By Kevin Standlee.[Note: This was originally posted on my Dreamwidth journal and my Facebook page, as a reaction to debate on other people’s pages and elsewhere. I feel comfortable discussing it because it seems unlikely to me that such a set of changes would be introduced at the 2023 WSFS Business Meeting, where I have been announced as the Deputy Chair. It seems to be that the earliest such proposals could come before the Business Meeting is 2024.]
I find myself explaining the changes to membership in the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and the conditions for attending the World Science Fiction Convention that were ratified this year in Chicago (and thus are now in effect, because this was the second vote on the changes). I think some people assume that I’m 100% in favor of them or that I even authored them, neither of which are true.
The Non-Transferrability Amendment
The 2022 WSFS Business Meeting ratified a change to the WSFS Constitution that renamed the existing Supporting Membership of Worldcon as a “WSFS membership” and the existing Attending membership as the “Attending supplement.” It was Item E.5 of the 2022 WSFS Business Meeting agenda. This is the proposal that first passed as item F.6 of the 2021 WSFS Business Meeting. (See minutes here. The 2021 minutes includes the makers’ original supporting arguments. Video recordings of the debates in 2021 and 2022 are available from the YouTube Worldcon Events channel.)
The effect of the change is that what was the Supporting membership is now your membership in the World Science Fiction Society, and that WSFS memberships cannot be transferred to other people. What was an Attending Membership is now a WSFS membership + an Attending Supplement. You can transfer an Attending Supplement to someone; however, they can only use it to attend Worldcon if they also have a WSFS membership. Worldcon is the annual meeting of WSFS, and therefore you have to be a member of WSFS to attend it. If you have a WSFS membership, you can use your WSFS voting rights (nominate/vote for the Hugo Awards, participate in Site Selection), and if you have a WSFS membership + Attending Supplement, you can also attend Worldcon and also participate in the WSFS Business Meeting held at Worldcon. If you have an Attending supplement without a WSFS membership, you cannot attend Worldcon because you have to have a WSFS membership as well.
This change has agitated and confused many people. Some people think it is selling a Worldcon admission on its own, which is not quite true because you still have to have a WSFS (old supporting) membership to go with it in order to use it. As Dave Howell put it in debate this year, the Attending Supplement is like an expansion package to an existing game; you can’t play the expansion by itself — you have to have the game.
It seems that this change has caught a lot of people, including people who attend many Worldcons and who have attended the Business Meeting, by surprise. Some appear to consider themselves blindsided by the change, even though it has gone through the full process of two consecutive years’ meetings and is now the rule of WSFS. When it was ratified, I heard many people saying, “Well, we’ll just have to try and vote it down next year,” and they seemed highly surprised that it had already had first passage. Now I think part of this comes from those people who opposed the change not doing a very good job of communicating what the change was. It passed both years, but not overwhelmingly so. First passage passed 35-22, and ratification passed 46-40.
How WSFS is Governed
Every year, after each Worldcon, we hear many people complaining about some action the Business Meeting took, and it seems that every year people start talking about changing how the WSFS rules are changed. Maybe I’m wrong, but most of them seem to be versions of “Let people vote by proxy” or “Have a gigantic zoom call so everyone can participate.”
Personally, I think the governance structure of WSFS is not fit for purpose anymore. Currently, WSFS is governed by the WSFS Business Meeting, a “town meeting” form of government under which any WSFS member who can attend Worldcon may attend, propose changes, debate, and vote on those changes. I think a membership organization that has had upwards of 10,000 members (many of whom cannot attend the annual meeting) is not well served by this system. Indeed, I was not surprised to read that there are people who assume that there is a WSFS Board of Directors that makes all of the Real Decisions anyway.
My preferred solution would be to replace the “town meeting” governance with an elected representative government model that I call the Council of WSFS. I suggest 21 members (roughly the cube root of 10,000; Google “cube root rule” for why I think it’s a good number). All of the members of WSFS, including the non-attending members, could elect members to this Council. We would elect 7 members each year, for three-year terms.
Initially, I would replace all of the “Business Meeting” references with “Council of WSFS.” That is, the Council would meet at Worldcon, and it would be the body that initiates changes to the WSFS Constitution. However, instead of two consecutive years’ Council meetings at Worldcon being necessary to change the Constitution, I would require that changes passed by the Council in Year 1 be put to a vote of members of WSFS of the Worldcon in Year 2, run in parallel with (but not on the same ballot) as the Hugo Awards Final Ballot. The results of ratification votes would be announced in advance of the Worldcon in Year 2. Yes, this does mean that only people who join WSFS before the Hugo/Ratification voting deadline could participate in the election.
This is not WSFS Inc. And even if it was, it wouldn’t run Worldcons.
WSFS WOULD NOT SELECT SITES. WSFS WOULD NOT BE THE LEGAL ENTITY RUNNING WORLDCONS. I stress this because I’ve already seen people assuming that this new governance model would be the World Science Fiction Society, Incorporated., with a full-time professional paid staff, and that it would be the operating entity of all Worldcons. That would be foolish. WSFS doesn’t operate Worldcons now; it (in effect) licenses the right to hold them to operating committees, and I see no reason to change this.
WSFS’s Intellectual Property
The World Science Fiction Society owns service marks (“Worldcon,” “The Hugo Awards,” and others). Technically, WSFS (an unincorporated literary society) owns the marks in the USA only, as that is how it’s registered by the US Patent & Trademark Office.
In places that do not recognize unincorporated associations as entities that can hold title to service marks — in practice, everwhere except the USA — there is a legal entity: Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP). WIP is a California public benefit non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation whose board of directors is by definition the members of the WSFS Mark Protection Committee, plus when necessary a non-voting member resident of California when none of the MPC members are California residents. (The WIP bylaws require at least one Californian on its board.) This would not change under a Council of WSFS as proposed here. The Council would still elect members to the MPC. Worldcons and NASFiCs would still appoint members to the MPC. The MPC would still continue to manage and protect WSFS’s intellectual property.
Now we could actually shadow-implement part of this soon: Have Worldcons conduct a non-binding poll of their members in parallel with their final Hugo Award voting, with the results published before Worldcon. That doesn’t require any constitutional changes, and would not be binding upon the existing Business Meeting, but would at least give the non-attending members (and those attending Worldcon who can’t/won’t attend hours of Business Meetings a change to express their opinions.
Proxies and Remote Participation
I am deeply opposed to proxy voting, and think that trying to run a remote-participation meeting that could have thousands of attendees is impractical, even if you could conceivably set up a multi-thousand person Zoom call to try and do it. Direct democracy is very difficult to implement when you get that large, and besides, most of the existing members of Worldcon do not want to invest that much of their time into that level of governance anyway. At most, they want to vote on things without being bothered with all of that tedious debate and rules neepery. I think we as a society would be better served by implementing a way for all of our members to have some voice in the process without forcing anyone who really wants to make any difference give up a large proportion of their Worldcon to do so.
By Nicholas Whyte: Way back in 2017, my then Deputy Hugo Administrator and I proposed that a study committee should be set up by the WSFS Business Meeting to revise the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist categories, which are difficult to understand and hugely out of date. The Business Meeting amended our resolution, with our consent, to create a Hugo Award Study Committee (HASC) with a broad remit to “study revisions to Article 3 (Hugo Awards) of the WSFS Constitution, including any such proposals for amending Article 3 as may be referred to it by the Business Meeting or suggested by others; [and] make recommendations, which may include proposing constitutional amendments, to the 2018 Business Meeting.”
In the last five years, the HASC has changed precisely two words of the Constitution. (Since you asked: adding the words “or Comic” to the title of the “Best Graphic Story” category.) The HASC’s defenders will complain that we had two years of pandemic, and that the committee switched to Discord rather than email only this year, and that there are lots of proposals this year. But the fact remains that so far the practical impact has been slower than I imagined when I first proposed the Committee.
There is now a detailed report of its activities in the last year and proposals for the coming WSFS Business meeting in Chicago. (Pages 56-77 of the Business Meeting agenda., with individual proposals discussed on pages 33 to 44.) Individual areas are broken out into separate headings with a named set of subcommittee members and a Chair and Sub-Chair. I am one of the signatories to the report, but I have also several dissents, as I will explain below.
My first point of dissent is in the introduction. Unfortunately, I did not feel that discussion was always respectful or effective, and it felt at times like a closed group of people which should have found a better way of reaching out to wider fandom. I do not think that the Committee’s mandate should be extended for another year, and if it is, I would like to see new leadership. The first draft of the report called for the current Chair to continue, but after much wrangling, that recommendation was deleted by a formal majority vote of the Committee. I am grateful to the current leadership for their work, but I think a change of tone will be healthy. Volunteers interested in facilitating inclusive and constructive discussions will be very welcome. (Assuming that the Business Meeting ignores my advice and renews the Committee; more on that later.)
Going through the subcommittees:
BEST RELATED WORK
Here the HASC makes no recommendations, and I agree. I certainly prefer when this category goes to prose non-fiction commentary, but I can’t find it in my heart to say that the voters got it wrong in the last three years when they chose other things. (Archive Of Our Own, Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award acceptance speech, and Maria Dahvana Headley’s Beowulf translation.) And if we carved off non-fiction prose into its own category, as some would prefer, I don’t really think that there is enough other material to reliably populate an “everything else” category.
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION
Here the HASC also makes no recommendations, and I also agree. Any further split will mean an increase in the number of Hugo categories, to honour winners who do not always show a lot of interest in our process. The discussion did not really seem to reflect the proposals I have seen from wider fandom.
Here the HASC again makes no recommendations, and again I agree. For any new Hugo category proposal, I would like to see evidence (1) that it’s responding to the demands of a significant market share of fandom, (2) that it’s redressing an injustice in the current set-up for works loved by fans which are not getting on the ballot in existing categories, and (3) that it would be an appropriate thing for Hugo voters to vote on. I don’t see a problem here with the third of these criteria, but there is no clear case for the first two.
This was business referred to the HASC by the 2021 Business Meeting. It would have been preferable to give the Audiobook proposal a clean death in 2021, rather than sentence it to suffocation by committee.
BEST GAME OR INTERACTIVE WORK
A new Hugo category is proposed. I think this is very good, and despite my general dislike of new categories, it clearly meets my three criteria above (that it’s responding to the demands of a significant market share of fandom, that it’s redressing an injustice in the current set-up for works loved by fans which are not getting on the ballot in existing categories, and that it would be an appropriate thing for Hugo voters to vote on). This is something that both fans and the wider public can get excited about. Procedurally, it should be noted that this was largely the work of one activist supported by an ad hoc committee, refined by discussion with HASC members.
This is one of three discussions where the HASC seriously lost its way. Best Series very narrowly survived an attempt to sunset it in 2021 by 35 votes to 30. The report declares, contra all evidence other than wishful thinking, that the “fundamental problem” with the category is “the possibility of a work being nominated for both Best Novel/Novella/ Novelette/Short Story and for Best Series (as a component), leading to reduced chances for other works to be nominated or win”, and therefore proposes two amendments.
