrissey, 58. His most well-known role is playing The Governor on The Walking Dead (which is a series that I’ve not seen and have no interest of seeing as I don’t do zombies) but I saw his brilliant performance as Jackson Lake, the man who believed he was The Doctor in “The Next Doctor”, a Tenth Doctor adventure which was an amazing story. He was also Theseus in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Greek Myths, and played Tyador Borlú in the BBC adaption of China Mieville’s The City & The City. I’ll admit that I’m not at all ambivalent about seeing it as I’ve listened the novel at least a half dozen times and have my own mental image of what it should be. He has also shows up in Good Omens as Captain Vincent. 
  • Born June 21, 1957 — Berkeley Breathed, 65. ISFDB on the basis of a chapbook called Mars Needs Moms is willing to include him as genre but I’d argue that Bloom County which includes a talking penguin is explicitly genre as they are fantastic creatures. And he contributed three cartoons to the ConFederation program book.
  • Born June 21, 1952 — David J. Skal, 70. Vampires! He’s an academic expert on them and horror in general, so he’s got a number of items in his CV with his first being Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. He followed that up with a more general work, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. And then he produced The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror which links horror films to what is going on in culture at that time, ie AIDS. His latest book was a biography of Bram Stoker, Something in the Blood.
  • Born June 21, 1947 — Michael Gross, 75. Ok I’ll admit that I’ve a fondness for the Tremors franchise in which he plays the extremely well armed and very paranoid graboid hunter Burt Gummer. Other than the Tremors franchise, he hasn’t done a lot of genre work as I see just an episode of The Outer Limits where he was Professor Stan Hurst in “Inconstant Moon” (based on the Niven story I assume) and voicing a  few Batman Beyond and Batman: The Animated Series characters.
  • Born June 21, 1940 — Mariette Hartley, 82. She’s remembered by us for the classic Trek episode “All Our Yesterdays”, though, as OGH noted in an earlier Scroll, probably best known to the public for her Polaroid commercials with James Garner. She also had a role as psychologist Dr. Carolyn Fields in “Married”, an episode of The Incredible Hulk. 
  • Born June 21, 1938 — Ron Ely, 84. Doc Savage in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, a film I saw a long time ago and remember little about. He was also, fittingly enough, Tarzan in that NBC late Sixties series. Somewhere Philip Jose Farmer is linking the two characters…  Other notable genre roles included being a retired Superman from an alternate reality in a two-part episode “The Road to Hell” of the Superboy series, and playing five different characters on the original Fantasy Island which may or may not be a record.

(8) MEDIA BIRTHDAY

1991 [By Cat Eldridge.] There are some films that I just like without reservation. One of these is The Rocketeer that premiered on this date thirty-one years ago. I’ve seen this one at least three or four times. It’s proof that the Disney can actually be creative unlike the Marvel films which have all the weakness of a franchise undertaking. (End of rant.) 

It was directed by Joe Johnston whose only previous genre film was Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and produced by a committee of Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin. None had done anything that suggested they’d be up to this level of excellence. (Yes, my bias is showing.) The script was by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo who did the most excellent Trancers. Bilson wrote the story along with Paul De Meo and William Dear.

Now the source material was the stellar Rocketeer graphic novel series that the late Dave Steven was responsible for. If you’ve not read it, why not? It’s a Meredith moment at the usual suspects at a mere six dollars.  

The cast of Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Sorvino and Timothy Dalton was just damn perfect. And there wasn’t anything the film from the design of Rocketeer outfit itself to the creation of the Nazi Zeppelin which was a thirty-two-foot-long model that isn’t spot on. Cool, very cool. The visual effects were designed and done by George Lucas’ ILM. 

Disney being Disney never did actually release an actual production budget but Variety figured that it cost at least forty million, if not much more. It certainly didn’t make much as it only grossed forty seven million at the very best. 

So what did critics at the time think of this stellar film? Well, Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times liked it: “The movie lacks the wit and self-mocking irony of the Indiana Jones movies, and instead seems like a throwback to the simple-minded, clean-cut sensibility of a less complicated time.” And Pete Travers of the Rolling Stone was equally upbeat: “But then the film is awash in all kinds of surprises that are too juicy to reveal. The Rocketeer is more than one of the best films of the summer; it’s the kind of movie magic that we don’t see much anymore — the kind that charms us, rather than bullying us, into suspending disbelief.” 

Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give an excellent sixty-five rating. 

(7)  TODAY’S PHRASEOLOGY QUESTION. [Item by Daniel Dern.] From the subject line of a press release I just got: “Eleven Madison Park went vegan. Then chaos unfolded.”

This is not, I think, intended as an SFnal reference, so, not a nod to Joanna Russ (And Chaos Died), David Gerrold (The Man Who Folded Himself), etc.

A quick web search shows that, much to my surprise, “unfolding chaos,” “chaos unfolding,” etc. this is a relatively common phrase/image, everywhere from economic to political news coverage, not to mention a company name, a poetry anthology (and no doubt, although I did not check, a magic trick).

I guess my questions include:

  • “Did it start as folded chaos?”
  • “If so, who/how folded it?”
  • “Can unfolded chaos be folded back again?”
  • “Is unfolded chaos bigger than folded chaos?”
  • “What did somebody roll to get this?”

(6) THINKING DEEPER. “Robotics expert Robin Murphy explains why ‘Star Wars’ robots don’t reflect reality” at Space.com.

Space.com: What are your particular associations with “Star Wars” and early gateway into science fiction?

Murphy: For the first book I read that wasn’t like a McGuffey Reader or “See Dick and Jane” stuff, I had snuck in and got my dad’s copy of “The Green Hills of Earth” anthology, by Robert Heinlein. It was game on! I consider myself, to this day, a Heinlein babe. The first story in that book is “Delilah and the Space Rigger,” about a space station under construction. [G.] Brooks McNye, the female electrical engineer in the story, was mouthy and guys might push on her, but she just pushed right back and kept going. And that’s pretty much been my career.

I stood in line to see “Star Wars” the second week it was out back in 1977, when it became the phenomenon. Then, years later, I saw Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” and thought, “Ah-ha!” and realized all the similarities, especially with “Star Wars'” two sidekick droids….

Space.com: If you had the keys to the “Star Wars” kingdom, what would you change in its depiction of robots? Or does it not matter to audiences?

Murphy: I don’t think it matters for entertainment purposes. But there’s one thing that I think is really inconsistent that would be interesting to try and figure out. In “The Mandalorian,” the insect-looking droid, Zero, tells Mando that it decided to join a criminal gang. How did it decide that? How does that work? Because C-3PO and R2-D2 were owned, and they just decided that they’re suddenly not owned by people anymore. Then, you’ve got the whole thing with IG-11. He’s constantly threatening to self-destruct, which could potentially kill or maim innocent bystanders. 

That self-destruct sequence is hard-coded by the manufacturers to protect their intellectual property, but they’d be liable for all that collateral damage. If they looked a little more consistently about the rules of when can a droid be free, when can it be its own agent and who built it, that would help. What are the legal and ethical liabilities associated with them?

(5) STRANGER THINGS. Entertainment Weekly warns us: Stranger Things 4 trailer teases possible fatalities in two-part finale: ‘Your friends have lost'”.

Queue up the Kate Bush because things are not looking good for our pals in Hawkins.

The full-length trailer for Stranger Things season 4’s two-episode finale comes with a warning: “It might not work out for us this time.” That can’t be good.

Adding to the ominous vibe of the teaser is Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). “It’s over. Now I just want you to watch,” he says. The psychic demo-creature then tells Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown): “Your friends have lost.”

It’s the penultimate season and Netflix split the last two episodes into their own Volume 2, releasing on July 1. Together they run nearly four hours, so basically they are two back-to-back Stranger Things movies. It’s clear the stakes are high. Might someone — or several someones — not make it out alive? (You know, for real this time.)…

(4) AMBITIOUS PROJECT. African sff writers will create “The Sauúti Fictional World: A Partnership Between Syllble and Brittle Paper “.

