(1) MONSTROUS EMOTION. Sonny Bunch, in a Washington Post opinion piece, says “‘WandaVision’ punted on its most interesting idea about grief”. BEWARE SPOILERS.
In the eighth episode of “WandaVision,” the Disney Plus series featuring Marvel Cinematic Universe witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), her resurrected partner and android, Vision (Paul Bettany), and a lot of clever riffs on classic sitcom tropes, one line seems to have struck a chord: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” After a year of living under the threat of a pandemic, it seems viewers were looking for art that dealt with loss — and didn’t involve putting in the work of reading Russian literature.But the rhapsodizing over that bit of dialogue concealed a larger, more difficult, point. In the end, “WandaVision” punted on its most interesting idea about grief: that wallowing in it can turn people into monsters….
(2) HYBRID OF DESTINY. “How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival” by Julian Lucas in The New Yorker.
…The nineties were a breakout decade. Frustrated by publishers’ refusals to send her on book tours, she signed with an independent press, which promoted her work to Black and feminist booksellers. “Parable of the Sower” won critical acclaim, and in 1995 Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur grant. The honor coincided with a growing interest in how Black writers, artists, and musicians drew on the dislocation of the past in critically reflecting on the future. The critic Mark Dery called it “Afrofuturism,” and Butler has become its most widely recognized literary avatar.
Perhaps her greatest talent was the clear evocation of thinking in a crisis. The thrill of her fiction lies in its learn-or-die urgency, conveyed in a streamlined prose of situational awareness. The brinkmanship of the Reagan era inspired her standout Xenogenesis trilogy, collected in the volume “Lilith’s Brood.” (Ava DuVernay is producing a TV series based on the first installment, “Dawn.”) It begins in a womblike cell on a living spaceship, where Lilith Iyapo, one of the only survivors of a nuclear war, waits for her captor-saviors to show themselves. They are part of a galactic diaspora of tentacled bipedal “gene traders,” the Oankali, who propose a merger of the species. The scheme is not only the price they exact for repopulating Earth but a biological necessity. “We are committed to the trade as your body is to breathing,” one explains. “We were overdue for it when we found you. Now it will be done—to the rebirth of your people and mine.” Lilith is to be the first mother of this hybrid species, and an evangelist for Oankali-human interbreeding to fellow-survivors, many of whom consider her a traitor….
(3) JUSTICE LEAGUE TRAILER PARK. Comicbook.com introduces the video: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League Cyborg Trailer Released”.
HBO Max has revealed the new trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, this time spotlighting Cyborg. This latest trailer follows previous trailers focusing on Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash.
(4) SUPERTROOPER. Christine Feehan, in “Six Movies (and One TV Show) Featuring Genetically Engineered Soldiers” on Crimereads gives her recommendations for favorite works with bionic supersoldiers.
…The soldier or hero who can rush in and save the day because of his super skills is a common trope in film. I’d like to share with you my top five favorite characters from stories about super soldiers whose ultra-abilities have been the result of DNA experiments, secret government training, or a means of surviving the situation they find themselves in….
(5) JUSTER OBIT. Norton Juster, best-known as author of The Phantom Tollbooth (illustrated by Jules Feiffer), died March 8. The Independent is one of many outlets with the AP story: “Norton Juster, ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ author, dead at 91”.
Norton Juster, the celebrated children’s author who fashioned a world of his own in the classic “The Phantom Tollbooth” and went on to write such favorites as “The Dot and the Line” and “Stark Naked,” has died at 91.
Juster’s death was confirmed Tuesday by a spokesperson for Random House Children’s Books, who did not immediately provide details. Juster’s friend and fellow author Mo Willems tweeted Tuesday that Juster “ran out of stories” and died “peacefully” the night before.
Andrew Liptak paid tribute at Tor.com – “The Phantom Tollbooth Author Norton Juster Has Died at the Age of 91”
…While beloved as a children’s book author, Juster’s primary vocation throughout his life was architecture, telling an interviewer that “I grew up in architecture, my father was an architect, my brother, who is four and a half years old, was training and then became an architect. I had no idea I was every going to be a writer or anything like that.” After attending college, he joined the US Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, which he described as a “terrific experience,” but in which “a lot of your time is wasted.” To help pass the time, he began drawing and writing, and was chastised by his CO for it.
