Pixel Scroll 6/4/24 Cats And Pixels Like Snuggling Together

(1) RACHAEL K. JONES Q&A. Oregon Public Broadcasting interviewed awards nominee Rachael K. Jones: “Beaverton author is announced as finalist for literary awards”.

Marshall: This short story, “The Sound of Children Screaming,” drew inspiration from real life events, including one that involved you. Can you talk more about that?

Jones: It was one of the more scary experiences in my career in education. I’m a speech language pathologist, which is someone who works in special education with children who have communication disorders.

There was a lockdown at my school that happened during prep planning, which is the week before the school opens for children. All the teachers are in the building. We’re getting our classrooms ready and we’re getting the space ready for children. One evening I stayed late to finish building some Ikea furniture. While I was getting ready to leave the building you could hear weird sounds outside the school, little popping sounds.

The secretary called a lockdown of the whole school. It turned out that there was a shooting happening in the neighborhood. I went back and had to hide under my desk in my office with all the blinds drawn on a Friday night. I’m really grateful there weren’t any children in the building, but the most disturbing thing was that, because there were no children in the building, I knew it couldn’t be a drill. I was really scared.

It was one of those moments where we all tell ourselves stories in our own heads about what we would do in an emergency situation. With school shootings, you have a fantasy about how you’re gonna block the door, throw that stapler over there or tackle the guy and how you’re going to be this hero in your imagination. It was this really chilling moment to realize that this could be it. And what am I doing? I’m hiding under my desk and I’m not any more heroic than I usually am. I could die tonight on a Friday night at my job and that would be that, and there would be nothing I could do about it.

A lot of times I use my stories as a way to process strong feelings, I can’t really get out in any other way. For me, the story represents that kind of story where it says the things that are hard for me to say in any other way than fiction….

(2) TAKE THE AUTOBAHN TO THE CON. Cora Buhlert went to a German Masters of the Universe convention in May and posted a three-part con report with many photos. To get there required a three hour road trip:

…Last Saturday, I attended the 2024 Los Amigos Masters of the Universe fan convention. There are two big Masters of the Universe conventions in Germany, Grayskull Con and Los Amigos, plus at least two general toy cons which attract a lot of Masters of Universe fans and collectors.

Last year, I considered going to one or more of those cons. However, there was one problem or rather two, a)  I live in North Germany and most German cons, whether general SFF or specialty cons, are much further south and quite far away, and b) I had sick parents at home and/or in hospital and didn’t really want to leave them alone. Since point b) is no longer an issue, there was only point a) to consider.

Until last year, the Los Amigos convention used to take place in Hanau near Frankfurt, which is a four-and-a-half-hour drive away (or a one-hour flight to Frankfurt and then a train ride to Hanau). However, for 2024 the convention relocated to Neuss, a city in the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, which is somewhat closer, though still roughly three hundred kilometers away, which means a three-to-three-and-a-half-hour drive, depending on traffic conditions….

…In fact, there were quite a few customisers were displaying their creations, sometimes for sale, sometimes not.  One stall offered a regular Origins Battle Cat customised to look like Battle Cat might have looked, if he had appeared in the 1987 live action movie (he didn’t, because the production team couldn’t make him work with 1980s tech). That Battle Cat looked great, but he was also quite expensive – 130 Euros – and there was so much to buy, so I passed on him. Besides, the Battle Cat was in Origins scale, but the movie figures Mattel is currently making are the bigger Masterverse figures, so the movie style Battle Cat wouldn’t fit in with my movie figure….

… I also learned that Tecklenburg has a castle ruin, as the name implies, and that bits and pieces of the castle have been integrated into buildings all over town. The ruined castle now houses an open air theater – the largest in all of Germany. The open air theater opened in 1924 and is hugely important for the town, since it’s a major tourist draw. The local handyman frequently builds sets and backdrops for them. The theatre used to stage everything from boulevard comedies to operas, but nowadays they most do musicals and children’s plays, because those are the most popular. They also host pop concerts on occasion. This summer, the open air theater Tecklenburg is staging Mamma Mia!Madagascar (based on the eponymous CGI animated kids film) and a musical version of The Three Musketeers. Personally, I’d prefer operas and operettas or regular plays (Shakespeare should be great on an open air stage in the middle of a ruined castle), but money talks and musicals are popular with people who’d otherwise never watch musical theater or otherwise set foot inside a theater….

(3)  HELP WANTED. Cora also has written a recruitment ad parody for the Evil Horde, which is one of the main villain groups in Masters of the Universe and a remarkably diverse bunch. Many positions are immediately open! “Join the Horde! Conquer the Universe! Sign Up Now!”

Are you dissatisfied with harassing peasants and raiding space tramp freighters? Are looking for a new challenge? Do want to see the galaxy and help to subjugate it? Do you want to become part of something greater? Then join the Mighty, All-Conquering Horde.

The Horde Empire is seeking, at the earliest possible date….

(4) KAIJU KORNER. Camestros Felapton is among those dialing up Netflix this week to see “Godzilla Minus One”.

…So firstly, if you are a fan of kaiju stomping and chomping their way through populated cities and military forces who foolishly think their puny weapons can stop the rampaging monster then this film absolutely delivers. Godzilla bites through warships, stomps on buildings and blasts all and sundry with atomic breath. Have no worries in this regard, if that is what you want from a Godzilla film, you should be satisfied. If you want Godzilla to be the misunderstood hero who battles a much worse kaiju, then no, you won’t get that but otherwise this is a solid entry in kaiju mayhem….

(5) MARYANN HARRIS (1953-2024). MaryAnn Harris, wife of Charles de Lint, who had been hospitalized and on a ventilator since 2021 after contracting Powassan virus, an extremely rare tick-bourne illness, died June 3. De Lint made the announcement on Facebook:

I’m so so sorry to have to tell you all that Mare passed away this afternoon, June 3, 2024. She fought long and hard to try to beat the awful state in which the Powasssan virus had left her but in the end she just didn’t have the strength to carry on any longer. She died peacefully in her room, surrounded by family, in the beautiful space that her friends and family made of what had been a sterile hospital room.

She touched the hearts of every one she met and we were all so blessed to have known her.

Lately I’d been wondering what this day would feel like. I’ve been on my own since September 2021 and feel that I started grieving at that point, but all that time did nothing to prepare me for how desolate I feel now that she’s actually gone.

Thanks to everyone who cheered her on through this journey, who sent her cards and little gifts, donations towards her care and all the love and words of encouragement. That did much to carry her forward with strength and determination until her body finally gave out on her.

Words can’t express how grateful we are for your support.

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY.

[Compiled by Paul Weimer.]

June 4, 1960 Kristine Kathryn Rusch, 64.

