Paul Weimer Review: The Collected Works of Roger Zelazny, Volume Four, Last Exit to Babylon

The Collected Works of Roger Zelazny, Volume Four, Last Exit to Babylon (NESFA Press, 2009)

Review by Paul Weimer. Last Exit to Babylon is the third of the six-volume NESFA collection of the work of Roger Zelazny.

Again, to get an overview of the project in progress and my thoughts on it, I commend you to my first three reviews, of Threshold, Volume One, and Power and Light, Volume Two., anThis Mortal Mountain, Volume Three.

Volume Four takes us into the later 1970’s and across the threshold into the early 1980’s. Once again, Christopher Kovac’s literary biography, toward the end of the book, gives the framework for the man whose stories and works we read in the course of the volume. And again, as acknowledged in the previous volumes, the copious noting and footnoting of the stories and poems often reveal parts of Zelazny’s life and career, as well as the more usual literary models.

The late 70’s and early 80’s were very much a switch to novels as the primary writing format for Zelazny. That does mean there are fewer stories in this volume, and Kovac’s discussion of Zelazny focuses a lot on his novels. Amber starts looming large in Zelazny’s life in this discussion and at this point, but so, too, his collaborations with Dick, Saberhagen, and other works.  I learned a lot about the later Zelazny and was particularly struck by a what-if that could have occurred.

Back when the world was young (okay, it was the early 1980’s), Robert Asprin put together what is for me still the definitive shared world anthology series: Thieves’ World. Thieves’ World brought together a plethora of writing talents to write stories in a secondary world set in a out of the way city at the edge of an Empire. Think Lankhmar if it sat far away from Rome and Rome had conquered it sometime ago, but Lankhmar simmers with resentment at being under Rome’s boot, and you can see what Thieves’ World and the city of Sanctuary are meant to invoke. It turns out that Zelazny HAD been invited to write for Thieves’ World, had initially accepted, but had to withdraw because of his schedule. I would have loved to have read a Zelazny story set in Sanctuary.  (To be fair, Zelazny missing out on Thieves’ World meant that when GRR Martin started Wild Cards, Zelazny made sure he turned in a story). But still, Zelazny writing in the world of Sanctuary is a what-if I would have loved to have read.

As far as the prose in this volume, it revolves mainly around three axes

The first is the “Legion” stories. I had only read the most famous of these. “Home is the Hangman”, but all three of the stories are collected here. For those unfamiliar, our nameless protagonist, when all the people in the world were being computerized and put into a worldwide database, managed to escape being included. As a result, he can’t use credit cards and a lot of modern conveniences, and has to live on cash and cash alone. But what this also means is that he is very much invisible to the system. As a result, he can go and do jobs that others can’t, he can slip in and use his skills (which are very much tied into engineering and computers) to solve problems and get answers. “Home is the Hangman” revolves around an interstellar telepresence (Waldo) robot which may have gained sentience, and its controllers and operators are suddenly all being killed upon its return to Earth. Is the robot gaining some sort of revenge? And if so, why? The previous two stories, which I had not read, are “The Eve of RUMOKO”, first in the trilogy and  “’Kjwalll’kje’k’koothaïlll’kje’k”.  The first story has to do with a rather audacious bit of geoengineering, trying to engineer the creation of a new undersea volcano and a new island chain. In a world where there are undersea habitats on the continental shelves, this turns out to be a spectacularly dangerous idea, and there are those who would sabotage the project, and cause chaos thereby.  The second story is also aquatic based and features our protagonist trying to figure out if a dolphin can be a murderer.  This story was clearly influenced by the work of John Lilly and dolphin intelligence and has a really solid feel of life in the islands. Having all three of the Legion stories, what I am reminded of is, strangely enough, is Buck Rogers in the 25th century. At the end of the pilot episode, it is pointed out to Buck that all the interstellar governments have all the files on people in all the others.  But Buck, being from out of time, is a complete cipher, and could thus be used as a spy and agent that no one knows anything about, and get things done that others can’t.

The second axis the prose runs around is more Dilvish the Damned stories. There are a couple of pieces here I’d not read before, and now I feel that I’ve read the entirely of the corpus. I’d only previously read some of the stories, and the novel, The Changing Land. Dilvish is one of Zelazny’s most driven and focused characters, his desire to find and confront Jelerak his overall obsession and desire. But when someone manages to throw you into hell for two hundred years, I guess you’d want revenge, too?  Most of the stories revolve around him getting ever closer to the sorcerer for a confrontation, running into former allies, apprentices, victims and other random people along the way. The style is pure Zelazny, with elements and touches that particularly make me think of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth.

But aside from Vance,  Dilvish really reminds me of Erekose, one of the aspects of Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion, given his part-Elvish nature and heritage, and that (in the novel The Changing Land) he does go up against “The Old Gods”.  I have gone on the record that I make it as headcanon that Dilvish is indeed one of Moorcock’s Eternal Champions and these stories, and now having the entire corpus of the series read at last, feel confident in my statement. (Concurrent with reading this volume, I also listened in audio to a collection that included some Dilvish stories)

And the third axis is The Last Defender of Camelot. Given its importance in the Zelazny corpus and canon, it deserves discussion in and of itself. The Last Defender of Camelot is the definitive story of the return of members of the Round table coming back, the main character being Launcelot du Lac. Launcelot has, thanks to some spell or curse or both, been living ever since Camelot working as a soldier and a fighter. He’s lost a step or two, but his skill and experience are unmatched. But why he should be living all this time and for what purpose comes clear when he runs into, unexpectedly, Morgan Le Fay.  Morgan helps Launcelot figure out who and why Launcelot has been living all this time, and for what purpose.  Merlin has plans, and they are ill plans indeed.  The thing about the story, when I first read it (and saw the Twilight Zone episode) is that it introduced me to the idea of Merlin as an antagonist, and it also gives an absolution to Launcelot.  Le Fay patiently explains to Launcelot that his idylls with Guinevere are, in her opinion, not the mortal and horrible sin that Launcelot thinks it is, because her arrangement with Arthur is, in the end, a political marriage and that Launcelot has been beating himself up unnecessarily for nothing. The story does also play on “The one last fight” trope of the aging warrior called upon to get into the ring one more time against fearful odds, and it plays that trope rather well. The story makes Launcelot the most human of all the people in Camelot. He’s not the perfect knight that his son is, he’s not the almost alien Merlin, he’s not Arthur, trying to keep the sandcastle of Camelot from being washed out by the tide. Launcelot is a good, excellent fighter who winds up falling in love and that love leads to tragic consequences.  It’s a brilliant story and one of Zelazny’s best works.

In addition to these three axes, we get poetry, some apocrypha (some of which, no surprise, is Amber-related), and a little bit of nonfiction, and appreciations as well. One of the most interesting of these to me shows Zelazny’s catholic and insatiable interest in things, and that is a previously unpublished nonfiction piece called “Black Is the Color and None Is the Number” .  Written in 1976, it is Zelazny discussing and thinking about something far afield from most of Zelazny’s work and interest — Black Holes. The footnotes and notes at the end do point out, and I had forgotten, that nearly two decades later, Zelazny did write a story about someone encountering a Black Hole in “The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker”.  But to read Zelazny’s collected thoughts and knowledge about Black Holes, something far removed from history and mythology, was a treat.  There are also notes, elsewhere in the volume, that he was interested in manned spaceflight and was disappointed in the end of the Apollo missions.

In the end, this fourth volume brings us to the early 1980’s, and shows Zelazny at the height of his popularity. There are definite tensions as Zelazny encountered and had to face people who had the opinion that he was past his prime and that he should return to the short stories of the 1960’s, but really, although not stated in the volume itself, given the realpolitik of making a living writing, it is no wonder that his focus at this point and here on out is to be able to write full time and that meant novels. (Zelazny also moved to Santa Fe at this point because he could write anywhere and he wanted to live near mountains). But even if the sheer output of stories is not in this volume (and I suspect in the last two volumes), this book remains the definitive collection on Zelazny.

Oh, and what does the title of this volume mean, you might ask? Well, the original title of Roger Zelazny’s novel Roadmarks (a favorite of mine) was, in fact, The Last Exit to Babylon. Given Roadmarks was written during this period, it is a very fitting title for this fourth volume in the NESFA collection.

Paul Weimer Review: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume Three: This Mortal Mountain

Review by Paul Weimer: This Mortal Mountain is the third of the six-volume NESFA collection of the work of Roger Zelazny.

 Again, to get an overview of the project in progress and my thoughts on it, I commend you to comments in my first two reviews, of Threshold, Volume One, and Power and Light, Volume Two.

Volume Three brings us from the late 1960’s into the early 1970’s. Once again, Christopher Kovac’s literary biography, toward the end of the book, gives the framework for the man whose stories and works we read in the course of the volume. I noticed the switch from lead to back matter between the first and second volumes. It feels like an evolution in the series, now that Zelazny is on stage, to let the works talk first, and then discuss the context of his life. Although, as always, the copious noting and footnoting of the stories and poems often reveal parts of Zelazny’s life and career, as well as the more usual literary models.

This is a transitional part of Zelazny’s career and it gets play from a couple of angles.  Before we dive in, the book acknowledges that for a spectrum of fans, by this point, after Lord of Light, Zelazny has seen his best work come out and he will never hit those highs again. It is true the number of awards and award nominations does fall away at this point.  It is also true as Kovacs details:

By 1972 Zelazny had largely dropped mythology from his writing. “Science fiction has pushed ahead and left some things behind. In changing, the science fiction world has changed me. I did sort of have to get rid of my gods. When I reached self-parody of myself, I had to stop.

“I have not resolved in my own mind the manner in which I will deal with mythological material in the future. I would have to find a different way of using it.

“My mythological material has been invaded by the light

It’s true. The furious and highest use of mythology in Zelazny’s work diminishes at this point (Creatures of Light and Darkness, of which I will say more shortly, being that final signpost). The Zelazny of the 1970’s and on would use Mythology more sparingly, rather than dumping the bag of contents into the blender, baking the dough and seeing what comes out of the oven. It wouldn’t be the end of mythology in Zelazny’s work, but it definitely marked a change in what he was doing. 

And while many seem to feel that meant Zelazny’s work diminished in quality after the work covered in the first two volumes, critic David Hartwell, in a piece at the front of the volume, disagrees:

A lot of people in the sf community felt that Roger Zelazny’s literary career began to decline at the end of the 1960s as his commercial reputation grew. Nine Princes in Amber, a hard-boiled adventure fantasy, sold well but was compared unfavorably to his best early work by most genre commentators… In spite of all the profound impact of his sixties work, his body of short fiction contains more masterpieces from later decades than from that first flowering.”

And so here we are, in the 1970s. A future fan writer (me) was born in 1971. Zelazny may have moved past the high mythology of Lord of Light, but his most successful series, the Amber Chronicles, was to take hold of his writing life.

And yes, like Banquo in Hamlet, The Ghost of Nine Princes of Amber is one that does haunt this book, and its publication does correspond with the other pieces that we find here in this volume. I admit freely that Amber is where I first encountered Zelazny (I think that is probably fairly well known in fandom at this point), and my love of his work grew from there. So the period in this volume, then, is prime material for me as a reader, since it shows Zelazny working and developing his craft in a period and a style and a level I had first come to him in. 

Let’s dig in.

It emerges that some of my favorite Zelazny pieces are collected in this volume. 

Let’s start with “The Game of Blood and Dust”, first published in 1975. It is a pinnacle of Change War sort of time travel stories, as history is changed by two beings again and again in a game. In a short space of a few pages, we get to see the blossoming of ideas of alternate worlds and jonbar points that could fill a Kevin Kulp Timewatch game. There is a playfulness and a pathos at the ending, as we figure out the changes the two beings have wrought have ended in our world…and that they are about to play again, and change our existence utterly.  There is a meta-thrill to that idea and it makes it one of my favorite Zelazny stories of any era.

I’ve never been a fan of the full novel Damnation Alley, and the movie, even with George Peppard fighting “killer cockroaches”, is too much camp for me. But the shorter novella story of Hell Tanner’s run across the United States to deliver medicine to Boston on time is a much more effective piece. You don’t have to like Hell Tanner much, but he gets the job done. I could see a bit of Snake Plissken in Hell Tanner, for certain, especially the raised-finger sort of ending that Tanner gives as a coda. It does occur to me that in an endless set of remakes that Hollywood seems to want, Damnation Alley hasn’t been touched…yet. Maybe The Walking Dead and the like has dried up the market.  Although, maybe if you had someone like Rhona Mitra or Millie Rae Brown play a genderflipped Hell Tanner, THAT could be fun. Hollywood, call me!

Anyway, moving on.

“Corrida” is a very dark and intense short story, inspired by Zelazny attending bullfights.  The utter confusion of the man thrust into the ring makes it a short and chilling piece. It’s not what you normally think of Zelazny — but the use of imagery, detail and sense and focus are absolutely all that.

Again, unusual for Zelazny, perhaps are a pair of stories, “Here Be Dragons” and “Way Up High”. They are, in fact children’s stories, that capture wonder, happiness, magic, and ultimately pushing back the boundaries of the unknown. “Here Be Dragons” is a story about cartography and maps and the titular warning and what happens when actual exploration and necessity hits the reality of what was formerly just blank map space and the unknown. 

“Way Up High”…well, reading that always makes me cry as we follow the story of Suzi as she meets and develops a friendship with  Herman, the pterodactyl.  Yes, a pterodactyl.  The last pterodactyl? Well, that would be telling but you can probably guess where this story goes. It’s a story of wonder, and sadness at the end of wonder. 

More typical and on brand for Zelazny is an excerpt from Creatures of Light and Darkness as Horus meets and encounters The Steel General. This volume reveals that the Steel General, in fact, was the initial seed for the book and things grew out from a being that would fight endlessly throughout history, even if utterly destroyed. Zelazny’s style of book writing, no surprise, was very much what we would call a Pantser, and in the case of Creatures of Light and Darkness, he started with The Steel General as a character and went from there. The “Agnostic’s Prayer” from this book appeared in the previous volume.

