(1) ONE ARTIST, INDIVISBLE. Charlie Jane Anders’ latest Happy Dancing newsletter is about “J.K. Rowling and ‘Separating the Art from the Artist’”.
… And that’s the thing : JK Rowling is the public face of the “Wizarding World.” She owns it and exercises complete control over it, and it’s pretty much impossible to talk about Harry Potter or the Fantastic Beasts movies without referencing her. In fact, she’s gone to great lengths to make her art inseparable from herself. Other authors seem to fade into the background a little bit more, especially as their books and adaptations get more and more prominence. I know tons of people who obsess about Murderbot, but who don’t know that much about Martha Wells, for example. JK Rowling made a choice to center herself in the discussion of her work, starting with how her “rags to riches” story was used to market her novels….
(2) MARSCON. Cass Morris has a wise commentary on the outcome of the MarsCon kerfuffle: “All* Are Welcome (*terms and conditions may apply)”. (What Morris means by DARVO can be learned from “A guide to DARVO, the gaslighting response people give when they’re called out” at Metro News.)
… a MarsCon regular guest very mildly voiced a concern, on FB, over whether or not he was the right choice for a con that claimed to want to be inclusive.
This GOH, and others like him, do not respond well to such statements. When they hear “Some people choose not to be around you because they find you unpleasant,” they perceive it as an attack, and they determine that a rabidly vitriolic response is not only warranted but necessary. (Again, DARVO).
The GOH wasted no time, it seems, in calling in his flying monkeys to harass the person who voiced concern, swiftly turning the FB threads into an unqualified shitshow. MarsCon responded by shutting down all comments and, rather than addressing the concerns that had just been proved entirely valid, doubling-down on their support for their aggressive GOH.
A whole choice.
MarsCon then made the choice to post a new “Interim Online Policy” claiming that “MarsCon is as it has always been an apolitical Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. It is the firm stance of MarsCon that personal politics should be left outside of the convention. It will not allow itself to used as a place for anyone to try and forward their personal political views.”
There’s more to the statement and the word “political” is doing some heavy lifting throughout….
(3) PREPPER. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] This is great fun from BBC Radio 4. Be prepared for the end of the world. “Prepper, Series 1, The Kit in Your Head”. Pearl Mackie plays one of the leads.
Trump. ISIS. The Courgette Crisis. Signs of civilisation’s fragility are all around. No wonder the Doomsday Clock just nudged closer to midnight. In this fearscape, more and more ordinary people are wondering how they’d cope if everything we take for granted (law and order, access to healthcare, iceberg lettuces in Sainsburys) was taken away.
(4) ENGLAND SWINGS SF. Martin Wisse asks “Is it possible to buy too much science fiction?” at Wis[s]e Words. The answer is, not if the book has been on your want list forever.
…Among that stack of paperbacks is the perfect example of what I mean: Judith Merril’s England Swings SF, a book I’ve spent literal decades looking for. A book I’ve known about, have read about for decades I yesterday finally got to hold in my hands. England Swings SF is an incredibly important book in the history of science fiction. A key work of the New Wave, a defining statement of what New Wave science fiction was all about. It’s Judith Merril’s defining work, the jewel in the crown of her work as an editor. You know how important and controversial it was just from the publisher writing its own introduction washing its hands of the whole thing.
Though it may seem strange now, the New Wave was revolutionary, was controversial because it set out to deliberately undo science fiction’s dogmas, both literally and politically. Worse, as it originated in the UK and its most important early writers were British like Moorcock, Ballard and Aldiss, it also upset the natural order of America as the centre of the SF universe. When England Swings SF was released in 1968, the controversy had been raging for almost half a decade between the upstarts and the SF establishment….
(5) AI: A CREATOR’S TOOL OR RIVAL? Jason Sanford has put together a new column on what AI generated art and writing programs might mean for artists and authors. The column includes some predictions on how all this might play out in the coming years. “Genre Grapevine on What AI Generated Art and Writing Might Mean for Artists and Authors” a public post on Patreon.