By Paul Weimer: For me, Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s diverse and large oeuvre, in my reading, runs along two main tracks.

Where I first discovered and encountered her work was in the boom fantasy period in the 90’s with her Fey series. The Fey novels were my first experience with a robust and expansionistic version of Elves. Up until reading The Sacrifice, The Changling and its sequels, my impression of Elves as I had read them to that point were Tolkienistic: hermit kingdoms, quietly holding their power, or slowly fading away, or looking for the chance to slip away and head west to somewhere over the sea. Elves “belonged” to a world that had passed them by. Imagine my surprise when I started reading the Changeling, and discovered a Elf-like race, the Fey, who were not retiring quietly. Instead, these Fey had decided to conquer the entire world with their battle magic. Sure, Blue Isle proved to be an insurmountable roadblock to those conquests, but the very idea of militant expansionist elves…well, I’ve read takes on it since then in various guises and authors, but Rusch’s Fey were the first time I had ever encountered the idea.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch in 2019.

The Wreck series was not quite as innovative for me, but it sits in a relatively unexploited portion of space opera: Space Archaeology.  Boss’ story, in Diving into the Wreck and its sequels, is the story of a character whom, when I met her, thought, “Hey, that would make a neat Traveller character– someone who plunders old spaceships for a living, especially for their history, as well as for the financial aspects of same.  I’d read McDevitt, and Modesitt, and other authors which explored Xenoarchaeology before running into Boss, but Boss was and is a one-of-a-kind character, larger than life. I can always tell that a character resonates with me when I want to make an expy of that character for a RPG. Boss and her adventures in the first couple of novels wanted me to do that.  I didn’t quite as warm to the other various characters, such as Coop, in the later Diving novels, but maybe that’s because Boss so firmly imprinted on me that she ate up the space for me to do so. 

But in the end, Rusch has a prodigious output, under a variety of pen names, in a wide variety of subgenres from tie-in novels to romance, and thus  is one of those authors you could lose yourself in her massive oeuvre and not come out for months or years. 

(7) COMICS SECTION.

  • Thatababy reports something that once was commonly known
  • Bizarro shows why they’re a perfect match.
  • Macanudo has an expert taster.
  • Pearls Before Swine wistfully remembers a social media platform. (Wait, it’s still here!)

(8) BASED ON AN OCCASIONALLY TRUE STORY. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] ROH Press published an interesting profile about the Italian adventure fiction writer Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), who created Sandokan, the Tiger of Malaysia, and the Black Corsair. Salgari isn’t very well known in the US, but I encountered his work via the film adaptations which were a staple of afternoon TV, when I was a kid: “Emilio Salgari: Master of Adventure”

…He claimed to have travelled throughout the American West where he met Buffalo Bill; he had explored the Sudan, lived at the Mahdi’s court, loved Indian princesses, sailed among the many islands of the Far East. Here was a man of action that had explored the world and lived many adventures, adventures he would use for the basis of his 80 plus novels and hundreds of short stories to captivate readers worldwide. At dinner parties he regaled his hosts with tales from his many voyages, guests to his home would often be shown artefacts acquired in far off lands. Throughout the 20th century illustrations of him on the back of his novels showed him clad in his captain’s uniform. His memoirs were filled with adventures in the most exotic lands. A remarkable life, envied by many.

Except that very little of it was true. He did meet Buffalo Bill, but at Sherman’s Wild West Show in Verona, not, as he claimed, while exploring Nebraska. He was knighted for his stories, that much was true; he founded the adventure genre in Italy, his tales captivating young and old, and inspiring many to take up the pen….

(9) NO SUCH THING. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] This is a year old, but it’s still a lovely remembrance of Manly Wade Wellman from Stephen Smith who was one of his creative writing students: “Manly Wade Wellman: Our Forgotten Man of Letters” in The Pilot.

…Wellman was fiercely proud of his stature as a writer. “Outlaws,” he called us, generously including his students in the designation, and he had the rare ability, from the moment he stepped into the room, to instill in each student the strong belief in self that made him a successful writer and a charismatic presence.

Each Tuesday morning that semester, I’d drop a story in the campus mail, and Manly would critique and correct it and hand it back after reading it aloud to the class. I was no doubt an annoyingly eager student, and on a couple of occasions I submitted two stories in one week. “You’re like the tiger who’s tasted blood,” Manly laughed — and in fact, I was spending entirely too much study time writing fiction. Not all my stories were keepers, but one was good enough to win a state-wide short story contest that earned me $100 and a magazine publication. When I met with Manly after winning the magazine prize, he asked what my major was. I told him it was sociology. “Change your major to English!” he barked. “There’s no such thing as sociology!”…

(10) WILL SPIELBERG ADAPT ANOTHER CHICHTON NOVEL? “Eruption: James Patterson finishes Crichton passion project” – and the BBC says now that it’s done Hollywood is abuzz.

Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton died from cancer over 15 years ago – now, his unfinished “passion project”, about a humanity-threatening volcanic eruption, has been completed by fellow literary giant James Patterson and is already generating heated interest in Hollywood.

Eruption takes readers on a thrilling journey through Hawaii’s biggest island, which, unbeknown to its residents, hides dangerous military secrets dating back decades.

There has been no formal screen auction yet – but Sherri Crichton, who discovered her late husband’s unfinished manuscript over a decade ago and controls his estate, told BBC News she was now in talks with Steven Spielberg about a possible big-screen adaptation.

(11) LE GUIN LOOKS IN THE MIRROR. B.D. McClay’s article “Ursula K. Le Guin was her own toughest (and best) critic” is behind a Washington Post paywall. If you have access, lucky you!

… What a pleasure it is, then, to open “The Language of the Night: Essays on Writing, Science Fiction, and Fantasy,” and discover someone vigorously disagreeing with herself on almost every page. To say that the Le Guin we meet in this book is argumentative, sometimes unfair, sometimes wrong and even self-contradictory is not to diminish her greatness. It is rather to rescue her from the dullness imposed on her by her canonization.

By her own account, Le Guin was an indiscriminate reader of books at a young age; she read science fiction, but with no particular devotion. As she got older, the genre did not seem to have a place in it for an adult. “If I glanced at a magazine,” she wrote in the essay “A Citizen of Mondath,” included in this collection, “it still seemed to be all about starship captains in black with lean rugged faces and a lot of fancy artillery.” She drifted off to “Tolstoy and things,” and it was only when a friend told her to read a short story by Cordwainer Smith that she went back to science fiction.

Smith — whose real name was the somehow even more improbable Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger — worked for the United States military; he was, perhaps, too close to war to fantasize about it. He drew imaginatively from other sources, like Joan of Arc and Chinese mythology. His work, which features psychic pilots and heroic space cats, is elastic, wild and, perhaps most importantly in seeing his influence on Le Guin, very funny.