The first of these amendments disqualifies from Best Series any series any of whose component parts has ever won a Hugo in any written category. The second makes it against the rules for the same material to appear on the same year’s ballot both on its own and as part of a series.
The immediate impact of both of these amendments will be to increase headaches for Hugo administrators, who will have to disqualify popular works that people have actually voted for, just because the 2021-22 Best Series subcommittee thinks that voters have been Doing It Wrong. There will also be some interesting judgment calls about exactly what works fall into or out of a particular series.
Both amendments also decrease the pool of eligible nominees by eliminating the ones that are too popular or too long-running. If either of these is passed, when the statistics come out and it becomes clear which nominees have been disqualified, it’s not the 2021-22 Best Series subcommittee who will get the blame, it will be that year’s administrators.
Cards on the table: I opposed the creation of Best Series at the time, and I’d have voted to kill it if I’d been in DC last year, and I’ll vote to kill it again if I ever get a chance. But this is not the moment to re-hash those arguments; we are where we are, and I would prefer that if we are to have a Best Series award at all, voters get to decide what works they want to honour, with no more intrusion from the rules than is strictly necessary. Both amendments should be rejected.
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST AND BEST FAN ARTIST
This is the bit that I wrote, with much welcome input from others, on an issue that was core to the founding of the Committee and has been referred back more than once by WSFS Business Meetings. The old definitions of the Artist categories are very out of date. Professional Artist basically means “Illustrator”. “Fan Artist” has a long list of eligible venues for publication which however is not exhaustive. I have had some pushback that the proposed Fan Artist amendment does not explicitly mention fanzines or conventions; the fact is that categories that are defined by place of publication or display will always run the risk of becoming outdated. So we have looked instead at the economics.
The proposal is to define Fan Art as art that is not produced for professional profit, and Professional Art as art that is produced for professional profit. If you’ve done three or more pieces of art in the last year that weren’t paid for at the time (might have been sold subsequently), then you will be eligible for Best Fan Artist. If you’ve done three or more pieces of art in the last year that were paid for at the time, then you will be eligible for Best Professional Artist. And if you’ve done both, you will be eligible for both. Selling your fan art after it’s been first displayed at a convention doesn’t make you eligible for Pro Artist in itself, because it was created for the convention, not directly for sale.
We went back and forth on this quite a bit, but the artist community indicated that they were happy with where we ended up. I am sure that it is capable of further refinement, but it’s a huge step forward from the status quo. The proposal opens up both categories to artists who were previously excluded, and decreases the burden on Hugo administrators to make tricky eligibility calls. (Or, for instance, to try and explain the concept of Semiprozines to artists who speak no English and have no connection to Worldcon fandom.) It will continue to be possible that an artist could qualify in both categories. I for one can live with that, if it is what fans choose to vote for.
FAN VS PRO
I did not understand this discussion, and I still don’t. It was supposedly driven by an incorrect perception that for the Artist categories, “at the root of the issue is a lack in the Constitution of a single definition for ‘Professional’, ‘Non-Professional’, or ‘Fan’.” I did not pay too much attention to the internal discussion, as I didn’t see the point of it, and also we were told that no new constitutional amendment on this would be formally proposed by the HASC.
Then suddenly at the last moment it turned out that such an amendment had been proposed by the HASC leadership, without the HASC as a whole being informed that this was happening. This proposal in particular went down like a lead balloon in some quarters of fandom, and the way it was handled was not appreciated by a number of HASC members, including me.
A minority opinion has been posted in the HASC report, expressing the entirely correct view that this should never have been proposed without wider community consultation. (In fact, the minority is rather close to being a majority.) I agree with most of it, and have co-signed, with a caveat: I am not certain that the problem (if there is one) should be addressed in this way at all, i.e. with a global definition of Fan and Pro. My instinct is that, if changes are needed, it may be better to do that category by category, as is proposed with Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist.
Even if this or something similar is passed, the specific definitions in the Best Artist categories (both as they currently are, and if my proposed amendments are passed) will take precedence for those categories, as will any other specific definitions elsewhere; and that nullified the supposed basis for the whole discussion.
This is the third category where the HASC seriously lost the run of itself. Two amendments are proposed, and I have signed a minority report opposing both. The current rule is that the total first preference vote for finalists in a particular category is less than 25% of the whole Hugo poll, that category is No Awarded. The first proposed amendment changes that to the lesser of 25% or 200 votes.
To have a 25% threshold makes the lower-participation categories very vulnerable to a future year when loads of people join Worldcon to vote for the previous year’s howling commercial success in Best Novel or Best Dramatic Presentation, and nothing else. As for the 200 votes option, I am leery of hardwiring numerical thresholds into the constitution, given that it will take two years to change if we turn out to have got the wrong number.
Really, it would be better (as others outside the HASC have proposed, and as the minority report recommends) to simply abolish the threshold. It has never been used. No Award has on occasion won the preference ballot, most recently in 2018; and there is also a provision that if a majority of voters prefer No Award to the candidate which would otherwise have won, the category is No Awarded. The threshold is superfluous to those provisions, and brings unnecessary risk.
The second and final proposed amendment sets conditions under which the Business Meeting would consider the abolition of low-participation Hugo categories. I simply don’t think it is appropriate for the Constitution to direct and potentially constrain future Business Meetings in that way. If the point ever comes that we need to abolish a category, we’ll know it without the constitution telling us so. I’ll have more to say on that once this year’s award cycle is over.
As I said at the start, I do not think that the Hugo Awards Study Committee should be continued. Despite five years of existence, no new proposals have emerged on Best Related Work, Best Dramatic Presentation, or Best Audiobook, and those discussions should now return to the wider community. Good proposals have been made this year on Best Game / Interactive Work and (cough) the Best Artist categories, but bad proposals have been made on Best Series (two of them!), thresholds (another two!), and the supposed need to hardwire definitions of Fan and Pro into the constitution (proposed without the approval of Committee members).
The risk of establishing a separate Study Committee for a body like WSFS is that a few vocal participants will use it to promote their own hobby-horses, and present them to the Business Meeting with the veneer of committee support. There’s no easy way to prevent this, in what is, after all, a volunteer body. Appointing new leadership will be helpful, but is probably not sufficient.
I believe that it would be better to disband the Study Committee, now that the job has been done on Best Game and the Artist categories (and, years ago, the title change to “Best Graphic Story or Comic”). In future the Business Meeting can and should set up ad hoc specialist groups to look at particular issues as required, just as it has done in the past, without the overthinking that has happened recently as a result of silo-ing the discussion, and with more openness to stakeholders outside the Business Meeting itself.
By Olav Rokne: Over the past several weeks, a group of fans has been working on a proposal to abolish WSFS constitution clause 3.12.2, which could result in a Hugo category getting no award even when that is not the express wishes of voters. The group proposing this change to the WSFS constitution includes people who are presently or have recently been finalists in the categories most likely to be affected by 3.12.2 of the constitution.
It would be exceptionally embarrassing for a Worldcon to have to explain why a finalist would have won the Hugo except for — oops! — this bit of outdated fine print. The best course of action is to eliminate that fine print before such a circumstance arises.
The list of people who have been working on this proposal includes Olav Rokne, Amanda Wakaruk, Paul Weimer, Jason Sanford, Cora Buhlert, Camestros Felapton, Christopher J Garcia, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Joe Sherry, Adri Joy, Gideon Marcus, Lori Anderson, Kevin Anderson, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Haley Zapal, Amy Salley, Chris M. Barkley, Mike Glyer, and Alasdair Stuart.
Here is the current draft of the proposal that we intend to present to the business meeting:
Hugo Voting Threshold Reform Proposal for the 2022 Business Meeting
Over the past several years, several Hugo Award categories have come close to not being awarded due the current wording of, but not the original intent of, 3.12.2 of the constitution.
The current text of 3.12.2
“No Award” shall be given whenever the total number of valid ballots cast for a specific category (excluding those cast for “No Award” in first place) is less than twenty-five per cent (25%) of the total number of final Award ballots received.
While this clause was designed to guard against categories in which there was a lack of interest, there has not been a significant decline in the categories most at risk of being affected by 3.12.2. Rather there has been a significant uptick in interest in other categories.
Since 2,362 final Award ballots were cast in 2021, if any category received fewer than 591 votes in the final count, then a result of “No Award” would have been declared. Fancast received 632 votes, barely scraping past that 25 per cent threshold. Fanzine (643 votes), Editor – Long Form (667 votes), and Fan Writer (680 votes) were all poised near the abyss.
Worldcon has grown since the 1960s to the point at which this threshold is no longer relevant, and could even be harmful.
The fact that this threshold is based on the overall number of ballots cast in more high-profile categories (like Best Novel or Best Dramatic Presentation), it risks punishing these important and community-oriented categories (like Fancast and Fanzine) – despite the existence of substantial and sustained interest in these categories.
In an era of superhero franchises and a true renaissance of SF/F television worldwide, it is unwieldy to expect community-oriented categories to pull the same interest as multi-million dollar franchises. We do a disservice to the diversity of our community when we establish the latter as the threshold of popularity for the former.
To address this unanticipated problem, we would propose decoupling the viability threshold from the total number of final award ballots with the following proposal:
PROPOSAL – Eliminate 3.12.2
Strike the following words from the WSFS constitution:
3.12.2: “No Award” shall be given whenever the total number of valid ballots cast for a specific category (excluding those cast for “No Award” in first place) is less than twenty-five percent (25%) of the total number of final Award ballots received.
Several other options for reform of this section have been discussed, such as changing the percentage, moving the threshold to an absolute value, or creating other metrics. However, eliminating this viability test altogether is the simplest action that would solve the immediate problems faced in an era of disproportionate increases of interest in some Hugo categories.
(1) MORE AMAZON SHENANIGANS. Nick Cole says Galaxy’s Edge had its account nuked by Amazon over the weekend. The action has since been undone. “CTRL ALT Revolt FLASH REPORT”. He plays it the way his readers like to hear it.
Spent all weekend dealing with a situation on Amazon. Saturday night we got a letter saying our Galaxy’s Edge account was terminated and we were permanently banned.
This morning the books are back up. Was it a purge, a hacker running amok, the AI screwing up… I have thoughts.
But for now this is my official statement :
“We don’t know anything concrete. This happened on Saturday night on a 3 day weekend.
That sounds suspiciously like a hacker got into Amazon. Also, a few other people have had it happen to them.
But the times are crazy due to the leftists strangling everyone’s small business and acting like some kind of woke mafia within major corporations and so it must be considered, that until Amazon says different, this was some kind of Purge.
We are hoping Tuesday morning sees a resolution. Until then our cash flow has been destroyed, our customers are upset, and potential new customers are being lost forever….
