By Martin Morse Wooster: So why do we go to the theatre? The acting, yes, and the sets, and the importance of getting out of the house. But I think the fundamental reason we watch plays is for the story.
Stories matter more in the theatre than in film because far more of a play is in our imagination than in a film. Stripped of CGI and rewrites by multiple people, what plays offer at their best is one person’s offering us something where, if it works, we tell ourselves, “Yes, that was a good evening in the theatre,” and if it doesn’t, we gnash our teeth and feel miserable until we get home.
A Monster Calls is an example of a production where the special effects are interesting, and the story is treacle. I’m glad I saw it, but I wasn’t moved by the story.
The production is based on a novel by Patrick Ness. I don’t know anything about Mr. Ness’s work and would love to hear from a Filer who is familiar with it and the work he has done for Doctor Who. But he’s won a lot of British YA awards, including two Carnegie Medals, and his novel was turned into a film in 2016 with Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson.
A Monster Calls is the story of Conor O’Malley, who is 13 and is suffering in what the British call a comprehensive and we would call middle school. Other kids pick on him! He talks back to his teachers! His mother has a disease that requires a lot of pain pills! His grandmother dreams about the 1970’s, where she wore hot pants and danced to Donna Summer!
Oh, and his father walked out on his family and started a new family in America, where he learned to say “buddy” and “champ” and complain about not having enough vacation.
But O’Malley’s home has a really old yew tree, old enough that it harbors a spirit. Every night at 12.07, Conor falls asleep and drifts off to the land where the spirit emerges as The Monster, who makes O’Malley listen to his stories, including one set in some sort of primeval monarchy and another in the Industrial Revolution. Can Conor get lessons from these stories that will help him solve his problems?
A Monster Calls is produced by Global Creatures, an Australian enterprise that has turned a bunch of Australian films into musicals (including Moulin Rouge!) but is also responsible for King Kong, a megaspectacle I never saw because, like Kong himself, it died in New York.
In the movie of A Monster Calls, the monster was CGI. But I gather from this interview with director Sally Cookson the production team’s primary task was how to create the monster on stage. Their solution was something with a lot of ropes that could be tied to represent the yew after being knotted in some secret way. The monster was also an actor (played in the performance I saw by understudy Paul Sockett) who must spend a lot of time bare-chested in the tree and in at least one scene must walk around on stilts.
It’s an interesting effect, but I was also impressed with the eight cast members who, when not playing Conor’s tormentors at school, formed an ensemble that maneuvered on stage with the precision of a drill team.
But the problem with A Monster Calls is with its script by Sally Cookson and Adam Peck. We’ve seen teens like Conor in a thousand movies and TV shows, and there’s nothing about him that is interesting or imaginative. It’s so generic that the mother’s name is “Mum” and the grandmother’s is “Grandma.” The interesting set design and the throbbing techno music by the Bower Brothers cover up a boring and generic story. I was told by someone who has read the novel that in the book Conor and his mother are both artists who have both seen The Monster’s visions and can explain what they saw through their art. That’s a subplot that doesn’t exist here.
I didn’t like A Monster Calls and I don’t think it was worth the ticket price. But as someone with an abiding interest in fantasy and sf theatre, I’m glad I saw it. It is a play that engaged my brain but not my heart.
 Anyone who has seen A Doll’s House, Part II and remembers the profoundly stupid reverse that takes place 80 minutes into this 90-minute one-acter knows what I am talking about. The production I saw could not be saved by the work of Holly Twyford, Craig Wallace, and Nancy Robinette, who are three of the best actors in Washington.
 Here I’m talking about the real King Kong, not any random giant ape who fought Godzilla.
By Martin Morse Wooster: When I read in the Financial Times about how Britain’s National Theatre was adapting Sir Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, the first volume of his Book of Dust trilogy, I told myself, “That’s a play for me! I’ll just fly over to London and see it! OGH is made of money, and he’ll happily pay my expenses!”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to London, because the theatre came to me, with a screening of the National Theatre Live production playing at the American Film Institute. So, I spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon seeing it.
The show began with about 15 minutes of filler. I’m a sucker for listening to theatre people talk about what they do, but the show began with a lot of gas from technical people about how difficult the production was and how special they felt doing it. Bryony Lavery, who wrote the adaptation, explained how hard it was to turn a 300-page book into a 2 1/2-hour play, and would Pullman’s millions of fans be pleased with it?
Well, the rule of thumb is that a hundred pages of fiction equals one hour of film, which is why 200-page novels get turned into two-hour movies. So, turning a 300-page novel into a play was not much more work.
As for Pullman’s “millions of fans.” He doesn’t have them in America, because the screening I went to had about a dozen people, including four enthusiastic high schoolers and was screened by the American Film Institute in their small theatre, not their large one. (By contrast, the mid-week mid-afternoon screening I went to of Memoria, a weirdo sf film that amply succeeds in its perverse goal of being the most boring film ever made, had 25 people and was subsequently extended for two weeks.)
One other feature I didn’t like is that the production had a laugh track, with loud guffaws piped in whenever the production wanted to tell us something was funny. I’ve been to some pretty goofy plays, but I’ve never heard anyone in an audience laugh as loud as I did watching The Book of Dust.
What’s the plot? This is set a dozen years before the His Dark Materials trilogy. Remember that Pullman doesn’t like religion and doesn’t like authority, so his villains in his world, a parallel universe with slightly less technology than ours, is the Magisterium, a religious authority that resembles the Catholic Church. Lyra is born and is quickly discovered to have powers the bad guys want. The Church nearly captures her several times, but hairbreadth escapes occur and its authority repeatedly questioned until the happy conclusion.
Rather than elaborate on the plot, let me focus on three points which made it interesting theater.
In Pullman’s world, all the characters have “demons” or spirit animals. In the play, these animals are portrayed by puppets, who are articulated and look like origami. A few of the smaller ones can be manipulated by an actor, but the larger ones have puppeteers manipulating the puppets and supplying voices. There’s one large puppet, a hyena who laughs at inappropriate times, who is on wheels and pushed. The puppets worked for me, but I don’t know enough about puppetry to describe what’s right about them.
Pullman’s universe is one where the Thames has flooded and much of the novel is set in torrential rain. All the rain and floodwaters are CGI, with flooding being portrayed on video. In many scenes there are about as many props as there would be in an effects-laden movie, except that the flood is more stylized and less realistic than in a movie. I thought the effect worked very well.
One other semi-special effect is how Lyra is portrayed. About half the time the baby is played by…a baby! Director Nicholas Hytner said in an intermission that they had five babies take turns playing Lyra, and the ones I saw did their duty and smiled and cooed without having issues. However, about half the time a puppet was used; I learned if you see Lyra’s head it’s a baby and if you don’t it’s a puppet.
Finally, I liked that in Pullman’s universe Latin is a language with power and if you cast a spell with Latin it works. This gave actors a chance to show off their classical educations.
Did I like it? Yes, I’m glad I saw it. But I have two reservations.
First, it was theatre on film, which meant everything I saw was mediated through a screen, making it more like a Zoom meeting than a con where you can chat with your friends in the con suite. I once saw Kathleen Turner play Joan Didion on stage where she delivered an entire 100-minute play by herself without a net. Turner’s tightrope act would be far less thrilling if I saw it on TV.
Is the Guinness better in Ireland? Yes—because you’re in Ireland! Similarly, seeing plays in London would be much more interesting than in a theatre 15 minutes away from home.
The second problem is that at least on stage La Belle Sauvage is a thrill-on-every-page plot. Lyra is nearly captured—but she escapes! Then she’s nearly captured—and escapes again! But we know she will win, because this book is a prequel. There wasn’t much room for character development or for actors to act.
Still, seeing La Belle Sauvage in a movie theatre was better than not seeing it at all. By the end of the production the dozen attendees shared Pullman tips and I was told the full-cast audio production of His Dark Materials was well worth my time.
So, it was a good afternoon in the theatre—and much cheaper than going to London.
By Martin Morse Wooster: Horror writer/director Larry Cohen was once the subject of a New Yorker profile, and the interviewer asked him how he still had a career when he was in his mid-sixties. Cohen explained that in Hollywood, no one cares what you did 20 years ago. The primary question producers ask is: what have you done lately? Keep coming up with salable projects and the people with money will keep giving it to you.
Having a long career in Hollywood is a lot harder than in other forms of publishing; you’ve got to have the relentless drive to pursue your vision and keep making sales. To an outsider, what is astonishing about J. Michael Straczynski’s career is that it has had a third act and may well be in the middle of a fourth. His career could have faded after Babylon 5. The roars that greeted him at the 1996 Los Angeles Worldcon (where, it seemed, every conversation had to include the words, “Where’s JMS?”) would have faded and he could have scratched out a living signing autographs at media conventions.
But instead, Straczynski pursues new projects, including his realization of The Last Dangerous Visions and a reboot of Babylon 5 currently under development at the CW. He tells his story in his memoir Becoming Superman, published in 2019.
Straczynski has two purposes in his very readable autobiography: telling his life story and explaining why his parents—and particularly his father—were world-class jerks,
Do you think you have toxic parents? However badly your parents treated you, Straczynski’s were much worse. His grandfather who routinely killed and ate pigeons from the parks as a free protein source. His mother was committed to mental hospitals five times and underwent electroshock more than once.
His father, Charles Straczynski, is the book’s villain. The secret of the book—which I’m not going to reveal—is what he did in Poland to survive World War II. After coming to America, Charles Straczynski was a drunken jerk who beat his wife, beat his children, periodically moved between the east and west coasts to flee his creditors, and was, more frequently than not, in a perpetual drunken rage. By the time J. Michael Straczynski was 10, he had been in five schools.