For Le Guin, who was also uninspired by military aesthetics, similarly eclectic in her influences and would complain that nobody ever noticed when she was being funny, reading Smith must have been a shock of recognition akin to love at first sight. (“I don’t really remember what I thought when I read it,” she wrote, “but what I think now I ought to have thought when I read it is My God! It can be done!”) …

(12) JMS Q&A. Also behind a paywall (it’s not our lucky day!) is the Los Angeles Times’ interview with J. Michael Straczynski about his work preserving Harlan Ellison’s legacy: “Harlan Ellison’s books being reissued by J. Michael Straczynski” This passage talks about the façade of Ellison’s home dubbed “The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars”.

On a hilly street in Sherman Oaks, writer and producer J. Michael “Joe” Straczynski gestures to a row of gray gargoylesque heads mounted above an entryway. “If you look carefully, you’ll see they are the Watergate figures,” he says. “Nixon in the middle, surrounded by Mitchell, Dean, Haldeman, all of them.” He smiles, knowing that the mind that created this funky tableau belonged to none other than his closest friend, the eccentric author of speculative fiction, Harlan Ellison….

…. The Watergate grotesques form a small portion of the weird and sometimes wacky, but always carefully curated, world of Ellison. The largest portion of the facade features stone-intaglio pictographs that at first glance might be Egyptian hieroglyphs or Aztec sun symbols; closer examination reveals all sorts of imaginative creatures, from tiny robots to taloned divinities to monsters. Every piece of the house was carefully chosen by Ellison, and many pieces, including carved doors, staircases and even hinges and handles, were designed to his specifications. Next to the doorbell hangs a small framed sign: “Dig. Or split.” The author had no interest in catering to people who did not share his enthusiasms or worldviews….

(13) JUSTWATCH TOP 10S FOR MAY. JustWatch has shared their Top 10 streaming charts for the month of May.

(14) HOMEWARD BOUND FROM LUNA. “China moon landing: Spacecraft Chang’e-6 unfurls flag on far side of the moon”AP News has the details.

…The Chang’e-6 probe was launched last month and its lander touched down on the far side of the moon Sunday. Its ascender lifted off Tuesday morning at 7:38 a.m. Beijing time, with its engine burning for about six minutes as it entered a preset orbit around the moon, the China National Space Administration said.

The agency said the spacecraft withstood a high temperature test on the lunar surface, and acquired the samples using both drilling and surface collection before stowing them in a container inside the ascender of the probe as planned.

The container will be transferred to a reentry capsule that is due to return to Earth in the deserts of China’s Inner Mongolia region about June 25.

(15) WONDLA TRAILER. Animation Magazine is there when “Apple TV+ Unveils Trailer for Animated Sci-Fi Series ‘WondLa’”.

…WondLa centers on Eva, voiced by Jeanine Mason (Roswell, New Mexico), a curious, enthusiastic and spirited teenager being raised in a state-of-the-art underground bunker by Muthr, a robot caretaker, voiced by Emmy Award nominee Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives).

On her 16th birthday, an attack on Eva’s bunker forces her onto the Earth’s surface which is now inhabited by aliens, covered with other-worldly fauna, and no other humans to be found. In fact, it’s no longer called Earth, but Orbona. Otto, a loveable giant water bear with whom Eva shares telepathic powers, voiced by Emmy Award winner Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), and Rovender, a cantankerous alien with a troubled past voiced by Gary Anthony Williams (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows) join Eva as she leads the team on a dangerous quest to find humans, her home, and her true destiny….

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, Cora Buhlert, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Teddy Harvia, Kathy Sullivan, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]

Pixel Scroll 5/30/24 Scrollfiler Park Is Melting In The Dark, All The Sweet, Green Pixels Flowing Down

(1) THE STEPS LEADING TO RWA’S CHAPTER 11. Her Hands, My Hands today published a thorough roundup about the causes of Romance Writers of America’s evaporating membership: “RWA goes bankrupt; it’s not DEI, it’s the bigotry and racism.”

If you are new here: at the end of 2019, the then-second-largest-in-the-world professional writers organization, shot itself in the eye due to the baked-in racism of the people at the top. Within three months, the membership had dropped to a third of what it was, and many of those leaving predicted at the time that the annual conference venue contracts for the following years would bankrupt the organization.

Even though COVID so-called lockdowns postponed it for a bit, RWA has finally filed for Chapter 11–predictably, it’s blaming one woman of color for that….

…So yes, a professional trade organization founded by women, with a membership made up disproportionately of women, was the second largest of its kind in the world, and for a couple of decades at least. The most likely reason RWA grew so big was the incredible misogyny of the industry: genre romance authors and aspiring writers had nowhere else to go for advocacy or support. The most renowned publishers and authors have always been quick to distance themselves from genre romance and its readers, even as they benefit from marketing to them; from the “we don’t publish that shlock” to “I don’t write that” sneer.

…Why, you may ask, am I going on about the membership numbers drop after the ‘nice’ white ladies shat the RWA bed? Because of this:

Because they want to claim that it was Courtney Milan talking about racism, and the ‘woke’ push for DEI that led them to file for bankruptcy (Bloomberg link; also see footnote 7)…

(2) STATHOPOULOS IS 2024 ARCHIBALD PRIZE FINALIST. Professional artist Nick Stathopoulos, a ten-time Ditmar winner for his genre work, has just been named an Archibald Prize finalist for the ninth time.

The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia”.

The story behind Nick’s entry, titled “The last picture show”, is explained in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ introduction to the piece.

Nick Stathopoulos was a finalist in the 2008 Archibald Prize with an irreverent portrait of distinguished film critic David Stratton fast asleep in a cinema.

Sixteen years later, Stathopoulos decided to undertake a smaller, intimate, more serious work, choosing again to paint the now-retired Stratton in monochrome, but retaining the deep red of his cardigan – a cinematic device used to dramatic effect in the 1993 film Schindler’s list. The title of the painting references Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 film The last picture show.

The sitting for this portrait proved to be a happy one. ‘It was a bright, crisp Blue Mountains day, and we sat on David’s back porch talking movies (what else?) as I sketched in the final details. It also happened to be his wedding anniversary, and his wife Susie was keen to point out that she had knitted the red cardigan 40 years ago,’ says Stathopoulos.

An Archibald finalist on eight previous occasions, Stathopoulos won the People’s Choice in 2016 with a portrait of Sudanese refugee and lawyer Deng Adut.

(3) THE MAN FROM UNCLES. Publishers Weekly celebrates bookseller Don Blyly, owner of the reopened Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s: “The Uncles in Minneapolis Celebrate 50 Years of Bookselling Perseverance”.

