One of the Earliest Science Fiction Books Was Written in the 1600s by a Duchess

21 September 2016

From Atlas Obscura:

No one could get into philosophical argument with Lady Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and walk away unchanged. Born in 1623, Cavendish was an outspoken aristocrat who traveled in circles of scientific thinkers, and broke ground on proto-feminism, natural philosophy (the 17th century term for science), and social politics.

In her lifetime, she published 20 books. But amid her poetry and essays, she also published one of the earliest examples of science fiction. In 1666. She named it The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World.

In the story, a woman is kidnapped by a lovesick merchant sailor, and forced to join him at sea. After a windstorm sends the ship north and kills the men, the woman walks through a portal at the North Pole into a new world: one with stars so bright, midnight could be mistaken for midday. A parallel universe where creatures are sentient, and worm-men, ape-men, fish-men, bird-men and lice-men populate the planet. They speak one language, they worship one god, and they have no wars. She becomes their Empress, and with her otherworldly subjects, she explores natural wonders and questions their observations using science.

And Cavendish starts it all by addressing the women in the audience. “To all Noble and Worthy Ladies,” she begins, and lets us know about the strange trip in store for them:

“The First Part is Romancical; the Second, Philosophical; and the Third is meerly Fancy; or (as I may call it) Fantastical. And if (Noble Ladies) you should chance to take pleasure in reading these Fancies, I shall account my self a Happy Creatoress: If not, I must be content to live a Melancholly Life in my own World, which I cannot call a Poor World, if Poverty be only want of Gold, and Jewels: for, there is more Gold in it, than all the Chymists ever made; or, (as I verily believe) will ever be able to make.”

But when Cavendish put her pen to paper, she didn’t just aim to tell a fun story. She also examined popular theories about science.

. . . .

Growing up during the English civil war, Cavendish had an unusual upbringing for a woman in the 17th century. Described as a “shy” child, she lived for years with other royals in exile. But upon her return to England as a Duchess, she gained entry to a scientific world that most women of her time could not access. Her husband, who was also involved in natural philosophy, supported her interests and connected her with Thomas Hobbes, Robert Boyle, and René Descartes.

Cavendish was recognized as the first female natural philosopher, or scientist, of her time. She was also the first woman to be invited to observe experiments at the new British Royal Society, a forum for scientists, in light of her contributions to natural philosophy in her poems and plays.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

Individual science fiction stories

21 September 2016

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

Isaac Asimov

A Man Keeps His Memories But Loses His Body

17 September 2016

From i09, a trailer for an Australian-made short film:

Elements of Total Recall, Ghost in the Shell, and, uh, Face/Off pepper the trailer for Restoration, a noirish thriller about a man who is horrified to awaken from a memory-upload procedure to find he’s been zapped into the wrong body. Even worse, his old self is still out there—but occupied by someone else’s mind.

Link to the rest at i09


Amazon France Mistakenly Lists Release Date for George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter

8 September 2016

From GalleyCat:

Rumors were spinning earlier today that a publication date for George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter has been revealed. According to the Amazon France website, the release date for the sixth installment of the A Song of Ice and Fire series was listed as Mar. 9, 2017; the date from the listing has since been taken down.

Entertainment Weekly reports that Random House, the United States publishing house behind Martin’s beloved fantasy series, issued a statement to address the gossip. The publisher declared that “any on-sale dates currently listed online for the novel are incorrect.”

Link to the rest at GalleyCat

Codification, Re-Codification, and Alternate Future History

7 September 2016

From Ground Based Space Matters:

Sometimes when you are reading science fiction you find that the story’s future is in our past.   What could have happened clearly didn’t because that future is over. The emotionally satisfying convention here is to treat the story as an alternate future history, an alternate timeline. This way we can continue to enjoy classics like Robert Heinlein’s Door into Summer, despite the lack of cold sleep in 1970.

A lot of people use the easy method to determine whether the writer must have been describing a time line that branched off from our own. They will notice—without error—that the ‘90’s are over. There are other, more subtle ways to catch on to the creation of invisible timelines. Space law can help you out here.

Michael Flynn’s Firestar series contains those kinds of clues. The books are set in the near-future for the time he wrote them; but in 2016, we are looking at the 1990’s in the rearview mirror. The books are a rollicking read, a bit of a soap opera, and sprawl from the New Jersey suburbs to orbital construction. The series tells the tale of a commercial titan who kickstarts the industrialization of space out of fear that an asteroid might hit Earth. This being fiction, it’s a good thing she does, because….. Let’s just say it’s good someone’s getting ready for the sky to fall.

When I read the books, I’d been working at the FAA for years, helping draft regulations to implement what is popularly referred to as the Commercial Space Launch Act, which was then located, sensibly enough, in Title 49 of the United States Code in chapter 701 (aka 49 USC ch. 701).

