Thursday, April 29, 2010

The new Apple iPad

SF Signal's Mind Meld has posted a fascinating discussion about the new iPad: does it sizzle or fizzle? I come down on the side of sizzle., but other people offer various takes and visual aids. Lou Anders' remarks are surprising.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Discovery Green

Two years ago today was opening day for Houston's new Convention-Center park, Discovery Green. Many people thought it would never get much use from ordinary folks, not in torrid, gas-guzzling Houston and certainly not downtown, which for many years was a barren bricolage of skyscrapers and parking lots. Wrong. Attendance at the park is way over projections. Conventioneers just love having it there. And it sometimes serves as the backdrop for really cool stuff.

Several weeks ago I was one of the guests at Comicpalooza, held in the George R. Brown Convention Center. As it turned out the SFF track was sketchy. I spent some time across the street where Discovery Green had a race course blocked off on the streets along its perimeter. The occasion was the Shell Eco-Marathon. College and high school team from the U.S., Canada and and elsewhere had designed vehicles to maximize gas mileage. They were little vehicles, in most cases sized around the smallest driver the team could come up with, but they maximized gas mileage in a big way.

So I wandered over from the comic book convention to one of the cordoned-off streets. Before long here came this thing like a scurrying white beetle.

There were more where that one came from.

They honked at each other as they went for the inside of the turns. By race rules they had to go at least fifteen miles an hour. Some of them were speedier than that.

In the dappled shade at the edge of Discovery Green, the pit area was full of intent teams with their vehicles.

I watched the guy with the green flag launching the vehicles for a new lap of the marathon. Off and away they went.

This sleek entry from Laval University in Quebec ultimately won the Grand Prize in the Prototype category with 2,487.5 mpg.(!)

Purdue took home a prize in the solar-power-assisted category with mileage in the high 4000's miles per gallon. Onlookers joked about it being a stealth eco-car.

Honors in the fuel cell category went to the Clean Green Machine from Cicero-North Cyracuse High School. It's the green one pictured above in the pit area.

Another winner of the race was the world, with a new generation of bright engineers figuring out how to optimize our fossil fuel resources. That's quite a nice kind of discovery to happen on the perimeter of a green urban park.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The English Woman Warrior

I mentioned this on Twitter months ago, and the response got me doing some research on the topic, but the initial attempts turned up nothing, and then real life got me doing other things, and now I’m out of time, so I’ll simply post what I’ve got now and trust that others who are interested in the topic will turn up more than I did.

The following is taken, for the most part, from Dianne Dugaw’s Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 1989).

The warrior woman was a popular character type in 17th and 18th century ballads and theater, to the point that in the 18th century real-life warrior women, like Hannah Snell, were used on-stage as performers.

(The short Hannah Snell: 1723-1792, enlisted--disguised as a man, of course--in the British Army in 1747 in pursuit of the husband who abandoned her. Enlisted in the Royal Marines later that year, took part in the expedition to capture the French colony of Pondicherry in India in 1748 and fought in the battle of Devicotta in 1749, where she was wounded eleven times in the legs and once in the groin. By her own account, she managed to treat her groin wound without revealing that she was a woman. In 1750, back in Britain, she informed her shipmates that she was a woman. She was honourably discharged and–no small thing, in 1750–was granted a pension. See The Hannah Snell Homepage for more).

The publishers of broadsides churned out numerous “disguise ballads,” songs about the adventures of women disguised as men. Sample titles: The Bristol Bridegroom; The Female Sea-Captain; The Frolicsome Maid Who Went to Gibralter [sic]; Jack Monroe; The Sailor’s Happy Marriage; The Female Drummer; The Female Tar; and The Female Champion.

The English warrior woman goes back before the 17th century, of course. The English preoccupation with the warrior woman is a feature of the Elizabethan era, with the obsession reaching its height in the 1620s, both with King James’ inveighing against women wearing men’s attire and with the wonderfully-titled pamphlet Hic Mulier; or, The Man-Woman: Being a Medicine to cure the Coltish Disease of the Staggers in the Masculine-Feminines of our Times, Expressed in a brief Declamation: Non omnes possumus omnes.