(2) LIFE INFLUENCES ON LEM. [Item by Tom Becker.] Two recent books by Polish authors make clear how much Lem’s wartime experience weighed on him. In Agnieszka Gajewska’s deeply researched “Holocaust and the Stars,” translated by Katarzyna Gucio (Routledge) … and “Lem: A Life Out of This World,” a lively, genial biography by Wojciech Orlinski, which has yet to be translated into English. “A Holocaust Survivor’s Hardboiled Science Fiction” in The New Yorker. [Note: The Latin “l” is used in Lem’s first name because WordPress does not support the special character.]
In “His Master’s Voice,” a 1968 sci-fi novel by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, a team of scientists and scholars convened by the American government try to decipher a neutrino signal from outer space. They manage to translate a fragment of the signal’s information, and a couple of the scientists use it to construct a powerful weapon, which the project’s senior mathematician fears could wipe out humanity. The intention behind the message remains elusive, but why would an advanced life-form have broadcast instructions that could be so dangerous?
Late one night, a philosopher on the team named Saul Rappaport, who emigrated from Europe in the last year of the Second World War, tells the mathematician about a time—“the year was 1942, I think”—when he nearly died in a mass execution…..
Privately, Lem told people that he had witnessed the executions described by his fictional character. “Dr. Rappaport’s adventure is my adventure, from Lwów 1941, after the German army entered—I was to be shot,” he wrote to his American translator Michael Kandel. When Orlinski asked Lem’s widow which elements in the scene were drawn from life, she replied, “All of them.”…
(3) LIGHTNING STRIKING AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. You knew it all along – the creators of the term “squeecore” graduated from the “I made you look! I win!” school of clickbaiting. Whose graduates always try to get John Scalzi to say their names, or failing that, they announce to the world he paid some attention to them. Yay them.
And here’s that big, succulent dose of attention:
That was it. Show’s over.
(4) THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Or is it? Camestros Felapton is convinced there’s more candy left in that piñata, as he argues in “Yeah, but”.
I was going to write something else today but as squeecore arguments are still raging on my social media I wanted to pull out some of my own views on where the discussion is, partly because there’s a lot of directions the arguments are going.
Is there’s a dominant style in SFF in the sense of the works that critical buzz and award nominations? Yes, so long as we a generous with both “dominant” and “style” but it is fairly nebulous (as was New Wave for example.
Is there a dominant style in SFF (in the sense above) that is so ubiquotous that is pushes out nearly everything else? No unless you define “style” so expansively that it can’t not to be true i.e. the claim becomes tautological.
(5) I SEE A LITTLE SILHOUETTO. Meanwhile, Doris V. Sutherland has interesting points to make in “’Squeecore’ and the Cartoon Mode in SF/F” – thoughts that deserve to be discussed without the handicap of being attached to this arbitrary term.
…There’s an old rule in animation that a cartoon character should have a readily-identifiable silhouette — think of Mickey Mouse’s ears or Bart Simpson’s spiky hair. In the strongest examples these silhouettes incorporate not only the character’s body and/or clothes but also a posture that tells us something of their personality: Bugs Bunny casually leaning back as he chomps on a carrot; Spongebob excitedly waving his arms about. This is a visual counterpart to the old rule in writing that says you should hook the reader with the first line.
With that in mind, take a look at the opening line to Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, the novel about the teenage lesbian necromancer who likes comic books and porn mags:
“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!— Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.“
Succinct, funny, comprehensible in a flash — this is the prose equivalent of a cartoon character’s silhouette.
Can these stories, as wholes, be described as cartoonish? That’s more debatable. The purest examples of the aesthetic I’m talking about are in short stories like Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” and “A Guide For Working Breeds” or Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please”, each of which uses its cartoon-character-silhouette as the basis for its entire narrative trajectory. This is harder to sustain in a full-length novel. There are novels built wholly around the cartoon mode, but they fit into a narrow genre of giddy, goofy comedies (David Wong’s Zoey Punches the Futurein the Dick is a good example)….
…In the midst of current political, economic and environment uncertainty, many of us may have noticed a tendency to fall into cynicism and pessimism. Could hopepunk be the perfect antidote?
If you feel wary of optimism, you are far from alone. Writers and philosophers across human history have had ambivalent views of hope. These contradictory opinions can be seen in the often opposing interpretations of the Pandora myth, first recorded by Hesiod around 700 BC. In his poem Works and Days, Hesiod describes how Zeus created Pandora as a punishment to humanity, following Prometheus’s theft of fire. She comes to humanity bearing a jar containing “countless plagues” – and, opening the lid, releases its evils to the world. “Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within the rim of the great jar,” Hesiod tells us….
(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
2002 — [Item by Cat Eldridge.] Twenty years ago this day, the musical Chicago premiered. I just rewatched it on HBO Max which is why you are getting it as the Anniversary piece tonight. Well that and that Mike is extremely generous in what I can cover in this feature. Extremely generous. You are forewarned as to what the future might hold.
I first saw this film at the theater when it came out. It’s based off the 1975 stage musical of the same name which had music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. That in turn was based off Chicago, a very successful 1926 play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins.
This film was directed by Rob Marshall and produced by Martin Richards from the screenplay by Bill Condon. Fosse was contracted to direct this but died before he could do so. The film marked the directorial debut of Marshall, who also choreographed the film, with music by Kander and lyrics by Ebb, both had worked on the Fosse musical. Marshall would later direct Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns.
Chicago was primarily set in Cook County Criminal Court Building and Jail. And this is a musical which means we get to a stellar cast sing including performers I swear I never knew could do so — Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore and Dominic West. Gere in particular is very, very impressive though the women performers are great in part because they pass the Bechdel test in that much of the script is dialogue between women smartly done without men present.
Reception for Chicago was almost unanimously positive. I think Robert Ebert summed it up best when he called it “big, brassy fun” which it definitely is. It gets a most excellent eighty-six rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, and though costly to produce at almost fifty million, it made over three hundred million.
And yes we can tie the film into the genre as Mike pointed out to me that “?Chicago is the source of a tune Maytree used to create one of the best-ever Puppy satire filks” — here.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born January 17, 1899 — Nevil Shute. Author of On the Beach. It originally appeared as a four-part series, The Last Days on Earth, in the London weekly Sunday Graphic in April 1957. It was twice a film. He has other SF novels including An Old Captivity which involves time travel and No Highway which gets a review by Pohl in Super Science Stories in 1949. There’s In the Wet and Vinland the Good as well. (Died 1960.)
Born January 17, 1927 — Eartha Kitt. Though you’ll have lots of folks here remembering her as Catwoman from the original Batman, she appeared in but four episodes there. Genre wise, she was in such series as I-Spy, Mission: Impossible, Matrix, the animated Space Ghost Coast to Coast and the animated My Life as a Teenage Robot. Film wise, she played Freya in Erik the Viking, voiced Bagheera in The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story and was Madame Zeroni In Holes. (Died 2008.)
Born January 17, 1931 — James Earl Jones, 91. His first SF appearance was in Dr. Strangelove as Lt. Lothar Zogg. And I think I need not list all his appearances as Darth Vader here. Some genre appearances include Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Flight of Dragons, Conan the Barbarian as Thulsa Doom and I actually remember him in that role, and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. Did you know the 1995 Judge Dredd had a Narrator? Well he’s listed as doing it, and Fantasia 2000 as well.
Born January 17, 1949 — Donald Palumbo, 73. Well someone has to take us seriously. In this case, it’s this scholar. He’s done such studies as Chaos Theory, Asimov’s Foundations and Robots, and Herbert’s Dune: the Fractal Aesthetic of Epic Science Fiction, Eros in the Mind’s Eye: Sexuality and the Fantastic in Art and Film and Worlds Apart?: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias. He has an interesting essay, “Reiterated Plots and Themes in the Robot Novels: Getting Away with Murder and Overcoming Programming” in Foundation, #80 Autumn 2000 . His latest work is A Dune Companion: Characters, Places and Terms in Frank Herbert’s Original Six Novels. Huh. I’d like to see that.
Born January 17, 1952 — Tom Deitz. He’s best remembered for the David Sullivan series which ran for nine novels, plus The Gryphon King, which technically isn’t part of that series. The Soulsmith is quite excellent as well. He was founding member of the SCA’s Barony of Bryn Madoc, and he won the Phoenix Award for lifetime achievement in promoting Southern fandom. Fitting for a lifelong resident of Georgia. He’s reasonably well stocked at the usual suspects. (Died 2008.)
Born January 17, 1962 — Jim Carrey, 60. His first genre film is Once Bitten whose content is obvious from its name and which get a mere thirty-nine percent rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. The ‘dorable Earth Girls Are Easy was next followed up by Batman Forever in which he played a manic Riddler that I rather liked, then there’s the The Truman Show which was way cool. So may we not talk about How the Grinch Stole Christmas? (SHUDDER!) We settled several years ago that we think that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is genre. And I think that I’ll stop there this time.
Born January 17, 1970 — Genndy Tartakovsky, 52. Like Romulnan Ale, animation style is a matter of taste. So while I like his work on Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, I can understand why many SW fans don’t as it’s definitely an acquired taste. He also is responsible for directing the animated Hotel Transylvania franchise. You can see a sample of his Clone Wars animation here.
Born January 17, 1989 — Kelly Marie Tran, 33. Best known as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. She voices the same character in the Star Wars Forces of Destiny animated series. She also voiced Raya in Raya and the Last Dragon and Dawn Betterman in The Croods: A New Age.
(9) FAMILY FAREWELL. Christopher Rice wrote a long Facebook post about Anne Rice’s funeral in New Orleans, including the text of his eulogy.
Dearest People of the Page. We have brought Anne home. On Saturday January 15th, as we rolled to a stop on the tarmac at New Orleans International Airport, the heavens opened, and the thunder rolled, and it was as if the spirit world had heralded her return to the city of her birth, the city that always held her heart. The service was quiet and private, and a chance for close family to express their grief. The public celebration of life we will hold later in the year will be open to all of you, and it will be loud enough for Anne to hear us in heaven. She has now joined my father in the tomb in Metairie Cemetery she designed for him after his passing; their marriage, unbroken for decades, has entered immortality. My sister resides with them as well. I share with you now a portion of the eulogy I read graveside as the rain drenched our tent and a flock of blackbirds took to the sky behind me….
Guillermo Del Toro used to describe Hollywood as “the Land of the Slow No”. Here was a place where a director could die waiting for a project to be greenlit. “The natural state of a movie is to be unmade,” he says over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “I have about 20 scripts that I lug around that no one wants to make and that’s fine: it’s the nature of the business.It’s a miracle when anything at all gets made.”
