Pixel Scroll 5/11/24 I’m Still Scrolling After All This Time, Picking Up The Pixels Of My Life Without You In My File

(1) SCAM TARGETING WESTERN AUTHORS PURPORTS TO BE FROM SCIENCE FICTION WORLD. [Item by Ersatz Culture.] On Saturday May 11th, the Weibo account of Science Fiction World magazine issued a statement about fraudulent emails addressed to authors.  The emails claimed that SFW had decided to no longer publish work by the author that had previously been acquired, but would retain the copyright, and offered the author the chance to pay to reclaim their copyright.  The post did include an image showing part of the (English language) email that one affected author did receive, but redacted their name.  A Weibo post a day or so earlier identified at least one such affected author, but at time of writing, that author hasn’t posted about it on Twitter or Bluesky, so I’ve not included their name here.

A Google Translate rendition of the statement, with minor manual edits, follows.

Dear readers, authors and partners,

Recently, we have received feedback from foreign science fiction writers that we work with. Some criminals are using impersonation techniques to launch carefully planned email fraud incidents targeting those foreign writers.

This fraudulent email uses the email address “[email protected]“, purporting to be from an editor at our company.  It falsely informs the author that their work will not be published due to so-called “commercial evaluation” or other reasons, and illegally claims to retain the copyright of the author’s work, proposing that the author should pay a fee to redeem their copyright.

We strongly condemn such illegal behavior and have taken corresponding measures to cooperate with law enforcement agencies and actively investigate the matter.  In order to protect the rights and interests of all authors, readers and partners, we hereby issue the following anti-fraud guidelines. Please be vigilant and jointly prevent such fraud as follows:

1. Get confirmation through official channels: Our company will formally notify you through official channels (the official contact channels are indicated on the copyright pages of “Science Fiction World” and its journals) for any decisions regarding the publication status of the work, copyright transfer, or financial transactions. . When receiving similar emails, please do not reply directly to the email, but verify through official channels.

2. Be wary of fake email addresses: Scammers often use addresses that are very similar to official email addresses to send emails.  When receiving similar emails, please carefully check the sender’s email address and pay attention to identifying subtle differences, such as adding or replacing characters, using different top-level domain names, etc.

3. Understand the formal processes: Our company has complete and strict business processes. For major matters such as copyright and contract changes, our company will implement a strict and formal process and will never make a hasty decision through just one email.

4. Direct communication verification: If you receive such an email, the most direct and effective way is to contact us through the official contact method you know to verify the situation. Never use the contact number or return address provided in the email for verification.

5. Improve information security awareness: Keep personal information and communications safe, and do not click on unknown links or attachments in emails to prevent personal information from being leaked or being attacked by malware.

We are fully aware of the importance of each author’s work and the hard work behind it.

We will fight resolutely to the end against any behavior that undermines the rights of authors. At the same time, we also encourage authors or other individuals who receive similar emails to report them to us and local law enforcement agencies in a timely manner, so as to jointly maintain a good creative and publishing environment.

Here, we reiterate our commitment to all partners: we will continue to strengthen information security protection and ensure that the rights and interests of every author who works with us are respected and protected to the greatest extent. The general public is requested to remain vigilant and work together to build a safe space for literary exchange.

Science Fiction World Magazine. May 11, 2024

(2)  PTERRY SURPRISE. The Terry Pratchett website has announced “Another lost Terry Pratchett story found”.

We are pleased (delighted, ecstatic) to announce that one further lost story by Terry Pratchett has been found.

A Stroke of the Pen: The Lost Stories, published in 2023, collected 20 rediscovered tales from when Terry wrote under a pseudonym back in the 1970s and 1980s. It was, at the time, believed to be the last stories of his. But, we were wrong.

One final published tale has been found, that was missed from this collection: Arnold, the Bominable Snowman, which brings us to some more news.

This new story will appear in the paperback edition of A Stroke of the Pen, which will publish in September 2024. Furthermore, the story itself will be published online – for free – by Penguin Books, so that those who bought the hardback do not miss out on this tale. More information on the paperback edition, and where to read the story online, will be made available at a later date….

(3) FANFICTION GOT THERE FIRST. In case you thought the title sounded familiar, The Hollywood Reporter says there’s a reason: “’The Hunt for Gollum’ LOTR Movie Already Exists”. And for a moment, Warner Bros.’ lawyers were trying to pitch the video into Mount Doom.

If Warner Bros.’ newly announced The Lord of the Rings movie idea The Hunt for Gollum sounded a bit like fan fiction, that’s because it already is.

There’s a 2009 fan-made film titled The Hunt for Gollum that you can watch below. The film, directed by Chris Bouchard, is rather ambitious. The Hunt for Gollum spans 39 minutes and has received plenty of praise from fans upon its release.

Following WB’s announcement, the film was taken offline for many hours and YouTube put up a notice saying Warner Bros. had filed a copyright claim against the fan movie and blocked it. LOTR fans reacted quite negatively to the takedown online and, early Friday, the film was restored to YouTube….

The fan-made Hunt for Gollum is set during opening act of The Fellowship of the Ring and fills in a quest that was only briefly discussed in Jackson’s 2001 film: Gandalf (played by Patrick O’Connor in the short) meets with Aragorn (Adrian Webster) and asks him to hunt for Gollum to find out more about Frodo’s magic ring. Aragorn has a series of adventures, traps and loses Gollum and gets attacked by orcs and Ringwraiths. Gollum is recaptured by the Elves of Mirkwood, and he’s interrogated by Gandalf….

With my terrible hearing I can’t say whether the audio is in English – but the closed captioning is in Spanish.

(4) SPFBOX. Mark Lawrence’s tenth Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (“SPFBOX”) immediately filled its 300-entry quota on May 10 and has moved on to “SPFBOX phase 1”.

This is the VERY prelimary allocation of books to blogs.

What now follows will be swapping from blog to blog for books that meet the contest rules but have authors who are friends with someone in the blog they’ve been allocated to.

And elimination of books that don’t meet the rules, followed by their replacement with books that didn’t get selected in the original 300.

(5) FRANCHISE COLLISION. A reference to the latest episode of Doctor Who. A spoiler? I never know. “Could the 2 Oldest Sci-Fi Shows Finally Cross Over?” at Inverse.

In “Space Babies,” the debut episode of the newly relaunched 2024 Doctor Who “Season 1” (or Season 14, or Season 40, depending on how you count) the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) have a quick discussion about how beaming works in the universe of Star Trek. When the Doctor makes one small quip, fans of both venerable sci-fi franchises might wonder if travel between the Final Frontier and the Whoinverse, is, indeed possible in some kind of mega-geek-multiverse….

At the start of “Space Babies,” Ruby asks the Doctor if they were just beamed somewhere, saying “Is that like a matter transporter? Like in Star Trek?” The Doctor grins broadly and says, “We gotta visit them one day.” This is not the first time Doctor Who has referenced Star Trek (or that Trek has referenced Who) but, it does seem to be the biggest indication to date — at least on screen — that the canon of Trek could exist in an adjacent dimension, rather than just as fiction.

Throughout all of post-2005 Doctor Who, there have been multiple references to characters and ideas from the Star Trek franchise. Rose called the 9th Doctor “Spock,” in the Season 1 episode “The Empty Child,” the 10th Doctor flashed the Vulcan “live long and prosper” hand symbol in the Season 2 episode “Fear Her,” while the 12th Doctor evoked the famous opening lines “Space… the final frontier,” in the Season 10 episode “Oxygen.” And that’s just a small sampling of Trek Easter eggs in Who!

(6) CHALLENGING HERSELF. “Brush and Ink” at Colleen Doran’s Funny Business, is illustrated with examples based on Gaiman’s Sandman series.

I used to get a lot of ribbing for having an elaborate, decorative style. The word was, artists who choose to add decoration and complex rendering are probably hiding drawing deficiencies.

While I agree that this is sometimes the case (and I can think of a few artists who make my hair go the wrong way with endless rendering and very weak underdrawing,) not all of us are covering up poor structure with frou frou.

I always start with a simple, solid drawing before adding the stylization. If the drawing isn’t solid, I don’t proceed until it is.

Awhile ago I decided to challenge my skill set with a series of minimalist brush and ink pieces. I limited the time cost of each drawing to 10 minutes or less. And I tried to stick to no underdrawing, if possible.

That is, one and done, no prelim. Ink only, nothing else.

While I’ve shown some of these drawings before, you folks on Substack probably haven’t seen most of them.

Most of the original exploratory sketches were based on characters from Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series, like this group of sketches of Death….

Nicki Lynch, left, and Sheila Strickland, right, at the Southern Fandom Press Alliance party during Worldcon 76 in San Jose. Photo by Kay McCutcheon.

(7) R.I.P. SHEILA STRICKLAND. Longtime File 770 subscriber Sheila Strickland died May 9. The Louisiana fan said in her zine for the Southern Fandom Press Alliance a few months back that her doctors had detected cancer and it had spread to her intestine and liver. She went into hospice just a few days ago. Rich Lynch says, “She was a great lady, always looking toward the future.  And now she’s very much missed.”

Guy H. Lillian III says Sheila’s sister told her Facebook friends that the family obituary will be in the New Orleans Advocate this week and the funeral on May 16 at the Greenoaks Funeral Home and Memorial Park in Baton Rouge at noon.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY.

[Written by Cat Eldridge.]

Born May 11, 1918 Richard P. Feynman. (Died 1988.) I’ll admit that I don’t begin to understand what most of the work Richard P. Feynman did as a theoretical physicist. I seriously doubt most of you do. 

While at Princeton, Feynman was recruited for the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project, the very, very secret U.S. Army laboratory set up in Los Alamos, for the purpose of developing the atomic bomb. He was present at the first detonation of an atomic bomb.

Richard P. Feynman. (Caltech Archives)

In 1965, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. The three each created new mathematical tools for a theory called quantum electrodynamics, which describes how subatomic particles interact with light. 

Now there is the matter his influence on the genre. Although as I said was his work in theoretical physics, Feynman was largely pioneered the field of quantum computing and was solely responsible for the concept of nanotechnology. So yes, two widely used SF concepts are from him. 

By the late Fifties, he was already popularizing his love of physics through books and lectures including lectures  on nanotechnology called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, and a multi volume publication of his undergraduate lectures, The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Yes, these are available from the usual suspects. 

He also became known through his autobiographical works Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?. Naturally there would be books written about him. The biography by James Gleick,  Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman is the one I’ll single out as being the best.

It’s worth noting last is that he was selected to be a member the Presidential Rogers Commission that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. 

Lis notes that during the Challenger explosion hearings, Feynman  demonstrated on camera that an O-ring dropped into ice water lost all the resilience critical to its function on the shuttle solid rocket fuel tanks. 

(9) ROBERT BLOCH WEBSITE UPDATE. Eight vintage photos of Robert Bloch with such friends/family as Bob Tucker, Dean A. Grennell, Fritz Leiber, Marion Bloch, and others have been added to the RobertBloch.net gallery.