Worst of all, Charles Straczynski ripped up his son’s comic books, which would have been quite valuable if. J. Michael Straczynski had kept them.
Straczynski’s refuge from his toxic father were comics. Two of the high points of a particularly dismal year came when Straczynski received the membership packets from Supermen of America and the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
“Our frequent moves had denied me the chance to make lasting friends,” he writes, “but as I covered the walls with posters of Superman, Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the Hulk, everywhere I turned, the face of a friend was looking back at me.”
Straczynski also discovered science fiction paperbacks, beginning a lifetime of reading and talking about the field,
Becoming Superman is the story of a writer who made his own breaks and steadily rose in Hollywood thanks to years of producing copy at 10-20 pages a day. Straczynski sold The Complete Book of Scriptwriting to Writer’s Digest Books because he tried to find a book on writing scripts and couldn’t find one. At the time, Straczynski’s experience in Hollywood was very limited. He got some doors to open in Hollywood and kept them open through his talent.
Like most Hollywood memoirs, Straczynski has stories. My favorite was in his last assignment in animation, where, for the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters he had a script that made a reference to The Necronomicon. The suits said he had to change the book’s name because The Necronomicon was popular with Satanists. Straczynski tried to explain that the book was made up by H.P. Lovecraft. He lost and decided to write an article denouncing the animation industry, which he sold to Penthouse. When their nonfiction editor asked him why he submitted the piece there, Straczynski said so that “tight-assed consultants and editors” who wanted to read what Straczynski wrote would have to buy “a magazine full of racy photos.”
Perhaps the saddest story in the book is when Straczynski got a job on Jake and the Fatman by noticing that star William Conrad, who did not play Jake, didn’t like to move very much. So he came up with a story where Conrad’s character is kidnapped. “He’s taken hostage and tied to a chair for the entire episode,” Straczynski said in his pitch.
Showrunner David Moessinger’s “eyes lit up like a Las Vegas slot machine. ‘That’s terrific!’ Moessinger said. “Bill hates to walk! He’ll love it!” Straczynski got the job.
Straczynski devotes three chapters out of 34 to Babylon 5. He tells us some things, including how hard it was to write all the scripts (except for one by Neil Gaiman) for Babylon 5’s last three seasons and how he had to deal with the mental breakdown of star Michael O’Hare after the first season. He credits Sandra Bruckner, head of the Babylon 5 fan club, for her help with O’Hare and other Babylon 5 stars who were in trouble. But there are some questions he glosses over, including what, exactly, Harlan Ellison did as the show’s “creative consultant.”
The reason Straczynski doesn’t dwell on Babylon 5 is that he wants to tell us about life after that show, including the three fallow years where everything he wrote was rejected: and he nearly quit writing. But Straczynski had long been interested in the story of Christine Collins, whose struggle to determine what happened to her son in 1920s Los Angeles ultimately led to exposing massive corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department.
Straczynski submitted his script to his agent in 2006. The agent sold the script to Ron Howard for $650,000, and Howard passed the script on to Clint Eastwood. Straczynski describes his meeting with Eastwood, when Eastwood to promised to film Straczynski’s script exactly as he wrote it.
Changeling appeared in 2008, but after the sale of his spec script in 2006, Straczynski’s plate was full, with credits on five other movies and stints as the lead writer on Spider-Man and Superman. A script he wrote on the friendship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (which hasn’t been produced) sold for a million dollars. But the point of Straczynski’s readable and informative memoir is to tell writers that however successful you may become, there will always be lumps and down periods in your career which you will need to overcome.
“We have no control over who beats us up or knocks us down, or the obstacles that stand us and our dreams,” Straczynski concludes. “But we have absolute control over how we choose to respond.”
So the answer to how to deal with rejection or a closed door, Straczynski writes, is a simple one: “get up and keep fighting.”
 Thanks to able bookseller Michael J. Walsh for selling me a copy at the 2021 Capclave.
 The book in the episode was changed to “The Nameless Book.”
WARNING: THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS BUT YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T SEE THIS FILM.
By Martin Morse Wooster: My friend Adam Spector tells me that when Ernest Lehman was asked to write the script for North by Northwest, he tried to turn out the most “Hotchcocky” script he could, with all of Hitchcock’s obsessions in one great motion picture.
Moonfall is the most “Emmerichian” film Roland Emmerich is made. Like his earlier films, it has flatulent melodrama interlaced with completely daft science. But everything here is much more intense than his earlier work. But the only sense of wonder you’ll get from this film is wondering why the script got greenlit.
Now I am a history major, and my rule is that if I think the science is questionable, there’s something seriously wrong with it. Well, the science in Moonfall is so crazy that even legendary crackpot Erich von Daniken would question this film.
Moonfall was filmed with NASA cooperation, and the film credits five NASA consultants and five other science consultants. One can hear them pleading with the director, “For the love of God, man, are you insane?”
One final proof that Emmerich has no shame: he named a cat “Fuzz Aldrin.”
Our film begins with John Bradley, playing British Science Nerd, indulging in his hobby of breaking into the University of California (Irvine) and impersonating physicists. He calls someone at NASA and asks him for current data on the Moon’s orbit. Then he goes to his real job at some burger joint and stares at his phone while the data is coming in. “You can have barbecue, ranch, or (looking at his phone) WTF!”
Bradley has learned that the Moon is going to crash into the Earth. But who will listen? So he posts his theory on social media, and the networks pick it up without doing any factchecking. NASA quickly admits the rumors are true, and it’s panic time! Head for the mountains! Head for the bunkers! Grab every available weapon!
Now why is the Moon crashing into the Earth? What is the stupidest reason you can imagine? If your answer is “the Moon is a spaceship controlled by borgified AI that has achieved sentience and hates people,” you win!
So, it’s time for NASA to fight back. And what a motley crew they have, led by Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson. Ten years earlier Wilson led a shuttle mission with Berry where one astronaut died because the borgified Moon bots swarmed out of Mare Celsium and cut off life support because, as I said, they’re Ais who hate people. Wilson tried to explain what happened at his court-martial, but no one believed him and he was dishonorably discharged and is so down and out that he’s three months behind on his rent and about to be evicted. But incredibly he’s back.
But all the shuttles are in museums. How are they going to get into space? Well, did you know that all the retired shuttles are in perfect working order and all you have to do to launch one is take it out of the hangar, truck it to Vandenberg, and launch? Even if, as in the case of Endeavour, the shuttle is in a hangar, beat up and covered with graffiti?
I’m not going to provide any more plot points—there’s only so much stupidity you can take, after all. Here are a few things I liked. I liked seeing it in IMAX (thank you, promoters!) and I liked that Donald Sutherland is still working and is in one scene as the guy who explains things.
I also liked one scene where we learn that because the borgified AI hate electronics, are heroes must use a sextant and…wait for it…a slide rule.
One final point. John Bradley reveals that he has irritable bowel syndrome, and there are many, many references to fecal matter. In this case, this is away for the filmmakers to let the audience know that they’re on the wrong end of a hot and steamy pile.
How bad is this film? I rate films on a 1-10 scale but had to add 0 and 00.
Moonfall is the first film I’ve seen that gets a triple zero.
 Bradley actually drops the “f-bomb” but this is a family blog.
… My canal, as it turns out, runs across a lot of thematic ground, and does a fair amount of intersecting. Some of that is by design, since I am easily bored, as a human and a writer, and like to splash around in new places. Some of that is just following the lay of the land. At the end of the day, however, it means that depending one’s inclinations and rhetorical needs, and contingent on examples, I can be grouped in with the gun-humping dudes who write military science fiction, or the woke SJW scolds who are currently ruining the Hugos, or pretty much wherever else you need me to go to make your point.
And at least superficially you won’t be wrong. I mean, I did write that story that you’re pointing to, and it does exist in that sphere, and I’m not sorry I wrote that thing, and may write a thing like it again, if I have a mind to. But I suspect on a deeper level — the level that actually makes your point something more than a facile, half-baked thesis to burble out onto a blog post or podcast because content content content — using me as an example is not hugely useful….
… The podcasters are not wrong, cause all of these trends definitely exist in current SFF, though they’re not one unifying trend, but several different trends. Uplifting and upbeat SFF is certainly a trend and it already has a name that is much less derogatory than “squeecore”, namely hopepunk. Reader-insert characters and a video-game/RPG feel is a trend as well and there is a term or rather two for it, namely LitRPG and gamelit.
I agree that there is a strong influence of YA fiction and a tendency to show younger characters gaining skills rather than being already fully developed in contemporary SFF, but that’s the result of the YA SFF boom of the past twenty-five years, which served as a gateway to the genre for countless readers….
… As I explained in this post, Galactic Journey is very good at showing how different trends as well as older and newer forms of SFF coexist in the same period, because we try to cover everything and not just the cherry-picked examples that later eras choose to remember.
Also, quite often works are shoehorned into a trend, because they vaguely match some characteristics thereof and came out around the same time, even though they don’t really fit. The Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey are a good example. They are often shoehorned into the 2010s space opera revival, even though The Expanse has nothing in common with the likes of the Imperial Radch trilogy, the Paradox trilogy, the Hexarchate series or A Memory Called Empire beyond being set in space. Meanwhile, The Expanse draws heavily on mundane science fiction (a movement that never really got beyond its manifesto), Cyberpunk, golden age science fiction and the 1990s “cast of thousands/everybody and the dog gets a POV” style of SFF epics that never got a name, even though it was very much a thing and still lingers on….
(3) STILL WRESTLING WITH AMAZON. Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki told Facebook followers that he heard from Amazon KDP again. And he posted more screencaps of his correspondence with them.
