One of the great parts of being a speculative fiction fan is watching reality catch up to and surpass one’s favorite authors’ imaginations — or just never take a step in that direction at all. As I’ve written before, I live in dread of the genetic-discrimination world of Gattaca, which I now fear may be here before today’s children are dead (though I’m still hoping it won’t be before I am dead).
On the other hand, I’m chomping at the bit for movie acting to become independent of the actors’ own physical attributes, as in The Diamond Age. Avatar was a great leap forward, but so was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, because that was the first time CGI tried to render human faces and skin in a way that might fool the audience, even for half-second intervals. (Remember how amazing that one-second teaser of a single eye blinking was at the time?) Avatar was not ambitious on that particular score: only the non-human characters are rendered.
But some day we’ll see a movie where all the actors are wearing suits like Andy Serkis‘s (LOTR and Planet of the Apes!), and I can barely wait, because then we’ll finally be able to have movie stars whose ability to use their faces matters more than their facial features. (My favorite part about this in The Diamond Age is the little bit about Miranda studying how to ract a character with “cat eyes,” since she in real life has “bunny eyes,” which are used differently.)
This is how my husband convinced me to see Les Misérables. I didn’t expect it to be impressive musically as compared to any stage production, and indeed I was pretty much not impressed on that score. But letting the actors sing on-camera and mixing in the orchestra afterwards is a new attempt. The actors were clearly and justifiably over the moon about the chance. So I went along promising to have an open mind in trying to evaluate whether this presages the future of movie musicals.
And does it? Well, of course, I haven’t a clue. Quite irrespective of impressiveness, Les Miserables is always overwhelming, and thus hard to evaluate. Yes, the sung sequences are obviously more immediate than in Singin’ in the Rain. But movies, movie stars, moviemaking, and movie audiences — to say nothing of acting styles — are so different now from then that it seems arbitrary to compare how the songs were recorded between the two.
What new innovations are you watching for (happily or no)?2 comments
Posted here upon request from Daniel:
Daniel A. Rabuzzi (’80, Folk & Myth major, Quincy House) announces that ChiZine/CZP (Toronto) has just published his second fantasy novel, The Indigo Pheasant, sequel to The Choir Boats (2009, also by CZP). Locus selected it as one of their “New & Notable Books” in November. Reviewers described the first volume as “Gulliver’s Travels crossed with The Golden Compass and a dollop of Pride and Prejudice,” and “a muscular, Napoleonic-era fantasy that, like Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series, will appeal to both adult and young adult readers.” Daniel’s wife, the artist Deborah Mills, created the cover art and the illustrations. Available worldwide in paper and all standard digital formats– ISBN: 978-0980941074, and ISBN:978-1927469095. For more information, please see www.danielarabuzzi.com, or Daniel’s page on Facebook. You can reach Daniel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.No comments
Rolling Jubilee is about to kick off, billing itself as “a bailout of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Other comments I’ve seen on this:
I like the idea, in some ways especially the “random acts of kindness” aspect of it. One imagines there’s no way they could actually eliminate any significant fraction of American personal debt, so in some sense randomly is the ‘fairest’ way to try to help anyone. Although they will get some prety impressive ‘bang for the buck’ (in a more literal than usual sense).
This also led my husband and I to look a bit into the actual Bilblical concept of the Jubilee — which turns out to have probably made sense in ancient Near Eastern cultures for reasons including provisioning the armies. See Michael Hudson‘s article in Bible Review 15:01 (1999) “The Economic Roots of the Jubilee.”No comments
A shout-out to HRSFAN Aaron J. Dinkin, linguist of the dialectological variety, who appeared as a Major Quoted Someone for Slate last month in an article on the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS aka NCS).
The article is raising awareness of some recent (~our lifetime) re-jiggering of “linguistic turf” for short vowels (cat, cot, caught, &c.), which seems to be radiating outward from areas like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit &c. The write-up is fun, and Aaron sounds in his element.