But it was the 18th century which saw the most real English warrior women. The Amazons of Fielding’s Tom Jones turn out not to be so far-fetched as might be thought.

There were, of course, female boxers throughout the century. Dugaw quotes at length the challenges of two female boxers from a June 1722 match at Hockley in the Hole:

I Elizabeth Wilkinson, of Clerkenwell, having had some words with Hannah Hyfield, and requiring satisfaction, do invite her to meet me on the Stage, and box with me for three guineas, each woman holding half a crown in each hand, and the first woman that drops her money to lose the battle.

I Hannah Hyfield, of Newgatemarket, hearing of the resoluteness of Elizabeth Wilkinson, will not fail, _____ willing, to give her more blows than words, desiring home blows, and from her no favour.

More intriguing is Dugaw’s brief description of female duellists. Dugaw draws from James Peller Malcolm’s Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London during the eighteenth century (1808-1810); perhaps one of you, perhaps with access to the Bodleian or the British Library, could go further?

(Dugaw pithily summarizes Malcolm: “Already in 1808 when he writes, the previous century appears to him barbarous and remote.”)

Dugaw, quoting Malcolm:

August 1725 produced a conflict for the entertainment of the visitors of Mr. Figg’s amphitheatre, Oxford-road, which is characteristic of savage ferocity indeed. Sutton the champion of Kent and a couragious [sic] female heroine of that County fought Stokes and his much admired consort of London: 40l. was to be given to the male or female who gave the most cuts with the sword, and 20l. for the most blows at quarter-staff, besides the collection in the box.

Stokes and his “much admired consort” won, and Malcolm later quotes from an advertisement “issued by the proprietors of the Amphitheatre:”

In Islington-road, on Monday, being the 17th of July, 1727, will be performed a trial of skill by the following combatants. We Robert Barker and Mary Welsh, from Ireland, having often contaminated our swords in the abdominous corporations of such antagonists as have had the insolence to dispute our skill, do find ourselves once more necessitated to challenge, defy, and invite Mr. Stokes and his bold Amazonian virago to meet us on the stage, where we hope to give a satisfaction to the honourable Lord of our nation who has laid a wager of twenty guineas on our head. They that give the most cuts to have the whole money, and the benefit of the house; and if swords, daggers, quarter-staff, fury, rage, and resolution will prevail, our friends shall not meet with disappointment.
– We James and Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, having already gained an universal approbation by our agility of body, dextrous hands, and courageious [sic] hearts, need not perambulate on this occasion, but rather choose to exercise the sword to their sorrow, and corroborate the general opinion of the town than to follow the custom of our repartee antagonists. This will be the last time of Mrs. Stokes’ performing on the Stage.

Dugaw concludes:

Of particular significance in these notices are the apparent frequency of such battles and the casual acceptance of women combatants. Neither the report of the bout nor the advertisement for it makes any distinction between male and female duellists, nor does either treat the presence of the women as particularly noteworthy. Applying no special rules to the women, the proprietors extend the rewards without qualifications to “the male or female who gave most cuts.” Like the ballad heroine, these women were not expected to duel any differently from men, and their participation in “masculine” sport seems not to have been considered a violation of their “natural” female inclinations.

I don’t have access to the resources needed to go beyond Dugaw and Malcolm, nor do I have the time or energy to do so. But maybe one of you might? Too, the preceding is something to keep in mind when writing historical novels or historical fantasy. Months ago, on (I think), someone (not Jo Walton, as I mistakenly first claimed) wrote a carefully-reasoned article on why there couldn’t have been any real medieval women warriors, based on women’s strength limitations. While this may have been true in the medieval era, a century or two later, when agility guided a sword more than strength, it was emphatically not true. Writers, feel free to put a swordswoman in your next Elizabethan or Jacobean historical fantasy.

