(1) LIGHTNING STRIKING AGAIN AND AGAIN. Charlie Jane Anders asks “Why Is It So Hard For Hollywood To Create Brand New Heroes?” at Happy Dancing.
…I actually have no idea why Hollywood’s heaviest hitters keep coming back to the same characters. To find out more, I asked Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the creator of The Middleman (which I praised in last week’s newsletter.) Javi recently pitched a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV show that wouldn’t include Arthur Dent, so I was curious to find out what he thought about this topic. Here’s what he told me.
Star Wars has arguably had a hard time moving away from the Skywalkers — every Star Wars TV show or movie up to now features characters who are at most two Kevin Bacons away from Luke. The Wizarding World has stumbled when it tries to move too far away from Harry Potter — the Fantastic Beasts movies very quickly pivoted to being about Harry’s mentor Dumbledore. The only Hunger Games spinoff is a prequel that focuses on a guy who spent a lot of time with Katniss. Why is it so hard to move away from characters we already know, or the familiar version of the saga?
Having worked on one or two franchise projects, I would add the caveat that it’s easy to armchair quarterback some of these decisions when one is not aware of the parameters under which they were made. That said, the biggest issue is always money. Every single project you mentioned above is an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars that has to be recuperated — not to mention that these projects also have to buttress entire empires of merchandising, theme park attractions, and publishing across all media. It’s not a business model that rewards risk.
There’s also what I call “The Fog of War,” by which I mean the often desperate need to make things work for no reason other than being committed to a something like the availability of a piece of talent, or setting a release date before having a robust concept, or a weird contractual obligation (like Sony needing to produce a Spider-Man movie every six years on pain of losing the rights to the characters), or having too many powerful producers who disagree about everything, and needing something — anything — to put before the camera. Those sorts of artificial constraints lead directly to the lowest-hanging fruit, and often to decisions that make little sense when examined with the benefit of a greater perspective….
(2) CHENGDU WORLDCON ROUNDUP. [Item by Ersatz Culture.]
113 recommended short SF stories
I’m not sure what – if any – connection this list of stories has to the Worldcon – possibly it’s related to the reaction to Hai Ya’s Hugo win, as covered in yesterday’s Scroll? It seems to have been crowd-sourced, and is a mix of Chinese and non-Chinese works. Hopefully most of the Western authors and works are still recognizable after the “Translate content” link does its work; whilst it doesn’t always successfully reverse-engineer the correct original titles from their translated titles, it should be close enough for them to be identified.
“Celebrity” and other photos from Xiaohongshu
I was mildly amused when the algorithm behind the Xiaohongshu app started categorizing some photos of people who will be recognizable to Filers – or who are actually Filers – as “celebrities”. Most if not all of the following links contain a variety of photos, but I’ve highlighted the names of people who appear in some of those photos.
- Ben Yalow, Robert Sawyer, Chris M. Barkley
- Vince Docherty, Chris M. Barkley
- Vince Docherty, Robert Sawyer,
- Nicholas Whyte, Ken MacLeod
- Devin McCullough, “a fantasy fan from Massachusetts, [who] is fascinated by science fiction. He has participated in nearly 50 World Science Fiction Conventions, but he never thought that one day he would travel to China on the other side of the ocean for science fiction, and come to the ancient and mysterious Chengdu, where he would gather with old fans of science fiction from all over the world.”
A couple of other photos and videos:
- Miscellaneous photos, including some of areas or things I hadn’t previously come across
- A short video advert from a company that supplied uniforms for the con staff. I don’t recognize these as the outfits the volunteers were wearing; maybe someone who attended knows where they were used? The group photo has a banner indicating it was from the “project oath ceremony”, whatever that is; the others look like they were taken at some training sessions.
A couple more con reports from Chinese fans
(via Zimozi Natsuco on Twitter). A slight word of warning: I think this pair of con reports don’t fare as well with machine translation (well, Google Translate at least) as does a lot of non-fiction material. Part of this is that Google Translate doesn’t seem to have been trained on fannish materials. For example “二次元” becomes “second dimension” or”two-dimensional”, which is correct in a literal sense, but would be more understandable as “anime”, “anime-styled” or “animation”.
The first is from an anime fan, and probably covers the overall Chinese speculative fiction and media scene more than the con itself. A couple of extracts via Google Translate, with minor cleanup edits:
Compared with the dazzling array of two-dimensional products, looking at Chinese science fiction, what products have been developed over the years that are well-known to the public?
“The Three-Body Problem”! Anything else?
“The Wandering Earth”! Anything else?
Um, “Sun of China“? Are there any works other than those of Liu Cixin?
…Umm, “Shanghai Fortress“?