And then there is “The Man Who Loved the Faioli”. It is true that death, or immortals who defy death, are a common theme in Zelazny’s work. Some might say that most of Zelazny’s protagonists run around these two themes to a greater or minor key. “The Man Who Loved the Faoli” goes with the former. Again, we have an artist as the protagonist, and a very strange relationship between the dying artist and the creature come to witness his death. Or so the story should go. This being Zelazny, it takes a left turn at Albuquerque, in a sad and melancholy mood and key.

This book also covers the era where Zelazny started some more collaborations with other writers. There is “Come to Me Not in Winter’s White”, a collaboration with Harlan Ellison® that reminds me a bit of Time travel romances, and, it will make sense in context, The Pirate Planet in Doctor Who.  

 Although there are no excerpts from Zelazny’s novel length collaboration with Philip K Dick directly (Deus Irae), Dick, too, haunts the pages of this volume. In the non-fiction, we find the funny story of Zelazny and Dick at a SF festival in Metz, France (as it so happens, Ellison was there as well). We also get a poem from Zelazny on Dick, and we also get a story, new to me, written with Dannie Plachta, called “The Last Inn on the Road”. This story feels like it could almost be in the world of Deus Irae and I agree with the editor that it seems to have influenced that collaboration. 

There are some additional interesting curiosities as well.  

There is the “Deleted sex scene” between Corwin of Amber and Dara from the second Amber volume, The Guns of Avalon. Although I had heard about this scene, I had never read it before now.  Frankly, by the standards of today, if I were to write it and show it to say, Kit Rocha, I am pretty sure Bree and Donna would return it asking for at least some heat to the scene. 

Other curiosities include a couple of previously unpublished stories, a few GOH speeches, and of course, always the poetry. I was particularly intrigued by Bridge of Ashes, an outline for a book that, sadly and tragically, gets little coverage even from Zelazny’s most ardent fans (of which I am one).  Frankly, the 30,000 foot level outline here might, I think, be somewhat more effective in conveying matters than the book was when I read it. It does illuminate how ideas can go from outline to novel in ways that one does not entirely expect, or perhaps even want. I may owe myself a re-read of Bridge of Ashes, now.  There is also an outline of Doorways in the Sand, a more successful novel from Zelazny on every level, and a favorite of mine. And, especially given our economy and the problems of student debt, the idea of a student desperately trying to remain one forever to keep a trust paying room board and tuition feels awfully modern, doesn’t it?

Once again, in an excellent volume, NESFA has captured the soul and art of Roger Zelazny and in the period of work I first came to know it. I look forward to what comes next, in Volume Four: Last Exit to Babylon.

Paul Weimer Review: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume Two: Power & Light

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume Two: Power & Light. Edited by David G. Grubbs, Christopher S. Kovacs and Ann Crimmins. Cover art by Michael Whelan. (NESFA Press, 2009)

Review by Paul Weimer: Power and Light is the second of the six-volume NESFA collection of the work of Roger Zelazny.

 Much of what I said in my review of the first volume, Threshold, stands and is built upon, here. (Read the review of Threshold at the link). This volume, like it’s first, covers a slice of Zelazny’s work, and is full of biographical detail, strange and unusual pieces never seen before, and continues the device of putting most of the words under exegesis, untangling references common and oblique alike, giving a full view of the mythopoetic work that Zelazny was creating. Once again, we get a variety of poetry, incorporating whimsy, humor, and mythological themes alike.

This volume, whose slice concentrates on works from the mid 60’s, is much more about the meat and drink of his career, or to use the stellar metaphor I used previously, this is when the nova began to truly shine.  You’ll find the original Divlish the Damned stories here, for example, and having them together helped me appreciate him as a somewhat neglected icon of Sword and Sorcery. But there is plenty more: “Lucifer” and “For a Breath I Tarry”, “Auto-Da-Fe”, and a number of others you will likely recognize if you’ve read any SF from the period. I’ve loved and enjoyed many of these stories before, but I’ve never before had the context and positioning these stories are given here with other Zelazny works. The works involving vehicles, for example, a motif in this volume, all seem to stem from a serious auto accident he was involved in. Adding insult on top of injury, Zelazny’s father died while his then-girlfriend was recuperating from the injuries. That sort of biographical detail really helps contextualize these stories and give them additional meaning and insight.

 And I think that it helps make the individual stories and works stronger, and deeper and paradoxically harder to hurtle through, to take at speed. It seems that for me as a reader, and perhaps this is a warning to you, too, that Zelazny at the height of his powers is a strong draught of whatever spirit you want to name, or perhaps just a very strong tea if you do not. Reading, savoring and enjoying these stories was something I could not do for hours on end, for they invoked such imagery and power as to leave me giddy with delight, and the endless clouds of grey clearing to allow me to see the green field realms of myth and story beyond the glass barrier between the world. I took this book in stages, and every time I gave myself space to turn away and then return, the power of the words came flowing into me once again.  

 The volume claims that his shorter works contain his best writing, and certainly, in this second volume, that seems to be entirely the case for me, even given my longstanding and well known love of the longer forms of the Amber Chronicles and other novels he wrote.

 Some of these stories, though, were new and unheralded delights for me, too. For example. “Comes Now the Power”, which I have missed reading until this time even though it was a 1967 finalist for Best Short Story at the Hugos. It’s a short, sharp story about a telepath who is blocked, cannot use his power, and has not been able to for a couple of years now. A world that would not believe that he had such a power. And, then, he contacts someone else who has the same spark.  It feels like a brief antecedent by several years to Robert Silverberg’s novel Dying Inside, and in a weird timey wimey way giving an answer to Selig’s problems in a short few pages. Did Silverberg read the story and get inspired to write Dying Inside? I don’t know, and I would love to ask Silverberg if that was the case. Psionics and telepaths were certainly “in the water” in the 60’s and 70’s, but telepaths having problems with their powers are a much less common story motif. In any event, the two works feel like they are in dialogue with each other.

Or take his 1966 story “Love is an Imaginary Number”. Doing what Zelazny does best, diving into the world of myth, here he makes an interesting connection and junction I had never considered before.  What if you had a character who melded aspects of two mythological characters who are famous for being bound and tormented. Prometheus, and Loki. And, add to that, our protagonist can shift and change realities. Yet another idea that he would eventually take into later and longer works. 

 The real star of the volume, though, I think, even beyond his sizzling and scintillating stories, and even his poetry (recall what I said in the first review regarding his poetic nature) is the two parts of “…And Call me Conrad” aka This Immortal. This Immortal was an extraordinary work (it tied for Best Novel with a little known SF novel called Dune) and I want to talk about it. I had read it about a year ago for a podcast, and so I came to the story relatively fresh. So, instead of this being a read for me that was trying to cover ground I had read last years ago, I came to the reading of This Immortal with a strong and specific eye for detail.

And the detail I found. I completely missed in previous readings, intuited here, and was confirmed in the end notes the strong theory that Conrad is not just several hundred years old, but is indeed the Immortal of the title, and may just simply be the god Pan. The book is crammed with mythological motifs and ideas, and I see it as a waystop for him to develop ideas that he would later carry into things like Jack of Shadows, and the Amber series.  His dog, Bortan, the Hellhound, such a good and loyal dog. Prince Julian of Arden would be proud to have a dog like Bortan as part of his hounds, for certain. The subtlety of Conrad’s plan to deal with the Vegans, the emigres and everything else shows the patience of someone who lives a long time, but that circumstances and chance can upset even the most well layed plans. I had missed the detail about the deconstructing pyramid gambit in that former bit. And the story renewed my as yet unfulfilled desire to see Greece and Egypt. 

Overall, by this now second volume, I can see how the short fiction of Zelazny is definitely his work at its highest concentration, ideas and mythological concepts and motifs in their purest and most undiluted form. Neil Gaiman is quoted:  “Nobody else makes myths real and valuable in the way Roger Zelazny could”.  And he is absolutely right.

But to be sure, there is some nonfiction here, too. Zelazny was becoming a Big Deal at this time, his star burning bright. And so we get his Guest of Honor Speech from Ozarkon 2. This is an amazing piece because it shows how Zelazny thinks, how much he incorporated mythological themes and ideas into all of his writing, as he discusses the motif of the dying and resurrected god. The volume makes clear a lot of these speeches, with all of their value and humor, have NOT been collected; I am very glad this one survived, and is included in this volume, as well as the several other similarly formatted speeches and talks that are in this volume. 

Once again, in an excellent volume, NESFA has captured the soul and art of Roger Zelazny. I look forward to what comes next, in Volume Three, The Mortal Mountain.

Paul Weimer Review: Roger Zelazny’s Threshold

Threshold: The Collected Works of Roger Zelazny, Volume One. Edited by David G. Grubbs, Christopher S. Kovacs and Ann Crimmins. Cover art by Michael Whelan. (NESFA Press, 2009)

By Paul Weimer: Roger Zelazny. He came upon the SFF world like a nova, and sadly died too soon at 58. A beacon of the new wave, making a splash immediately with “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (1964 Hugo finalist) and writing through the 60’s and 70’s, his writing had an intensity about it that leaps off of the page, be in novels, short stories, or poetry.

Threshold is the first in a series of six volumes of collected stories by NESFA Press. As is the wont of NESFA’s organization, the volumes are in chronological order. Thus, this collects the earliest of Zelazny’s work. Thus, in addition to some of his early brilliant work (such as the aforementioned “Rose”) we also get some of the protostar origins of what would build toward his writing achievement and career such as fanzine work and drips and drabs. 

The collection is full of biographical and contextual detail for the works in afterwords and forwards that bookend each of them. There are also a few remembrances at the beginning as well. This doesn’t quite make the book a biography of Zelazny but Threshold could be considered a biography of Zelazny’s work, putting the stories , poems and fragments into perspective and parallel and dialogue with each other. Time and again, the volume shows how a work was clearly in the same vein or mining early fanzine and unfinished work you read earlier in this volume.  This gives the book a richness and a third dimension far beyond a simple cataloging and list of works.

Another quality of life, and one absolutely necessary in dealing with Zelazny and his work, is the untangling and cataloging of the various references. Zelazny’s work was and is rich with allusions, parallels, and borrowings, especially from mythologies and theologies all over the world. While I consider myself a fairly erudite and well read person, I found time and again, in these early works and stories, references that I did not get at all or understand, but the afterword happily lays out for the reader. 

“Nine Starships Waiting”, a Zelazny story I had never read before (first published in Fantastic 1963) is a great example of how this book manages it. While some references like Trotsky, the seals of the apocalypse, Cassiopeia, were clear to me, other references were more obscure and the afternotes illuminated what Kraepelin is referring to (mental disorder classification, or “Tonight in Samarkand”, a Deval melodrama).  But the entire story itself is based on an Elizabethan play, “The Revenger”, a favorite of Zelazny’s, and the end notes go into detail just what Zelazny was borrowing from that work.  

 This all reminds me of a different NESFA volume, and that is John Myers Myers’ Silverlock, where the book goes into detail pulling out all of the references that book is filled with, so that the reader can even more appreciate the subtlety and depth Zelazny brings. 

And his diversity. If you think Zelazny is just Amber fantasy, A Night in the Lonesome October, and not much else, this early first volume puts paid to that notion right away. There is a range and power to these early stories that show (as well as his fanzine stuff collected here) that Zelazny was clearly reading from and thinking about the writers who preceded and then he was writing in parallel with.  Take another new-to-me story, “The Malatesta Collection”. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that feels a bit like Dick, a bit like Leibowitz, and a lot like Zelazny, with the uncovering, after an apocalypse, of a trove of lost literature. I also found out in those aforementioned afternotes, just who the people in Rodin’s statue “The Kiss” are supposed to be (surprise, one of them is named Malatesta…) . “The Stainless Steel Leech”, again, feels a little bit like Dick and perhaps Bester and Sturgeon as well. This story, which pairs an unusual robot with the last Vampire, is all Zelazny, in the end, but one can trace science fiction he read through this and into it and see what Zelazny has alchemically made of it. 

And poetry! It should not surprise that Zelazny wrote poetry, rich and vivid and sometimes experimental from the get go. (His character Galagher in “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is, perforce, a poet). There is a poem devoted to the aforementioned Rodin sculpture, and many other ones, besides. Most of these are short, Zelazny does not go for the long epic form in any way, but the use of language and imagery is always memorable. There are some textual experiments (in length of lines) and other tricks Zelazny played as well.  

Poetry, as the volume’s thesis seems to make clear, is really the heart of Zelazny’s work, in general and particularly in this volume. Poetry was, in fact, Zelazny’s first love, first desire when it came to writing, but there are precious few ways a poet can make a living as a writer in that day and age (or this one for that matter). Zelazny turned to genre fiction to help pay the bills (as opposed to his mundane day job) but his love of poetry infuses this volume. And once again, see “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”, with its poet main character. A brilliant poet, a genius, someone who lives by his poetry. While people have pointed to Roger the guard in the Amber chronicles as Zelazny, especially because he is a writer, perhaps Gallagher, earlier, is as well. 

There are some curiosities here, as well, in the back portion of this substantial (576 pp) book.  A manuscript he stopped, and abandoned. A joking piece tuckerizing himself and his longtime friend Carl Yoke (who also has a forward piece on him and Zelazny) . Bits and bobs, as is expected for the first volume of this series. I expect these more unusual types of things will be less common as the series of stories progresses. 

My only regret is not diving into this volume sooner. In some ways, though, my delay in not reading this in the last ten years to be to my benefit. You might feel a little differently as to why. It turns out that the ebook edition of this is the 4th edition… Additional early items by Zelazny have been found, and added, to the ebook version of this collection. In many ways, this book was and is more of a living document, record, testimonial and biography of Zelazny’s work. 

But, lest you think that this is unpolished story gems all the way down, remember my comment before about Zelazny coming on the scene like a nova. The three big stories that anchor this book are the aforementioned Rose (his Mars story), “The Doors of his face, the Lamps of his mouth”, his Oceanic Venus story, and “He Who Shapes”, the novella that would eventually be expanded to The Dream Master.  Reading this original again, I am struck once more just how dense and potent the original length story is. It is my favorite of these “big three” in this volume, and it does a lot of what you are looking for in a Zelazny story at moderate length.

The editorial eye, the enunciation and elaboration of the imagery and ideas Zelazny uses, and the stories and poems themselves make me conclude that this is the sort of volume that if you are a Zelazny reader, you should beeline for (now that there are ebooks instead of the uncommon and expensive print versions). If you are just interested in excellent fantasy and science fiction, and seeing where one of the greats started, Threshold is your cup of tea, too. 

