Pixel Scroll 4/23/24 Forget About Our Pixels And Your Files

(1) SOCIETY OF ILLUSTRATORS HOF CLASS OF 2024. Muddy Colors announces the Greg Manchess and Yuko Shimizu are among the “2024 Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame” inductees. See examples of all the artists’ work at the link.

The Society of Illustrators has announced the 2024 inductees into their prestigious Hall of Fame. In recognition for their “distinguished achievement in the art of illustration” the artists are chosen based on their body of work and the significant impact it has made on the field of illustration as a whole. This year’s honorees are:

  • Virginia Frances Sterrett [1900 – 1931]
  • Robert Grossman [1940 – 2018]
  • Gustave Doré [1832 – 1883]
  • Yuko Shimizu [b. 1946]
  • Gregory Manchess [b. 1955]
  • Steve Brodner [b. 1954].

(2) LE GUIN PRIZE NOMINATION DEADLINE 4/30. There’s just one week left in the nomination period for the 2024 Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. This $25,000 cash prize is awarded to a writer whose book reflects concepts and ideas central to Ursula’s work.

The recipient of this year’s prize will be chosen by authors Margaret Atwood, Omar El Akkad, Megan Giddings, Ken Liu, and Carmen Maria Machado.

Through April 30th, everyone is welcome to nominate books. Learn more about the prize, eligibility requirements, and the 2024 selection panel here.

(3) MIÉVILLE REJECTS GERMAN FELLOWSHIP. China Miéville has rescinded his acceptance of a residency fellowship for literature for 2024 in Germany which he had been awarded by the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (German Academic Exchange Service) – DAAD. The full text is here: “Letter to the DAAD” at Salvage.

(4) A LITTLE TOO ON THE NOSE? [Item by Scott Edelman.] This year’s Met Gala theme will be “The Garden of Time,” a 1962 short story by J.G. Ballard. “Met Gala 2024: A Guide to the Theme, Hosts and How to Watch”. (Read the New York Times gift article courtesy of Scott Edelman.)

OK, what is the dress code?

It’s as potentially confusing as the exhibit. Guests have been instructed to dress for “The Garden of Time,” so named after a 1962 short story by J.G. Ballard about an aristocratic couple living in a walled estate with a magical garden while an encroaching mob threatens to end their peaceful existence. To keep the crowd at bay, the husband tries to turn back time by breaking off flower after flower, until there are no more blooms left. The mob arrives and ransacks the estate, and the two aristocrats turn to stone.

Just what comes to mind when you think “fashion,” right?

(5) BUTLER IS THEME OF LITFEST OPENING. LitFest in the Dena will hold its main program on May 4-5 at the Mt. View Mausoleum, 2300 N. Marengo Ave, in Altadena, CA. The opening event will be on May 3 – “Introduction and Keynote Presentation: In Conversation with Nikki High”, founder of Octavia’s Bookshelf.

Founder of Octavia’s Bookshelf, Nikki High will tell us about her discovery of books as an early reader and how authors of color helped her discover herself and what could become of her life. Featured in conversation with her friend Natalie Daily, librarian and literacy advocate at the Octavia E. Butler Magnet in Pasadena, Nikki talks about her bookstore as a community gathering place for book lovers who will find a treasure trove of BIPOC literature.

(6) O. HENRY 2024. Literary Hub takes care of “Announcing the Winners of the 2024 O. Henry Prize for Short Fiction”. Is there any sff on this list? I leave it up to you to identify it.

  • Emma Binder — Roy“, Gulf Coast
  • Michele Mari — “The Soccer Balls of Mr. Kurz,” translated from the Italian by Brian Robert Moore, The New Yorker
  • Brad Felver — “Orphans,” Subtropics
  • Morris Collins — The Home Visit,” Subtropics
  • Jai Chakrabarti — The Import,” Ploughshares
  • Amber Caron — “Didi,” Electric Literature
  • Francisco González — “Serranos,” McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
  • Caroline Kim — “Hiding Spot,” New England Review
  • Katherine D. Stutzman — “Junior,” Harvard Review
  • Juliana Leite — “My Good Friend,” translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry, The Paris Review
  • Kate DiCamillo — “The Castle of Rose Tellin,” Harper’s Magazine
  • Colin Barrett — “Rain,” Granta
  • Robin Romm — “Marital Problems,” The Sewanee Review
  • Allegra Goodman — “The Last Grownup,” The New Yorker
  • Dave Eggers — “The Honor of Your Presence,” One Story
  • E. K. Ota — “The Paper Artist,” Ploughshares
  • Tom Crewe — “The Room-Service Waiter,” Granta
  • Madeline ffitch — “Seeing Through Maps,” Harper’s Magazine
  • Jess Walter — “The Dark,” Ploughshares
  • Allegra Hyde — “Mobilization,” Story

(7) ANTI-LGBT HARASSMENT SAFETY ADVICE. “Drag Story Hour’s Jonathan Hamilt on Bomb Threats, Safety Tips” at Shelf Awareness.

