Fantasy/SciFi

This year your first interview might be with a robot

10 January 2018

From Fast Company:

Fixing the interview process and diversifying their workforce are top of mind at companies looking to add staff this year, according to LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends. And some of them are turning to robots and chatbots to help.

LinkedIn’s new report surveyed 8,800+ recruiters and hiring managers on how these trends would impact hiring in 2018. Those polled indicated that AI is gaining steam because it’s a timesaver (67%), removes human bias (43%), and delivers the best candidate matches (31%). More than half of survey respondents also found AI to be most effective for sourcing candidates (58%), screening (56%), and nurturing candidates (55%).

. . . .

Once candidates record themselves answering standardized questions, “robots (aka computers programmed with advanced algorithms) analyze the interviews” across 15,000 different factors including body language and facial cues to vocal tone. If they pass muster with AI, they get invited to in-person interviews. The company says it’s cut hiring time in half and is more successful hiring for “attitude,” which isn’t always evident during a phone call.

Other companies like Deutsche Telekom AG and Sutherland are using chatbots to smooth the initial application process and improve the candidate’s experience. Bots can talk to candidates to filter out the ones who wouldn’t have a chance at the job, or they could keep the conversation going so good people don’t get away.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

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The Remarkable Influence of A Wrinkle in Time

4 January 2018

From Smithsonian.com:

When Léna Roy was 7 years old, her teacher read the first chapter of A Wrinkle in Time aloud to her second-grade class. After school, Léna ran to her grandmother’s house, which was around the corner from her school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to finish the book on her own. She curled up in bed and devoured it. She felt just like the hotheaded, stubborn heroine Meg Murry, and took comfort in the fact that a flawed adolescent girl could save the world. “It was almost like your permission to be a real person,” Roy says. “You don’t have to be perfect.”

Millions of other adolescent girls (and boys) have made the same liberating discovery while reading A Wrinkle in Time. What’s different about Roy is that her grandmother happened to be Madeleine L’Engle, the book’s author, who revolutionized serious young adult fiction with her clever mash-up of big ideas, science fantasy and adventure—and a geeky girl action hero way ahead of her time.

Since its 1962 publication, Wrinkle has sold more than ten million copies and been turned into a graphic novel, an opera and two films, including an ambitious adaptation from the director Ava DuVernay due out in March. The book also kicked open the door for other bright young heroines and the amazingly lucrative franchises they appear in, from whip-smart Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books to lethal Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games. Leonard Marcus, author of the L’Engle biography Listening for Madeleine, says Wrinkle “set the stage for the reception of Harry Potter in this country.” Previously, he says, science fiction and fantasy were suitable for high-end British authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in Britain but in the States were relegated to pulp magazines and drugstore paperbacks.

Then came L’Engle, a 41-year-old writer who spent three months in 1959 writing the hard-to-categorize story that would become A Wrinkle in Time. While Meg Murry and her companions traveled through time and space to save her father, a scientist trapped by evil forces on a distant planet, readers had to wrap their minds around the fifth dimension, the horrors of conformity and the power of love. L’Engle believed that literature should show youngsters they were capable of taking on the forces of evil in the universe, not just the everyday pains of growing up. “If it’s not good enough for adults,” she once wrote, “it’s not good enough for children.”

. . . .

Publishers hated it. Every firm her agent turned to rejected the manuscript. One advised to “do a cutting job on it—by half.” Another complained “it’s something between an adult and juvenile novel.” Finally, a friend advised L’Engle to send it to one of the most prestigious houses of all, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. John Farrar liked the manuscript. A test reader he gave it to, though, was unimpressed: “I think this is the worst book I have ever read, it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.” Yet FSG acquired it, and Hal Vursell, the book’s editor, talked it up in letters he sent to reviewers: “It’s distinctly odd, extremely well written,” he wrote to one, “and is going to make greater intellectual and emotional demands on 12 to 16 year olds than most formula fiction for this age group.”