As for me, I look forward to finding time to diving into the second volume, Power and Light.

Pixel Scroll 11/5/23 Pixelman’s Scroll Is Half-Constructed

(1) PDA NOW OK. MovieWeb is on hand as “Doctor Who Boldly Overturns Its Outdated Classic-Era Show Policy”.

In the ever-evolving landscape of Doctor Who, the iconic British series has taken a recent turn that spotlights its growth from a stringent past. Known for its gallivanting through space and time, the beloved show is breaking down its own historical barriers, particularly one peculiar rule that harkens back to the 1980s….

…The pivot to emotional resonance is most pointedly realized in new scenes surrounding the omnibus of Earthshock, penned by Davies himself. Here, the Memory TARDIS acts as a vessel more for emotional catharsis than for space-time travel, facilitating a heart-to-heart between the Doctor and Tegan as they process the demise of Adric, a narrative beat scarcely imagined in the show’s earlier format where stiffer upper lips prevailed.

During the 1980s, producer John Nathan-Turner’s tenure was marked by an austere decree: no displays of affection within the TARDIS. Dubbed as the “no hanky panky” mandate, it stretched beyond romantic implications to ban even the simplest of hugs, lest they be misconstrued. This directive cast a chilly pall over the TARDIS, muting the warmth that might have been shared between the Doctor and companions. Davies, with a knowing wink, playfully critiques this through dialogue that bridges the three-decade emotional gap.

It’s through exchanges like the Fifth Doctor‘s quip, “We never really did this sort of thing, did we?” and Tegan’s response, “We do now!” that the series acknowledges its own thaw. This meta-commentary doesn’t just point to a thawing of the ’80s chill; it’s also a tribute to Davies’ contribution to the series’ tonal shift when he revived it in 2005….

(2) A BOOK WITH A JONBAR POINT. “Review: The Dragon Waiting, by John M. Ford” is shared by Rich Horton on Strange at Ecbatan.

…Somewhat miraculously, Isaac Butler, a journalist and new-hatched Ford enthusiast, was able to track down his heirs and untangle the issue, which was apparently largely due to his agent leaving the field approximately as he died. Thus many of his novels have been reprinted, and some more books may be in the offing. The first to be reprinted was The Dragon Waiting….

… I won’t say much more about the plot — perhaps I’ve already said too much. But it is rich and complicated, and there are many more fascinating characters to meet: Richard III, of course (though he’s not yet the king); a Christian Welsh witch named Mary Setright; Anthony Woodville, brother-in-law to King Edward IV, and man regarded as a renaissance man, England’s perfect knight; numerous other intriguers, including for example John Morton, rumored to be a wizard; and of course Edward’s young sons, the famous “Princes in the Tower”. There is lots of action — battles, daring rescues, desperate treks. There is lots of magic — wizardly spells, a remarkable dragon, alchemy. There are acts of wrenching heroism, and of dreadful treachery, and some that might be both at once. The resolution is powerful and moving. 

But most of all there is character. Cynthia’s agony over her acts of violence, in violation of her oath as a doctor. Hywel’s battles with letting is wizardly powers consume him — apparently always a danger. Dimitrios’ attempts to find a man to whom to be truly loyal. And Gregory’s agonized struggle with his vampiric needs. I am no fan of vampire novels, on the whole, but I rank two as truly worthy: George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, and this novel….

(3) THOSE SEVEN-LEAGUE BOOTS. “The business of mining literary estates is booming” reports The Economist.

LORD BYRON intended to publish his memoir, but his literary executor burned it instead. T.S. Eliot is thought never to have wanted songs made about his cats. Terry Pratchett, a British fantasy writer, had imagination: his former assistant honoured Pratchett’s wish to have a steamroller crush a hard drive containing the author’s unfinished stories.

Roald Dahl, author of dark, delightful children’s tales, might have done something equally drastic had he known scriptwriters would conjure up a teenaged Willy Wonka. Dahl, who died in 1990, detested the first film made of his “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. It is hard to imagine him cheering its prequel, “Wonka”, which will be released in December. In it, young Willy, played by Timothée Chalamet (pictured), faces off against a chocolate cartel.

Authors have long tried to control what happens to their works after they die—and mostly failed. Yet Dahl’s legacy represents a new twist in the tale. Huge sums paid in 2021 for his estate by Netflix, a streaming service, have helped spur a gold rush to mine dead authors’ estates. Once it was intrusion by snoopy biographers that worried writers most. Today it is the temptation among heirs to monetise every shred of creative output.

Voracious hunger for new content from streaming services and film studios is driving this new interest in old books. Shrewd video producers, faced with bidding wars for hot new titles, have turned to more affordable options: novels written decades ago. The rights for these “backlist” works generally belong to an estate for 70 years after an author’s death. After that, the work enters the public domain, and estates can no longer profit from or control it. Consider “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey”, a film released this year, in which Pooh and Piglet, A.A. Milne’s loveable, nearly 100-year-old characters, become bloodthirsty killers.

Copyright-protected works are ripe for technological transformation. They can be milked in various ways, including selling the rights for translations into new languages, permitting “continuation novels” penned by living authors and making streaming series. For example, “The Queen’s Gambit”, which is best known as a show on Netflix, was actually based on a novel published in 1983.

Traditionally, managing the intellectual property of an author’s estate was a low-key affair left to grand-nephews and harried former agents. The modern era of more actively exploiting rights began 15 years ago, when star agents in America and Britain started vying for the estates of Ian Fleming, Evelyn Waugh and Vladimir Nabokov. The heirs of Agatha Christie and Dahl, meanwhile, set up companies to oversee growing empires….

(4) CHENGDU WORLDCON ROUNDUP. [Item by Ersatz Culture.]

Part 4 of Arthur Liu’s con report

Although originally announced as a four-part series, the latest instalment ends on something of a cliffhanger on the night of the Hugos, so there should be a concluding part to follow.  This one is generally much more upbeat than the previous entries, although there are ominous hints about things to come in the final part. Extracts via Google Translate, with minor manual edits:

From this day [Thursday 19th] on, the number of foreign guests increased significantly. Based on my previous experience of attending conventions abroad, it might simply have been that they had just finished listening to panels, and had gone out to take a look around. Most of them were very interested in Chinese science fiction, and they were very happy to hear that there is such a comprehensive reference source as CSFDBCésar Santivañez, editor of Future Fiction’s Cuba department, mentioned their books and did some checking with the records in the database; Estonian critic Nikolai Karayev mentioned FantLab when he came over to talk; the founder of the MUFANT Science Fiction museum in Turin David Monopoli bought our association’s journal and asked if he could record a one-minute video to introduce it; Israeli science fiction writer Uri Aviv came over to talk and learned that I like Lavie Tidhar’s works and that I also live near to one of the buildings used on the cover of Central Station. He took out his cell phone and called me over to say hello to Lavie directly.

I got a little tired in the middle of the day, so I sat behind the table to rest. Zixuan happened to pass by and said hello to me. Just behind him came a kind and slightly older foreigner. When I looked, I realized that it was Andreas Eschbach! I had only just asked for his autograph the day before, but I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to meet him in person! His “The Hair-Carpet Weavers” is one of the best science fiction works I have read in the past two years. We exchanged contact information – and not long before writing this, he sent an email. Whilst making some suggestions for the database, he also congratulated me on being shortlisted for the Hugo Award and said that if there was anything I wanted to know about his work, to contact him at any time…

[After having dinner] I returned to my hotel. [Zhong] Tianyi spent a day writing his own story, and he recovered a little, but before dinner, I went to have a midnight snack with him again. From that night on, I began to feel my body temperature intermittently become unstable. However, the local temperature difference was also very large, and as I continued to be in a state of alternating excitement and nervousness, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Now that I think about it, it may be that this is where the disease started off [referring to the severe con crud he suffered after getting back to Beijing, which I mentioned in passing on some of the earlier reports].

At a barbecue shop on the night snack street, he and I discussed some general issues, and then ate grilled locusts for the first time in my life. It is this sort of the novel experience that is closest to the spirit of science fiction at this convention…

Working at the Glasgow Worldcon table was Ann Gry.  She was also one of the guest editors of “Journey Planet”.  It is an amazing thing is that many foreign friends present have participated in the editing of issues of this magazine, and there is a feeling that the world is full of talents. I told her about my plans to attend the con next year, and then exchanged some gifts. She also showed me an interactive narrative game called “Loop” made by her friend. During the exchange, many people came over to take photos and sign autographs – foreigners are really more popular than ever at this conference. I hope to see more Sino-international exchanges in Glasgow next year…

The meeting was coming to an end and everyone had to say a few words. I felt a little sorry for not hearing it clearly. Then the leader said it was okay and we would talk more about it when we came back. Then he asked me if I thought I had a good chance of winning the Hugo Award and gave me his best wishes. Although everyone knew that I was doing something in this area before, in general doing science fiction has always been a kind of double life like Batman for me.  Suddenly breaking out of that [private] circle feels very subtle, or wonderful – kind of like the atmosphere of Hell’s Kitchen or American Idol nearing the season finale…

When we arrived at the [Hugo] reception, we just passed by the group photo of the fan authors, as no one showed up. Officials from the World Science Fiction Convention in Seattle were handing out exclusive pins to the finalists at the entrance. This afternoon, RiverFlow was exhausted again, and had returned to the hotel to rest. We asked if we could pick it up for him, and they said no, they could send it to him later. Later, in an email, I learned that each shortlisted project would receive one, instead of each person receiving only one.

There were very few Chinese finalists at the reception. When we arrived, we only saw Regina Kanyu Wang and her partner. She took us to meet many other foreign finalists, such as Best Fan Artist finalist Richard Man, and Glasgow representative Vincent Docherty.  After a while, a tall man came over, and I recognized him as Chris M. Barkley, another of the Best Fan Writer finalists. Unlike us, he has been writing columns for decades – before the conference, he also advised foreigners to be friendly to the Chinese science fiction fans attending the conference – and he can be regarded as a senior fan, although he does not look old at all!   As soon as he heard that we were also finalists, he enthusiastically took a photo with us. The volunteers at the reception were recruited from nearby international schools. They came up to talk to us in English first, and then switched to Chinese. As the photoshoot was coming to an end, they took us to a nearby display table, where there were cloisonné enamel paintings carefully made by students from the Hua’Ai School [located across the road from the con venue, see Scrolls passim]. Everyone would receive one according to their preference. When receiving the gifts, Regina asked me to take a photo of her and [founder of publisher 8 Light Minutes Culture] Yang Feng. Not long after, the reception ended. Everyone split up into groups and took the shuttle bus back to the venue. The Hugo Awards party was about to begin.

This part also prompted Hugo winner RiverFlow to post another memory of the eventful evening of the Hugo ceremony, which he hadn’t mentioned in his own con report.

Purported “news” outlet apparently unable to count up to three

The byline indicates that it may be the Xinhua news agency rather than the People’s Daily that is the source for this English-language travesty, but the bottom of the piece credits a pair of “web editors”, so I feel that they are all equally culpable.

Extracts (my emphasis):

Hai Ya took away the Best Novelette award for “The Space-Time Painter” while well-known computer graphics artist Zhao Enzhe won the Best Professional Artist award…

In addition to the two [Chinese] winners, many other categories at this year’s Hugo Awards also featured Chinese authors and artists.

(Someone on Mastodon reported that they couldn’t access the original link, so I made a backup on archive.org.)

There was a similar, if not quite as blatant, omission in another Hugos writeup from the same agency/website.

Bilibili videos

I hadn’t checked this video sharing site for a few days, but there have been a few items of interest posted.

This one (uploaded by a game developer, I think) in vertical aspect is 13 minutes long, but from about 8 minutes in, it switches to a visit to a panda centre, and later on generic footage of Chengdu.  There’s no dialogue, so there aren’t really any translation issues, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the music they chose to overdub the video with.  I’m not sure when this was filmed; possibly before the con, or on one of the weekdays, given that much of the space seems fairly empty compared to most of the photos and videos we’ve seen.

One of the con’s interpreters posted a 2-minute video with English/bilingual captions.

This 10-minute Chinese-language video from (I think) a voice actor, doesn’t have too much that hasn’t been seen in prior photos or videos, but from around 2:45 she interviews Huawen, whose con reports were featured in a couple of recent Scrolls.  At 5 minutes in, she speaks with Hugo winner Hai Ya.  Warning: her presentational style is very “hyperactive YouTuber”, which some may find grating.

 (5) IN A POTHOLE IN THE GROUND THERE LIVED… “Mid-Earth Removals Limited” by R.S.A. Garcia is a free story at Sunday Morning Transport to encourage subscriptions.

Public works are extra problematic in the magical realm, as R.S.A. Garcia delightfully proves in this free, first story for the month of November.

(6) I SHOT THE SHERIFF, BUT I DID NOT SHOOT THE CEO. “Mattel’s ‘Barbie’ Script Notes to Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach Asked: ‘Does a Mattel Executive Have to Be Shot’ During Beach Battle?” reports Variety.

Barbie” screenwriters Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach recently joined Tony Kushner (“Angels in America,” “Lincoln”) for a discussion about the record-breaking Warner Bros. blockbuster and revealed one of the first notes Mattel gave them on the script: Please don’t have the Mattel exec stand-in characters be shot.

In the third act of “Barbie,” an all-out beach battle takes place between the warring Ken characters. It’s at this moment that Will Ferrell, playing the fictionalized CEO of Mattel, arrives in Barbieland along with his armada of nameless male Mattel execs. At one point one of these execs gets shot with a fake arrow during the ensuing, bloodless mayhem….

(7) A MIRROR TO SOCIETY. The New York Times interviews horror movie columnist Erik Piepenburg, “A Critic With Monsters on His Mind”.

In an article from this year, you also described “M3gan” as a gay movie. Do you think gay audiences have a special affinity for horror?

Well, I think all horror movies are about one of two things: trauma or gayness. That’s just my queer-theory lens that people can accept or reject. But in horror movies, there’s often this notion of otherness — of the monster existing outside of societal norms. I think queer audiences can align themselves with villains who feel like outsiders, like no one understands their feelings.

I also think queer audiences appreciate the outrageous, camp quality of horror. “M3gan” is a perfect example. The villain is a demon that you kind of want to be friends with. I know people in my life who can be monsters, but I love them anyway.