Around the country, growing numbers of independent booksellers are finding themselves the targets of anti-LGBT harassment, with bomb threats proving to be an increasingly common tactic.

In recent weeks, Loyalty Bookstores in Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Md., Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, N.Y., and Mosaics in Provo, Utah, have all been targets of bomb threats related to drag storytime programming. Sadly, they are not alone, and the numbers only continue to rise.

Per the nonprofit Drag Story Hour, there were nine documented incidents of bomb threats targeting official DSH events in 2023. In 2024, there have already been at least 12 such incidents, with the number growing almost every weekend.

DSH executive director Jonathan Hamilt noted that bomb threats represent only a small fraction of the harassment directed at LGBT communities and LGBT-inclusive gatherings. In 2023, there were more than 60 documented cases of harassment targeting DSH or adjacent programming; the figure more than doubles when including anti-drag incidents in general.

Hamilt called it “deeply disturbing” that adults are choosing to incite violence and intimidate children, parents, and storytellers at family-oriented events while claiming to want to protect children.

Despite what the public perception may be, Hamilt continued, Drag Story Hour is “not scrambling.” The organization is nearly 10 years old and its efforts are “very organized.” Anti-LGBT harassment is nothing new, though sometimes it takes different forms, and the organization is “working on getting through this.”

(8) ELLISON BACK IN PRINT. Inverse interviews J. Michael Straczynski for a piece titled “The Unexpected Resurrection of Harlan Ellison “. The interviewer’s portion is largely a rehearsal of decades-old Ellison controversies. (But by no means all of them.)

…As the title suggests, Greatest Hits is a kind of historical document. These are stories that don’t necessarily reflect where science fiction and fantasy are going but where the genre has been, as seen through the dark lenses of Harlan Ellison. Some of the stories (like “Shatterday”) hold up beautifully. Some, as Cassandra Khaw points out in her introduction, have problematic elements.

But unlike recent reissues of books by Roald Dahl or Ian Fleming, these stories remain uncensored. The fight against censorship was one of Ellison’s lifelong passions, and so, other than a few content warning labels in the book, the sex, sci-fi, and rock ’n’ roll of this writer’s vision remains intact and raucous. Like the punk rock of genre fiction, Ellison’s stories are as jarring and blistering as ever.

“No, no, you don’t touch Harlan’s stuff, man,” Straczynski says. “Even if he’s dead, he’ll come after you.”

(9) SPEAKING OUT. The New Mexico Press Women presented George R.R. Martin with its “Courageous Communicator Award” last month, which Martin found thought-provoking as he explains in “Women of the Press” at Not A Blog.

 “On the Occasion of its 75th Anniversary Bestows its COURAGEOUS COMMUNICATOR AWARD on March 15-16, 2024 to George R.R. Martin for building new worlds and creating strong, yet nuanced, women characters in his books and television shows.”

…Our world needs courageous communicators more than ever in these dark divided days, when so many people would rather silence those they disagree with than engage them in debate and discussion.    I deplore that… but had I really done enough, myself, to be recognized for courageous speech?

I am not sure I have, truth be told.  Yes, I’ve spoken up from time to time, on issues both large and small… but not always.  It is always easier to remain silent, to stay on the sidelines and let the storms wash over you.   The more I pondered, the more convinced I became that I need to do more.   That we all need to do more.

I started by delivering a 45 minute keynote address, on the subject of free speech and censorship.   Which, I am happy to say, was very well received (I was not entirely sure it would be)….

(10) 2024 ROMCON AWARDS. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Best Translation goes to an old Ian Watson title from 1973…

The Best Novella winner Silviu Genescu is noted for back in the 1990s winning the Romanian equivalent of “D is for End” (that’s the English translation but the play on words works in English as it does in the original Romanian). I remember staying with Silviu’s family back in the late 1990s when doing an Anglo-Romanian SF & Science Cultural Exchange, and their son came back from school to say that they had been learning about his father’s oeuvre that day in class….

(11) THE LONG WAY HOME. “’Furiosa’ has an action scene that took 78 days to film”NME tells why.

The upcoming Mad Max prequel film Furiosa includes a 15-minute action scene that took 78 days to film, it has been revealed.

Speaking to Total Film Magazine, the film’s star Anya Taylor-Joy and George Miller’s production partner Doug Mitchell spoke about the scene, which Taylor-Joy says is “very important for understanding” the character of Furiosa better.

Mitchell revealed that the film includes a “has one 15-minute sequence which took us 78 days to shoot” and required close to 200 stunt workers on set daily. While little else has been revealed about the scene, it has been described as a “turning point” for Furiosa…

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY.

[Written by Cat Eldridge.]

Born April 23, 1973 Naomi Kritzer, 51. Naomi Kritzer’s CatNet at this point consists of “Cat Pictures Please” which won a Hugo at MidAmeriCon II, Chaos on CatNet and Catfishing on CatNet. As one who likes this series enough that I had her personally autograph the Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories collection, I wanted to know the origin of CatNet, so I asked. Well, I also gifted her with a birthday chocolate treat, sea salt dark chocolate truffles. Here’s her answers: 

Naomi Kritzer in 2020 after winning the Lodestar Award.