Nevertheless, Del Toro has established himself as this century’s leading fantasy film-maker, more inventive than latter-day Tim Burton and less bombastic than Peter Jackson (with whom he co-wrote the Hobbit trilogy). From the haunting adult fairytale Pan’s Labyrinth and the voluptuously garish Hellboy romps to his beauty-and-the-fish love story The Shape of Water, which won four Oscars, he is the master of the glutinous phantasmagoria….
Fans love to pay tribute to the authors they love most. This takes the form of flattery and at times, its most sincere cousin: imitation. Imitation can stray accidentally or venture boldly into parody. The works of Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith, Ph.D. attracted all of this.
The earliest instances of fan pastiche based on Smith’s Skylark and Lensman novels appeared in fanzine that have largely been lost to history. Spurred by an inquiry from the Online Science Fiction Book Club, FFE has endeavored to make these works available. For Smith enthusiasts, we hope this is fun. Click any image for a full-screen view.
“The Skylaugh of Space” by “Omnia” Fantasy Magazine, v3n3, May 1934 and v3n4, June 1934 (The identity of “Omnia” is unclear. The author is described in the July 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine as “a young chap who has shown promise in the science fiction field, having already sold stories to Wonder and Amazing. Besides, he is editor of his college humor magazine…”)
(12) WSFS. Kevin Standlee tells LiveJournal readers he has finished “Updating WSFS Documents” with changes from DisCon III. (The Business Meeting minutes are still in progress.)
The WSFS Rules website is now mostly updated. The 2021-22 WSFS Constitution and Standing Rules are updated, as is the Resolutions and Rulings of Continuing Effect, a cumulative list of resolutions passed by the WSFS Business Meeting that are likely to have an ongoing effect and rulings made by the Chair (or sometimes rulings made that were overturned on appeal) on various procedural matters.
The Minutes of the Business Meeting and the Business Passed On to the 2022 WSFS Business Meeting are nearing completion, and when they’re finished and certified by the 2021 meeting officers, I’ll update those as well.
… Now, producers have figured out how to keep shows running, thanks mainly to a small army of replacement workers filling in for infected colleagues. Heroic stories abound: When the two girls who alternate as the young lioness Nala in “The Lion King” were both out one night, a 10-year-old boy who usually plays the cub Simba went on in the role, saving the performance.
…And then there was “The Lion King,” where the young Simba went on as young Nala (uncostumed, and after a preshow explanation to the audience).
“I didn’t want the show to close,” explained the child actor, who performs as Corey J. “I was nervous at first, but then the person who plays Shenzi winked at me, and I wasn’t nervous anymore.”
In the wings between scenes, cast members cheered him on, and at the end of the show, the cast gave him the honor of the show’s final bow….
(14) BIGBUG. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s next film is going to be released by Netflix next month.
A group of bickering suburbanites find themselves stuck together when an android uprising causes their well intentioned household robots to lock them in for their own safety.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Alan Baumler, Dann, Tom Becker, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day David Shallcross.]
BUSINESS MEETING AGENDA. The the 2021 WSFS Business Meeting Agenda is online here.
Business Meeting Chair Kevin Standlee adds, “There are blank spots in the agenda where we are expecting reports that haven’t arrived yet The agenda will be updated as the stragglers arrive.”
The agenda includes Business Passed on to DisCon III by CoNZealand. In 2020, the 78th Worldcon, CoNZealand, was forced to hold only a limited Business Meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the meeting, they defeated all constitutional amendments up for ratification and then passed the same amendments for the first time. This effectively postponed the ratification of all amendments, and passed them on to DisCon III for ratification in 2021. (Minutes and a recording of the CoNZealand Business Meeting are available on the WSFS web site.)
There is a pending re-ratification vote on whether to make Best Series a permanent Hugo category, and to make the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book a permanent award.
And there are quite a few proposals from the Nitpicking & Flyspecking Committee (members appointed by the Business Meeting) with the goal of making the rules work better in one way or another.
All seven new proposals to change the rules are of interest. These two would directly reshape the Hugo ballot:
Short Title: One Episode Per Series: A rules change with the “intention of reducing the amount of episodes of the same dramatic presentation series that can be finalists from two to one and to retain the existing restriction of not more than two works by the same author in each ‘story’ category.” Proposed by: Nana Amuah, Olav Rokne, Cora Buhlert and Terry Neill.
Short Title: Best Audiobook. A new Hugo category is proposed by Michele Cobb and Nicole Morano. Their supporting statement argues: “Although several Hugo Award categories allow audiobook entries by being agnostic of the publication medium per section 3.2.6, audiobooks cannot simply be viewed as interchangeable with the print and ebook experience and are deserving of their own award category. Since we honor Best Graphic Story or Comic and Best Dramatic Presentation, Long and Short Form because the experience of the story is distinctive in that medium, it only follows that we acknowledge audiobooks as a category all their own.”
It’s telling that the Russian term used to describe speculative fiction doesn’t distinguish between science fiction and fantasy. The word is fantastika —the literature of the fantastic. It is used equally to reference the Three Laws stories of Asimov and the Middle Earth tales of Tolkien. It is this lack of distinction—combined with Russia’s rich heritage of fairy tales and its rigorous education in mathematics and the sciences—that may be responsible for so many genre-bending tales penned by Russian-speaking authors, which have become classics of world literature. The history of Russian fantastika is inseparable from the history of Russia itself, and the political, economic, and social forces that have shaped it over the course of the twentieth century….
(2) WORLDCON FUNDAMENTALS. The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) – unincorporated – is the umbrella organization that awards the right to host Worldcons and sets the Hugo rules. Cheryl Morgan asks “Is WSFS Fit for Purpose?” at Salon Futura.
…The problem is that WSFS suffers from what we in the Diversity & Inclusion business called “Status Quo Bias”. When the existing system happens to favour one particular segment of a population over others, that system will be seen as grossly unfair. There will be pressure for change. And if change is impossible within the system, the aggrieved parties will look to leave that system for an alternative, or to destroy it.
The accepted wisdom is that if you want to change WSFS then you have to do so through the Business Meeting. But the way that works, with the time commitment and necessity of understanding Parliamentary Procedure, is itself a form of Status Quo Bias. Kevin [Standlee] can help people who want to create a new Hugo Award category, but I suspect that no amount of help will be enough for people who want to recraft the entire governance process of the Society.
Furthermore, mollifying upset fans is not the only reason why this should be done. We live in an increasingly corporate world. WSFS is not a corporate animal, and other corporations simply don’t know how to deal with it. Relatively simple things such as selling advertising in the souvenir book, or soliciting sponsorship, become much more complicated than they need to be because WSFS itself has no corporate existence, and external organisations have to deal with a different company each year. Being proudly unincorporated is all very well, but it makes it hard to do business….
Just one note before leaving this open to discussion – when the Worldcon is held in the U.S. the “different company each year” has for many years been a nonprofit corporation organized by the bidders under state corporation and federal tax laws.
(3) ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST. James Davis Nicoll’sYoung People Read Old SFF panel take on Robert Bloch’s “That Hell-Bound Train.” And are young people impressed by this 1958 Hugo-winning short story? You’re kidding, aren’t you?
(4) STORY OF A LATE ADOPTER. Debarkle is Camestros Felapton’s work-in-progress chronicle of the history and consequences of the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy Kerfuffle. He’s added a chapter that does a good job of capturing what I’ve tried to do with File 770 since issue #1: “Debarkle Chapter 29: Dramatis Personae — Mike Glyer & File 770”. For instance:
…The point is not that the fanzine was a paragon of feminism or even progressive politics but rather that a newszine had a responsibility to engage with issues of the day and in the process, the editor had to get to grips with those issues also….
In the days of yore, if I wanted to buy a table-top roleplaying game, I had to travel to Toronto, the nearest major city. If I wanted inked dice, I had to hand-ink them myself. If I wanted fellow gamers, I had to shape mud into human form and breathe life into my golems (oops, no, I couldn’t do that, sometimes I just wished I could).
In those days, most TTRPGs treated gods as a sort of theological ConEd for wandering clerics. Gods had different names and superficial attributes, but otherwise their cults were much of a muchness, with no actual doctrinal differences.
One notable exception was Chaosium’s RuneQuest, particularly those supplements set in Greg Stafford’s gaming world of Glorantha….
(6) ABOUT THOSE FREE FANZINES. When David Langford learned that the N3F had started including copies of Ansible among the fanzines they were emailing to their distribution list it was news to him. And not welcome news, as Langford made clear:
Dear N3F President,
I’m told that the N3F is distributing PDF copies of Ansible in a bundle of “Free Fanzines from the N3F” without having asked my permission. Permission is not granted. You are welcome to circulate links to individual issues on the Ansible site at news.ansible.uk, but not to copy the issues themselves to others.
N3F President George Phillies wrote back an apology. That probably puts the matter to rest.
(7) JUNG OBIT. Actor Nathan Jung died April 24 at the age of 74. Deadline has the story —
Jung began his acting career in 1969 with a role as Genghis Khan in “The Savage Curtain” episode of the original Star Trek.
In the 1990s, he had stints on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman…His other [genre] film credits include Big Trouble in Little China, Darkman, The Shadow….