Once every generation, there are defining events that reshape the landscape of the speculative fiction literary realm, this time ten African science fiction and fantasy authors from five African nations have gathered over the past few months of this year to bring to life a new and intricate fictional world called Sauúti

Born out of a partnership between Syllble, a sci-fi and fantasy production house based in Los Angeles that produces fictional worlds, and Brittle Paper Magazine, The Sauúti Collective has produced a unique science-fantasy world for and by Africans and the African Diaspora. 

… It all began after Dr. Ainehi Edoro, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Brittle Paper, Wole Talabi, Nigerian author and Editor of Africanfuturism: An Anthology, and I met to discuss what this collaboration could look like and the importance of bringing African voices together. Wole, now a Syllble Brain Trust member, has been facilitating the collaborative sessions between these nine creative minds leading to the creation of the Sauúti Universe.

Sauúti is taken from the word “Sauti” which means “voice” in Swahili. This world is a five-planet system orbiting a binary star. This world is rooted deeply in a variety of African mythology, language, and culture. Sauúti weaves in an intricate magic system based on sound, oral traditions and music. It includes science-fiction elements of artificial intelligence and space flight, including both humanoid and non-humanoid creatures. Sauúti is filled with wonder, mystery and magic….

In addition to Wole Talabi, the members are Kalejaye Akintoba, Eugen Bacon, Stephen Embleton, Dare Segun Falowo, Adelehin Ijasan, Cheryl Ntumy, Ikechukwu Nwaogu, Xan van Rooyen, and Jude Umeh. Each participant does a Q&A as part of the announcement here.

(3) 1932: A VERY GOOD YEAR FOR HOWARD FANS. The Cromcast shares another recording of a Howard Days panel on REH in 1932, which was a landmark year for him (among other things, he created Conan): “Howard Days 2022 – Part 2 – Robert E. Howard in 1932!”

The panelists discuss the 90th Anniversaries of Conan, Worms of the Earth, the poem “Cimmeria” plus other notable REH events in 1932. Panelists include Rusty Burke, Patrice Louinet, Deuce Richardson, and Paul Sammon. The panel is moderated by Bobby Derie.

(2) PEN PINTER PRIZE. Malorie Blackman, author of the Noughts and Crosses dystopian YA series, has won the 2022 PEN Pinter Prize reports the Guardian.

Noughts & Crosses author Malorie Blackman has become the first children’s and YA writer to be awarded the PEN Pinter prize.

The prize is given by English PEN annually to a writer of “outstanding literary merit” who is based in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth. The recipient must also, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel prize, cast an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze on the world and show a “fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”.

Blackman said she was “incredibly honoured” to get the award, and said she was sure she would not be the last children’s and YA author to win the prize, as many “fearless” authors were writing for young people and “tackling complex issues in an entertaining, informative, and understandable way”.

… Blackman will receive the Pinter prize in a ceremony in October, where she will deliver an address. The prize will be shared with an International Writer of Courage, who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty. Blackman will choose that winner from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN. The author said she was grateful to be given the chance to pick the writer of courage. “Such authors who seek to write their truth in spite of often intractable opposition define the word courage,” she said….

(1) IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY, LETHEM THINKS IT’S TIME YOU MET HIM. “An Introduction to Stanislaw Lem, the Great Polish Sci-Fi Writer, by Jonathan Lethem” at Open Culture.

…Represented best in the pages of Astounding Stories and other sci-fi pulps, hard sci-fi “advertises consumer goods like personal robots and flying cars. It valorizes space travel that culminates in successful, if difficult, contact with the alien life assumed to be strewn throughout the galaxies.” The genre also became tied to “American exceptionalist ideology, technocratic triumphalism, manifest destiny” and “libertarian survivalist bullshit,” says Lethem.

Lem had no use for these attitudes. In his guise as a critic and reviewer he wrote, “the scientific ignorance of most American science-fiction writers was as inexplicable as the abominable literary quality of their output.” He admired the English H.G. Wells, comparing him to the inventor of chess, and American Philip K. Dick, whom he called a “visionary among charlatans.” But Lem hated most hard sci-fi, though he himself, says Lethem, was a hard sci-fi writer “with visionary gifts and inexhaustible diligence when it came to the task of extrapolation.”…

Pixel Scroll 9/11/21 TribblePlusUnGood

(1) THE BRONZE TROUSERS. “’Cheese!’: Bronze statue of iconic duo Wallace and Gromit unveiled in Preston by creator Nick Park” reports ITV News Granada.

Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park unveils the new statue in Preston. Photo credit: PA

A large bronze statue of the iconic, cheese-loving duo Wallace and Gromit has been unveiled in Lancashire.

The bench sculpture is based on the inventor and his loyal pooch as they appeared in short-film ‘The Wrong Trousers’, and now sits pride of place outside Preston Markets.

(2) WORDSMITH. John Scalzi celebrates “30 Years of Being a Professional Writer” with a not-very- shocking admission:

…Thirty years on I do not have the writing career I thought I would have when I started out. I’ve said this before and I think people disbelieve me, but: I had no intention of being a novelist, or, at the very least, I assumed that if I were to write novels, that they would be a nice occasional side hustle. What I hoped for at the time — and what I assumed would be the case — is that I would write for newspapers all my life. The gig at the Fresno Bee would lead to gigs at other newspapers, and eventually I would land up at the New York Times/Washington Post/Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune as a daily columnist, riffing off local and world events like idols such as Mike Royko or Molly Ivins. Twenty-two-year-old me fully expected an entire career of daily deadlines and 800-word bursts of opinion.

And, I’m not going to lie, part of me is sad I didn’t get that life. Not too sad, because, well. Hello, welcome to Whatever, which I have been writing at for twenty-three years come Monday…. 

(3) NOUGHTS & CROSSES AUTHOR. Guardian reporter Sian Cain interviews YA SFF writer Malorie Blackman: “‘Hope is the spark’”.

…The last 18 months, however, have been a significant challenge. Having been classed as extremely vulnerable due to a health condition, Blackman has been isolating for most of the pandemic – and it is clear that, as she puts it, she “loves a chat”. “It has been a very strange time,” she says. “I was getting government letters saying: ‘Don’t go out.’ I was trying to live as normal a life as possible, knowing full well it was extraordinary circumstances. But you do what you can, so I focused on my writing. Endgame was a good thing because it felt like I was doing something. I wasn’t saving lives, but I was doing something.

What she was doing is probably the hardest thing an author can do: writing the ending. After 20 years, six books and three novellas, Noughts & Crosses, Blackman’s most famous series, is finished. It is set in Albion, an alternative Britain that was colonised by Africa, where the black population call themselves Crosses (as they are closer to God), while the white are Noughts (poorer, institutionally discriminated against)….

(4) IT’S TIME TO BE SIMULTANEOUS. The good folks at Space Cowboy Books have released Simultaneous Times, Vol. 2.5, a free ebook anthology of stories featured at the Simultaneous Times podcast. One of them is by Cora Buhlert. Here is a book trailer for the anthology: 

(5) KRUGMAN, PALMER & WALTON. CUNY will host “Imagining the Future: Economics and Science Fiction” on November 10 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Register for Zoom webinar access at the link.

What do economics and science fiction have in common? Much in the way economists forecast the results of social and economic structures, science-fiction writers envision future civilizations, both utopian and dystopian, through systematic world-building. Paul Krugman, distinguished professor of economics at the CUNY Graduate Center, joins in a conversation about the connection between the social sciences and fantasy fiction, and how they often inspire each other. Featuring: Ada Palmer, author of the Terra Ignota series and associate professor of history at the University of Chicago; Jo Walton, whose many books include Tooth and Claw, Ha’Penney, and the recent Or What You Will; and others.

(6) FRAMING TOOL. Maybe an algorithm will help make that blank screen less empty: “New tool could help authors bust writer’s block in novel-length works” reports Penn State News.

… Researchers at the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology recently introduced a new technology that forecasts the future development of an ongoing written story. In their approach, researchers first characterize the narrative world using over 1,000 different “semantic frames,” where each frame represents a cluster of concepts and related knowledge. A predictive algorithm then looks at the preceding story and predicts the semantic frames that might occur in the next 10, 100, or even 1,000 sentences in an ongoing story….