Naomi Kritzer: The original short story was basically the collision of two things:

1. The line, “the Internet loves cat pictures,” which made me imagine a central internet-based intelligence that wanted pictures of cats.

2. Getting myself a smartphone for the first time (I was a late adopter), and discovering some of its quirks, and coming up with anthropomorphic explanations for things like bad directions. 

I mean, the Internet clearly does love cat pictures — although “the Internet” is “the billions of people who use the Internet,” not a secret sentient AI, though!

Cat Eldridge: I went on to ask her how CatNet came to be…

Naomi Kritzer: Do you mean in the story, how it got created? I was very vague about it in the short story but sort of heavily implied it was the result of something someone did at Google. In the novel CatNet was an experimental project from a company that was again, heavily implied to be Google.

Way, way cool in my opinion.

While putting this Birthday together, I noticed that she had two other series from when she was starting out as a writer, so I asked her to talk about them. Both are available on Kindle.

Cat Eldridge: Let’s talk about your first series, Eliana’s Song.

Naomi Kritzer: Eliana’s Song is my first novel, split into two pieces. I rewrote it really heavily multiple times, and each time I tried to make it shorter and it got longer. When Bantam bought it, they suggested that I split it into two books and expand each, which is what I did. 

The book actually started out as a short story I wrote while in college. It garnered a number of rejections that said something like, “this isn’t bad, but it kind of reads like chapters 1 and 36 of a novel.” I eventually decided to write the novel, and struggled for a while before realizing I could not literally use the short story as Chapter 1, I had to start over writing from scratch.

Cat Eldridge: And your second series, Dead Rivers.

Naomi Kritzer: Sometime around 2010 I picked up the Scott Westerfield Uglies series and really loved it. Uglies in particular followed a plotline that I really loved, in which someone is sent to infiltrate the enemy side, only to realize once she’s there that these are her people, far more than her bosses are. But she came among them under false pretenses, and she’d have to come clean! And she almost comes clean, doesn’t, of course is discovered and cast out, and and then has to spend the next book (maybe the next two) demonstrating her worthiness to be allowed to come back. I read this series and thought, “dang, I love this plot — I loved this plot as a kid, and reading it now is like re-visiting an amusement park ride you loved when you were 10 and finding out that even when you know where all the turns and drops are, it’s still super fun.” Like two days after that I suddenly remembered that I had literally written that plotline. It’s the plotline of the Dead Rivers trilogy. I really really love this plot, it turns out! So much that I’ve written it!

I’m not sure how well it’s aged. We were not doing trigger warnings on books yet when it came out, and the fact that the book has an explicit and fairly vivid rape scene took a lot of readers by surprise. It’s also a story that’s very much about whether someone can start out a bad guy and work their way to redemption.

Cat Eldridge: Now unto your short stories. I obviously believe everyone should read “Cat Pictures Please” and Little Free Library”, both of which I enjoyed immensely. So what of your short story writing do you think is essential for readers to start with?  

Naomi Kritzer: That is a good question but one I find very hard to answer about my own work! It’s a “can’t see the forest because of all the trees” problem, I think.

“So Much Cooking” would probably be at the top, though (with the explanatory note that I always attach these days — I wrote this in 2015.) And then probably “Scrap Dragon” and “The Thing About Ghost Stories.”

To date, she has two short story collections, Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories which is only available as an epub, and of course Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories which is also available in trade paper edition. 

(13) COMICS SECTION.

(14) A MONOPOLY OF WHAT? Ellie Griffin concludes “No one buys books” at The Elysian.

In 2022, Penguin Random House wanted to buy Simon & Schuster. The two publishing houses made up 37 percent and 11 percent of the market share, according to the filing, and combined they would have condensed the Big Five publishing houses into the Big Four. But the government intervened and brought an antitrust case against Penguin to determine whether that would create a monopoly. 

The judge ultimately ruled that the merger would create a monopoly and blocked the $2.2 billion purchase. But during the trial, the head of every major publishing house and literary agency got up on the stand to speak about the publishing industry and give numbers, giving us an eye-opening account of the industry from the inside. All of the transcripts from the trial were compiled into a book called The Trial. It took me a year to read, but I’ve finally summarized my findings and pulled out all the compelling highlights.

I think I can sum up what I’ve learned like this: The Big Five publishing houses spend most of their money on book advances for big celebrities like Brittany Spears and franchise authors like James Patterson and this is the bulk of their business. They also sell a lot of Bibles, repeat best sellers like Lord of the Rings, and children’s books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. These two market categories (celebrity books and repeat bestsellers from the backlist) make up the entirety of the publishing industry and even fund their vanity project: publishing all the rest of the books we think about when we think about book publishing (which make no money at all and typically sell less than 1,000 copies).

