Fantasy/SciFi

The Woman Behind James Tiptree, Jr.

2 August 2018

From JSTOR Daily:

When popular science fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr., acclaimed as an epitome of masculine writing, publicly revealed in 1977 that she was actually Alice Bradley Sheldon, readers were gobsmacked. “Tiptree” was known to be a pseudonym, but readers in the know had assumed it was the pen name of a guy in the CIA who couldn’t reveal his identity.

Alice Sheldon (1915-1987) certainly had a rather unconventional career. She worked in Army intelligence during WWII, when she became an expert in reading aerial photographs. For a time, she raised chickens. She did indeed work for the CIA. In fact, Tiptree’s biography was accurate except for the gender. At the age of forty, Sheldon went to college, eventually earning a PhD in experimental psychology in 1967. Then she took to writing science fiction. Her first story was published in 1968 under the Tiptree byline. She also used a number of other pen names, including Raccoona Sheldon.

. . . .

Sheldon called the name “James Tiptree, Jr.”—inspired by a brand of jams—”good camouflage.” Among her reasons for the masquerade: “I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”

. . . .

Kirkpatrick pays particular attention to the story “The Women Men Don’t See,” in which the male narrator thinks a mother and daughter going off with aliens are literally crazy for leaving Earth. “What women do is survive,” says the older female character to the narrator, “We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine.” The narrator cannot comprehend why these two women would want out of a world where they aren’t seen as fully human. And he just doesn’t get why they don’t want to be “rescued” by him, either.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

PG notes that Amazon offers a  large collection of books by James Tiptree, Jr. , including one with an introduction from Ursula K. Le Guin and another that is part of a collection of stories by Hugo Award Winners (Houston, Houston, Do You Read?: “futuristic piece that takes a dim view of male sexuality.”)

The Man in the High Castle

23 July 2018

Here’s a teaser for Season Three of The Man in the High Castle:


 

And if you haven’t watched Seasons One and Two (and don’t want to do so), here’s a 30-minute summary:


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Star Trek: Discovery Showrunner Says the Original Series Is Helping Season 2 Find Its Fun Side

21 July 2018

From i09:

The first trailer for the next season of Star Trek: Discovery looked surprisingly fun—especially when compared to the often-fatally bleak first season. It was full of cute jokes, great character moments, and late-1990s rock jams. So, where did this newfound levity come from? According to the showrunner, you can thank the first Star Trek TV series for that.

During a press conference for Star Trek: Discovery, io9 asked showrunner Alex Kurtzman how they’re balancing the look and feel of Discovery’sdebut with the first season of The Original Series, which feels like a huge departure from the grittier, more modern Trek franchises. How can they blend these two shows that are so tonally dissonant from each other? Turns out, by softening Discovery’s hard edges a bit.

. . . .

“I feel like tonally it’s probably a more buoyant season. Even those there are some episodes that are very very serious and intense, I think you’ll see in the first episode that there’s more balance between some of the humor that you’d see on TOS and the high stakes of the more modern versions of Trek.

I think obviously, last season was about war. And it’s tough to really stuff down and have a whole lot of humor when the stakes are so high, life and death is really what they’re dealing with every day… Tonally now, we’ve gotten to a place where the crew has more—even though the stakes are still high—there’s more downtime in the moments, which allows for more humor, which allows for a slower onion layer pulling open of character and the details of their own relationships.”

Link to the rest at i09

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How Can Fiction Predict a Future That’s Already Happening?

15 July 2018

From The Literary Hub:

The problem with setting fiction in the near future is that it keeps coming closer—and usually about twice as fast as one expects. By mid-century, will we still stare at our phones? Or will we instead use bionic contacts (already in development) that project images of our incoming texts? Will we even call those brief messages “texts”?

Speculative fiction pioneer William Gibson likes to inform interviewers that the true point of sci-fi is not to prognosticate. (His classic Neuromancer, written in 1984 and set in about 2035, failed to predict mobile phones, as did the movie Blade Runner, in which clunky, stationary videophones predominate.) And yet: a would-be speculative novelist winces imagining their invented world becoming obsolete only years after a book appears. Worse still, one doesn’t want to include details that are passé even prior to publication. In our fast-moving world—Amazon’s Alexa made her debut in late 2014 and starred in a Super Bowl ad that counted on pop-culture familiarity only three years later—the chances of getting the near-future wrong are greater than ever. Yet more and more novelists, intent on penning semi-realistic sci-fi hybrids, seem to be taking the chance.

When I first imagined a novel set in 2049 about a much older woman and the robot delivered to care for her, threatening the livelihood of an immigrant nurse, the world was a different place. The iPhone was a year old. I wasn’t even using a dumbphone yet. iPads, Fitbits, and voice assistants like Siri weren’t on the market. I’d never downloaded an app, making me an unlikely novelist to guess what the world might look like a few years hence. Just the fact that I’d use a word like “hence” probably undermines my reputation as an aspiring futurist.