. . . .

Anyway, back to Firestar.  Our heroes are recruiting youngsters for space (and fixing the education system while they’re at it), building rockets in Brazil, selecting the first person to pilot the new vehicle, and making mysterious references to the U.S. government’s application of Chapter 35. In my defense, I was engrossed in the story and didn’t rush off to look up this Chapter 35, and even if I’d thought to do so, what title would I have looked in? Then it happened. I got to the part where the unduly burdensome government shows up to enforce Chapter 35. What is Chapter 35? It’s the Commercial Space Launch Act. But Flynn was not wrong. He was just in an alternate timeline.

. . . .

Firestar takes place in 1999. In that universe, the Commercial Space Launch Act still resides in Chapter 35. In other words, no one codified this law, and an alternate universe sprang into being. The story was in our past, the writer’s future, and no longer matches our reality, so it’s alternate future history. I hope this is clear.

Link to the rest at Ground Based Space Matters

The author of the post is space attorney (how cool is that?) Laura Montgomery. Laura also writes science fiction. Here’s a link to her books.

Star Trek at 50

27 August 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Klingons, Romulans and blue-skinned Andorians roamed the corridors of a Las Vegas casino recently during the nation’s largest annual Star Trek convention. Other fans were dressed up as Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and characters who appeared more fleetingly in the franchise’s six TV series and 13 movies. The most obscure reference to the Star Trek universe came from a young woman wearing a vintage dress and red curls piled on her head: a Lucille Ball costume.

The star of “I Love Lucy” played a key role in launching one of the most influential and enduring pop-culture franchises. In the mid-1960s, her Hollywood production company was in search of new TV shows. Lucy might not have ever read a “Star Trek” script (she initially thought the show would be about movie stars on a trek to entertain U.S. troops, producer Herbert Solow recalls), but the comedy mogul and her Desilu studio gave creator Gene Roddenberry’s space adventure a green light.

. . . .

The pilot episode fell behind schedule and was over budget, costing $616,000—or about $4.7 million in today’s dollars—only to get rejected by NBC. The network asked the producers to try again, and “Star Trek” finally made it to air, premiering 50 years ago, on Sept. 8, 1966. It was groundbreaking (a diverse crew represented all regions of Earth on the Starship Enterprise) and prescient (their “communicators” were flip phones 30 years before their time). But “Star Trek” was no hit. Ratings were modest and critics were indifferent—Variety dismissed the show as a “lowercase fantasia.” William Shatner recalls, “We were always about to be canceled, always a sword of Damocles hanging over us.” The series survived just three seasons.

. . . .

How did a show that stumbled out of the gate become so successful after the fact? Though “Star Trek” didn’t catch on with a broad audience in prime time, its enormous following later on became testimony to the growing power of reruns. At the same time, the trappings of modern fan culture took shape around the show. The first major Star Trek convention took place in 1972—three years after the show was canceled—and served as a model for other tribes of pop-culture obsessives. Even if the visual effects of the original series didn’t age well, it was built on a thematic DNA that remained relevant: humans and alien crew members cooperating on a mission of exploration and altruism enabled by technology. As people increasingly celebrated and pored over those 79 original episodes, producers fed the fandom with spin-off movies, TV series and books and games (of varying caliber) that expanded the core story with new space vessels, crews and settings.

. . . .

Herbert Solow, an executive producer of “Star Trek,” was hired at Desilu in 1964: “They called Lucy ‘Madam President.’ When I met her on my first day, she said, ‘Get me some shows.’ The only thing she had on the lot was ‘The Lucy Show,’ and the rest of the stages were rentals for other shows. Desilu was suffering at the time, and they desperately needed some continuing flow of income.”

Solow met with Gene Roddenberry, a former pilot and policeman who had a military drama on the air called “The Lieutenant.” Roddenberry pitched the concept for “Star Trek,” which he summarized as a “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars.”

Besides the potential cost of producing such a show, there were other drawbacks. Roddenberry had imagined Spock as a half-Martian with reddish skin and a pointed tail.

. . . .

Dorothy Fontana, who wrote scripts as D.C. Fontana, started out as Roddenberry’s secretary before becoming a story editor during season 1. She says many recognized Spock as a potential breakout character—a factor that would later cause tensions on the set.

Ms. Fontana: “The fact that Spock was half human intrigued me. What about him is human and what is not? It wasn’t someone we were seeing every week on national television.”

NBC commissioned a pilot episode from Desilu, but not all of the Enterprise’s iconic crew members were on board yet. The captain, then named Christopher Pike, was played by actor Jeffrey Hunter. NBC rejected the pilot as “too cerebral,” and a little too sexy, featuring a suggestive dance by a scantily clad female slave from the planet Orion.