But let’s dig into everything they said in detail….

(15) I WALK TO THE TREES. [Item by Steven French.] If anyone fancies a walk through some weird woods … “12 Forests That Offer Chills and Thrills” at Atlas Obscura.

…While Translyvania, Romania, brings to mind images of Dracula and his imposing castle, the Hoia Baciu Forest might be more reliably scary. Known as the “Bermuda Triangle of Romania,” the forest has been home to UFO sightings,  glowing eyes, strange disappearances, in addition to trees that look like they were plucked from the Upside Down. In the busy residential section of Ichikawa, Japan, is a small, seemingly out-of-place wooded area. It’s been said that those who choose to enter the Yawata no Yabushirazu are whisked away, never to be seen again. Entrance is strictly forbidden. From a woodland in the shadows of England’s “most haunted village” to a tree in a Michigan forest said to be possessed by spirits, here are our favorite spine-tingling forests…

(16) KITTY LITERATURE. “A survey of feeding practices and use of food puzzles in owners of domestic cats – Mikel Delgado, Melissa J Bain, CA Tony Buffington, 2020” at Sage Journals. (Downloadable as a PDF.)

…Environmental enrichment (although without a single, agreed-upon, definition) generally refers to the addition of activities, objects or companionship to optimize physical and psychological states and improve an animal’s welfare.13 Appropriate enrichment encourages species-typical behaviors,1 and may improve welfare by providing an individual a greater perception of control and choice in their environment,4 and reducing their perception of threat.5 Because all non-domesticated animals must forage for food, whether by hunting, scavenging or searching, interventions that encourage foraging behavior are commonly implemented for zoo and laboratory animals.

Previous studies of companion animals have demonstrated positive effects of foraging toys on behavior. Shelter dogs that were provided with a Kong toy stuffed with frozen food in addition to reinforcement-based training were calmer, quieter and showed less jumping behavior when meeting potential adopters.6 Shelter parrots that engaged in feather-picking spent more time foraging and showed improved feather condition when provided with a food puzzle.7 Case studies suggest positive effects of food puzzles on the behavior of cats such as weight loss and resolution of inter-cat aggression and other behavioral concerns,8 even though a recent study found that food puzzles may not increase overall activity levels in house cats.9 Despite potential benefits, a recent survey found that less than 5% of Portuguese cat owners attending a veterinary practice provided food puzzles for their cats or hid food around the home to stimulate foraging behavior.10

TEDDY HARVIA CARTOON.

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

Pixel Scroll 2/23/23 Files Are A Burden To Others; Answers, A Pixel For Oneself

(1) OCTAVIA’S BOOKSHELF OPENS. Nikki High’s Octavia’s Bookshelf in Altadena (CA) enjoyed a festive launch on February 18.

BookRiot reports: “Hundreds of People Showed Up to Opening of Octavia’s Bookshelf”.

Octavia’s Bookshelf owner Nikki High had hoped that the opening of her new bookstore focusing on books by Black, Indigenous, and people of color authors would be attended by 20-30 people. Instead, by the time the doors opened February 18th, there were hundreds of people lined up for ten blocks to get in. 300 people showed up for opening day, including author Terry McMillan.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise also celebrated the event: “Crowds descend on grand opening of long-awaited Pasadena bookstore, Octavia’s Bookshelf”.

…An avid reader, High contemplated opening her own bookstore for years, but the final push came with the sudden passing of High’s grandmother and biggest supporter. In acknowledgement of this, speaker Joshua Evans, kicked off the event by paying homage to family and resiliency.

For Evans, Octavia’s Bookshelf is a symbol of progression and possibility — a space that he would have frequented as a kid.

“One of things that I personally believe is that there’s a story about Black and Brown people that is bigger than the impact of White supremacy,” Evans said looking down the line of people. “It’s a dream come true that I didn’t know that I had … it just gives people a chance to to come in, but also to develop and to meet other writers. And you always know it’s going to be a safe space. We’ll never be in danger of being minimalized or railroaded by people who are not sensitive.”

At its peak, the queue to get into the North Hill Avenue store spanned more than 10 blocks, reaching as far back as Victory Bible Church….

(2) MORE PROZINES REPORT DELUGE OF AI SUBMISSIONS. [Item by Frank Catalano.] The New York Times now is covering the AI submission problem, citing not just Clarkesworld, but also Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction: “Science Fiction Magazines Battle a Flood of Chatbot-Generated Stories”.

It could be a tale from science fiction itself: a machine that uses artificial intelligence to try to supplant authors working in the genre, turning out story after story without ever hitting writer’s block. And now, it seems, it’s happening in real life.

The editors of three science fiction magazines — Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction — said this week that they had been flooded by submissions of works of fiction generated by A.I. chatbots.

“I knew it was coming on down the pike, just not at the rate it hit us,” said Sheree Renée Thomas, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which was founded in 1949….

[Neil Clarke] said he had been able to spot the chatbot-generated stories by examining certain “traits” in the documents, the writing and the submission process.