What trends are you seeing in the horror genre right now?

There’s certainly a lot of Covid-inspired films — movies about being locked up inside and fears about contagions. I would say another trend is the slow-burn horror movie, one that takes time to unfold instead of hitting you over the head with monsters, explosions, ghosts and conventional horror scares. The slow burn delivers tiny moments of unease so that by the film’s end, your entire body has become so tense that it’s hard to shake. Those are some of my favorites….

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born November 5, 1903 H. Warner Munn. Writer and Poet known in genre for his early stories in Weird Tales in the 1920s and 30s, his Atlantean/Arthurian fantasy saga, and his later stories about The Werewolf Clan. After making two mistakes in his first published genre story, he compensated by becoming a meticulous researcher and intricate plotter. His work became popular again in the 1970s after Donald Wollheim and Lin Carter sought him out to write sequels to the first novel in his Merlin’s Godson series, which had been serialized in Weird Tales in 1939. These novels were published as part of their Ballantine and Del Rey adult fantasy lines. The third novel in the series received World Fantasy and Mythopoeic Award nominations, he himself was nominated three times for the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and he was Guest of Honor at the 1978 World Fantasy Convention. He won the Balrog Award for Poet twice in the 80s, and received the Clark Ashton Smith Award for Poetry. (Died 1981.)
  • Born November 5, 1938 Jim Steranko, 84. His breakthough series was the Sixties “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feature in Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales and in the subsequent debut series. His design sensibility is widespread within and without the comics industry effecting even Raiders of the Lost Ark and Bram Stoker’s Dracula as he created the conceptual art and character designs for them. ISFDB says his first genre cover art was for C. C. MacApp’s 1969 Prisoners of the Sky. He was inducted into the comic-book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.
  • Born November 5, 1940 Butch Honeck, 83. Sculptor and Fan who learned mechanics, welding, machining, and metal finishing as a teenager, then went on to build a foundry and teach himself to cast bronze so he could create shapes that were too complex for welding. His bronze fantasy sculptures, which depict dragons, mythical creatures, wizards, and other fantasy-oriented themes, use the lost wax method with ceramic shell molds and are characterized by intricate details, mechanical components, humor, and surprise. He has been Artist Guest of Honor at several conventions, was named to Archon’s Hall of Fame, and won a Chesley Award with his wife Susan for Magic Mountain, the Best Three-Dimensional Art.
  • Born November 5, 1942 Frank Gasperik. Tuckerized in as a character in several novels including Lucifer’s Hammer as Mark Czescu, and into Footfall as Harry Reddington aka Hairy Red,  and in Fallen Angels, all by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. He was a close friend of both and assisted Pournelle on his Byte column. To my knowledge, he has but two writing credits which are he co-wrote a story, “Janesfort War”, with Leslie Fish that was published in Pournelle’s War World collection, CoDominium: Revolt on War World, and “To Win the Peace” also co-written with Fish which was published in John F. Carr’s War World: Takeover. He was a filk singer including here doing “The Green Hills of Earth”. (Died 2007.)
  • Born November 5, 1971 Rana Dasgupta, 52. UK-born author now resident in India. His Tokyo Cancelled, think Tales from the White Hart at least in tone, is fascinating. Equally fascinating though not genre at all is his Capital, the story of the city of Delhi. 

(9) NESFA PRESS RELEASES ZELAZNY SHORT FICTION AS EBOOKS. The NESFA Press’ six-volume series The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny is now available in eBook format — epub and mobi format.

For many years, the six-volume series, The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, has been available in a durable hardcover edition. NESFA Press is delighted to announce the release of these books in eBook format!

This series contains all the short science fiction of Roger Zelazny. Each story is enriched by editors’ notes and Zelazny’s own words, taken from his many essays, describing why he wrote the stories and what he thought about them retrospectively.

Each volume goes for $9.95.

  • Threshold: Volume 1, by Roger Zelazny
  • Power & Light: Volume 2, by Roger Zelazny
  • This Mortal Mountain: Volume 3, by Roger Zelazny
  • Last Exit to Babylon: Volume 4, by Roger Zelazny
  • Nine Black Doves: Volume 5, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Road to Amber: Volume 6, by Roger Zelazny

(10) GOODREADS SAYS IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING. “Goodreads Asks Users to Help Combat ‘Review Bombing’”Publishers Weekly has the details.

After a spate of criticism and concern over the summer, Amazon-owned Goodreads this week said it is working with users to combat what’s become known as “review bombing,” a practice in which users look to protest an author or book by swamping the book with one-star reviews and negative comments. In an October 30 message to the Goodreads community, officials reiterated the website’s policy to prohibit reviews and comments that “harass readers or authors, or attempt to artificially deflate or inflate the overall rating of books,” and encouraged users to report such behavior.

“Earlier this year, we launched the ability to temporarily limit submission of ratings and reviews on a book during times of unusual activity that violate our guidelines, including instances of ‘review bombing,’” the message states, adding that the site is currently “in the process of removing ratings and reviews” added during periods of “unusual” activity. “If you see content or behavior that does not meet our reviews or community guidelines, we encourage you to report it,” the message continues. “By alerting our team, you’ll be contributing to the overall community and helping keep Goodreads a place where people can come together to share authentic reviews and enjoy interacting with readers and authors of books they’ve loved.”

The message comes after a high-profile incident in June, in which Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert announced that she was pulling her new novel The Snow Forest, which was slated to be published by Riverhead in February 2024, after more than 500 Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian users slammed the book with negative comments and one-star reviews expressing concerns that the book—based only on a description, since the book had not yet been published—would “romanticize” Russia. Gilbert’s decision alarmed literary critics and freedom to publish advocates. It’s unclear when, or if, the book will be published. The book is not currently listed on Gilbert’s author page at Penguin Random House….

(11) THEY TORE DOWN PARADISE AND PUT UP A PARKNG LOT. Not so often anymore. Originally Los Angeles was regarded as a place that was too new to have history, let alone historic buildings. That attitude has changed over the past fifty years. “The Woman Who Has Fought to Save L.A. History From Demolition” – a New York Times profile.

…Many of Southern California’s most popular landmarks are still there because Los Angeles rallied. St. Vibiana’s Cathedral downtown, once on the brink of demolition, is now a thriving events center. The gorgeous Julia Morgan building that once housed the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where I used to work, is now a satellite Arizona State University campus. There’s a fight to save the bungalow where Marilyn Monroe died — a legend behind a wall in a cul-de-sac on a side street in Brentwood.

In a place with a history as growth-oriented as Southern California’s, the preservation of those properties has not been easy.

Next month, a leading voice in that effort, Linda Dishman, the president of the Los Angeles Conservancy, will pass the torch after 31 years at the organization, a nonprofit group that has been instrumental in saving pieces of Southern California’s past from bulldozers. The conservancy’s senior director of advocacy, Adrian Scott Fine, will succeed her.

Dishman and I chatted not long ago about history and growth in L.A., the nation’s second most populous city. Here is some of our conversation, lightly edited.

Los Angeles was just beginning to realize the value of historic preservation when you became the conservancy’s leader. What has changed since then?

Preservation has really become more of a commonly held value. I think of my first years, when we were fighting to save the Herald Examiner building. Fighting to save the Ambassador Hotel. Fighting to save the May Company. The Herald Examiner was going to be torn down for a parking lot, which seems so strange now. But that’s how little value people placed on these buildings and their history….

(12) BANANARAMA. Nerdist introduces us to the next ape movie: Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes Trailer Teases an Ape Tyrant on the Rise”.

A new entry into the world of Planet of the Apes is coming our way. And it picks up generations after we left Caesar and his tribe living peacefully in War for the Planet of the Apes. Trouble, of course, is brewing, as it naturally does in order for franchises to continue. And we can sense an epic conflict coming our way. The first teaser trailer for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes sets us up well for the “action-adventure spectacle” that awaits, promising ape tyrants, human friends, lots of danger, but also beauty. You can get your first look at what’s in store below….

[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Paul Weimer, Rich Horton, Andrew Porter, Ersatz Culture, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, and Cat Eldridge  for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Patrick Morris Miller.]

Warner Holme Review: Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson

Call Me Joe (The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson)
NESFA Press, 2009

Review by Warner Holme: Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson strongly starts off a NESFA Press series of volumes covering the work of one of the key 20th century writers of Science Fiction, Poul Anderson.

In the introduction, the editor, Rick Katze, states “This is the first in a multi-volume collection of Poul Anderson stories. The stories are not in any discernible pattern…” The pieces of fiction are an eclectic mix of early works in his oeuvre, mixed with poetry and verse that range across his entire career.

The contents include: Call Me Joe, Prayer in War, Tomorrow’s Children, Kinnison’s Band, The Helping Hand, Wildcat, Clausius’ Chaos, Journey’s End, Heinlein’s Stories, Logic, Time Patrol, The First Love, The Double-Dyed Villains, To a Tavern Wench, The Immortal Game, Upon the Occasion of Being Asked to Argue That Love and Marriage are Incompatible, Backwardness, Haiku, Genius, There Will Be Other Times, The Live Coward, Ballade of an Artificial Satellite, Time Lag, The Man Who Came Early, Autumn, Turning Point, Honesty, The Alien Enemy, Eventide, Enough Rope, The Sharing of Flesh, Barbarous Allen, Welcome,Flight to Forever, Sea Burial, Barnacle Bull, To Jack Williamson, Time Heals, MacCannon, The Martian Crown Jewels, Then Death Will Come, Prophecy, Einstein’s Distress, Kings Who Die, Ochlan and Starfog.

The introduction is not quite correct, in that the reader can find resonances between stories, sometimes in stories back to back. There are plenty of threads, and a fan of Anderson and his Nordic viewpoint might call it a skein, a tangled skein of fictional ideas, themes, ideas and characters. The same introduction notes that a lot of the furniture of science fiction can be found in early forms here, as Anderson being one of those authors who have made them what they were for successive writers. In many cases, then, it is not the freshness of the ideas that one reads these stories for, but the deep writing, themes, characters and language that put Anderson in a class of his own.

The titular story, for example, Call Me Joe, leads off the volume. It is a story of virtual reality in one of its earliest forms, about Man trying to reach and be part of a world he cannot otherwise interact with. Watchers of the movie Avatar will be immediately struck by the story and how much that movie relies on this story’s core assumptions and ideas. But the story is much more than the ideas. It’s about the poetry of Anderson’s writing. His main character, Anglesey, is physically challenged (sound familiar). But as a pseudoJovian, he doesn’t have to be and he can experience a world unlike any on Earth:

Anglesey’s tone grew remote, as if he spoke to himself. “Imagine walking under a glowing violet sky, where great flashing clouds sweep the earth with shadow and rain strides beneath them. Imagine walking on the slopes of a mountain like polished metal, with a clean red flame exploding above you and thunder laughing in the ground. Imagine a cool wild stream, and low trees with dark coppery flowers, and a waterfall—methanefall, whatever you like—leaping off a cliff, and the strong live wind shakes its mane full of rainbows! Imagine a whole forest, dark and breathing, and here and there you glimpse a pale-red wavering will-o’-the-wisp, which is the life radiation of some fleet, shy animal, and…and…”

Anglesey croaked into silence. He stared down at his clenched fists then he closed his eyes tight and tears ran out between the lids, “Imagine being strong!”

 Reader, I was moved.

That’s only part of the genius of Anderson’s work shown here. Anderson has many strings in his harp and this volume plays many of those chords.

There is the strong, dark tragedy of “The Man who Came Early” which is in genre conversation with L Sprague De Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall” and shows an American soldier, circa 1943, thrown back to 11th century Iceland and, pace Martin Padway, doing rather badly in the Dark Ages. Poul Anderson is much better well known for his future history that runs from the Polesotechnic League on through the Galactic Empire of Dominic Flandry, but this volume has three stories of his other future galactic civilization, where Wing Alak manages a much looser and less restrictive galactic polity, dealing with bellicose problems by rather clever and indirect means.

 And then there is his time travel tales. Time Patrol introduces us to the entire Time Patrol cycle and Manse Everard’s first mission. I’ve read plenty of his stories over the years, but this first outing had escaped me, so it was a real delight to see “where it all began”. A wildcat has oil drillers in the Cretaceous and a slowly unfolding mystery leads to a sting in the tail about the fragility of their society.  And then there is one of my favorite Poul Anderson stories, period, the poetic and tragic and moving “Flight to Forever”, with a one way trip to the future, with highs, lows, tragedies, loss and a sweeping look at man’s future. It still moves me.

And space. Of course we go to space.  From the relativistic invasion of “Time-Lag” to the far future of “Starfog” and “The Sharing of Flesh”, Anderson was laying down his ideas on space opera and space adventure here in these early stories that still hold up today. “Time-Lag’s” slow burn of a captive who works to save her planet through cycles of invasion and attack, through the ultimate tragedy of “Starfog” as lost explorers from a far flung colony seek their home, to the “Sharing of Flesh”, which makes a strong point about assumptions in local cultures, and provides an anthropological mystery in the bargain. “Kings Who Die” is an interesting bit of cat and mouse with a lot of double dealing espionage with a prisoner aboard a spacecraft.

Finally, I had known that Anderson was strongly into verse and poetry for years, but really had never encountered it in situ. This volume corrects that gap in my reading, with a variety of verse that is at turns, moving, poetic, and sometimes extremely funny. The placing of these bits of verse between the prose stories makes for excellent palette cleansers to not only show the range of Anderson’s work, but also clear the decks for the next story.

The last thing I should make clear for readers who might be wondering if this volume truly is for them to is to go back to the beginning of this piece. This volume, and its subsequent volumes, are not a single or even multivolume “best of Poul Anderson”. This is a book, first in a series, that is meant to be a comprehensive collection of Poul Anderson. This is not the book or even a series to pick up if you just want the best of the best of a seminal writer of 20th century science fiction. This volume (and I strongly suspect the subsequent ones) is the volume you want if you want to start a deep dive into his works in all their myriad and many forms. There is a fair amount from the end of the Pulp Era here, and for me it was not all of the same quality. I think all of the stories are worthy but some show they are early in his career, and his craft does and will improve from this point.  While for me stories like the titular Call Me Joe, “Flight to Forever”, “The Man Who Came Early”, and the devastating “Prophecy” are among my favorite Poul Anderson stories, the very best of Poul Anderson is yet to come.