Mr. Solow: “A dancing green girl is great in California, but it’s not going to work in Tennessee.”

. . . .

NBC gave the producers a rare second chance. The original captain jumped ship, however, and producers hired Mr. Shatner for the second pilot. The Canadian actor, a rising star who had appeared in “The Twilight Zone” and the film “Judgement at Nuremberg,” took on the character with a new name, James T. Kirk.

William Shatner: “I heard Patrick Stewart [who later led “Star Trek: The Next Generation”] say that Gene told him to study a book about Captain Horatio Hornblower, the fictional navy officer. Gene gave me the same book. Well, he didn’t give it to me. I had to go get it myself.”

Long before marketers relied on comic-cons to hype new shows and movies, Roddenberry recognized that science-fiction lovers could be a critical support network for “Star Trek.” Shortly before the first episode hit the air on NBC, he screened a film print of it at the World Science Fiction Convention, an annual gathering since 1939. Such sneak peeks were almost unheard of, as was Roddenberry’s idea to bring “Star Trek” costumes for the convention’s sci-fi fashion show, organized by a fan named by Bjo Trimble.

. . . .

“Up to then, science fiction was about taking a Western and changing the six-shooter to a laser and the horse to a rocket ship. Gene was hiring real science-fiction authors for the story lines, which gave them quality and depth. There was always a message, even if it was heavy-handed at times.”

George Takei, a Japanese American whose family spent several years in a World War II internment camp, says Roddenberry was overt about his vision for a multicultural crew on the Enterprise, including Mr. Takei’s character, Sulu.

Mr. Takei: “I was auditioning for the character representing Asia, and Gene struggled to find a name for my character, because all Asian surnames are nationally specific. Tanaka is Japanese, Wong is Chinese, Kim is Korean, and 20th-century Asia was turbulent, so he didn’t want to take sides. He had a map pinned to his wall and was gazing at it one day and saw off the coast of the Philippines the Sulu Sea. He thought the waters of the sea touch all shores. That’s how he came up with the name.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Hugo awards see off rightwing protests to celebrate diverse authors

22 August 2016

From The Guardian:

The winners of the 2016 Hugo awards have been announced, with this year’s choices signalling a resounding defeat for the so-called “Puppies” campaigns to derail the venerable annual honouring of science fiction literature and drama.

The winners were announced on Saturday evening at MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention held this year in Kansas City.

As in previous years, there had been attempts by two separate groups, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, to “game” the awards in favour of their preferred slates of works. Both groups claimed that science fiction has become dominated by a liberal, left-wing bias.

The Hugos are voted on by those who purchase an attending or supporting membership to either the current or previous Worldcon events. Eligible voters can tick the “No Award” box if they don’t agree with any of the shortlisted works, a tool which has been used to block out Puppies recommendations previously. In 2015, five No Awards were given, including for the prestigious best novella and best short story categories; an unprecedented number, as No Award had only been presented as many times in the entire history of the prize, which began in 1953.

In contrast, this year there were only two No Awards, in the smaller best related work and best fan-cast categories.

Best novel went to NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, a richly-detailed story of a planet undergoing a periodic and catastrophic season of apocalyptic climate change. Jemisin has previously clashed with Rabid Puppies co-ordinator Theodore Beale, who was expelled from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America after he publicly called the black author an “educated but ignorant savage”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Nate Hoffelder has a different take at The Digital Reader:

And now, in 2016, the Puppies are being described as having been defeated once again. The Guardian covered the Hugo Awards in an article this morning, describing it thusly:

Another attempt by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups to hijack the science fiction award goes to the dogs, as authors and titles not in their campaign take top prizes.

The winners of the 2016 Hugo awards have been announced, with this year’s choices signalling a resounding defeat for the so-called “Puppies” campaigns to derail the venerable annual honouring of science fiction literature and drama.

The winners were announced on Saturday evening at MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention held this year in Kansas City.

The Guardian call this a defeat, but I would say it is at least a partial victory.

. . . .

As you can see when you compare the ballot to the Sad Puppies recommendation list, a fair number of Sad Puppies candidates made it through the nomination process and ended up on the ballot.

Last year the Puppies swept certain categories, filling all five slots in some categories with their candidates. They weren’t quite that successful this year, but they made their presence known.

For example, all five authors on the Best Novella ballot were Sad Puppies candidates, as well as three of the Best Novellette candidates and three of the Best Short Story nominees.

Four of the authors up for a Campbell were on the SP recommendation list, and last but not least two of the names up for Best Fan Writer were recommended by the Sad Puppies.

In all five of these categories, an SP candidate went on to win a Hugo.