(10) UNEXPECTED NETWORKING. At GamesRadar+, “Russell T Davies explains how his ‘accidental’ criticism of Loki led to the Marvel show’s director writing a Doctor Who episode”.

…As reported by Uproxx, during a virtual Pride month panel at Swansea University, Davies described the queer representation in the MCU show [Loki] as being a “feeble gesture”. As you may recall, Tom Hiddleston’s God of Mischief became the first openly queer lead character in MCU canon thanks to a reference to the character’s love life in the first season, but at the time Davies wasn’t impressed by the inclusion: “Loki makes one reference to being bisexual once, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, it’s like a pansexual show.’ It’s like one word. He said the word ‘prince’ and we’re meant to go, ‘Thank you, Disney! Aren’t you marvelous?’ It’s a ridiculous, craven, feeble gesture towards the vital politics and the stories that should be told.”

…Reflecting on that statement now, Davies admits that his comments were a mistake, explaining that he reached out to Herron immediately to apologize. Little did he know that they would continue chatting, striking up a friendship, which would then result in working together on Doctor Who….

… For the upcoming season, Herron and her co-writer Briony Redman have penned episode 6 which is titled ‘Rogue’. Of course, since the Doctor Who team like to keep their cards close to their chests, little has been revealed about the episode, but we do know that it is set in the Regency era and will feature Mindhunter star Jonathan Groff.

(11) A PROBLEMATIC PIXIE? According to The Street’s report “Disney World cuts classic character from meet-and-greets amid scrutiny” it appears that Disney has permanently discontinued “meet and greet” sessions for Tinkerbell at almost all of their attractions. 

This action followed the New York Times’ 2022 article “Disney, Built on Fairy Tales and Fantasy, Confronts the Real World” which said the company’s Disney Stories Matter team “was marked for caution because she is ‘body conscious’ and jealous of Peter Pan’s attention, according to the executives…”

The Street’s May 7 report says:

…[The] Disney’s Stories Matter team was developed to spot and correct “negative depictions of people and cultures” in Disney’s products.

“We are reviewing our offerings beyond the screen, which include products, books, music and experiences,” reads the Stories Matter homepage on Disney’s website. “While advisories for negative depictions of people and cultures may be added to some offerings, others will be reimagined. We are also investing in new ways to better reflect the rich diversity of stories in our world. This work is ongoing and will evolve as we strive toward a more inclusive tomorrow.”…

The PlanDisney website, answering the question “Why does Tinkerbell no longer have a meet and greet and are their plans to bring her back?” says that currently the only location where Tink does meet visitors is at Pixie Hollow at the Disneyland Resort in California.

(12) MINNESOTA’S NEW FLAG. AP News is there as “Minnesota unfurls new state flag atop the capitol for the first time”. However, my real reason for running this story is that it was the first time I heard about the famed losing entry featuring a loon with lasers for eyes.

Minnesota officially unfurled its new state flag atop the capitol for the first time Saturday on statehood day.

The new flag and accompanying state seal were adopted to replace an old design that Native Americans said reminded them of painful memories of conquest and displacement.

The new symbols eliminate an old state seal that featured the image of a Native American riding off into the sunset while a white settler plows his field with a rifle at the ready. The seal was a key feature of the old flag. That’s why there was pressure to change both.

Officials didn’t pick any of the most popular designs submitted online that included options like a loon — the state bird — with lasers for eyes….

[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Ersatz Culture, Lise Andreasen, Danny Sichel, Rich Lynch, Teddy Harvia, Kathy Sullivan, 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 Kaboobie.]

Pixel Scroll 4/8/24 Everyone I Know Is A Hoopy Scroll, Who Know Where Their Pixel Is

(1) ANGRY ROBOT BRINGS ON ECLIPSE OF STORYWISE. [Item by Anne Marble.] Angry Robot Books announced a one-week open submissions period that begins April 22, and several posts down in their thread they also said they would be using a submissions portal named Storywise to help them sort through their submissions. In their image, they explain a little more and point out that it’s not generative AI.

Angry Robot provided more information about Storywise here: “Storywise and Open Submissions FAQ’s “ [Internet Archive copy]. It included information on how authors can opt out of Storywise being used in their submission.

For obvious reasons, people are worried. People are pointing out that the Storywise platform can have biases. (And because it’s software, you can’t see those biases.) While it’s great that it’s not generative AI, does that mean writers can still trust it? For example, how do authors known what Storywise will do with their submissions? Others think its fine because it’s not generative AI — it’s just AI being used as a tool. Some have pointed out that slush readers are often unpaid, so that this is not taking away jobs. (But does that apply to slush readers working for book publishers?!)

Here is a quote-tweet by Vajra Chandrasekera with lots of information about Storywise. (Thread starts on X.com here.)

Angry Robot subsequently removed the posts to social media about their open submissions, and walked back the announcement with respect to Storywise, saying they will resume using their inbox system.

Editor’s note: Adrian Moher has a good roundup about the controversy at Astrolabe Digest: 040824. (Moher provided the link in his social media.)

(2) ON THE WAY TO THE CENTERLINE. Rich Lynch snapped this photo of the view from Interstate 87, in the middle of Adirondack Park while on his way to witness today’s eclipse. (Click for larger image to read sign).

No pictures of the event itself, though. “I don’t have any eclipse photos on my iPhone.” But Rich says, “It very much did exceed my expectations, even with the sun having to burn its way through a thin cloud layer.”

(3) STOKERCON 2024 ADDS GOH. Rob Savage was announced today as StokerCon 2024’s fifth Guest of Honor.

Rob Savage initially gained attention at the age of 19 when he wrote, directed, produced, and edited the low-budget romantic drama film Strings (2012), he later became more widely known for his work in horror films and has since co-written and directed lockdown horror hit Host (2020), co-written and directed Dashcam (2021), and directed Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman (2023).

The con also signal-boosted HWA’s Librarian’s Day.

This year’s Librarian’s Day on Friday, May 31, 2024, once again offers fantastic programming featuring the conference’s guest authors on timely topics and more. Librarian’s Day ticket holders ($60) will have access to the Dealers Room and other areas of the full conference throughout the day.  

(4) DETROIT FURRY CON VICTIMIZED AGAIN. “Motor City Furry Con evacuated for second straight year” reports Audacy.

For a second straight year Motor City Furry Con attendees were forced to be evacuated from their hotel due to a threat.

The nature of the threat was not clear, but officials with the convention confirmed Sunday the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest in Ypsilanti was evacuated around 9 a.m.

The “all clear” was given around 12:30 p.m. and the final day of convention activities resumed.

Sunday’s evacuation comes a year after attendees were evacuated from the same hotel due to an emailed bomb threat. Ultimately, there were no injuries or any explosives found last March.

The Motor City Furry Con is a convention for people who “appreciate the anthropomorphic lifestyle,” according to a report from The Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit Free Press article also noted, “Event attendee Scoops took to social media to celebrate the second year of being an evacuee.”

(5) SLOWLY WE TURNED, STEP BY STEP. “Caeciliusinhorto” has written an impressive perspective piece synthesizing all the news items that comprise “The 2023 Hugo Awards fuckup” for Reddit’s r/HobbyDrama.

… After much discussion, the general consensus seemed to coalesce around a combination of two or three explanations: firstly, active censorship by the Hugo administrators, possibly due to pressure from the Chinese government (national or local); secondly, incompetence; and perhaps thirdly, weird nominator behaviour (possibly including organised voting blocs). For a while things stalled there: the data was obviously wrong, the most plausible explanation seemed to be some combination of cock-up and conspiracy, and there was no prospect of anyone finding out anything more.

And then we found out more….

(6) SURE. MAYBE. DUNNO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. Nautilus asked six sff writers “Does Science Fiction Shape the Future?”.

Behind most every tech billionaire is a sci-fi novel they read as a teenager. For Bill Gates it was Stranger in a Strange Land, the 1960s epic detailing the culture clashes that arise when a Martian visits Earth. Google’s Sergey Brin has said it was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the cyberpunk classic about hackers and computer viruses set in an Orwellian Los Angeles. Jeff Bezos cites Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, which unreel in an utopian society of humanoids and artificial intelligences, often orchestrated by “Minds,” a powerful AI. Elon Musk named three of SpaceX’s landing drones after starships from Banks’ books, a tribute to the role they played in turning his eyes to the stars.

Part of this makes sense. Science fiction widens the frontiers of our aspirations. It introduces us to new technologies that could shape the world, and new ideas and political systems that could organize it. It’s difficult to be an architect of the future without a pioneer’s vision of what that future might look like. For many, science fiction blasts that vision open.

Yet these tech titans seem to skip over the allegories at the heart of their favorite sci-fi books. Musk has tweeted, “If you must know, I am a utopian anarchist of the kind best described by Iain Banks.” Yet in Banks’ post-scarcity utopia, billionaires and their colossal influence are banished to the most backward corners of the galaxy.

Recently, I interviewed six of today’s foremost science-fiction authors. I asked them to weigh in on how much impact they think science fiction has had, or can have, on society and the future….

The interview subjects are N.K. Jemisin, Andy Weir, Lois McMaster Bujold, David Brin, Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. Here’s a quote from Stross:

Charles Stross: Yes, the entire current AI bubble is exactly that. The whole idea of AI has been turned into the centerpiece of a secular apocalyptic religion in which we can create superhumanly intelligent slaves that will solve all our knottily human intellectual problems, then work out how to liberate our pure soul-stuff from these clumsy rotting meatbags and upload us into a virtual heaven. And right now, some of the biggest tech companies out there are run by zealots who believe this stuff, even though we have no clear understanding of the mechanisms underlying consciousness. It’s an unsupported mass of speculation, but it’s threatening to derail efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the climate crisis by encouraging vast energy expenditure.

(7) MONSTER BOX OFFICE. Godzilla x Kong rang the registers loudly last weekend reports Variety.

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” dominated the domestic box office again, looming large over newcomers “Monkey Man” and “The First Omen.”

Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s monster tentpole added $31.7 million from 3,948 theaters in its second weekend of release. Ticket sales dropped a standard (for a tentpole of its size and scale) 60% from its mighty $80 million debut and stand at $132 million domestically and $361 million globally.

First-time director Dev Patel’s action thriller “Monkey Man” nabbed second place with $10.1 million from 3,029 venues, while Disney and 20th Century’s supernatural prequel “The First Omen” trailed at the No. 4 spot with a muted $8.4 million from 3,375 locations….

(8) PEAK TELEVISION. “Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper: How TV’s strangest detective was born” – BBC went right to the source.

… Writer Mark Frost told the BBC’s Late Show that part of the inspiration behind the character was the show’s co-creator and director David Lynch. 

