Journey’s End

As we all know, Opportunity was declared officially MIA a short while ago. I had planned on preparing a more sensical post as tribute, but instead, here is a short list of links on the subject:

Opportunity Rover (xkcd)

Opportunity (xkcd)

Spirit (xkcd) (I know I know but it’s a good one)

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Our Beloved Mars Rover

NASA Declares a Beloved Mars Mission Over

Six Things to Know About NASA’s Opportunity Rover

The Mars Opportunity rover has officially ghosted Earth

Death and Opportunity

And finally, from the futuristic fiction department, A Martian Hunts for the Red Planet’s Past – And His Own

 

Slavic Saturday

Slavic people are today mostly seen as “white” to the point that a Polish game developer was in USA criticised for making the computer game Witcher 3 without any people of color that could be recognized as such in modern world. Similarly a few years later a Czech developer was criticised for the same thing in a game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, deliberately set in medieval Bohemia and made as historically accurate as possible.

Whilst I understand all the arguments for the importance of diversity in representation, I think all these critiques were misguided, because they were targeted at the wrong target – they criticised products of one culture from the perspective of another culture with entirely different roots.

Slavs are indeed white when you look at the color of their skin, and by Gob do we have an awful lot of white supremacists and neo-nazis today. However a white nationalist or even a neo-nazi Slav makes about as much sense as white nationalist or neo-nazi (or Trump loving) Jew.  After all, Jews have white skin too. And after all, how many Jew-hating Arabs and Arab-hating Jews know that both Jews and Arabs are in fact semitic tribes? I would venture a guess that many do not, or they do but don’t care. People are perfectly capable of being misguided, misinformed, bigoted and downright willfully ignorant and hold contradictory ideas in one head, so there is that.

Historically Slavs migrated in the Europe from east and north, displacing come celtic and germanic populations. As a result they lived mostly in the woodlands and mountains of north, central and East Europe and they were comparatively poor. They had no written language that we know of, so very little is in fact known about their culture or religion. Some knowledge can be derived from linguistics, some from written reports by neighbouring nations, some from archeology, but Slavs established themselves in Europe during the dark ages and knowledge is therefore scarce.

However it is sometimes alleged that their own name for themselves – Slovan (originating from the word sloviť=to speak) might have been the origin of the word sclavus (Lat), and later on Sklave (Ger) and  slave (En) . Because these poor people were popular sources of cheap slave labor for neighbouring Germanic and Italic tribes through the early history of Europe way over to the Ottoman Empire in Middle East later on.

And even apart from slavery, a lot of the time right from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages until very recently most Slavic nations were second-class citizens in countries led by people of other nationalities. Only Russians have managed to be oppressors and not oppressed in this period, and ironically they mostly oppressed and sometimes even tried to exterminate other Slavs. Both Czechs and Poles did not have any independency right until the end of WW1, after which they had few short decades to get the taste of self-determination before being swept into the bloody cauldron of WW2.

Under the Third Reich the Slavs were seen as barely people. They were not targeted for outright extermination like Jews and Roma, but the intent was to put them back into their proper place – slavery (that is why I think that a neo-nazi Slav is an ignoramus and a completely daft person – if nazis got their way, he would think scrubbing floors with his own toothbrush is a posh job).

After the WW2 all slavic nations ended up being wrapped behind the Iron Curtain under the not-so subtle hegemony of USSR. This time at least it was not overtly attempted to obliterate local cultures and languages (not here anyway). But whilst the Russian rule did try and manage to instill some sense of Pan-Slavic belonging, they also managed to instill some anti russian sentiments along the way (in Poland on top of the hundreds of years long grudge Poles held against Russians from the time of the Russian Empire). And the sense of always being second class, not being allowed anything truly ours, pervaded.

In this sense, sprouting of some nationalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain was perhaps inevitable, what with the nations trying to finally re-assert themselves for good. I do think white nationalists are going about the business the wrong way, proclaiming your superiority over others is not the right thing to do and it is also demonstrably false. But I also think that Polish game developers who make a PC game packed with people who bear the typical facial features of contemporary Poles, with architecture and ornaments of medieval Slavic kingdoms and based on Slavic mythology, or Czech game developers making a game set in a very distinct and specific area of medieval Kingdom of Bohemia with focus on historical accuracy are doing nothing wrong and are indeed going about it the right way. And even though these works of art have managed to succeed on an international stage, their creators were in no way obliged to fall in step with USA culture and reflect USA racial make-up.

Those who criticised these two games for a lack of representation of POC have failed to realize that they were essentially trying to bully others into giving their own culture away and let the USA to appropriate said culture the way USA likes it. In fact, they should take these games as an opportunity to learn that “white people” are not a monolith and that outside of USA there is a lot more that defines your ancestry and your culture than the color of your skin. This way said critics were – probably unwittingly – perpetuating the USA collonialism ad absurdum, by requiring everyone everywhere to reflect contemporary social ills of USA.