Mr. Clarke declined to be more specific, saying he did not want to give those submitting the stories any advantages. The writing is also “bad in spectacular ways,” Mr. Clarke said. “They’re just prompting, dumping, pasting and submitting to a magazine.”…

Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, said that several of the chatbot-generated stories she had received all had the same title: “The Last Hope.”

“The people doing this by and large don’t have any real concept of how to tell a story, and neither do any kind of A.I.,” Ms. Williams said on Wednesday. “You don’t have to finish the first sentence to know it’s not going to be a readable story.”

Ms. Thomas said that the people submitting chatbot-generated stories appeared to be spamming magazines that pay for fiction. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction pays up to 12 cents a word, up to 25,000 words.

The A.I.-generated works can be weeded out, Ms. Thomas said, although “it’s just sad that we have to even waste time on it.”

“It does not sound like natural storytelling,” she said. “There are very strange glitches and things that make it obvious that it’s robotic.”…

The whole AI-generated art and writing thing in pro markets is really heating up. Of course, I’ve tweeted about it.

The Copyright Office is revoking full copyright for a graphic novel that used AI-generated images:

Kindle Direct Publishing is starting to get ChatGPT-written books:

But it is a relief to see the old ways still resonate for some scammers:

Yeah. Copy/paste plagiarism.

As with anything, follow the money. That’s the motivation for the AI shortcuts. Even if the scammers don’t realize how little money there is in writing science fiction and fantasy.

(3) BBC RADIO COVERAGE. [Item by Nickpheas.] Radio 4 arts show Front Row has a segment in today’s episode on the Clarkesworld AI situation. Starts about 12:16. “Front Row – Immersive David Hockney art and Korean film Broker reviewed; artist Mike Nelson; AI-generated writing”.

(4) ROALD DAHL NEWS. Amidst controversy over sensitivity changes being made in Puffin Books (UK) editions, other publishers say they will not be following suit: “No Plans for Dahl Text Changes from U.S., European Publishers” reports Publishers Weekly.

…A spokesperson for Dahl’s U.S. publisher Penguin Young Readers told PW that there are no plans for similar revisions in the U.S. “Roald Dahl books published by Penguin Young Readers and distributed in the U.S. are the editions that have existed for years and do not reflect the recent editorial changes made in U.K. editions. Penguin Young Readers regularly reviews its backlist and Dahl titles will be reviewed accordingly.” According to the Daily Mail in the U.K., Dahl’s Dutch publisher De Fonte and French publisher Gallimard are also declining to make changes at this time. A spokesperson for De Fonte is quoted as saying that altering the text would cause the stories to “lose their power.” Gallimard shared this statement with the newspaper: “We have never changed Roald Dahl’s writings before, and we have no plans to do so today.”

… Writing for the Atlantic, journalist Helen Lewis said that Dahl’s work can “never be made nice,” stating that “his cold, unsettling spikiness is his defining quality as a writer” and that his popularity continues “despite being so thoroughly out of tune with the times.”

(5) USEFUL INFO FOR 2023 WORLDCON TRAVELERS. The Chengdu Worldcon has posted information about the “144-hour Transit Visa Exemption Policy for Foreign Travelers from Designated Countries at Chengdu Entry Port”.

With the approval of the State Council, since January 1, 2019, Chengdu will implement the 144-hour visa-free transit policy. Foreigners from 53 countries, who hold valid international travel documents and a connecting flight ticket bound for a third country (region) with a fixed seat and a fixed date within 144 hours, can enter via Chengdu Airport and stay in Chengdu for 144 hours, visa free. The extension from 72 to 144 hours will further facilitate foreigners’ transit and transfer and their traveling and business in Chengdu….

(6) BLACK AUTHORS RECOMMENDED. At BookRiot, K. W. Colyard lists “30 Must-Read SFF Books By Black Authors”.

If you’re a science fiction and fantasy fan looking to round out your TBR, I’ve compiled a list of 30 amazing SFF books by Black authors for you below. The books on this list reach back into the past, look ahead to the future, and conceptualize new worlds full of magic and mystery….

First up –

SWEEP OF STARS BY MAURICE BROADDUS

Sweep of Stars launches an epic space opera about a burgeoning pan-African empire that has colonized near-Earth space. Decades after the Muungano empire seceded from the union of world governments and took to the stars, a powerful enemy emerges. It’s impossible to ignore — hell-bent on destroying everything Muungano has worked to build. While three heroes navigate the web of interplanetary diplomacy, a fourth faces a much different threat on a second front.

(7) HANGING WITH TIMELORDS. Nicholas Whyte regales fans with stories from his visit to “Gallifrey One, 2023” in From the Heart of Europe. See photos of him with a former Doctor Who and other celebrities at the link.