…Even though the Uncles are now located on a side street, instead of a major thoroughfare, Blyly maintains that one reason sales are up is that “we see primarily people who are interested in what we’re selling,” rather than “people walking in who could not even figure out it was a bookstore; they came in to cause problems or to use the restroom.” There is also a lot of cross-pollination among the different bookstores’ customer bases. “A lot of people who are into sci-fi and fantasy and a lot of other things automatically go to both stores when they are in the neighborhood,” Blyly said. “And we’re selling a lot more kids books than in the old location; there are more families here. Two things I’m not happy about: it takes me longer to get here from my home, and there’s no good Chinese carryout nearby. Other than that, everything else is better.”

The new location of Uncle Hugo’s in 2022.

(4) NEW ARGUMENT TO UNDERMINE COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT CHARGE. “Nvidia denies pirate e-book sites are ‘shadow libraries’ to shut down lawsuit” at Ars Technica. However, Ars Technica can’t explain that terminology, or how not being a shadow library helps the defendants.

Some of the most infamous so-called shadow libraries have increasingly faced legal pressure to either stop pirating books or risk being shut down or driven to the dark web. Among the biggest targets are Z-Library, which the US Department of Justice has charged with criminal copyright infringement, and Library Genesis (Libgen), which was sued by textbook publishers last fall for allegedly distributing digital copies of copyrighted works “on a massive scale in willful violation” of copyright laws.

But now these shadow libraries and others accused of spurning copyrights have seemingly found an unlikely defender in Nvidia, the AI chipmaker among those profiting most from the recent AI boom.

Nvidia seemed to defend the shadow libraries as a valid source of information online when responding to a lawsuit from book authors over the list of data repositories that were scraped to create the Books3 dataset used to train Nvidia’s AI platform NeMo.

That list includes some of the most “notorious” shadow libraries—Bibliotik, Z-Library (Z-Lib), Libgen, Sci-Hub, and Anna’s Archive, authors argued. However, Nvidia hopes to invalidate authors’ copyright claims partly by denying that any of these controversial websites should even be considered shadow libraries.

“Nvidia denies the characterization of the listed data repositories as ‘shadow libraries’ and denies that hosting data in or distributing data from the data repositories necessarily violates the US Copyright Act,” Nvidia’s court filing said.

The chipmaker did not go into further detail to define what counts as a shadow library or what potentially absolves these controversial sites from key copyright concerns raised by various ongoing lawsuits. Instead, Nvidia kept its response brief while also curtly disputing authors’ petition for class-action status and defending its AI training methods as fair use.

“Nvidia denies that it has improperly used or copied the alleged works,” the court filing said, arguing that “training is a highly transformative process that may include adjusting numerical parameters including ‘weights,’ and that outputs of an LLM may be based, at least in part, on such ‘weights.'”…

(5) BALTICON SUNDAY SHORT SCIENCE FICTION FILM FESTIVAL (BSSSFFF) 2024. [Report by lance ozko.] Audience scores were from 0 to 5, with sum of values divided by number of votes. 

  • Best of Show. A retrospective screening of “Troll Bridge” from a short story by Terry Pratchett won Best of Show, edging out the George RR Martin production of Howard Waldrop’s “Night of The Cooters”. GRRM provided a new introduction to Howard Waldrop’s work, mentioning 4 films currently. 
  • Best Animated Film went to “Triskelion”, a Stop Motion Celtic Fable from Belgium by Jessica Raes.

Noteworthy were: 

  • “Siren” a comedy from Estonia with a Mermaid. Directed by Katariina Škurinski.
  • “Splinter” a Twilight Zoneish Episode filmed during the Hollywood Strike. Directed by Marc Bernardin.
  • “Falling Forward into an Unknown and Dangerous Future”  based on a verbatim  transcript of an A.I. conversation. Directed by  Mike Ambs.

Several selections were withdrawn between Balticon 57 and 58, as the festival windows did not coincide with Balticon.  Overall 1,010 films were considered. 

Coming last was a Horror Alien Abduction.  Next year we will lean into comedies. Another Howard Waldrop short film “Mary Margaret Road Grader”  is penciled in for 2025. 

(6) MOANA 2 TEASER TRAILER. Entertainment Weekly says “’Moana 2′ trailer reunites Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson”.

…The trailer showcases the now-older Moana reuniting with Maui on a mission to reconnect her people “across the entire ocean,” she says, meeting all sorts of oceanic creatures and obstacles along the way….

(7) COLUMBIA RELIC. “Astronaut’s diary found among fallen Columbia space shuttle debris added to National Library of Israel”Space.com has the story.

The handwritten journal pages of Israel’s first astronaut have been added to the country’s national library in Jerusalem, more than 20 years after they were found among the debris from the NASA tragedy that claimed his life.

Ilan Ramon wrote most of the diary while he was in orbit aboard the space shuttle Columbia, serving as an STS-107 payload specialist on the winged spacecraft’s last, ill-fated flight. The found pages document Ramon’s day-to-day life in space, from his hygiene routine to the research he performed on behalf of NASA and his home nation.

Also included were his notes on the Jewish practices that he was to demonstrate from high above Earth.

“Identified among the restored pages was the Friday night blessing over wine, with Ramon’s annotations. Apparently aware he was to broadcast the ‘Kiddush’ live from space, Ramon wanted to make sure he did not forget a single word,” read a release issued by the National Library of Israel on Wednesday (May 29).

(8) NEW SEASON OF UMBRELLA ACADEMY. Variety introduces “’Umbrella Academy’ Season 4 Trailer: The Hargreeves’ Final Countdown”.

Netflix has released the teaser trailer for the fourth and final season of its superhero series “The Umbrella Academy.” The footage, set to the tune of Europe’s 1986 song “The Final Countdown,” sees the Hargreeves siblings stepping out of their regular lives, prepping to band together one last time.

Based on the graphic novel series written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, the beloved series follows a family of adopted siblings with superpowers working to prevent the end of the world….

(9) DIGITAL HANDSELLING? The New York Times studies “How a Self-Published Book, ‘The Shadow Work Journal,’ Became a Best Seller”. (Note: this is a non-genre, nonfiction book.)  Link bypasses NYT paywall.

…The real creator of “The Shadow Work Journal” is Keila Shaheen, a 25-year-old writer from Texas with a background in marketing who self-published the book in 2021, and has since been crowned “the self-help queen of TikTok.”

After the journal blew up on TikTok, Shaheen went on to sell more than a million copies. Most of those — nearly 700,000 copies — were sold through the TikTok shop, and were marketed relentlessly by passionate influencers like Glay, who earn a 15 percent commission on each sale from Zenfulnote, Shaheen’s company.