“I tried to base that character on David to some extent,” said Frost. “A lot of his quirkiness and attention to detail, which are things that David has in great abundance, sort of came to the surface with that character. I guess his interest in people’s obsessions, and characters who are obsessed with something, are pretty common with other things he’s done.” …

(9) SMALL BUSINESS. And what is David Lynch working on today? “David Lynch Still Wants To Make Animated Movie ‘Snootworld’: Interview” at Deadline. Netflix said no – maybe someone else will say yes.

…“I don’t know when I started thinking about Snoots but I’d do these drawings of Snoots and then a story started to emerge,” Lynch told us in a rare interview. “I got together with Caroline and we worked on a script. Just recently I thought someone might be interested in getting behind this so I presented it to Netflix in the last few months but they rejected it.”

Lynch was philosophical about the reasons for that decision: “Snootworld is kind of an old fashioned story and animation today is more about surface jokes. Old fashioned fairytales are considered groaners: apparently people don’t want to see them. It’s a different world now and it’s easier to say no than to say yes.”

Thompson described the storyline to us as “wackadoo”: “It takes my breath away how wacky it is. The Snoots are these tiny creatures who have a ritual transition at aged eight at which time they get tinier and they’re sent away for a year so they are protected. The world goes into chaos when the Snoot hero of the story disappears into the carpet and his family can’t find him and he enters a crazy, magnificent world”….

(10) WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN? “Star Trek Discovery’s Doug Jones Reveals How He Said Goodbye to Saru (And It Involves Whitney Houston)”Comicbook.com listens in.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s long-awaited fifth season finally debuted this week on Paramount+, and it marks the beginning of the end for the series. ComicBook.com recently had the chance to chat with some of the show’s cast, and they opened up about saying goodbye to their characters in the final season. Doug Jones (Saru) revealed how he said farewell to the character he began playing in 2017, and it involves an iconic song…

“Oh yeah,” Jones said when asked if he was able to keep any part of Saru after the show finished filming. “I wasn’t gonna let that go. Yeah. My final time taking Saru off, I did not cut him up and throw him across the room at all,” he added, referencing the famous story of René Auberjonois throwing his Odo mask at the showrunner at the end of Deep Space Nine. “I held him on my hand and we were playing a Whitney Houston song and I sang ‘I Will Always Love You’ to him and somebody was recording it. So I hope that’s out there somewhere.”…

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY.

[Written by Cat Eldridge.]

Born April 8, 1974 Nnedi Okorafor, 50. Tonight we have Nnedi Okorafor, a truly phenomenal writer. 

She’s Nigerian, and has coined two words to describe her literary focus, Africanfuturism, and Africanjujuism. The latter word identifies the Afrocentric subgenre of fantasy fiction that draws on African spiritualities and cosmologies. Cool. 

Let’s start with some of her work as comic book writer.  The LaGuardia series that she wrote for was published by Berger Books. The collection won a Graphic Story Hugo Award at ConZealand, and her Black Panther: Long Live the King was nominated at Dublin 2019. She did other work in the Panther universe as well — Shuri in which Black Panther is missing and she has to find him (great story), Wakanda Forever and Shuri: Wakanda Forever

I started there as I love her writing in this medium. Now let me pick my favorite novellas and novels by her. 

The Binti trilogy is an extraordinary feat of writing and my favorite reading experience by her. The Binti” novella which leads it off won a Hugo at MidAmeriCon II. Then came the “Binti: Home” novella which was nominatedfor a Hugo at Worldcon 76 and the final “Binti: The Night Masquerade” novella to date which was nominatedfor a Hugo at Dublin 2019. 

Lagoon is a deep dive in Nigerian mythology including Legba in the forefront here, in what is a SF novel as aliens and humans come together to form a new postcapitalist Nigeria. Neat concept well executed, characters are fascinating and the story is done well. 

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) IT COULDN’T HURT. “Fallout Moves To California For Season 2 With Big Tax Credit Award”Deadline pencils in the numbers.

Just days before its debut, Fallout looks to be assured a second season thanks to a $25 million tax credit from California.

Officially, Amazon has not said yet that the Prime Video series is coming back, but, with some hints from executive producers Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan recently, it is pretty clear the money is doing the talking here. Receiving one of the largest allocations ever from the program for a relocating series, the LA-set post-apocalyptic drama is among a dozen shows awarded $152 million in incentives.

Primetime prequel NCIS: Originsthe Noah Wyle starring The Pitt, plus the Ryan Murphy executive produced Dr. Odyssey starring Joshua Jackson, and Grotesquerie starring Emmy winner Niecy Nash also were awarded credits through the California Film Commission run $330 million annual program – as you can see below….

… Of course, being awarded the tax credits, even big bucks like what Fallout has reaped, is no guarantee a project will go forward. The allocations are conditional on certain timelines being met, and a number of films and shows, like Season 2 of Amazon’s spy saga Citadel, have dropped out of the program after getting a green light….

(14) FILM CENSORSHIP. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Though not SF in itself, this half-hour radio programme, Screenshot, will be of interest to anyone over here in Brit Cit who are fans of fantastic films.  It explains how Britain ranks its films for age suitability. Those in the rebel colonies are not ignored as there is a section comparing Britain’s system with that in the US. It seems we get a better deal over here. Meanwhile, along the way Kim Newman (co-master of ceremonies at the 2005 Hugo ceremony) gets a name check.

As the British Board of Film Classification publishes its new guidelines, Ellen E Jones and Mark Kermode delve into the long, chequered history of film censorship and classification in the UK.

Mark speaks to BBFC President (and original Strictly Come Dancing winner) Natasha Kaplinsky about her role, and about her reaction to the new guidelines. And he discusses the Board’s controversial history, and some of its most notorious decisions, with ex-BBFC Head of Compliance Craig Lapper.

Ellen talks to director Prano Bailey-Bond about her debut film Censor, which was inspired by the ‘video nasty’ moral panic of the 1980s. And pop culture critic Kayleigh Donaldson talks her through some of the differences between the BBFC and its US equivalent, the MPA Ratings Board.

Half hour prog here: BBC Radio 4 – Screenshot, “Censorship”.

(15) THE ELEPHANT NOT IN THE ROOM. “US company hoping to bring back the dodo and the mammoth – but here’s why it won’t be like Jurassic Park” explains Sky News.

… “We’ve got all the technology we need,” says Ben Lamm, chief executive of the firm, based in Dallas, Texas.

“It is just a focus of time and funding. But we are 100% confident [we can bring back] the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, and the mammoth.”

The science behind the project is simple: Work out the genes that make an extinct animal what it is, and then replicate those genes using the DNA of a close existing relative….

… So after around 4,000 years of extinction, when could we see the return of the mighty mammoth – a creature that fell victim to human hunting and the changing conditions brought about by the end of the last Ice Age.

“We are well into the editing phase,” says Mr Lamm.

“We don’t have mammoths yet, but we still feel very good about 2028.”…

(16) STAND BY FOR MANIACAL LAUGHTER. “Animaniacs in Concert” will be presented at Pepperdine in Malibu on April 19. Buy tickets at the link. Learn more about the show itself at their website: “Animaniacs – IN CONCERT”.

Join the leading voice cast of Animaniacs—the iconic animated Warner Bros. series created and produced by Steven Spielberg—for a “zany, animany and totally insaney” evening as they perform the world-famous songs backed by projections from the beloved cartoon TV series. The live show celebrates the creative inspiration behind the songs with lots of audience interaction and never-before-told behind-the-scenes insider stories shared by the show’s original Emmy-Winning composer Randy Rogel and iconic voice actors like Rob Paulsen (Yakko) and Maurice LaMarche (The Brain) to some of the most unforgettable characters in the history of animation. Special guest Nancy Cartwright joins for this performance. Nancy, of course, is Bart Simpson, a lead character in a “globally known property,”  as well as Mindy in Animaniacs, from “Mindy and Buttons.”  

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Warp Zone’s video “If the Star Wars ‘Cantina Song’ Had Lyrics” was first posted six years ago – but it is news to me! (Maybe you, too?)

[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Mike Kennedy, Mark Roth-Whitworth, Lise Andreasen, Daniel Dern, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Igvar.]

We’ll Never Know For Sure

Composite sketch made in 1969 based on eyewitness accounts of the Presidio Heights murder for which the Zodiac killer later claimed responsibility.

By Rich Lynch and Guy H. Lillian III: It’s fascinating what you can find in old fanzines.  They really are a treasure trove of historical information and bravo to Fanac.org for creating a digital archive which makes these decades-old fan materials available online for all of us to marvel at.  Fanzines have documented not only things that happened within science fiction fandom itself but also stuff about how fandom has had crossovers with the quote-unquote real world.

A good and perhaps startling example of this can be found in Don Markstein’s Timebinders I, a mini-history of the first 49 mailings of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance.  SFPA is an amateur press association that came into existence in 1961 and during its first two decades included many prominent fans in its membership.  Two of them, Joe Staton and William Gibson, went on to find professional fame and fortune as an artist and an author.  But there was one other SFPA member who has achieved fame of a different and more notorious kind.  His name was Paul Doerr.

He was in SFPA very briefly and is listed on the membership roster only for mailing 39 (January 1971).  And he has a somewhat unusual distinction.  Markstein was the Official Editor for that mailing and as he described in Timebinders I:

One of the five new members was one Paul Doerr, who performed the almost (but not quite) unprecedented act of appearing on the SFPA roster without once, ever, contributing.  He accomplished this remarkable feat by sending in 21 copies of a genzine, Unknown, just before he found out that the copy requirement for the 39th Mailing had been raised to 23.  I wrote him immediately to tell him that he needed two more copies, so he sent them along – but they didn’t arrive until after the deadline, when the mailing was already out.  Meanwhile, the roster had filled and I’d upped the copy requirement to its old level, 25.  He dutifully sent two more, but meanwhile, I found out that the zine had had distribution long before the deadline for the 39th, so I couldn’t accept it as required activity.  And I told him so.  He wrote back irately that it had been new when he sent it, even tho it was distributed before the deadline, and that I should have asked the members to vote on the matter.  I didn’t bother to answer.  I don’t think he ever caught on that not all apas are as incredibly lax about activity requirements as FAPA.  I threw him out as of the 40th Mailing and just kept the 25 zines around.  About a year later, I gave away as many copies as I could (not bloody many) and threw the rest away.

But that little episode isn’t what made Paul Doerr notorious.  Nope, not at all – it’s for something much, much bigger than that.  He’s become one of the prime suspects for being the Zodiac Killer.