Some more updates on the Amazon KDP fiasco, they called me again yesterday, to explain why I can’t edit my banking details. Must have seen my tweet on it. They said it’s a security issue. And offered some more assistance in replacing it and ensuring I can get the royalties.
On another note, though related, I’m trying to use the account of a friend that was in the US because well, they don’t accept Nigerian bank accounts. I was using Payoneer, a service that mimics US bank accounts and essentially reads as if you are in the US. It’s legit btw, and accepted by Amazon. I’m pointing this out because a number of people latched on to this when I mentioned it, amongst the methods I use to get past through these restrictions. They said oh yes see, it’s your fault. One of those methods you use must have broken the rules.
This is how people enable racism even when they don’t cause it. They look for anything to justify and deny your marginalization. It either doesn’t exist, it didn’t happen, or it’s your own fault. A number of players were on every platform that carried this, saying this. You don’t even know what those methods are. But it must be one of them & this must all be my fault & deserved. The world tries to lock you out, then punishes you viciously for trying to not be locked out. Then people blame you for even trying at all to circumvent those lockouts. Every publishing-payment platform I’ve tried to use to do anything has either banned, blocked me or doesn’t work here or allow payment systems. From Draft2Digital to Smash words to Kickstarter to Paypal to Amazon KDP, to even Gofundme. But it must all be my fault. I must have violated all their rules somehow. Even GoFundMe that’s supposed to be for people in need of help. I wasn’t even qualified to beg for money. I needed an American to beg for me. If I had even tried to insert myself at any point into the arrangement, it’d have crashed….
While The Expanse team went into Season 6 knowing it would almost certainly be the show’s last, they chose to tell the story that included a Laconia-set subplot adapted from Expanse novella Strange Dogs. Unlike basically every other the story in Season 6, the Laconia subplot about a girl named Cara and her efforts to save brother Xan with the help some alien creatures was very forward-focused. It also properly introduced Admiral Duarte, a character who becomes incredibly important in the remaining books in the series. The decision to give so much of Season 6’s precious narrative time could have been made as a way to expand the scope of this world, and to pay homage to these future book plots, and/or it could hint that the Expanse production team have not completely ruled out the possibility of a future for this adaptation…
As the coalition forces prepare to storm the ring station in The Expanse series finale, the Rocinante crew is running through its systems check, and voices are heard in the background signaling their readiness. “Thrace ready!” we hear, and our ears perk up. How unusual to share the name of one of the most badass space dogfighters ever, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace of Battlestar Galactica. When that’s followed by “Ripley ready!” all doubt is removed. Naming yet another famous spacefarer, Ellen Ripley of Alien, can’t be a coincidence.
Fortunately, fans of Easter eggs like this are provided with a quick glimpse of the roster on Naomi’s screen, and it’s filled with the great heroes of space science fiction in movies and television. It’s fitting that, as The Expanse makes its final bow, the “Great Hunt” of sci-fi culture appears to assist in the battle to end all battles. It’s easy, in fact, to spot the rest of Ripley’s team from Aliens: Hudson, Hicks, and Vasquez. So who else is among the assault team?…
RS: Were there times when you and the cast watched the finished shows where you were surprised by how certain scenes came out, or by the work of your castmates?
SA: Absolutely. Every season, the producers would screen the first two shows for the cast all together in a theatre. There was one moment, maybe from season four or five, where Amos [Wes Chatham] was talking about his mother, and it was so powerful that I just lost it. I had to leave the theatre crying, I couldn’t help myself. The other cast members, my friends, came up to me and asked me what happened and I said I was just overcome seeing that scene. But you know, there were so many scenes and moments that felt so real like that, which made me feel like we did a good job bringing this saga to life.
(7) SPLASH-A-BOOM. An underwater volcano eruption this morning near Tonga caused a small tsunami which hit the west coast of Central, North and South America, and the east coast of Hawai’i. Hawaiian fan Dave Rowe says, “Here it was only one foot high (three feet was expected).” And he passed along a link to an impressive 2-second video compiled from real-time satellite photos of the eruption: “Shockwave By Near-Tonga Eruption Captured From Himawari Satellite” at Space Weather Gallery.
…He sold his first story in 1965, and in 1969 joined the staff of the UK speculative fiction magazine New Worlds, where he edited the books pages until 1978.
His novels include Climbers, which won the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature in 1989; Nova Swing, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2007; and The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, which won the 2020 Goldsmiths Prize for innovation in fiction….
… Below are three stories from the past ten years that have contained characters loosely based on, or inspired by, Karl Edward Wagner….
(10) TWO CATS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE. Mark Evanier eulogized voice actor “Leo DeLyon, R.I.P.” at News From ME. DeLyon died September 21 at the age of 96.
…We are especially interested in him because he occasionally did voices for cartoons. In the original Top Cat series in 1961, he did the voices of the characters Spook and Brain. That’s them above with Leo between them. He did other voices now and then for Hanna-Barbera…on The Smurfs and Paw Paws, and on a few specials when they needed voice actors who could sing. He was also the voice of Flunkey the baboon in the Disney version of The Jungle Book…
(11) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
1995 — [Item by Cat Eldridge.] Twenty-seven years ago on this evening, the very short lived sequel to the Sixties Get Smart series aired on Fox. It too was called Get Smart. And it had Don Adams and Barbara Feldon still playing Maxwell Smart and Agent 99. Edward Platt who played The Chief had died some twenty years earlier.
The relative success of the reunion movie Get Smart, Again! six years earlier prompted the development of a weekly revival of Get Smart but the ratings were absolutely abysmal, so it was canned after seven episodes. Thirteen years later, the Get Smart film despite critics not particularly liking it was a great success.
The Variety review was typical of what critics thought of it: “Would you believe there is very little to laugh about in this return of Get Smart, a decidedly unfunny undertaking that could have clearly benefited from some input from Buck Henry or at the very least a phone call from Mel Brooks.”
(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born January 15, 1879 — Ernest Thesiger. He’s here because of his performance as Doctor Septimus Pretorius in James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. He had a major role in Hitchcock’s not completed and now lost Number 13 (or Mrs. Peabody) which is even genre adjacent. He was also in The Ghoul which was an early Boris Karloff film. And he continued to show up in SFF films such as The Ghosts of Berkeley Square where he was Dr. Cruickshank of Psychical Research Society. (Died 1961.)
Born January 15, 1913 — Lloyd Bridges. Though I’m reasonably sure Secret Agent X-9, a 1945 serial, isn’t genre, I’m listing it anyways because I’m impressed that it was based on a comic strip by Dashiell Hammett, Leslie Charteris and others. He’s the Pilot Col. Floyd Graham in Rocketship X-M, Dr. Doug Standish In Around the World Under the Sea, Aramis in The Fifth Musketeer, Clifford Sterling in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and Grandfather in Peter and the Wolf. His television appearances are too many to list here. (Died 1998.)
Born January 15, 1928 — Joanne Linville. Best remembered I’d say for being the unnamed Romulan Commander Spock get involved with on “The Enterprise Incident”. (Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman and Susan Shwartz, calls her Liviana Charvanek.) She also starred in the Twilight Zone‘s “The Passersby” episode, and she starred in “I Kiss Your Shadow” which was the final episode of the Bus Stop series. The episode was based on the short story by Robert Bloch who wrote the script for it. This story is in The Early Fears Collection. (Died 2021.)
Born January 15, 1935 — Robert Silverberg, 87. I know the first thing I read by him was The Stochastic Man a very long time ago. After that I’ve read all of the Majipoor series which is quite enjoyable, and I know I’ve read a lot of his short fiction down the years. He has three Hugos with the first at NyCon II for Most Promising New Author, the other two being for his novella “Gilgamesh in the Outback” at Conspiracy ’87, and novella “Nightwings” at St. Louiscon. His “Hawksbill Station” novella was nominated at Baycon, and his Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg was nominated at Worldcon 75. He picked up a Retro Hugo at the Millennium Philcon for Best Fan Writer.
Born January 15, 1944 — Christopher Stasheff. A unique blending I’d say of fantasy and SF with a large if I find sometimes excessive dollop of humor. His best known novels are his Warlock in Spite of Himself series which I’ve read some of years ago. Who here has read his Starship Troupers series? It sounds potentially interesting. (Died 2018.)
Born January 15, 1945 — Ron Bounds, 77. A fan who was one of the founders of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society in the Sixties. He co-chaired Discon 2, was a member of both the Baltimore in ’67 and Washington in ’77 bid committees. He chaired Loscon 2. He published the Quinine, a one-shot APA. He was President of the Great Wall of China SF, Marching & Chop Suey Society which is both a cool name and a great undertaking as well.
Born January 15, 1965 — James Nesbitt, 57. Best genre role was as Tom Jackman and Hyde in Jekyll which was written by Steven Moffat. He’s also appeared in Fairy Tales, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and Outcast. Yes, I know he played Bofur in the Hobbit films. I still consider Jekyll his better by far genre role.
(13) SIGNAL BOOST. Since Hulu’s bad at promoting their films of this type, N. sent along a tweet he saw for I’m Your Man:
(14) MAKING LEMONADE WITHOUT LEMONS. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] I saw Dear Mr. Watterson, a 2013 documentary by Joel Allen Schroeder on YouTube, which you can watch for free, as long as you are willing to have your film interrupted with ads, Of course Bill Watterson refuses to be interviewed or even photographed, and has refused to license his characters. How do you make a film about him?
Well, in the first half-hour Schroeder blows it with all sorts of talking heads, many of them comic strip creators, telling how special Calvin and Hobbes was as a strip. Schroeder even goes back to his boyhood home in Appleton, Wisconsin to see his bedroom where he posted Sunday strips on the wall when he was a kid. Who cares?
