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Yes, 2016. Strictly speaking, Bujold's new Vorkosigan novel, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, won't be published until February next year. However, Baen has made an e-book advanced reading copy available for $15 and other than the odd punctuation error I spotted it seems to be the final text.

Spoilers for previous books in the sequence and a plot point set out early on. )

I wouldn't recommend this as a good place to start reading the Vorkosigan series - it's very atypical and has far too many call-backs to earlier books - but it makes a pleasant if differently-styled continuation for those familiar with it. Not quite 'for completists only' but those who like Bujold for her characters rather than her plots will probably get most out of it.
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I didn't manage to get to any of the Speculative Biology items at Loncon 3 (usual excuse: too few hours in day plus other commitments) so I had to settle for reading this very good write-up in Scientific American. That led me to the work of Memo Kosemen, who has put a huge amount of effort into imagining the fauna of Snaiad, a world where animals have evolved into ecological niches familiar to us but on the basis of a very different fundamental body plan.

It turns out that Kosemen also wrote All Tomorrows, a work rather in the vein of Dougal Dixon's Man after Man, although of rather greater scope. With Koseman's permission it's been made available online (large PDF); if I had to give a quick summary, it would be "Stapledon's Last and First Men as rewritten by Stephen Baxter and illustrated by the hybrid offspring of Wayne Barlow and H.R. Giger." Far more imagination than in a dozen bumpy-forehead-alien TV series, and these are all meant to be descended from humans.
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[livejournal.com profile] attimes_bracing commented a little while back that she'd seen very few classic sf movies, and wondered about catching up. So, last night, we started with Forbidden Planet.

Now, I hadn't watched FP for literally decades. I have a dim memory of us showing it at a video night at the SF club at university, and I'd definitely seen it before I first went to see Return to the Forbidden Planet (the stage musical) in London in 1989 or so. So my briefing to [livejournal.com profile] attimes_bracing was that this was very early in the 'humans explore space' genre (1956), that bits of it would seem familiar because it had been very influential on a number of TV series, and that she should expect it to be, well, a product of the 1950s.

Ouch. I'd forgotten how much a product of the 1950s it was.

We have an all male, all white crew. Well, the C-57D is clearly a military ship (we twice see Commander Adams holding discipline sessions with crewmen) and that would have been typical for small US ship of the era. The real problems start when Altaira, Dr Morbius' daughter, turns up. Everyone from the C-57D, its captain included, immediately start drooling over her to the point of begin blatantly distracted from what they are meant to be doing, and within a very short time one of them is manipulating her into kissing on the grounds that it's meant to be good for her.

Frankly, the more interesting twist the movie could have used would have been to have it turn out that the monster assaulting the crew had been generated by the Krell Machine not from Morbius' subconscious, but from Altaira's.

(Of course, that's not how 1950s scriptwriters would have done it, and if they had it would no doubt have led to a very misogynist denouement.)

Putting that aside for the moment, FP still stands up well in some areas. Morbius' tour of the Krell Machine is one of sf cinema's great visual scenes, and was echoed by Babylon 5; the effects work is surprisingly good for the time, although I'd be interested to know how much it was influenced by pulp sf-magazine covers of the 30s and 40s. The crew's battle with the Id Monster is also done well, and I suspect that any modern CGI remake would actually be less effective by probably being tempted to show more.

Next up: probably 2001, which at least has less creepiness.
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From this discussion thread on io9 regarding True Detective - a US crime drama that makes references to [spoiler redacted, but it's widely seen as a Lovecraftian piece of literature] - comes a very handy phrase: 'Genre-curious'.

A genre-curious show would be one that isn't overtly or explicitly sf/fantasy, but which includes references to the genre or makes use of its tropes. Although I've yet to see it, it sounds as if True Detective qualifies in the first of those categories, while Hannibal might fall into the second; it has no supernatural elements*, but draws heavily on favourite genre themes such as psychological alienation and horror.