… So far OpenAI hasn’t been very open about the works their programs are trained on.
The same with Midjourney, whose founder David Holz recently said he didn’t seek consent from living artists or those with work still under copyright because it was essentially too hard to do that. And don’t think this is a small issue – in an interview with Forbes, Holt admitted Midjourney was trained on at least a hundred million images without consent.
Because these AIs were trained on works by living artists, this can result in the programs creating images based on their art. For example, Deb JJ Lee discovered that someone had crafted an AI model to create art similar to Lee’s own distinctive work. Worse, when Lee pushed back on their art being used in this way, they were accused of being a “gatekeeper.”
As Lee said, “I never hide how I draw. I teach classes and share *everything*, from my layer structure to my inspirations to Gradient mapping. At Lightbox this year I would show my original files to ppl who come to my table to demonstrate how I do everything. I’m the opposite of a gatekeeper.”
Despite that, Lee was essentially blamed by a number of supporters of AI programs for daring to question the use of their own art in the training of machine learning programs.
It’s almost like, as Alasdair Stuart said, “the entire system is powered by artists but devalues them in every way.”…
(6) GRANTING AI UNLIMITED RIGHTS? At Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss considers the AI implications in contractual language: “Findaway Voices, Machine Learning, and the New Rights Frontier”.
Audiobook creation service Findaway Voices has become a popular alternative to Audible’s ACX, especially in the wake of #Audiblegate (the controversy over ACX’s author-penalizing returns policies that has generated at least one lawsuit).
In the past few days, though, authors and narrators have been drawing attention to this paragraph from Findaway’s Digital Distribution Agreement, which grants Apple–a third party–a license to use the rights holder’s audiobook files for “machine learning”, aka AI training…
…Unsurprisingly, there are now multiple lawsuits. Microsoft, Github, and Open AI are being sued for copyright-related issues over Github’s AI-powered coding assistant, Copilot. A group of artists has filed a class action suit against Stability AI (owner of Stable Diffusion), Midjourney, and DeviantArt for copyright violation and unlawful competition. Getty Images is also suing Stability AI, alleging that it scraped millions of copyright-protected images from Getty’s database. On a different side of the issue, computer scientist Steven Thaler is suing to overturn the US Copyright Office’s determination that AI art can’t be copyrighted. There will no doubt be much more legal action to come….
(7) NED BEAUMAN INTERVIEW. “Ned Beauman: ‘After reading Terry Pratchett, it feels like something is missing from most fiction’” in the Guardian.
My favourite book growing up
I devoured The Colour of Magic and at least 20 other Terry Pratchett novels as a child and consequently have never got over the feeling that there’s something pretty fundamental missing from nearly all “grown-up” fiction (ie jokes).
The book that changed me as a teenager
We perhaps expect novelists to feel a reverent fascination with human consciousness, how miraculous it is, sacred, ineffable, unique etc. But if you read too much Greg Egan at an impressionable age, all of that gets absolutely napalmed. A book like Permutation City is dangerous (and mind-expanding) stuff.
(8) EUGENE LEE OBITUARY. The New York Times profiles a stage and TV figure whose work you may have been seeing for years: “Eugene Lee, Set Designer for Broadway and ‘S.N.L.,’ Dies at 83”. “He won Tony Awards for Wicked and other shows while also overseeing the sets for the late-night franchise’s fast-paced sketch comedy.”
For decades it was possible for Saturday night theatergoers in New York to get a double dose of Eugene Lee’s work, though it’s likely that few would have realized they were doing so. They might have taken in “Sweeney Todd,” “Ragtime,” “Wicked” or other Broadway shows whose striking sets were designed by Mr. Lee, then could arrive home in time to tune into “Saturday Night Live” — a show for which he served as production designer when it began in 1975, and on which he was still working this season….
(9) MEMORY LANE.
1971 – [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
I’m very, very fond of SF genre short stories as I like them because they are often distilled versions of longer takes. Larry Niven I think in his prime wrote some of the best genre short stories ever done.