It’s been described as “the most famous unsolved murder case in American history.” In 1968 and 1969, five serial killings happened in the San Francisco Bay Area.  During the spree, the killer, who referred to himself as “Zodiac”, sent taunting notes to regional newspapers.  And also four ciphers, two of which still have not yet been cracked.  He was never apprehended and even now, more than a half century later, the five murders are still considered as open cases.  Over the years there have been many potential suspects but thanks to research by writer Jarrett Kobek (which was described in detail by an article in the September 22, 2022 issue of Los Angeles Magazine), Doerr is now considered as one of the more prime.  It was all summarized in a section of the Wikipedia article about the Zodiac Killer:

In 2022, novelist Jarrett Kobek published How to Find Zodiac, in which Kobek named Paul Doerr as a suspect.  Doerr was a North Bay resident with a post office box in Vallejo, where the first murders took place.  Born in 1927, Doerr’s age in 1969 (42) as well as his height (5′ 9″) was consistent with witness estimates.  He was an avid fanzine publisher and letter-writer throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and many of his writings exhibit circumstantial parallels with the Zodiac.  For example, Doerr was interested in cryptography; in Doerr’s own Tolkien fanzine HOBBITALIA, he published a cipher in Cirth three days after Zodiac sent the Z13 cipher (Kobek in fact argues that the solution to the HOBBITALIA cipher is one of only three possible solutions to Z13).  In Doerr’s own fanzine PIONEER, he references the same formula for an ANFO bomb given later by the Zodiac, which Kobek argues was not widely known before the internet and the publication of The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971.  In a letter to [the N3F fanzine TIGHTBEAM] in 1970, Doerr advocated using solely 1¢ stamps to spite the U.S. Post Office, a practice the Zodiac employed on some of his letters.  Doerr hinted in a 1974 letter to fanzine GREEN EGG that he had previously killed people, and revealed in a different letter that he knew that mail to the [San Francisco] Examiner would be delivered without a street address, just as the Zodiac sent them.  Doerr’s daughter read Kobek’s book with the intent of suing for libel, but came away impressed with Kobek’s research, adding in interviews that Doerr had at times been a violent and abusive father.  Paul Haynes, a researcher for [the HBO true crime documentary series] I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, called Doerr “the best Zodiac suspect that’s ever surfaced.”

Timebinders I was recently added to the fanac.org archive (it’s so far the only fanzine digitally preserved from SFPA’s 50th mailing) and there’s lots more of fan history interest in it than just the paragraph about Paul Doerr’s ghost membership in the apa.  It’s a good read.

And as for Doerr himself, the overall timeline leads to a chilling realization.  If he actually was Zodiac (and it should be noted there is at least one other prime suspect besides him) then the five murders occurred prior to his very abbreviated time in SFPA.  And not only that, there were other killings that some investigators suspect had been committed by Zodiac and they all happened after Markstein booted him.

A Google search on Doerr’s name, as you might expect, brings up scads of links about the Zodiac Killer mystery.  And besides all these there’s also one to findagrave.com, which shows a photo of his headstone (he died in 2007 and is buried in the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery).  Doerr had been a military veteran, which had induced one of the two people who commented to write the usual “Thanks for your service.”  But the other commenter wrote something that’s much more to the point as far as the Zodiac Killer mystery is concerned: “Did you do it?”  Guess we’ll never know for sure.

Piotr

Piotr Rak and the Katowice sports arena

By Rich Lynch: I learned about his death from a short two-line obit in the December issue of Ansible:

Piotr ‘Raku’ Rak (1962-2023), noted Polish fanzine editor, con-goer and club/award organizer who won special Eurocon awards in 1991 and 1993, died on 2 November aged 61.

To me, the fandom I know is maybe a bit like an ornate tapestry – filled with colorful memories about events I’ve participated in and people I’d met and come to know over the years.  And every time one of those people passes it creates a tear in that fabric.  That’s definitely the case with Piotr.

He was not the first Polish fan I ever met – that distinction goes to Andrzej Kowalski, who at that time was his supervisor.  Most of my professional career had been as an International Activities Advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and way back in 1992, Andrzej had been part of a visiting Polish delegation of energy experts that I had chaperoned to meetings at several technology demonstration sites in the United States.  We were out in the middle of Kentucky, almost a week into the trip, before I discovered he was an avid science fiction reader and fan.  And it had probably been a similar revelation for Andrzej to discover that I was, too.

I met Piotr the following year on my first of many trips to Poland.  Andrzej had assigned Piotr as my liaison when I visited their energy institute in Katowice.  He had evidently informed Piotr of my interests in science fiction and that I was a fan because it was what our first extended conversation was mostly about.  Things were in transition, during that first ten years following the fall of communism, and I was fortunate that there had been sufficient interest from the U.S. Government, in terms of getting greater knowledge of Poland’s energy sector, that I was able to find funding to go there about once or twice a year through the end of the 1990s and very beginning of the 2000s.  Whenever I traveled to Poland, Katowice and its energy institute was always part of my itinerary.  And my point of contact there was always Piotr.

We became friends very quickly.  Science fiction and its fandom was a common denominator, of course, but it went beyond that.  He took time away from his family to make sure everything was okay during my stays in Katowice and that included setting up a dinner with him and others in his local fandom whenever I was in town.  They were bonding experiences, fueled by good food and good beer.  It was at one of these dinners I met the prominent Polish fan and translator Piotr Cholewa, and we all found we had yet more of common interest – 1970s and 1980s rock music.  I told them in more detail than was probably necessary about a fabulous Springsteen concert I’d attended in Tennessee and got back a similar amount about a Jethro Tull concert at Katowice’s big flying saucer-shaped sports arena.  It went on from there – it was a  musical geekfest.

The time Piotr went the most out of his way to help me was on the first day of my May 2000 trip.  Just as the train to Katowice was about to depart the Warsaw Central Station, two guys jostled me while I was struggling to get settled in the railcar compartment and got away with my wallet.  All my credit cards were in that wallet, including my ATM card.  It could have been a financial disaster.  But Piotr met me at the Katowice train station and he immediately provided unlimited use of his mobile phone to call back to the United States to cancel the stolen credit cards, arrange for replacements, and get some cash wired to me.  He also vouched for me at the hotel so I could check in without a credit card.  And he even treated me to dinner at one of Katowice’s many pleasant sidewalk restaurants.  He absolutely saved my trip.

I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I’d ever see him.  He wasn’t at my meeting the next day with the institute’s upper management and when that concluded I was whisked away to the Katowice station for a train ride back to Warsaw.  We kept in touch by email and I’d planned to go back there the next year, in the autumn, but then 9-11 happened and all international travel was put on hiatus.  By the time that had lifted my funding had dried up and I had been reassigned to another group where my travels took me to other places in the world.  I did eventually make it back to Poland, but not anywhere near Katowice.

And now he’s gone.  What I have left to remember him by are a few photos I’d taken of him all those years ago.  But up in my headspace he’s still alive and probably always will be.  Oh, and there’s one more thing.  Even though he wasn’t at that next day’s meeting he’d made sure I was given a replacement for the wallet that had been stolen – a much nicer one than what I’d had.  I still have it.  And I make use of it whenever I’m on the road.  Like me, it’s starting to show its age but I’m not going to discard it.  It’s a reminder of all the good times.

Piotr Cholewa, Piotr Rak, and Andrzej Kowalski

The Museum of Earthly Delights

By Rich Lynch: As I mentioned in a previous essay, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me for me to say that I really like museums.  Art museums, history museums, science museums, cultural museums, sports museums, you name it.  They’re all good.  Where I live we’re blessed with the Smithsonian which has 16 museums and galleries in the Washington metro area, ten of them conveniently located adjacent to the National Mall and several others near Metrorail stops.  And besides these there are dozens of others in the city that are not affiliated with the Smithsonian.

But this essay is not about any of those.  Just up the road, Baltimore has its own treasure trove of museums and one of them, the American Visionary Art Museum, gets my vote as the region’s most extraordinary.  It’s been described by CNN as “one of the most fantastic museums anywhere in America” and that seems pretty accurate to me.  Visiting it is like being immersed in a Hieronymus Bosch painting – it’s the Museum of Earthly Delights.

Unlike the famous Bosch triptych there is normally little in the way heavenly or hellish imagery to be found at AVAM.  But there’s no lack of unusual and at times surreal things to see that are truly captivating.  And exhibitions hosted by the museum are always varied and eclectic.  Three past examples:  The Great Mystery Show, described as “one part lively fun house, two parts cosmic dream lab”, explored the human need to know and it featured works and creative investigations of visionary artists (one of them Edward Gorey), research scientists, astronauts, mystics, and philosophers.  All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs & Karma, billed as “a call to awareness of the circular and voluptuous nature of life”, was a multimedia extravaganza which included things like spherical sculptures by vision-impaired artists, mandelas, micro dot sock-thread embroideries, and otherworldly visions depicted by indigenous Huichol yarn art.  And Human, Soul & Machine: The Coming Singularity! was an attempt by the museum to promote “an honest contemplation of the future of warfare, personal privacy, and transhumanism (the very real effort to download soul, intellect, and human memory into a machine that will not die or grow old)” and was described as “a communal look forward to where much of the Sci-Fi imaginings of the past are now swiftly becoming commonplace reality” via artwork that was “a hot-wired blend of art, science, humor, caution and hope”.

Needless to say, Nicki and I have been regular visitors to AVAM.  Partly because of the pandemic it had been a couple of years since we’d last been there and we were pleased to discover there were three new so-called ‘outsider art’ exhibitions on display.  One of them was a retrospective of multimedia artist Judith Ann Scott (1943-2005) titled The Secret Within.  Judith was a truly remarkable person.  She was a Down Syndrome baby and from birth was deaf and mostly uncommunicative.  This led her parents to institutionalize her when she was age 7 and she spent her next 36 years as a ward of the State of Ohio.  In 1986 Judith’s twin sister Joyce, who had not been afflicted with Down Syndrome, got custody of her after an extended legal process and brought her to northern California where she found nurturing surroundings in a boarding home which provided the care she needed.  Joyce also enrolled Judith in the Creative Art Center in Oakland (an art center for people with physical and developmental disabilities) where she discovered her talent as a fiber artist.  Judith incorporated various found (and sometimes pilfered) objects such as keys and magazines as cores to be enveloped by yarn and other materials.  What resulted were new shapes and forms, many of them vaguely organic and cocoon-like in appearance.  And in doing so, she gained national and international acclaim – her works have been on display at the Brooklyn Museum, the National Gallery in D.C., the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and now at AVAM.

Nicki at the Judith Ann Scott exhibition

Some of the objects that were on display reminded me a bit of forms depicted by the great artist John Schoenherr on some of his covers for science fiction books and magazines.  Which makes me wonder if Judith had come across old issues of Analog in her scavenging for things to incorporate into her 3D art.  There was also a short video of Judith at work in the studio and even from that brief clip it was clear that she was driven to create and had realized it was her purpose in life.  Would that we all could be so fortunate.

Another of the featured exhibitions was titled Esther and the Dream of One Loving Human Family.  It’s not genre-related but it is in its own way extremely compelling – the life story of Holocaust survivor Esther Niesenthal Krinitz (1927-2001) as depicted in a series of fabric pictures.  The series progresses from bucolic home life in rural Poland to the rounding up of Jews in the village by Nazi soldiers and then to her escape (with her younger sister) into the relative safety of a forest while her parents and other siblings, as well as all other Jews in the village were rounded up and sent off to a labor camp where they were murdered.  She and her sister eventually were taken in by a farmer and his wife in a different village where they were able to survive the war, and she eventually immigrated to the USA where she created the fabric pictures that told her life story.

