(1) A DRAGON POET. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings contemplates “Ursula K. Le Guin’s Playful and Profound Letter-Poem to Children About the Power of Books and Why We Read”.
…Most dragons don’t know how to read. They hiss and fume and guard their hoard. A tasty knight is what they need
For dinner (they spit out the sword),
Then go to sleep on heaps of treasure. They’ve no use for the written word….
(2) CLOUDY, WITH A CHANCE OF GENRE. Last night on Saturday Night Live there were three sketches with fantasy in them:
- Spooky Song is about a ghost who really doesn’t want to explain the tasteless way in which he died.
- Space Mistakes shows what happens when you make mistakes in space.
- Dance Rehearsal asks, “What happens if you’re taking a dance class and your instructor is a werewolf?”
(3) ‘BOT AND SOULED. The LA Review of Books’ Patrick House considers the writing of robots in “I, Language Robot”.
I was hired to write short fiction at OpenAI, a San Francisco–based artificial intelligence research lab. I would be working alongside an internal version of the so-called ‘language bot’ that produces style-matched prose to any written prompt it’s fed. The loss that I feared was not that the robot would be good at writing — it is, it will be — nor that I would be comparatively less so, but rather that the metabolites of language, which give rise to the incomparable joys of fiction, story, and thought, could be reduced to something merely computable.
(4) PULLMAN’S RETORT. The author’s post appeared atLit Hub on October 8 and the link has made the rounds, but still may be news to some of us: “Philip Pullman on Children’s Literature and the Critics Who Disdain It”.
…The model of growth that seems to lie behind that attitude—the idea that such critics have of what it’s like to grow up—must be a linear one; they must think that we grow up by moving along a sort of timeline, like a monkey climbing a stick. It makes more sense to me to think of the movement from childhood to adulthood not as a movement along but as a movement outwards, to include more things. C. S. Lewis, who when he wasn’t writing novels had some very sensible things to say about books and reading, made the same point when he said in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”: “I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two.”
But the guards on the border won’t have any of that. They are very fierce and stern. They strut up and down with a fine contempt, curling their lips and consulting their clipboards and snapping out orders. They’ve got a lot to do, because at the moment this is an area of great international tension. These days a lot of adults are talking about children’s books. Sometimes they do so in order to deplore the fact that so many other adults are reading them, and are obviously becoming infantilized, because of course children’s books—I quote from a recent article in The Independent—“cannot hope to come close to truths about moral, sexual, social or political” matters. Whereas in even the “flimsiest of science fiction or the nastiest of horror stories . . . there is an understanding of complex human psychologies,” “there is no such psychological understanding in children’s novels,” and furthermore “there are nice clean white lines painted between the good guys and the evil ones” (wrote Jonathan Myerson in The Independent, 14 November 2001).
(5) GOALS AND PURPOSES. Robert J. Sawyer draws the title of his article in the July edition of Galaxy’s Edge, “What SFWA Was Supposed to Be”, from the contrast he perceives between founder Damon Knight’s stated purpose for the organization and the SFWA mission statement of 2018.
…Of course, times change; of course, publishing is different now than it was then. But in the thirty-six years I’ve been a member of SFWA, I’ve seen—and, indeed, foreseen—all the changes that people are talking about now and more (I was writing in 1998 as SFWA president about “the post-publisher economy”).
For instance, it used to be that giant print runs were required to get economical per-copy pricing; that’s no longer true. It used to be there were many thousands of bookstore accounts for publishers to service in North America; sadly, that’s no longer true. It used to be that audiobooks were only made in eviscerated abridgments and only of the biggest print sellers; wonderfully, that’s no longer true. And it used to be that the only effective way to publish a book was on paper. That’s no longer true, either (and I’ve got a bunch of my own older titles out in self-published e-book editions).
Whatever you might think of these changes, every single one of them came with enormous cost savings for publishers, but no portion of that was ever passed on to the authors. I remember at one convention this decade hearing the late David G. Hartwell brag that Tor, the publisher he worked for, had just had its best year ever, while one of his authors—with Hugos galore—confided to me that he didn’t know how he was going to heat his house that coming winter.
Among the most egregious things that have happened during my career: literary agents going from ten-percent commissions to a fifteen percent; publishers locking in a 3:1 split of e-book royalties—three dollars for them to every one for the writer; and publishers using print-on-demand and the mere notional existence of an e-book edition to keep from reverting rights to authors for titles the publisher is no longer promoting or selling in any meaningful quantity. SFWA rolled over on every one of these.
But never let it be said that SFWA is without achievements. They recently—and I’m not making this up—produced an official SFWA secret decoder ring. I didn’t pony up to get one; I doubt Damon Knight would have wanted such a thing, either.