We do not need nor want to do that, thank you very much. We have our own social ills to deal with.

Books.

I often get a book based on cover art. That’s not all of course, but if the art attracts me immediately, there’s a good chance it will go home with me. I’ve often found that writers who really care about the cover art portraying the essence of their art tend to be good ones. I haven’t read anything else by Jeff Vandermeer. After the cover art, I was intrigued by the premise. I haven’t gotten to this one yet, still on The Emperor of All Maladies.

“Once upon a time there was a piece of biotech that grew and grew until it had its own apartment”: an odd, atmospheric, and decidedly dark fable for our time.

[…]

Superb: a protagonist and a tale sure to please fans of smart, literate fantasy and science fiction.

You can read the full Kirkus Review here.

The Cultural Force of Science Fiction.

“L’an 2000” (“The year 2000,” 1901), print on cardboard; a collection of uncut sheets for confectionery cards showing life imagined in the future (photo by the author for Hyperallergic). Click for full size.

LONDON — The 1982 film Blade Runner imagined 2019 Los Angeles as a dystopia of noirish neon and replicants, robots sent to do hard labor on off-world colonies. It’s a future in which engineered beings are so close to humans as to make the characters question the very nature of life. We’re now just a couple of years from this movie’s timeline, and although our robots are still far from mirroring humanity, our science fiction continues to envision giant leaps in technology that are often rooted in contemporary concerns of where our innovations are taking us.

Patrick Gyger, curator of Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction at the Barbican Centre, told Hyperallergic that, for him, science fiction “allows creators to look beyond the horizon of knowledge and play with concepts and situations.” The exhibition is a sprawling examination of the genre of science fiction going back to the 19th century, with over 800 works. These include film memorabilia, vintage books, original art, and even a kinetic sculpture in a lower-level space by Conrad Shawcross. “In Light of The Machine” has a huge, robotic arm twisting within a henge-like circle of perforated walls, so visitors can only glimpse its strange dance at first, before moving to the center and seeing that it holds one bright light at the end of its body.

[…]

The exhibition shows, but does not dwell on, who has been left out of a history mostly shaped by white men (there are rare exceptions on view, like the “Astro Black” video installation by Soda_Jerk that muses on Sun Ra’s theories of Afrofuturism). It would be worthwhile to spend more time on figures who broke through these barriers, such as author Octavia Butler. As discussed on a recent podcast from Imaginary Worlds, her black characters were sometimes portrayed as white on her book covers to make them more appealing to science fiction readers. The exhibition could also have a deeper context for why certain veins of science fiction are prominent in particular eras, and perhaps question why we don’t have a lot of science fiction narratives on current crises like climate change. For instance, the much smaller 2016 exhibition Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780–1910 from the Smithsonian Libraries compared milestones like Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus with physician Luigi Galvani’s “animal electricity” experiments on animating dead frog legs, and highlighted how Jules Verne channeled the doomed Franklin expedition in his 1864 book The Adventures of Captain Hatteras.

Nevertheless, having an exhibition like Into the Unknown at a mainstream space like the Barbican is significant, showing the art world appreciates science fiction beyond kitsch. And science fiction continues to be one of our important portals for thinking about the ramifications of our technological choices, and where they might take us.

You can read and see much, much more at Hyperallergic. Fascinating!

Star Trek: Discovery.

Courtesy of CBS.

Courtesy of CBS.

I should come out from under my rock more often, I had no idea that yet another Trek was in the works. It really is the show that won’t die, and it seems like diversity might actually make some inroads this time around. We’ve finally come a long way from the days of Spock’s ears being airbrushed out. Took long enough.

As casting rumors are confirmed, Star Trek: Discovery is boasting one of the most diverse casts in the franchise’s history—and we’re not just talking about the aliens.

The latest news is that out actor Maulik Pancholy will play Dr. Nambue, the chief medical officer. There’s no news whether the character will be gay, but no worries: Discovery will feature an original gay character for the series, Lt. Stamets, who will be played by Anthony Rapp.

That’s just the beginning for Discovery’s crew. We already know that the lead character will be played by The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green, who is only the second woman to lead a Star Trek series (after Voyager) and the first woman of color. Another ship in the series will be captained by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Michelle Yeoh.

[…]

Rumors are still circling about a premiere date for Discovery, but CBS speculates sometime this year—possibly the summer.

Via Out.

I thought I might have to watch a Star Wars flick…

rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-youtube-800x430

I thought I might have to actually watch a Star Wars flick, because Alan Tudyk. Unfortunately, he just has a voice part in this rehash, so I’ll be able to spare myself. (Not that he won’t do a brilliant job, I know he will.)