Things pick up when Schroeder goes to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where Watterson grew up, and goes to the local library to see early illustrations Watterson drew for the local paper and hold an original strip about overdue books that is in the head librarian’s office. He then goes to the Billy Ireland Library at Ohio State, where Watterson’s archive is stored, and I thought that was interesting. I bet a good documentary could be made about that library.
Then in the final third we get to the real subject of the film which is whether Watterson’s decision to forego all licensing deals was a good idea. Here Berkeley Breathed, Stephen Pastis, and Jean Schultz had intelligent things to say. As Pastis notes, there is a difference between licensing a Snoopy stuffed animal a four-year old could hold and having Snoopy sell life insurance through Met Life. Seth Green also makes an appearance to note that he made bootleg Calvin t-shirts.
But one result of only having Calvin and Hobbes available in books is that these books are in school libraries and six- and seven-year-old kids love reading them. That might not have happened if their first exposure to Watterson’s characters was through animated cartoons.
Dear Mr. Watterson is worth watching but you might want to fast forward through the first half hour.
Verne is often cited as one of the fathers of science fiction and a lover of both literature and technology. Verne combined the earlier genres of the extraordinary voyage, travel narrative, and adventure story with unprecedented scientific rigor, creating the scientific romance genre, or roman de la science. This course will explore Verne’s unique mix of science and imagination and how it helped solidify the genre.
Around 1971 Dave Arneson and his circle of Minneapolis gamers invented games where players controlled individual characters who grew with experience and who could try anything because dice and a referee determined the outcomes. The group tried this style of play in various settings, but Dave invented one that proved irresistible: the dungeon.
Dave’s Blackmoor game—the campaign that spawned Dungeons & Dragons—began with a gaming group playing fictional versions of themselves in a fantasy world. The characters became champions in a series of miniature battles featuring armies clashing above ground. Without dungeons, the Blackmoor game might have stayed miniature wargaming rather than becoming D&D and a game nearly as well known as Monopoly. But by creating the dungeon crawl, Dave invented a new activity that transformed the campaign and ultimately made a lasting addition to popular culture…
For 62 years, scientists have pointed instruments toward outer space in hopes of finding some sign that we’re not alone in the universe. But those instruments always scanned just a tiny swath of sky for a short span of time, limited mainly to listening for stray radio waves and leaving us largely blind to any visual evidence of extraterrestrials in the darkness of space.
As the space age enters its seventh decade, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is getting a lot wider and more deliberate. And that could significantly boost our chances of actually finding something for the first time.
In mid-December, scientists with the SETI Institute in California finished installing a new laser instrument: an expensive lens-camera-computer combo at Haleakala Observatory, situated on a mountaintop on Maui, Hawaii, 10,000 feet above sea level.
The east-facing instrument, when combined with an identical west-facing system at the Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sonoma, California, scans a 150-degree arc of the night sky more than a thousand times a second, filtering the light and looking for the telltale signature of laser light—a possible sign of intelligent life. “We’re trying to cover all the sky all the time,” Eliot Gillum, the principal investigator for the LaserSETI project, told The Daily Beast.
(18) HIBERNATING ALIENS. Why can’t we find them? Isaac Arthur says it might be because they’re taking a kip… (Just like the Norwegian blue.)
One explanation for the Fermi Paradox is that aliens may be undetected because they slumber, quietly hidden away in the galaxy. But how and why might such Extraterrestrial Empires hibernate?
A long filament-like cloud of hydrogen atoms lurking on the far side of the Milky Way is among the largest such structures in the Galaxy — and offers a rare glimpse into one of the earliest stages of star formation.
Scientists first reported evidence of the filament, which they nicknamed Maggie, in 2020. Now, some of those scientists, including Jonas Syed at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, along with more astronomers, have conducted a detailed follow-up investigation. It shows that the filament stretches some 1,200 parsecs, roughly 1,000 times the distance from the Sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri.
Theory predicts that, over time, the neutral hydrogen atoms in the filament will pair up, forming dense clouds of hydrogen molecules. Such clouds ultimately give birth to stars.
SpaceX’s Starlink has been making steady gains with its fledgling satellite internet service, surpassing 100,000 terminals shipped in 2021 and showing promising improvements in performance after initial speed tests produced lackluster results. However, the company’s run into an unforeseen hiccup with its dishes: Cats love them….
(21) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Trailers: The Matrix Resurrections,” the Screen Junkies say that the fourth film asks, “Do you take the blue pill and reboot this with Tom Holland as Neo or do you take the red pill and see how far up its own ass the story will go?” Also, since the film has musical theatre greats Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Groff (who was King George in Hamilton, and has also been in Frozen, Frozen II, and “Glee’) when is The Matrix musical coming?
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Chris Barkley, John King Tarpinian, Daniel Dern, Cora Buhlert, Dave Rowe, N., SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Patrick Morris Miller.]
Was the year too heavy, deep, and real? Yes, but it was also rich in creativity, humor, and shared adventures. It’s a gift and privilege for me to be continually allowed to publish so many entertaining posts. Thanks to all of you who contributed!
… Like many fans, I had tried my hand with writing, especially as a teenager. I wrote notes, drew weird aliens, and even wrote a novel which will never see the light of day. But during all this I did noodle, consistently, with several recurring characters and a story line. It shifted and changed, of course, as I matured and different interests came into my life, and eventually they just settled in the back of my mind.
… Once when [Tim] Powers was being interviewed at an SF convention someone asked “Do you actually believe in this stuff?” He said “No. But my characters do.” As Gordon Bennett wrote, and Frank Sinatra sang, “This is all I ask, this is all I need.”
… I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But the last few years, I’ve done a personal project to read and review as many Novellas as I could (presuming that the story Synopsis had some appeal for me). …
… The mission of SAFF is to keep the factual progress of space exploration out there for our community and to help individual Worldcons and other conventions in dealing with the arrangements and funding of space experts as special guests.
… Another solved mystery was that of the vanishing pancake. A friend of mine, by profession police officer, was standing at his stove, frying pancakes. As we both did with pancakes, we flipped them around in the air. So did my friend on this day.
His mystery was that the pancake never came back down. It vanished. There was no trace of it….
Eli Grober’s “Opening Lines Rewritten for a Pandemic” in The New Yorker humorously changes the beginnings of famous books to suit life as we knew it in the plague year of 2020…. Filers answered the challenge to add to the list. Here is a collection from yesterday’s comments….
The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed, being careful to maintain a distance of at least six feet.
… It was the Jeopardy! gameshow display screen one saw all the time on television, in real life, just yards away, here inside the cool Sony studios. Six rows across with the categories, columns of five numbers under each. To the right of the large display was Alex Trebek’s podium, and nearby were the three contestant stations.
There were sixteen of us here, and before the end of the day, all of us but one would have our thirty minutes of fame — or infamy — in this very special place.
… The model took off and rose straight up for maybe 100 feet or so before the second stage kicked in, but then there was trouble. Instead of continuing its upward flight, the thing veered to the right and zoomed away horizontally, slightly descending all the while. It went directly over a house across the street and continued on, neatly bisecting the span between two tall trees behind the house. And then it was gone from sight. I remember that my uncle gave me a quizzical look and asked, “Was it supposed to do that?”…
On the evening of Wednesday, June 16, 2021, the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading Series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, presented authors Seanan McGuire and Nadia Bulkin in livestreamed readings on YouTube. (Neither reader is running for Mayor of New York.)
This is the 16th month of virtual readings, in place of in-person reading at the eponymous bar in the East Village in Manhattan, noted Kressel. New York City may be “open,” added Datlow, but they don’t yet feel comfortable “going into the crowd” at the Bar for at least a few more months….
Is there a science fiction movie character you want to smell like? Forget Swamp Thing, c’mon, he’s not in Fragrance X’s catalog. Otherwise, there’s no end of superhero and genre branded colognes you can buy.
There was a post a while ago on twitter that asked, “So what motivates y’all to continue entering bids to host Worldcons? Genuinely curious.”
And I responded with, ”I think there are some great bids out there like Glasgow 2024 that you can genuinely tell they are enthusiastic and want to put on a good show. Working on Dublin was like that for me as well. I am not saying they are perfect but the excitement is really important.”
But that is just the tip of the iceberg of what I wanted to say…
… Now back to Connery. The film would leave him with such a bad experience that claimed he the production of the film and the film’s final quality was what he caused his decision to permanently retire from filmmaking, saying in an interview with The Times that, “It was a nightmare. The experience had a great influence on me, it made me think about showbiz. I get fed up dealing with idiots.”
… I began to wonder whatever became of this marvelous actor and so, before retiring for the evening, I started to research Mr. Persoff’s whereabouts on my computer. As luck would have it, I found him and wrote him a rather hasty letter of personal and lifelong admiration. To my shock and utter astonishment, he responded within five minutes….
Stormm began her humorous series about the misdirected emails she gets from Writer X in August and has done 17 regular and two bonus installments. It swirls together comedy, horror, and the pitfalls of being a writer.
The purpose of this presentation is to place Tolkien’s theory of mythopoeic fiction in dialogue with fantasy series by T. Kingfisher in order to argue that her work is feminist and mythopoeic. While there are a number of elements of Kingfisher’s fiction that are relevant to my purpose, I’ll be focusing on two: her version of Faërie and system of magic, and her portrayal of female characters whose relationships are with failed warrior heroes….
The talk of time capsules and 1000-year M-discs in the Pixel Scroll 8/12/21 discussion of item (16), the Louis XIII Cognac 100-year sci-fi film vault, got me thinking that Worldcon should do Hugos for Best Genre-related Work Created 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 years ago….