(NESFA, 2009)


Often shy and retiring Warner Holme has worn many hats over the years. He has worked in fields ranging from the medical to advertising, but always finds himself most at home among stories and words. He can usually be found in the mid-south, caring for some person or animal, and is almost never more than a meter away from a few books.

Pixel Scroll 9/17/21 I Want To Scroll What The Pixel On The Table Number 5 Is Scrolling

(1) STATUES OF LIMITATIONS. After much consideration, Constance Grady says overthinking the book was a mistake: “The meditative empathy of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi” at Vox.

…The first time I read Piranesi, I scribbled notes about each statue. The minotaurs by the entrance to the House evoke the myth of the labyrinth, which is what the wicked Laurence Arne-Sayles calls the House. An elephant carrying a castle puns on the famous Elephant and Castle inn in London. A woman carrying a beehive — well, certainly that could be a reference to any number of classical myths, which tend to feature bees as a chthonic symbol for life, death, and the soul.

But early on, Clarke makes a point of aiming her readers away from such mechanical, goal-oriented reading.

Piranesi knows of only one other living human, a man he calls the Other who visits the House every so often. The Other believes that the House contains the key to some secret Knowledge that mankind used to possess but has now lost. Once he gets it back, the Other believes, he’ll have the power of flight, immortality, and control over weaker souls.

Piranesi dutifully searches the House for the Knowledge the Other is seeking, but without all that much interest. Eventually, he is struck by an epiphany: The Knowledge, he realizes, is not the point of the House….

(2) LET’S HEAR FROM A PICKER OF LOW-HANGING FRUIT. The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost demands to know “Why Are Ebooks So Terrible?”

…If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why…

(3) FOUNDATION BUILDERS. ComingSoon introduces a short video with quotes from the showrunner David Goyer:“Foundation Featurette: Apple Brings the Sci-Fi Masterpiece to the Screen”

…The Foundation featurette highlights the massive influence it had on other popular sci-fi stories including Dune and Star Wars. They also talked about the process of finally adapting the novel to the screen after several decades since it was first published. They also went on to tease the series’ epic scale in terms of storytelling, ambitious story, characters, and world-building….

(4) HEADLEY’S BEOWULF TRANSLATION WINS AWARD. The Academy of American Poets announced that Maria Dahvana Headley’s Beowulf: A New Translation has won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, a $1,000 prize recognizing a published translation of poetry from any language into English that shows literary excellence. Indran Amirthanayagam judged.

(5) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman posted a bonus episode of Eating the Fantastic podcast to let you listen to four comic book cognoscenti celebrate Steve Ditko.

Javier Hernandez, Zack Kruse, Carl Potts, and Arlen Schumer 

Last Saturday, something magical happened at the Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown Pennsylvania — a one-day mini-convention was held to honor a hometown hero, the legendary Steve Ditko. And because the event was organized with the cooperation of his family, I was not only able to spend time with other comic fans and creators, but was privileged with the presence of Ditko’s nephews and brother as well.

Since you couldn’t be there with me, I decided to get some of the mini-con’s special guests to share their stories here about Steve Ditko’s life and legacy. Because this is a podcast which uses food to loosen the tongues of its guests, and since there was no time during the short one-day event to head out for lunch or dinner, I brought along a Spider-Man PEZ dispenser so I could offer my guests candy. Plus I ran over to Coney Island Johnstown — in business for more than a century — and picked up some gobs — think of them as a regional variation of whoopee pies — which I handed out to some of my guests before we began chatting.

As I wandered the exhibitors area, I was able to grab time with four guests — Javier Hernandez, Zack Kruse, Carl Potts, and Arlen Schumer — all of whom had taken part earlier that day on a panel about Steve Ditko.

(6) BOOK REVIEW OF VERY OLD RIDDLES. Paywalled at the New York Times, “What Has One Eye and 1,200 Heads? An Old English Riddle, That’s What!”, reviewing) The Old English And Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition (Harvard University, $35), a comprehensive new collection beautifully edited by the Oxford professor Andy Orchard, demonstrates, everything you need to know about crosswords you can learn from Anglo-Saxon riddles: Riddles are the ür-crossword puzzles.

Daniel Dern sent the link with these notes:

While probably most anybody these days, fan or otherwise, is familiar with the Bilbo/Gollum “Riddle” chapter in THE HOBBIT, ditto more generally with Batman’s riddlemanic foe “The Riddler,” how many fans instantly flash on (or more to the point, what’s the rough age threshhold below which fans don’t) the (sf) book citation for “What city has two names twice?”), or simply “Do you like riddles? Raetseln?” [Dutch, spelling here from memory, but that I could look up in my copy of the book if need be ]

Answer (rot13’d)

“Rneguzna, Pbzr Ubzr” — Ibyhzr 3 bs Wnzrf Oyvfu’f PVGVRF VA SYVTUG grgenybtl

That said, the essay/review itself is somewhat dry — it doesn’t even offer a sample riddle until at least halfway through. Probably worth at least library-borrowing, though.

(7) FIYAHCON 2021. The online con is in full swing and the committee is making available videos of some of its panels here.

(8) BASEDCON. Rob Kroese’s BasedCon starts today.

Well, the cons I’m familiar with, if they hadn’t stayed in the black the first year there’d have been no second year. Surprising to hear there’s another kind.

(9) EARLY TREKZINES. The Internet Archive includes a “Media Fanzine Collection”. Skipping past the intro, I was intrigued to see some of the well-known early Trek fanzines displayed, such as Spockanalia. The cover on the example here boasts “Third Printing.” Holy cow – a fanzine with a demand that took multiple editions to satisfy! I blush to admit I still haven’t unloaded all the copies of the early mimeo issues of File 770.

The practice of making media print zines began in the late 1960s via science fiction fandom where fanzines had been a popular fan activity since the 1930s. However, the content of science fiction zines is very different, consisting mostly of non-fiction and discussion about a variety of fannish topics, whereas media fanzines include, or consist solely of, fanfiction, art, poetry, as well as discussion, usually about television shows, films, and books. 

(10) EMMY BRACKETS. JustWatch.com, the streaming guide, sent along this set of Emmy nominee brackets, based on the audience approval scores their users have given them. Unfortunately, the only genre show that doesn’t get its ass kicked is The Underground Railroad. Even a phenomenonally popular show like The Mandalorian can’t get out of the first round. It is to weep. [Click for larger image.]

(11) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • 1964– Fifty-seven years ago this evening on ABC, a certain witch charmed her way into American homes as Bewitched first aired. It was created by Sol Saks who had done nothing notable before this and departed the show after the pilot was shot. It starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the good witch Samantha Stephens and two different men as her husband, Dick York for the first five before he became very ill, and Dick Sargent for the final three seasons. It did phenomenally well in the ratings early on but sagged later and eventually was cancelled. Hanna-Barbera produced the opening animation credits which you can see here.

It got remade as a film with Nicole Kidman which was not at all beloved by the audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes who currently give it a twenty five percent rating and it faired quite poorly at the box office, not breaking even. Oh, and there was a Seventies spin-off involving her daughter called Tabitha that had two pilots (the first tested quite badly) and lasted just eleven episodes.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 17, 1885 — George Cleveland. Actor who filmed scenes as Professor Hensley in a pair of Thirties Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (the latter saw his scenes get deleted). He later shows up as in the Drums of Fu Manchu serial as Dr. James Parker. (Died 1957.)
  • Born September 17, 1908 — John Creasey. English crime and SF writer who wrote well over than six hundred novels using twenty-eight different names. His SF writings were mostly in the Dr. Palfrey series, a British secret service agent named Dr. Stanislaus Alexander Palfrey, who forms Z5, which definitely has elements of SF. (Died 1973.)
  • Born September 17, 1917 — Art Widner. Editor of three well-known fanzines (Fanfare, Bonfire and YHOS). He’d eventually publish some one hundred sixty zines. He was one of the founding members of The Stranger Club, the pioneers of Boston fandom. He chaired Boskone I and Boskone II, the first two Boston SF conventions. He would be nominated for four Retro Hugos, and become a First Fandom Hall of Fame member. (Died 2015.)
  • Born September 17, 1920 — Dinah Sheridan. She was Chancellor Flavia in “The Five Doctors”, a Doctor Who story that brought together the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Richard Hurndall portrayed the First Doctor, as the character’s original actor, William Hartnell, had died. If we accept Gilbert & Sullivan as genre adjacent, she was Grace Marston in The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan. (Died 2012.)
  • Born September 17, 1928 — Roddy McDowall. He is best known for portraying Cornelius and Caesar in the original Planet of the Apes film franchise, as well as Galen in the television series. He’s Sam Conrad in The Twilight Zone episode “People Are Alike All Over” and he superbly voices Jervis Tetch / The Mad Hatter in Batman: The Animated Series. And for your viewing interest, a clip from the Carol Burnett Show with Roddy McDowall wearing Planet of the Apes makeup here. (Died 1998.)
  • Born September 17, 1939 — Sandra Lee Gimpel, 82. In Trek’s “The Cage”, she played a Talosian. That led her to being cast as the M-113 creature in “The Man Trap”, another first season episode. She actually had a much larger work history as stunt double, though uncredited, showing up in sixty-eight episodes of Lost in Space and fifty-seven of The Bionic Woman plus myriad genre work elsewhere including They Come from Outer Space where she was the stunt coordinator.  
  • Born September 17, 1951 — Cassandra Peterson, 70. Yes, she’s Elvira, Mistress of The Dark, a character she’s played on TV and in movies before becoming the host of  Elvira’s Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation show in LA forty years ago. She’s a showgirl in Diamonds Are Forever which was her debut film, and is Sorais in Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. 
  • Born September 17, 1996 — Ella Purnell, 25. An English actress best remembered  as Emma in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children film. She’s also in Kick-Ass 2 as Dolce, she’s Natalie the UFO film that stars Gillian Anderson, and she was the body double for the young Jane Porter in The Legend of Tarzan. In a genre adjacent role, she was Hester Argyll in Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence.

(13) COMICS SECTION.

(14) WARP DRIVER. Laughing Squid draws attention to “A Campy Mercedes-Benz Ad That Inserts Their New 2021 Electric Vehicle Into a 1979 Science Fiction Film”. And remember – you can never have too many tentacles.

“Mercedes-Benz “Future 2021” is a wonderfully campy ad by Nina Holmgren that inserts their new Mercedes-Benz electric G-Wagen vehicle for 2021 into a very over-the-top science fiction film of the late 1970s. This future, which could ever only be dreamed of back in 1979, has finally come true today.

(15) MAYBE HE WAS ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION? In The Hollywood Reporter “LeVar Burton Says He’s Over ‘Jeopardy!’ Debacle”. Now, he told the host of The Daily Show, he’s thinking of developing his own game.

…Through the host replacement mess, Burton admitted to [Trevor] Noah he discovered he was not that interested in the gig after all.

“The crazy thing is that when you set your sights on something, you know, they say be careful of what you wish for, because what I found out is that it wasn’t the thing that I wanted after all,” said Burton. “What I wanted was to compete. I mean, I wanted the job, but then when I didn’t get it, it was like, ‘Well, OK, what’s next?’ And so, the opportunities that have come my way as a result of not getting that gig, I couldn’t have dreamt it up. If you had given me a pen and paper and said, ‘Well, so what do you want this to really look like?’ If it doesn’t include Jeopardy! I wouldn’t have been this generous to myself.”

Not going into too much detail, Burton said he had something in the works he was sure his fans were going to enjoy, saying, “I never thought about hosting any other game show outside of Jeopardy! But now, they went in a different direction with their show, which is their right, and now I’m thinking, ‘Well, it does kind of make sense, let me see what I can do.’ So we’re trying to figure out what the right game show for LeVar Burton would be.”…

(16) CORRECTED EDITION. The NESFA Press is letting everyone know they put out a new edition of their ebook Ingathering by Zenna Henderson that fixes the problems mentioned in a Tony Lewis quote run in a recent Scroll.

We have updated the contents of the NESFA Press eBook of Ingathering by Zenna Henderson. This second edition was necessary due to several OCR issues. NESFA Press is committed to the highest quality in the content of our books and will aggressively address any typos or other problems with the text of our eBooks.

To purchase the new version of Ingathering, go to the NESFA Press online store: http://nesfapress.org/, and search for “Ingathering”. People who have purchase the previous version of Ingathering, can download the new version using the link they received. Please direct any problems or questions to the email address below.

(17) UNDER THE NAME OF SANDERS. Inside the Magic tells how “YOU Can Stay at Winnie the Pooh’s House in the Hundred Acre Wood”. Photo gallery at the link.

If you love Winnie the Pooh characters — and, really, who doesn’t adore A.A. Milne’s “Silly Ol’ Bear” and all of his friends? — you’re going to want to bounce like Tigger when you see Airbnb’s latest offering, designed especially for the 95th Anniversary of the Hundred Acre Wood pals….

(18) WHY AM I BACK? SYFY Wire introduces a “Robot Chicken clip with Seth MacFarlane as Palpatine”.

…Now into its 11th season, Adult Swim’s longest running series is currently airing new episodes daily at midnight ET/PT. Among all the madness, there’s a sketch that confronts that really confounding plot point in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that finds Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) suddenly returning from The Return of the Jedi dead… just because. Ahead of its upcoming debut, SYFY WIRE has an exclusive look at the sketch, which features Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, The Orville) voicing the mechanically challenged Palps….

(19) HARRY POTTER’S FLAGSHIP. Is it a store? A theme park? It’s whatever you need it to be to separate you from your cash! The Drum takes us on a tour: “Inside Warner Bros’ spellbinding retail experience Harry Potter New York”.

…All of these elements create a retail experience that speak to consumers’ growing demands for experience-infused shopping, says Warner Bros’s vice president and general manager of retail experiences Karl Durrant. “There is no doubt that consumer behavior has changed. Digital retail was becoming popular even before the pandemic hit. It’s more important than ever to give consumers a reason to visit a store and to make it an event.”

And to bring the immersive feeling to another level, Warner Bros, in partnership with Dreamscape Immersive, developed two unique VR experiences that bring visitors into the action. In ‘Chaos at Hogwarts’, users join Dobby in an adventure around Hogwarts to immobilize and collect pixies that the house elf accidentally released. The second VR experience, ‘Wizards Take Flight’, invites users to zoom around the skies above London via broomstick, warding off evil Death Eaters alongside Hagrid….