I like the content of the article, but am not sure where the tone is coming from. Aaron, Emily, and anyone else with opinions and/or data, please chime in:
- Why does the introductory expert, William Labov, explicitly present the NCS as a PROBLEM? It’s kind of cool to be catching systematic pronunciation change in the act — especially if it may truly be as big a vowel shift as we’ve seen (heard) in the past millennium. And it’s not like Northeast/Midwesterners feel like we can’t understand or be understood by others. Is this actually an aesthetic judgment? I think most of us already feel English vowels are dead ugly, and don’t care except (possibly) in an operatic context.
- Are the experiments described as supporting lack of self-awareness on the part of NCS speakers (Preston, Niedzielski) presented accurately? Neither seem damning to me. How is “flipping a mental coin” for cat v. cot in isolation — if in one’s own pronunciation they are homonyms — different from flipping a mental coin for to v. two v. too in isolation?
I owe Elisabeth a massive apology for some poorly considered writing of mine last winter.
I’m really sorry: it was thoughtless of me not to ask you directly first.
A standard apology probably would have sufficed had I given it when it came due, but that was seven months ago. And culpability, like Rumour, grows swiftly and fearfully. In other cases when someone else here has written something that baffles or otherwise inspires me, I have been more courteous about prior notification of what I’m thinking, so I really have no excuse for neglecting that step in February.
So, just a few more lines to throw out on the question of ‘pleasure’ and/or ‘work’ reading:
- A new short essay on Aristotelian leisure
- Franz of Sunday in the Park with George
Work is what you do for others — Liebchen –
Art is what you do for yourself
- A family member overheard someone in an airport security line complaining that he was 100s of pages into a book and nothing had happened. He turned around to see what book the other passenger was reading, and it was American Gods. My family member nearly blurted out, “What do you mean?”
- This same relative was chewed out by a friend to whom he had recommended Ilium for sending him through an 800-page “slog.” To me (and my relative), reading Ilium is much more like being poor Phaeton in Apollo’s chariot. Slog? How? I’m being dragged too fast for my feet to stick in anything!
- But one of my blockmates says he would characterize both American Gods and Ilium very similarly, simply because he would define “something happening” in a novel as “a scene advancing the main plot.”
- Huh. I never would have thought of that.
So in conclusion, I do grasp that, very often, someone else’s reading tastes utterly confuse me because I’m just not imaginative enough. And I should remind myself more often to ask before I expound, even if I can’t ask before I wonder.No comments
I would like to announce that we have invited three new board members to join the HRSFANS board!
Audrey Bennett is joining the board to fill our currently vacant seat. Ian Storey will be joining the board in November, when Kathy Zhang’s term ends. And Betsy Isaacson will be joining in January, to fill the seat when Charles Keckler’s term ends.
Among their other wonderful and illustrious qualities, Audrey and Betsy were HRSFA co-chairs and Ian was Vericon Conchair. We are very pleased to welcome such storied and excellent people to the board. Three cheers!2 comments
Oh, my. I no longer believe I die before Gattaca. This is frightening.
The NYTimes article where I encountered this news has estimates from the study team that the technology could be available in as little as 3-5 years: whole-genome sequencing of a fetus based on only a maternal blood sample and a paternal saliva sampe, with the fetal genome reconstructed from fragments in the mother’s blood.
I still think I’ll die before direct genome sequencing is used in hiring decisions. But it seems suddenly only too feasible that my grandchildren will be born into a society where parents choose to learn genetic propensities before birth, the same as today’s parents often choose to learn a child’s sex before birth.No comments
Ah, summer — warm air, long days, and plenty of sunshine. How better to spend it than with like-minded science fiction, anime, and gaming fans? Here are some of the events we’re looking at this summer. Are you planning on attending any of these, or others? Let us know!
- 6/29-7/2: AnimeExpo: Los Angeles, CA
- Hyperfocused, enormous anime convention.
- 7/4-7/8: DexCon: Morristown, NJ
- 7/12-7/15: ReaderCon: Burlington, MA
- A nice smaller convention that is like WorldCon without the crowds. Lots of good author panels. Very specific to books; no general shenanigans.