Apparently, people are going to continue to be drowned in Star Wars flicks for the next, fuck, who knows, it looks like decades more. I haven’t seen a Star Wars movie since standing in line at the Cinedome in SoCal back in 1970something. I think I saw three of them, I don’t remember. I gave up on the appearance of the teddy bear beings, there’s only so much eye-rolling I’m willing to pay for. For all the fans though, Raw Story has a good run down on what’s happening with the next however many movies it is coming out.

Star Wars goes Rogue – but will this risky move backfire?

Invisible 1 & 2.

In1Not too long ago, Jim C. Hines edited personal essays on representation in SF/F, and it was excellent and eye-opening. It was certainly uncomfortable at times, but that discomfort is just panicked relics of oblivious privilege trying to assert itself. I had more than a few stabs of serious guilt in reading this anthology, particularly the one about Albinism. (Having enjoyed that “evil Albino trope” more than a few times in the past, without ever thinking about actual people.) The essays in the first Invisible are:

Introduction by Alex Dally MacFarlane.

Parched, by Mark Oshiro.

Boys’s Books by Katharine Kerr.

Clicking by Susan Jane Bigelow.

The Princess Problem by Charlotte Ashley.

Autism, Representation, Success by Ada Hoffmann.

Gender in Genre by Kathryn Ryan.

‘Crazy’ About Fiction by Gabriel Cuellar.

Evil Albino Trope is Evil by Nalini Haynes.

Options by Joie Young.

Non-binary and Not Represented by Morgan Dambergs.

Representation Without Understanding by Derek Handley.

Shards of Memory by Ithiliana.

I Don’t See Color by Michi Trota.

SFF Saved My Life by Nonny Blackthorne.

In2If you missed Invisible the first time around, I could not possibly recommend it enough. While happily slumbering away under my rock, I was unaware that Invisible 2 had been put together and published. That’s been remedied, and like the 1st, this is excellent reading. As Jim C. Hines notes in the afterword, “They help us to become better readers, better writers, and better human beings.”

So many of these essays resonated, and others were serious wake up calls to stop being so bloody blinkered. Like the first anthology, this one is littered with highlights, bookmarks, and notes. Too Niche, by Lauren Jankowski about the complete invisibility of asexual people in SF/F was one of those that was a good smack on the head. In her essay, she mentions that Stephen Moffat declared Sherlock Holmes can’t be asexual because he’s too interesting. That left me spluttering and outraged. That’s an incredibly wrong, stupid, thoughtless, and insulting thing to say. Other essays which really hit home were Breaking Mirrors, Fat Chicks in SFF, Not Your Mystical Indian, Exponentially Hoping, and Colonialism, Land, and Speculative Fiction: An Indigenous Perspective. 

The Essays in Invisible 2 are:

Introduction by Aliette de Bodard.

Breaking Mirrors by Diana M. Pho

I’m Not Broken by Annalee Flower Horne.

Next Year in Jerusalem by Gabrielle Harbowy.

I am Not Hispanic, I am Puerto Rican, by Isabel Schechter.

No More Dried Up Spinsters by Nancy Jane Moore.

False Expectations by Matthew Thyer.

Text, Subtext, and Pieced-Together Lives by Angelia Sparrow.

Parenting as a Fan of Color by Kat Tanaka Okopnik.

Alien of Extraordinary Ability? by Bogi Takács.

Accidental Representation by Chrysoula Tzavelas.

Discovering the Other by John Hartness.

Lost in the Margins by Sarah Chorn.

Too Niche by Lauen Jankowski.

Fat Chicks in SFF by Alis Franklin.

Not Your Mystical Indian by Jessica McDonald.

Exponentially Hoping by Merc Rustad.

Colonialism, Land, and Speculative Fiction: An Indigenous Perspective by Ambelin Kwaymullina.

Nobody’s Sidekick: Intersectionality in Protagonists by SL Huang.

The Danger of the False Narrative by LaShawn Wanak.

Both these anthologies are excellent, if often uncomfortable, reading. Seriously recommended if you haven’t read them.

Marvel Fan-Fiction and Scottish Indies.

Cover for All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1. Illustrated by Alex Ross. Photo courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Cover for All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1. Illustrated by Alex Ross. Photo courtesy of Marvel Comics.

‘Annual’ releases exist in a strange place in the comic world. Created as a way to tell a different story in a series without interrupting the main plotline or numbering, some see annuals as a marketing gimmick. But, as evidenced by All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1, they can be a bold chance to think outside the box. This issue sees everyone’s favorite teen from Jersey City, Ms. Marvel, logging onto her favorite fan-fiction website to write some stories about her fellow heroes. Once logged on, she sees that other people have written stories about her and her friends, and she’s shocked but compelled to read on. The rest of this comic, then, are those fan-fiction stories of Marvel heroes. Layered, and with plenty of goofiness and a variety of styles, this annual does exactly what it should: it tells weird stories the regular comics certainly couldn’t.