When it debuted, not only was Wrinkle widely praised—“wholly absorbing,” said the New York Times Book Review—but it won the Newbery Medal, the most important award in children’s lit. “The almost universal reaction of children to this year’s winning book, by wanting to talk about it to each other and to elders, shows the deep desire to understand as well as to enjoy,” said Newbery committee member Ruth Gagliardo.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian.com

Why Teens Find The End Of The World So Appealing

22 December 2017

From National Public Radio:

The plots of dystopian novels can be amazing. A group of teens in Holland, Mich., tells me about some of their favorites:

. . . .

Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies is on everyone’s favorite list. The plot goes like this: Everyone wants to be pretty. And their 16th birthday, they can be surgically altered to be a “pretty.” During the surgery, however, lesions are put on their brains. These can cause illness, or hinder your thinking. If characters get an important enough job later on, they get those lesions removed.

. . . .

The teens explaining these books are sitting around a table at the public library in the idyllic west Michigan town. Tonight the book club is meeting to talk about House of The Scorpion by Nancy Farmer — the gathering is part of the library’s young adult programming.

Even though the flyer advertises this book as dystopian, there’s some dissent around that (at a dystopian book club, this distrust of “the adults and their flyers” is no surprise.)

After a brief plot description (there’s a drug lord, clones and, of course, a rebellion against the status quo), Taylor Gort, 17, starts things off: “It’s a question of how many ethics rules are you willing to break,” she says, referring to the book’s main character, El Patrón. Amanda Heidema, the librarian leading the discussion, nods her head, “I mean, is making a clone ethical?”

. . . .

The conversation goes on for nearly an hour — flowing from clones, to whether or not manipulation is evil, to how screwed up adults are (can you believe they think this book is dystopian? It’s not.).

That last one — how messed up grownups are — it’s a hallmark of dystopia, especially in the young adult genre. When I ask the group why they think these types of books are so popular with teens, they tell me it has a lot to do with relatability.

“There tends to be a common teen-angst thing, like: ‘Oh the whole world is against me, the whole world is so screwed up,’ ” Will explains.

Teenagers are cynical, adds Aaron Yost, 16. And they should be: “To be fair, they were born into a world that their parents kind of really messed up.”

Everyone here agrees: The plots in dystopia feel super familiar. That’s kind of what makes the books scary — and really good.

Link to the rest at NPR

Is Star Wars’ ‘The Last Jedi’ science fiction?

17 December 2017

From NBC News:

“The Last Jedi” is set in large part in a green, mountainous landscape inhabited by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) — an old, grizzled dude with flowing robes and mysterious powers. The plot involves talk of royal bloodlines, astral projection, swords that choose their wielders, and an epic battle between light and a twisted, all-seeing Sauron-like darkness. The film also includes cute Disney-like snow cats and owl-critters, and it opens with the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” which sure sounds like a variation on the classic “Once upon a time.”

“The Last Jedi” is built around magic and mysticism and backwards-looking nostalgia for a time of knights and royal houses. Those are tropes of fantasy, not of future-obsessed science fiction.

Or is it? To figure out whether Star Wars is science fiction, you first need to figure out how to define the term — which is harder than you might think. Genres are notoriously difficult to pin down, which is why they spark so many arguments.

. . . .

Science fiction in particular is often seen as more important or serious than fantasy, so it’s no wonder that there’s been some struggle over how to place the films. George Lucas himself declared that “Star Wars isn’t a science-fiction film, it’s a fantasy film and a space opera” in 2015. Others have also waded in over the years; Annalee Newitz included Star Wars in a list of 10 science-fiction works that are really fantasy at io9, while author Brian Clegg says Star Wars is only “low-grade science-fiction” — it’s not quite real science-fiction, so it’s not high quality.

Link to the rest at NBC News and thanks to Felix (who disagrees with the OP) for the tip.

A hilarious new Harry Potter chapter was written by a predictive keyboard

13 December 2017

From Mashable:

There’s a new Harry Potter chapter that was written using a predictive keyboard trained on the Harry Potter series. Let’s just say we’re glad it’s not canon.

. . . .