(20) ROBOCOP, TAKE TWO. “Singapore has patrol robots now! This should be fine” says Mashable. I like to think they will be programmed to keep making mad R2-D2 chirps at smokers til they snuff those ciggies.

Some robots were made to be your best friend. Some to unload 1600 boxes an hour. Some to do backflipspaint masterpieces. Some to inspect crime scenes. Others will tell you to quit smoking in prohibited areas and stop riding your motorbike on the footpath.

Singapore has started testing patrol robots that survey pedestrian areas in the city-state, where surveillance is a top and often controversial priority….

Named Xavier, the mall-cop robots will be autonomously rolling through the Toa Payoh Central district for three weeks from Sept. 5, scanning for “undesirable social behaviours” according to a press release (via Engadget) from the government’s Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX)….

(21) SIXTEEN SCROLLS. “Tennessee Cora” Buhlert was inspired by the title of yesterday’s Scroll to drop an instant classic in the comments.

Sixteen Scrolls
(with apologies to Merle Travis and Tennessee Ernie Ford)

Some people say a man is made outta mud.
A Filer’s made outta books, cons and blood,
Books and blood and films and cons.
We may look weak, but our minds are strong

You read 16 scrolls, what do you get?
Another day older and more books unread.
St. Leibovitz, don’t call me ’cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the Mount Tsundoku.

I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up a novel and said, “This looks fine.”
I read 16 pixels of number nine scroll
and the straw puppy said, “Well, a-bless my soul”

You read 16 scrolls, what do you get?
Another day older and more books unread.
St. Leibovitz, don’t call me ’cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the Series Hugo.

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain.
Reading and writing are my middle name.
I was raised in the library by an old mama lion
and no rabid puppy will make me walk the line

You read 16 scrolls, what do you get?
Another day older and more books unread.
St. Leibovitz, don’t call me ’cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the Novel Hugo.

If you see us comin’, better step aside.
A lotta dogs didn’t, a lotta dogs cried.
One fist science fiction, the other fantasy.
If the right one don’t get you
Then the left one will.

You read 16 scrolls, what do you get?
Another day older and more books unread.
St. Leibovitz, don’t call me ’cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the Mount Tsundoku.

(22) WEBINAR WITH BROTHER GUY. Brother Guy Consolmagno will be doing a Zoom event on October 1. “Your God Is Too Small: Vatican Observatory Director to offer a cosmic point of view in upcoming webinar”. Register to receive the link and a reminder. [Via Susan Schwartz.]

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is speaking on the contrast between the world and the cosmos that is becoming blurred as we begin to learn of the vastness of the cosmos in an upcoming Zoom event.

The free webinar, “Your God is Too Small,” will be hosted by the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS) and Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) on Friday, October 1, at 5 p.m. CDT. Those interested in attending can register here. Also the event will be livestreamed on LSTC’s Facebook page.

“We need to understand that all those other planets are real places, part of the same universe created by God and redeemed by the Incarnation,” writes Consolmagno. “And God is Creator not only of other places but other times, before and beyond the time when we exist here on Earth.”

His presentation will dive into the meaning of being redeemed by the risen Christ in light of the immensity of time and space.

Br. Guy received the 2014 Carl Sagan Medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences. He is the author or co-author of four books exploring faith and science issues, including, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? (with Paul Mueller), God’s Mechanics, Brother Astronomer, and The Way to the Dwelling of Light.

“It is rare to find someone so accomplished in science, theology, and philosophy, who can also communicate complex topics clearly to a general audience. Br. Guy is one of the best story-tellers I’ve ever known,” said Grace Wolf-Chase, senior scientist and senior education and communication specialist at the Planetary Science Institute.

(23) HONESTLY. In “Honest Game Trailers: Psychonauts 2” on YouTube, Fandom Games says this game features weird worlds, and characters whose heads weigh as much as their bodies.  But don’t expect any action, because ‘playing Psychonauts for the combat is like eating at Taco bell for the diarrhea.”

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, N., Daniel Dern, Rick Kovalcik, Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Peer.]

Pixel Scroll 9/12/21 The Old File-Hidden-In-The-Pixel-Scroll Trick

(1) THE TROUBLE WITH KIBBLES. With Camestros Felapton 63 chapters into Debarkle, a chronicle of how the Sad/Rabid Puppies were the sff genre’s reflection of broader right-wing movements, John Scalzi shares his own retrospective “Thoughts on the ‘Debarkle’” at Whatever.

1. It really does seem like so long ago now. The nonsense the Sad/Rabid Puppies (henceforth to be referred to as “the Pups”) perpetrated is largely contained in the years of 2014 – 2016, and while that’s not actually all that long ago — a mere five years since MidAmericon II, where new Hugo nomination rules were ratified to minimize slate nominating, and NK Jemisin won the first of her three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards — it feels like a distant memory now, a kind of “oh, yeah, that happened,” sort of event.

There are reasons for that, but I think the largest part has to do with the fact that the Pups, simply and bluntly, failed at every level that was important for their movement. The bifurcated goals of the Pups were to champion science fiction with a certain political/cultural point of view (i.e., largely white, largely conservative), and to destroy the Hugos by flooding the nominations with crap. They did neither very well. Toward the former, the material they slated was largely not very good, and with respect to the latter, the Hugos both still persist and remain a premier award in the field.

Their strategy was bad because it was addressing a problem that largely did not exist and was arrived at in a backward fashion, and their tactics were bad because they exploited loopholes and antagonized everyone who was not part of their clique, activating thousands of dormant Hugo voters against them. They were routed through a simple mechanism for which they had not accounted (“No Award”), and once their slating tactic was blunted by a nomination rule change, they flounced entirely.

When your only track record is that of complete failure, it’s not surprising you don’t have much of an impact….

John Lorentz says in a comment there:

As the 2015 Hugo Administrator, I can tell you that five years (or six years since it affected me directly), is not nearly enough to for me to forget it.

I used to enjoy administering the Hugos (I’ve done it four times)–2015 was a shit show that destroyed any joy I had regarding the Hugos. in the long run, the Puppies didn’t affect the field, but they sure affected me.

Also:

It was, however, the only thing I’ve ever been involved with that has show up both as a question on Jeopardy and a song on Doctor Demento.

So there’s that.

(2) WHOSE FAULT? Paul Weimer finds more than he expected, as he explains in his review for Nerds of a Feather: “Microreview [book]: Fault Lines by Kelly Jennings”.

…Like that original story, and like the other stories in that anthology by other authors, the central characters in the universe that Jennings has constructed here and the central characters are women (and note the name of Velocity’s ship). Given the preponderance of men as leads of a lot of space opera to this day, Jennings’ work is a refreshing rebalancing of that. The novel is a two-hander, with Velocity Wrachant, captain and owner of the Susan Calvin, and Brontë, a young woman who is far more than she first appears.

The story’s point of view focus on both Velocity and Brontë, although we do not see the latter’s point of view until her hijacking, and even then, it is initially months in the past. I didn’t like her at first: after all, she HAD hijacked Velocity’s ship, and I thought at first that the flashbacks from her point of view were merely to flesh her out and give us perspective and point of view to sympathize with her, however grudgingly so. As the back half of the narrative continued to build and events in the present continued, I saw the careful crafting of plot, and the central mystery at the heart of Fault Lines….

(3) HANNA MEMORIES. Joseph Nicholas penned The Guardian’s “Judith Hanna obituary”.

During her 30 years of working for a range of campaigning bodies and NGOs, my wife, Judith Hanna, who has died aged 67 of liver cancer, saw concern about the environment go from a fringe issue for community activists to a mainstream subject with a professionalised career structure.

Her life and career embodied the principle of “being the change you want to see”, through such local activities as organising annual seed swaps, promoting community gardens, calling for traffic calming measures in residential streets and, at national level, working for nuclear disarmament and better public transport. In her final role, as a social evidence principal specialist at Natural England, she promoted the now widely accepted health benefits of everyday contact with the natural world….

(4) BOLTS FROM THE BLUE. In the Future Tense newsletter, Torie Bosch says “We need a Muppet version of Frankenstein”.

On Aug. 30, my heart broke a tiny bit.

That day, the Guardian published a remarkable interview with Frank Oz, Jim Henson’s longtime collaborator and the puppeteer behind Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and other classic Muppets. Oz hasn’t been involved with the Muppets since 2007, three years after Disney purchased the franchise. He tells the Guardian: “I’d love to do the Muppets again but Disney doesn’t want me, and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me for 10 years. They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in. He added of the post-Disney Muppet movies and TV shows: “The soul’s not there. The soul is what makes things grow and be funny. But I miss them and love them.” As a lifelong Muppets fan, I have to agree: There were delightful moments in the Muppet reboots of recent years, but they were a little too pale, the chaos and the order a little too calculated.

But I think that there’s a way to bring the Muppets back, one that could also—and here comes the Future Tense agenda—help spark smart  discussions about scientific ethics, especially around what it means to be human and how to approach innovation responsibly. We need Frank Oz to helm a Muppet Frankenstein….

(5) I AM THE FIRE. Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova discusses “Einstein’s Dreams: Physicist Alan Lightman’s Poetic Exploration of Time and the Antidote to the Anxiety of Aliveness”.

“When you realize you are mortal,” the poet, painter, and philosopher Etel Adnan wrote while regarding a mountain, “you also realize the tremendousness of the future.” A decade earlier, shortly before a heart attack severed her life-time, Hannah Arendt observed in her superb Gifford Lectures lectures on the life of the mind that our finitude, “set in an infinity of time stretching into both past and future, constitutes the infrastructure, as it were, of all mental activities.” While Arendt was composing these thoughts and silent cells were barricading one of her arteries, Ursula K. Le Guin was composing her novelistic inquiry into what it means to live responsibly, observing: “If time and reason are functions of each other, if we are creatures of time, then we had better know it, and try to make the best of it.” A generation before her, Borges had formulated the ultimate declaration of our temporal creatureliness, declaring: “Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”…

(6) SCANNERS IN VAIN. Tony Lewis, reporting on behalf of the NESFA Press in Instant Message #979, told about some problems encountered with their republication of Zenna Henderson’s Ingathering: The Complete People Stories collection.

An Amazon customer who bought our Ingathering ebook reported 58 typos in it. Amazon took down the book, which had been on sale for a year, until we could fix the typos. A number of NESFA Press proofers have spent the past three weeks going over the Ingathering ebook. We have found more than 400 typos, nearly all caused by unproofed OCR used to create the ebook. We also found that approximately 20 of those 400+ typos existed in the original hardcover. This proofing project is expected to be finished the week after the August Business Meeting.

(7) MEMORY LANE.

1976 — Forty-five years ago at MidAmeriCon where Wilson Tucker was the Toastmaster, Roger Zelazny would win the the Best Novella Hugo for “Home is The Hangman”. It was published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, the November 1975 issue. The other nominated works were “The Storms of Windhaven” by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle, “ARM” by Larry Niven, “The Silent Eyes of Time” by Algis Budrys and “The Custodians” by Richard Cowper. It would also win a Nebula Award. It’s in one of the three stories in My Name is Legion which is available from the usual digital suspects.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 12, 1897 — Walter B. Gibson. Writer and professional magician who’s best known for his work creating and being the main writer of the pulp character The Shadow. He used the pen-name Maxwell Grant, wrote 285 of the 325 Shadow stories published by Street & Smith in The Shadow magazine of the Thirties and Forties. He also wrote a Batman prose story which appeared in Detective Comics #500 and was drawn by Thomas Yeates. (Died 1985.)
  • Born September 12, 1914 Desmond Llewelyn. He’s best known for playing Q in 17 of the Bond films over thirty-six years. Truly amazing. Live and Let Die is the only one in the period where Q was not in it. He worked with five Bonds, to wit Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Other genre appearances include The Adventures of Robin Hood, the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr HydeThe Curse of the Werewolf and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Died 1999.)
  • Born September 12, 1921 Stanislaw Lem. He’s best known for Solaris, which has been made into a film three times. The latest film made off a work of his is the 2018 His Master’s Voice (Glos Pana In Polish). The usual suspects have generous collections of his translated into English works at quite reasonable prices. (Died 2006.) [Note: In three instances “L” has been substituted because WordPress doesn’t support the correct special character.]
  • Born September 12, 1922 John Chambers. He’s best known for designing Spock’s  pointed ears, and for the prosthetic make-up work on the Planet of the Apes franchise. Some of those character creations, including Cornelius and Dr. Zaius from the Planet of the Apes series, are on display at the Science Fiction Museum. He worked on the MunstersOuter LimitsLost in SpaceMission Impossible, Night Gallery and I-Spy along with uncredited (at the time) prosthetic makeup work on Blade Runner. (Died 2001.)
  • Born September 12, 1940 John Clute, 81. Critic, one of the founders of Interzone (which I avidly read in digital form) and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (with Peter Nicholls) that I use every day for these Birthdays, and of the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (with John Grant) as well as writing the Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction. All of these publications won Hugo Awards for Best Non-Fiction. And I’d be remiss not to single out for praise The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror which is simply a superb work.
  • Born September 12, 1942 Charles L. Grant. A writer who said he was best at what he called “dark fantasy” and “quiet horror”. Nightmare Seasons, a collection of novellas, won a World Fantasy Award, while the “A Crowd of Shadows” story garnered a Nebula as did “A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn’s Eye novella. It would also be nominated for a Hugo at SunCon. And the “Temperature Days on Hawthorne Street” story would become the Tales from the Darkside episode “The Milkman Cometh”.  The usual suspects have an outstanding selection of his works including Nightmare Seasons and Shadows, another excellent  collection. (Died 2006.)
  • Born September 12, 1952 Kathryn Anne Ptacek Grant, 69. Widow of Charles L. Grant. She has won two Stoker Awards. If you’re into horror. Her Gila! novel is a classic of that genre, and No Birds Sings is an excellent collection of her short stories. Both are available from the usual suspects.  
  • Born September 12, 1962 Mary Kay Adams, 59. She was Na’Toth, a Narn who was the aide to G’Kar in the second season of Babylon 5, and she would show up as the Klingon Grilka in the episodes “The House of Quark” and “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” in Deep Space Nine. Her first genre role is actually an uncredited role in The Muppets Take Manhattan. No idea what it is. 

