Sunday Roundup

Happy Sunday, folks!

Down in San Antonio, the winners of the 2017 World Fantasy Awards have been… well, awarded. Lovely to see Terry Brooks get a lifetime achievement nod. Shame I almost certainly won’t get around to reading many of these books for years, if ever.

In at #1 in the chart of movies I’m looking forward to that aren’t actually real: Black Panther vs. Wolverine!

That is probably the most lovingly created fan mashup trailer I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.

I haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok yet (probably will on Tuesday) but if it’s even half as funny as James Corden’s Thor: Ragnarok 4D, it’s going to be hilarious.

“She’s crushed your special hammer!”

“Nooo!”

(Mild spoilers, but nothing you can’t guess if you’ve seen the trailers.)

Meanwhile, Amazon are in talks to produce a live action Lord of the Rings TV show. Personally, I’d much rather they spent their billions producing an adaptation of a never-before-filmed series: how about a Bas-Lag series based on China Mieville’s novels, or a Malazan series based on Steven Erikson and Cam Esslemont’s world? Push the envelope, Bezos!

Finally, over at the Wertzone, or rather at one of his other blogs Atlas of Ice and Fire, Adam has completed another series of wildly ambitious maps of G. R. R. Martin’s SoIaF world. That’s dedication.

Have a good week!

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‘Bitter Grounds’ by Neil Gaiman

A fantastic short story for Halloween from Neil Gaiman at Tor.com.

In every way that counted, I was dead. Inside somewhere maybe I was screaming and weeping and howling like an animal, but that was another person deep inside, another person who had no access to the face and lips and mouth and head, so on the surface I just shrugged and smiled and kept moving. If I could have physically passed away, just let it all go, like that, without doing anything, stepped out of life as easily as walking through a door, I would have done. But I was going to sleep at night and waking in the morning, disappointed to be there and resigned to existence.

gaimen-berry-bittergrounds

Art copyright © 2010 Rick Berry, Neil Gaiman, and Ekaterina Slepicka

Monday Morning Multiverse

Morning, gang. Let’s get those science synapses firing with some layman’s terms explanation of why ‘The Multiverse is Inevitable and We’re Living in It‘:

Imagine that the Universe we observe, from end-to-end, is just a drop in the cosmic ocean. That beyond what we can see, there’s more space, more stars, more galaxies, and more everything, for perhaps countless billions of light years farther than we’ll ever be able to access. And that as large as the unobservable Universe is, that there are again innumerably more Universes just like it — some larger and older, some smaller and younger — dotted throughout an even larger spacetime. As rapidly and inevitably as these Universes expand, the spacetime containing them expands even more quickly, driving them apart from one another, and ensuring that no two Universes will ever meet. It sounds like a fantasy picture: the scientific idea of a Multiverse. But if the science we accept today is correct, it’s not only a valid idea, it’s an unavoidable consequence of our fundamental laws.

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Basically:

…the Multiverse is a theoretical prediction that comes out of the laws of physics as they’re best understood today. It’s perhaps even an inevitable consequence of those laws: if you have an inflationary Universe governed by quantum physics, this is something you’re pretty much destined to wind up with.

Thus proving what I always knew: DC Comics were right all along!

Sunday Roundup

Ooh, we’ve got some good stuff today. Let’s start at Pornokitsch, with Draft Posts:

We all become ‘authors’ as soon as we open a Word file, ‘artists’ as soon as we buy paint, ‘bloggers’ as soon as we register our domain name. By contemplating creation – simply by having an idea – we re-identify ourselves.

But then, we also leap to the other extreme. A creator isn’t ‘allowed’ to claim that identification until they have successfully created. You’re not really an author until you finish a book. (Or perhaps even publish one.) You’re not really an artist until you finish a painting. A blogger without posts is a poor example of the breed. This isn’t unfair: inspiration might be the easiest part of the project. Socially, we should celebrate the do-ers and which means focusing on the evidence of what they’ve done.