(6) CHAPMAN OBIT. Scholar and regular attendee of the International Conference on the Fantastic Arts Edgar Chapman (1936-2019), a Professor Emeritus in the English Department at Bradley University, died October 11 at the age of 83. He authored numerous articles and books including The Magic Labyrinth of Philip Jose Farmer (1984) and The Road to Castle Mount: The Science Fiction of Robert Silverberg (1999). He also co-edited Classic and Iconoclastic Alternate History Science Fiction (2003).
(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA.
Don’t tell Harlan but Ray Bradbury gets credit for Terminator first. Ray was on the Oscar nominating committee for documentaries, in 1977. The next screening for the committee was listed as a muscle building movie, Pumping Iron. Without even screening it the committee basically said NEXT. Ray spoke up and said they had to screen it because his brother, Skip, was a body builder and worked out on Venice’s Muscle Beach. After watching the documentary it was nominated. Making the career for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Heck, we got Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, too. [Source: John King Tarpinian.]
(8) TODAY IN HISTORY.
- October 27, 1967 — Star Trek’s “Catspaw” was first aired. Written by Robert Bloch who said it was based on his 1957 story, “Broomstick Ride” published in Super Science Fiction. It was their Halloween episode.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born October 27, 1922 — Ruby Dee. Her first genre role is in Cat People. No name there but she has the wonderful name of Mother Abagail Freemantle in The Stand series. (Died 2014.)
- Born October 27, 1937 — Steve Sandor. He made his first genre appearance on Trek playing Lars in the second season episode “The Gamesters of Triskelion”. He also did one-offs on Knight Rider, Fantasy Island and The Six-Million Dollar Man. He did a choice bit of horror in The Ninth Configuration. (Died 2017.)
- Born October 27, 1938 — Lara Parker, 80. Best known for her role as Angelique on Dark Shadows which aired from 1966 to 1971. She also played Laura Banner in The Incredible Hulk pilot, and Madelaine in the Kolchak: The Night Stalker “The Trevi Collection” episode. And she was on Galactica 1980 in “The Night The Cylons Landed” two-parter.
- Born October 27, 1939 — John Cleese, 80. Monty Python of course, but also Time Bandits, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, two Bond films as Q and even two Harry Potter films as Nearly Headless Nick. He’s definitely deep into genre film roles. And let’s not forget he shows up as an art lover on the “City of Death” story, a Fourth Doctor story.
- Born October 27, 1948 — Bernie Wrightson. Artist with who with writer Len Wein, he’s known for co-creating Swamp Thing. He did a lot of illustrations from Cemetery Dance magazine to Stephen King graphic novels to DC and Marvel comic. Ell me what you liked about his work. (Died 2017.)
- Born October 27, 1953 — Robert Picardo, 66. He debuted in genre as Eddie Quist, the serial killer werewolf in The Howling. He’d be in Dante’s Explorers, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Small Soldiers and Innerspace. And then of course he played the role of the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) on Voyager. And even managed to show on on Stargate SG-1. Busy performer!
- Born October 27, 1963 — Deborah Moore, 56. English actress and the daughter of actor Roger Moore and Italian actress Luisa Mattioli. She’s an Air Hostess in Die Another Day, a Pierce Brosnan Bond film. And she was a secretary in Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming. Her very first role was as Princess Sheela in Warriors of the Apocalypse.
- Born October 27, 1970 — Jonathan Stroud, 49. His djinn-centered Bartimaeus series is most excellent. Though considered children’s novels, I think anyone would enjoy them. I’ve also read the first two in his Lockwood & Co. series as well — very well done.
(10) COMICS SECTION.
- Shoe finds out why a character is not a Tolkien fan.
- How To Cat hears Zarathustra speaking, if you know what I mean.
(11) PREFERRED HORROR. At IndieWire, “Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro, and 30 More Directors Pick Favorite Horror Movies”.
Quentin Tarantino, on “Audition”
Takashi Miike’s 1999 horror movie “Audition” is often cited as one of the most disturbing films ever made. Ryo Ishibashi stars as a widow named Shigeharu Aoyama who stages auditions for men in hopes of meeting a new husband or life partner. Aoyama falls for Asami (Eihi Shiina), but her dark past has unexpected and brutal consequences. Tarantino called the movie one of his favorites since he’s been a director, referring to it as a “true masterpiece” in a 2009 interview.
(12) DIRECTOR TO VIDEO. “Fan Video Imagines Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in STAR TREK” — Nerdist tell you where to find this micro-epic.
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, a.k.a. “the 9th film from Quentin Tarantino,” made quite the splash upon release when it hit theaters this past summer. It had all of Tarantino’s signature trademarks — a couple of cranky male leads, excessive violence, and a rockin’ retro soundtrack. And it’s left QT fans salivating for whatever his 10th (and possibly final?) movie will be. Rumors abound that it could in fact be a Star Trek film. Leading many fans to ponder just what the heck a “Pulp Fiction-esque Star Trek” movie would even look like.
Well, one fan has combined the well known Quentin Tarantino sensibilities and aesthetics with some old school Star Trek footage, and the result is “Once Upon a Time in Star Trek.”