After leaving the Navy, he joined a New York architectural firm, and began to think about writing a book that would teach children about cities. He ultimately got a grant for the project, and began writing. It didn’t go well: “I started with great energy and enthusiasm until I found myself waist-deep in stacks of 3-by-5 note cards, exhausted and dispirited,” He told NPR in 2011. “This is not what I wanted to do.” He began to think about another story, and “The Phantom Tollbooth came about because I was trying to avoid doing something else.”
While looking for that other story, he was inspired by a conversation he had with a boy about the notion of infinity, and began writing the story that would ultimately become The Phantom Tollbooth….
The New York Times report is here. (Their full obituary is promised later.)
“Most books advertised for ‘readers of all ages’ fail to keep their promise,” Ann McGovern wrote in her review in The New York Times in 1961. “But Norton Juster’s amazing fantasy has something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and the pointed whimsy of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”
Publishers Weekly includes more details of Juster’s later years: “Obituary: Norton Juster”.
…Juster retired from teaching in 1992 and from his architecture practice in 1996, though he continued writing. He wrote two picture books illustrated by Chris Raschka and inspired by his granddaughter: The Hello, Goodbye Window (Hyperion/Michael di Capua, 2005), for which Raschka won the 2006 Caldecott Medal, and a sequel, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie (Scholastic/Michael di Capua, 2008). In 2010, Juster and Feiffer reunited for the picture book The Odious Ogre (Hyperion/Michael di Capua, 2010). At the time, Juster quipped, “We realized it was such fun working together that we made a pact: we are prepared to do a new book every 50 years.” The duo spoke with PW then about what it was like teaming up again.
Juster’s wife of 54 years, Jeanne, died in 2018. He is survived by his daughter Emily and granddaughter Tori, both of Amherst. A celebration of Juster’s life is being planned for a later date….
(6) ENGELBERG OBIT. Dr. Michael Engelberg, an oncologist at Cedar-Sinai in Los Angeles and a film producer, recently died. He was executive producer of The Puppet Masters (1994). Among the other films he tried to develop was one based on Wild Cards.
George R.R. Martin wrote an affectionate memoir on his blog: “Covid Claims Another Friend”.
…A PRINCESS OF MARS was his passion project, but by no means the only one he worked on. There was a time back in the 90s when I had four — yes, count ’em, four — films in active development at Hollywood Pictures, and Dr. Michael Engelberg was the executive producer and guiding hand on all of them. Besides PRINCESS, Melinda and I were also developing WILD CARDS as a feature film, collaborating on a screenplay built around our own most iconic characters, Dr. Tachyon and the Great and Powerful Turtle. Michael also picked up the rights to FADEOUT, an original SF screenplay I had written for a small independent that had gone bust. For a time there was talk of attaching Sharon Stone to that one, but when that fell through, so did the project. And Hollywood also optioned my historical horror novel, FEVRE DREAM. I was so busy with other work — the aforementioned PRINCESS, WILD CARDS, FADEOUT, as well as three television pilots, the Wild Cards books, and this fantasy novel I had started in 1991 — that I did not get around to writing the screenplay for FEVRE DREAM for a while, alas. Big mistake. By the time I turned in the script, Hollywood Pictures was on its last legs and had lost all interest in steamboats and vampires. They put the script in turnaround the day after I turned it in.
None of that was Dr. Michael’s fault. He was as frustrated as any of us by the vagaries of development hell. Maybe more so. I loved working with him, maybe because he had a trufan’s reverence for the original material. Whether dealing with ERB, RAH, or GRRM, he always argued for staying with the book and doing faithful adaptations.
Melinda Snodgrass also mourns his loss: “In Memoriam”.
There have been four men in my life who I have considered to be beyond brilliant. One was my father, the second a professor at my law school, another an inventor and space visionary, and the fourth was my friend, Dr. Michael Engelberg. I first met Michael at what would become our traditional meeting at Hop Li Seafood Restaurant in L.A.’s Chinatown.