Edit: It wasn't Jo Walton, it was this Judith Berman post on Black Gate. My apologies to Ms. Walton for my mistake.

Friday, April 9, 2010

SFWA announces 2010 Solstice Award honorees

COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- Tom Doherty, Terri Windling and the late Donald A. Wollheim are recipients of the 2010 Solstice Award, presented by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

SFWA President Russell Davis made the announcement March 22. The recipients will be honored during the Nebula Award Weekend® in Cocoa Beach, Fla., May 14-16.

“The SFWA Solstice Award is meant to recognize those who have made a major difference to our field, and we’re proud to be able to honor the contributions of Tom Doherty, who has been integral to the shape and growth of SF and fantasy, for many, many years, as well as Terri Windling, whose contributions to the field, especially in mythic fiction, are unrivaled, and, of course, Donald Wollheim, who changed the course of fantasy paperback publishing in the United States,” Davis said.

Tom Doherty founded Tom Doherty Associates in 1980 following a career that included stops at Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster, Tempo Books and Ace. As president and publisher of Tom Doherty Associates, his publishing lines now include Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, Tor Teen and Tor Classics imprints, and many of his authors have won honors as diverse as the Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, Spur, Tiptree, Stoker and Western Heritage awards, among others.

“Thank you, SFWA, you who have told the stories which have moved the generations of my lifetime to dream and build and move beyond,” Doherty said. “Your recognition of my contributions to the speculative fiction field is a very special thing.”

Writer, editor and artist Terri Windling has earned widespread acclaim for her promotion of the fantastic in the arts, notably through her founding of and continued work with Endicott Studio. She has published more than 40 books as author and editor, winning nine World Fantasy Awards, the Mythopoeic Award and the Bram Stoker Award. Her essays on myth, folklore and mythic arts have appeared in magazines, art books and anthologies in the United States and Europe.

“It has been a great privilege to work with so many talented writers, artists and editors in the SF/fantasy field over the last three decades,” Windling said. “I'm particularly grateful to the fantasy genre for giving a home to those of us who care passionately about myth and fairy tales and their expression in contemporary fiction and art. Thank you so much for this award, which truly belongs to all my colleagues and collaborators at the Endicott Studio and in the field of mythic arts.”

A founding member of the Futurians, Donald A. Wollheim was active in early fandom, organizing the first science fiction convention, and had a profound influence on the development of 20th century science fiction. He published numerous short stories and novels, but is best remembered for his work in publishing. In 1953 he introduced science fiction to the Ace line and invented the Ace Doubles, and his controversial publication of unauthorized paperback editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is credited with establishing the modern mass-market fantasy field. He founded DAW Books, and helped launch many careers of science fiction and fantasy authors through the mass-market publisher. From 1965-71, he co-edited the annual anthology World's Best Science Fiction with Terry Carr, and continued with The Annual World's Best SF from 1972 until his death in 1990.

“I’m thrilled that my father has been chosen by the President and Board of SFWA to receive the Solstice Award,” said Betsy Wollheim. “Although my dad was primarily an editor, he thought of himself first and foremost as a writer. It is especially meaningful that he is now being honored by his fellow authors. Thank you all so much!”

Created in 2008, the SFWA Solstice Award may be given at the discretion of the president with the majority approval of the SFWA Board of Directors. No more than three awards may be given in a fiscal year. The Solstice Award may be given to any person, living or deceased, with the exception of an individual who has already received either a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award or named Author Emeritus, who has had a significant impact on the science fiction or fantasy landscape, and is particularly intended for those who have consistently made a major, positive difference within the speculative fiction field. Previous winners include Algis Budrys, Martin H. Greenberg and Kate Wilhelm.

The Solstice Award is not reserved to members of SFWA, nor just to writers, but is intended as a broad spectrum award to recognize a wide variety of individuals.