The team over at Botnik Studios, a community of creatives concocting weird project including the Predictive Writer, gave the world access to a predictive keyboard trained on all seven Harry Potter books. Botnik used those algorithmically constructed sentences to write a new chapter in the Harry Potter saga, and the results, including the name of the new book, are equally insane and hilarious.

. . . .

Within roughly three full pages of the new book titled Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash, Ron begins eating Hermione’s family, two Death Eaters kiss, Harry blinds himself, Hermione sticks a Death Eater’s face in mud, and Harry falls down a staircase for several months.

Here are some highlights of the chapter, dubbed “The Handsome One”:

“Magic: it was something that Harry Potter thought was very good.”

“Ron was going to be spiders. He just was.”

“The pig of Hufflepuff pulsed like a large bullfrog. Dumbledore smiled at it, and placed his hand on its head: ‘You are Hagrid now.'”

“Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.”

. . . .

The Predictive Writer takes chunks of text and examines it to find patterns in sentences, and then produces suggestions for how a sentence should continue based on what words came before it, similar to how some smartphone keyboards make suggestions based on what you type.

Link to the rest at Mashable

Gork

4 December 2017

From Bomb:

Alex Gilvarry  How did you go from writing Dear Mr. President, a book of short stories about war veterans, to Gork, the Teenage Dragon, a coming of age love story about a dragon who attends a military academy in outer space?

Gabe Hudson  There’s a tiny shelf of mind-bending writers that I feel a connection with, including Franz Kafka, Lewis Carroll, Philip K. Dick, Douglas Adams, and Kurt Vonnegut. Their weird imaginative prowess and potent truth-telling feel like they came at great risk to their psychic well-being. For a long time now I’ve felt a calling to produce work in that mode. And I very deliberately set out to do that with Gork.

AG  So why a dragon? And why a dragon in outer space?

GH  I’m drawn to monster myths and my writing is a way to unearth the humanity therein. I’d say that both dragons and Marines have reputations imbued with monster mythology. In the case of the Marines, it’s self-perpetuated, part of the culture. When I was in the Marines, we called ourselves devil-dogs and sang old songs filled with battlefield lore.

In the Western narrative tradition, I’ve long felt there was an accepted bigotry toward dragons. Dragons either play the role of monsters or servant-buddies where they fly around with some dumb human on their back. It’s been the great narrative pile-on. Even all these schmucks talking about how they loved Dungeons & Dragons as kids and how it taught them to “imagine,” were playing a game where dragons literally cannot be a “player character.” What they’re saying is they learned how to band together as a group and decree that this entity who looks different than they do can only be a monster – the killing of which is something to be celebrated. From Gary Gygax, the creator of that game, to J.R.R. Tolkien, there’s this procession of white guys who’ve made a fortune from composing narratives where the red dragon is portrayed as some sort of depraved savage.

So I thought: considering the thousands of dragons that have appeared in western narratives, why has there never once been a tale told from the dragon’s perspective? For one very clear reason: a paucity of empathy. With Gork, I wanted to flip the script. Let the dragons tell their side of the story for once. And lo, it turns out dragons are a great deal more complex and evolved than anyone would’ve ever imagined.

Link to the rest at Bomb

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Theory: The Prime Universe Doesn’t Exist

19 November 2017

From Inverse:

In science fiction, sometimes a cliffhanger can take place on an actual cliff, like the ending of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Other times, like the mid-season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, the cliffhanger drops a starship into a parallel universe.

If the USS Discovery is now in the Mirror Universe, as some fans have posited, then an interesting question presents itself: Which universe did the Discovery and its crew originate from?

Most fans would tell you that Discovery is supposedly set in the “Prime” Star Trektimeline, but what does that mean? And does the Prime Universe even exist?

. . . .

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman made a brilliant or terrible decision, depending on who you ask. Instead of being forced to follow the chronology of the original Star Trek series, they created a splinter universe formed by the invasion of a time-traveling angry Romulan named Nero. Of every reboot that ever rebooted, 2009’s Star Trek is the slyest, acting as, technically, both a sequel and a remake at the same time. And in terms of fully fleshed out parallel universes within Star Trek, Abrams’ resulting “Kelvin Universe” is most prominent.