But what about everything in-between?

Looking a bit further back (because I haven’t read Pornokitsch closely in a while), what if Apple bought the entire UK publishing industry?

What if they just bought the entire British fiction publishing industry?

The point of this (obviously impossible) scenario, of course, is rethinking the value of the book, and taking the terrifying (and hopefully inaccurate) perspective that books qua books are toast. Instead, let’s think of what the value of fiction publishing would be to Apple: a cost-effective way of identifying, developing and testing creative concepts. Books as a massive means of consumer-testing. Think of book sales as upvotes and the fiction-reading population as a gigantic network of slush-pile readers.

According to YouGov Profiles, 18-34 ‘avid or regular’ readers are exactly the people that matter to our networks.

They significantly overindex for all of the following:

  • Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and XBox Live/Video
  • Watching films, in general, on a streaming service
  • Watching films on a streaming service, once a week or more
  • Agreement with “I primarily listen to music through streaming services”
  • Agreement with “Live TV is a thing of the past”
  • Paying for music streaming

If you’re a content streamer, this is your most valuable audience. So why not keep monitoring what they read, and turn that stuff into video content?

Fun stuff, but feels like it’s kind of missing the point: if Apple ran the entire UK publishing industry they would, to a large extent, determine what UK readers were able to read. (Because, while the largely Amazon-based, word of mouth driven discovery of books is extremely alive and kicking, there’s still a heck of a lot of books that get sold simply because a trad publisher puts them out and they end up in bookstores). Basing future movie/TV production decisions on the reception to content that you’ve already implicitly curated seems… well, let’s be honest, nonsensical.

Fun idea, though. Next!

Oh, more Amazon, by way of t-shirts:

Batman, Superman, Spider-man are all t-shirt brands with comic book spinoffs. I think Harry Potter belongs in that pantheon as well: geek culture brands where the identification is now so embedded that they’re part of the visual vernacular. It isn’t just about a nerd franchise being in Primark, it is about a nerd franchise being in Primark and coverage in the Sun.

If anything, Harry Potter’s gone a step further and given us four lifestyle brands. Superhero logos say, generously, something about you. But the four Hogwarts houses have become a socially-accepted Meyers-Briggs self-classification.

#RAVENCLAW4LIFE

The click-baitingly titled (for nerds like me) ‘Are independent bookstores the new conspicuous consumption?

We are constantly repositioning indie bookshops around their moral, not commercial, benefits, and Pullman et al.’s arguments seem to play into that vein. I’m not wild about it because, well, virtually every consumer study says that, whatever customers may say, price and convenience will trump morality at the till. But based on Currid-Halkett’s research, maybe this is actually the best route to survival? Turn independent bookshops into the exclusive playground of the virtuous wealthy, who are happy to pay full price for their Philip Pullman novels. Publishers and retailers can get name-brand designers to create tote bags (done!) and discreet-but-not-too-discreet stickers that say ‘locally purchased’, so those that paid £20, not £10, can get the virtuous and visible buzz they’ve paid for.

I can’t disagree. I haven’t bought a brand new book in a bookstore in five years: I love going to my local store and picking up five second-hand for a couple of dollars, but that’s it. It’s one of those awkward semi-hypocritical situations where I certainly don’t want to see my local brick and mortar book store disappear, but I’m definitely not going to start buying all of my books there. Come on virtuous wealthy, only you can save us now…? (Ugh.)

Meanwhile, a long read over at The Atlantic, from the frustratingly-briefly-named X:

snake-robot designer, a balloon scientist, a liquid-crystals technologist, an extradimensional physicist, a psychology geek, an electronic-materials wrangler, and a journalist walk into a room. The journalist turns to the assembled crowd and asks: Should we build houses on the ocean?…

Like a think-tank panel with the instincts of an improv troupe, the group sprang into an interrogative frenzy. “What are the specific economic benefits of increasing housing supply?” the liquid-crystals guy asked. “Isn’t the real problem that transportation infrastructure is so expensive?” the balloon scientist said. “How sure are we that living in densely built cities makes us happier?” the extradimensional physicist wondered.

