Thursday, April 20, 2006


Holy crap, it's been a week since I wrote anything here! If I don't do something dramatic I'm gonna turn into one of those Blog Slackers. No sir, I can't let that happen!

I've been meaning to write something about David Langford's excellent Ansible newsletter. You can subscribe to it and it will be emailed to yourself every month. It's great for work too because you can get it sent as a plain text document, so it looks like a work email. Ansible is a science-fiction/fantasy newsletter. My favourite bits are 'As Others See Us' and 'Thogs Masterclass'. Here are some samples:

As Others See Us. Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, made a traditional Nice Distinction when defining `Landscapes of the Mind' on BBC Radio 4's A Map of British Poetry (6 Mar): `I don't mean science fiction poems. I mean poems which establish a manifestly invented world in order to advance recognisable truths about human nature.' Not like science fiction at all, then. [HS]
• Michael Jackson, of all people, has grasped the essential point that sf is fiction: he compares press coverage of his legal entanglements to `watching science fiction. It's not true.' [NG]

As Others See Us. Susan Mitchell knows what's fiction and what isn't: `Read any good novels lately? Read any bad novels lately? My guess is that if you've read anything, for pleasure or interest, it hasn't been fiction. Book sales of fiction, particularly literary fiction, are down. By fiction I don't mean fantasy, as in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, I mean a story about our lives created from an author's imagination.' (Weekend Australian Financial Review, 19-20 Mar) [DW]
• Mark Lawson, connoisseur of fantasy, reports the news that Ian McKellen will feature in Coronation Street: `The explanation for Sir Ian's soap debut may simply be that he wanted to speak some proper dialogue after appearing in all that Tolkein [sic] trog tosh ...' (Guardian, 12 March)

As Others See Us II. Further reassurance regarding Kazuo Ishiguro's rip-snorting space opera about rogue clones, Never Let Me Go: `This is not a book of science fiction. I doubt that Ishiguro is even particularly interested in the science or ethics of cloning. So don't go to the novel for a Peter Singer workout. What you will find is an intense, but undramatised exploration of the intricacies of human emotion and human interplay.' (Morag Fraser, The Age, Melbourne, 12 March) [MR]
• On-line sexual advice from `[Q] What do the following books say about a person's sexual characteristics: A man currently reading The Da Vinci Code? [A] This guy is going to be awful in bed. This is just one step up from a sci-fi reader, someone who thinks sex can't measure up to masturbation.' [HF]

As Others See Us. Suneel Ratan of Wired knows where to find true sf innovation: `While most sci-fi -- whether on TV, in movies or books -- remains aimed toward science geeks or overgrown adolescents, producer Ronald Moore and the Sci-Fi Channel have essentially reinvented the genre by giving it an edgy, current, broad-based appeal.' [JH]
• Janice Eisen is much amused that `people who dedicate their entire lives to a single movie [The Big Lebowski] should look down on sf fans.' Thus a spokesman explains the regular Lebowski Fest: `People have likened it to a "Star Trek" or science-fiction convention, but we have women and nobody speaks Klingon.' ( article)

As Others Profile Us. N. Lee Wood sends a depressing LA Times report on the work of the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit: `On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: all but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core trekkie. / Det. Constable Warren Bulmer slips on a Klingon sash and shield they confiscated in a recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply," Bulmer reflects. "But beyond that, I can't really explain it."' (Staff writer Maggie Farley, 27 April.) This statistic became less impressive when checked by one Ernest Miller. From his weblog: `I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the LA Times article. / He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times' reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources? / Nevertheless, Detective Lamond does claim that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest."' [JN] Not quite the same as `all but one' of the last four years' 100+ offenders.

As Others See Us. Neil Ford reports another maker of ingenious distinctions: `Hal Hartley has made a movie set in the near future, when the US is run by a totalitarian corporation and is visited by an alien -- but of course it's not sf.' From an interview: `But, really, I don't think of "The Girl from Monday" as sci-fi. Not for real. It's more like a song about life now told AS IF it were sci-fi. Sometime copping the postures of a genre can allow you to address a broader range of topics and allow you to be a little more poetic without being too heavy.' No doubt.