And this is what The Guardian would describe as a defeat.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Israeli Sci-Fi Is a Reality

22 August 2016

From Tablet:

Anyone who was at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque during the Sukkot holiday of 2006 will remember the sight of the city’s quiet, highbrow arthouse cinema jam-packed with people, many of them teenagers in costumes (the term “cosplay” hadn’t made it to the local fan community yet) trying to catch a glimpse of the festival’s guest of honor, some (especially the teenage girls) screaming in excitement whenever he passed by.

I remember being asked by someone—a security guard, I think—just what this guy did to get this kind of attention, and if he’s some kind of a rock star.

“No, he’s a writer,” I said.

“Ah, a writer,” said that person who asked me the question in a rather skeptical voice.

The festival was the ICon, Israel’s annual science fiction and fantasy convention. The guest of honor was novelist and comics writer extraordinaire Neil Gaiman. One of the special events held as part of the 2006 festival was a celebration of the 10th anniversary of The Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, one of ICon’s co-organizers.

. . . .

For 10 years the society has been a home to genre fans, and keeping any kind of cultural activity going on in Israel for so long is an achievement in its own right, let alone an activity that promotes thinking beyond the limits of the here and now—limits that sometimes appear to be almost sacred to Israeli society at large.

A decade later, the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy is still here—and what seemed amazing in 2006 seems almost mundane today. Jam-packed lobbies are a regular sight at the annual ICon festival and the Olamot convention held during Passover. Nobody raises an eyebrow when costumed visitors of either ICon or Olamot sit down for a drink or lunch at one of the many coffee shops and restaurants along the HaArba’a street (where both events are held).

. . . .

The annual Geffen Awards for excellence in translation of genre fiction (named after one of the society founders and pioneer of science fiction publishing in Israel, Amos Geffen) were born, as well as The Tenth Dimension—the society’s magazine that kept trying to find its voice all throughout its years of existence, mostly remembered today for its incredible covers by artist Avi Katz — and a series of weekly lectures. All this was always accompanied by heated arguments (this being Israel, after all) about what the society does and what it should be doing. Should it just be a home for science-fiction and fantasy fans who want to have fun, or should it actively promote the genre among literary and academic circles?

The answer, as evident from developments over the past 10 years, is that it can do both.

Link to the rest at Tablet and thanks to Julia for the tip.

J.K. Rowling Announces E-Book Series, ‘Pottermore Presents’

19 August 2016

From The New York Times:

At the recent premiere in London of the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” J. K. Rowling insisted that she is really, truly, done with writing about Harry Potter.

“Harry is done now,” Ms. Rowling told Reuters.

She did not, however, rule out writing more about the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

On Wednesday Ms. Rowling’s publishing platform, Pottermore, announced a coming e-book series set in the wizarding world. These digital anthologies will collect Ms. Rowling’s short stories and other writings from her website, and will include some new stories about Hogwarts characters.

The first three books in the series, out Sept. 6, will center on the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and are roughly 10,000 words. The collections will feature some new writing — including a story about Harry’s teacher Horace Slughorn, and one about Professor Minerva McGonagall’s part in the second wizarding war — but will otherwise consist of previously published material from Pottermore.

. . . .

The e-books will be sold on Pottermore, as well as on Amazon and other digital retailers, and will cost $2.99 each. There are no current plans to release the books in print, and Pottermore editors have not determined how long the e-book series will be.

. . . .

“Harry Potter” is arguably the most lucrative publishing franchise in history, with global sales topping 450 million copies, a blockbuster film franchise, a theme park and now a London stage production that is sold out well into next year. The script book of “Cursed Child,” which was written not by Ms. Rowling, but by the playwright Jack Thorne, has sold more than 3.3 million copies in North America in less than a month.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ Debuts at No. 1 With More Than 4 Million in Sales

11 August 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the script book for J.K. Rowling’s new play, sold more than four million print copies in its first week in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., the book’s publishers said Wednesday.

Print sales for the script book have totaled 3.3 million in North America and nearly 850,000 in the U.K. since its release on July 31, according to Scholastic and Little, Brown Book Group.

Billed as the eighth Harry Potter story, the script book has also boosted sales of the original seven “Harry Potter” novels.

“Cursed Child” debuts this week at No. 1 on The Wall Street Journal’s best-seller list. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first book in the series, stands at No. 8. “Sorcerer’s Stone” sold 35,000 print copies in the U.S. in the week ended Aug. 7, including the original and illustrated editions, according to Nielsen BookScan data.

. . . .

“This is way beyond our most optimistic expectations and is testament to the passion readers have for J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, as well as to the amazing reception the play itself has had,” David Shelley, CEO of Little, Brown Book Group said in a news release.

. . . .

Sales for “Cursed Child” still fall short of the record-breaking sales of the final novel in the original series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which in 2007 sold 8.3 million copies in the U.S. in its first 24 hours.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

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