But also:

Just beyond the drones, I find Astro Teller. He is the leader of X, whose job title, captain of moonshots, is of a piece with his piratical, if perhaps self-conscious, charisma. He has a long black ponytail and silver goatee, and is wearing a long-sleeved T‑shirt, dark jeans, and large black Rollerblades. Fresh off an afternoon skate?, I ask. “Actually, I wear these around the office about 98 percent of the time,” he says. I glance at an X publicist to see whether he’s serious. Her expression says: Of course he is.

Astro? Astro? Anyway, it turns out it’s just a nickname. Keep reading for a fascinating deep dive into Project Loon, X’s quest to bring internet to the world with balloons.

The world’s biggest need wasn’t hardware but access. Cables and towers were too expensive to build in mountains and jungles, and earthbound towers don’t send signals widely enough to make sense for poor, sparsely populated areas. The cost of satellites made those, too, prohibitive for poor areas. DeVaul needed something inexpensive that could live in the airspace between existing towers and satellites. His answer: balloons. Really big balloons.

The idea struck more than a few people as ridiculous. “I thought I was going to be able to prove it impossible really quickly,” said Cliff L. Biffle, a computer scientist and Rapid Eval manager who has been at X for six years. “But I totally failed. It was really annoying.”

The Atlantic also asks ‘Have we become too squeamish about the inevitable human cost of exploration?‘:

Today, industry and government are both upshifting gears, back into novelty, which means the public’s attitudes toward space travel and its inevitable accidents may return to what they were in NASA’s early, more adventurous days. After decades in a stable and predictable orbit, American spaceflight will return to new vehicles and, maybe, new destinations. The country is deciding which far-off world to point ships toward next, with the moon and Mars the most likely candidates. Private companies are doing the same, and preparing to take high rollers on suborbital romps. And with that leap into the unknown, Americans may become more tolerant of the loss of astronaut life. If they don’t, the government and private industry might not be able to make the leap at all.

Next: octopuses continue to be amazing. Look at this bad boy:

Naturally, scientists are trying to create an artificial version. Sadly, so far the real deal is far too badass to be emulated:

The robots are certainly cool, but they’re nowhere near as versatile as the real deal. Shepherd’s material, for example, can change texture about as fast as an actual octopus, but it can only make one rough shape at a time. The animal, meanwhile, can produce far finer undulations in its skin, which are tuned to whatever it sees in its environment. For now, nothing we produce comes anywhere close.

Finally: Hulk’s bed from Thor: Ragnarok is… maybe exactly what you’d expect?

Good night, moon. Good night, Hulk.

Sunday Roundup

Hey, did you know there’s a Justice League movie coming out soon? No? You didn’t?

I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. BvS: DoJ was pretty relentlessly grim and… whatever the opposite of uplifting is. Downdropping? But I’m hopeful that DC will have taken on board what made Wonder Woman so popular and leaned into the more positive themes that made the League so popular in the comics. Bringing Jos Whedon on board to captain the ship after Zack Snyder’s sad departure was a good choice, too.

Meanwhile, check out the Pacific Rim: Uprising trailer for HOT ROBOT VS. ROBOT NINJA SWORDFIGHTING ACTION:

Over at io9 they have news on Amazon’s upcoming series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams:

“I don’t like to call it episodes, I like to call it a series of 10 movies,” showrunner Michael Dinner said.

Dinner explained each episode has different writers and directors, and they were given creative freedom to take the short stories and interpret them in whatever way they saw fit. This is in addition to the rotating cast, which includes stars like Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Janelle Monae, and Liam Cunningham, the only actor who appeared at the panel. Executive producer (and Philip K. Dick’s daughter) Isa Dick Hackett said she felt this was the best way to approach Dick’s short stories, which she called “the gems of his ideas,” in a way that both honored his work but also made the messages relatable to a modern audience.