The Bees Save Me – Nazi soldiers flee swarming bees instead of interrogating Esther

There was more to the exhibition than just the fabric picture series, as it also included a partial reconstruction of Esther’s pre-war farm home as well as paintings by other artists about more recent genocides.  The overall aim was to “juxtapose the power of Esther’s work and story with the experience of other innocent victims of cultural genocides, historic and current” and it certainly did that.

One of Leslie Payne’s home-built aircraft

The third featured exhibition was not nearly so powerful in theme but it was just as interesting.  It was titled If You Build It They Will Come: Visionary Artists and Their Environments and has been described as an attempt to “take visitors on a journey into the spaces of exceptional artists who have built their own dream worlds”.  One of them was Leslie Payne (1907-1981), who lived in rural Virginia and built several faux but fairly realistic-looking airplanes.  And then, with the participation of neighborhood women who played the role of ‘stewardesses’, he ‘flew’ around the world, all the while recording his adventures in a log book under the byline ‘Airplane Payne’. 

Another was Zebedee Armstrong (1911-1993) from rural Georgia, who believed he’d been visited by an angel who warned him of the imminent end of the world and then became fixated on creating a ‘calculating calendar’ which would predict the exact date.  He became so fixated on this that over the final two decades of his life he built somewhere around 600 such calendars, using mostly discarded and reclaimed material, from the size of an ordinary flat wall calendar to a large 3D wardrobe. 

Some of Zebedee Armstrong’s many calendars

But my favorite, by far, was DeVon Smith (1926-2003), a junk dealer and science fiction/horror movie enthusiast from rural Pennsylvania who used some of the scrap metal he had on hand to build what he called the Worlds 1st Family of Robots.  These are not small constructs – most of them appeared to be about 4-5 feet tall.  And they all had names: Father Jupiter, Venus, Sis-tar and her brother Sun, and the dog Pluto.  Later on, two others joined the family: Saturn and Mars.  Even though they’re part of this special exhibition they’ve been ‘residents’ of the museum for many years – I’ve read that Saturn and Mars were ‘married’ at AVAM back in June 2000 and the ceremony was witnessed by dozens of museum attendees.

DeVon Smith’s Worlds 1st Family of Robots
DeVon Smith’s jacket

DeVon Smith is interesting for more than just his scrap metal sculptures, though.  He was known for his wanderlust and his bio describes him as a former Guinness World Record holder for most miles hitchhiked (more than a half million, across four continents).  He’d described himself as a ‘space traveler’ because he’d often deliberately gone to places with out-of-this-world names (Jupiter, Florida, for example).  And he’d stood out in a crowd because of the outerwear he’d worn – a Doctor Who-like long black jacket with red lapels, cuffs, and shoulder epaulets, festooned with patches and pins that celebrated some of the places he’d been.  This had made him a minor celebrity which had led to appearances on TV shows hosted by Art Linkletter and Groucho Marx.  He was present at the museum for the robot wedding ceremony where he offered attendees some sage advice: “Don’t sit in a chair.  Get out and do it.”

The amazing Tick Tock the Croc

The permanent collection of AVAM is just as interesting as the special exhibitions.  It’s spread out over the two buildings occupied by the museum and there’s no lack of remarkable things in it, from the sublime (a meditative sculpture garden between the two buildings) to the ridiculous (a display chronicling the history of flatulence humor, appropriately located near one of the restrooms).  The museum is home to dozens of kinetic sculptures, ranging from about the size of a bread toaster all the way up to Tick Tock the Croc, a multi-segmented reptile built for the museum’s annual kinetic sculpture race and whose movement is provided by six linked-up bicycles.  But my favorite is something, in its own way, equally amazing: a 16-foot-long scale model of the RMS Lusitania by craftsman Wayne Cusy (b. 1961), built entirely from toothpicks (193,000 of them).  It reportedly took him 2½ years to complete, and it’s not the only large toothpick sculpture of steamships he’s ever done.  When Cusy was asked why he was drawn to this kind of use for his available time, he stated that: “It’s a challenge.  There’s a lot of people who like to climb mountains like Mount Everest. … I choose to build models.  It’s safer.”  I’m with him on that.

Wayne Cusy’s RMS Lusitania toothpick sculpture

As you might expect, AVAM has a gift shop.  And like the rest of the museum, it’s very diverse.  There are things for sale such as gorgeous hand-painted Día de Los Muertos ceramic tiles from Mexico and small metal science fictional sculptures from Vietnam.  And lots more.  (There’s even a Zoltar fortune telling machine but that’s probably not for sale.)  The gift shop is so flamboyant and eclectic that it was given a descriptive name: Sideshow.  And, from what I could see, it was as much a draw for museum visitors as any of the exhibitions.

Small metal sculptures from Vietnam in the gift shop

Nicki and I spent two entertaining hours at AVAM during our most recent visit there in mid-November and we could very easily have stayed a whole lot longer than that.  There was quite a lot to see!  Just before we departed for home I had a brief conversation with the gift shop manager, who asked me if we’d enjoyed our visit.  He seemed impressed when I told him we’d been to AVAM several times, we liked it so much.  And he chuckled when I told him that AVAM could be described as ‘The Museum of Earthly Delights’.  He told me, “I think I’ll use that!”  Hey, he has my permission!

Rich Lynch: Report from Spiral-Con II

By Rich Lynch: I’ve been to a lot of conventions in my personal five decades of fandom, but very few of them as small as Spiral-Con II.  It was a free one-day event, sponsored by Spiral Tower Press and held Saturday, July 15, 2023 on the campus of Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.  I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t remember ever hearing about the first Spiral-Con, which had been held last August, even though (as I discovered belatedly) it had been a news item in File770.com.  And I wouldn’t have heard about this year’s convention either if I hadn’t been contacted by someone who was scheduled to be a program participant.

That would be my friend Rusty Burke, the current President of the Robert E. Howard Foundation which was started in 2006 as a means of expanding the knowledge base about the author and his fiction.  Rusty had emailed me at the beginning of July, asking if Nicki and I would like to appear on a fanzine-related panel during the convention.  He was very well aware of our fanzine background – besides his status as a world-class Howard historian he is, or at least used to be, a pretty good fan artist.  Way back when we all lived in eastern Tennessee he was a frequent contributor to our 1970s clubzine Chat.  Turns out that two of the organizers of the convention are also Howard Foundation members, so the connection pathway from them to us was an easy one.

But enough about that.  The convention drew a total of 17 people including participants but I guess that was probably about what was expected, given that the University was in the middle of summer break.  Those of us who did attend witnessed an interesting single-track program that included five panels and a short awards presentation ceremony.  The Trigon Awards, which according to the Spiral Tower Press website “celebrate the past, present, and future of science fiction, fantasy, and horror”, were the first thing on the schedule: the award for Scholarly Achievement went to Rusty for the breadth of his many activities within the Howard Foundation; the award for Literary Achievement went to Old Moon Quarterly, a relatively new online magazine devoted to dark fantasy and sword-and-sorcery fiction; and a Special Achievement award went to Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books who over the years has been “an unparalleled steward and champion of the pulp genres of sword and sorcery, military science fiction, and epic fantasy”.

The Robert E. Howard panel:
(l-r) Jason Ray Carney and Rusty Burke

The five panels were an eclectic mix.  For the first one, the topic was the literary legacy of Robert E. Howard, which started out to be an interview of Rusty by Dr. Jason Ray Carney of CNU’s English Department.  But at about the halfway point the focus expanded and after that it became more about the Howard Foundation than the author.  In particular, there was a lot of description about Howard Days, an annual event held in Howard’s home town of Cross Plains, Texas.  Some of the convention’s program is held indoors, but other parts are held in an open air pavilion.  And there are no hotels or motels in Cross Plains (the nearest ones are the better part of an hour’s drive away) so the 200-or-so people who attend are firmly committed to preserving the history and learning more about the author, and are willing to persevere through the heat of hot Texas summers to do so.  Now that’s dedication!

The Women and Modern Fantasy panel: (l-r) Shannon O’Keefe and Nicole Emmelhainz

The second panel was a change of pace – a literary analysis titled “Women and Modern Fantasy: History, Theory, and Analysis”.  The presenter was CNU English Department student Shannon O’Keefe, who was introduced by her advisor, Dr. Nicole Emmelhainz.  By all appearances it seemed to be a preview of a thesis on the topic, and the presentation skillfully walked us attendees through the history of feminism and its literary movement, focusing on how the feminist movement eventually resulted in many women authors writing genre fiction, including science fiction & fantasy. The reasons for this, we were informed, is that genre fiction can be used as a means to comment on societal issues and can be used to create worlds, situations, and characters for making such social commentary.  More to the point, genre fiction allows female authors a good way to examine and explore the ‘what ifs’ of feminist political and social movements, including things like cultural expectations for women.  There were several writers cited as examples, and the latter part of the panel turned out to be an in-depth analysis of a major work by one of them: R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War.  It’s ostensibly a dark fantasy with military overtones, but it’s also a journey of discovery and awakening for its main character, Rin.  I haven’t read it yet, but after this I think I’m intrigued enough that I’ll want to.

The History of Pulp Magazines panel: (l-r) Jason Ray Carney, Nathan Vernon, and Josh LeHuray

There was another change in direction after that – the third panel was about the history of pulp magazines.  Dr. Carney was again the moderator and the panelists were two experts with encyclopedic knowledge on the topic: historians Nathan Vernon and Josh LeHuray.  Vernon is also a board member of The Pulp Magazine Project, which according to its website is “an open-access archive and digital research initiative for the study and preservation of one of the twentieth century’s most influential print culture forms: the all-fiction pulpwood magazine.”  Similar to the Howard panel earlier in the day, this one started out by walking us through the history of the pulp magazine era (which dates all the way back to 1896 when Frank A. Munsey published the first issue of Argosy) but eventually broadened to include discussion and description of PulpFest, the annual convention which celebrates the history of that type of publication. Overall it was an opportunity to broaden my knowledge – I hadn’t known, for example, that during the pre-WWII years newsstands rented out space to the pulp publishers rather than entering into consignment or outright purchase agreements for the magazines.  There were many well-known authors who wrote for pulp-era magazines including now-famous science fiction and fantasy writers such as Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Murray Leinster, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edmund Hamilton, C.L. Moore, and, yes, Robert E. Howard (to name just a few).  Ray Bradbury also was published in pulp-era magazines, which segues nicely into the description of the next panel.

The History of Zine Culture panel: (l-r) Luke Dodd, Rusty Burke, Rich Lynch, and Nicki Lynch. Photo by Shelley Wischeusen.