. . . .

My favorite speculative fiction, just like my favorite historical fiction, is neither escapist nor distant; in fact, it is sneakily but urgently reflective of problems bearing down on us today. Sometimes, this type of fiction does its most powerful work addressing the issues that we, both collectively and individually, aren’t culturally or emotionally ready to face. Where journalism hits the door of denial, fiction can worm under the sill and through the cracks, showing rather than telling: This can happen. Or even more powerfully: This is already happening.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

My three decades at Disney taught me not to fear automation

30 June 2018

From Fast Company:

At a recent conference in Hyderabad, India, I was given second billing to a robot. Not just any robot, mind you, but Sophia, the AI sensation from Hansen Robotics, which has recently been headlining events all over the world. Adding insult to injury, my presentation on creativity and human ingenuity was scheduled to follow directly after the robot. Given the electricity in the air as Sophie prepared to make her entrance, I felt terrified of being eclipsed by a machine.

It’s an increasingly common terror lately. One recent study by Oxford and Yale University researchers suggests that by 2053, robots will beat us at translating languages, writing essays, and conducting surgeries. Worst of all, they expect all human jobs to be automated within the next 120 years.

Disney is by no means averse to technology. In fact, one of the company’s newer high-tech solutions, the Magic Band, uses RFID technology to let guests reserve their favorite attractions and purchase merchandise, and it also doubles as a room key and entrance ticket to the parks. In addition to improving the guest experience (no waiting in lines!), the Magic Band provides a wealth of data to improve real-time operations and plan future products and services. But in my 30 years at Disney, in all the innovative ways I saw technology being deployed, I never witnessed it beat out human ingenuity.

As I stood backstage watching the audience watching Sophia, I found–to my surprise (and selfish delight)–that the crowd’s initial wonder and awe soon turned into nervousness, then visible fear. Sophia was remarkable for everything she could do, but worrisome for everything she seemed to represent for the future of humanity. When I took the stage to remind the attendees of the magic of human creativity and imagination, there was a palpable sense of relief.

The experience, which I will repeat soon in Guatemala, helped reinforce my conviction that robots, big data, and AI, as disruptive and extraordinary as they are sure to be, will never be able to compete with human intuition and the unique and mysterious combination of elements that constitute our emotional intelligence.

. . . .

For as long we’ve been around, humans have sought to express the mysteries of love and companionship, in song, verse, prose, art, film, and more. While robots will surely enhance our abilities and our senses, they can’t yet feel our emotions, nor match the creativity that those emotions spawn.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

 

Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison dies at 84

29 June 2018

From Engadget:

Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison has died at 84. Ellison, who was an author of novellas and short stories, wrote for shows including Star Trek, Babylon 5,The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He passed away in his sleep early Thursday.

. . . .

Ellison penned a 1967 Star Trek episode called “City on the Edge of Forever,” though writers on the show rewrote the script to pull out Ellison’s anti-war message. The famously opinionated writer published two drafts of his script in a 1995 book, and sued over revenue from the episode in 2009, eventually reaching a settlement.

He took Hollywood to task several other times, including suing James Cameron and other figures behind The Terminator, claiming that the movie cribbed from two of his Outer Limits episodes. The film’s production company and distributor settled out of court; the terms forced them to acknowledge Ellison’s influence in The Terminator‘s end credits.

Link to the rest at Engadget

How to Live in a Dystopian Fiction

28 June 2018

From The Paris Review:

A curious feature of most dystopian fiction is that it begins in medias res.  It’s a stylistic convention of the genre, and it applies to most dystopian lit that comes to mind, from Nineteen Eighty-Fourto Brave New World to Never Let Me Go.  As pure narrative strategy, it makes sense.  After all, novels in general must hook a reader quickly, and there are few things hookier than unfolding disaster.  Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, for example, begins with twenty utterly gripping pages of the first hours of a superplague wiping out Toronto (and the world).  There is something compelling about this type of introduction—it carves narrative down to a brutal logic in which the only two options are survival or death.

The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which will wrap up its second season in July, is the most recent popular example of this phenomenon. The viewer is dropped, from the first episode, into the fresh hell of Gilead, alongside Elizabeth’s Moss’s Offred.  We are given the broad strokes of how Gilead came to power (ecological disaster, plummeting birthrates, a coup in Congress), but only the occasional flashback to “normal life” before the coup, when the show’s world much resembled ours.  The first season was released in April, 2017, and Offred’s disoriented struggle felt topical, consonant with an American body politic waking up to the reality of the Trump era.  My wife and I watched it, as I know so many people did, with rapt, grim fascination. It showed our worst fears about the new government dramatized.

