(1) FRUSTRATED HARD SF FAN. Thaddeus Howze reviews a SyFy TV series in: “The Ark: Rage Against The Dying Of The Science In Sci-Fi” on Facebook.
The SyFy television series The Ark happened. I stayed away from it until I was able to be rested and give it the benefit of the doubt….
… I enjoy the exteriors and the flyby’s and all of the other beautiful effort made to showcase the exterior of the ship BUT there were so many things wrong with the ship which you might only know if you have any interest in space ships, extrasolar arks, or naval ship design.
For example and let’s start with the elephant in the room:
• WHO PUTS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEMBERS OF THE CREW IN ONE SECTION OF THE SHIP? Convenient for the plot but unrealistic for the crew of a space exploration vehicle, since if the goal is to provide maximum redundancy, that specialized personnel should be scattered among the crew to reduce the possibility of the command crew being wiped out in a single event.
• I love the fact they knew part of such a generation ship should have rotating sections to provide pseudo-gravity. But that gravity should be confined to the spinning regions of the ship….
(2) THE FIRST ‘THREE-BODY’ ARRIVES. The New York Times’ Mike Hale, in “‘Three-Body’ Review: A Chinese Series Beats Netflix to the Screen”, overviews the 30-episode series. It begins with a spoiler warning.
This review contains spoilers for the novel “The Three-Body Problem” and the television series “Three-Body.” There’s no way around it.
The highly acclaimed trilogy of Chinese science-fiction novels collectively known as “Three-Body,” in which Earth is threatened with invasion by technologically superior aliens, is generally understood to reflect historical Chinese anxieties about Western domination. Which makes it a little amusing that, 17 years after the story was first serialized, the books are about to get more attention than ever because of a big-budget American adaptation, due later this year on Netflix. Comments about appropriation and cultural sensitivity will start to pour in minutes after the episodes are posted.
In the meantime, little attention is being paid in the United States to an ambitious Chinese series, “Three-Body,” that has beaten Netflix’s “3 Body Problem” to the screen. No trade barriers or worries about state secrets here: The 30 episodes of “Three-Body” are premiering on Rakuten Viki in the United States, with subtitles in English (among many other languages), on the same day they appear in China, where they are reportedly setting viewing records for Tencent’s WeTV streaming service. Outside of the sci-fi fan base, however, they don’t appear to be causing a ripple in America. (The 21st episode arrived on Friday; early episodes can be watched free with ads.)…
(3) HE DOES THE TWIST. In “What Will It Take to Trust M. Night Shyamalan?” the New York Times contends, “The director, whose latest is ‘Knock at the Cabin,’ has been working to regain audience faith, one B-movie at a time.”
… The disaster that was “Lady in the Water” kicked off a four-film slump in which Shyamalan’s budgets were pricier than ever, peaking at $150 million for “The Last Airbender” (2010), yet even added together, their total Rotten Tomatoes score is still rotten.
Shyamalan had hoped that splashy blockbusters would prove he deserved creative freedom. He’d put his faith in a false narrative of Spielbergian success. And he’d failed.
The master manipulator was scared by his own choices.
As for what to do next? The answer was obvious — if he went back to the beginning. Shyamalan borrowed money against his house to make the $5 million found-footage horror flick “The Visit” (2015). Every Hollywood studio passed on distributing it, so he flew home to Philadelphia and polished his edit until Universal said yes. “The Visit” grossed $98 million worldwide, and the director used a cut of his windfall to fund the next film, “Split,” which grossed $278 million, and the next, “Glass,” $247 million; each was shot on his own dime with complete creative independence and all but one of them shot in, essentially, his own backyard. The exception is “Old” (2021), which, because of the pandemic, was filmed at a locked-down resort in the Dominican Republic. He paid for that out of pocket, too.
The truth is, today’s shaky cinematic landscape can barely support the current Spielberg, let alone the next. Instead, Shyamalan is blueprinting a new paradigm.
(4) MEMORY LANE.
1999 — [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Some novels have a short and lovely Beginning and so it is with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. It is my second favorite novel by him with Neverwhere being the one I like the most and Anansi Boys really the only other one that I like enough to have re-read.
It is, I think, a lovely novel that is very sweet with characters that lack the edges of many Gaiman characters. The setting is fascinating and the story is stellar as well.
There is a recording of him reading it and I strongly recommend y’all go hear it – it’s very obvious that he loves this story.. Neil writes wonderful text, and the reading he does here blends so well with his writing that it’s just a treat.
It garnered a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature which makes perfect sense, and the film version won a Hugo at Denvention 3.
And here’s that oh so perfect Beginning…
In Which We Learn of the Village of Wall, and of the Curious Thing That Occurs There Every Nine Years
There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire. And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.
(5) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born February 6, 1922 — Patrick Macnee. He was best known as the secret agent John Steed in The Avengers, a role he reprised in the New Avengers. He made his genre debut as Young Jacob Marley in Scrooge. He then starred as Derek Longbow in Incense for the Damned (also released as Bloodsuckers, Freedom Seeker Incense for the Damned and Bloodsuckers, Freedom Seeker and Doctors Wear Scarlet). Next up is an uncredited role voicing Imperious Leader on the original Battlestar Galactica. He played Captain John Good R.N. in King Solomon’s Treasure based rather loosely on the H. Rider Haggard source material. What else? Let’s see… he shows up in The Howling as Dr. George Waggner, as Dr. Stark in a film as alternative title is, I kid you not, Naked Space and Spaceship. It’s a parody apparently of Alien. Next up for him is another toff named Sir Wilfred in Waxwork and its sequel. Yes, he wears a suit rather nicely. At least being Professor Plocostomos in Lobster Man from Mars is an open farce. Yes let me note that he had a voice only role in the absolutely shitty remake of The Avengers as Invisible Jones, a Ministry Agent. I do hope they paid him well. His last film work was genre as well, The Low Budget Time Machine, in which he started as Dr. Bernard. (Died 2015.)