(*Although that depends how you interpret aspects of S1E05 "Coquilles".)

I'm just wondering what other shows might count? The League of Gentlemen and Sherlock come to mind, although that's hardly surprising given Mark Gatiss' involvement in them. Any others?
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I was initially a bit sceptical when I heard about Nine Worlds (very ambitious plans from a group seemingly without major con-running experience) but saw that the organisers were getting a lot of writers and fans I knew on board and was impressed by some of the ideas they seem to have. So I've joined, as has S, and we look forward to seeing how a fresh attempt at conrunning works.

But... I've had a look at the @worldsnine twitter feed. It does rather look as if they are openly inviting everyone remotely well-known in the geek/sf world who has a twitter account to come along as a guest, including quite a few actors. I take it the organisers do appreciate that when you invite a guest to a convention that person will expect to be accommodated and have their travel paid for - and, if he or she is a pro actor, to get an appearance fee?

I'm just a bit concerned that Nine Worlds already has 23 announced guests and are actively soliciting more, and wondering if they actually have a plan for paying for them all given that the website promises that (unlike the sort of commercial conventions that feature lots of actors) the membership price is all-inclusive and we won't be paying additional fees to see guests.

Picocon

Feb. 20th, 2011 11:00 am
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If I'd attended every single Picocon since arriving at Imperial College as a fresher then yesterday would have been my 24th. I haven't - I know I've had to miss some - but I'd guess I've been to about 20 since my first, Picocon 5, back in 19861987 (oops). Some things have changed a lot in that time, such as the main student bar in Beit Quad (now on at least its fifth major redecoration since then). Others, such as the adjacent Union Bar, are almost unchanged. As are some of the weird Picocon traditions such as Destruction of Dodgy Merchandise (HULK MEET LIQUID NITROGEN!) and the Oxford-Cambridge Fish Fight. ("What's the point?" enquired [livejournal.com profile] darth_hamster? "What's the point of the Boat Race?" I asked in return.)

It was great fun and a real pleasure to see everyone (if I tried to list them all, I'd only miss someone.) Looking forward to nest year, and a quarter of a century of Picocons.
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... the typeset proof for this:



(Amazing artwork by [livejournal.com profile] peteyoung)

It's been a long time in preparation but seeing the text as it will (subject to corrections) appear on the page is a huge relief, and makes me finally believe that come January we'll have an actual book to sell.

More details here.
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Robert McCall, noted space artist and illustrator, has died at the age of 90. Still working until very recently, he may be most familiar to sf fans for the dramatic poster artwork for 2001.



His style, although in some ways rather fanciful with its vapour trails and near-cloudscape nebulas, was both distinctive and very influential. McCall was very skilled at making space look like an environment rather than just a backdrop, and his work arguably inspired a generation of space advocates and hard-sf writers.
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If you read [livejournal.com profile] nwhyte's journal (and is there anyone left who doesn't?) you'll be aware from this post that Irish fan [livejournal.com profile] slovobooks has been banned at short notice from attending Octocon this weekend, seemingly on the basis of unspecified conduct or comments relating to his criticism of the current committee.

Can they do this? More importantly, should they?

The legal position... )

...and the practical con-running one )

Now, all the above is in legal terms based on my professional knowledge of English law. But I believe that in many jurisdictions the legal position is broadly similar, and the moral and practical considerations ought to apply everywhere. In the Octocon case, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the committee are being very thin-skinned and grossly over-reacting. As other people have pointed out, the best response to complaints that you are running a poor convention is to demonstrate that you can run a good one. And by the accounts of several of my friends who are regular Octocon attendees, it does sound as if there are at least some grounds for criticising the way it's been run over the last few years. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of what [livejournal.com profile] slovobooks has said or done, the Octocon committee's ill-judged and excessive reaction is only going to damage Octocon's reputation still further. And this is a point that all con-runners should remember: reputation is the currency of fandom, and it takes years to build but only seconds to lose.