As time—and the show—has gone on, however, I found myself increasingly drawn to the scanty scenes of America before Gilead, the tender, doomed moments of Offred’s previous life.  The glimpses of that hazy, vanishing world are the most painful, and perhaps the most resonant with our own unfolding dystopia.  Because this is what all dystopias—fictional and real—specialize in:  erasure of what came before.

. . . .

Too often, I think, we want our fictional dystopias to protect us against the real thing..  As Alyssa Rosenberg says in this Washington Post article, “Dystopian fiction—and any fiction, really—shouldn’t be judged by the extent to which it serves as a bulwark against actual, radical changes to American society. It is enough to ask that a story be entertaining and well-executed, and that its characters be rich and memorable.”

But while asking a piece of entertainment to be more than entertaining may be asking too much, baked into most dystopian narratives is an implicit claim to edification. After all, dystopias, like utopias, succeed or fail based on how convincingly and relevantly they correspond to the real world. Both words share the root topos, place in Greek, and purport to tell us about the possibilities of our own place through fictional exaggeration.  It therefore seems reasonable to expect that they might tell us not only about the mess we’re in, but how we got into it, and how to escape.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Fairy Scapegoats: A History of the Persecution of Changeling Children

13 June 2018

From Longreads:

Fairies were dangerous. Not to believe in them was dangerous. Not to respect them or take them seriously was dangerous — hence all the carefully euphemistic or indirect names one used in speaking of them, from “the Gentry” to “the Good People,” “Themselves,” “the fair folk” and “the people of peace” through to the charming Welsh phrase bendith û mamme, or “such as have deserved their mother’s blessing.” Fairies stole your children. They made you or your animals sick, sometimes unto death. They could draw the life, or essence, out of anything, from milk or butter through to people. Their powers, as we have seen, were almost limitless, not only demonic but even godlike in scale and scope.

While ordinary people still believed this less than a century ago, the educated had also believed it in the era of the witch persecutions. Witches did these kinds of thing, and fairies or fairyland were quite often referenced in their trials. Although Joan of Arc was tried as a heretic, rather than a witch, the latter association naturally clung to such an unusual woman, and it is notable that in 1431 her interrogators took an interest in the “fairy tree” around which Joan had played in her childhood in Domrémy. In the Protestant camp, Calvin later emphasized how “the Devil works strange illusions by fairies and satyrs.” In early modern Sicily one distinct type of witch was the female “fairy doctor,” the phrase donna di fuori (“woman from outside”) meaning either “fairy” or “fairy doctor.” Here Inquisitors encouraged people, including suspected witches, to equate fairy and witch beliefs. In 1587 they were especially interested in one Laura di Pavia, a poor fisherman’s wife who claimed to have flown to fairyland in Benevento, Kingdom of Naples.

In many cases, educated witch-believers saw fairies and fairyland as sources of dark power for witches. Lizanne Henderson lists 38 Scottish witch trials (1572—1716) featuring references to fairy beliefs, including that of Isobel Strathaquin (Aberdeen, 1597), accused of using skills which she “learnt . . . of an elf-man who lay with her.” At the 1616 trial of Katherine Caray the accused spoke of meeting not only “a great number of fairy men” on the Caithness hills at sunset, but “a master man” — a figure which in this context could have been seen as “the King of the Fairies” or “the Prince of Darkness.” After a Scottish girl, Christian Shaw, suffered hysterical fits in 1696, the ensuing trial featured a veritable cauldron of lurid evidence, from a mysterious black man with cold hands through to the eating of “a piece of unchristened child’s liver,” and a charm of blood and stones used by one Margaret Fulton, a reputed witch whose “husband had brought her back from the fairies.”

Like witches, fairies were powerful, uncanny and unpredictable. And like witches, or vampires, or any of the world’s numerous magical figures, fairies were scapegoats. They could be blamed for almost anything.

. . . .

In August 1909 an old woman of Donegal, Annie McIntire, applied for a pension. She told the Pension Committee that although “she did not know the number of her years,” she “remembered being stolen by the ‘wee people’ (fairies) on Halloween Night, 1839.” Was she certain of this?

“Yes, by good luck my brother happened to be coming home from Carndonagh that night, and heard the fairies singing and saw them dancing round me in the wood at Carrowkeel. He had a book with him, and he threw it in among them. They then ran away.” The applicant added that the people celebrated the event by great feasting and drinking. The committee decided to grant her a pension.

Whatever actually happened that Halloween night, McIntire clearly believed her version until the end of her days. So, too, would many of those around her, young or old. For everyone knew that fairies stole children.

. . . .

In 1952 the Australian-born classical scholar Gilbert Murray (1866—1957) recalled how,

in Ireland, in my own lifetime, a child, who was for some reason reputed to be a changeling, was beaten and burned with irons, the mother being locked out of the room while the invading fairy was exorcised, though unfortunately the child died in the process.

This killing does not seem to have been prosecuted, and many of those which escaped public or legal notice must now have been lost to us.

Link to the rest at Longreads

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