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
Born May 3, 1896 — Dodie Smith. English children’s novelist and playwright, best remembered for The Hundred and One Dalmatians which of course became the animated film of the same name and thirty years later was remade by Disney as a live action film. (Saw the first a long time ago, never saw the latter.) Though The Starlight Barking, the sequel, was optioned, by Disney, neither sequel film (101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure and 102 Dalmatians) is based on it. Elizabeth Hand in her review column in F&SF praised it as one of the very best fantasies (“… Dodie Smith’s sophisticated canine society in The Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Starlight Barking…”) she had read. (Died 1990.) (CE)
Born May 3, 1901 – John Collier. Three novels, twoscore shorter stories for us; poetry; screenplays, teleplays; two dozen short stories adapted for television by others. Collection Fancies and Goodnights won an Edgar and an Int’l Fantasy Award. (Died 1980) [JH]
Born May 3, 1928 — Jeanne Bal. In Trek’s “The Man Trap” episode, she played Nancy Crate, a former lover of Leonard McCoy, who would be a victim of the lethal shape-shifting alien which craves salt. This was the episode that replaced “The Cage” episode which the Network really didn’t like. She also had one-offs in Thriller and I-Spy. (Died 1996.) (CE)
Born May 3, 1939 — Dennis O’Neil. Writer and editor, mostly for Marvel Comics and DC Comics from the Sixties through the Nineties, and was the Group Editor for the Batman family of titles until his retirement which makes him there when Ed Brubaker’s amazing Gotham Central came out. He himself has written Wonder Woman and Green Arrow in both cases introducing some rather controversial storytelling ideas. He also did a rather brilliant DC Comics Shadow series with Michael Kaluta as the artist. (Died 2020.) (CE)
Born May 3, 1946 – Elizabeth Horrocks, age 75. Three novels for us. Won at the British television programme Mastermind, her subjects Shakespeare’s plays, works of Tolkien, works of Dorothy L. Sayers. [JH]
Born May 3, 1951 – Tatyana Tolstaya, age 70. One novel, three shorter stories for us available in English; for others outside our field, see here; hosted a Russian television-interview show a dozen years. Great-grandniece of literary giant Leo Tolstoy. [JH]
Born May 3, 1962 – Stephan Martiniere, age 59. Two hundred seventy-five covers, fifty interiors. Artbooks Quantum Dreams, Quantumscapes, Velocity, Trajectory. One Hugo, two Chesleys; two BSFA (British SF Ass’n) Awards. Here is Heavy Planet. Here is Dozois’ 22nd Year’s Best SF. Here is Betrayer of Worlds. Here is The Three-Body Problem. Here is The Poet King. [JH]
Born May 3, 1969 — Daryl Mallett, 52. By now you know that I’ve a deep fascination with the nonfiction documentation of our community. This author has done a number of works doing just that including several I’d love to see including Reginald’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards: A Comprehensive Guide to the Awards and Their Winners written with Robert Reginald. He’s also written some short fiction including one story with Forrest J Ackerman that bears the charming title of “A Typical Terran’s Thought When Spoken to by an Alien from the Planet Quarn in Its Native Language“. He’s even been an actor as well appearing in several Next Gen episodes (“Encounter at Farpoint” and “Hide and Q”) and The Undiscovered Country as well, all uncredited. He also appeared in Doctor Who and The Legends Of Time, a fan film which you can see here if you wish to. (CE)
Born May 3, 1980 – Jessica Spotswood, age 41. Three novels, one shorter story, one anthology (with Tess Sharpe) for us. Works for Washington, D.C., Public Library. Has read five Anne of Green Gables books, three by Jane Austen, The Strange History of the American Quadroon, The Crucible, We Should All Be Feminists. [JH]
Born May 3, 1982 — Rebecca Hall, 39. Lots of genre work — her first role was as Sarah Borden in The Prestige followed by being Emily Wotton in Dorian Gray and then as Florence Cathcart in The Awakening which in turn led to her being Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3. Next up? Mary in Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Is she done yet? No as next up is the English dub of the voice of Mother of Mirai no Mirai. She might’ve wanted to have stopped there as her most recent role was Dr. Grace Hart in Holmes & Watson which won an appalling four Golden Raspberries! (CE)
Born May 3, 1984 – Ian Bristow, age 37. Four novels, two shorter stories, a dozen covers. Here is The Interspecies Poker Tournament. Here is Contact.Here is The Gaia Collection. [JH]
Born May 3, 1985 — Becky Chambers, 36. I’m currently listening to The Galaxy, And The Ground Within which is most excellent. Her Wayfarers series won the Best Series Hugo at Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon. (A Closed and Common Orbit was on the final list at WorldCon 75 for Best Novel but lost out to another exemplary novel, N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate. Record of a Spaceborn Few would be on the ballot at Dublin 2019 but lost out to yet another exemplary novel, Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars.) (A digression: The Wayfarers are the best series I’ve listened to in a long time.) “To Be Taught, if Fortunate” was a finalist at ConZealand in the Best Novella category but lost out to “This Is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. (CE)
(9) COMICS SECTION.
Non Sequitur follows an outfit that knows their truth is out there. Maybe.
Heathcliff doesn’t look very superheroic – that’s what makes him so dangerous.
Maximumble shows why not all AI want to be more like humans.
(10) FAMILY TIME. Get your tissues ready. “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” on YouTube is something Marvel Studios put together (with words by Stan Lee) about the importance of seeing MCU movies in theatres, along with a list of forthcoming MCU releases for the next two years.
The world may change and evolve, but the one thing that will never change: we’re all part of one big family.
Stargirl will continue to shine bright on The CW with a third season, the network announced Monday. The DC show’s renewal also came with the news that Christina M. Kim’s Kung Fu reboot has scored a second, butt-kicking season. Stargirl‘s sophomore season is scheduled to kick off this summer, while Kung Fu is in the middle of airing its debut batch of episodes (the premiere garnered over 3.5 million audience members when it first dropped in early April)….
“STARGIRL SEASON 3!!!” Brec Bassinger, Stargirl‘s leading lady, wrote on Twitter. “I get to go be with my star fam another year.”
“Thank you to everyone who has been tuning in to our little show,” tweeted Olivia Lang, who headlines Kung Fu. “We hope we’ve made your lives brighter and brought joy into your homes.”
Elsewhere, Epix’s Batman prequel, Pennyworth, could score a third outing of its own, but not on Epix. According to a new report from Deadline, HBO Max is mulling over a decision to pick up the DC-inspired series about a young British spy (Jack Bannon) who will one day become the butler of Wayne Manor….
It is 2021, and I’m not playing on an Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Switch. I’m playing Atari.
This isn’t an old Atari 2600 previously collecting dust in a closet or an emulator I found online. It’s a fresh home video game console: the Atari VCS.
Having spent some time playing Atari VCS, it’s easy to get trapped by the nostalgic feelings of popping in my “Asteroids” or “Missile Command” cartridges. However, the VCS delivers plenty of modern touches such as wireless, rechargeable controllers and Wi-Fi support for downloadable games.
The Atari VCS is available to preorder for $399.99 and includes the console, a wireless modern controller and a wireless classic joystick.
Imagine operating a computer by moving your hands in the air as Tony Stark does in “Iron Man.” Or using a smartphone to magnify an object as does the device that Harrison Ford’s character uses in “Blade Runner.” Or a next-generation video meeting where augmented reality glasses make it possible to view 3-D avatars. Or a generation of autonomous vehicles capable of driving safely in city traffic.
These advances and a host of others on the horizon could happen because of metamaterials, making it possible to control beams of light with the same ease that computer chips control electricity.
The term metamaterials refers to a broad class of manufactured materials composed of structures that are finer than the wavelength of visible light, radio waves and other types of electromagnetic radiation. Together, they are now giving engineers extraordinary control in designing new types of ultracheap sensors that range from a telescope lens to an infrared thermometer.
“We are entering the consumer phase for metamaterials,” said Alan Huang, the chief technology officer at Terabit Corporation, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, who did early research in optical computing during his 12 years at Bell Labs. “It will go way beyond cameras and projectors and lead to things we don’t expect. It’s really a field of dreams.”
The first consumer products to take advantage of inexpensive metamaterials will be smartphones, which will improve their performance, but the ability to control light waves in new ways will also soon enable products like augmented reality glasses that overlay computerized images on the real world….
(14) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Mortal Kombat (2021) Pitch Meeting” on ScreenRant, which has spoilers, the producer explains he’s heard of the Mortal Kombat video game because “you mash a lot of buttons and someone’s spine explodes. Then you need a lot of therapy.” Also one character’s laser eye powers are discovered “by arguing about egg rolls” with another character.
[Thanks to Michael Toman, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, Kendall, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, John Hertz, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]
(1) LEND A HAND? Another Titan Comics blog tour will be rolling through on Monday. Would one of you volunteer to write a review of a comic by tomorrow night? I’d be thrilled, and so would Titan Comics. (Email me at mikeglyer (at) cs (dot) com and I will send you a link to the PDF.)
(2) WISCON SAYS SUPPORT THEIR HOTEL. [Item by Jeffrey Smith.] This is different. The convention hotel saying: No convention this year? Come and hang out anyway! The SF3/WisCon Newsletter encourages readers to “Spend Memorial Day weekend at the Concourse Hotel”.
As you know, we’re not able to hold a WisCon in Madison this spring. However! The Concourse Hotel, the longtime home of WisCon, is running a special promotion for members and friends of the WisCon community over Memorial Day weekend, May 27-31, 2021
… The Concourse hosted its first WisCon in 1984 and has been our full-time hotel partner since 1995. They are an independently owned and operated hotel and as such have been hit especially hard by the loss of business during the pandemic. This is a fantastic chance to support them, get away from home for the weekend and see some friends in a clean, well-ventilated, socially distant environment….
(3) BOTH SIDES NOW. Lincoln Michel is writing an interesting series about the different genre and literary ecosystems for his Counter Craft newsletter. Here are links to the first three posts.
… I’m NOT going to try and delineate the (various and conflicting) definitions of “genre” and “literary” here. I do plan to get into that in some future newsletter but for now when I refer to the “literary world” I’m speaking of what you’d expect: MFA programs, magazines like The Paris Review or Ploughshares, imprints like Riverhead or FSG, agents who list “literary fiction” on their websites, etc.
When I say “genre world” I’m focusing mostly on science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction (plus the one hundred billion subgenres of those). Those are the genres I write in and am most familiar with. Obviously, there are other genre ecosystems: crime fiction, romance fiction, etc. Those tend to overlap a fair amount with SFF world, and also tend to function similarly in terms of how professional organizations operate, how awards are structured, and so on. But when I speak of something like “genre jargon” I’m pulling primarily from SFF. I don’t think I need to define SFF, beyond saying that acronym means “science fiction and fantasy.” You know it. Magazines like Lightspeed and Uncanny. Imprints like Orbit, Del Rey, and Tor.
Because genre vs. literary fiction is so often treated like a team sport where you pick a side and scream insults at the other one, I want to state up front that I root for both. Or perhaps play for both, in this metaphor. I’ve published in both “literary” magazines like The Paris Review and Granta as well as “genre” magazines like Lightspeed (forthcoming) and Strange Horizons. My story collection was published by the literary Coffee House Press and my science fiction novel is coming out this year from Orbit. I really love both “teams” here….
…Popular authors also tend to contend over and over. This can easily be seen by the list of multiple winners. Many SFF writers have won the Hugo for Best Novel multiple times. You have 6/12 (wins/nominations) for Heinlein and 4/10 for Bujold. Five different authors have won three times and nine have won twice. There is nothing like that in the Pulitzer. No author has won three, four, or six Pulitzers. Only four have won twice: Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner, John Updike, and Colson Whitehead. This is despite the fact that the Pulitzers have been around since 1918 and the Hugos only since 1953. (This pattern is a little less prominent in other, newer awards, but still there.)
It’s fair to note that SFF perhaps has a smaller pool of books to choose from, since at least theoretically the literary awards are drawn from all of literature. But if the literary world is as narrow and parochial as many SFF fans contend then you’d expect to see that in the rewards.
As with almost everything I discuss here, there are arguments for both ways of doing things. In the genre side, the titans of the genre can be adequately reflected in the awards. A monumental work like N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy—truly one of the best fantasy series of modern times, which I’ve written about a bit here before—can even win three times in a row . That would simply never happen in the literary world, no matter how deserving. And one could certainly argue that the awards more accurately reflect the tastes of readership.