In an attempt to qualify this there’s even a moment in 2009’s Trek where Spock (Zachary Quinto) says, almost directly to the camera, “Nero’s presence has altered the flow of history, thereby creating a new chain of events that cannot be anticipated by either party…whatever our lives might have been…our destinies have changed.”

Link to the rest at Inverse

PG says a parallel universe could explain so much about recent events.

Philip Pullman Returns to His Fantasy World

12 October 2017

From New York Times Magazine:

On one of my first meetings with Philip Pullman, he led me to the crenelated tower of Exeter College, in Oxford, and pointed out the room he lived in as a student. More than 50 feet up from the ground was a tiny attic window. To visit friends living in rooms on the adjacent staircase — accessible only at ground level — Pullman, a tall, sturdy man with a head like a boulder, would clamber out his window, shimmy along a gutter and propel himself through a window into a bathroom. From where we were standing, the feat looked unlikely, and unwise. Pullman was self-deprecating. “It was less precarious than it seems because it’s actually quite a large gutter, and it’s quite deep,” he said. “And I was drunk. So.”

Oxford has always been an incubator for fantasists: Lewis Carroll dreamed up “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” here. J.R.R. Tolkien (“The Lord of the Rings”) and his friend C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) met weekly at a pub down the road to discuss their books. Pullman has followed in their wake: 30 years after his tipsy progress along the gutter, he returned to his rooftop on the page. “Lyra barged open the door, dragged her rickety chair to the window, flung wide the casement, and scrambled out,” he wrote in the first volume of his epic trilogy, “His Dark Materials.” “The room I gave to Lyra,” Pullman said, looking up, “was the room I had myself.”

Lyra Silvertongue, Lyra Belacqua, but really just Lyra: one of those characters in literature — Pip, Emma, Lolita — who is on first-name terms with her public. Pullman has written 35 books, mostly for children and young adults, but Lyra stands foremost among his protagonists, a plucky scamp of mysterious origins who lives among Oxford academics and is accompanied through life, like almost everyone in the universe of “His Dark Materials,” by her dæmon, a shape-shifting animal self.

Over the three books — 1995’s “Northern Lights” (published in the United States under the title “The Golden Compass”), 1997’s “The Subtle Knife” and 2000’s “The Amber Spyglass” — Lyra embarks on a multiverse-crossing quest that starts as an attempt to find a missing friend and becomes a battle against the dark forces of a totalitarian religious government, the Magisterium. They can be read as pure adventure, escapade after escapade, but they’re also a philosophical exploration of what it means to be alive, and an inverted reading of Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” (In Pullman’s version, original sin is cause for celebration.)

. . . .

 The books have been published in more than 40 languages, sold nearly 18 million copies and spawned a radio play, a two-part National Theater production, a Hollywood movie and a new BBC adaptation. In 2002, they achieved the presumed impossible and outsold Harry Potter in Britain. And now, after 17 years, Lyra is back. “La Belle Sauvage,” the first volume of Pullman’s next trilogy, “The Book of Dust,” will be published on Oct. 19.

Link to the rest at New York Times Magazine

Electric Dreams

10 October 2017

If Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams Goes on for Years, We Could See the Same Story Adapted Over Again

7 October 2017

From i09:

Amazon already has a Philip K. Dick show in its adaptation of Man in the High Castle, which is headed into its third season. But Amazon also has an anthology series based on Dick’s work coming up, called Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. And the executive producers feel like they could adapt the same story more than one time over the years.

In a press even after the panel, executive producer David Kanter said that they sent out packets of short stories to the writers they were approaching, and that everyone pretty much naturally gravitated to different ones, finding things they wanted to focus on. “At some point in the future, should we be so lucky to continue on, some of the stories could be retold,” Kanter said. “Some could be re-adapted by different people and they would be amazing to see from the point of view of how writers and directors work to do that. To take the same source material and have, five years from now, season one’s ‘Human Is’ and season five’s ‘Human Is.’”

Link to the rest at i09

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