Shaheen’s unusual path to bestsellerdom shows how radically book marketing and sales have been changed by TikTok. Over the past few years, publishers have frantically rushed to harness the power of the platform as viral videos and reviews by influencers have propelled sales for blockbuster authors like Colleen Hoover, Emily Henry and Sarah J. Maas.

But Shaheen is perhaps the first self-published nonfiction author to break out in a big way on the platform, a feat she accomplished by fully harnessing its potential not just for marketing, but for direct sales.

…“To think that she achieved a million copies sold in the United States alone, without a publisher, without any international expansion, without brick and mortar support, it breaks all the rules of what makes a best seller,” said Albert Lee, a literary agent with United Talent Agency, which represents Shaheen….

(10) MEDICAL UPDATE. MaryAnn Harris, wife of Charles de Lint, has been hospitalized since 2021 after contracting Powassan virus, an extremely rare tick-bourne illness. She has been dependent on a ventilator to breathe, and paralyzed except for a toe. Julie Bartel organized a Gofundme “de Lint Recovery Fund”. And the May 23 update begins by detailing further medical problems leading to a sad status report:

…However, all of this has taken a toll and MaryAnn is quite weak. As a result, her treatment has shifted since she returned to SVH, with a new focus on quality of life rather than full recovery. The palliative care team has been brought in, and there have been numerous conversations with MaryAnn about what comes next, and about concentrating on helping her feel comfortable and pain free.

Yesterday she had a desat that was bad enough that she is now on full oxygen again. Afterwards Dr. Kirby and one of the excellent palliative care doctors, Dr. Nick, explained just how fragile MaryAnn is and that her lungs may no longer be able to function adequately. They reiterated the need to focus on comfort and on keeping her as stable as possible and that’s what is happening now.

A very sad and difficult message to hear, but Lynn and Charles are confident the staff at SVH are doing all that they can to care for MaryAnn as well as possible.

We thought you all should know. Please keep MaryAnn in your thoughts, as she and Charles navigate the road ahead. As always, your love and support are a shining light during dark times.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY.

[Written by Paul Weimer.]

May 30, 1922 Hal Clement. (Died 2003.)   

By Paul Weimer. If hard science and physics could be considered “characters” in science fiction, Hal Clement is certainly the person who was able to make them so. Mission of Gravity is the premier look at this, giving an extremely weird and strange, and yet possible high gravity world. Do the characters he populates this world with work as individual characters? Not really, but what you read Clement for is the puzzles and the logic behind the hard science that makes a high gravity-distorted world like Mesklin (the planet of Mission of Gravity) possible in the first place. 

Hal Clement at ConFiction (1990). Photo by Frank Olynyk. From Fanac.org site.

Another novel in this vein that doesn’t get much play or notice, but I ironically read before Mission of Gravity, is The Nitrogen Fix. In this book, Earth’s atmosphere has changed, radically, with the free nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere having combined into a toxic and unbreathable mix of nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and water. Did the aliens who have come to Earth change and terraform Earth for their own purposes? In the end, the transformation of Earth’s atmosphere is a puzzle that is solved, and makes sense, with a big heaping sense of irony to it all. 

Although shared worlds are not a big thing anymore, back in the 1980’s, they were all the rage. I didn’t mention it back when I wrote on Ellison (way too much to write about him) but even Harlan Ellison did a shared world, Medea. His shared planet had a bunch of writers very interested in building a realistic planet and solar system. Clement not only provided an essay on worldbuilding the astrophysics of  Medea in the book, but also contributed a story. 

Once again, hard science as a character in Clement’s work. That’s what it means to me. 

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) UNOBTAINABLE TIMEPIECE. Hamilton Watch put together a prop watch for Dune: Part Two. You can’t buy that one. At the link they have a couple of items you can buy which echo some of its design ideas.

Collaborating with Prop Master Doug Harlocker, Hamilton Watch assisted in bringing this uniquely hardwearing Fremen device to the big screen in “Dune: Part Two”.

While the “Desert Watch” is only available on Arrakis, the creative influence behind it was too strong not to bring into our own world.

(14) OUT, OUT, DANGED SPOT. Space.com says “That giant sunspot that supercharged auroras on Earth? It’s back and may amp up the northern lights with June solar storms.”

…The first hint of AR 13697’s sunspots came into view late on May 27, with the full region visible end of May 28. Making an entrance worthy of its earlier reputation, the active region produced an X2.9 solar flare. Despite triggering fewer large flares from the sun’s backside, Monday’s X-class solar flare asserts that the region is still capable of producing these more noteworthy events. 

The active region will continue to rotate across the sun over the next two weeks, providing a view of any solar flares from the region during this window. The light from any solar flares in this window will reach Earth, with the potential to produce short-term radio blackouts. These are temporary disruptions to radio-wave propagation on the sun-facing side of Earth, lasting only an hour or so. 

As we experienced in mid-May 2024, some flares may also trigger the eruption of a CME. Unlike flares, CMEs are directional, and their potential impact on Earth relies heavily on the location of its source on the sun. For a CME to have the best odds of reaching Earth, it would need to erupt from the slight right of the sun’s center. AR 13697 will reach this location of optimum Earth connection around June 4-6, around one full solar rotation (27 days) since the mid-May solar flares. Eruptions close to this window will have the best odds of producing a geomagnetic storm and enhanced aurora display here on Earth….

(15) BIG GULP. “SpaceX fuels Starship megarocket again to prep for test flight” at Space.com. Sounds like a lot.

SpaceX has fueled up its Starship megarocket again, ramping up preparations for the huge vehicle’s upcoming test flight.

The operation, known as a wet dress rehearsal (WDR), occurred on Tuesday (May 28) at SpaceX‘s Starbase site in South Texas. The company pumped huge quantities of liquid oxygen and liquid methane into Starship‘s first and second stages, which are known, respectively, as Super Heavy and Starship (or just “Ship” for short).

“Starship and Super Heavy loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant in a rehearsal ahead of Flight 4. Launch is targeted as early as June 5, pending regulatory approval,” SpaceX said today (May 29) in an X post, which also shared photos of the procedure….

(16) MINECRAFT GETS SERIES. “’Minecraft’ Animated Series in the Works at Netflix” reports Variety.

Netflix is developing an animated series based on the wildly popular sandbox video game “Minecraft.” The streamer will produce the project alongside Mojang Studios, the Swedish developer of the game.

Plot details are not yet known, but according to Netflix, the series “will feature an original story with new characters, showing the world of ‘Minecraft’ in a new light.”…

[Thanks to Steven French, Teddy Harvia, Kathy Sullivan, Lance Oszko, Jim Janney, Ingvar Mattson, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, and SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Joe H.]