The 2010 Nebula Awards® Weekend will be held in Cocoa Beach, Fla., May 14-16. The date was chosen to coincide with the scheduled launching of the Shuttle Atlantis on Friday, May 14. The Nebula Awards will be presented at a banquet on Saturday evening, May 15. Vonda N. McIntyre and Keith Stokes will be honored with the SFWA Service Award, and Joe Haldeman will be honored as the next Damon Knight Grand Master. For more information, visit

Friday, April 2, 2010

The King in the Hat

(for Henry)

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the Lethal Chamber
All that frigid, bleak, grey day.

I sat there with Sally.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, "How I wish
We had something to do!"

Too wet to go out
And too filled with anomie to play ball.
So we sat in the Lethal Chamber.
We did nothing at all.

So all we could do was to
And we did not like it.
Not one little bit.

And then
Someone cried "The King!"
How that cry made us spring!

We looked!
Then we saw him step in on the mat!
We looked!
And we saw him!
The King in the Hat!
And he said to us,
"Why do you sit there like that?"

"I know it is bleak
And the black suns are not sunny.
But we can have
Lots of good Fun that is Funny!"

"I know some Carcosan games we could play,"
Said the King.
"I know some...tricks."
Said the King in the Hat.
"A lot of good tricks.
I will show them to you.
I will remove the Pallid Mask
And no questions will you ask.
Your mother
Will not mind at all if I do."

Then Sally and I
Did not know what to say
Our mother was at the reef, dwelling amidst wonder and glory
For the day.

But the Fisher of Men said, "No! No!
Make the King go away!
Tell that King in the Hat
You do NOT want to play.
He should not be here.
He should not be about.
He should not be here
When Mother Church is without!"

"Now! Now! Have no fear.
Have no fear!" said the King.
"My tricks are terrible in their simplicity,"
Said the Mad Yellow King.
"Why, we can have
Lots of good fun, dear Sally,
With a game that I call
Drowning the Fisher of Men in Lake Hali."

"Let me go!" said the Fisher.
"I’m being done brown!
Let me go!" said the Fisher
"I do NOT wish to drown!"

"You will know fear." said the King
"Long will you moan.
I will hold you below
As I sit on my throne.
With my scalloped tatters wrapped ‘round one hand!
And hiding Yhill behind string!
But that is not ALL I can do!"
Said the King...

"Gaze upon me!
Gaze upon me now!" said the King.
"Comprehend the black stars and the thoughts
Of men lengthening!
My empire spans from Carcosa to Hyades
To me men’s lives are as fleas’!
And look!
I can hop up and down on a ball!
But that is not all!
Oh, no.
That is not all...

"Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
I find it fun to have fun
But only I know how.
Read the play and learn of the depths of Demhe!
Trace the genealogy of the Carcosan Dynasty!
Look at Aldebaran
And the lands that are barren!
Look at Naotalba
And Jessica Alba!
And look! With my tail
I can hold a yellow fan!
I can fan with the fan
As I hop on a ball!
But that is not all.
Oh, no.
That is not all..."

That is what the King said...
Then the walls of reality fell down!
They fell down with a bump
From above the King’s crown.
And Sally and I,
We saw ALL the Things fall!

And the Fisher of Men came down, too.
He fell on to a bonbon
He said, "Enough!
Outcast and unclean spirit, begone!
Depart then, transgressor!"
Said the Fisher as he lit.
"Everlasting ruin awaits you and your abettor
Give place, abominable creature, to your better!"

"Now see what you did!"
Said the Fisher to the King.
"Now look at these children!
You lure them to sinning!
Your play ruined Paris and Rome
That unspeakable tome.
You shook up London
With words that cannot be undone.
You SHOULD NOT be here
When their mother and Church are beyond our ken.
Begone from this place!"
Said the Fisher of Men.

"But I like to be here.
It shall be my new den!"
Said the King in the Hat
To the Fisher of Men.
"I will NOT go away.
I do NOT wish to go!"
And so," said the King in the Hat,
I will show you
Another good 'game' that I know."