… Considered to be a genius by many, not only was Hergé skilled at drawing, he was also good at fascinating his readers with mysteries, and intriguing situations. For example, why was Prof. Calculus going into the heart of a volcano, following the agitated movements of his pendulum, instead of running away, like all the others? Perhaps he was so oblivious to his real surroundings, and was so desperate to find the cause of the wild swinging of his pendulum for the sake of science, that inadvertently, he was willing to risk his very life. Or was he running away from mundane reality? And why did Tintin rush back to save his friend from going deeper in the maze of the mountain? Possibly because that was Tintin’s nature, to rescue not just the innocent people of the world, but it also showed his deep friendship with the absent-minded professor….
…After watching [John Wick: Chapter 3], my friends and I got some drinks at a nearby bar. There, I found myself repeating a single word from the movie: “Consequences.” Wick utters this word whenever one of the characters points out that his past may have finally caught up with him. Since I like to drive jokes into the ground, I began to say “Consequences” in response to everything that night, in a poor imitation of Wick’s scratchy voice. Why did we need to buy another round? “Consequences.” Why should someone else pick up the tab? “Consequences.” And maybe I should call out sick tomorrow? “Consequences.”…
Right after the Fourth of July might not be when I shop for Christmas ornaments, but somebody does, because that’s when Hallmark runs its Keepsake Ornament Premiere.
If the timing is for the convenience of retailers, there is also a certain logic in picking a spot on the calendar that is as far away as you can get from a date associated with Christmas trees. It’s plain some of these ornaments are intended for a Halloween or Thanksgiving tree, while others probably are destined never to decorate a tree at all but to remain pristine in their original wrapping on collectors’ shelves….
… I couldn’t help thinking of the passage from The Lord of the Rings, where the Crebain go searching for the Fellowship. In fact, there are many birds as spies in fantasy fiction, such as the Three-Eyed Raven, the, One-eyed Crow, or Varamyr Sixskins warging into an eagle in A Song of Ice and Fire, to mention a few….
The Best Series Hugo category was added to the WSFS Constitution in 2017 with a sunset clause requiring a future re-ratification vote to remain part of the Worldcon Constitution. That vote happens next week at the DisCon III Business Meeting. If you were there, would you vote yes or no on keeping the category?
Then down the long hall there arose so much chat, that I sprang from my chair to see what was that? Through archways, past plant pots, I slipped through the throng as the loud murmuration came strolling along.
… In reality, China is a huge country with a vast population and an expanding middle class; an enormous SF field and well established fandom. Chengdu is an established international convention site as well as a centre for science and technology.
I rather suspect that from the Chengdu bid’s viewpoint, the US-centric history of Worldcon is at odds with the very name of the event and its claim to be the leading global celebration of the genre. I do not need to believe there is anything suspicious about the bid, because it only needs a tiny percentage of Chinese fans to get behind it to make it a success….
Though Tolkien’s novels were very successful in the last century, after the Peter Jackson trilogy in the early 2000s, their reach increased to encompass the globe. Irrespective of geographical or linguistic differences, they spoke to us in different ways. In an informal Discussion Group at Oxonmoot 2021, (held online), participants were welcome to share their thoughts/reactions/ take on various aspects of Tolkien’s works, mainly his Legendarium….
… Based on reading 20% of Team File 770’s assigned books, I found there are actually 12 I’d say yes to – so I am going to need to cut two more before I finalize this list….
The saga of Sheriff Trigger Snowflake, the lovely Coraline, and the shenanigans of the Solarian Poets Society added several chapters this year that were not so much ripped-from-the-headlines as amused by the news.
A few days later, down at the Coffee Emporium, Trigger was having breakfast. A nice cup of Bean of the Day and a grilled synthecheese. As he finished the last bite of the synthecheese, Barbara Dimatis walked up to his table.
“Sheriff Snowflake, may I sit?”
“Why, sure, Ms Dimatis. What troubles you?”
“You’ve heard of Bistro Futuristo? Well, turns out that the editor and owner of Futuristo Magazine has made an announcement.”…
… Needless to say, I have witnessed or participated in a number of remarkable, bizarre and historic incidents during my tenure working at Worldcons. I not only know how the sausage was made, I helped make it as well….
(1) THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES. Camestros Felapton’s Debarkle has reached its final chapter. The massive history of the Sad Puppies intertwined with right-wing political developments from 2014-2021 concludes with “Debarkle Afterword: Dramatis Personae” – very like the “where are they now?” credits at the end of based-on-a-true-story movies.
(2) ANGRY ROBOT BOOKS UNVEILS NEW LOGO. Angry Robot Books revealed their new logo, designed by Kate Cromwell, which comes as part of an overall rebranding including the launch of an upgraded website, enabling the direct sale of physical books.
Formed in 2009, Angry Robot Books have undergone some key adjustments throughout the years but, since joining Watkins Media in 2014 and coming under the leadership of Associate Publisher Eleanor Teasdale in 2019, the award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and genre-boundary pushing company is thriving. This new logo represents the history of Angry Robot Books whilst simultaneously looking forward.
With initiatives such as Clonefiles – offering free ebooks to any independent bookshop physical purchase – Angry Robot Books have a cherished legacy of serving the book-buying public, and this new, upgraded website with physical sales capacity, deepens the direct connection between publisher and customer.
These developments come at an exciting time for Angry Robot Books as summer 2021’s runaway hit, The Coward by Stephen Aryan, is already in its third reprint and the October super-lead, Un-su Kim’s The Cabinet, continues to bask in reviews including selection for the Best Science Fiction of 2021 in The Washington Post. With 2022 books crossing geographical, figurative, mythological, and atmospheric borders, the future is bright for Angry Robot Books as highlighted in the recent survey of genre for 2022 at Library Journal which so prominently featured a range of the imprint’s titles and authors.
The new logo is part of the cover of R.W.W. Greene’s Mercury Rising, designed by David Leehy. The book will be released May 10, 2022.
Even in a technologically-advanced, Kennedy-Didn’t-Die alternate-history, Brooklyn Lamontagne is going nowhere fast. The year is 1975, thirty years after Robert Oppenheimer invented the Oppenheimer Nuclear Engine, twenty-five years after the first human walked on the moon, and eighteen years after Jet Carson and the Eagle Seven sacrificed their lives to stop the alien invaders.
Brooklyn just wants to keep his mother’s rent paid, earn a little scratch of his own, steer clear of the cops, and maybe get laid sometime in the near future. Simple pleasures, right? But a killer with a baseball bat and a mysterious box of 8-track tapes is about to make his life real complicated…
(3) LAST NIGHT ON RIVERDALE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Beware spoilers. Riverdale is going through a five-episode story arc when it is in the alternate universe “Rivervale.” In this universe, Archie died as part of a pagan sacrifice.
“Rivervale” had a mention of Neil Gaiman. Jughead in this universe is still a writer, but he discovers there is a secret apartment next to his apartment that is haunted. Jughead and his girlfriend decide to turn the hidden apartment into a writing studio. He says he wants the apartment to have “a Neil Gaiman nautical vibe,’” so he decides to decorate the window with ships in bottles. I dunno what Gaiman has to do with ships in bottles, and I’m sure Gaiman has nothing to do with Jughead’s making sure he chugs all the Scotch in the bottle before putting a ship in. The ghosts in the hidden apartment empower Jughead so he is able to “vomit out” the first draft of a novella in one night. I’ll spare the details as to how Jughead’s typewriter gets as smashed as he does after downing a bottle of Scotch.
(4) ROONEY BOYCOTT OF AN ISRAELI PUBLISHER GAINS AUTHORS’ SUPPORT. China Miéville is one of the authors and publishing industry figures who have signed a letter endorsing Sally Rooney’s decision to turn down an offer with an Israel publishing house, describing it as “an exemplary response to the mounting injustices inflicted on Palestinians”. Artists for Palestine UK organized the letter, and the complete text and a list of all signers is on their website: “Leading writers support Sally Rooney decision to refuse publication in Israel”.
…Rooney turned down an offer to sell Hebrew translation rights in her new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, to the publisher Modan, which had published her previous two books, and which had put in a bid. The bestselling Irish novelist said last month that she supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), which works to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law”, and that she did not feel it would be right to collaborate with an Israeli company “that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people”.
(5) SAVING THROW. “Thanksgiving” at Tablet Magazine is new seasonal fiction from Elizabeth Bear set in a near-future, climate-changed world. The ending reminds me slightly of the key to world peace from the end of Stand on Zanzibar.
… Kids these days can’t imagine how we lived without reality filters, without ambient power transmission, without biosphere impact laws. They get along fine without frogs, however, which is something I can’t manage.
Most of them never really missed a frog. They never had the opportunity. They have never really missed Vanuatu, or Cape Cod, or a sequoia. Just as I never missed a dodo, an ivory-billed woodpecker, the American chestnut. If I had grandkids—let’s say, my abstract, intellectual grandkids—they would not miss rhinos or sugar maples or coffee. Except in that same abstract, intellectual fashion. They would not give a damn about vanilla, sequoias, or ash trees except as historical curiosities similar to the aurochs, the cave bear, and dinosaurs…
(7) HELP KEEP THEM AFLOAT. The magazine Mermaids Monthly is running a Kickstarter to finance its second year: “Mermaids Monthly Year 2”. They have raised $4,212 with 35 days to go.
Our campaign goal for Mermaids Monthly 2022 is $33,000. This is a little bit higher than Mermaids Monthly 2021 because it covers some needs that the original team didn’t know about! In addition to covering the cost of content for 12 digital issues, the $33,000 will pay for one additional staff member for more coverage, as well as things like alt text generation, sensitivity readers, the submission system (Moksha), and international money transfer fees for paying our contributors who live outside the U.S.