Aslo at io9, we discover Scott Snyder is working on a new Batman book:

Here’s how Snyder describes Last Knight:

Batman suddenly wakes up and he’s… young. But he wakes up in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, crawling out of the sand in this Gotham City that’s been ruined. He’s got the Joker’s head chained to his belt, but it’s alive and like, ‘You gotta move, kid!’ It’s got old Wonder Woman, Baby Superman—it’s like my Lone Wolf and Cub Batman story.

Cheerful!

The Atlantic has a very interesting–and somewhat worrying–piece on satellites, on Sputnik’s sixtieth anniversary.

Sputnik’s spectators could not have anticipated that this event—the launch of the first human-made satellite into space—would ignite a race to the stars between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor could they have known that they were, all of them, standing at the precipice of a new era in human history of near-complete reliance on satellite technology. For them, Sputnik was a sudden flash of innovation, something at which to marvel briefly. For their children and grandchildren and generations after, satellites would become the quiet infrastructure that powered the technology that runs their world.

And what if they all fell out of the sky tomorrow?

Without operational communications satellites, most television would disappear. People in one country would be cut off from the news reports in another. The satellite phones used by people in remote areas, like at a research station in Antarctica or on a cargo ship in the Atlantic, would be useless. Space agencies would be unable to talk to the International Space Station, leaving six people effectively stranded in space. Militaries around the world would lose contact with troops in conflict zones. Air-traffic controllers couldn’t talk to pilots flying aircraft over oceans….

“Would it severely disrupt the way we live right now? Yes,” Collins said. “Would people be starving in the streets or would there be civil disobedience? That’s hard to say. Potentially.”

Fingers crossed for no, then.

Finally, in vaguely fantastical but mostly just hilarious TV news: you should be watching The Good Place.

When Eleanor Shellstrop finds herself in the afterlife, she’s both relieved and surprised that she’s made it into the Good Place. But it doesn’t take long for Eleanor to realize she’s there by mistake.

Oh my word is it funny. Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, sharp writing, great acting all around. Season one is on Netflix now. Check it out!

Sunday Roundup

A series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

Elon Musk continues to be entirely serious about colonizing Mars. And now he’s pretty sure he can make money doing it, and business being what it is, that makes the whole endeavor a lot more likely to succeed. From NYT:

Speaking on Friday at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Mr. Musk said he had figured out a workable business plan, although his presentation lacked financial figures to back up his assertions.

Mr. Musk has long talked about his dreams of colonizing Mars, and at the same conference last year, he finally provided engineering details: a humongous reusable rocket called the Interplanetary Transport System.

But he did not convincingly explain then how SpaceX, still a company of modest size and revenues, could finance such an ambitious project.

“Now we think we have a better way to do it,” he said Friday.

The new rocket and spaceship would replace everything that SpaceX is currently launching or plans to launch in the near future. “That’s really fundamental,” Mr. Musk said.

 

Mars City Opposite of Earth. Dawn and dusk sky are blue on Mars and day sky is red.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

While we’re on the topic, if you haven’t already read Tim Urban’s incredibly in-depth post on Space X and Musk’s plan for a Martian colony, you really should set aside a while and dive in. It’s truly fascinating stuff. In fact, do yourself a favor and read his entire series on Musk and his businesses: you may not be as big a fan as Urban is (and, full disclosure, I am) but it’s worth your time to understand the man and what he’s aiming to do. He’s one of a few individuals, along with Bezos and Zuckerberg, who have the ambition, finances and staggering arrogance to fully believe they can change the world for the better–and who knows, might even be right.