And then he flew out
And then, without a knock
The King in the Hat
Came back with a catafalque.

A basalt coffin catafalque
It was draped with a pall.
"Now look at this 'game',"
Said the King.
"Look and do not squall!"

Then he got up on top
With a tip of his wing
"I call this game 'Tekeli-li',"
Said the King.
"In this box are two Things
I will show to you now.
You will like these two Things."
Said the King with a bow.

"I will break the seal.
You will see something new.
Two Things. And I call them
Shoggoth One and Shoggoth Two.
These Things will not bite you
At first—they want to have fun."
Then, out of the coffin
Came Shoggoth Two and Shoggoth One!
And they oozed to us fast.
Their alien consciousnesses thought-beamed a piping "How do you do?
Would you like to exchange DNA strands
With Shoggoth One and Shoggoth Two?"

And Sally and I
Did not know what to do.
So we placed our hands in the viscous jelly, which looked like an agglutination of bubbles,
Which comprised Shoggoth One and Shoggoth Two.
But the Fisher of Men said, "No! No!
Those Things Should Not Be!
Not outside of the unknown aeons! Make them go!"

"They should not be here
When your mother is trapped in an Innsmouth fen!
Cast them out! Use whatever curious weapons of molecular and atomic disturbances you have!"
Said the Fisher of Men.

"Have no fear, little Fisher,"
Said the King in the Hat.
"These Things are good Things,"
And he gave them a pat.
"They are tamed. Oh, so tamed!
Their will is quite broken.
They will show no resistance.
No, not even a token."

"Now, here is a game that they like,"
Said the King.
"They like to consume,"
Said the King to me, Sterling.

"No! Think of the children!"
Said the Fisher of Men.
"They should not be allowed to consume!
They are beyond your ken.
Oh, the lives they will ruin.
Oh, the world they will sicken.
Oh, I am not sanguine!
Not one little smidgeon!"

Then Sally and I
Saw them slither down the street.
We saw those two Things
Consume every human they’d meet.
Chomp! Dissolve! Chomp! Dissolve!
Human meat in the street.

Shoggoth Two and Shoggoth One!
They oozed up! They oozed down!
At the end of their tendrils
We saw half of the town!
Their insides were out
Viscera pink, white, and red.
Then we saw one tendril flicker
And some orphans behead!

Then those Things ran about
Driving before them a spiral, rethickening cloud of pallid abyss vapors.
Nightmare, plastic columns of fetid black iridescence.
Up to all kinds of bad capers.
And I said,
"I do NOT like the way that they play!
If Mother could see this,
Oh, what would she say!"

Then the Fisher of Men said, "Look! Look!
And the Fisher shook with fear.
"The Inquisition is on its way here!
Do you hear? Do you hear?
Oh, what will they ask of us?
What will they say?
They burned witches for years
They will not like finding us this way!"

"So DO something! Fast!" said the Fisher of Men.
"Do you hear!
I saw them! The Inquisition!
The Inquisition is near!
So, as fast as you can,
Think of something to do!
You will have to get rid of
Shoggoth One and Shoggoth Two!"

So, as fast as I could
I went after my curious weapon of molecular and atomic disturbance.
And I said, "With my curious weapon
I can get them, I reckon.
I bet, with my atomic javelin
I can disrupt a Shoggoth’s organ!"

Then I threw my atomic javelin
And I had them! At last!
Those two Shoggoths had to stop.
Then I said to the King,
"Now you do as I say.
You inter those Things
And you take them away!"

"By the Phantom of Truth!" said the King.
"You did not like our game…
Oh dear.
What a shame!
What a shame!
What a shame!
And to think, the city, the State, the whole land, were ready to rise and tremble before the Pallid Mask."

Then he shut up the Shoggoths
In the basalt coffin catafalque.
And the King went away
With a baleful kind of look.