(9) MIQUEL BARCELÓ (1948-2021). Miquel Barceló, the founder of Ediciones Nova, a Penguin collection dedicated to science fiction, died November 22. The Wikipedia sums up his career:
…He worked as an editor for Ediciones B, where he directed the NOVA collection, specialized in science fiction tales and novels, and writing introductory articles for the books published in the collection.
His last academic position was as a professor at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) where he promoted the creation of the UPC Prize, the most important prize in Spanish science-fiction. He directed and coordinated the UPC Doctorate program on Sustainability, Technology and Humanism. He also kept a monthly column for the computer magazine “Byte” and contributed to several publications on Astronomy and Artificial Intelligence.
In 1996 the Spanish Association of Fantasy and Science Fiction awarded a lifetime achievement award to Barceló….
(10) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
1974 — [Item by Cat Eldridge.] Forty-seven years ago in the USA on this date, Murder on the Orient Express was first shown. Based off the Agatha Christie novel, the script was by Paul Dehn, who wrote the Bond film Goldfinger. It was directed by Sydney Lumet who direct Network, which is at least genre adjacent, isn’t it? It was produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin who would go on to produce two more Christie films, Death on the Nile and The Mirror Crack’d.
Oh, and it has an absolutely stellar cast of Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark and Michael York. You can see the trailer here.
Critics loved it with Roger Ebert’s comments being typical with him saying it provided “a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of filmmaking.” The box office was amazing as it made thirty six million dollars on a minuscule budget of one point two million dollars. Christie who died fourteen months after this was made said that this film and Witness for the Prosecution were the only movie versions of her novels that she liked.
Now you’re going to get your Obligatory Science Fiction connection to use the old rec.arts.sf.written newsgroup term. The Twelfth Doctor would riff off this story including the train setting in the “Mummy on the Orient Express” episode though the murderer there was decidedly not human.
Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it a most excellent seventy-eight percent rating.
It would have three more versions over the decades, a 2001 TV film version, a 2010 episode of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, and a 2017 film with Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian detective. Branagh narrates the movie tie-in audiobook.
I just purchased this poster for my apartment as it is one of my favorite films.
(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born November 24, 1882 — E. R. Eddison. Writer whose most well-known work by far is The Worm Ouroboros. It’s slightly connected to his much lesser known later Zimiamvian Trilogy. I’m reasonably that sure I’ve read The Worm Ouroboros but way too long ago to remember anything about it. Silverberg in the Millenium Fantasy Masterworks Series edition of this novel said he considered it to be “the greatest high fantasy of them all”. (Died 1945.)
Born November 24, 1907 — Evangeline Walton. Her best known work, the Mabinogion tetralogy, was written during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and her Theseus trilogy was produced during the late 1940s. It’s worth stressing Walton is best known for her four novels retelling the Welsh Mabinogi. She published her first volume in 1936 under the publisher’s title of The Virgin and the Swine which is inarguably a terrible title. Although receiving glowing praise from John Cowper Powys, the book sold quite awfully and none of the other novels in the series were published at that time. Granted a second chance by Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy series in 1970, it was reissued with a much better title of The Island of the Mighty. The other three volumes followed quickly. Witch House is an occult horror story set in New England and She Walks in Darkness which came out on Tachyon Press is genre as well. I think that is the extent of her genre work but I’d be delighted to be corrected. She has won a number of awards including the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature, Best Novel along with The Fritz Leiber Fantasy Award, World Fantasy Award, Convention Award and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. (Died 1996.)
Born November 24, 1926 — Forrest J Ackerman. It’s no wonder that he got a Hugo forfor #1 Fan Personality at Philcon II and equally telling that when he was handed the trophy by Asimov, he physically declined saying it should go to Ken Slater to whom the trophy was later given by the con committee. That’s a nice summation of him. You want more? As a literary agent, he represented some two hundred writers, and he served as agent of record for many long-lost authors, thereby allowing their work to be reprinted. He represented Ed Wood! He was a prolific writer, more than fifty stories to his credit, and he named Vampirella and wrote the origin story for her. Speaking of things pulp which she assuredly is, he appeared in 81 films and as himself in over one hundred documentaries and programs which I’ll not list here. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe him. His non- fiction writings are wonderful as well. I’ll just single out Forrest J Ackerman’s Worlds of Science Fiction, A Reference Guide to American Science Fiction Films and a work he did with Brad Linaweaver, Worlds of Tomorrow: The Amazing Universe of Science Fiction Art. Did I mention he collected everything? Well, he did. Just one location alone contained some three hundred thousand books, film, SF material objects and writings. The other was eighteen rooms in extent. Damn if anyone needed their own TARDIS, it was him. In his later years, he was a board member of the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame who now have possession of many items of his collection. Not that he didn’t have problems around fans as Mike reported here. (Died 2008.)
Born November 24, 1948 — Spider Robinson, 73. His first story “The Guy with the Eyes” was published in Analog February 1973. It was set in a bar called Callahan’s Place, a setting for much of his later fiction. His first published novel, Telempath in 1976 was an expansion of the novella “By Any Other Name”. The Stardance trilogywas co-written with his late wife Jeanne Robinson. In 2004, he began working on a seven-page 1955 novel outline by the late Heinlein to expand it into a novel. The resulting novel would be called Variable Star. Who’s read it? He won the Astounding Award, and has three Hugos: the first at SunCon for his “By Any Other Name” novella, the second at IguanaCon II for “Stardance that he wrote with Jeanne Robinson and the the at ConStellation for the “Melancholy Elephants” short story.
Born November 24, 1957 — Denise Crosby, 64, Tasha Yar on Next Gen who got a meaningful death in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” after getting an earlier truly meaningless one. In other genre work, she was on The X-Files as a doctor who examined Agent Scully’s baby. And I really like it that she was in two Pink Panther films, Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther, as Denise, Bruno’s Moll. And she’s yet another Trek performer who’s popped doing what I call Trek video fanfic. She’s Dr. Jenna Yar in “Blood and Fire: Part 2”, an episode of the only season of Star Trek: New Voyages as Paramount was not amused.
Born November 24, 1957 — John Zakour, 64. For sheer pulp pleasure, I wholeheartedly recommend his Zachary Nixon Johnson PI series which he co-wrote some with Larry Ganem. Popcorn reading at its very best and I see GraphicAudio has done full cast audio performances of them which should be a real hoot. It’s the only series of his I’ve read, so anyone else read his other books?
Born November 24, 1957 — Jeff Noon, 64. Novelist and playwright. Prior to his relocation in 2000 to Brighton, his stories reflected in some way his native though not birth city of Manchester. The Vurt sequence whose first novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award is a very odd riff off Alice in Wonderland that he describes as a sequel to those works. Noon was the winner of an Astounding Award for the Best New Science Fiction Writer.
Shoe has an awful, genre-related pun. How can you resist?
(13) ON THE LINE.“Another Look At Bill Mauldin” in The Comics Journal, a review of Drawing Fire: The Editorial Cartoons of Bill Mauldin, says that the artist needed real-life experiences to generate effective drawings.
…Mauldin’s drawing style for the wartime cartoons was wonderfully evocative of the ambiance of the dogface’s life. He drew with a brush, and his lines were bold and fluid but clotted with heavy black areas, clothing and background detail disappearing into deep trap-shadow darkness that gave the pictures a grungy aspect that approximated visually the damp and dirty feelings bred by the miserable field conditions of a soldier’s life on front lines everywhere. Willie and Joe looked like they needed a bath, and so did many of their readers…
(14) MOVIES FOR A NEGLECTED HOLIDAY. That’s Connie Willis calls this list of movies for Thanksgiving Day, published on her Facebook page. (And Connie summons all her panache to explain why Miracle on 34th Street is on it.)
Poor Thanksgiving! It gets short shrift all around. Not only is it completely upstaged by Christmas, but now Black Friday means that Thanksgiving only gets a single day, and in the last few years (interrupted only by the Pandemic), Black Friday starts Thursday afternoon so you don’t even have time to do the dishes before Thanksgiving’s over and it’s on to the Christmas spending frenzy.
The same is true for movies. Hallmark devotes an entire month to Christmas movies and there are dozens of other new and old classics to watch, but there are hardly any Thanksgiving movies, and the ones there are always seem to involve a person who’s terminally ill. (Don’t believe me? How about STEPMOM, FUNNY PEOPLE, and ONE TRUE THING, to say nothing of THE BIG CHILL, in which the person’s already died?) Movies like that are the last thing we need in this Pandemic-That-Never-Seems-To-End.
So here’s a list of some cheerful Thanksgiving movies to watch in the ninety seconds or so between Thanksgiving dinner and Black Friday…
Two years ago, YouTube user xKorellx poured a bit of history down the drain. In a first-person video, they gently cradle a can of Mountain Dew Game Fuel in their palm. Swirls of orange and blue energy surround the Mountain Dew logo, and alongside it, a close-up image of Master Chief sprinting forward like he’s going to bust out of the can and into your pathetic reality. The vivid branding hasn’t faded in 10-plus years since Halo 3 Game Fuel left stores, but the can’s structural integrity is … compromised.
The silver top of the can is bloated and uneven. It looks to be moments from exploding. It has been deemed unfit for drinking or display. Solemn guitar music swells. xKorellx cracks the tab one-handed and pours the yellow-orangish liquid into the sink.
Today, a sip of that liquid will cost you anywhere between $35 and $80….
The Pentagon announced the formation of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG), a successor to the U.S. Navy’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. The group study Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP), the U.S. military’s name for UFOs.
According to the Pentagon’s press release, “the AOIMSG will synchronize efforts across the Department and the broader U.S. government to detect, identify and attribute objects of interests in Special Use Airspace (SUA), and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.”