He won Hugos for them — “Neutron Star”, “Inconstant Moon” and “The Hole Man” to be precise. A collection, Convergent Series, one of my favorite collections to read, won a Locus Award. Not bad at all.
Not so with this story, Niven’s “For A Foggy Night” which was first published in the All the Myriad Ways collection published by Ballantine Books in 1971.
Niven like the idea of alternative worlds and I believe wrote more than ones of these stories with another story I really like being “All Myriad Ways”. It’s wonderfully done story that I won’t spoil as I suppose it’s possible that someone here hasn’t read it yet but to say that it has a great narration, fascinating story and a conclusion that makes perfect sense.
And now the Beginning…
The bar was selling a lot of Irish coffee that night. I’d bought two myself. It was warm inside, almost too warm, except when someone pushed through the door. Then a puff of chill, damp fog would roll in.
Beyond the window was grey chaos. The fog picked up all the various city lights: yellow light leaking from inside the bar, passing automobile headlights, white light from1971 frosted street globes, and the rainbow colors of neon signs. The fog stirred all the lights together into a cold grey-white paste and leaked it back through the windows.
Bright spots drifted past at a pedestrian’s pace. Cars. I felt sorry for the drivers. Rolling through a grey formless limbo, running from street globe to invisible street globe, alert for the abrupt, dangerous red dot of a traffic light: an intersection; you couldn’t tell otherwise . . . I had friends in San Francisco; there were other places I could be. But it wasn’t my city, and I was damned if I’d drive tonight.
A lost night. I’d finished my drink. One more, and I’d cross the street to my hotel.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born February 11, 1908 — Tevis Clyde Smith. He’s a curious story indeed as he collaborated on three short stories with Robert E. Howard. Those stories are “Red Blades of Black Cathay”, “Diogenes of today” and “Eighttoes makes a play”. ISFDB suggests that he might have written other short stories and poetry. Anyone encounter these? (Died 1984.)
- Born February 11, 1910 — L. T. C. Rolt. English writer whose enthusiasm for heritage railways is writ large in his 1948 Sleep No More collection of supernatural horror stories which tend to be set in rural railways. (Simon R. Green may be influenced by him in his Ghost Finders series which often uses these railways as a setting.) Some of these stories were adapted as radio dramas. Sleep No More is available from the usual digital suspects. (Died 1974.)
- Born February 11, 1926 — Leslie Nielsen. I know the comic, bumbling fool who delighted generations of film goers. But his first starring role was as Commander John J. Adams in one of the finest SF films of all time Forbidden Planet. I am most decidedly not a fan of his later films but I think he’s brilliant here. (Died 2010.)
- Born February 11, 1939 — Jane Yolen, 84. She loves dark chocolate. That I know as I just sent her some a few weeks ago. She wrote me into a novel as a character, an ethnomusicologist in One-Armed Queen to be precise in exchange for finding her a fairytale collection she wanted. Don’t remember now what it was other than it was very old and very rare. My favorite book by her is The Wild Hunt, and I love that she financed the production of Boiled in Lead’s Antler Dance which her son Adam Stemple was lead vocalist on. And yes she’s on the chocolate gifting list as well.
- Born February 11, 1948 — Robert Reginald. He’s here because of two Phantom Detective novels he wrote late in his career which are mostly popcorn literature. (The Phantom Detective series started in 1936 so he used the Robert Wallace house name.) He has two series of some length, the Nova Europa Fantasy Saga and War of Two Worlds. Much of what he wrote is available from the usual digital sources. (Died 2013.)
- Born February 11, 1950 — Alain Bergeron, 73. He received an Aurora Award for Best Short Story for “Les Crabes de Vénus regardent le ciel” published In Solaris number 73, and a Sideways Award for Alternate History for “Le huitième registre” (translated in English as “The Eighth Register” by Howard Scott).
- Born February 11, 1953 — Wayne Hammond, 70. He’s married to fellow Tolkien scholar Christina Scull. Together they’ve done some of the finest work on him that’s been done including J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book and The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide.