This can be a downside too, since biases and prejudices are also reflected. Before N.K. Jemisin won in 2016, no black author had ever won the Hugo for best novel. If you had died before 2015, when Cixin Liu won, you would have never witnessed a POC win the Hugo. It was hardly perfect in the lit world, but you did have Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Ha Jin, Jesmyn Ward, Junot Díaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, and others winning NBAs and Pulitzers. It’s about the same for gender. Ursula K. Le Guin was the first woman to win a Hugo for Best Novel in 1970. (Ditto the Nebula, although that had only started in 1966.) By that time, dozens of women had won the Pulitzer and/or National Book Award.
All of that said, both the lit world and SFF world have been far better on the diversity front in the last five to ten years than they have been historically. Hopefully that will continue.
… Publishing runs on novels. At least when it comes to fiction, novels are what agents want to hear about, what editors want to look at, and—with a few exceptions—what readers want to buy. Perhaps because of this, short stories hold a special place in fiction writers’ hearts. The short story is our form. Our weird mysterious little monster that no one else can love.
Strangely, the opposite was true 100 years ago. For the first few decades of the 20th-century, the short story was the popular form of literature. It was a magazine world back then. Short stories were what paid the bills. Authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald felt forced to write short stories that they could afford to write “decent books” (novels) on the side! In the genre world, the short story was so dominant that even the “novels” were often a bunch of existing short stories stitched quickly together in what was known as a “fix-up.” I’m not talking obscure books here, but some of the pillars of SFF from that era: Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Asimov’s I, Robot, and Simak’s City. Also several of Raymond Chandler’s best hardboiled novels over in crime fiction. (Here’s a good post by Charlie Jane Anders arguing the fix-up is the ideal form for SFF.)…
…You may be asking, “So what? All the bids we knew about have already filed, so what difference does it make?”
I contend that there are two reasons for being concerned about this. The first is that frankly, there are groups that are unhappy about both the bids on the ballot, for various reasons. A “sprint” bid might enter the field. Now even though I have agreed to run Memphis’ WSFS division should they win, I’m trying to be as fair as I can about the known deficiencies of all currently filed bids. In 1990, I was a member of the San Francisco in ’93 Worldcon bid committee, facing filed bids from Phoenix and Zagreb. Due to unimpressive performances from all three filed bids at the 1989 SMOFCon (the filing deadline at that time was the close of the previous Worldcon, and sites were selected three years in advance at that time), a heretofore hoax bid for Hawaii was pressed into service by a large number of SMOFs and a write-in bid for Hawaii in ’93 filed. The write-in bid placed second ahead of the Zagreb and Phoenix bids, and I rather expect that had they been on the ballot, they might have beaten San Francisco. In 1991-92, I wrote and was a co-sponsor of a change to WSFS rules that changed the filing deadline to 180 days before the convention, a rule that, had it been in effect for the 1990 election for the 1993 Worldcon, would have allowed Hawaii to be on the ballot. So even though it would have been used against me back then, I recognize the value in keeping the door open for “sprint” bids. If there are groups that still want to take a shot at the 2023 Worldcon, I think they should have a chance to file until the T-180 deadline that is written into the Constitution.
The second reason I think DisCon III should reopen filing, even if nobody else files, is philosophical. WSFS rules are not self-enforcing. We trust Worldcon committees to follow WSFS rules as much as they can, subject to local laws and other contingencies. There is no higher authority that can force a Worldcon committee to obey WSFS rules. There’s no WSFS Inc. that can step in and give orders. There is no appeal from a Worldcon committee’s decisions. A Worldcon committee that refuses to follow a clearly-written and unambiguous rule that would not be difficult to follow is telling us that no rule is safe. WSFS governance is based on trust. If we can’t trust a committee to follow the rules, then the unwritten contract between the members of WSFS and the Worldcon committee that manages the members’ annual convention breaks down….
… I think DisCon III should change their initial decision and reopen site selection filing until June 18, even if no other bid surfaces, to confirm that insofar as they are able to do so, even under the difficulties of a worldwide pandemic, they will continue to obey the rules of the organization whose membership is the World Science Fiction Society. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to the members of WSFS….
… Now a special innovation team and a group of nearly 300 newsroom employees are pushing for drastic changes at the paper, which has been part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire since 2007….
… As the team was completing a report on its findings last summer, Mr. [Matt] Murray [WSJ Editor] found himself staring down a newsroom revolt. Soon after the killing of George Floyd, staff members created a private Slack channel called “Newsroomies,” where they discussed how The Journal, in their view, was behind on major stories of the day, including the social justice movement growing in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death. Participants also complained that The Journal’s digital presence was not robust enough, and that its conservative opinion department had published essays that did not meet standards applied to the reporting staff. The tensions and challenges are similar to what leaders of other news organizations, including The Times, have heard from their staffs.
In July, Mr. Murray received a draft from Ms. [Louise] Story’s team, a 209-page blueprint on how The Journal should remake itself called The Content Review. It noted that “in the past five years, we have had six quarters where we lost more subscribers than we gained,” and said addressing its slow-growing audience called for significant changes in everything from the paper’s social media strategy to the subjects it deemed newsworthy.
The report argued that the paper should attract new readers — specifically, women, people of color and younger professionals — by focusing more on topics such as climate change and income inequality. Among its suggestions: “We also strongly recommend putting muscle behind efforts to feature more women and people of color in all of our stories.”
The Content Review has not been formally shared with the newsroom and its recommendations have not been put into effect, but it is influencing how people work: An impasse over the report has led to a divided newsroom, according to interviews with 25 current and former staff members. The company, they say, has avoided making the proposed changes because a brewing power struggle between Mr. Murray and the newpublisher, Almar Latour, has contributed to a stalemate that threatens the future of The Journal.
…About a month after the report was submitted, Ms. Story’s strategy team was concerned that its work might never see the light of day, three people with knowledge of the matter said, and a draft was leaked to one of The Journal’s own media reporters, Jeffrey Trachtenberg. He filed a detailed article on it late last summer.
But the first glimpse that outside readers, and most of the staff, got of the document wasn’t in The Journal. In October, a pared-down version of The Content Review was leaked to BuzzFeed News, which included a link to the document as a sideways scan. (Staffers, eager to read the report, had to turn their heads 90 degrees.)…
(6) THE POWER OF ANTHOLOGIES. Featuring Linda D. Addison (Sycorax’s Daughters), Maurice Broaddus (POC Destroy Horror & Dark Faith), and Sheree Renée Thomas (Dark Matter), and moderated by author and editor Nisi Shawl (New Suns, Everfair, Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany), “Ancestors and Anthologies: New Worlds in Chorus” is a free livestream panel hosted by Clarion West and the Seattle Public Library on Monday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m. Register at the link. It’s part of the “Beyond Afrofuturism: Black Editors and Publishers in Speculative Fiction” Panel Series.
From the groundbreaking Dark Matter to Sycorax’s Daughters to POC Destroy!, anthologies are one way marginalized voices gather in chorus on a particular subject, subgenre, or genre. Our anthologies panel will delve into the world of bespoke collections with luminaries in the field.
… What took so long? 1) It is a daunting thing when a loved one dies to be responsible for the accumulations of a lifetime. 2) We’re book people! Letting go of books is painful. A bookcase is a record of time spent and history and books are harder to find good homes for than one might think. 3) Her particular status as beloved author made every decision weighted.
(8) STANISLAW LEM CENTENNIAL DEBATE. On April 18, Polish Society for Futures Studies (PSFS) will present a live online debate “The expansion of future consciousness through the practice of science fiction and futures studies,” celebrating the Stanis?aw Lem centenary. Lem was a celebrated science-fiction writer and futurologist from Poland. The Centennial Debate will feature international participants: Thomas Lombardo, professor emeritus of Rio Salado College and author of books on science-fiction and future consciousness; Karlheinz Steinmüller, PhD, science fiction author, publisher and eminent German futurist; Kacper Nosarzewski, futurist from Poland and a literary critic.
The event will be streamed live on Zoom and YouTube, April 18th 12:00 am Pacific Standard Time, 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, 20:00 Central European Time, and the admittance is free. More information including links to the event will be posted at https://centennialdebate.ptsp.pl/.
The event is being supported by the World Futures Studies Federation, Association of Professional Futurists and Lem Estate, among many others.
Stanis?aw Lem wrote, in Solaris: “We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos.” The Centennial Debate will explore the practice of science-fiction and futures studies as different ways of “using the future” and increasing our understanding of humanity’s hopes, fears, prospects and predicaments.
(9) MEMORY LANE.