As Others See Some Of Us. `Very much the Moonies of television cults, Doctor Who is second only to Star Trek in its ability to attract sociopaths, hobbyists, theorists, collectors, role-playing gamers, fanatics and, frankly, experts. There is little this encyclopaedia can put forward which has not already been the subject of a keynote address at some high-priced, stale-smelling conference in Leicester, called something like SADCON or TOTALCON.' (Richard Lewis, The Encyclopaedia of Children's Cult TV, 2002)

Thog's Masterclass. Revisionist Paleontology Dept. `The megatherium, the ichthyosaurus have paced the earth with seven-league steps and hidden the day with cloud fast wings.' (George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1903) [ECL]
Genealogy Dept Revisited: `I died to keep you alive, and one day you will die to feed my ancestors.' (Larry Niven and Steve Barnes, The Barsoom Project, 1989) [PM]
Strangulation Dept. `Shock throttled a sob half spent in her throat.' (Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Farfetch, 1985)
Dept of Heavy Lifting. `He swung his white smile around the room like a lighthouse.' (Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone, 1965) [MMW]
Astronomy/Cosmology Dept. `If his calculations and instruments were correct, he was now outside the home galaxy of the Milky Way and in an entirely new universe, the universe known to him as the Crab Nebula.'
Dept of Preternatural Rigidity. `He raged and shouted at them from behind the bars which, as she shook them, held as firm as though a fly's feet were touching them.' (both from David Whitaker, The Dr Who Annual, 1965) [LC]

Thog's Masterclass. Biothermics Dept, or Why Polar Bears Do Not Exist. `It was evidently cold-blooded or nearly so, for no warm-blooded animal could have withstood that more than glacial cold.' (George Griffith, `Stories of Other Worlds', 1900) [AR]
Limits of Vision Dept. `"That," he said impressively, "is the blackest black you or any other mortal ever looked upon ... so black that no mortal man will be able to look upon it -- and see it!"' (Jack London, `The Shadow and the Flash', 1903) [AR]
• `Xavier closed his eyes, then forced himself to watch the terrible solution.' (Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, The Butlerian Jihad, 2002) [DL]
Dept of Motherhood and Stale Apple Pie. `He took an instant to gulp water from a dipper, stale and welcome as a mother's love.' (S.M. Stirling & David Drake, The Sword, 1995) [TMcD]

Thog's Masterclass. Dept of Hot Bosom Action. `Her tits were like smoke detectors and it looked like the little red lights were flashing.' (Paul Meloy, `Dying in the Arms of Jean Harlow (The Coming of the Autoscopes)', The 3rd Alternative, Summer 2005) [MMW]
Ornamentation Dept. `Lan's own helmet was open in the style of dead Malkier, supporting a steel crescent moon above his forehead [...] The rider drew rein in front of Lan and Bukama. Remaining in his saddle, he eyed them uncertainly, no doubt because their armor was unadorned.' (Robert Jordan, New Spring, 2004) [TW]
Dept of In Space No One Can Hear Your Castrophony. 'Then there came a sound, distant at first, that grew into a castrophony so immense it could be heard far away in space.' (Gorillaz, Demon Days, 'Fire Coming out of a Monkey's Head' lyrics) [AR]
Spare Parts Dept. `Botha slipped out of his chair. It rocked briefly in his absence, then steadied to await the next set of perambulating buttocks.' (Alan Dean Foster, Diuturnity's Dawn, 2002) [GS]

Thog's Masterclass. Earth Is The Alien Planet Dept. `Driving north toward Albany on the Taconic Parkway, Parker watched both dawn and a heavy cloud cover move in from the west.' (Richard Stark [Donald E. Westlake], Backflash, 1998) [TMcD]
Colour Perception Dept. `Two incense sticks burned in a little brass holder in front of her, sending wisps of thin blue smoke upwards which were indistinguishable in colour from the rat's nest of gray hair ...' (Eugene Byrne, ThiGMOO, 1999) [CH]
Gastric Beyond Belief Dept. `Norman felt his stomach tighten, in a different direction than it had at the sight of Dr. Mitchell.' (Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold, `The Rivers of Eden', 2005) [DB]
Neat Tricks Dept. `The animal seemed to have no face until it twisted its head round. Then it opened two enormous lidless eyes.' (Paul Park, A Princess of Roumania, 2005) [TC]

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