Pixel Scroll 3/18/23 Pixel’s Cat, Neither Scrolling Nor Not Scrolling, You Decide

(1) DE LINT AND HARRIS STILL NEED SUPPORT. The Ottawa Citizen profiled MaryAnn Harris’s illness and fundraiser in “A tick bite, the Powassan virus, and MaryAnn’s struggle”.

… “They didn’t know what was wrong,” said Charles, a popular author of fantasy novels, a three-time Aurora Award winner, and a member of Canada’s Science Fiction Writers Hall of Fame. “They assumed it was a virus of some sort. It looked like they had 70 little machines feeding her different kinds of antibiotics.”

Today, more than a year and a half after falling ill, MaryAnn hasn’t been back home. She still breathes with a ventilator and remains nearly paralyzed.

The culprit? A tick bite that transmitted the rare but increasingly common Powassan virus, a potentially deadly pathogen that caused encephalitis.

“We were never aware of the bite. We never even saw the tick,” Charles said. MaryAnn fell ill during the lockdown and the couple hadn’t travelled anywhere.

They figure she picked up the tick bite either in the yard of their Alta Vista area home or during one of their frequent walks around the community gardens in Pleasant Park. And it’s hardly the only question that can never be answered.

“If she was going to get sick,” Charles asks, “why did it have to be something so rare?”

Powassan virus was first identified in 1958 when it infected and killed a young boy in Powassan, Ont., on the outskirts of North Bay, 200 km northwest of Ottawa. Until 1998, there had been only 27 cases in all of North America. Since then, the numbers have been rising: 5-10 cases a year in the U.S. from 2010 to 2015; and 25-30 a year since. Since 2017, there have been 21 cases in Canada. Most infections occur in the northeastern U.S., Eastern Canada and the Great Lakes region.

…The couple — Charles is 71 and MaryAnn is 70 — have been together for 47 years and married for 42. With their guitar and banjo, they are well-known in Ottawa’s folk and bluegrass music scene.Charles’s novels, many of them set in the fantasy city of Newford, have a worldwide following. MaryAnn is his business manager, editor and illustrator. Her illness has left Charles with little time to write since he now spends five hours a day at Saint-Vincent Hospital, six days a week. He pays for a caregiver on the seventh.

Friends, family and fans have rallied around the couple. Musicians have visited the hospital to play for MaryAnn. A GoFundMe started to help pay for the many expenses they now face has topped $90,000. Fans have also subscribed to Charles’s Patreon account to help support his writing.

One fan, Julie Bartel, manages the GoFundMe and posts regular updates on MaryAnn’s progress on social media. Bartel, 52, grew up in tiny Orem, Utah, and as a teenager immersed herself in Charles’s fantasy novels….

The GoFundMe is here: “Harris – de Lint Recovery Fund”.

See also Julie Bartel’s File 770 post “More Information About the Harris / de Lint Fundraiser”.

(2) DOUBLE THE DISPLEASURE. Victoria Strauss gets busy in “One Week, Two Fakes: American Booksellers Federation and The Acquisitions Guild” at Writer Beware.

As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this blog (and from your own experience if you’ve ever self-published), we are currently in the midst of a tsunami of scam companies that aggressively solicit authors with out-of-the-blue emails and phone calls touting phony services–“endorsement” to Big 5 publishers or major film studios, “nominations” for representation at book fairs or other costly-but-useless PR strategies, and more.

These ripoff artists often seek to boost their credibility–and stroke writers’ egos–by naming some made-up organization or group that has recommended or otherwise validated the author’s book. The Guild of Literary Agents, Book Acquisitions Guild of America, Book Acquisition Society, The Literary Arts Organization, Affiliation of Creator Agents, Hollywood Database, Literary Review of Books…I could go on, but you get the picture. Despite the official-sounding names, none of these so-called organizations (which I’ve seen referenced in multiple scam solicitations) exist–as even a cursory websearch will confirm.

Scammers, of course, are counting on writers not to check. But writers have become much more savvy about solicitation scams than they used to be–partly because there are now so many of them, and partly because there are so many warnings about them. This has caused some predators to up their game, attempting to create credibility for their made-up endorsement organizations by giving them actual websites.

I ran across two of these this week….

They are the American Booksellers Federation and The Acquisitions Guild.

(3) ROWLING INTERVIEW PODCAST CONTINUES. The Hollywood Reporter covers episode 5 of The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling podcast under the headline “J.K. Rowling: Criticism of Trans Stance Hit Different Than Christians”.

J.K. Rowling says that when it comes to the backlash she’s received around her Harry Potter books and her personal stances on the rights and identities of trans people, criticism from her “allies” hit differently than conservatives claiming she was promoting witchcraft.

“If it’s coming from people that you would, well, you would have thought were allies? Yes, that’s absolutely going to hit differently, but I don’t hold myself —” Rowling said before The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling host Megan Phelps-Roper cut her off in the podcast’s latest episode. “I would assume we share certain values. So yeah, that hits differently. Of course, it hits differently.”…

The podcast’s fifth episode, titled “The Tweets,” dropped March 14 and is largely dedicated to Rowling expounding on the motivation behind her past social media messages and essay regarding her position on trans women as women and their presence in women’s spaces.

“It is very biblical language that is used of women who say, ‘You know what? I think any measure that makes it easier for predators to get at women and girls is a bad idea,’” Rowling said of critics, who have said her refusal to acknowledge trans women as women is “evil.” She continued, “There are plenty of women who don’t even … identify themselves as feminists who are very concerned about this.”

During the episode, various voices, including Phelps-Roper, repeatedly read unattributed tweets allegedly sent to Rowling. But speaking to her own initial tweet in 2019, which ultimately sparked the first major wave of criticism against the author over her support of a U.K. woman embroiled in an employment case around language and discrimination in the workplace, Rowling said she notified her team ahead of time.

“I drafted the tweet, and then I was considerate enough to phone my management team and say, ‘You cannot argue me out of this,’” the author explained. “And I read out what I was about to say because I felt they needed warning because I knew it was going to cause a massive storm.”

At another point, she added that she “absolutely knew” that people who love her books would be “deeply unhappy” with her, but that “time will tell whether I’ve got this wrong. I can only say that I’ve thought about it deeply and hard and long, and I’ve listened — I promise — to the other side.”

On the larger response to her public stances, the author describes “fury and incomprehension” on one side and “a ton of Potter fans who were grateful that I had said what I said” on the other after sharing her first and subsequent tweets. But Rowling ultimately questions the motivations of the Harry Potter fans who didn’t stick by her. “What’s interesting is the fans that have found themselves in positions of power online, did they feel they needed to take this position because they themselves had followers? Possibly, I don’t know,” she said….