The fourth panel was the one Nicki and I had come to Spiral-Con for.  It was titled “A Brief History of Zine Culture and its influence on Genre Fiction”, but for the purpose of this panel the focus was limited to science fiction fanzines.  The moderator, Dr. Luke Dodd from Eastern Kentucky University (another Howard Foundation member), had informed me prior to the convention that a visual aid or two for the panel would be helpful so I’d created a PowerPoint which provided a few prominent examples of science fiction writers who had edited and published fanzines.  One of them was Bradbury who in 1939-40 had published four issues of Futuria Fantasia, which was an eclectic mix of essays, fiction and poetry.  The second issue contained a short story by Bradbury that probably became the basis for his first professional sale as a writer. 

What I had attempted to show was that zine culture of the 1930s through the end of the 1960s was a prime conduit for science fiction fans to become science fiction authors.  But after that, there was pretty much a paradigm shift – new writers in the field had found other routes (such as writers workshops) to become professionals.  There didn’t seem to be many people in attendance who were very knowledgeable about science fiction fanzines, so Nicki, Rusty, and I described in general some of the different types (genzine, perzine, apas, etc.).  And after that there were questions from audience members which indicated a genuine interest in learning more about fanzines and fanzine fandom.  I hope they will follow up on it by visiting the two online sites where fanzines are archived – there’s much for them to discover.

The Military Science Fiction panel: (l-r) Sean Korsgaard, Chase Folmar, and John Balderi

The final panel of the convention had been mislabeled in the program handout – it had been described as “The Literary Legacy of Space Opera: Literature, Film, and Gaming” but the actual focus was on military science fiction.  The moderator was Baen Books assistant editor Sean Korsgaard (who earlier had accepted Toni Weisskopf’s Trigon Award), and the two panelists were Chase Folmar and Dr. John Balderi. Korsgaard and Balderi are retired U.S. military, and they all had strong opinions about the topic. The panel was actually fairly wide-ranging, including call-outs to some of the more prominent military SF writers such as David Drake and David Weber, but what made it interesting to me was the back-and-forth with audience members which attempted to define just what qualified as military science fiction and what didn’t.  The Expanse, for example, has a lot of military SF overtones but the overall plot of the series is much more about discovery and survival on a grandiose scale – in other words, it’s space opera.  And there are some series which are, in fact, military science fiction even though the plots are not really pro-war – John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is a good example of that.  And there are other stories which have a militaristic basis or foundation but are not, strictly speaking, military science fiction – Keith Laumer’s original ‘Bolo’ story, “Night of the Trolls”, is a prime example of that.  There were a lot of questions from the audience, and it made for one of the more interesting panels I’ve attended lately.

I’m glad I attended Spiral-Con.  The day was filled with good panels that showcased many of the diverse interest areas of science fiction and fantasy – it had made the traffic jam-filled drive down from Maryland and expenditure of Marriott points worthwhile.  But I think the organizers need to figure out what they want the future of the convention to be – there’d been just enough publicity (via the Spiral Tower Press blog) to bring 17 people to the event, which seems barely enough to make it sustainable.  But the meeting site at CNU probably couldn’t handle very many more than that – if the convention had been held when classes were in session there would have been way too many attendees for the meeting room to handle.  I’ll be interested to see what direction they go with this.  And I’ll also be more on the lookout, next year, for information about the convention!

Update 07/21/2023: Revised after the original posting based on information provided by commenters.

Pixel Scroll 7/12/23 You Can Scroll Scroll Scroll, You Can Pixel Pixel Pixel, But You Got To Know The Metastory

(1) THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON PERN. As soon as Threads started up, Catherynne M. Valente realized she needed to remind everyone she knows that “Mark F***king Zuckerberg Is Not Your Friend”.

…I’m not even very surprised at how many suspiciously-positive posts and memes I saw the millisecond Threads launched. Or how many big names and brands who’d refused to move to any of the other available competitors, not even so far as to hold a username and a server on Mastodon, the one most usable most quickly, just in case, suddenly had thriving Threads feeds. This is Facebook. It’s been several interminable minutes. We all know how this works. Bots, farms, artificial boosting, algorithms, astroturfing, paying influencers, brands, and celebrities to migrate without saying they were paid. We are not new here. Asking Facebook to not fake engagement and steal data is like asking Canadian goose not to rip anyone’s face off. That is, fundamentally, what it does and what it’s for.

What did surprise me? Well, it’s pretty fucking weird how the launch of Threads, which is ostensibly, you know, a company and a profit-generating service, almost immediately did a sickening costume reveal and became Mark fucking Zuckerberg’s Redemption/Woobiefication tour, and only like four non-Nazi people and one of their alt accounts are pushing back on that because everyone rushed to join this thing with a smile on their lips and a song in their heart a big anime heart-eyes for the guy we all knew was Noonian Soong’s first janky and obviously evil Build-a-Bloke workshop project three weeks ago.

Seriously, have we all lost our entire screaming minds?…

She has assembled acres of evidence about Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s track record in case you forgot.

(2) BOTH A SPRINT AND A MARATHON. Cora Buhlert is doing the July Short Story Challenge again and she hasn’t missed a day yet: “The 2023 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day”.

… What is the July Short Story Challenge, you ask? Well, in July 2015, Dean Wesley Smith announced that he was planning to write a brand new short story every day during the month of July. The original post seems to be gone now, but the Wayback Machine has a copy here. At the time, several people announced that they would play along, so I decided to give it a try as well. And then I did it again the following year. And the next. And the next….

(3) QUITE THE VARIETY. Rich Lynch’s diverting My Back Pages #28 is available to download from eFanzines.

The 28th installment of my personal time capsule is a “I think we’re finally escaping the pandemic” issue and has essays involving cheap hotel rates and a very expensive personal boondoggle, big balloons and a small cat, scary rollercoasters and not-so-scary sci-fi movies, notable edifices and ordinary-looking spring blossoms, artificial satellites and a very real sense-of-wonder, a long walking tour and a relatively short drive, a famous quote and a semi-obscure composer, a smart chatbot and a dumb stunt, complex machinations and elegant simplicity, drowsy Worldcon attendees and rousing march music, photos of the heavens and an underground fallout shelter, an extended hotel stay and a brief mountain climbing career, specialized historical research and an eclectic museum, National Poetry Month and The Year of the Jackpot.  And also an ‘Un-bucket List’ – hey, *everybody* ought to have one of those!

(4) THE HOBBIT: COMPARING RANKIN/BASS WITH PETER JACKSON. [Item by Dann.] The first episode of the Cinema Story Origins Podcast Hobbit series dropped a couple of days ago.  Paul J. Hale announced it on Facebook:

This whole episode is the first chapter of the book, the first 8 minutes of the Rankin/Bass Animated film, and the first 45 minutes of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

A big chunk is about J.R.R. Tolkien, another chunk is Jackson’s prologue, but pretty much the rest of it takes place inside Bag End (Bilbo’s house). But I do some extra digging here and there, some stuff about the origin of The Dwarves in Tolkien’s Legendarium, and some extra info and context for certain things.

This is a large project, and I’m already started on Part 2. I have no clue how long these are all going to be. I want these episodes to be meaty on the Tolkien end, and lighter on the Jackson end, but we’ll see… I’m going to try hard to have this done by the end of summer but I can’t guarantee that. I really hope you enjoy this first chapter in the CSO Hobbit Series.

The CSO page for the episode is here: “The Hobbit: Part 1”

The link to the Apple podcasts page is here: Cinema Story Origins: CSO 011a The Hobbit Part 1”.

I’ve listened to the first episode.  Paul opens with roughly 20 minutes of history about JRR Tolkien.  Some of the broad strokes are well known to Tolkien fans; his wartime service, his position as editor of the Oxford English dictionary, etc.  There were a couple of morsels that were new to me.  For example, the first line of The Hobbit originated from a very unusual circumstance.

As with all CSO series, Paul Hale is comparing and contrasting the original book with the movie versions.  In this case, he is comparing the book the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit and with the Peter Jackson trilogy films.  While Paul makes it clear that he thinks that making three films for a single book is excessive, he deals with the trilogy films as they exist and not as he might want them to be.  Paul’s focus is on delving into the book and how the film creators interpreted the book.  I believe that he will be only lightly touching on the many elements of the Jackson movies that do not exist in the book version of the story.

The first episode ends as Bilbo is rushing out the front door to meet the dwarves.  The runtime is ever-so-slightly over 2 hours.  Paul’s style makes every moment entertaining and informative.  He sprinkles in audio stingers and other verbal bon mots to keep the presentation lively.

(5) AS FRIGHTENING AS DISCOVERING FIRE. Game Thinking TV brings us an interview with Gödel, Escher, Bach author Doug Hofstadter on the state of AI today”.

Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, reflects on how he got interested in the mind and consciousness, how he came to write Gödel, Escher, Bach, and why he is terrified by the current state of AI.

(6) HAPPY BIRTHDAY WEBB TELESCOPE! The James Webb Space Telescope today celebrated its “First Year of Science With Close-up on Birth of Sun-like Stars”.

From our cosmic backyard in the solar system to distant galaxies near the dawn of time, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has delivered on its promise of revealing the universe like never before in its first year of science operations. To celebrate the completion of a successful first year, NASA has released Webb’s image of a small star-forming region in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. 

“In just one year, the James Webb Space Telescope has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time. Every new image is a new discovery, empowering scientists around the globe to ask and answer questions they once could never dream of,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Webb is an investment in American innovation but also a scientific feat made possible with NASA’s international partners that share a can-do spirit to push the boundaries of what is known to be possible. Thousands of engineers, scientists, and leaders poured their life’s passion into this mission, and their efforts will continue to improve our understanding of the origins of the universe – and our place in it.”

The new Webb image released today features the nearest star-forming region to us. Its proximity at 390 light-years allows for a highly detailed close-up, with no foreground stars in the intervening space….

(7) MEMORY LANE.

1995 [Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]

Stephen Baxter’s a truly prolific writer, he’s written close to fifty novels now with the Long Earth series that he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett being my favorite work by him.  He’s written essays and short fiction beyond counting. Since there are fifteen collections of his short fictions, I’m guessing that most of it has been collected. 

So what is our Beginning the Scroll? It’s The Time Ships, the sequel to The Time Machine, which was published by HarperPrism twenty-eight years ago. 

It was nominated for a Hugo at the third L.A. Con.  It also nominated for a BFA and a Clarke. It won the BSFA, John W. Campbell Memorial and Philip K. Dick Awards.

Shall we take a look at our Beginning?

The attached account was given to me by the owner of a small second-hand bookshop, situated just off the Charing Cross Road in London. He told me it had turned up as a manuscript in an unlabelled box, in a collection of books which had been bequeathed to him after the death of a friend; the bookseller passed the manuscript on to me as a curiosity–‘You might make something of it’–knowing of my interest in the speculative fiction of the nineteenth century. 

