(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 Wolfman, Gulliver’s Travels, Gnomeo & Juliet, The Muppets, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, The 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….!
(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).]