On a day in 1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home premiered. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy who wrote it with Harve Bennett. It was produced by Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett. It starred the entire original original Trek cast. It would lose out to Aliens at Conspiracy ’87. The film’s less-than-serious attitude and rather unconventional story were well liked by critics and fans of the original series along with the general public. It was also a box office success. And it has an exemplary eighty-one percent rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
Born April 10, 1936 – David Hardy, age 85. Astronomical and SF artist. European Vice President of the Int’l Ass’n of Astronomical Artists. Artbooks e.g. Visions of Space; Hardyware; 50 Years in Space: what we thought then, what we know now. Two hundred fifty covers, a hundred interiors. Here is the Jun 74 Amazing. Here is King David’s Spaceship. Here is Understanding Space and Time (note that the piano is a Bösendorfer). Here is the Apr 2010 Analog. [JH]
Born April 10, 1940 — Raul Julia. If we count Sesame Street as genre which it should, his appearance as Rafael there was his first genre role. Yeah, I’m stretching it somewhat. 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 the superb Addams Family Values as Gomez Addams reprising the role he’d had in The Addams Family. (Died 1994.) (CE)
Born April 10, 1948 – Jim Burns, age 73 (not James H. Burns 1962-2016). Four hundred twenty covers, two hundred interiors. Three Hugos. Twelve BSFA (British SF Ass’n) Awards. Artist Guest of Honour at Conspiracy ’87 the 45th Worldcon, several other more local cons in the U.K. and U.S., see here. Artbooks e.g. Lightship; Transluminal; The Art of Jim Burns. Each in The Durdane Trilogy used a segment of this, e.g. The Asutra. Here is Interzone 11. Here is the Jul 94 Asimov’s. Here is The Wanderer. Here is Dozois’ 34th Year’s Best Science Fiction. Here is Dark Angels Rising. [JH]
Born April 10, 1951 – Ross Pavlac. Co-chaired Marcon XIII-XIV, Windycon VIII, Chicon IV the 40th Worldcon. Fan Guest of Honor at Torque 2. Sometimes appeared in a blue aardvark costume; RP’s fanzine for the apaMyriad was The Avenging Aardvark’s Aerie; RP was one of the first fans to extrude a Website, also so called. Chaired Windycon XXIV from his deathbed. See these appreciations. (Died 1997) [JH]
Born April 10, 1953 — David Langford, 68. And how long have you been reading Ansible? If he’s not noted for that singular enterprise, he should be noted for assisting in producing the second edition of the EoSF, not to mention some 629,000 words as a principal editor of the third (online) edition of the Encyclopedia of SF, and contributed some eighty thousand words of articles to the most excellent EoF as well. And let’s not forget his genre writing as well that earned him a Short Story Hugo at the Millennium Philcon for “Different Kinds of Darkness”. And yes, he has won other Hugos, too numerous to recount here. (CE)
Born April 10, 1955 — Pat Murphy, 66. I think that her most brilliant work is The City, Not Long After which I’ve read myriad times. 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 suspects. (CE)
Born April 10, 1957 — John M. Ford. Popular at Minicon and other cons where he would be Dr. Mike and give silly answers to questions posed to him while wearing a lab coat before a whiteboard. His most interesting novel I think is The Last Hot Time, an urban fantasy set in Chicago that might have been part of Terri Windling’s Bordertown series but wasn’t. Possibly. The Dragon Waiting is also excellent and his Trek novels are among the best in that area of writing. I’d be lying to say he’s deeply stocked at the usual suspects. (Died 2006.) (CE)
Born April 10, 1959 – Ruth Lichtwardt, age 62. Hugo Adm’r for Anticipation the 67th Worldcon. Chaired MidAmeriCon II the 74th; her reflections as Chair here. Long active with the Gunn Center for the Study of SF; Adm’r for the 2021 Conference. Co-chaired ConQuest 49. Drinks Guinness. [JH]
Born April 10, 1975 – Merrie Haskell, age 46. Three novels, a score of shorter stories, recently in Beneath Ceaseless Skies 313. Interviewed in Lightspeed. Schneider Book Award. “I don’t think I’m unique in finding stories where female agency is non-existent, or is punished, as really troublesome…. I’m not even talking about the waiting-for-rescue parts; I don’t love that, mind you, but where are the choices?” [JH]
Born April 10, 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’ Prefect novels, somewhat of Ian Mcdonald’s Mars novels as well. Layers of weirdness upon weirdness. Quite fascinating. (CE)
Born April 10, 1984 – Rachel Carter, age 37. Three novels for us. Nonfiction in e.g. The New Republic. Teaches fiction-writing, also a freelance editor. [JH]
Born April 10, 1992 — Daisy Ridley, 29. Obviously she played the role of Rey in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. She was also in Scrawl, a horror film as well as voicing Cotton Rabbit in Peter Rabbit. Though stretching to even call it genre adjacent even, she was Mary Debenham in Murder on the Orient Express which was rather well done. (CE)
…I won’t lie, though: I sure do miss the time when a buck got you two comics and change. But I get how inflation works and how rising paper costs can’t be ignored. I’m also quite aware that the higher cover prices of today’s market have led to creators being able to make a decent living while entertaining us. That benefits the fans, who get to enjoy the great stories that spring from their imaginations.
However, there does come a point where comic books can simply become too expensive for many fans, forcing readers to drop titles not because they don’t like reading them, but because they simply can’t afford to anymore.
We may be approaching that point.
One of the Big Two publishers, DC Comics, is bumping the price up on some of its monthly titles to $5.99 for a 40-page issue. In its solicitations for June releases, several ongoing series, The Joker #4, Superman Red & Blue #3, Wonder Woman: Black White and Gold #1, and one of the company’s flagship books, Batman #109, are all listed with $5.99 cover prices. Think about that for a moment. If someone wanted to read all four of those titles, it would cost about $24 (before tax) to do so. Four comics, $24. That’s a big financial hit….
(12) JONESING. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] “Phoebe Waller-Bridge to star in new Indiana Jones” reports CNN. Let’s hope the 35-year-old Waller-Bridge is not the love interest for the 78-year-old Harrison Ford. She wouldn’t pass the “half+7” rule for another 22 years.
2018 Australian 6-episode series which we HIGHLY recommend both for spy geeks and people that don’t care much about tradecraft but enjoy a solid human drama. Watching these characters unwind and reveal their true characters under the duress of multiple intertwining espionage threats was a real treat for both of us. ALSO!!!! It is our first episode featuring a guest with actual expertise in the field, author and ex-intelligence officer Francis Hamit. Really excited about this one.
Hamit says: “This was a very positive experience for me. Tod and Dave are really nice guys and very ‘Otaku’ for any spy film or television show. Some of those (James Bond, etc) fall into the SF&F genre and they’ve done about fifty so far. Each is an hour long and they usually do two part, one hour each, in depth discussions. I was on as a topic expert on SIGINT.”
One of the puzzlements of “The Nevers,” the new alt-superhero show beginning Sunday on HBO, is the title. The peculiarly gifted late-Victorian Londoners, mostly women, who serve as the show’s heroes (and some of its villains) are never called “nevers”; they’re most often referred to as the Touched. In the first four of the series’s 12 episodes, nothing is called the Nevers. You can understand not calling a show “The Touched,” but it’s still a little confusing.
And the confusion doesn’t end there. “The Nevers,” while handsomely produced and, from moment to moment, reasonably diverting, doesn’t catch fire in those early episodes in part because we — along with the characters — are still trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
Before this goes any further, it’s time to mention that “The Nevers” — a rare case these days of a genre series not based on an existing property — was created for the screen by Joss Whedon. There are things to be explained about Whedon’s involvement with the show, but for now let’s stick to the synergism between the new series and his great creation, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”…
A trio of Russian and American space travelers launched successfully and reached the International Space Station on Friday [April 9].
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov blasted off as scheduled at 12:42 p.m. (0742 GMT, 3:42 a.m. EDT) aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.
They docked at the station after a two-orbit journey that lasted just over three hours.
It is the second space mission for Vande Hei and the third for Novitskiy, while Dubrov is on his first mission.
By today’s standards, Pongdoesn’t appear to exactly offer the latest, greatest gaming experience around, but just try and tell that to Pager, a macaque monkey who works for Elon Musk at Neuralink, who is currently playing the game with just his mind…
The gameplay is all part of Musk’s master plan of creating a “fully-implanted, wireless, high-channel count brain-machine interface (BMI),” aka a Neuralink, according to the company’s latest blog post highlighting Pager’s gameplay. While the end goal of the implanted device is to give people dealing with paralysis a direct, neural connection to easily and seamlessly operate their computers and mobile devices, the technology is currently giving this monkey some solid entertainment (as well as some tasty banana smoothies)
In the best video you’ll see of a monkey playing video games all day, we get to hang out for a few minutes with Pager, a 9-year-old macaque who, about six weeks ago, had a Neuralink device implanted into each side of his brain. By appearance, he doesn’t seem to be ill-affected by the procedure, save for some missing head fur. Although, it’s hard to say we’re really having a good hang, as Pager is intently focused on playing mind games with a joystick, and on the sweet, sweet smoothies he gets for interacting with the computer. (Hey, at least he’s getting paid.)
(17) BEACH BLANKET BIG BROTHER. Mr. Sci-Fi – Marc Scott Zicree – is running a multi-part series about radio and on-screen adaptations of Orwell’s novel. The latest is “1984 Marathon Part 5 — 1984 Meets Dr. Phibes!” However, the cute title is deceptive — it’s really an audio copy of Vincent Price’s 1955 radio performance in the role of Winston Smith.
[Thanks to Danny Sichel, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, John Hertz, Jeffrey Smith, Michael J. Walsh, Andrew Porter, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day jayn.]
We NEED To Talk About Worldcon (and the Hugo Awards, too)…
By Chris M. Barkley: This coming June, I will be celebrating my forty-fifth anniversary in science fiction fandom.
I have attended over two hundred conventions since 1976, including twenty-nine World Science Fiction conventions. I not only went to those Worldcons, I also had the pleasure of serving at a majority of them in some capacity, as a volunteer, staff member, office head or, in one instance at Chicon 2000, as a hotel liaison and a member of the Chair’s Staff.
Needless to say, I have witnessed or participated in a number of remarkable, bizarre and historic incidents during my tenure working at Worldcons. I not only know how the sausage was made, I helped make it as well.
Having been privy to what goes into producing a Worldcon, I have looked on in despair at the recent developments regarding this year’s Worldcon convention, DisCon III. The squabbling and outrage over the costs of the Hugo Award Pre-Ceremony Reception and the listing of nominees on the award might have gone as just business as usual if it hadn’t directly lead to the resignation of Co-Chair Colette Fozard and the designated Division Head, Jared Dashoff, who was to administer the 2021 Hugo Awards and site selection for the 2023 Worldcon. Ms. Fozard left over the vehement backlash and vicious personal attacks made against her and Mr. Dashoff (and the Hugo Administrator he was working with) resigned over the Convention Committee’s handling of the nomination controversy. .
And when you add the ongoing pandemic, the uncertainty over the prospects of holding an in-person convention by August AND recently announced bankruptcy of one of DisCon III main hotels, the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, it seems like a recipe for an epic disaster.
Yet, despite these setbacks and obstacles, my intuition tells me that these difficulties will be overcome and there will be a Worldcon in Washington D.C. Because any fannish historian will tell you that committees and veteran fan volunteers are determined and are not easily deterred.
But there is a deeper concern over the future of non-profit, fan run conventions.
The internet, the various new ways and forms of nearly instantaneous communications and the advent of social media have been a double edged sword for fandom and pose a vital question for fandom: Do the benefits of technology outweigh the darker, toxic effects of human interaction? And how long will it be before these complex volunteer endeavors become financially unviable.
After decades of observation, it seems to me that the problems the World Science Fiction Society face are dogmatically systemic.
To wit, all of those who either hold positions of authority in fandom for an inordinate amount of time have become so enamored with the way things have been done, over and over again, that they are unable, or unwilling, to evolve with the times.
We have built an elaborate web of fail-safes over time; the Fannish Inquisition, The annual WSFS Business Meeting, SMOFCon and its companion the email listserv, Connrunner.org and other various websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
And yet, Worldcons keep on making the same planning faux pas and blunders, and have subsequently been the victim of trolls, disruptors, outliers and racists.
Clearly and obviously, some swift and decisive action needs to be taken.
And make no mistake about it; when fandom WANTS to be swift and decisive, they can. We only have to go back and see what happened during the Puppygate Crisis of the previous decade, in which divisive slate nominations and voting was effectively squashed.
THAT sort of dynamic action is needed, right now.
I offer the following recommendations:
The next several Worldcons and bidding committees need to either hire or seek pro-bono help from professional convention consultants about our con-running standards, organizational planning and practices. I say this as an insider who has been volunteering at cons and Worldcons over since 1983. We NEED someone from the outside looking in because despite all of our efforts to run better conventions, we need someone to take a hard, objective look at what we do. Trying to reinvent the same wheel all over again with each new Worldcon committee isn’t very productive.
There is an overall and ongoing concern is the perpetuation of gatekeeping in fandom. I know this, I’ve seen it in action and have had numerous, personal experiences myself. The fact is, those of us who have been in the vanguard of conrunning this past generation are all getting old. If we want our conventions and traditions to continue much past the current decade, we need to get more people involved in fandom who will be imbued with the enthusiasm to continue on. While self examination is certainly called for here, the need to be less dismissive of new ideas and people (and the perceived gatekeeping that goes along with it) is more important.