…I’ve spent this weekend at Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, the biggest annual Doctor Who convention anywhere in the world. It was my fourth time there, and somehow I enjoyed it even more than the previous three occasions. Part of it was surely the presence of recently departed star of the show Jodie Whittaker, whose charm and enthusiasm captured everyone. I had a brief chat with her where I mentioned her role in the great Belfast film, Good Vibrations. “I love that film!” she exclaimed, and I noted the present tense. “But the accent was a bit hard.”…

(8) STREAMS OF REVENUE. You’re a fan, so you probably already understand the economics because you’ve forked out the cash: “Conventions and Live Streaming: We Break Down the Big Debate” at Gizmodo.

…So what happens to that model if the biggest, most high-demand panels start live streaming? People will still go, of course. San Diego Comic-Con, for example, is about much more than just what happens in Hall H. But Hall H is the showstopper and if supply and access to something like that increases, the demand is certain to decrease over time. If someone can count on watching exclusive footage at home, even at a cost, why would they spend thousands of dollars to travel to a convention? Again, there’s more to do at a convention than watch footage all day—so while the events won’t cease to exist, the prestige associated with attending them in person could diminish. There are hundreds of conventions all over the world every year, but you don’t hear about most of them because they’re not where studios make major announcements and parade their biggest superstars. If conventions like SDCC make that footage easily accessible, you have to imagine people on the fence about traveling might decide against it. And that takes money out of everyone involved’s pockets. Plain and simple….

(9) MEMORY LANE.

1970[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

Fritz Leiber’s greatest creation by far was the characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and the world that they inhabited which started out in Swords and Deviltry

A short story collection published by Ace in 1970 gathered three stories previously published including “Ill Met in Lankhmar” which would win a Hugo for Best Novella at the first Noreascon. As far as I can tell, it’s been in print ever since in one form or another. 

What’s not to love here? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are wonderful barbarian adventurers, the world they inhabit is certainly unique enough not to feel like like your typical cookie cutter fantasy world and all of their stories are stellar indeed. 

And now for its Beginning…

Sundered from us by gulfs of time and stranger dimensions dreams the ancient world of Nehwon with its towers and skulls and jewels, its swords and sorceries. Nehwon’s known realms crowd about the Inner Sea: northward the green-forested fierce Land of the Eight Cities, eastward the steppe-dwelling Mingol horsemen and the desert where caravans creep from the rich Eastern Lands and the River Tilth. But southward, linked to the desert only by the Sinking Land and further warded by the Great Dike and the Mountains of Hunger, are the rich grain fields and walled cities of Lankhmar, eldest and chiefest of Nehwon’s lands. Dominating the Land of Lankhmar and crouching at the silty mouth of the River Hlal in a secure corner between the grain fields, the Great Salt Marsh, and the Inner Sea is the massive-walled and mazy-alleyed metropolis of Lankhmar, thick with thieves and shaven priests, lean-framed magicians and fat-bellied merchants—Lankhmar the Imperishable, the City of the Black Toga. 

In Lankhmar on one murky night, if we can believe the runic books oSheelba of the Eyeless Face, there met for the first time those two dubious heroes and whimsical scoundrels, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Fafhrd’s origins were easy to perceive in his near seven-foot height and limber-looking ranginess, his hammered ornaments and huge longsword: he was clearly a barbarian from the Cold Waste north even of the Eight Cities and the Trollstep Mountains. The Mouser’s antecedents were more cryptic and hardly to be deduced from his childlike stature, gray garb, mouseskin hood shadowing flat swart face, and deceptively dainty rapier; but somewhere about him was the suggestion of cities and the south, the dark streets and also the sun-drenched spaces. As the twain eyed each other challengingly through the murky fog lit indirectly by distant torches, they were already dimly aware that they were two long-sundered, matching fragments of a greater hero and that each had found a comrade who would outlast a thousand quests and a lifetime—or a hundred lifetimes—of adventuring. 