(9) COMICS SECTION.

(10) SHORTS SUBJECT. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the Washington Post, Michael Cavna has a piece about the “masterpieces” John Oliver is lending to museums in return for a $10,000 grant.  He talks to the heads of the Judy Garland Museum and the Cartoon Art Museum and how the Garland Museum said they could only accept the paintings if the mousehood of the “vermin-love-watercolor-on-paper” drawing by Brian Swords of nude cartoon mice was covered up. “John Oliver is helping museums through the pandemic — by lending them rat erotica”.

Melanie Jacobson was on the hunt for covid-relief cash in October when she happened to flip to HBO. As fortune would have it, “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver was announcing a contest to offer financial help to museums in need. The catch was, they had to be willing to exhibit his freshly acquired collection of three “masterpiece” paintings: a still-life of ties,a portrait of TV host Wendy Williams eating a lamb chop, plus— his “pièce de résistance” — amorous rats in the buff.Jacobson is a board member for theJudy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn. — right where a star was born. Her catch was, the institutionshares a building with the very G-rated Children’s Discovery Museum, which meant that “I knew we would not be able to show the rat painting with certain private parts,” she said by phone this week.

So with blessing from board leadership, Jacobson submitted a proposal to the “Last Week Tonight” contest with one stipulation, she recalled: “I’m going to have to put pants on the rat.” ….

(11) NOT FOR MUGGLES. Thrillist wants to be sure you’re getting enough genre-related calories. “Dairy Queen Secret Menu: You Can Get a Butterbeer Blizzard Inspired by Harry Potter”.

We’re still flying high off the news of Dairy Queen’s fall Blizzard lineup. After all, the Pumpkin Pie is back, folks. But it’s not the only flavor on our radar as of late. In fact, DQ employee-slash-TikToker @thedairyqueenking shared a secret menu item that’s going to wow Harry Potter fans.

The soft serve insider took to the video-sharing platform with the chain’s hush, hush Butterbeer Blizzard, which boasts vanilla syrup, butterscotch syrup, Butterfinger pieces, and a healthy swirl of whipped cream topping, mirroring the fan-favorite beverage from the books….

(12) A SCRAPBOOK OF CASES. In an article composed of various incidents and testimonies, The Guardian wonders whether it is time to take reports about UFOs and aliens more seriously: “’What I saw that night was real’: is it time to take aliens more seriously?”

…But Nick Pope, a former UFO investigator for the Ministry of Defence, is not convinced and thinks that Godfrey is genuine. “He had a lot to potentially lose by coming out with this and yet stuck to his guns.”

Doesn’t a hallucination explain what he saw? “I get that people do have hallucinations, but they tend to be the result of either mental illness or some sort of hallucinogenic substance, and this guy was on duty and was, by all accounts, rational. And so those explanations don’t seem to apply – I’m stumped when it comes to that particular case. Ask yourself: how many times have you been tired and come to the end of a long day? We’ve all been in that situation, and we don’t suddenly construct bizarre narratives about spacecraft and aliens.”

Is it time to start taking these stories more seriously? “I’m not saying that I believe it’s literally true that these are alien spaceships,” says Pope. “But at the very least, these people who were previously disbelieved and ridiculed should be listened to and given a hearing….

(13) SWORD & SOUL. Flecher Vredenburgh takes “A Look at Milton Davis’ Changa’s Safari and the rest of the series at Goodman Games.

I started my blog, Stuff I Like, nearly eleven years ago with a plan of writing about swords & sorcery. When I reviewed “The City of Madness” by the late and greatly-missed Charles Saunders, I discovered he had co-edited a new story collection called Griots (2011). I bought it and found it to be one of the best batches of fantasy stories I’d read in years. It introduced me to the term sword & soul, as well as some very good writers, such as Carole McDonnell, P. Djeli Clark, and Milton Davis himself….

(14) CLASH OF THE TITANS. In the Washington Post, Christian Davenport says the battle between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos over NASA contracts is getting increasingly personal, with Musk’s SpaceX ahead on technical issues but Bezos fighting back not only on NASA contracts awarded to Space X but also trying to block Space X’s plan to build thousands of small satellites for Internet communications. “Elon Musk is dominating the space race. Jeff Bezos is trying to fight back”.

For years, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have sparred over the performance of their rockets and space companies in a simmering feud that flared during a fight over who could use a NASA launchpad and which company was the first to successfully land a rocket.

But now the two billionaires, among the world’s richest men, are waging an increasingly bitter battle that pits two enormous business empires in clashes that are playing out in the courts, the Federal Communications Commission and the halls of Congress in what’s become one of the greatest business rivalries in a generation….

(15) THE MEANING OF NONLIFE. The New York Times’ Brian Ng considers, “Could Robots From Boston Dynamics Beat Me in a Fight?”

…Boston Dynamics has uploaded videos like this for more than a decade, cataloging the progress of its creations as they grow more lifelike, and more unsettling. One of its models is a robotic dog called Spot, with four legs and, sometimes, a “neck” topped with a camera “head” — an android’s best friend.

Although the company maintains that its creations are research projects, it does sell Spot and has leased one to the N.Y.P.D. It could have been used to accomplish tasks too risky for a living being, such as delivering food in a hostage situation or checking areas with high amounts of radiation. But its appearance accompanying police officers during an arrest in public housing sparked enough public backlash for its trial to be prematurely terminated. People found the robodog both wasteful and chilling, especially in the possession of the institution most likely to use force against them. It surely didn’t help that the robodog looked quite similar to the horrific killer machines in an episode of the show “Black Mirror” called “Metalhead” — probably because the show’s creator Charlie Brooker, who wrote the episode, was inspired by previous Boston Dynamics videos.

We can ask the same question of the Atlas: What is it for? The video only shows us what it can do. For now, the robots don’t want anything; apart from not falling over, they await a reason for being. The company says the goal is to create robots that can perform mundane tasks in all sorts of terrain, but the video contains no such tasks; we see only feats of agility, not the routine functions these robots would be back-flipping toward. Through this gap enter the tendrils of sinister speculation…..

(16) BOOKS IN SIGHT. Marie Powell’s adventures in castle-hopping across North Wales resulted in her award-winning historical fantasy series, Last of the Gifted. Spirit Sight (Book 1) and Water Sight (Book 2). An omnibus volume of the two books is coming out in October. And the audiobook of Spirit Sight is available from Kindle, Amazon.ca, Audible, and Apple.

Two siblings pledge their magic to protect their people from the invading English, with the help of the last true Prince of Wales—after his murder.

Welsh warrior-in-training Hyw can control the minds of birds and animals.

His sister Catrin can see the future in a drop of water.

Now Hyw and Catrin must stretch their gifts to stand between their people and the ruthless army of Edward I (a.k.a. Longshanks). When the prince is slain, Hyw’s gift allows him to meld with the prince’s spirit, to guide them in fighting back against the English invaders.

This award-winning medieval fantasy combines magic, mythology, and historical legends with the realities of 13th Century Wales.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Michael Toman, Joyce Scrivner, Cora Buhlert, Ruth Berman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Jim Janney.]

Pixel Scroll 6/19/21 Oilcan — Did You Say Something? – Oilcan — He Said, “Pixel Scroll!”

(1) JUNETEENTH PSA FROM HWA. Today’s holiday is explained by members of the Horror Writers Association in this video. (See transcript below.) — “Juneteenth: An Emancipation Celebration”.

Linda Addison, the Horror Writers Association Diversity Grant Chair, and authors Michelle Renee Lanei, Steven Van Patten, L Marie Wood, Marc Abbott, and Sumiko Saulson, on the Social Media Team for the Horror Writers Association.

(Linda Addison) On behalf of the Horror Writers Association we’d like to congratulate all African Americans on the progress recently made towards making Juneteenth a federally recognized Black Liberation Holiday.

(Nikki Woolfolk) On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution establishing June 19 as Juneteenth, a National Black Independence Day, a US holiday. The House voted 415-14 to make Juneteenth a national holiday commemorating the emancipation of African Americans from slavery in the United States.

(Sumiko Saulson) After this it was sent before President Joe Biden, who approved it on June 17, 2021 making it the first new National Holiday in the United States of America since Martin Luther King Day was established as a Federal Holiday in 1983.

(Steven Van Patten) Juneteenth, an abbreviation of the words June and Nineteenth, commemorates the anniversary of June 19, 1865. That day, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed African Americans there that the Civil War had ended and they were free at last.

(Ace Antonio Hall) Because the United States was still in the middle of the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, many of those it intended to free remained enslaved for another two and a half years.

(L Marie Wood) For this reason, Juneteenth has long been recognized as Black Independence Day across the nation. It was first celebrated the following year as Jubilee Day in the State of Texas, where it has been a state holiday since 1979.

(Nicole Givens Kurtz) From Toni Morrison’s Beloved to Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, the phantoms of our shared history under slavery and its legacy haunt many African American ghost stories and tales of terror.

(Michelle Renee Lane) Slavery has left its mark on our psyche as a people. We write scary stories about it because vampires, ghosts, werewolves and skeletons are never quite as horrifying as the lived experiences of African Americans under slavery.

(Marc Abbott) Commemorating Juneteenth as a national holiday is a step towards ensuring that we never forget those dark days, never repeat them, and that we as a people, and as a nation can truly heal.

Written/Edited by Sumiko Saulson (6/18/2021) for the Horror Writers Association

(2) AFRICAN SCI-FI. “Animated Anthology ‘Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire’ Brings African Sci-Fi to Disney+”/Film has the story.

Filmmakers from Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt bring unique animation to Disney+ with Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, a 10-part collection of original films that will premiere on the streaming service next year. Peter Ramsey, co-director of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, serves as executive producer for the anthology, which is comprised of sci-fi and fantasy stories set in a futuristic Africa.

Disney has announced full details for Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, a 10-part series of animated films that hope to take viewers “on a wildly entertaining ride into Africa’s future.” The films are inspired by Africa’s histories and cultures, and promise “action-packed sci-fi and fantasy stories present bold visions of advanced technology, aliens, spirits and monsters imagined from uniquely African perspectives.” 

(3) PASSING ALONG WISDOM. The autobiography of Hidden Figures’ Katherine Johnson – My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir – was released May 25, and is reviewed by Ainissa Ramirez in Nature: “Katherine Johnson’s Bold Trajectory”.

When Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) seemed to be the only Black woman affiliated with space travel. Little did society know that, as mathematicians, Black women such as Katherine Johnson actually made space flight possible. Johnson, who was highlighted in the 2016 Hugo Award winning movie Hidden Figures, died last year, aged 101. She left readers a gift – her autobiography…  

She entitles her chapters with life lessons — ‘Education Matters’, ‘Ask Brave Questions’, ‘Shoot for the Moon’. Johnson recognizes that she is a role model, and that few women and people of colour see their reflections in the sciences. I felt like I was sitting at the knee of a griot — a historian and storyteller — gaining years of insight into how to use idle times to prepare, to keep moving forwards when life hurts…

(4) FUN VS. CREATING INVENTORY. Dean Wesley Smith says avoid these “Deadly Problems For Writers…”

…Sitting alone in a room and making stuff up should be fun. What else would it be? No one is going to come and hurt you if you write something that doesn’t work for every reader on the planet (a silly goal on its face.) No one is going to die at your hands (besides characters) if you mess something up.

And best of all, no one cares. You are free to sit in that room and make up whatever you want. No one cares.

When you should start thinking about the product is after your write the last line of the story or book AND NOT ONE MOMENT BEFORE.

But if you start caring too much about the product WHILE WRITING, or even thinking about the product, your process becomes no fun and just stops.

SO HOW DOES A WRITER SLIP INTO PRODUCT FOCUSED WHILE WRITING?

Let me list a bunch of ways, and I know I will miss a bunch of major ways. Add them in the comments if you want.

1… Need to make money quickly. It is the “quickly” that is the killer. Your writing, over time, will make you more money than you can imagine if you keep it fun and keep learning. But if you focus on the writing needing to make a lot of money quickly, it will not. If you need extra money, get a part-time day job and take the pressure off the writing.

2… Writing for other people. Setting deadlines for others puts all the focus on the end product. Deadlines for some can be a motivating thing. They often are for me, but I never attach people to that deadline, or do I ever care what any reader, fan, or critic will think. (Anyone who has watched this blog over time knows how often I have failed on deadlines. If the motivation works for a project, great, if not, great….

And Smith supplements the list with a long story about taking his own advice in “Following Up on Yesterday’s Post…”

THANK HEAVENS I never paid attention or cared about how a book or a series was selling. I never cared that the books weren’t selling for years. My measuring stick was the fun in the writing. And if WMG had done that promotion on book three instead of book #9, it would have failed. The fact that I had nine books in the series done gave readers who liked the book something to buy next.  (You know, magic bakery thinking.)

So that is a personal story of me practicing what I preached in last night’s blog.

(5) VORKOSIGAN COVER POSTER. Lois McMaster Bujold told her Goodreads followers about a “Vorkosigan e-covers poster still for sale”.

A tidy display of all of artist Ron Miller’s Vorkosigan e-covers, as seen in the background of my new PR photo. Because it’s not like you can place ebooks face-out on your bookshelves…

May still be purchased here:

https://society6.com/product/the-vork…

Sizes available in x-small to x-large, and I see they are even on sale today (6/18).