- 7/12-7/15: Comic-Con: San Diego, CA
- The giant comics convention held every year in SoCal. Very specific to comics and comics characters in other media.
- Over 120,000 people. Need to buy passes a year in advance.
- 8/16-8/19: GenCon: Indianapolis, IN
- THE big board/table game convention.
- 8/30-9/3: Worldcon: Chicago, IL
- Important sci-fi con, held around the world, where the Hugos are given out. Big pricetag, mainly panels (not a lot of other associated fandom activities).
- 8/31-9/2: Pax Prime: Seattle, WA
- The largest and most influential video game conference, created by Penny Arcade.
- 8/27-9/3: Burning Man: Black Rock City, NV
- An experiment in temporary community, filled with creativity and bizarreness of all sorts.
Friday Alumni Central 4pm-10pm Ticknor Lounge; HRSFA History Scavenger Hunt begins
Gather one, gather all, into the Ticknor Lounge! Sign in to the reunion, drift around, meet alumni you knew or never knew. Tell stories of HRSFA-way-back-when or HRSFA-last-year.
This is a great time to begin the HRSFA History Scavenger Hunt. Should you choose to play, you will be an aspiring historian all weekend. You’re given a random list of years, and for each year, you must find a chunk of HRSFA history. Remember, primary sources (that is, first-hand accounts) are the quest of any good historian! At the end, prizes will be given according to some secret system devised by Tom and Rose, and stories will be placed (when possible) on the HRSFANS wiki.
Friday night hangout 10pm-? Quincy Qube
Rediscover the joys of a classic college experience: hanging out in a dorm together, as late as you want! There could be games. There could be snacks and trips to convenience stores. There may be conversation in which we all discover the answer to the question of the meaning of life. But there will probably not be homework.
Nota Bene: The doors to Quincy require swipe-card access. To get in, call Elisabeth (310)486-2085, or follow the instructions that will be posted next to the Quincy main entrance.
Saturday Alumni Central 8am-5:30pm Ticknor Lounge
Hint: Ticknor is unlocked at 8am. If you’re up early, great; if you’re /still/ hanging out in Quincy, perhaps you’d like a change of scene to Ticknor.
Saturday future-planning breakfast with the board 9-10:30am Ticknor Lounge
If you can get here between 9am and 10:30am, start off with Breakfast with the Board, and have your say about sundry serious matters. Possible topics include HRSFANS online networking, professional support for undergraduates, local events, and more.
Saturday Book Club 11:30am-1pm Ticknor Lounge
Two of our Vericon guests, Vernor Vinge and Lev Grossman, have written books that the online-meeting HRSFANS Book Club chose to read. If you’ve read “Children of the Sky” by Vinge or “The Magicians” by Grossman, now’s your chance share your enthusiasm/frustration with the rest of us at a Book Club follow-up meeting. And we can gossip about the authors, too.
Saturday dinner 6-9pm Kirkland Dining Hall
This is the Big Classy Event of the weekend. If you like your Vericon Masquerade Ball costume enough, come wearing it! Get a little space from the hectic activities of Vericon and the reunion, to sit down and relax for a few hours. It’s a big plated dinner with delicious food, $40 (or lower prices if you ask for assistance), with a little bit of speeches and gratitiude. It ends at 9pm, in time for the Vericon Masquerade Ball at 10 if you’re into that, and get the second half of Milk&Cookies.
Saturday night Noncons and hangout 12:00am onward Lowell SCR
A really comfortable space the undergrads usually don’t get to use, in which we will do ridiculous things known as Noncons! These are fake elections, in which we make up the categories and the candidates as we go along. Drinking is good if that helps you get silly. (Noncons won’t start until after the Vericon masque is over, so there’s no need to duck out early).
Sunday Alumni Central 8am-3pm Ticknor Lounge
Ticknor opens at 8 again; after 3pm, cleanup and such happens.
Sunday family activity 10am Ticknor Lounge
Kids are always welcome in Alumni Central, but we will have some special story, craft and snack time Sunday morning with Team Martin. Of course, grown-ups are always welcome even without kids!