UFOs have been an obsession of the Pentagon (and broader society) for decades. In the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book studied the phenomenon. In the preceding years, tales of strange lights in the sky captivated the world. Interest in UFOs waxed and waned over the years but exploded again recently when U.S. Navy pilots began giving interviews on high profile programs like 60 Minutes about the strange things they’d seen in the sky….
(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “The Movie Criminal Tutorial” on Screen Rant, written by Seb Decter, Tyler Lemco, Jr. plays movie crime consultant John Doe, Jr. Doe’s father, John Doe, committed the crimes that led to the 1960s movie The Italian Job, and inspired the younger Doe to allegedly pursue a life of criminal activity. Doe says it helps to have a wide network (he knows Pajamas Sam, Pajamas Freddy, and Sam The Fish), always talk through a Pringles can on the phone so no one can recognize your voice, and come up with an original tool when you’re whacking somebody (he likes a computer mouse).
[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Chris Barkley, Darrah Chavey, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]
(1) NAVIGATING LITERATURE. The Huntington Library’s “Mapping Fiction” exhibit will run January 15-May 2. The Pasadena, CA institution timed the event to coincide with the centennial of the publication of James Joyce’s groundbreaking 1922 modernist novel, Ulysses. Maps from J.R.R. Tolkien, Octavia Butler and other creators will also be displayed.
“Mapping Fiction” is an exhibition focused on the ways authors and mapmakers have built compelling fictional worlds.
Drawn entirely from The Huntington’s collections, “Mapping Fiction” includes a first edition of Joyce’s novel and a typescript draft of one of its chapters, cartographically inspired intaglio prints of Dublin as described in the book, other mappings of the novel and the famous texts to which it alludes, and materials related to the annual celebration of Bloomsday in Dublin on June 16—the single day in 1904 during which the novel takes place.
About 70 items will be on view, focused on novels and maps from the 16th through the 20th century—largely early editions of books that include elaborate maps of imaginary worlds. Among the highlights are Lewis Carroll’s 1876 edition of The Hunting of the Snark, Robert Louis Stevenson’s maps from Treasure Island and Kidnapped, J. R. R. Tolkien’s map from the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, and science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler’s hand-drawn maps from notes for Parable of the Talents (1998) and her unpublished novel Parable of the Trickster. In addition to Butler’s archives, the show draws on The Huntington’s archival collections of Jack and Charmian London, Christopher Isherwood, and others, as well as the institution’s rich print holdings in travel narratives, English literature, and the history of science.
There will be related events, including this Butler-themed tour of Pasadena.
Revisiting Octavia E. Butler’s Pasadena March 19 and April 23, 2022 2–3:30 p.m. In conjunction with “Mapping Fiction,” The Huntington has produced a map of Octavia E. Butler’s Pasadena. Visitors can take a self-guided walking or driving tour of the locations around Pasadena where Butler lived, visited, and often found inspiration. Tour maps will be available online and in the “Mapping Fiction” exhibition gallery. On two Saturdays this spring, Ayana Jamieson, founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network, will lead a moderated conversation about our desire to locate Butler’s Pasadena. Registration information and locations to come.
(2) TALKING TOONS. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] I listened to this podcast by Leonard Maltin with cartoon historians Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier — Maltin on Movies: “Talking Toons with Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier”. Jessie Maltin wasn’t on the podcast because she just gave birth to Maltin’s first grandchild. (Playing with his granddaughter, Maltin joked, was “more fun than television!”
All three men are Boomers whose love of cartoons went back to when they were kids and Channel 9 in New York City and Channel 11 in Los Angeles would show anything (remember Colonel Bleep? They do.) They have deep knowledge of animation history. Did you know that the first Peanuts cartoons were done for the Tennessee Ernie Ford show? Or that when The Bugs Bunny Show aired in prime time for two seasons on ABC in the early 1960s it had all sorts of original footage, including work by Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson, that no one has seen in 50 years?)
Jerry Beck is involved with the international animation association ACIFA, and discussed his efforts at cartoon preservation. He noted that Paramount, unlike Disney and Warner Bros., doesn’t think they can make money from old cartoons. ACIFA is working with the UCLA and Library of Congress archives to preserve significant work by Terrytoons and Max Fleischer that only exist in flammable negatives. ACIFA also helped restore a 16-minute Smell-O-Vision cartoon (with voice work by Bert Lahr) that was shown before the smelly The Scent Of Mystery.
The best find in previously lost cartoons was when Maltin’s classic Of Mice And Magic was translated into Russian, and Russian cartoon fans reported they discovered the last lost Betty Boop cartoon, featuring Boop’s nephew, Buzzy Boop. The cartoon is currently being restored.
This was a fun hour.
(3) ERASMUSCON. There’s a Dutch bid for Eurocon 2024. They propose to hold the con in Rotterdam in August 2024. They are taking presupports:
Become a supporter of the bid for €25,- or a Friend of the bid for €100,-
(4) BIG SIX. Nerds of a Feather’s Paul Weimer gets recommendations in “6 Books with Marjorie B. Kellogg”, who’s the author of Lear’s Daughters, Harmony, and The Dragon Quartet series.
4. A book that you love and wish that you yourself had written.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin.
This book I have reread, more than once, and still find moving and magical. Her portrayal of an alien civilization is so deeply drawn, so compassionate, so non-comic-booky, and yet so relevant and relatable to our own Earth-bound issues and selves. It’s what Science Fiction can do like no other genre.
It was with a mix of curiosity and trepidation that I tuned into Doctor Who this month. The character we know and love has vanished forever, and in his place is a stranger– A stranger who calls himself the Doctor. But is it really the same man? Once again, we have to ask the essential question that the programme was founded on. Doctor…who?
This year Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated on October 11th. American Thanksgiving will fall on November 25th. In both cases, they are glorious feasts celebrating the end of harvest season. However, the first European Thanksgiving in the New World may have been Martin Frobisher’s on May 27th, 1578. As you might guess from the date, Frobisher and his crew were not giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. They were grateful to have survived their latest quest for the Northwest Passage. And isn’t simple survival something for which to be grateful?
The characters in the following five works would no doubt agree that while survival has its challenges, it is far superior to the alternative….
The short version is that legendary star of the screen Pee-Wee Herman will launch a radio show on KCRW, the popular National Public Radio station based in Santa Monica, Calif., and will be accompanied by his pals Chairry, Magic Screen and Miss Yvonne. A rep for the station tells Variety that for now, it will be just one show on Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. PT (and available on demand for one week after airing), but who knows?
(8) LEFLEUR OBIT. Actor Art LaFleur died at the age of 78 on November 17 reports Deadline. The character actor had many genre roles in his resume: Jekyll and Hyde . . . Together Again, The Invisible Woman, WarGames, Trancers and Trancers II, Zone Troopers, The Blob (1988), Field of Dreams (he’s the one who tells Moonlight Graham “Don’t wink, kid”),Forever Young,The Santa Clause 2and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (as the “Tooth Fairy”), Speed Racer. On TV, LaFleur appeared in episodes of The Incredible Hulk, Wizards and Warriors, Tales from the Crypt, Space Rangers, Strange Luck, A.J.’s Time Travelers, Angel and Night Stalker (2005).
(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
1964 — Fifty-seven years ago, the second adaptation of H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon was released into theatres, this one complete with the superb special effects of Ray Harryhausen. The first time it was adapted was a 1919 British black-and-white silent film version, directed by Bruce Gordon and J. L. V. Leigh. (It is currently lost with film prints known to exist.) This screenplay was by Nigel Kneale and Jan Read. The primary cast was Edward Judd, Martha Hyer and Lionel Jeffries.
I have no idea what it cost as that’s not recorded but it only made one point three million. Most critics liked with Variety saying that “Ray Harryhausen and his special effects men have another high old time in this piece of science-fiction hokum”, though the New York Times called it “tedious, heavyhanded science-fiction vehicle that arrived yesterday from England”. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes are currently lukewarm on it giving it a fifty-three percent rating.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born November 20, 1923 — Len Moffatt. He’s a member of First Fandom. Len and his second wife June helped organize many of the early Bouchercons for which he and June received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bouchercon staff. He was a member of LASFS. He wrote far too many zines to list here. Mike has an excellent look at his memorial here. (Died 2010.)
Born November 20, 1923 — Nadine Gordimer. South African writer and political activist. Her one genre novel was July’s People which was banned in her native country under both governments. Her three stories are collected in Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black and Other Stories. She received the Nobel Prize in Literature, recognized as a writer “who through her magnificent epic writing has been of very great benefit to humanity”. (Died 2014.)
Born November 20, 1926 — John Gardner. Author of more Bond novels than one would think possible. He’d write fourteen original James Bond novels, more than Fleming wrote, and the novelized versions of two Bond films, License to Kill and GoldenEye. He’d also dip into the Sherlock universe, writing three novels around the character of Professor Moriarty. Rights to film them were optioned but never developed due to a lack of funding. (Died 2007.)
Born November 20, 1929 — Jerry Hardin, 92. He’s best known for playing Deep Throat on The X-Files. He’s also been on Quantum Leap, Starman, Brimstone and Strange World, plus he was in the Doomsday Virus miniseries. And he made a rather good Samuel Clemens in the two part “Time’s Arrow” story on Next Gen.
Born November 20, 1932 — Richard Dawson. Usually one appearance in a genre film or show isn’t enough to make the Birthday list but he was Damon Killian on The Running Man, a juicy enough role to ensure his making this list, and twenty years earlier he was Joey on Munster, Go Home! He’d voice Long John Silver on an animated Treasure Island film in the Seventies. And he had a one-off on the classic Fantasy Island as well. (Died 2012.)
Born November 20, 1944 — Molly Gloss, 77. Her novel Wild Life won the 2000 James Tiptree, Jr. Award. She has two more SF novels, The Dazzle of Day and Outside the Gates. Her “Lambing season” short story was nominated for a Hugo at Torcon 3, and “The Grinnell Method” won a Sturgeon.