Elsewhere, Luc Besson has written a script for a sequel to Lucy:

I’m a bit surprised simply because the original, which starred Scarlett Johansson as the eponymous Lucy, who gains super thinking powers after a weird run in with some superdrugs, didn’t leave much room in its ending for a sequel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the slightly trashy original, so I’d certainly give a sequel a look. Interested to see what direction he’s gone with it. ScarJo as God? With Luc Besson, you really never know.

Justice League meets Power Rangers! Friendship ensues! Aww.

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The British Fantasy Awards happened, which means there are even more books I should read that I won’t get to for ages.

And finally, Amazon continue to be a TV production company with some potentially mouth-watering SF adaptations:

It will adapt Neal Stephenson classic, neo-quasi-cyberpunk novel which introduces us to pizza deliveryman/hacker Hiro Protagonist, his business partner YT, and their adventures in a future divided between life in a grim corprocracy and in the Metaverse, a virtual reality that is being threatened by a terrifying virus.

I’d particularly like to see Snow Crash on TV, just to see a group of actors attempt to say ‘Hiro Protagonist’ with a straight face.

Have a good week, folks.

P.S. 2,100 words of the WIP written today!

Sunday Roundup

The first in a series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

First up, the wonderfully titled ‘Middle-earth Cage Match: Bill the Pony vs. Shadowfax‘ over at Tor.com. The author has really put some work in to first articulate what in the heck the difference between a horse and a pony really is, anyway, and then who would win in a cross-discipline matchup between sturdy Bill and coiffed glamour boy Shadowfax.

Pound for pound, too, a pony can be stronger than a horse. Shetlands can carry a grown man with ease, though his feet may drag on the ground. Horses will lose weight-bearing capability as they get larger; a very large horse is challenged enough to carry his own weight around without also carrying a heavy rider. A really big horse is not what you want to carry your very heavy rider, especially if he’s in armor. You want a cob, a stocky, sturdily built animal in the mid rage between pony and horse—14.2 to 15.2 hands. The Welsh Cob is a great example, as is the Lipizzaner. Forlong the Fat, in my head, is riding a largeish Welsh Cob, and the Cob is rocking it.

Great stuff.

Also at Tor, a lovely retrospective on Gattaca, and why it ranks high in the sci-fi movie pantheon Worth a rewatch–it’s not on Netflix, unfortunately, but you can rent it HD from Amazon Video for a few dollars.

At io9, Tom Hiddlestone is surprised Loki hasn’t been offed yet. I’m not, given he’s the best character in the MCU in my humble opinion. As the author points out:

He manages to bring a dashing chaos to Loki, like James Bond doing a Joker impression.

(Time to dust off those Hiddlestone-replaces-Craig-as-Bond rumors, too.)

Oh my word. Adam at The Wertzone appears to have written at least a hundred thousands words ‘summarizing’ the history of Middle-earth in ten parts so far. Impressive, albeit intimidating. Warm up, stretch and hydrate before attempting.

Back in the MCU (kind of – MTU?), the trailer for the upcoming Punisher Netflix show dropped. And Frank… well, Frank is angry.

I’m very excited to see this, as John Bernthal is fantastic and his Frank Castle was the best part of a… let’s say uneven season two of Daredevil. I’ve a little catching up to do first though, as I’ve yet to finish Luke Cage (excellent), Iron Fist (slog) or even start The Defenders. Of the latter, I’ve heard good things, but apparently people aren’t watching it–perhaps more viewers than just me are struggling to keep up with all the other good TV on. (We’ve only just started Stranger Things and season two starts next month!)

Apparently there’s a TV adaption of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series in the works. The writers have decent resumes:

Writers David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman will be transforming the novels for the small screen. Goyer’s credits include Ghost Rider and Blade, while Friedman’s projects include the War of the worlds remake and Terminator: the Sarah Connor chronicles.

I’ve read all of the Foundation novels, and as well as being wonderful science fiction novels they’re all to an extent treatises on philosophy, psychology, sociology and politics. Whether that depth can be adequately transferred to a TV version is debatable–but I’m sure plenty of A Song of Ice and Fire fans were convinced that was unadaptable too.