(13) A TREE GROWS IN ANAHEIM. The Orange County (CA) Register makes sure all the locals know: “History & Heritage: The Legend of the Halloween Tree “.
…Bradbury’s novel “The Halloween Tree” tells the story of a group of trick-or-treaters who learn about the origins of Halloween while on an adventure to find their missing friend. Bradbury dreamed of having a Halloween Tree at Disneyland park, and on the 35th anniversary of the novel, his dream was brought to life.
“I belong here in Disneyland, ever since I came here 50 years ago. I’m glad I’m going to be a permanent part of the spirit of Halloween at Disneyland,” the author said at the tree’s dedication. Bradbury would visit the tree before he passed away in 2012.
Today, the Halloween Tree delights guests of all ages and honors Bradbury’s many contributions to Disney. A plaque at the base of the tree commemorates the night of its dedication: “On the night of Halloween 2007, this stately oak officially became ‘The Halloween Tree,’ realizing famed author Ray Bradbury’s dream of having his symbol for the holiday become a part of Disneyland.”
(14) TANGLED UP IN BLUE. CNN finds the way to Sesame Street: “The entrance to this Pennsylvania house is monstrous. Cookie monstrous”.
In the words of Cookie Monster: “Home is where heart is. Heart where cookie is. Math clear: Home is cookie.”
For a Pennsylvania homeowner, Cookie Monster’s logic sounds just about right.
Lisa Boll from York County turned the entrance of her house into Cookie Monster. Literally.
(15) WATCHMEN. In the Washington Post, David Betancourt profiles Regina King, who plays Sister Night in Watchmen. Betancourt discusses King’s background with showrunner Damon Lindelof and how she signed on to the part because of Watchmen’s anti-racist themes. “‘Watchmen’ gives Regina King her first superhero role — and takes a bold look at race relations in 2019”.
Showrunner Damon Lindelof was planning to give the “Watchmen” story quite a twist — so he told King to use her unfamiliarity to her advantage. It’s a different approach compared with many actors who land superhero roles and are immediately handed a stack of comics.
“He didn’t want me to confuse how he saw this world,” said King, who worked with Lindelof on HBO’s “The Leftovers.” “He was right.”
“Because I did watch the film after [filming the pilot], and I would have been confused,” she added. “They stand on their own. They don’t even feel related to me in any way. Which I think is a great thing. I think that’s the beauty of Damon making the choice of using the [comics] as canon instead of trying to duplicate, from my understanding, something that was already great.”
(16) HEAVY LIES THE HEAD. Io9’s James Whitbrook says afterwards he was ready for Jedi chiropractic — “I Wore Hasbro’s Ridiculous New Star Wars Replica Helmet for a Day, and All I Got Was Some Neck Ache”.
One of the more expensive offerings Hasbro had for this year’s Triple Force Friday extravaganza was the latest helmet in its Star Wars: The Black Series line of “roleplay” items. Joining a line that already had everything from Darth Vader’s helmet to more Stormtrooper variants than you can shake an Incinerator Trooper at, the Luke Skywalker X-Wing Battle Simulation Helmet is a 1:1 replica of the same helmet worn by everyone’s favorite Rebel-turned-Jedi-turned-Milk-Swigging-Curmudgeon in both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
Packed with lights and sounds to replicate Luke’s experiences at the battles of Yavin and Hoth, the main draw is it’s…well, a Star Wars helmet you can put on your head.
(17) NO REMATCH! Ethan Alter, in the Yahoo! Entertainment story “MVPs of Horror: Simon Pegg on the existential terror of zombies and whether Chris Martin really cameos in ‘Shaun of the Dead'”, has an interview with Simon Pegg on the 15th anniversary of Shaun of the Dead where he reveals that Coldplay’s Chris Martin is not in the film and there will never be a sequel to Shaun of the Dead because “it’s a complete story: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
1. There’s a reason slow-moving zombies are terrifying.
When Romero was making his pioneering zombie favorites, the walking dead only moved at a slow and steady pace. But by the time that Wright, Pegg and Frost were making Shaun, zombies had acquired frightening busts of speed in films like 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Previously a zombie originalist, Pegg now says that’s he’s come around on their lightning-quick descendants. “I’m not the purist I used to be — I’ve seen fast-zombie things that I’ve enjoyed,” the actor says, pointing to the 2016 South Korean cult favorite Train to Busan. But there was never a world in which Shaun would have made the switch, and not just because they were trying to remain true to Romero’s vision. Pegg argues that quicker creatures would have undermined the dramatic metaphor of a person — and entire society — caught in the grip of stagnation, which runs beneath the movie’s comedy. “There’s something incredibly creepy about the shambling dead. They’re more of an effective metaphor for death when they just sort of come slowly. That’s what death is — death doesn’t always just run at you.”
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Lenore Jean Jones, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]