Sunday noon: HRSFANS History Scavenger Hunt concludes
Present your Scavenger Hunt stories to Tom and Rose! I have no idea what they intend to do, but I’m sure it will be amusing.
Invade Vericon Sunday-only
It is worth advertising three events at Vericon that are great for alumni to attend even if you don’t go to the rest of the weekend:
1) The Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God) is going up at 10:00 AM. Some talented undergrads have undergone great suffering, watching a terrible movie over an over again until the best jokes come out of them. Expect to laugh all the way through this showing.
2) The Vericon Charity Auction (theme: Doctors Without [Spatiotemporal] Borders) will be holding 1:00 PM. We have the personal guarantee of the ConChair (himself a comedian of some note) that this new Vericon event will be highly entertaining.
3) The Sassafras group, which has several HRSFA alumni in it, is giving a concert at 2:30-3:30 PM. They are well worth hearing: as Vericon puts it, “Mixing medieval harmonics with modern energy, the sound of Sassafrass is unlike anything you’ve heard and stunning close harmonies with lyrics and themes inspired by folklore, fantasy, and ancient myth.”1 comment
OK, so now I’ve had two humanities people tell me more or less categorically that non-fiction reading is not pleasure reading. (The first instance prompted much of what I’ve written here in the past year and a half; the second came initially as a comment on this weblog.) I would not have expected that particularly of humanities people, honestly. I suppose I had assumed that English or classics or folklore majors and suchlike were more likely to be into any and all reading.
In both cases there has been the clarification that the information gained (“understanding stuff about the world”) may give one pleasure “even when reading about it feels like work.” And yet … this still implies that the readers approach vast categories of written documents strictly from a utilitarian point of view—news, debate, most forms of essay, and (most pertinently to these discussions) academic and non-academic book-length works: pop science and ethnography, self-help and philosophy, history and historiography, history of science, biography, literary and art criticism, poli-sci. It truly does surprise me if the ‘not-for-pleasure’ category is that broad for either elisabeth or the grad student who told me she doesn’t read non-fiction.
I am accustomed to expansive, voracious, and usually compulsive reading from my close associates in the hard sciences and social sciences. My dad, an old-school sysadmin, keeps on hand nearly the complete œvres of Faulkner, Vonnegut, Lessing, and Erdrich (one of his most evocative comments on the last: “… so fierce that I can frankly understand her husband committed suicide“). He also keeps a personal subscription to Science magazine, setting himself the goal of understanding one article per issue (an ambitious goal that is by far not always reached). The mother of a mathematician friend had to set a rule during middle school that she would select every other book for his pleasure reading: she chose good classic YA, he plowed through the local library’s math collection. This is the same person who introduced me to The Ancestor’s Tale and, on my recommendation, read The Archivist in a day and a half. My little brother, a history-major-turned-’financial-analyst’ of whom I was seriously proud when he started (with The Fourth Hand) recommending to me books based on his own taste, is an Andrew Jackson buff who is also my original source for King Leopold’s Ghost. A chemistry undergrad friend of mine, now in graduate school, recruited friends for ‘salon’ book groups in two states in which he’s recently lived.
King Leopold’s Ghost and The Ancestor’s Tale are both written with exceptional clarity, perceptiveness, and outreach towards the audience. I have actually “grown” a favoritism for interdisciplinary non-fiction author Steven Johnson, and have wished that I had been a Harvard undergrad more recently so I could have become a disciple of Daniel Lord Smail, whose academic training is in 14th-century French legal documents, but who also is passionately advocating for historians to claim as their field all of human history, the way they used to before Western culture imagined how many orders of magnitude longer than Biblical history all is.
And non-fiction can inspire such awe—often for its subjects (Catherine of Aragon or the early epidemiological triumph of 1854 London, and more shrouded figures/incidents such as Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, and the training of medical residents), but also for the brilliance of the research (Montaillou) or the mind (An Experiment in Criticism).
Truly … people can dismiss all the vast variety of non-fiction as not intended for pleasure reading? Is this another case where I am failing to understand what kind of pleasures others seek from their reading?3 comments