EDIT I am very pleased to see that there has been an amicable resolution.
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I saw District 9 last week but for various reasons haven't got around to commenting on it yet. Since then [livejournal.com profile] tamaranth has posted her thoughts, which I pretty much agree with but which also include a link to a very negative review that I've seen some other references to. That reviewer's main complaints seem to be:

Everything from here on is VERY SPOILER-LADEN )
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A lovely article on that neglected but important bit of background world-building detail in TV and film science fiction - the corridor.
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Prompted by a post by [livejournal.com profile] daveon I found the list, as released by NASA after a Freedom of Information request, of books, films and TV programmes aboard the International Space Station (1.8MB PDF). Most of this stuff has accumulated by being brought up by individual astronauts, although I think some of the TV may have been uplinked.

Well, for one thing it's clear that there is at least one pretty serious Lois McMaster Bujold fan in the astronaut corps. Also an awful lot of David Weber, John Ringo (aaargh!) and Piers Anthony. Plus, about six months' run each of Analog and Asimov's, and a single Peter F Hamilton. (Mind you, given the cost-per-kilo to orbit, I'm surprised they managed to get even one of his up there.)

I remain disappointed that the list of DVDs aboard does not include Alien.
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If you're a BSFA member or are attending Eastercon, you're eligible to vote in the BSFA Awards. All four short story nominees are available online:

'Exhalation', Ted Chiang

'Crystal Nights', Greg Egan

'Little Lost Robot', Paul McAuley

'Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account', Mary Rickert

Slightly spoilery comments )

So, for me it will be Chiang, Egan, McAuley and Rickert in the 1 to 4 positions. I'll see if I can comment on the novels later, although I can't see that I'll get to read The Gone-Away World in the next week, seeing as how I have The Margarets and House of Suns lined up first.
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The Unsilent Library: Adventures in new Doctor Who

Published by the Science Fiction Foundation
edited by Simon Bradshaw, Antony Keen, and Graham Sleight

The Science Fiction Foundation, which has published a number of books on sf (including The Parliament of Dreams: Conferring on Babylon 5 and Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature) is now seeking contributions for a new book, proposed for publication in 2010, on Doctor Who. This book will focus on the series’ revival since 2005. Contributions are invited on all aspects of the new series, including its scripting, production, and reception, as well as links to the “classic” series. A variety of critical approaches/viewpoints will be encouraged.

Potential authors are asked to submit brief proposals (max. 250 words) for chapters by 1st March 2009. Final chapters (max. 6,000 words) will be due by 1st August 2009. Please send proposals to sjbradshaw@mac.com.

Contributions should follow the style guide at http://www.sf-foundation.org/publications/styleguide.html
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An expanded version of the second trailer, with additional commentary by director Zack Snyder.

behind a cut as it auto-runs )

(Alt: http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=48917596)

Again, it looks like a lot of scenes taken directly from the graphic novel. I'm still not at all convinced by the casting of Matthew Goode as Veidt/Ozymandias - he just doesn't come across as having Veidt's combination of charisma and gravitas. It remains to be seen how well it will work for Jeffrey Dean Morgan to play Blake/The Comedian from teenager to sexagenarian, and I don't think we've seen any footage yet of Jackie Earle Haley as (unmasked) Kovacs rather than (masked) Rorschach. But the look and feel of the film itself continues to appear spot-on.

There is of course the question of when we will actually get to see the film. I have no idea how a US court will rule; if this had happened in the UK, I would have thought that the American Cyanamid guidelines would mitigate against an injunction barring distribution on the basis that any loss to Fox would be made good by subsequent damages if it won its case. (The principle is that you only get an interim injunction to prevent damage to you that won't be sufficiently dealt with by money damages in the longer term when your full case comes to court.)
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Several years ago the Science Fiction Foundation put out a book on Terry Pratchett's writing entitled Guilty of Literature.

I am delighted to see that Sir Terry has now, officially, been deemed Guilty As Charged.