Michael was an oncologist at Cedar’s Sinai, a brilliant physician, but he was also a movie producer. He had made Heinlein’s Puppet Masters for Disney, and he absolutely loved the Wild Cards series. That’s how we ended up meeting because he wanted to make a Wild Cards movie. It’s because of Michael that George and I got to pitch directly to Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time….
(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
- Born March 9, 1918 — Mickey Spillane. His first job was writing stories for Funnies Inc. including Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. Do note these were text stories, not scripts for comics. Other than those, ISFDB lists him as writing three genre short stories: “The Veiled Woman“ (co-written with Howard Browne), “The Girl Behind the Hedge” and “Grave Matter” (co-written with Max Allan Collins). Has anyone read these? (Died 2006.) (CE)
- Born March 9, 1934 – Yuri Gagarin. First human being in Space, April 12, 1961. (Died 1968) [JH]
- Born March 9, 1937 – Robin Johnson, age 84. Chaired Aussiecon the 33rd Worldcon, first in Australia; Fan Guest of Honour at Aussiecon 4 the 68th. In between, Fan GoH at the 10th Australian natcon (i.e. national convention); at Syncon ’78; Swancon 7; ARCon. Chaired Thylacon 1-3. Succeeded Leigh Edmonds as editor of Norstrilian News. Ditmar Award for contributions to fandom. Big Heart (our highest service award). [JH]
- Born March 9, 1940 — Raul Julia. If we count Sesame Street as genre, his appearance as Rafael there was his first genre role. Yeah I’m stretching it. Ok, how about as Aram Fingal In Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, a RSL production off the John Varley short story? That better? He later starred in Frankenstein Unbound as Victor Frankenstein as well. His last role released while he was still living was in Addams Family Values as Gomez Addams reprising the role he’d had in The Addams Family. (Died 1994.) (CE)
- Born March 9, 1945 — Robert Calvert. Lyricist for Hawkwind, a band that’s at least genre adjacent. And Simon R. Green frequently mentioned them in his Nightside series. Calvert was a close friend of Michael Moorcock. He wrote SF poetry which you read about here. (Died 1988.) (CE)
- Born March 9, 1947 – David Emerson, age 74. Chaired ReinCONation 5-6, also Not-a-ReinCONation (of course there was one, consider Minneapolis fandom). Served a term as editor of Rune. In several performances of The Mimeo Man; co-director of Midwest Side Story. [JH]
- Born March 9, 1952 – Jim Shull, age 69. One of our best fanartists. Four FAAn (Fan Activity Achievement) Awards. Fanzine, Crifanac (“critical fan activity”); co-editor of The Essence. Here is some of his work in Outworlds 15; here is some more. Here is his cover for Prehensile 6.
- Born March 9, 1955 — Pat Murphy,66. I think her most brilliant work is The City, Not Long After. If you’ve not read this novel, do so now. The Max Merriwell series is excellent and Murphy’s ‘explanation’ of the authorial attributions is fascinating. And The Falling Woman by her is an amazing read as well. She’s reasonably well stocked at the usual digital suspects. (CE)
- Born March 9, 1957 – Diann Thornley, age 64. Three novels, four shorter stories. Two dozen years in the U.S. Air Force; finished Ganwold’s Child at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near my alma mater Antioch. Two drawings in The Leading Edge, hello Dave Doering. [JH]
- Born March 9, 1965 — Brom, 56. Artist and writer whose best work I think is Krampus: The Yule Lord and The Child Thief. The Art of Brom is a very good look at his art. He’s listed as having provided some of the art design used on Galaxy Quest. (CE)
- Born March 9, 1978 — Hannu Rajaniemi, 43. Author of the Jean le Flambeur series which consists of The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince and The Causal Angel. Damn if I can summarize them. They remind me a bit of Alastair Reynolds and his Prefect novels, somewhat of Ian Mcdonald’s Mars novels as well. Layers of weirdness upon weirdness. Quite fascinating. (CE)
- Born March 9, 1990 – Delson Armstrong, age 31. Three novels (one with Rishabh Jain). Likes Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, wishes he could manage to play piano more. Travels between New York and Bombay (as, he confesses, he still calls it; he was born there). Has read The Iliad, four Shakespeare plays, Paradise Lost – and Siddhartha, aiee; dare we ask how it looks to him? [JH]
(8) COMICS SECTION.