The researchers’ framework, called semantic frame forecast, breaks a long narrative down into a sequence of text blocks with each containing a fixed number of sentences. The frequency of the occurrence of each semantic frame is then calculated. Then, the text is converted to a vector — numerical data understood by a machine — where each dimension denotes the frequency of one frame. It is then computed to quantify the number of times a semantic frame appears and signifies its importance. Finally, the model inputs a fixed number of text blocks and predicts the semantic frame for the forthcoming block.

…Authors could use the tool by feeding a part of their already-written text into the system to generate a set of word clouds with suggested nouns, verbs and adjectives to inspire them when crafting the next part of their story.

(7) MEMORY LANE.

  • 1979 – Forty-two years ago on this date, Wonder Woman put away her lasso for the last time as her series came to end after three seasons. The show’s first season aired under the name of Wonder Woman on ABC and is set in the 1940s, during World War II. The last two seasons aired on CBS and was set in the then-current day late Seventies, with the title changed to The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. It starred Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman / Diana Prince and Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor Sr. There would be fifty-nine episodes and a movie before it ended. Currently you can find it on HBO Max along with everything Wonder Woman that Warner Media has done. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it an excellent eighty percent rating.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 11, 1934 — Ian Abercrombie. He played a most excellent and proper Alfred Pennyworth on the terribly well done Birds of Prey, a certain Professor Crumbs in Wizards of Waverly Place, he was Wiseman in Army of Darkness andvoiced Palpatine in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (Died 2012.)
  • Born September 11, 1940 — Brian De Palma, 81. Though not a lot of genre work, he has done some significant work including Carrie. Other films he’s done of interest to us are The Fury which most likely you’ve never heard of, and the first Mission: Impossible film along with Mission to Mars. Not genre, but I find it fascinating that he directed Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video which has a genre connection as actress Courtney Cox would be in the Misfits of Science series and the Scream horror franchise as well.
  • Born September 11, 1941 — Kirby McCauley. Literary agent and editor who represented authors such as Stephen King, George R.R. Martin and Roger Zelazny. And McCauley chaired the first World Fantasy Convention, an event he conceived with T. E. D. Klein and several others. As Editor, his works include Night Chills: Stories of Suspense, FrightsFrights 2, and Night Chills. (Died 2014.)
  • Born September 11, 1948 — Michael Sacks, 73. He’s best remembered as Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. Given how short his film career was, as it lasted but little over a decade, that’s no surprise. His only other genre role was as Jeff in The Amityville Horror. He’s now in the financial services sector. 
  • Born September 11, 1951 — Michael Goodwin, 69. Ahhh, Alan Dean Foster’s Commonwealth series. I know that I’ve read at least a half dozen of the novels in that series and really enjoyed them, so it doesn’t surprise that someone wrote a guide to it which is how we have Goodwin’s (with the assistance of co-writer Robert Teague) A Guide to the Commonwealth: The Official Guide to Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth Universe. Unfortunately like so many of these guides, it was done once part way through the series and never updated. 
  • Born September 11, 1952 — Sharon Lee, 69. She is the co-author with Steve Miller of the Liaden universe novels and stories which are quite excellent reading with the latest being Neogenesis. They won Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for significant contribution to SF in the spirit of the writer E.E. “Doc” Smith, and they won The Golden Duck, the Hal Clement Young Adult Award, for their Balance of Trade novel.  They are deeply stocked at the usual digital suspects.
  • Born September 11, 1958 — Roxann Dawson, 63. Best remembered for being B’Elanna Torres on Voyager. She’s also a published genre author having written the Tenebrea trilogy with Daniel Graham. This space opera series is available from the usual digital suspects. She’s got two genre film creds, Angela Rooker in Darkman III: Die Darkman Die, and Elizabeth Summerlee in the 1998 version of The Lost World. She’s the voice of The Repair Station computer on the “Dead Stop” episode of Enterprise. Oh and she popped up once on the Seven Days series. She’s long since retired from acting. 
  • Born September 11, 1965 — Cat Sparks, 56. Winner of an astounding fourteen Ditmar Awards for writing, editing and artwork, her most recent was in 2019 when she garnered one for “The 21st Century Catastrophe: Hyper-capitalism and Severe Climate Change in Science Fiction.” She has just one published novel to date, Lotus Blue, though there’s an unpublished one, Effigy, listed at ISFDB. She has an amazing amount of short stories all of which are quite stellar. Lotus Blue and The Bride Price collection are both available at the usual digital suspects. (CE) 

(9) NEAR TO THE MADDING CROWD. The DickHeads Podcast – so-called for their interest in Philip K. Dick – makes a side excursion to discuss someone who once gave an opinion about a PKD story: “Judith Merril Roundtable”.