When science fiction was introduced to China by Lu Xun, Liang Qichao and others in the early 20th century, it was included in a utilitarian direction as soon as it was involved. Of course, this was also due to the ambiguity of the meaning of “science fiction” proposed by Hugo Gernsback. Most people now equate “speculative fiction” with “fiction about science”, and the “fantasy” aspect of speculative fiction is ignored. lThis makes more sense in Chinese: “科幻” is translated as “science fiction”, but it is actually an abbreviation of “科学幻想”, which are the words “科学” science and “幻想” fantasy.)]
This definition deeply influenced Chinese science fiction literature in the 1970s and 1980s. Even now, many people still believe that science fiction should be scientific, and the fantasy part is excluded. This situation was particularly serious when “The Three-Body Problem” first became popular. At that time, the Internet was full of comments such as “hard science fiction is science fiction, soft science fiction is not as good”
Our old friend Game Grape also published an article on the last day of the Chengdu Science Fiction Conference called “The second dimension is getting colder. Is science fiction the next trend in the gaming industry?” In the article, a game company boss revealed to Putao that “the next trend may be science fiction.”
Nowadays, more and more two-dimensional mobile games are beginning to put on the skin of science fiction. In the second trailer for Honkai Impact 3 released in September, it is not difficult to see the dominance of science fiction: the stage is placed in the universe.
The second is by Zimozi himself. Again, via Google Translate with minor edits
But the conference was a real success. Please read the news reports: We have received the highest attendance in the decades-long history of the World Science Fiction Convention. The foreign guests present are sincerely praising the venue and services. Chinese writers have gained a lot from the Hugo Awards and even [appeared on the TV news], Bai Yansong enthusiastically discusses with the audience, “Where is China’s science fiction going?”…
So, do I have a problem?
Science fiction is also an industry. The industry is not child’s play, nor is it a few science fiction fans who want to start a science fiction fanzine… There are carefully arranged corporate exhibitions, grand and enthusiastic talent introduction, and the intensive construction of talent housing — opposite the venue are several new talent apartments and new real estate projects that are in full swing, attracting science fiction talents from all over the world to settle down in Chengdu. In industry summits one after another, we have seen one after another novel support plans and science fiction awards, as well as countless new institutions integrating industry, academia and research.
(3) HUGO WINNERS ON TV. Chris Barkley sent a link to video of “the press conference Neil Clarke and I were a part of after the Hugo Awards Ceremony.” — here.
(4) SIXTIES PARANORMAL SERIES. Todd Allen made a discovery – “Martin Landau’s Lost Occult Detective TV Show”. It will probably be news to you, too.
…I stumbled into Martin Landau’s lost occult detective TV show a couple weeks ago.
His what?!? Yes, that was my reaction, too. I later asked a few people I’d expect to have heard of such a thing and none of them had, so now I’ll tell you about it.
I’d been watching The Brides of Dracula on Prime and was flipping through the list of films people who watched that also watched, I came across what appeared to be an old Martin Landau horror movie called The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre. I hadn’t heard of this or associated Landau with horror, so I looked it up and proceeded to be shocked.
It seems that back in 1964, James Aubrey (the president of CBS) commissioned Joseph Stefano to produce a pilot called “The Haunted.” Does the name “Stefano” sound familiar? He wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and was one of the writer/producers on the first season of The Outer Limits.
The Haunted would have starred Martin Landau – two years before Mission: Impossible – as Nelson Orion, an architect who moonlights as a paranormal investigator….
(5) OCTOTHORPE. In episode 95 of the Octothorpe podcast – “Hugo, Girl!” – John Coxon is playing a game, Alison Scott is in New Zealand, and Liz Batty’s head is on fire.
We discuss the Hugo Award winners, Anna Karenina, what the word “semiprofessional” means, and what continent/timezone/day of the week Alison is in. Art by the very talented España Sheriff.
(6) APPLE+$. “Apple TV+ Price Increase: Apple Raises Monthly Fee to $10” says The Hollywood Reporter.
Apple is hiking the price of Apple TV+ significantly, raising the monthly subscription fee to $9.99 per month from its current $6.99 per month price point. The cost of an annual plan is going from $69 to $99.
(7) OTHER SERVICES TOO. Reuters adds to its Apple+ coverage this info about Disney+ and Netflix.
Netflix increased subscription prices for some streaming plans in the United States, Britain and France when it reported results last week. Disney said in August it would raise by 27% the price of the ad-free tier of the Disney+ service to $13.99 and hike by 20% the no-ad version of Hulu.
(8) DOCTOR APPOINTMENTS. “Doctor Who confirms air dates for 3 specials with David Tennant” – Radio Times has the schedule – and the publicity posters.
The BBC has announced that David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor will officially be bursting back onto our screens on Saturday 25th November, with the second and third specials following on Saturday 2nd December and Saturday 9th December respectively.