(6) SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER. Best Fan Writer Hugo nominee Alasdair Stuart opines:

But what prompted him to say so today? It was Adri Joy’s tweet objecting to DisCon III’s efforts to manage space limitations at the Hugo finalist reception and of near-the-stage seating for the ceremony, as documented in this excerpt from the committee’s message:   

(7) PANDEMIC HELPS NESFA PRESS SALES. Tim Szczesuil told the May 9 meeting of the New England Science Fiction Association that their book firm’s sales “have been up substantially over the last year; from the beginning of the pandemic. This is probably due to people having more time to read.” Not including ebooks, here are NESFA Press’ total books sold for recent years:

  • 2017 — 2948
  • 2018 — 3282
  • 2019 — 2595
  • 2020 — 3599
  • 2021 — 1486

(8) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • June 19, 2013 — On this date in 2013, Dark Horse Comics published the hardcover of Star Wars: Legacy, John Ostrander’s look into the future of the Skywalker family about 100 years after the time of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. I’m not sure it’s considered canon, but it’s awesome none-the-less. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born June 19, 1911 — Jesse Francis McComas. He was the co-founding editor, with Anthony Boucher, of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. With Boucher, he edited a series of Best from F&SF anthologies.  He wrote several stories on his own in the Fifties using both his own name and the pen name Webb Marlowe. He was nominated for Retro Hugo for Best Editor. (Died 1978.)
  • Born June 19, 1915 — Julius Schwartz. He’s best known as a longtime editor at DC Comics, where at various times he was primary editor for the Superman and Batman lines. Just as interestingly, he founded the Solar Sales Service literary agency (1934–1944) where Schwartz represented such writers as  Bradbury, Bester,  Bloch, Weinbaum, and Lovecraft which including some of Bradbury’s very first published work and Lovecraft’s last such work. He also published Time Traveller, one of the first fanzines along with Mort Weisinger and Forrest J Ackerman. (Died 2004.)
  • Born June 19, 1921 — Louis Jourdan. Fear No Evil and Ritual of Evil, two tv horror films in the late Sixties, appear to be his first venture into our realm. He’d play Count Dracula in, errr, Count Dracula a few years later. And then comes the role you most likely remember him for, Dr. Anton Arcane in Swamp Thing which he reprised in The Return of Swamp Thing. Definitely popcorn films at their very best. Oh, and let’s not forget he was Kamal Khan, the villain in Octopussy! (Died 2015.)
  • Born June 19, 1926 — Josef Nesvadba. A Czech writer, best known in his SF short stories, many of which have appeared in English translation. ISFDB lists a number of stories as appearing in English and two collections of his translated stories were published, In The Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman: Stories of Science and Fantasy and Vampires Ltd.: Stories of Science and Fantasy. Neither’s available from the usual suspects though Cora can read him in German. (Died 2005.)
  • Born June 19, 1947 — Salman Rushdie, 74. Everything he does has some elements of magic realism in it. (Let the arguments begin on that statement.) So which of his novels are really genre? I’d say The Ground Beneath Her FeetGrimus (his first and largely forgotten sf novel), Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights and Haroun and the Sea of Stories. If you’ve not read anything by him, I’d start with The Ground Beneath Her Feet which is by far both one of his best works and one of his most understandable ones as well.
  • Born June 19, 1953 — Virginia Hey, 68. Best remembered for her role as Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan in the fantastic Farscape series and playing the Warrior Woman in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. She’s also Rubavitch, the mistress of the KGB Head, General Pushkin, in The Living Daylights. She also had a brief appearance as a beautician in The Return of Captain Invincible, an Australian musical comedy superhero film. No, I’ve not seen it.
  • Born June 19, 1957 — Jean Rabe, 64. She’s a genre author and editor who has worked on the DragonlanceForgotten RealmsRogue Angel and BattleTech series, as well as many others. Ok I admit to a degree of fascination with such writers as I’m a devotee of the Rogue Angel audiobooks that GraphicAudio does and she’s written according to ISFDB five of the source novels under the house name of Alex Archer. 
  • Born June 19, 1978 — Zoe Saldana, born with the lovely birth name of Zoë Yadira Saldaña Nazario, age 43. First genre role was Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. She’s Nyota Uhura in the new Trek series, and she’s also Neytiri in the Avatar franchise. She portrays Gamora in the MCU, beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy, a truly great film though I’m far less impressed with the second film by far.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

(11) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites listeners to share sushi with Philip K. Dick Award-winning writer Meg Elison on episode 147 of the Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Meg Elison

Even though we’re on opposite coasts of the United States, we ordered takeout sushi to nibble as we pretended we lived in a timeline of our own choosing.

Meg Elison is the author of The Road to Nowhere trilogy, which consists of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (which won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award), The Book of Etta (nominated for both the Philip K. Dick and James Tiptree awards ), and The Book of Flora. Her novelette “The Pill” made the final ballots this year of both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. She’s been published in McSweeney’sShimmerFantasy and Science FictionCatapultTerraform, and many other venues. PM Press recently published the book Big Girl — where “The Pill” first appeared — as a volume in its famed Outspoken Authors series.

We discussed her pre-pandemic prediction for the kind of year 2020 was then shaping up to be, how reading Terry Bisson’s “They’re Made Out of Meat” changed her life, using tabletop RPGs to deal with the powerlessness felt during recent times, the way rereading taught her to be a writer, our dual fascination with diaries, when she realized her first novel was actually the start of a trilogy (and the songs which helped her better understand each installment), why she followed that post-apocalyptic trilogy with a contemporary YA novel, and much more.

(12) HORROR WEBINAR SERIES. Skeleton Hour is a new monthly horror literature webinar series presented as a Horror Writers Association event in collaboration with The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Each panel is an hour long and brings together 3-5 authors to discuss a specific topic in horror with a moderator guiding the discussion. Panels will take place on Zoom, with the audience able to ask questions in the chat window. 

The last Skeleton Hour “Writing Horror in a Post Covid World” — featured Richard Thomas (moderator), Sarah Langan, Usman T. Malik, Josh Malerman, A.C. Wise, and Lucy A. Snyder.  

(13) COZY SFF? “A Book Like A Warm Hug: T.J. Klune – The House In The Cerulean Sea – a review by Dina at SFF Book Review.

…Starting with the writing style which I immediately fell into and just soaked up because it was everything I wanted, over the characters who not only show Linus that they are deserving of love, no matter how monstrous they may look, but who also totally carved out a spot in my heart, over the world building which reveals itself more and more over the course of the book, to the absolute delight of the found family and the real connections between them. I honestly can’t think of any comparison that would do this book justice. A warm blanket, a much-needed hug, someone holding your hand when you thought you were all alone – it’s kind of like all of those but none of them tell you all that the book is….

(14) EXCESSIVE TWINKLING? [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Betelgeuse’s recent behavior has puzzled astronomers. But, as reported in this week’s Nature, they now think there is an explanation.

The red supergiant star is very noticeable in our night sky. For starters, it’s a BIG star 900 times the size of the Sun and if it were our Sun its surface would almost touch Jupiter and it would certainly encompass all the inner Solar system planets. It is also only 724 light years away. As such it is one of the few stars discernible through a telescope as a disc.

The puzzling mystery was that back early in 2020 it began dimming and by mid-February it had become just 35% of its normal brightness. Its southern half was especially dim.

Two theories abounded as to why this happened. First, red giants do see some variation in temperature. Could it be that convection cell change in its southern half could the star to cool?

Secondly, could there have been a cloud of dust temporarily obscuring our view of the star?

Now an international collaboration, led by European astronomers think they have the answer and that this involves both theories in a connected way.

They think the change in convection not only resulted in cooling but also allowed the star to eject a small amount of mass. As this drifted away – towards us in the line of sight – it cooled and condensed out as dust obscuring the star. Mystery solved.

  • Review article at Nature.
  • Primary research paper here.

[Note: We looked at this topic a few days ago, but Jonathan’s write-up is so much better!]

(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The Drum spotlights a video in which “Orlando Bloom & Katy Perry caution against voter suppression in transmission from future”.

…In the new spot, ‘Transmission from the future’, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom are reimagined as elderly folks in a post-apocalyptic setting where they are in hiding from a surveillance state. From the belly of a bunker in the year 2055, they transmit a PSA into the past – Americans’ screens in 2021 are interrupted by the bedraggled couple, who urge viewers to take action to protect democracy. “You are our only hope,” the elderly Bloom rasps. “The America you know doesn’t exist in our future. Democracy is dead.” Perry interjects, saying, “It started when voter suppression ran wild all over America. The voting rights bills died in the Senate. Polling places closed. We lost our right to vote.” The stars implore Americans to call their senators and voice their support for the For the People Act….

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Michael Toman, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

The Tangled Skein: Call Me Joe

By Paul Weimer: Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson strongly starts off a NESFA Press series of volumes covering the work of one of the key 20th century writers of Science Fiction, Poul Anderson

In the introduction, the editor, Rick Katze, states “This is the first in a multi-volume collection of Poul Anderson stories. The stories are not in any discernible pattern”. The pieces of fiction are an eclectic mix of early works in his oeuvre, mixed with poetry and verse that range across his entire career.

The contents include:

  • Call Me Joe
  • Prayer in War
  • Tomorrow’s Children
  • Kinnison’s Band
  • The Helping Hand
  • Wildcat
  • Clausius’ Chaos
  • Journey’s End
  • Heinlein’s Stories
  • Logic
  • Time Patrol
  • The First Love
  • The Double-Dyed Villains
  • To a Tavern Wench
  • The Immortal Game
  • Upon the Occasion of Being Asked to Argue That Love and Marriage are Incompatible
  • Backwardness
  • Haiku
  • Genius
  • There Will Be Other Times
  • The Live Coward
  • Ballade of an Artificial Satellite
  • Time Lag
  • The Man Who Came Early
  • Autumn
  • Turning Point
  • Honesty
  • The Alien Enemy
  • Eventide
  • Enough Rope
  • The Sharing of Flesh
  • Barbarous Allen
  • Welcome
  • Flight to Forever
  • Sea Burial
  • Barnacle Bull
  • To Jack Williamson
  • Time Heals
  • MacCannon
  • The Martian Crown Jewels
  • Then Death Will Come
  • Prophecy
  • Einstein’s Distress
  • Kings Who Die
  • Ochlan
  • Starfog

The introduction is not quite correct, in that the reader can find resonances between stories, sometimes in stories back-to-back. There are plenty of threads, and a fan of Anderson and his Nordic viewpoint might call it a skein, a tangled skein of fictional ideas, themes, ideas and characters. The same introduction notes that a lot of the furniture of science fiction can be found in early forms here, as Anderson being one of those authors who have made them what they were for successive writers. In many cases, then, it is not the freshness of the ideas that one reads these stories for, but the deep writing, themes, characters and language that put Anderson in a class of his own.

The titular story, for example, “Call Me Joe,” leads off the volume. It is a story of virtual reality in one of its earliest forms, about Man trying to reach and be part of a world he cannot otherwise interact with. Watchers of the movie Avatar will be immediately struck by the story and how much that movie relies on this story’s core assumptions and ideas. But the story is much more than the ideas. It’s about the poetry of Anderson’s writing. His main character, Anglesey, is physically challenged (sound familiar). But as a pseudojovian, he doesn’t have to be and he can experience a world unlike any on Earth:

Anglesey’s tone grew remote, as if he spoke to himself. “Imagine walking under a glowing violet sky, where great flashing clouds sweep the earth with shadow and rain strides beneath them. Imagine walking on the slopes of a mountain like polished metal, with a clean red flame exploding above you and thunder laughing in the ground. Imagine a cool wild stream, and low trees with dark coppery flowers, and a waterfall—methanefall, whatever you like—leaping off a cliff, and the strong live wind shakes its mane full of rainbows! Imagine a whole forest, dark and breathing, and here and there you glimpse a pale-red wavering will-o’-the-wisp, which is the life radiation of some fleet, shy animal, and…and…”

Anglesey croaked into silence. He stared down at his clenched fists then he closed his eyes tight and tears ran out between the lids, “Imagine being strong!”

Reader, I was moved.

That’s only part of the genius of Anderson’s work shown here. Anderson has many strings in his harp and this volume plays many of those chords.

There is the strong, dark tragedy of “The Man Who Came Early” which is in genre conversation with L Sprague De Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall” and shows an American solider, circa 1943, thrown back to 11th century Iceland and, pace Martin Padway, doing rather badly in the Dark Ages. Poul Anderson is much better known for his future history that runs from the Polesotechnic League on through the Galactic Empire of Dominic Flandry, but this volume has three stories of his OTHER future galactic civilization, where Wing Alak manages a much looser and less restrictive galactic polity, dealing with bellicose problems by rather clever and indirect means.

And then there are his time travel tales. “Time Patrol” introduces us to the entire Time Patrol cycle and Manse Everard’s first mission. I’ve read plenty of his stories over the years, but this first outing had escaped me, so it was a real delight to see “where it all began”. “Wildcat” has oil drillers in the Cretaceous and a slowly unfolding mystery that leads to a sting in the tail about the fragility of their society.  And then there is one of my favorite Poul Anderson stories, period, the poetic and tragic and moving “Flight to Forever”, with a one-way trip to the future, with highs, lows, tragedies, loss and a sweeping look at man’s future. It still moves me.

And space. Of course we go to space.  From the relativistic invasion of “Time-Lag” to the far future of “Starfog” and “The Sharing of Flesh,” Anderson was laying down his ideas on space opera and space adventure here in these early stories that still hold up today. “Time-Lag’s” slow burn of a captive who works to save her planet through cycles of invasion and attack, through the ultimate tragedy of “Starfog” as lost explorers from a far flung colony seek their home, to the “Sharing of Flesh,” which makes a strong point about assumptions in local cultures, and provides an anthropological mystery in the bargain. “Kings Who Die” is an interesting bit of cat and mouse with a lot of double-dealing espionage with a prisoner aboard a spacecraft.

Finally, I had known that Anderson was strongly into verse and poetry for years, but really had never encountered it in situ. This volume corrects that gap in my reading, with a variety of verse that is at turns, moving, poetic, and sometimes extremely funny. The placing of these bits of verse between the prose stories makes for excellent palette cleansers to not only show the range of Anderson’s work, but also clear the decks for the next story.

The last thing I should make clear for readers who might be wondering if this volume truly is for them to is to go back to the beginning of this piece. This volume, and its subsequent volumes, are not a single or even multivolume “best of Poul Anderson”. This is a book, first in a series, that is meant to be a comprehensive collection of Poul Anderson. This is not the book or even a series to pick up if you just want the best of the best of a seminal writer of 20th century science fiction. This volume (and I strongly suspect the subsequent ones) is the volume you want if you want to start a deep dive into his works in all their myriad and many forms. There is a fair amount from the end of the Pulp Era here, and for me it was not all of the same quality. I think all of the stories are worthy but some show they are early in his career, and his craft does and will improve from this point.  While for me stories like the titular “Call Me Joe”, “Flight to Forever”, “The Man Who Came Early”, and the devastating “Prophecy” are among my favorite Poul Anderson stories, the very best of Poul Anderson is yet to come.