[Read more…]

Star Trek: Discovery. There is Hope.

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It’s early days yet, but there’s hope for a more inclusive Trek in the news series, Discovery, which is set 10 years before the original series. A female lead has been promised, however, she will not be the captain. Sigh. So, not all that great on the inclusive front, but a bit better. There’s noise about a Black female lead, but the role has not been cast. At least one LGBT member has been promised as well, but it would be nice if these roles were more than tokens, after all, it is the 21st century.

When Star Trek (briefly) returns to TV screens next January, it’ll be with a women in the lead position, a crew full of aliens, and at least one gay character, presenting a utopian, space-faring future that sounds like an actual nightmare held by the sort of people set to vote for Donald Trump. CBS announced the first character details for Bryan Fuller’s upcoming Star Trek: Discoveryset to debut on the network in January 2017, before moving to CBS’s online All Access service—today at a Television Critics Association press tour event. And while we still don’t know much about the composition of the show’s crew, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are both reporting that the series’ lead will be female—but not the captain of her ship.

A.V. Club has the full story.

Cool Stuff Friday.

bubbletree

In the I wish I was filthy rich department, Bubble!

French designer Pierre Stephane Dumas has created a range of portable transparent huts, offering a quiet space to retreat to. The idea behind his Bubble collection was to create a temporary leisure accommodation that had the least impact on the surrounding environment, whilst also giving the impression of being amongst nature.

“I designed this eccentric shelter with the goal to offer an unusual experience under the stars while keeping all the comfort of a bedroom suite,” says Dumas. “Bubble huts are for me like an ataraxic catalyst, a place apart where getting rest, breathing and standing back”.

Additionally, the unique design and geometry of the Bubble creates a silencing acoustic effect. “Noises coming from the outside are reduced and noises coming from the inside echo towards the sphere’s hub. This echo drives people to speak quietly bringing about a feeling of appeasement favorable to have a nap,” explains Dumas.

You can read about and see more here.

An 8-year-old boy dug up this fossilized turtle that scientists believe helps explain the turtle's earliest uses of its shell (Credit: Wits University)

An 8-year-old boy dug up this fossilized turtle that scientists believe helps explain the turtle’s earliest uses of its shell (Credit: Wits University)

Every young boy has spent at least one afternoon digging a hole in the ground looking for some kind of treasure. An eight-year-old from South Africa was doing just that when he unearthed a turtle fossil that could help scientists understand the original purpose and evolution of the turtle’s shell.

A group of scientists from parts of the world including South Africa, Switzerland and the United States conducted a study on several early turtle fossils including a fossil discovered by an 8-year-old Kobus Snyman on his father’s farm in the Western Cape of South Africa. The study that took place at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg found that early turtles may have used their shells for burrowing instead of for protection from potential predators.

The 5.9 inch (15 cm) long turtle fossil discovered by Snyman contains a preserved skeleton with articulated hands and feet. The study published in the journal Current Biology also examined several turtle fossils found in the Karoo Basin of South Africa including a partially shelled proto-turtle that’s 260 million years old.

Full story here.

Last, but not least, Tooooooooooooooys! Oh, the toys. Want. Seriously want Iron Giant, because if anyone brings the cool, it’s Iron Giant:

sideshow-irongiant-withs-closeup

and Groot! GROOT.

sideshow-groot-comic

And Deadpool. Hulk vs Wolverine. Catwoman. And So. Much. More. 3 pages of toys. See them all here.

LGBTQ Guide to Comic-Con 2016.

kim_and_kimx750

Every year for the past 29 years, the Gays in Comics panel has graced a stage at Comic-Con International, the annual celebration of pop culture held in San Diego. During this time the convention has expanded from a comic books-only focus to include other mediums like TV, film, and games. And the presence of LGBT people, once relegated to that single panel, has exploded to a point where every day offers a variety of queer content and the breadth of topics continues to grow. Here are some of the best things about 2016, Comic-Con’s queerest year yet.

[…]

You Don’t Even Have to Be in the Convention Center: One of the best things about this year’s Comic-Con? You don’t need a ticket to take advantage of some events and panels. Organizers have long recognized that the demand for Comic-Con tickets far exceeds availability (as does demand for space for exhibits and presenters). Over the years there’s been a growing number of events outside of the convention hall — including in local bars and even the public library (see above for examples). This year Comic-Con has launched this access into hyperspace by introducing a new premium digital network, ComicConHQ. In association with Lionsgate, the service will live-stream select Comic-Con panels and make others available later; it will also offer classic sci-fi and fantasy titles, and it reportedly has original programming in the works, including scripted series and news shows.

This is a long list, people! Stuffed with great events and panels. Wish I was there. Click on over to The Advocate for the full scoop.