Dick Adjacent is back. And it’s a good one too. The story goes that after David finished reading some of Judith Merril’s stories, he found a scathing review she wrote of PKD’s story Roog, and with that connection made, it seemed only appropriate to gather a panel of experts together and discuss her place in the science fiction universe. Considered a feminist force, she had to bully her way through a male-dominated business to make her voice heard. Incredible person. Incredible story. And a truly accredited panel. So listen in on David, Lisa Yazek, Gideon Marcus, Ritchie Calvin, and Kathryn Heffner as they discuss the legacy of Judith Merril.

(10) FLICKS BY THE BRIDGE. The Brooklyn SciFi Film Festival is back for 2021 with 160 sff films from 18 countries. All film selections will be available to stream online September 20-26 with live, in-person screenings to be held in Brooklyn at the Wythe Hotel Screening Room on September 25. Tickets available here. Special recognition in eight categories will be awarded by a panel of jurors and industry professionals on September 25.

This year, the BSFFF will feature all-new exclusive online events, screening parties, and filmmaker commentary. Another addition is the “The Future Sounds of Brooklyn,” which is a compilation of SciFi-inspired music from musicians across the globe. The popular  The Sixth Borough, a curated, BSFFF-developed series, which presents three fantastic science fiction short films united by a common theme each day of the festival, will return for the second year.

(11) A DIFFERENT WAY. Sebastien de Castell’s new YA fantasy Way Of The Argosi is pitched as “The Alchemist meets The Three Musketeers — with card tricks.”

A merciless band of mages murdered her parents, massacred her tribe and branded her with mystical sigils that left her a reviled outcast. They should have killed her instead.

Stealing, swindling, and gambling with her own life just to survive, Ferius will risk anything to avenge herself on the zealous young mage who haunts her every waking hour. But then she meets the incomparable Durral Brown, a wandering philosopher gifted in the arts of violence who instead overcomes his opponents with shrewdness and compassion. Does this charismatic and infuriating man hold the key to defeating her enemies, or will he lead her down a path that will destroy her very soul?

Through this outstanding tale of swashbuckling action, magical intrigue and dazzling wit, follow Ferius along the Way of the Argosi and enter a world of magic and mystery unlike any other.

(12) SAY AGAIN? [Item by David Doering.] Just the thing for the WSFS Business Meeting:

— Which the US Navy is also working on: “A New Navy Weapon Actually Stops You From Talking”. Like having that annoying kid who keeps repeating everything you say…on-demand!

The U.S. Navy has successfully invented a special electronic device that is designed to stop people from talking. A form of non-lethal weapon, the new electronic device effectively repeats a speaker’s own voice back at them, and only them, while they attempt to talk. 

It was developed, and patented back in 2019 but has only recently been discovered, according to a report by the New Scientist

The main idea of the weapon is to disorientate a target so much that they will be unable to communicate effectively with other people. 

Called acoustic hailing and disruption (AHAD), the weapon is able to record speech and instantly broadcast it at a target in milliseconds. Much like an annoying sibling, this action will disrupt the target’s concentration, and, in theory, discourage them from continuing to speak. …

(13) VIDEO OF THE DAY. First Fandom Experience tells “The Tale of Aubrey MacDermott”, who claimed to be the first active sff fan.

Aubrey McDermott was born in 1909 and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and claims to be the first active science-fiction fan. We’ll let Aubrey tell his own story through a letter that he sent to Andrew Porter around 1990…

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cora Buhlert, Denny Lien, Todd Mason, Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]