(I think this is only the second knighthood to an sf author specifically for services to literature, the first having been to the late Sir Arthur C Clarke. Other people have been knighted after having written sf - Sir Patrick Moore comes to mind - but this has been for their activities in other fields.)
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A few weeks ago I picked up the 2-disc DVD set of the remastered and restored version of 2001. As well as improved quality and a host of extras, this is the 143-minute version (i.e. the 148-minute cut converted to TV frame rate), complete with intermission and lead-in and post-credits music. Yes, play this and you may wonder why the first chapter of the DVD has no picture. That's because it's how the film originally played!

It had actually been years since I'd seen 2001, and most of my memory is still from Clarke's novel, which I think I first read at around the age of 10. So, how does the film stand up both to the 'real' world and in comparison with the book?

2001, 40 years on )
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Has anyone ever written a serious study of characterisation in Fred Hoyle's sf? I've been re-reading The Black Cloud and something that's very striking is how the protagonist Prof Chris Kingsley is not just manipulative and arrogant but displays every trait of being an outright sociopath. Yet he is portrayed by Hoyle as an enlightened technocrat who simply arranges less rationally-effective members of society to suit the greater good.

Now, The Black Cloud was Hoyle's first novel, published in 1957 - slightly suprisingly, given its underlying theme, two years before C.P. Snow's 'Two Cultures' lecture. It may be that Hoyle was expressing, in his typically blunt and acerbic manner, his own take on the issues Snow was later to articulate. But I've read most of Hoyle's fiction, and as I recall Kingsley is an extreme but by no means atypical Hoyle leading man. It's tempting to review his work to see if his attitude to such personality traits evolves over time, but I wonder if anyone has already looked at this?
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Patrick Barkham interviews Peter F Hamilton.

There's an audio interview here. I am amused to see that the Grauniad is living up to its reputation (at least, I am assuming that 'Triolgy' is a typo.)
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The 2008 Hugo Awards have been announced; congratulations to [livejournal.com profile] matociquala and commiserations to [livejournal.com profile] autopope, [livejournal.com profile] ianmcdonald and [livejournal.com profile] paulcornell2.

Back in January I was pondering nominations and commented on the dramatic awards as follows:

"[Battlestar Galactica is] going to once again get its ass handed to it on a plate in the next category...

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. At the risk of tempting fate, we all know that the key question in Denver is going to be whether Steven Moffat's utterly brilliant 'Blink' will edge out Paul Cornell's utterly brilliant 'Human Nature' / 'The Family of Blood' in what will soon be renamed as Hugo for Best Dr Who Story."

No mistake there, then, although looking back at the BDP(SF) winners it might be more accurate to rename it as Hugo for Best Steven Moffat Story. In the end it came down to a choice between arguably the best-written and most emotionally effective Who story since the show was revived (if not ever) and the most perfectly-crafted piece of science-fictional horror in years. In that respect, 'Blink' perhaps had an edge with the wider Hugo voting community through being less reliant on the viewer's familiarity with the show's history and mythos.

I'm not sure if Moffat's run will continue, mind you, as I can't say that I found 'Silence in the Library'/'Forest of the Dead' to be amongst the best episodes of this year. Looking back at Season 4, I would suspect 'Midnight' to be a far stronger contender for the Montreal Hugos, possibly followed by 'Turn Left'. As for 2010, will he be writing any of next year's feature-length specials? In the mean time, Battlestar Galactica has an opportunity to try to make up lost ground, although the first half of its Season 4 (which we might as well just call 'Season 4' in its entirety, as it ended on a whopping cliffhanger and the other half won't be shown until 2009 so is really Season 5) suffered from frantic plot compression as the writers battled possible cancellation in the wake of the WGA strike. Since we're all waiting to see how Ron Moore resolves the hole he dumped everyone into at the end of the last episode we can but hope that he and his scriptwriters do so in a way worthy of getting onto the 2010 Hugo ballot.

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