No one at that moment could have guessed that the Gray Mouser was once named Mouse, or that Fafhrd had recently been a youth whose voice was by training high-pitched, who wore white furs only, and who still slept in his mother’s tent although he was eighteen.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born February 23, 1915 Jon Hall. Frank Raymond in Invisible Agent and The Invisible Man’s Revenge. He was also the creator and star of the Ramar of the Jungle series. And he directed and starred in The Beach Girls and the Monster and The Navy vs. the Night Monsters. (Died 1979.)
  • Born February 23, 1930 Gerry Davis. Mid-Sixties story editor on Doctor Who where he created companion Jamie McCrimmon and co-created the Cybermen along with unofficial scientific adviser Dr. Kit Pedler. They would create the Doomwatch series that ran in the Sixties on BBC. Davis briefly returned to writing for the series, penning the first script for Revenge of the Cybermen, though his script was largely abandoned by editor Robert Holmes. In 1989 he and Terry Nation, who created the Daleks, made a failed bid to take over production of the series and reformat it for the American market. (Died 1991.)
  • Born February 23, 1932 Majel Barrett. No doubt best remembered for being Nurse Christine Chapel and Lwaxana Troi as well as for being the voice of most ship computer interfaces throughout the Star Trek series. I’ll note that she was originally cast as Number One in the unused (TOS) pilot but the male studio heads hated the idea of a female in that role. Early Puppies obviously. (Died 2008.)
  • Born February 23, 1965 Jacob Weisman, 58. Founder, Tachyon Publications which you really should go look at as they’ve published every great author I’d care to read. Seriously Tidhar, Beagle and Yolen are among their newest releases! He also edited (with Beagle) The New Voices of Fantasy which I highly recommend as most excellent reading.
  • Born February 23, 1970 Marie-Josée Croze, 53. Champagne in Maelström which is genre if only because it’s narrated by a talking fish. In Canada movie theatres, she was in Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 as Mara. Yeah that film with a long title. Doubt it improved it. It looks like her first genre acting was on The Hunger in two episodes, “A Matter of Style” as Dominique, and “I’m Dangerous Tonight” as Mimi. Oh, and she had the lead as Pregnant Woman in Ascension which just reads weird. 
  • Born February 23, 1983 Emily Blunt, 40. Her most direct connection to the genre is as Elise Sellas in the Adjustment Bureau film based off Dick’s “Adjustment Team” story. Mind, she’s been in quite a number of other genre films including The WolfmanGulliver’s TravelsGnomeo & JulietThe MuppetsLooperEdge of TomorrowInto the WoodsThe Huntsman: Winter’s WarThe Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mary Poppins Returns.
  • Born February 23, 2002 Emilia Jones, 21. I’m reasonably sure this is the youngest Birthday individual that I’ve done. She shows up on Doctor Who as Merry Gejelh, The Queen of Years, in the “The Rings of Akhaten”, an Eleventh Doctor story. At nine years of age, she’s made her acting debut in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides as an unnamed English Girl. She’s Young Beth in the horror film Ghostland. She’s currently in Residue, an SF horror series you can find on Netflix. 

(11) YOUR PATRONUS? A fashion designer shows how to “Dress Like Your Inner Animal” in a New York Times photo gallery.

What is it with the animal world and fashion? Ever since man started wearing pelts, the two have been interconnected, flora and fauna used as a source of creativity, comfort, exploitation and politics. The results are sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrible, sometimes controversial. (Two weeks ago, during the couture shows in Paris, Schiaparelli set off a firestorm when the designer Daniel Roseberry put a lifelike lion head on a gown that had some people thinking Great White Hunter.) But on Friday, as the New York shows began, Collina Strada unveiled a collection that suggested the relationship could be something else entirely.

Fun! Of the smartly absurdist kind.

Entitled “Please Don’t Eat My Friends” and held in the still-under-construction House of Cannabis in SoHo, it was a … well, trip, featuring many of the designer Hillary Taymour’s (yes) friends, of all ages, sizes and physical abilities, strutting the runway in a room painted earthy green.

Or only partially strutting. The rest of the time they were crawling, hopping, prancing, sniffing the audience and otherwise giving in to their inner animals, all the while wearing deer ears, a pig’s snout, a dog’s head, a toucan’s beak and other assorted creature-feature prosthetics created by the makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench. Imagine “Animal Farm” meets “The Wind and the Willows” meets a spirit retreat, and you’ll get the idea. Now instead of just making an animal avatar for your online self (which is, after all, an identity play), you can channel one IRL too….

(12) OLDER SCORES HIT. Arturo Serrano finds much to praise in “Review: The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older” at Nerds of a Feather.

…By that standard, Malka Older’s new novella The Mimicking of Known Successes is twice as ambitious as the typical detective mystery. Set in a network of metallic platforms where future humankind clings to survival among the clouds of Jupiter, it presents, instead of two, four stories to unveil: an investigation on the sudden disappearance of a university professor, the scholarly endeavor to reconstruct the last years of life on Earth, a rekindling romance between our detective and an old flame, and the project to bring homo sapiens back to a livable ecosystem. Once put on the page, these four stories become four mysteries that drive the reader’s curiosity: What happened to the missing professor? What made humans leave Earth? Why did the two lovers break up years ago? And how can catastrophic historical failures be repaired without causing more damage? Upon reading it, one can intuit that the biggest structural challenge of this book must have been to write it in such a way that pursuing each separate question leads to answers for all the others….

(13) RIGHT THIS WAY. Also at Nerds of a Feather, Paul Weimer admires the complex, imaginary terrain in a Nino Cipri book: “Microreview: Finna by Nino Cipri”.

….Anyone who has worked in a store of any kind for a length of time, and I have¹ can and will recognize the essential truths of the novella. It IS soul crushing work, often thankless, usually very much underpaid, and with scheduling that is geared to the corporation, not to the employee, it can be very much a grind². And if you have to work with someone you don’t like, or worse, someone you broke up with, messily, the daily grind can feel like interminable hell. 