We should amend the WSFS Constitution to allow the Business Meeting to occur outside of the realm of the main convention several times a year, either at SMOFCons, regional conventions, neutral sites not involved in a bid for a Worldcon or via Skype, Zoom or other meeting apps. These meetings should be widely publicized and open to the general public to attend in person or remotely. If anyone wanted to present business, raise objections or vote on motions, they would either have to be a current member of a Worldcon or be given the opportunity to buy a current supporting or attending membership. Of course, the main objections to this proposal would be that either it might be too complicated to accomplish OR bad actors may want to disrupt the process. I think that it is worth that risk to present what the Business meeting does transparently to the public and drum up support from those who may be unaware or curious about the Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. And who knows, perhaps some of those people will end up attending or helping current or future conventions.
I have either sponsored or instigated many changes in the Hugo Awards over the past twenty years. My goal was to help raise its profile to the world, to honor those who were not being given enough attention by fandom and to keep them viable in an increasingly crowded media landscape. It seemed obvious to me that as recently as five years ago, several categories, including the Best Dramatic Presentation, Editor, Artist and Related Work categories were badly in need of an overhaul due to the changing scope and presentations of the categories involved. Whether this would involve an expansion or retraction of the number of awards we give out is a serious issue that has been repeatedly postponed or regulated by committees by the Business Meeting for quite a while now. The needless quibbling over what should happen must come to an end and some definitive decisions need to be made. For the record, I agree that as many essential nominees should be listed on the nominating and final ballot.
As for the Hugo Award itself and the expenses they incur, I offer several options to consider: We can consider amending the WSFS Constitution to hold Worldcon on a biannual basis and consider a blanket two year period for nominations. If that idea is too radical, how about splitting all the categories up and awarding a set every other year? Or, if we choose, we can keep the current system but establish a copyrighted, affordable and standard base (using the Academy Awards Oscar base as an example) for future use.
Now, I can imagine that some of the fannish pundits reading this have rejected nearly every suggestion I have outlined above out of hand. I will refer them back to the comment I made earlier about being more self critical and listening more.
My objective here is twofold; first, to get your attention and secondly, to tell as many people as possible that fandom has some big problems looming on the horizon.
I have tried, at the WSFS Business Meetings, at conventions and throughout the columns I have written over the past few years in these columns, have either tried to present my experiences, offer solutions or, in this case, sound the alarm to a set of growing concerns.
After twenty years of either attending or offering legislation at the WSFS Business Meeting, I declared in 2019 that I would no longer attend, for reasons that I have outlined here in previous columns. I have taken up a new role.
If fandom is a proverbial glass house, I’m the fellow chucking the rocks at the windows.
By Kevin Standlee: The WSFS Business Meeting was probably the shortest such meeting ever held, albeit not the smallest, despite fears of being able to achieve the quorum of 12 members of WSFS physically present. Because New Zealand isn’t in internal lockdown, members of CoNZealand who were in Wellington could attend the meeting were induced to do so by the provision of coffee/tea/snacks, and in the end apparently 23 people attended. That means their meeting had more people attending that were at the WSFS Business Meetings held at Nippon 2007 in Yokohama.
With none of the originally-announced WSFS Business Meeting staff able to attend M. Darusha Wehm agreed to act as Moderator (or “Emergency Holographic Chair” as I put it), working from a “script” supplied by Business Meeting Chair Kent Bloom. The intention was to deal quickly with the small number of things that couldn’t wait, and postpone everything else to next year.
Those people attending Virtual CoNZealand could follow a text description of the Business Meeting by Daniel Spector (who was attending) on the convention’s Discord at #major-events. This makes more sense than one might think, in that functionally, the Business Meeting is more like a small Event than a program item. People like me who are suffering from WSFS Withdrawal Syndrome (I’ve not missed a single session of any WSFS Business Meeting going back to 1989.) could at least follow along.
According to the descriptions from Daniel and the tweets from Soon Lee, shortly after a quroum was achieved, the Preliminary Business Meeting was called to order. It took four minutes to receive all reports, unanimously approve the Hugo Award eligibility extensions (see http://www.wsfs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020-WSFS-agenda-20200714.pdf p.25), continue all existing ad hoc committees as currently constituted, adopt blanket debate times for everything, and adjourn the preliminary meeting so that people could attack the coffee/tea service.
When the Main Business Meeting convened ten minutes later, things went even faster. The Site Selection results (announced the previous day) were received and the ballots ordered destroyed, which is the technical point at which time the election is final, not that there was any chance of there being a protest. Question Time for conventions and bids was waived.
The meeting effectively postponed the ratification of all pending constitutional amendments for one year. (There is more than one way to do this, and we won’t know exactly which was was used until we see the recording/get the minutes, but one possible route would have been to unanimously agree to reject ratification of every proposal and then immediately pass all of those same items as new proposals, resetting their ratification clocks.) There was no new constitutional business.
Because the election of the Mark Protection Committee members is in the Standing Rules, not the Constitution, it can and was waived. This means that the three seats whose terms ended this year went vacant. The MPC will meet via Zoom (open to any attending CZ member; it’s listed in the Grenadine schedule) just before Closing Ceremonies. Per existing authority in the rules, the MPC plans on appointing the three people whose terms ended this year (John Coxon, Linda Deneroff, and Dave McCarty) to temporarily fill those three vacant seats until next year’s Business Meeting, where the BM will need to elect six people instead of the usual three, with three people being elected to two-year terms.
With all constitutional business resolved, the Main Business meeting adjourned, having lasted about two minutes. It is possible to get a lot of stuff done if every single person in the room agrees to it and does not raise an objection to it.
Anna Smith Spark, a grimdark author from London, has organized an open “letter of concern” with several dozen co-signers, including Charles Stross, about the bid to bring the Worldcon to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2022, which will be voted on this week. The competition is a bid for Chicago in 2022.
Anna Smith Spark sent File 770 the letter, and “Also (and I will be dead in the eyes of the WSFS for this) the email they sent me washing their hands of this and having a quick pop at those involved in the anti-Puppies work as well for good measure,” which is a reply received from WSFS webmaster Kevin Standlee.
An open letter to the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and to Norman Cates as the Chair of the 2020 WorldCon
Dear WSFS, and dear Norman,
As writers, publishers and readers of science fiction and fantasy, we are writing to express our concern that Saudi Arabia has been accepted as a potential host site for the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon).
SFF is the great genre of possibilities and pluralities. As readers, writers and publishers of SFF our task is to inspire wonder: we look up at the stars to seek out other ways of being, we look down at the earth around us to find enchantment, beauty, romance, horror, hope. We create new worlds because we believe that in doing so we can make this world a better and intellectually richer place. A Jeddah WorldCon would allow fandom a chance to visit a breathtakingly beautiful city, Jeddah. It would break new ground for SFF Fandom, open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. It’s therefore with great sadness that we must face reality for what it is, that the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for.
The most recent Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia states that in 2019 the Saudi government ‘escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of government critics, human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, members of the Shi’a minority and family members of activists. […] Some people, most of them members of the country’s Shi’a minority, were executed following grossly unfair trials.’ Saudi women face systematic legal discrimination, while identifying as LGBQT+ is illegal and can be punishable with corporal punishment and even execution. Saudi Arabia is a key player in the war in Yemen that has left 80% of the Yemeni population in need of humanitarian aid, and has been accused of war crimes in the region. The UN concluded last year that it was ‘credible’ that the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for the crime of writing words. It cannot and must not be acceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop. Indeed, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi alone should be enough to render the concept of a literary convention in the country an absurdity.
On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms. We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded from attending an event because of their sexuality, nationality or religious beliefs.
We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible.
Anna Smith Spark (organiser), Justin Lee Anderson, Andrew Angel, Helen Armfield, Allen Ashley, Graham Austin-King, Ali Baker Brooks, Andrew Bannister, RJ Barker, Alan Baxter, Donna Bond, James Brogden, Mike Brooks, Angela Cleland, Tom Clews, Adrian Collins, Lee Conley, Emily Cornell, Sarah Doyle, Margaret Eve, Mike Everest Evans, The Fantasy Hive, Fantasy Faction, Nick Ferguson, Karen Fishwick, Carol Goodwin, T. L. Greylock, Joanne Hall, Patricia Hawkes-Reed, Bethan May Hindmarsh, Stewart Hotson, Shellie Horst, Steve D. Howarth, Humber SFF, Barbara James, Cameron Johnston, Daniel Kelly, Simon Kewin, Alex Khlopenko, Shona Kinsella, Alex Knight, David Lascelles, Ulff Lehmann, Dale Lucas, Eloise Mac, Steve McHugh, Juliette McKenna, Peter McLean, Kevin McVeigh, Kareem Mahfouz, Masimba Musodza, Andy Marsden, GR Matthews, Simon Morden, Alistair Morley, T. O. Munro, Stan Nicholls, Chris Nuttall, Scott Oden, Graeme Penman, Peter Philpott, Steven Poore, Gareth L Powell, Robert V.S Redick, Ian Richardson, Courtney Schaffer, S. Naomi Scott, Ian Segal, Mike Shackle, Steve J Shaw, Sheffield Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, , Rita Sloan, Sammy HK Smith, Vaughan Stanger, Mark Stay, Charlie Stross, Allen Stroud, Amanda M Suver Justice, Clayton Synder, Sue Tingey, Three Crows Magazine, Tej Turner, Catriona Ward, Matthew Ward, David Watkins, RB Watkinson, Adam Weller, Graeme Williams, Phil Williams, Deborah A Wolf.
Copied to the Board of the SFWA, Locus Magazine, Tor.com, Starburst, the UK Guardian newspaper
WSFS Web Site Team Reply
There is no such entity as the “Board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).” WSFS is an unincorporated literary society that has no Board of Directors, no ongoing chief executive, and no “Head Office.” I am copying the co-chairs of ConZealand on this reply.
The rules of WSFS, which are made by the members of WSFS (the attendees of the Worldcon), set very minimal technical requirements for any group to bid for a Worldcon. The selection is not made by a Board of Directors or Executive Committee, but by the entire membership of WSFS, who vote on the choice, just as they vote on the Hugo Awards. Indeed, the process is very similar in both cases, in that Worldcons are not supposed to make subjective value judgments about nominees for the Hugo Awards. This decision is reserved to the entire membership, exercising their right to vote.
If you are interested in more information about how WSFS works and how you can propose changes in its rules, I can explain things in further detail.
This is not intended as being dismissive, but to try and explain that Worldcons and WSFS as a whole does not give anyone the right to make subjective judgements about either Hugo Award nominees/finalists or prospective Worldcon sites other than the entire membership.