"That is good," said the Fisher
"He has gone away. Yes.
But your mother will come.
She will find this big mess!
And this mess is so big
Piles of corpses so tall
We cannot cremate them all
There is no way at all!"

Who was back in the Lethal Chamber?
Why, the King!
"Have no fear of this mess,"
Said the King in the Hat.
"I always pick up after all my minions and thralls
And so…
I will show you another
Good 'trick' that I know!"

Then we saw him resurrect
All the half-eaten corpses.
He resurrected the Mayor,
And Mr. and Mrs. Atorpsis,
And the Chief of Police and the Doctors
And the Nurses and Actors
And Orphans and Teachers
And Drunken Cubs Fans Who Live in the Bleachers
And they began to dance as he whistled a tune
Then he said, "I’ll be back again soon."
And then he was gone
With a tip of his Hat.

Then our mother came in
And she said to us two,
"Did you have any fun?
Tell me. What did you do?"

And Sally and I did not know
What to say.
Should we tell her
The things that went on there that day?
She’s not really listening. All she says is
"Ia-R’lyeh! Ia-R’lYAY!"

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rambo dreaming

Last night I dreamed an entire invented Rambo movie, start to finish (well, big chunks of it).

It was like Rambo meets Die Hard: ageless Stallone fighting off US Spec Ops soldiers taking over the zone where exurbia meets piney woods.

It also involved Dame Helen Mirren, as a master of disguise of indeterminate national origins and loyalties.

Later, I realized that the movie was in fact a movie within the movie of my dream.

The imagined Rambo movie played on ambient TVs in public transports in the dream city, while we worked on our own movie.

The movie we were making also involved Dame Helen Mirren, as the clandestine villain.

Later we were putting on a play, featuring many well-groomed young lawyers in nude parts.

Charlton Heston was there, directing the play, which was about life in the subterranean catacombs underneath an unknown American city.

Charlton Heston was also working on a civic project with the nude 20something lawyers, and making a cameo in the Rambo movie.

The imagined Rambo movie, as it happens, was also a product placement vehicle glamorizing the 1970s GI Joe Adventure Team.

Charlton Heston was fretting about the play, but LQ Jones told him what the f do you expect when you make a play about life in the sewers.

My brother was there, organizing his Borgesian library of vinyl records and making fun of my 1970s GI Joes.

I was with Rambo as he camouflaged himself and stole the truck and the helicopter and the RPG.

In the dream, Rambo taught me how to fire an RPG at the American soldiers.

Later, I told my thespian collaborators, who included Dolph Lundgren, that the Rambo movie essentially had no dialogue.

Dolph Lundgren laughed and said "That's fucking awesome—it will be playing in Egypt for the next 40 years."

Whether this all has anything to do with the fact that I am headed to a meeting at the Dept of Homeland Security today, I can't say.

And Dame Helen Mirren, disguised as an old lady, laughs sinister as her plans to kill off the other characters unfold.

And Charlton Heston is screaming at God.

Fraud with a Personal Touch

A friend of mine who works for the federal government discovered this:

From GCN (Government Computer News) 15-March-2010

Have you ever been frustrated trying to reach to a real human being to support an application on your PC? Live PC Care feels your pain and has added free online support to its antivirus tool.

The only downside is that, according to Symantec, Live PC Care is a rogue antivirus program that rips you off by reporting that you have all sorts of bad things on your computer and then offering to fix them for a fee. Although the antivirus program might be fake, the online support is real, the Symantec Security Response blog reports.

"After a number of questions, we determined that it was not an automated script but rather a live person at the other end," the blog states. "The main aim of the online support session is to reassure suspicious victims that Live PC Care is legitimate software and that without activating the software at a cost, your computer system is at risk."

The program apparently uses a live chat system called LiveZilia to enable the online interaction with support agents.

I'm not sure whether it's a good sign or a bad sign when scammers start competing on the basis of customer service. But remember: Just because there is a live human being on the other end of the connection does not mean that he or she is not trying to steal your money.

- William Jackson