Born November 20, 1956 — Bo Derek, 65. She makes the Birthday list for being Jane Parker in Tarzan, the Ape Man. There’s also Ghosts Can’t Do It and Horror 101 as well as the two Sharknado films she just did. A friend of Ray Bradbury, she was the presenter when Kirk Douglas received the 2012 Ray Bradbury Creativity Award.
Born November 20, 1959 — Sean Young, 62. Rachael and her clone in the original Blade Runner and the sequel. More intriguingly she played Chani in the original Dune which I’d completely forgotten. A bit old for the role, wasn’t she? She was the lead, Helen Hyde, in Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde. And she’s a Trekkie as she was in the Star Trek: Renegades video fanfic pilot as Dr. Lucien. But who isn’t?
The Book Wormhole is a monthly updating BookTube channel where I provide spoiler free reviews and discussions of the books I read. Science Fiction makes up the majority of what I cover on the channel, and while I lean more towards female, POC and/or LGBT authors, I read both classics as well as contemporary releases. I balance popular books with indie and underrated titles. I promise there will be at least one book you’ve never heard of before on my channel.
… Seeking a way to get more young women involved in the roleplaying game (despite the fact that girls have been playing since the beginning, but that’s another story entirely), Dungeons & Dragons also branched out and commissioned a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style romance novels. Since you probably haven’t heard of them, you can rightly assume they didn’t set the publishing world on fire—but they are fascinating relics, especially for fans of D&D and/or ’80s romance novels….
…Weir fuels a constantly rising action line with various emergencies that go wrong and have to be solved by the application of science and engineering expertise. This is brilliantly plotted; the ship and the characters are well developed, and the science is well-research and applied….
…The novel also has a lot of heart. It treats its characters, even the ostensible antagonists, rather gently and with love and respect. You will get to know Dana, Adam, Jay, Sophie and the rest and get to know them, road trip style. (If this book were ever turned into an audiobook, this novel would be really fun to listen to on a driving adventure). Sure, the characters go through all sorts of disasters, reversals, and “can you believe THIS?” but it is a very lighthearted tone….
Satellites organized in flexible networks known as constellations are more agile and resilient than are those operating alone. Manoeuvring satellites into such constellations requires inexpensive, reliable and efficient engines. Many networked satellites have electric propulsion thrusters, which generate thrust by using electrical energy to accelerate the ions of a propellant gas. However, the choice of gas presents a problem. Ionizing xenon requires a relatively small amount of energy, but xenon gas is expensive and needs to be compressed in high-pressure tanks to fit on board a satellite. Krypton is cheaper, but still requires a complex and heavy gas-storage and -supply system. …Rafalskyi et al. report a successful demonstration of an iodine-ion thruster in space — offering a cheaper and simpler alternative to xenon or krypton…
This special, along with the Halloween and Christmas productions featuring Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters, have become staples of pop culture. They also inspired a genre of parody productions that frequently reconfigure Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and the others in ways that Schultz would never have imagined, let alone condoned.
For those with a warped sense of humor and no squeamishness over occasional deep-dives into NSFW entertainment, here are the 10 weirdest Charlie Brown parodies that you’ll be able to find online.
“Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown.” One of the earliest works by Jim Reardon of “The Simpsons” fame was this 1986 cartoon made during his studies at the California Institute of Arts. Reardon spoofs Sam Peckinpah’s “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” in a comically violent tale that shows Charlie Brown being ruthlessly hunted by his many antagonists before he gets his revenge in a massive shootout….
(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Game Trailers: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy,” Fandom Games says this game answers the question, “What if Cowboy Bebop was written by Joss Whedon?” and its premise is “you love these characters so much you’d pay $60 to have them talk for 15-20 hours.”
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cora Buhlert, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, 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 Brian Z.]
By Martin Morse Wooster. Continuing my reports on museums that might be of interest to Filers coming to Washington for DisCon III, I offer a report on the Museum of the Bible, which I visited recently. (I had a Groupon!)
The Museum of the Bible is located near the Federal Center Metro stop. Don’t get on the escalators; go to the elevator, which gets you to within half a block of the museum’s entrance. I spent four hours there and could have used an extra half an hour. The museum is about two-thirds as large as a Smithsonian museum.
I didn’t pay extra for any of the rides and I didn’t get to the living history section representing Nazareth in Jesus’s time until after the re-enactors had left for the day.
I also glossed over the section with artifacts from Biblical times because this is where the museum has gotten into trouble by buying artifacts that had been stolen from the Middle East. In September 2021, the museum returned a tablet with the epic of Gilgamesh which had been stolen from the Iraqi national museum in 2007.
I also do not recommend the Milk and Honey Café which sells overpriced prepackaged sandwiches. Several chain fast food places have branches within a few blocks of the museum.
Is the Museum of the Bible worth seeing? Yes, if you are interested enough in Biblical history to pay $20 admission. It is a real museum, and its treatment of Biblical history is straightforward and fair. But the museum would do better if they offered amenities usually found in museums of its size.
The museum has three floors. The first floor is divided into exhibits about the bible in American history and civil society and the Bible. There’s quite a lot here and the museum did a good job in describing what significant Americans thought about the Bible’s role in governing our country. The section includes quotations from significant Black thinkers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass. The civil society section tells about Christian poverty-fighting organizations such as Compassion International and Habitat for Humanity, and there’s also a section on the “restorative justice” movement.
There’s also a brief section about the Bible in movies which includes the scene from History Of The World, Part 1 where Mel Brooks, playing Moses, announces that he has come down from the mountaintop with 15 commandments. But one of the tablets falls and breaks! “Oy!” Mel says, reducing the number to a more manageable ten.
The second floor has the section where the story of the Hebrew Bible is told in a half-hour animated film. You travel from room to room, and there’s plenty of time to tell the exciting parts of the Old Testament (Samson! David! Moses!) and at least mention the slower parts (Ummm…who were the Judges?). This was very popular with families, and one woman who was in our group announced that she had seen it 12 times. I was happy to see it once.
The third floor has the museum’s extensive collection of Bibles. But here the Museum of the Bible would do a better job if it were more like normal museums. There is a “virtual docent” on weekends, but they should have real docents. The Udvar-Hazy Museum, the Air and Space Museum’s annex, has retired military people volunteer as docents; I’m sure there are plenty of retired ministers and rabbis in the Washington area who could share their Bible knowledge. The museum should also have a guidebook.
Finally, the gift shop is stuffed with Biblical tchotchkes but they get credit with me for selling refrigerator magnets with one letter from one of their illuminated Bibles. I bought a red-and-blue “w”. I thought this was an imaginative idea.
The Museum of the Bible is worth seeing, and its exhibits range from a little weird to quite good. But is it worth $20? If you’re really interested in the Bible, yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it for fans with a more casual interest in its subject, particularly if there are Smithsonian museums you haven’t seen.
 A brief review: Udvar-Hazy is where the Air and Space Museum keeps the really big aircraft. It’s well worth seeing but it’s 15 miles away from downtown Washington and you should allow a day if you plan to go.
 Including the National Gallery of Art, which is associated with the Smithsonian but is legally separate from the Smithsonian.
By Martin Morse Wooster: Filers coming to DisCon III will want to know about things to do outside of the Shoreham. Well, we now have a free museum devoted to words and language, Planet Word which opened in Washington, DC last October. I went to the museum yesterday, and here is what it is like.
This museum has big money behind it (the main hall is sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies) and they’ve spent a lot of money on tech. You begin on the third floor in a room with a wall full of words in three-dimensional letters. The audience can choose words and the narrator then explains where the words come from. The fun fact you learn in this presentation is that the number one coiners of new words are teenage girls.
The walls on the third floor have interactive displays with little language lessons. There is one devoted to constructed languages, with time given to Klingon, Dothraki, Esperanto, and the languages invented by Tolkien.
The centerpiece of the third floor is a giant globe with booths where speakers explain their languages. The ones I heard were the Philippine language Tagalog, Japanese, Arabic, and French. The speakers give simple lessons (there’s a simpler way to say “good-bye” in Japanese than “sayonara”). The French speaker assumed that her audience knew something about her language, so we learned how to roll our r’s in “crème brulee” and the secret French language variant Velran, which is the French version of pig-Latin.
Oh, and at least once per lesson the whole globe lights up and displays something like an object in the lesson (ice cream, an apple).
At this point the museum’s planners ran out of ideas. The second floor has two exhibits. There’s a library where you can see little animations of books displayed on the shelves. There’s also a karaoke exhibit with the excuse that they show the rhyme schemes songwriters use. It wasn’t for me but people were enjoying themselves singing Taylor Swift and Disney power ballads.
The second floor has the free souvenir you need to get. It’s a photo booth, sponsored by the College Board, where you have your photo displayed next to a word high schoolers are supposed to know for their SATs. My word was “aristocratic.’ I thought this was a cool idea.
Finally the first floor has an exhibit on how advertisers distort words in their ads. It’s only worth seeing if you believe ads (and if you do, I have a bridge to sell you).
You should know I’m a guy who feels he has to see everything in a museum. It took me 1-¾ hours to take in Planet Word. If I were you, I’d spend 15 minutes more than I did at the giant globe and skip everything on the first and second floors except the photo booth.
If you’re seeing museums in Washington, your first choice is as many Smithsonian museums as you have time for. Planet Word isn’t a bad second choice. I’m glad I saw it.
 On the subway, take the Red Line south to Metro Center and then the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines one stop west to McPherson Square. The museum is on the corner of 13th and K (in the subway station, you’re looking for “Franklin School” on the map).