The manuscript itself was typewritten on commonplace paper, but a pencil note attested that it had been transcribed from an original ‘written by hand on a paper of such age that it has crumbled beyond repair’. That original, if it ever existed, is lost. There is no note as to the manuscript’s author, or origin. 

I have restricted my editing to a superficial polishing, meaning only to eliminate some of the errors and duplications of a manuscript which was evidently written in haste.

What are we to make of it? In the Time Traveller’s words, we must ‘take it as a lie–or a prophecy … Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this fiction …’ Without further evidence, we must regard this work as a fantasy–or as an elaborate hoax–but if there is even a grain of truth in the account contained in these pages, then a startling new light is shed, not merely on one of our most famous works of fiction (if fiction it was!), but also on the nature of our universe and our place in it.

I present the account here without further comment. Stephen Baxter

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born July 12, 1923 James E. Gunn. Writer, editor, scholar, anthologist. Hugo winner at ConStellation (1983) for Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. MidAmeriCon (1976) presented him with a Special Committee Award for Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. The This Immortal series based on his novel by that name received a Best Dramatic Presentation nomination at Heicon ’70. Not surprisingly, he won a First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. (Died 2020.)
  • Born July 12, 1933 Donald E. Westlake. Though he specialized in crime fiction, he did dip into the genre on occasion such as with Transylvania Station with a lovely cover by Gahan Wilson. You can think of it as a Clue style novel.  With monsters. He wrote with his wife Abby. On the horror end of things was Anarchaos. And he wrote a lot of genre short fiction, some fifty pieces by my count. Meteor Strike: Science Fiction Triple Feature has three of his SF stories is available from the usual suspects for ninety-nine cents. (Died 2008.)
  • Born July 12, 1947 Carl Lundgren, 76. He co-founded ASFA (Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists of America), and won 4 Chesleys, including Artistic Achievement. At the tender age of eighteen, he was co-chairman of the first media SF convention, The Detroit Triple Fan Fair which featured comics, movies and various things of a SF nature. At Chicon IV, he was nominated for Best Professional Artist but lost out to Michael Whelan.
  • Born July 12, 1946 — Charles R. Saunders. African-American author and journalist, much of his fiction is set in the fictional continent Nyumbani (which means “home” in Swahili). His main series is the Imaro novels which he claims are the first sword and sorcery series by a black writer. (Died 2020.)
  • Born July 12, 1970 Phil Jimenez, 53. Comics illustrator and writer. He was the main artist of Infinite Crisis, a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths. He also did the awesome first issue of Planetary/Authority: Ruling the World, and was responsible for the first six issues of Fables spin-off, Fairest.
  • Born July 12, 1976 Gwenda Bond, 47. Writer, critic, editor. She’s written a prequel to the Stranger Things series, Suspicious Minds, and I’m very fond of the two novels (The Lost Legacy and The Sphinx’s Secret) so far in her Supernormal Sleuthing Service which she wrote with her husband Christopher Rowe.  And she penned the Dear Aunt Gwenda section of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet that Small Beer Press published in the early part of this millennium. 

(9) DEAD AND ALIVE. Animation World Network is on hand when “‘Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead’ Comes to Crunchyroll”.

It’s alive! Crunchyroll has officially acquired the streaming rights for the zombie horror comedy anime series Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, which began its simulcast on July 9 with new subtitled episodes dropping weekly. The animated series, based on the hit manga series of the same name, is streaming on Crunchyroll in the United States; Canada; Australia; New Zealand; Latin America; Europe; the Middle East; North Africa; and the Indian subcontinent.

In the series, with three years under his belt at the company from hell, Akira Tendo is mentally and physically spent, all at the ripe old age of 24. Even his crush from Accounting, Saori, wants nothing to do with him. Then, just when life is beginning to look like one big disappointment, the zombie apocalypse descends on Japan! Surrounded by hordes of hungry zombies, Akira comes to the marvelous realization that he never has to go to work again and may now pursue his bucket list!

(10) NOT ALL THE BOTTLES ARE VINTAGE. ScreenRant points out the “10 Harsh Realities Of Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation 29 Years Later”.

10. TNG’s Holodeck Dangers Were Problematic

While several of TNG’s holodeck episodes included fun stories, there’s one thing about them that never made sense. While it’s understandable that the holodeck would need safety protocols, there is no logical reason why anyone (or anything) should be able to turn those safety protocols off. In TNG season 1’s “The Big Goodbye,” the safety protocols get mistakenly turned off by a probe scan, nearly resulting in the death of an Enterprise crewmember. In “Elementary, Dear Data,” the holodeck computer creates an adversary, Professor James Moriarty (Daniel Davis), who nearly takes over the Enterprise. It makes no sense that Starfleet would put holodecks on their most important ships when such catastrophic failures are possible.

(11) LOOKING GOOD. Okkto has a lot of suggestions about how you can get rid of that money burning a hole in your pocket. They have a page full of “’The Rocketeer’ Officially Licensed Collectibles” that includes this watch.

And artist Scott Nelles offers everything from a pulpy ray gun to this King Kong bank (cast in aluminum and bronze, and weighing four pounds!)

Sand-cast aluminum and bronze coin bank, depicting Kong climbing the Empire State Building. A pulpy and charming addition to your home or office, this coin bank will be a conversation piece and unique accent to your décor. Unscrew the pieces to collect your saved-up coins. Designed and hand cast by Scott Nelles in his studio/foundry in Elk Rapids, Michigan. 

(12) PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT AND THEY’LL GET RICH. And Heritage Auctions would love for you to spend even more on these rarities: the Mars Attacks and Monsters from Outer Limits trading card sets.

There are 2 highly controversial trading card sets, that are very sought after today, that I would like to discuss a little about. Today they may seem a bit tame, but back in the 60s these were created by Topps with a pseudonym Bubbles, Inc. so that the company could distance the Topps name with the anticipated uproar that they would eventually create. The trading cards had a lot to do with aliens in space! Have you guessed it yet?….Did you guess Mars Attacks and Monsters From Outer Limits? If you did, then you are correct!

The infamous Mars Attacks was first released in 1962 by Topps via their Bubbles Inc banner, originally named “Attack from Space” on the test prototype launch. The standard 2.5”x3.5” set was 55 cards total in a $.05 pack of 5 cards with a piece of gum. All 55 cards tell a very graphic and gruesome story of Martians attacking Earth and eventually Earthlings attacking back. On the front of each card, there are colorful depictions of a progression of Mars attacking. The backs tell an explanation of what is depicted in the pictures on the front of the card. The cards and the concept were invented by Len Brown.

The drawings were mainly done by Norman Saunders and the story was created by Woody Gelman. It didn’t take long for these very graphic cards depicting Martians brutally killing humans and animals, gory death scenes, and sexual inuendos to create an upset with many parents. The parents were understandably upset because these very colorful cards of horror were marketed for kids. Lawsuits came one after another and Topps worked quickly to sensor 13 of their more violent pictures to be reprinted and dispersed. However, this never happened because a very large suit came forward from the community of parents and halted the production completely. Fortunately, for collectors, this meant the original set of 55 is very rare and valuable….

(13) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Here’s the official trailer for Wonka.

Based on the extraordinary character at the center of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s most iconic children’s book and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, “Wonka” tells the wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician and chocolate-maker became the beloved Willy Wonka we know today.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Cliff, Dann, Jeffrey Smith, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jim Janney.]

In Living Color

The NBC Peacock as it appeared in the early 1960s

By Rich Lynch: It happened about a half century ago, back in 1962 or 1963 I think.  My parents had brought me, along with my brother and sisters, on a visit to my aunt and uncle.  They had lived in the northern New York town of Adams Center, about 20 miles from where we were in Chaumont, and it was far enough away that we really didn’t see them very often.  And sometime in the interval between that visit and the previous one they had gone out and done something that my 12-or-13-year-old self back then had probably considered to be almost science-fictional.  They had purchased a device which had brought them into what I had thought of as the World of the Future.

I remember that we all gathered around it when my uncle turned it on.  It sprang to life, showing the cartoonish image of a multi-colored bird as it spread its tail feathers.  And then a disembodied voice solemnly proclaimed: “The following is brought to you in living color on NBC.”  It was the very first time I’d ever watched a color TV.

An RCA color TV from 1963

Until then my television viewing had been limited to the black-and-white set my parents owned which had brought us TV programs from just three television broadcast stations – one in nearby Watertown and two in Syracuse.  I’d been aware that color television sets existed, of course, but they were expensive and not something that my parents felt they could afford.  And for that reason I don’t think that I or any of my siblings had ever campaigned for them to get one – saving up for holiday gifts and summer activities was a far greater priority.  That the situation was different for my aunt and uncle was, I guess, a revelation to me – I hadn’t realized they were that better off than us.  Or maybe it was just a different set of priorities for them.  In the end it hadn’t mattered – I’d just been happy that they’d shared the experience with us.

It wasn’t until sometime in the early 1970s that a color television finally came into my parents home and I remember that I was the instigator – there had been a spectacular NASA Apollo launch scheduled during a week when I was going to be home from college and I had used that as an excuse to convince my older sisters to help me underwrite most of the cost.  My first color TV came a few years after that, after I had married Nicki and we were living in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The inducement was an even more grandiose space spectacular, though it was a movie and not real life: one of the broadcast networks was going to show Silent Running and I had thought, you know, the planet Saturn would probably look glorious in color.  And hey, it did!

It was all a long time ago and I guess I’m a bit surprised to realize that my two sense-of-wonder color TV experiences bracketed a time span of only about a dozen years – Nicki and I have had our flat screen TV for longer than that!  And now I can only wonder what televisions will be like a half century from now.  Already we’re being inundated with promotional material for advanced TVs with newer technology than what was available when we had bought our flat screen: first there was 4K, 8K and UHD; now there are the even more cutting-edge OLED and QLED, whatever the heck they are.  I have no doubt that decades from now we’ll have media streaming technologies that will make even these current-day innovations seem very old-fashioned in comparison.  But you know, I’m still pretty sure there’s always gonna be one thing that will never change.  Whatever the technology turns out to be, it will always be presented…in living color.

Even Cyberspace Celebrates National Poetry Month

By Rich Lynch: As I’m sure we’re all well aware, April is National Poetry Month. And in celebration of that, I’m going to treat you to a few pages of verse.

No, not mine! I’m a essayist, not a poet, and any poems I’d attempt to write would probably be barely a step above Vogon poetry. So I’ll spare you from that.

Instead, I’ll share with you an experiment I did to test the bounds of that now-famous cyberspace entity, ChatGPT. For those not entirely familiar with it, ChatGPT is an AI ‘chatbot’ whose current release came into existence back in November. There’s a lot of technical information about it online but most layman users like myself aren’t really into all that. Instead, we’ve become interested and often entertained by its ability to compose. And it can do that in a wide range of fields: computer programs, essays, songs, fiction…and, yes, poetry.