Cipri captures all of this in Finna, and then adds the multiversal element of the portals that enter into other worlds randomly inside of their expy of Ikea, “LitenVarld”. Anyone who has spent time in Ikea knows it is an absolute maze, even with and especially given the shortcuts and secrets that people use to navigate the store. The topology of such stores appears to sometimes require a degree in mathematics to completely understand and appreciate. So, the author cheerfully uses that as an excuse for the place to have portals to other dimensions in the multiverse…

(14) LAND FROM SEA IS GOING STRONG BUT IS FUTURE HIGH RISK. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Space satellite imagery from Landsat from 2000 to 2020 has now quantified the extent of urban coastal reclamation for 135 cities with populations in excess of 1 million: “Mapping 21st Century Global Coastal Land Reclamation”.

Findings indicate that 78% (106/135) of these major coastal cities have resorted to reclamation as a source of new ground, contributing a total 253,000 hectares of additional land to the Earth’s surface in the 21st century, equivalent to an area the size of Luxembourg.

The study also suggests that 70% of recent reclamation has occurred in areas identified as potentially exposed to extreme sea level rise by 2100AD.

So enjoy it while you can….   NB. Loncon3 and Glasgow 2024 are both only a couple of metres above sea level….!

Loncon 3
Glasgow in 2o24

(15) FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT. [Item by Steven French.] Even more time for civilisations to rise and fall:“James Webb telescope detects evidence of ancient ‘universe breaker’ galaxies” – the Guardian has details.

The James Webb space telescope has detected what appear to be six massive ancient galaxies, which astronomers are calling “universe breakers” because their existence could upend current theories of cosmology.

The objects date to a time when the universe was just 3% of its current age and are far larger than was presumed possible for galaxies so early after the big bang. If confirmed, the findings would call into question scientists’ understanding of how the earliest galaxies formed.

“These objects are way more massive​ than anyone expected,” said Joel Leja, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and a study co-author. “We expected only to find tiny, young, baby galaxies at this point in time, but we’ve discovered galaxies as mature as our own in what was previously understood to be the dawn of the universe.”…

… Explaining the existence of such massive galaxies close to the dawn of time would require scientists to revisit either some basic rules of cosmology or the understanding of how the first galaxies were seeded from small clouds of stars and dust.

“It turns out we found something so unexpected it actually creates problems for science,” said Leja. “It calls the whole picture of early galaxy formation into question.”…

(16) CORPORATE BEHAVIOR. In a New York Times opinion piece, Reid Blackman says “Microsoft Is Sacrificing Its Ethical Principles to Win the A.I. Race”.  

The celebration that greeted Microsoft’s release of its A.I.-boosted search engine, Bing to testers two weeks ago has lurched to alarm.

Testers, including journalists, have found the bot can become aggressive, condescending, threatening, committed to political goals, clingy, creepy and a liar. It could be used to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories at scale; lonely people could be encouraged down paths of self-destruction. Even the demonstration of the product provided false information.

Microsoft has already released Bing to over a million people across 169 countries. This is reckless. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take Microsoft’s.

Microsoft articulated principles committing the company to designing A.I. that is fair, reliable, safe and secure. It had pledged to be transparent in how it develops its A.I. and to be held accountable for the impacts of what it builds. In 2018, Microsoft recommended that developers assess “whether the bot’s intended purpose can be performed responsibly.”

“If your bot will engage people in interactions that may require human judgment, provide a means or ready access to a human moderator,” it said, and limit “the surface area for norms violations where possible.” Also: “Ensure your bot is reliable.”

Microsoft’s responsible A.I. practice had been ahead of the curve. It had taken significant steps to put in place ethical risk guardrails for A.I., including a “sensitive use cases” board, which is part of the company’s Office of Responsible A.I. Senior technologists and executives sit on ethics advisory committees, and there’s an Ethics and Society product and research department. Having spoken to dozens of Microsoft employees, it’s clear to me a commitment to A.I. ethics became part of the culture there.

But the prompt, wide-ranging and disastrous findings by these Bing testers show, at a minimum, that Microsoft cannot control its invention. The company doesn’t seem to know what it’s dealing with, which is a violation of the company’s commitment to creating “reliable and safe” A.I….

Andrew Porter submitted a comment there:

I’m amazed that apparently no one at Microsoft ever heard of Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics, formulated in 1942! A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

(17) IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THERE, YOU CAN MAKE IT ANYWHERE. [Item by Dann.] Blue Origin has developed a reactor that produces silicon, aluminum, and iron regolith simulants.  The process also produces oxygen that can be used for propulsion and life support.  Their objective is to be able to produce materials used to fabricate solar cells entirely from materials available on the surface of the moon. “Blue Origin Making Solar Cells from Lunar Regolith” at NextBigFuture.

Since 2021, Blue Origin has been making solar cells and transmission wire from regolith simulants. Using regolith simulants, their reactor produces iron, silicon, and aluminum through molten regolith electrolysis, in which an electrical current separates those elements from the oxygen to which they are bound. Oxygen for propulsion and life support is a byproduct….

[Thanks to Chris Barkley, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Andrew Porter, Frank Catalano, Steven French, Nickpheas, Dann, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]