(9) HUNGARIAN SFF AUTHOR TRANSLATED. [Item by Bence Pintér.] One of the best contemporary Hungarian sci-fi writers, Botond Markovics (AKA Brandon Hackett) had his Zsoldos Award-winning book Disposable Bodies translated into English. He also set up an English-language Facebook page on which he wrote about this.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born October 26, 1934 — Dan McCarthy. The grand old man of New Zealand fandom. He belonged to Aotearapa, New Zealand’s APA, for 25 years, and was its official editor from 1986-1987 and 2001-2003. As a member, he contributed 77 issues of his fanzine Panopticon, for which he did paintings and color graphics. His skills as a fanartist were widely appreciated: he was a Fan Guest of Honour at the New Zealand national convention, a nominee for the Sir Julius Vogel Award, and he won NZ Science Fiction Fan Awards (the predecessor of the Vogel) Best Fan Artist twice. (Died 2013.) (JJ)
- Born October 26, 1945 — Jane Chance, 78. Scholar specializing in medieval English literature, gender studies, and J. R. R. Tolkien with a very, very impressive publication list for the latter such as Tolkien’s Art: A “Mythology for England, Tolkien the Medievalist, The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power and Tolkien, Self and Other: “This Queer Creature”. She’s garnered four Mythopoetic Award nominations but no wins to date.
- Born October 26, 1954 — Jennifer Roberson,69. Writer of fantasy and historical romances. The Chronicles of the Cheysuli is her fantasy series about shapeshifters and their society, and the Sword-Dancer Saga is the desert based adventure series of sort, but the series I’ve enjoyed her Sherwood duo-logy that consists of Lady of the Forest and Lady of Sherwood which tells that tale from the perspective of Marian. Her hobby, which consumes much of her time, is breeding and showing Cardigan Welsh Corgis.
- Born October 26, 1962 — Faith Hunter, 51. Her longest running and most notable series to date is the Jane Yellowrock series though I’ve mixed feelings about the recent turn of events. She’s got a nifty SF series called Junkyard that’s been coming out on Audible first. Her only award to date is the Lifetime Achievement award to a science fiction professional given by DeepSouthCon.
- Born October 26, 1963 — Keith Topping, 60. It being the month of ghoulies, I’ve got another academic for you. He’s published Slayer: The Totally Cool Unofficial Guide to Buffy, Hollywood Vampire: An Expanded and Updated Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Angel, The Complete Slayer: An Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Every Episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one and one for horror film fans in general, A Vault of Horror: A Book of 80 Great British Horror Movies from 1956-1974. He’s also written some novels in the Doctor Who universe, some with Martin Day, and written non-fiction works on the original Avengers, you know which ones I mean, with Martin Day also, and ST: TNG & DS9 and Stargate as well with Paul Cornell.
- Born October 26, 1971 — Jim Butcher, 52. I really don’t know how far I got in the the Dresden Files, at least though Proven Guilty, and I will go back to it eventually. Who here has read his Cinder Spires series which sounds intriguing?
(11) FRANKENSTEIN. [Item by Steven French.] With Halloween almost upon us, Leeds Central Library has a nice blog piece about its 3rd edition copy of Mary Shelley’s classic which includes the first illustration of the monster, looking quite different from the movie version! “Mary Shelley – The First Science Fiction Author” at Secret Library.
…Leeds Central Library has a third edition copy of this novel, published in 1831 by Richard Bentley and Henry Colburn and the first illustration of Frankenstein’s monster can be found on the first page. This stunning and slightly disturbing drawing was drawn by Theodor von Holst, a student of Henry Fuseli. The image is a visualisation of an extract from the text that is written at the bottom of the page. The quote reads;
‘By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull, yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive agitation seized its limbs…I rushed out of the room.’
At the right side of the illustration, you can see Victor Frankenstein fleeing the room, the look of pure fear on his features. However, the main focus of the image is the ‘monster’ who is on the floor with an agonised look on his face as he takes his first breaths. The Gothic meets romantic style of the image as well as the symbols of both death and science perfectly capture the themes that Shelley conveyed in this novel.
This edition was edited from the original version that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote in 1816 when she was only 18 years old. This version contains an introduction from Shelly in which she answers the question “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea”….
(12) THE “TRANSPORTER” BEFORE THE TRANSPORTER. “Read Gene Roddenberry’s First Sci-Fi TV Show Pitch in Its Original Doc” at IndieWire.
…In 1955, Roddenberry had begun writing for Ziv TV, a production company for TV shows in syndication, specifically for the titles “Mr. District Attorney” and “Highway Patrol.” He had gotten into television writing by acting as a liaison for the LAPD, when he worked as a police officer in the early 1950s, to the show “Dragnet.” In that capacity he helped condense actual case files into story treatments that the show’s writers could turn into teleplays.