(4) THESE FANS LITERALLY KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] In Nature, “Fan astronomers show pros how to help in asteroid collision”. “Astronomy, like other scientific fields, continues to benefit from working scientists collaborating with amateur colleagues.”

When NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft slammed into an asteroid on purpose last September, many telescopes were trained on this one-of-a-kind celestial event. Some were operated by teams of amateur astronomers — skilled skywatchers for whom astronomy is not their full-time day job (or, more accurately, night job). Three such teams on France’s Réunion island in the Indian Ocean, plus one in Nairobi, managed to watch the impact in real time.

These skywatchers are among the authors of a study in Nature that describes how the asteroid, named Dimorphos, became temporarily brighter and redder as the spacecraft hit it. One of five papers about the impact published in Nature15, it describes a real-time view of a cosmic collision — similar to that when Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter in July 1994.

(5) JERRY SAMUELS (1938-2023). Singer Jerry Samuels, died March 10. Under the name Napoleon XIV, he recorded the 1966 novelty hit “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” Listeners to Doctor Demento are likely familiar with it.

(6) MEMORY LANE.

2018[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

For these Beginnings I usually prefer to use the first novel in a series, so why use the twenty-first of twenty-three novels published to date? 

Because RobicheauxA Novel, published by Simon & Schuster five years ago, thirty-one years after the first novel by James Lee Burke in the series, The Neon Rain, came out, has one of the best Beginnings of all. 

It won’t spoil much to tell you that the series center around Dave Robicheaux, a former homicide detective in the New Orleans Police Department. He now lives in New Iberia, Louisiana, and he works as a detective for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

I’ve read around half the books so far. It’s a quite brilliant series where the characters, both principal and secondary, continue to evolve as the series goes on, the stories are complex if usually quite violent and not for the squeamish. And the setting? The story goes often into the squalid side of New Orleans and other places just as disgusting. Need I say more? 

Oh, and Will Patton narrates the series quite amazingly in terms of giving each character their own unique voice. If you listen to books, you’ll really enjoy these.

Now here’s our very interesting Beginning…

LIKE AN EARLY nineteenth-century poet, when I have melancholy moments and feel the world is too much for us and that late and soon we lay waste to our powers in getting and spending, I’m forced to pause and reflect upon my experiences with the dead and the hold they exert on our lives.

This may seem a macabre perspective on one’s life, but at a certain point it seems to be the only one we have. Mortality is not kind, and do not let anyone tell you it is. If there is such a thing as wisdom, and I have serious doubts about its presence in my own life, it lies in the acceptance of the human condition and perhaps the knowledge that those who have passed on are still with us, out there in the mist, showing us the way, sometimes uttering a word of caution from the shadows, sometimes visiting us in our sleep, as bright as a candle burning inside a basement that has no windows. 

On a winter morning, among white clouds of fog out at Spanish Lake, I would see the boys in butternut splashing their way through the flooded cypress, their muskets held above their heads, their equipment tied with rags so it wouldn’t rattle. I was standing no more than ten feet from them, although they took no notice of me, as though they knew I had not been born yet, and their travail and sacrifice were not mine to bear. 

Their faces were lean from privation, as pale as wax, their hair uncut, the rents in their uniforms stitched clumsily with string. Their mouths were pinched, their eyes luminous with caution. The youngest soldier, a drummer boy, could not have been older than twelve. On one occasion I stepped into the water to join them. Even then, none acknowledged my presence. The drummer boy stumbled and couldn’t right himself, struggling with the leather strap around his neck and the weight of his drum. I reached out to help him and felt my hand and arm sink through his shoulder. A shaft of sunlight pierced the canopy, turning the fog into white silk; in less than a second the column was gone. 

Long ago, I ceased trying to explain events such as these to either myself or others. Like many my age, I believe people in groups are to be feared and that arguing with others is folly and the knowledge of one generation cannot be passed down to the next. Those may seem cynical sentiments, but there are certain truths you keep inside you and do not defend lest you cheapen and then lose them altogether. Those truths have less to do with the dead than the awareness that we are no different from them, that they are still with us and we are still with them, and there is no afterlife but only one life, a continuum in which all time occurs at once, like a dream inside the mind of God. 

Why should an old man thrice widowed dwell on things that are not demonstrable and have nothing to do with a reasonable view of the world? Because only yesterday, on a broken sidewalk in a shabby neighborhood at the bottom of St. Claude Avenue, in the Lower Ninth Ward of St. Bernard Parish, under a colonnade that was still twisted out of shape by Katrina, across from a liquor store with barred windows that stood under a live oak probably two hundred years old, I saw a platoon of Confederate infantry march out of a field to the tune of “Darling Nelly Gray” and disappear through the wall of a gutted building and not exit on the other side.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 18, 1888 Alexander Leydenfrost. As an illustrator, he briefly worked for Planet Stories before being signed by Life magazine where the money was better. But his quite brief tenure at Planet Stories is credited with the creation of the enduring cliche Bug-Eyed Monster as that’s what his illustrations showed. (Died 1961.)
  • Born March 18, 1926 Peter Graves. Star of Mission Impossible and the short lived Australian-filmed Mission Impossible which if you’ve not seen it you should as it’s damn good. I’m reasonably certain his first genre role was on Red Planet Mars playing Chris Cronyn. Later roles included Gavin Lewis on The Invaders, Major Noah Cooper on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Doug Paul Martin in Killers from Space and Paul Nelson on It Conquered the World. It’s worth noting that a number of his films are featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 series. (Died 2010.)
  • Born March 18, 1932 John Updike. It might surprise you to learn that there are two Eastwick novels, The Witches of Eastwick and The Widows of Eastwick, the latter set some three decades after the first novel ended. He wrote a number of other genre-friendly novels including The Centaur, Brazil and Toward the End of Time.  (Died 2009.)
  • Born March 18, 1947 Drew Struzan, 76. Artist known for his more than a hundred and fifty movie posters which include films in Back to the Future, the Indiana Jones, and Star Wars film franchises. In addition, he designed the original Industrial Light & Magic logo for Lucas. My favorite posters? Back to the FutureThe Goonies and The Dark Crystal.
  • Born March 18, 1950 J. G. Hertzler, 73. He’s best known for his role on Deep Space Nine as the Klingon General (and later Chancellor) Martok. He co-authored with Jeff Lang, Left Hand of Destiny, Book 1, and Left Hand of Destiny, Book 2, which chronicle the life of his character. His very TV first role was a genre one, to wit on Quantum Leap as Weathers Farrington in the “Sea Bride – June 3, 1954” episode. Setting aside DS9, he’s been in ZorroHighlanderThe Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanCharmedRoswell and the Enterprise series;  for film genre work, I see The Redeemer: Son of SatanTreasure Island: The Adventure Begins and Prelude to Axanar (yet another piece of fanfic). In addition, he’s done a lot of video game voice acting, the obvious Trek work but such franchises as BioShock 2The Golden Compass and Injustice: Gods Among Us. 
  • Born March 18, 1959 Luc Besson, 64. Oh, The Fifth Element, one of my favorite genre films. There’s nothing about it that I don’t like. I’ve not seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and comments leave me disinclined to do so. The Transporter is not genre but I recommend it as a great film none the less.
  • Born March 18, 1960 Richard Biggs. Another way too young death. On Babylon 5 as he appeared as Dr. Stephen Franklin, and reprised the role in the final aired episode of Crusade, “Each Night I Dream of Home”. Other genre roles included playing Roger Garrett on Tremors, Hawkes In The Alien Within, An Unnamed Reporter on Beauty and the Beast, Dr. Thomson on an episode of The Twilight Zone and a Process Server in an episode of The Magical World of Disney. (Died 2004.)
  • Born March 18, 1961 James Davis Nicoll, 62. A freelance game and genre reviewer. A first reader for SFBC as well. Currently he’s a blogger on Dreamwidth and Facebook, and an occasional columnist on Tor.com. In 2014, he started his website, which is dedicated to his book reviews of works old and new; and which later added the highly entertaining Young People Read Old SFF, where that group read prior to Eighties SF and fantasy, and Nicoll and his collaborators comment on the their reactions.