Finally, in natural science news, ‘Sexual rivals can influence the size of a duck’s penis‘:

As study author Patricia Brennan, a visiting lecturer of biological sciences at the institution, told National Geographic earlier this week, she didn’t even realize until near the end of her graduate school work that birds could even have penises. In fact, 97% of them do not, she explained.

Male ducks are one of the exceptions, and unlike most species, they grow a new one each year. Most of the time, they are hidden, but you can convince a duck into showing you his by turning him over onto his back and applying pressure to his belly, Brennan noted. “If you know exactly where to press, you can pop the penis out. They’re quite cooperative.”

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‘They grow a new one each year.’

Have a good week, folks.

My Books Now on Scribd. Netflix for Ebooks, They Say

Scribd. Never heard of it? Nor had I until a few days ago. For $8.99 per month you get allegedly unlimited access to allegedly over 400,000 books–which sounds like a heck of a bargain if you read even just a few books a month. You can also buy books outright, if you want to keep them.

Anyway. Thanks to the fabulous folks at Draft2Digital–the distributors through which my books reach iTunes and Barnes and Noble–both Ascension Point and Venus Rising are live on the site. Payment terms are pretty reasonable: the author gets paid for any sale as you’d expect, but also for any subscription read where the reader got past the 30% mark. Which is pretty neat. They even count ten 10-30% reads as one sale too, which is a little bonus.

Plus, the Scribd site is SWANK.

scribd

Just look at that. Mmm. Shiny.

I’ve added Scribd to the store links for both books in the bar on the left, so head on over and check it out.

GODZILLAAAAAAAAAA! Etc.

Bryan Cranston? Check. Guy from Kick Ass? Check. Really, really big lizard? Check.

But a lizard so big that repeatedly being hit by nuclear detonations back in the 50s didn’t kill it? Really? I can get behind the idea of a thousand foot tall monster laying waste to Tokyo, but let’s be realistic.

In other news, NASA reported that they found a bunch of new planets. A big bunch. 715 more on top of the 1000 we already knew about. Only four are in the so-called Goldilocks zone–not too hot, not too cold, just right for us finicky humans–but that’s still quite a find. Now we just need a vast amount of money, resources and political will to go and investigate them, and we’ll be colonising the stars in no time!

Over at the Wertzone there’s a great list of female fantasy authors, who apparently Waterstones have never heard of despite being a major bookseller.

And there’s an interesting and well-written article on Tor comparing Sherlock, which I love, with Elementary, which I’ve never seen. Some really good points.

Last up: BATMAN VS. THE TERMINATOR.

30 years have passed since Bruce Wayne survived Skynet’s nuclear blasts in August of ’97. Iron demons now roam the planet, and without the requirement to defend the innocent against crime and injustice, Wayne has seeked refuge in the bomb shelter that saved his life; the Batcave.

Having scavenged the wasteland for resources, he discovers the radio of a dead soldier. There is static over a frequency. Flesh and blood is rising up to the west. With The Stinger; a riot control vehicular unit built before the apocalypse along with a refitted bomb blast vest, Batman makes his way across what remains of the United States to join forces with the man determined to neutralize the electronic menace – John Connor.

Fantastic.

China on the Moon, Doctor on TV, X-Men at the Movies

Chang’e 3 sticks the landing, and takes home the gold medal in the individual lunar lander parallel bars. That gives China its seventeenth gold in these Olympics.

Wonderful footage from Chang’e 3 as it touches down. This makes China only the third nation in history to land a craft on the Moon, decades after the United Kingdom and Italy both achieved the feat in the 1950s*, their years-long rivalry having driven a technological renaissance that made the European Union the world-leading scientific powerhouse it remains today**.

Continue reading “China on the Moon, Doctor on TV, X-Men at the Movies”