(11) COMICS SECTION.
- Eek! imagines what would happen if Skywalker Sr. was analyzed by Ancestry.com.
- The Argyle Sweater mines Harry Potter for a horrible pun. Which of course I had to share.
(12) INSCRIBED TO THE DEDICATEE. Macmillan and HBG just raised starting salaries to $45,000. So you could say eBay is asking a year’s salary for this dedication copy of Rocket Ship Galileo signed by Heinlein. (Well, two Heinleins, actually.)
The dedication copy of the author’s first published novel, signed and inscribed by Robert A. Heinlein in the year of publication “with best wishes to my nephew Lawrence Lewis ‘Buddy’ Heinlein [signed] Robert Heinlein Nov. 1947” with an arrow pointing to Buddy’s printed name on the dedication page. Additionally signed by Lawrence Lewis Heinlein as “L. L. Heinlein” on the front free endpaper. Lawrence was the son of Robert’s brother.
(13) IT’S A WRAP! [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] This week’s Nature cover story has nothing on Boris Karloff. “How to make a mummy”.
The cover shows sarcophagi used to house the mummified remains of Ancient Egyptians in the Saqqara region of Egypt. Although the existence of mummies is well known, the details of how ancient embalmers practised their art have remained largely obscure. In this week’s issue, Maxime Rageot, Philipp Stockhammer and their colleagues draw on finds from an embalming workshop in Saqqara that dates to around 664–525 BC to reveal many of the details of the process. The researchers analysed 31 ceramic vessels found in the workshop. By combining biochemical analyses of the residues in the vessels with the inscriptions, such as “to be put on his head”, featured on many of them, they were able to establish which chemicals were used and how they were mixed, named and applied. The researchers also note that some of the embalming substances were imported from the Levant or even from south or southeast Asia, indicating that mummification might have helped to promote long-distance trade.
(14) FOOD: GHOSTLY OR GHASTLY? It’s Saturday, and today this sounded amusing enough to put in a Scroll: Ghostbusters: The Official Cookbook by Jenn Fujikawa and Erik Burnham.
Who you gonna call… to eat?! Featuring more than 50 recipes inspired by the beloved Ghostbusters 1984 film and continuing into present day with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, this cookbook celebrates the bold personalities of Egon, Venkman, Zeddemore, and Stantz, along with the spooks, spectres, and ghosts that tried to transform New York City to a Babylonian dystopia.
But they’re not alone — they’ve got company with a new generation of Ghostbusters like Phoebe, Trevor, Podcast, and Lucky that saved Summerville, Oklahoma from the second coming of Gozer! In fact, it’s Podcast’s, well, podcast that inspires this book! Now he and Ray are combing through the Ghostbusters archives and recording new episodes to bring the group’s favorite new and old foods to delicious life.
With luscious full-color photography and packed with the fun and spirit of the films, Ghostbusters: The Official Cookbook is a must-have for foodies and paranormal investigative fans alike.
(15) CLOUDS OF WITLESS. Sure, this couldn’t backfire: “There’s a Radical Plan to Cool the Earth With … Moon Dust” at Popular Mechanics.
A long time ago (in every sense of the phrase), a Mars-sized celestial object named “Theia” smacked into Earth and formed our moon. Now, 4.5 billion years later, scientists want to put that moon back to work by using its dust to cool down its fever-induced planetary neighbor.
Scientists from the University of Utah suggest that “ballistically eject[ing]” millions of pounds of lunar dust around Earth could help deflect the sun’s rays and cool down the planet. The idea follows similar solar geoengineering concepts like ejecting reflected sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere to gain the same sun-reflecting benefits (but with less potential health concerns).
However, this research is decidedly more sci-fi as it would likely require lunar infrastructure, electromagnetic cannons, and even orbital space platforms. The results of the study were published in the journal PLOS Climate….
[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Steven French, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Jason Sanford, Michael J. Walsh, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day by Cat Eldridge.]