(8) COMICS SECTION.

  • Tom Gauld is at it again.

(9) FALLING BEHIND. The New York Times reports on “How Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant Lost the A.I. Race”.

On a rainy Tuesday in San Francisco, Apple executives took the stage in a crowded auditorium to unveil the fifth-generation iPhone. The phone, which looked identical to the previous version, had a new feature that the audience was soon buzzing about: Siri, a virtual assistant.

Scott Forstall, then Apple’s head of software, pushed an iPhone button to summon Siri and prodded it with questions. At his request, Siri checked the time in Paris (“8:16 p.m.,” Siri replied), defined the word “mitosis” (“Cell division in which the nucleus divides into nuclei containing the same number of chromosomes,” it said) and pulled up a list of 14 highly rated Greek restaurants, five of them in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I’ve been in the A.I. field for a long time, and this still blows me away,” Mr. Forstall said.

That was 12 years ago. Since then, people have been far from blown away by Siri and competing assistants that are powered by artificial intelligence, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. The technology has largely remained stagnant, and the talking assistants have become the butt of jokes, including in a 2018 “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring a smart speaker for seniors.

The tech world is now gushing over a different kind of virtual assistant: chatbots. These A.I.-powered bots, such as ChatGPT and the new ChatGPT Plus from the San Francisco company OpenAI, can improvise answers to questions typed into a chat box with alacrity. People have used ChatGPT to handle complex tasks like coding software, drafting business proposals and writing fiction.

And ChatGPT, which uses A.I. to guess what word comes next, is rapidly improving. A few months ago, it couldn’t write a proper haiku; now it can do so with gusto. On Tuesday, OpenAI unveiled its next-generation A.I. engine, GPT-4, which powers ChatGPT.

The excitement around chatbots illustrates how Siri, Alexa and other voice assistants — which once elicited similar enthusiasm — have squandered their lead in the A.I. race….

(10) STAR TREK INSIGHTS. Rachel Stott is on to something here.

(11) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The Library of America’s panel “Back to the Future Is Female!” can now be viewed on YouTube.

From Pulp Era pioneers to the radical innovators of the 1960s and ’70s, visionary women writers have been a transformative force in American science fiction. For Women’s History Month, acclaimed SF authors Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Pamela Sargent, and Sheree Renée Thomas join Lisa Yaszek, editor of LOA’s The Future Is Female!, for a conversation about the writers who smashed the genre’s gender barrier to create worlds and works that remain revolutionary.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Ferrak MacGoogan, Peer, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]

More Information About the Harris / de Lint Fundraiser

By Julie Bartel: MaryAnn Harris, wife and creative partner of legendary author and musician Charles de Lint (and an artist and musician in her own right) fell ill on September 6, 2021. After many months of suffering from brain stem encephalitis, MaryAnn was diagnosed with Powassan virus, an extremely rare tick-borne illness. MaryAnn spent 8 months in ICU before being transferred to a complex care facility, where she is still recovering. She is still dependent on a ventilator to breathe, and fully paralyzed except for a toe. 

In order to make a full recovery and go home (which her doctor believes is possible), MaryAnn  needs significantly more therapy than the Canadian healthcare system can provide. In addition, due to the severity and long term nature of her condition, Charles and MaryAnn will start being assessed a co-pay for MaryAnn’s room and board that could be as high as C$4000 per month, an impossible figure at this time. As a result, fundraising efforts are now underway to help Charles and MaryAnn raise the funds needed to move forward.

Having mustered through almost a full year under the most difficult circumstances, Charles has agreed that additional fundraising is the best way to ensure that MaryAnn gets the therapy she needs to make a full recovery. Last week he launched a long-awaited and much anticipated Patreon which has been incredibly successful and has already given him the breathing room to schedule additional physical therapy sessions. 

Charles and MaryAnn also gave their blessing to a GoFundMe campaign which has been started on their behalf. The goal of that campaign is to raise the funds necessary for the additional intensive rehabilitation therapy along with the monthly copayment they are expecting from the hospital. In addition, when MaryAnn recovers enough to go home, she will likely need mobility aids, potential renovations to their home to make it more accessible, ongoing rehabilitation therapy and possibly private home care to help her with activities of daily living. 

An online auction is also in the works for later this fall. Organizers will be reaching out to members of the science fiction and fantasy community for donations shortly, and hope to create a marketplace of items and experiences for bidding on shortly before the holidays. 

To follow MaryAnn’s recovery, a Facebook Page – “The Newford Star” – has been created; updates and announcements will be posted there regularly.

The August 19 Facebook post shared this news:

A fairly recent development has been her ability to use voice commands to make phone calls in the late afternoon and evening, which has been a delight. She called me yesterday and asked that I pass on to everyone here her overwhelming gratitude for the outpouring of support and well wishes. She feels them, she said, and they mean the world. Thank you.

Updates will also be posted on the Go Fund Me page. Contributions or Patreon subscriptions are gratefully accepted, but we also encourage the community to buy a book, download a tune, or leave a review. And, as MaryAnn says, “If you’ve been adversely affected by COVID, or anything else for that matter, please just send your best wishes, which we will treasure with all of our hearts.”

Please, contribute what you can here. Check out Charles’ long-awaited and much-requested Patreon. Buy a book, download a tune, leave a review. Share their story, raise awareness, reach out to your own communities.