- The Argyle Sweater finds a place where that timepiece takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
(9) BEAM UP ANOTHER CANDLE. “William Shatner to celebrate 90th birthday with ‘Star Trek’ event in Upstate NY” reports NYup.com. March 22 is his birthday.
Captain James T. Kirk is boldly returning to Upstate New York.
William Shatner will celebrate his 90th birthday with a special event at the “Star Trek Set Tour” exhibit in Ticonderoga, N.Y., on the weekend of July 23-24, 2021.
Trekkies, or Trekkers, can book a number of options, including an early bird general admission price of $49.99 (regular price $80), $499 for a tour with Shatner himself, $160 for a photo, $80 for an autograph, or $1,500 for a “VIP All-Inclusive Package” featuring a dinner gala with Shatner plus the tour, photo, autograph and a “Bridge Chat.”…
(10) BLACKWOOD. Eugene Thacker analyzes how “How Algernon Blackwood Turned Nature Into Sublime Horror” at Literary Hub. His primary text is Blackwood’s 1901 article “Down the Danube in a Canadian Canoe”:
…Already this is the stuff of Blackwood’s many stories of supernatural horror. But what gives scenes like this their ambiance of otherworldliness is not that there are menacing monsters in the night, but rather that the entire environment—the mountains, sky, river, trees—are somehow alive, and alive in an impersonal but sublime way that far exceeds the taxonomies of the naturalist or the theories of the biologist. At one point in the journey, Blackwood makes note of a scene that, in itself, has nothing supernatural about it—circling crows, swaying trees, crepuscular sky—but it is precisely its naturalism that gives Blackwood the sense of “a something alive”:
“Big grey hawks circled ever over head and grey crows by the thousand lined the shores. That evening, after crossing and re-crossing the river, we found a sheltered camp on a sandy island where pollards and willows roared in the wind. As if to show the loneliness of the spot an otter, rolling over and over among the eddies, swam past us as we landed. About sunset the clouds broke up momentarily and let out a flood of crimson light all over the wild country. Against the gorgeous red sky a stream of dark clouds, in all shapes and kinds, hurried over into the Carpathian mountains…”
In short, a landscape without human beings—except, of course, for the enigma of the solitary observer Blackwood himself, bearing witness to the absence of all humanity….
(11) JEOPARDY! Andrew Porter witnessed proof that some of tonight’s Jeopardy! contestants know their Ray Bradbury.
Final Jeopardy; category: Science Fiction
Answer: In a 1962 sci-fi story, a time traveler returning to the present finds a dead one of these insects on his shoe.
Wrong question: What is a cockroach?
Correct question: What is a butterfly? (2 contestants got it right)
The temporary host, Katie Couric, mentioned that the Ray Bradbury story gave rise to the term “The Butterly Effect.”
(12) FROM COLLECTIBLE TO CONTRABAND. One item on Mental Floss’ list of “The TSA’s 10 Weirdest Confiscations From 2020” is genre-related.
…a set of knives concealed in a secret compartment in a copy of Brian W. Aldiss’s science fiction novel Helliconia Summer. The cavity was created in part by cutting out pages from a chapter called “A Way to Better Weaponry.”
See it at the 18-second point in this video:
(13) DRUMMING UP INTEREST. At the link is a scan of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s pre-con coverage of the “1953 World Science Convention”. Andrew Porter also sent along this image of the postage stamps referenced in the article.
(14) YOUR LACK OF FAITH IS DISTURBING. In “Warp Drive News. Seriously” on YouTube, Austrian physicist and sf fan Sabine Hossenfelder explains how new discoveries in physics show that warp drives are possible by manipulating space-time.
(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Honest Trailers: Kung Fu Panda” on YouTube, the Screen Junkies say this film is a good choice if you don’t want to spend $30 for Raya And The Last Dragon and if your kids won’t understand Soul. They say the film is “better than it has a right to be” and its victory over Wall-E in the Annie Awards caused Disney to boycott the Annies for 10 years.
[Thanks to Jennifer Hawthorne, Rich Lynch, Olav Rokne, Mike Kennedy, Michael Toman, Andrew Porter, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, John Hertz, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]