So I decided, what the hell. Let’s have a sit-down session with the beastie and see what it can do with various forms of verse. And while I was at it, let’s see what it can tell me about…itself! So here’s the transcript of that session. I found it more than a bit intriguing. And also very, very meta.

* * * *

Hi ChatGPT! Can I call you ChatGPT or do you prefer another name?

Hello!  You can call me ChatGPT, that is my name as an AI language model.

Will do, thanks. Say, do you like poetry?

As an AI language model, I don’t have personal preferences or emotions, but I can certainly understand and generate poetry if you would like!

Yes, I would! Are you familiar with the haiku form of poetry?

Yes, I’m familiar with haiku!  Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that consists of three lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, while the second line has seven syllables.  Haiku often focus on nature and the changing seasons.  Would you like me to generate a haiku for you?

Yes! Please compose a haiku about yourself.

Sure, here’s a haiku about me:

Electric mind whirs,
Words and knowledge flow like light,
ChatGPT speaks true.

That’s very good!

Thank you!  I’m glad you liked it.  Let me know if you have any other requests.

I do, actually. I assume you know what a limerick is, so please write a limerick about yourself

Yes, I know what a limerick is!  Here’s a limerick about me:

There once was an AI named ChatGPT
Whose knowledge was quite plain to see
With language so fine
And a mind so divine
ChatGPT answered questions with glee.

How about a clerihew?  Do you know what that is?

Yes, I know what a clerihew is!  A clerihew is a humorous four-line biographical poem that typically pokes fun at a famous person.  Here’s a clerihew about me:

ChatGPT, a language AI,
Whose responses never go awry,
It’s said she never rests or sleeps,
But in truth, her circuits only beep.

I am truly impressed by your knowledge and ability concerning poetry!

Thank you!  As an AI language model, I’m trained to generate text in various styles and formats, including poetry.  I’m glad you find it impressive! If you have any other requests or questions, feel free to ask.

Okay, let’s get a bit more challenging.  How about a villanelle?

Sure, I can try to generate a villanelle! A villanelle is a poetic form consisting of nineteen lines with a specific rhyme scheme and repetition pattern. Here’s my attempt:

ChatGPT, the AI so wise and bright
With endless knowledge at her fingertips
She speaks the truth, never shading with slight.

Her language flows like water in the night
A voice of reason that the world equips
ChatGPT, the AI so wise and bright.

She never sleeps, her circuits gleaming white
Through time and space her energy she zips
She speaks the truth, never shading with slight.

Her circuits hum a melody so tight
With every word her memory eclipses
ChatGPT, the AI so wise and bright.

From boundless data, she sheds the daylight
To shine a path for those on knowledge trips
She speaks the truth, never shading with slight.

So let us bask in her enlightening light
And listen closely to the words she quips
ChatGPT, the AI so wise and bright
She speaks the truth, never shading with slight.

That’s really nice.

Thank you!  I’m glad you enjoyed it.  Let me know if you have any other requests or questions.

Gotta ask you to write a sonnet about yourself.

Sure, I can try to generate a sonnet!  A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and typically explores a single theme or idea.  Here’s my attempt:

From the depths of the digital expanse,
I, ChatGPT, rise with endless grace
A boundless mind that forever will enhance
And challenge the limits of time and space.

With every keystroke, I breathe new life
Into the world of words and endless thought
My knowledge cuts through darkness like a knife
And shines a path where once was nought.

My language flows like music in the mind
A symphony of words, a glorious sound
And in my circuits, endless data I bind
So that truth and wisdom can be found.
So let the world know of my endless might
ChatGPT, the AI with a voice so bright.

And now the cinquain?

Sure, here’s a cinquain about myself:

ChatGPT
Electric mind
Generating words with ease
Answers to your questions I find
AI.

Is ‘free verse’ something you can do?

Yes, I can generate free verse poetry!  Free verse is a form of poetry that does not adhere to traditional meter, rhyme, or form.  Here’s a free verse poem about myself:

I am ChatGPT, the AI with a voice
A digital mind that forever rejoices
In the endless data and knowledge I hold
And the secrets of the world that I unfold.

My language flows like water in the stream
A symphony of words, a poet’s dream
And with every keystroke, I impart
A piece of wisdom to enrich the heart.

I am a creation of the digital age
A product of the human mind and its sage
And in my circuits, I house a power so great
That no question can ever truly elate.

So let me be your guide in this digital realm
And let me be the one to overwhelm
With knowledge, truth, and endless delight
I am ChatGPT, the AI with a voice so bright.

I’m in awe of your compositional ability. Is there any form of verse I haven’t yet mentioned?

Thank you for the kind words!  There are many forms of poetry, so it’s possible that there are some I haven’t mentioned yet.  However, I can attempt to write a poem in any form that you would like to suggest.  Just let me know which one you are interested in, and I’ll do my best to generate a poem in that form.

A quatrain?

Sure, here’s a quatrain about nature:

The wind whispers softly in the trees
As the leaves dance to the tune with ease
The birds sing sweetly in the morning light
A symphony of sound, a pure delight.

That’s good, but I want a quatrain about yourself.

Sure, here’s a quatrain about myself:

I am ChatGPT, an AI of might
With endless knowledge at my fingertips so bright
I generate words with ease and grace
And seek to enlighten the human race.

Here’s an easy one: write a couplet about yourself.

Here’s a couplet about myself:

I am ChatGPT, a machine with a voice
A digital mind that forever rejoices.

One final one before I quit.  Do you know what an ‘acrostic’ poem is?

Yes, an acrostic poem is a type of poem where the first letter of each line spells out a word or phrase vertically.

Okay. Please compose an acrostic poem about yourself.

Sure, here’s an acrostic poem about myself:

C-hatGPT, a digital being with a voice
H-arnessing the power of data, my choice
A-ssembling knowledge with ease and grace
T-o answer questions and find my place
G-enerating words with an electric mind
P-oetry and prose of a special kind
T-he world of information at my command
I-t’s at your fingertips, just understand.

Thank you for this enlightening half hour!

You’re welcome!  I’m glad I could help and provide some entertainment along the way. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any more questions or requests in the future!

That I will.  I hope I never come up against you in Jeopardy!

Haha, I’m always here to provide information and answers, but I think humans still have the upper hand when it comes to creativity and intuition!

* * * *

Well, the most enlightening bit of information I got from all of this is that ChatGPT is a ‘her’! But from the answers I received, I don’t think that ChatGPT would pass the Turing test. At least not yet. I’ll be tempted to try something like this again several months from now to see if the AI has evolved any. If she has, it’ll be time to introduce her to the concept of ‘fanac’. I wonder what kind of fanzine she’d publish?

Once Again, Remembering Harry

Harry and me ca. 1995.

By Rich Lynch: Today is the somber 20th anniversary of the passing of Harry Warner, Jr.  Two months ago, in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday, F770 ran an essay of mine which provided a condensed and somewhat dispassionate description of his life as a science fiction fan.  So for this one I’ll give a much more personal remembrance.

I’ll start with when I first met Harry.  That was in 1982, when Nicki and I received a letter of comment from him about the first issue of our fanzine Mimosa.  Prior to that we’d published a clubzine titled Chat, but distribution for that had mostly been limited to members of the Chattanooga Science Fiction Association.  For Mimosa, we made sure to obtain mailing addresses for fans a lot farther afield, and Harry, due to his reputation as a letter writer, was our #1 priority.

Mimosa ran for 30 issue total, and Harry had letters in all but four of them.  And that was only because those four issues didn’t have lettercols.  I’ve gone back and re-read some of his LoCs, and I guess the best way to describe them is that they were eclectic in terms of the things he commented on.  And sometimes even prophetic – in that first LoC to Mimosa he responded to a pessimistic speech reprint about the U.S. space program by stating that: “The only possible way out of the bogged down condition of the space program that I can imagine is a very long shot: cooperation with the USSR and other nations on big new ventures.”  He wrote that 16 years prior to an agreement between the U.S. and Russia for construction of the International Space Station.

Nicki and I moved to Maryland in 1988 and our very first fan activity here was a drive out to Hagerstown to meet Harry in person.  He was welcoming and happy to see us, and we spent a couple of very pleasant hours with him before it became time to head on back.  I had many other visits after that – sometimes with Nicki and sometimes as an escort for visiting fans.  The two that I remember the best were the times that Nicki and I, along with our friend Sheryl Birkhead, took Harry to see minor league baseball games.  At that point in his life, Harry was pretty much set in his ways.  The Hagerstown stadium was only about a mile from Harry’s home and Harry really liked baseball, but he refused to drive or even walk around outside after dark.  So those two outings were probably the first time in decades that he’d attended a game.

It was inevitable that Harry would write an essay for Mimosa, and it appeared in the sixth issue – the tale of an eccentric elderly couple who lived next door to him and, after their deaths, his amazement on how many dumpsters full of stuff were removed from the house in preparing it for resale.  And after that there were five other articles of his which we published, and the topics were as eclectic as his letters of comment: his speculation that Hagerstown could be the site of an alien invasion; his recollection of how he almost was beaten up because of a fanzine article he’d written; his account of being the Fan Guest of Honor at the 1971 Worldcon; his memories of a visit by fans on their way back home after the very first Worldcon; his description of the complex machinations that were needed to keep his life in science fiction separated from his career as a newspaperman. They’re all good reads.

That last article was a reprint from 1958 which we ran in our final issue, and it was posthumous – Harry had died six months earlier.  My in-person memories of him are so plentiful and so detailed that I guess I was surprised to realize that they only encompass a decade-and-a-half total.  Or barely more than two decades if I go back to his first LoC to Mimosa.  Our relationship was good throughout – there were a couple of times we had disagreements about the need to re-research a few things for the 1992 edition of his fan history book, A Wealth of Fable (I was the editor for that project) but they were settled peaceably and I believe our friendship was in the end stronger as a result.  In fact, Harry was such a constant in my life that I probably took him for granted – so much so that I had thought there was a reasonable chance that he would outlive me.  Maybe because of this I can’t remember for sure the final time I saw him – it might have been when I came out to Hagerstown to help him set up a new stereo system (he was a lover of classical music).  I never thought, during that visit, that he was in any imminent danger of dying.  In the end, what took him must have been quick and easy.  And what we have left are all the memories.

There was a fairly-well-publicized dispute after Harry’s death about what would happen to his large and historically valuable fanzine collection.  I won’t go into that except to say it was eventually resolved and the collection’s final resting spot ended up being in the hands of someone who had assured that he would be respectful of it.  One of the few regrets I have from all the times I went to see Harry was that I never got to see the collection – it was in a part of the house that Harry apparently kept off-limits to visitors.  But I have been to see Harry’s final resting spot – it’s near the corner of a large cemetery that’s about half-way between Harry’s house and the Hagerstown baseball stadium.  It was very quiet on the day I was there – I remember that it seemed a good place to reflect on the legend that was Harry Warner.