“Science Fiction Theatre” was a Ziv TV production as well. Hence why at the top of this document you see the company listed, before Roddenberry crossed that out in favor of the name of a production executive he’d be pitching. Here’s the document, and give it a closer look in PDF format here….
…The description of his pitch for the episode reads:
The proposed story is of the invention of the “Transporter” — a device which is television, smellovision, soundovision, all rolled into one. A device which creates an artificial world for the user, capable of duplicating delight, sensation, contentment, adventure–all beyond the reach of the ordinary person living the ordinary life. With it you can voyage to far-off lands, argue with Socrates, earn and spend a million dollars, or lay Marilyn Monroe. Take your choice.
And this is the story of the inventor who, after achieving this miracle, suddenly realizes that a commercial, greedy, sometimes inhuman world would take over his miracle. And it might be used as they have used the miracle of radio, television, the motion pictures–with much more devastating results. It could become the most powerful totalitarian enslaving device; it could become the most powerful opiate; it could create wants and desires for which the world would destroy itself–a dying race sitting at their “transporters.”
(13) TAIKONAUTS. “China’s youngest-ever crew of astronauts heads to space station” — Reuters has the story.
The youngest-ever crew of Chinese astronauts departed for China’s space station on Thursday, paving the way for a new generation of “taikonauts” to advance the country’s space ambitions in the future.
The spacecraft Shenzhou-17, or “Divine Vessel”, and its three passengers lifted off atop a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China.
Leading the six-month mission was former air force pilot Tang Hongbo, 48, who was on the first crewed mission to the space station in 2021.
His return to the orbiting outpost Tiangong, or “Celestial Palace” in Chinese, also set a new record for the shortest interval between two spaceflight missions by taikonauts – coined from the Chinese word for space – suggesting a faster rotation of taikonauts in coming years.
Tang, from China’s second batch of astronauts in 2010, had to wait more than a decade before he was picked for his inaugural spaceflight in 2021.
By contrast, his fellow Shenzhou-17 crew members Tang Shengjie, 33, and Jiang Xinlin, 35, both travelling to space for the first time, joined China’s third batch of astronauts in September 2020….
(14) POISONING PIXELS IN THE PARK. [Item by Jim Janney.] There’s an article in MIT Technology Review about a tool that lets artists “poison” their images in ways that mess with generative AI: “This new data poisoning tool lets artists fight back against generative AI”. It seems to work by manipulating pixels in ways that the human eye doesn’t notice, so wouldn’t be directly applicable to large language models.
…The tool, called Nightshade, is intended as a way to fight back against AI companies that use artists’ work to train their models without the creator’s permission. Using it to “poison” this training data could damage future iterations of image-generating AI models, such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion, by rendering some of their outputs useless—dogs become cats, cars become cows, and so forth. MIT Technology Review got an exclusive preview of the research, which has been submitted for peer review at computer security conference Usenix.
AI companies such as OpenAI, Meta, Google, and Stability AI are facing a slew of lawsuits from artists who claim that their copyrighted material and personal information was scraped without consent or compensation. Ben Zhao, a professor at the University of Chicago, who led the team that created Nightshade, says the hope is that it will help tip the power balance back from AI companies towards artists, by creating a powerful deterrent against disrespecting artists’ copyright and intellectual property. Meta, Google, Stability AI, and OpenAI did not respond to MIT Technology Review’s request for comment on how they might respond.
Zhao’s team also developed Glaze, a tool that allows artists to “mask” their own personal style to prevent it from being scraped by AI companies. It works in a similar way to Nightshade: by changing the pixels of images in subtle ways that are invisible to the human eye but manipulate machine-learning models to interpret the image as something different from what it actually shows….
(15) SMALLER ON THE INSIDE. [Item by Mark Roth-Whitworth.] Nature reports“Mars has a surprise layer of molten rock inside”. “Fresh investigations find that the red planet’s liquid-metal core is smaller than scientists thought.”
A meteorite that slammed into Mars in September 2021 has rewritten what scientists know about the planet’s interior.
By analysing the seismic energy that vibrated through the planet after the impact, researchers have discovered a layer of molten rock that envelops Mars’s liquid-metal core. The finding, reported today in two papers in Nature1,2, means that the Martian core is smaller than previously thought. It also resolves some lingering questions about how the red planet formed and evolved over billions of years.
The discovery comes from NASA’s InSight mission, which landed a craft with a seismometer on Mars’s surface. Between 2018 and 2022, that instrument detected hundreds of ‘marsquakes’ shaking the planet. Seismic waves produced by quakes or impacts can slow down or speed up depending on what types of material they are travelling through, so seismologists can measure the waves’ passage to deduce what the interior of a planet looks like….
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Mark Roth-Whitworth, Jim Janney, Bence Pintér, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, and Ersatz Culture for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]