- Born February 6, 1927 — Zsa Zsa Gabor. Her first venture into SF was the Fifties very camp Queen of Outer Space which she followed up by being in Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie. She had a cameo in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. She’s Erika Tiffany Smith on Gilligan’s Island, and Minerva on Batman. One of her last appearances was as herself on The Munsters Today as she retired from acting in late Nineties. (Died 2016.)
- Born February 6, 1931 — Rip Torn. First genre work that comes to mind is of course RoboCop 3 and his Men in Black films. His first dip into our world comes as Dr. Nathan Bryce In The Man Who Fell to Earth. Yeah that film. Actually if you count Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he’s been a member of our community since his Twenties. He also shows up on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as well. (Died 2019.)
- Born February 6, 1943 — Fabian, 80. Bill Dexter in Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. He doesn’t have much of a genre resume appearing only once on Fantasy Island, plus being in Kiss Daddy Goodbye. The latter would be shown on Movie Macabre, Elvira’s early Eighties movie show.
- Born February 6, 1943 — Gayle Hunnicutt, 80. I’m giving her Birthday Honors as she was Irene Adler, opposite Jeremy Brett, in the first episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia”. She also shows up in The Martian Chronicles, The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Legend of Hell House, Fantômas (a French series) and Tales of The Unexpected.
- Born February 6, 1958 — Cecily Adams. She played Ishka (aka Moogie), mother of the Ferengi brothers Rom and Quark, in four of her five appearances on Deep Space Nine. (Andrea Martin played her the first time.) Most of her genre experience was in such concerns as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Flash Forward, Lost on Earth, Bone Chillers and 3rd Rock from The Sun. (Died 2004.)
(6) GENERAL OTTO MATIC. In “How Smart Are the Robots Getting?” the New York Times notes that the Turing Test is no longer the final exam.
Franz Broseph seemed like any other Diplomacy player to Claes de Graaff. The handle was a joke — the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I reborn as an online bro — but that was the kind of humor that people who play Diplomacy tend to enjoy. The game is a classic, beloved by the likes of John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger, combining military strategy with political intrigue as it recreates the First World War: Players negotiate with allies, enemies and everyone in between as they plan how their armies will move across 20th-century Europe.
When Franz Broseph joined a 20-player online tournament at the end of August, he wooed other players, lying to them and ultimately betraying them. He finished in first place.
Mr. de Graaff, a chemist living in the Netherlands, finished fifth. He had spent nearly 10 years playing Diplomacy, both online and at face-to-face tournaments across the globe. He did not realize until it was revealed several weeks later that he had lost to a machine. Franz Broseph was a bot.
“I was flabbergasted,” Mr. de Graaff, 36, said. “It seemed so genuine — so lifelike. It could read my texts and converse with me and make plans that were mutually beneficial — that would allow both of us to get ahead. It also lied to me and betrayed me, like top players frequently do.”
Built by a team of artificial intelligence researchers from the tech giant Meta, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other prominent universities, Franz Broseph is among the new wave of online chatbots that are rapidly moving machines into new territory….
(7) THE CROWDED SKIES. Space.com tells readers “Jupiter now has the most moons in the solar system, beating Saturn thanks to 12 newfound satellites”. (Via Scifi Radio.) Or as Michael Swanwick put it on Facebook, “Jupiter is once again the mooniest planet in the Solar System. Suck it, Saturn!”
Jupiter isn’t just the largest and most massive planet in the solar system — now, the gas giant also boasts the largest number of moons orbiting it after scientists discovered another 12 moons, bringing the behemoth’s total up to 92.
The orbits of the 12 hitherto undiscovered moons of Jupiter have been published by the Minor Planet Center (MPC) operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, according to a new report from Sky and Telescope. The dozen new moons represent a 15% increase in the planet’s known moons. With these new discoveries, Jupiter seizes the record for “solar system planet with most moons” from the previous record holder, Saturn.
Scientists have found 83 moons to date around the ringed gas giant, the second-largest planet in the solar system. However, astronomers have also found tons of rocks down to about 2 miles (3 kilometers) wide around Saturn without yet tracking the objects precisely, according to Sky and Telescope(opens in new tab). As instruments become capable of studying these smaller moons, Jupiter may have to relinquish its new title back to Saturn.
(8) WHO KNEW? “Scientists Discover Ants Can Sniff Out Cancer in Urine” says ScienceAlert.
… They conditioned 35 silky ants (Formica fusca) to associate healthy mouse urine with a sugar-water reward and another 35 to associate the smell of urine from mice carrying human cancer tumors.
It took only three training sessions for the ants to discriminate between odors. These ants are known for their fast learning and memory retention; they can be tested nine times without a reward before their responses start to fade.
In their previous study, the researchers found ants can distinguish between cancerous and healthy cell samples and different types of cancer cells.
Once trained, the ants spent around 20 percent more time near the target odor than others, looking for that sugary reward and incidentally providing a clear and accurate signal of the presence or absence of breast cancer in the mouse urine….
[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, and Chris Barkley for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day by Xtifr.]