Month: April 2021


What’s Italian for ‘Chairman Bruce’?

So, Cory Doctorow tells us that Bruce Sterling has a sideline as Bruno Argento, producing work in Italian set in and around his adopted city, Turin:

I am no expert on fantascienza, so I don’t know if these are representative of the field, but I am here to tell you that they are completely different from any other sf I’ve read, including Sterling’s, and yet utterly and unmistakably Bruce Sterling stories (a neat trick).

They are mostly set in and around Sterling’s adopted hometown of Turin, and though they span a range from the Middle Ages to the late 22nd Century, they paint a vivid picture of an ancient city whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed through the centuries.

This could turn out to be work that wasn’t strong enough to get published in English initially, or it could be work that US publishers didn’t want to publish because of the risk that the foreign setting and subject matter would put off US readers. Or it could just be that now he’s living in a world where he can publish his work whether he’s living in Belgrade, Turin or Austin and he’s spent forty years establishing a reputation he’s just going to put out material the way he wants to and those who want to read it will find a way.

I’m intrigued enough by this blurb from Peter Watts that I’m going to take a chance on it:

Bruce Sterling “literally” takes you to Hell and back and back in this sprawling, delirious tour of an Italy jarred just slightly off-kilter, parallel universe, nineteenth-century terrorists and bicephalous recluses, cigar-smoking mummies and wandering performance artists who happen to be wheelchairs.

Come on, I’m only human. I’m hoping that somewhere on the way we’ll get Chairman Bruce’s take on Silvio Berlusconi1 but I’ve bought this knowing nothing more than what’s mentioned above.


  1. Because how could he resist, living where he did when he did? 

Punchline

From Dirty Feed, a magnificent, thoroughly documented deep dive into the history of one of the greatest punchlines in the history of British television:

Sad to contemplate that none of the three actors involved is still with us, but what a memorial to their work together on a programme that shaped a generation’s view of how government worked.

Fascinating to see the history of that joke pieced together, and the very different version of the punchline used in earlier incarnations.

[Via Phil Gyford’s Pinboard feed]

For All Mankind season 3

So, For All Mankind dropped the season 2 finale and gave us another end-of-season peek at what’s to come in the next season: someone’s going to Mars.

Despite some YouTube commenters being convinced that that’s a Soviet boot treading the Martian surface a decade on from the season 2 finale I think that’s wildly premature. Given how season 2 ended with US-Soviet relations getting so bad yet ending on an optimistic note1 I think that next season’s story of establishing a Mar colony will involve an international collaboration.

Maybe that was a Soviet spacesuit’s boot in the closing shot from Mars, but perhaps if they’d held that shot for another ten seconds the foot of an American (or Indian, or Japanese, or German) suit worn by a crewmate would step into that view? The different space agencies insisted on retaining their own suits because that makes the multinational nature of the project visible in every group shot, but everyone’s travelling in the same ship and using the same comms system. And yes, carrying their own nation’s brand of weaponry, if they must, but they’re all using the same rounds and firing mechanism because the economics of mass manufacturing overrode the need to boost national pride by wielding your very own make of firearm.

One thing I do ask: can we please not have more than one recurring character from season 2 be part of the crew in that Mars expedition? I get that it’s tempting to think that the expedition will be led by one of the astronauts from the first two seasons who will turn out to be the old hand2, commanding a crew including a couple of the younger characters who ended season 2 all set to pursue careers leading them into the space program and are now at the height of their careers.

The thing is, after it turned out that Star Wars ended up with most of the important characters being part of the same family it’d be nice if this story didn’t go that way. If the program professes to be any sort of meritocracy – leave to one side for a moment the bad taste real-world uses of the term leave in the mouth, and that the term itself has its’ roots in a criticism of the concept – there should be little prospect that relatives keep on showing up in the Org Chart down the years.

If we have to see our existing characters in the third season, how about Admiral Ed Baldwin (USN, retired) as the cranky advisor to President Biden3 who keeps on trying to buttonhole NASA Administrator Margo Madison4 with his thoughts on the need to beat the Soviets to the Solar System’s high ground by colonising Callisto. Or how about our seeing Aleida Rosales5 being chief engineer of the first Mars colony?

Bottom line is that they can’t just have season 3 be a repeat of the working-towards-having-a-colony-on-new-world-is-hard story from season 1. Given a choice between that and a let’s-spend-a-decade-overcoming-suspicions-about-soviet-spies story, it’d be funny if that boots-on-the-surface-of-Mars-a-decade-on scene came in season 3, episode 2.


  1. Because the lesson of the season 2 finale’s plot was that leaving decision-making to the commanders on the spot will turn out better than following the dictates of the governments involved. Very much the line you’d expect from Ron Moore, given his background in Star Trek and the Barrlestar Galactica reboot, I guess. Just as long as the politicians back home have the good sense to spot an opportunity for a climb-down when it’s presented to them on a plate. Who knew that Ronald Reagan’s legacy in this timeline, having got to the White House four years earlier than in ours, would be to seize just such an opportunity? Wouldn’t it be ironic if his term of office was followed by the establishment of the CoDominium
  2. Fun thought. Molly Cobb for Mars Colony Commander. Either science has a cure for glaucoma, or, better yet, Molly finds herself wearing an ancestor of the VISOR and she’s constantly ahead of her subordinates because she’s watching all the relevant displays at once. 
  3. He didn’t bugger up his first run at the top job and got there much earlier than in our timeline, before ended up handing over to a youngster called Obama. 
  4. Whose Russian husband is working on the Mars project himself, so there’s no need for Soviet intelligence to try to exploit what they know about her anonymous contribution to the Buran project back in the day and we can nip that subplot in the bud. 
  5. Even better if they can slip in a romance for her with an Irish guy called O’Brien, so that a few generations down the line a young Starfleet noncom by the name of Miles O’Brien turns out to have some Mexican ancestry. Granted Miles O’Brien was born in September 2328 in Ireland, so that implies that one of the descendants of Jimmy O’Brien and Aleida Rosales ended up migrating back from Mars to Earth. But a few steps further into this alternate history who’s to say that couldn’t have happened, especially as a proper interplanetary economy starts up and job applicants from Mars might end up being willing to move to Dublin if the right career opening arose. So long as 24th century Dublin has excellent high-speed transporter links and decent theatres who’s to say that’s not a trade-off someone fleeing the economic impact of Martian First Minister M’Tumbe’s imposition of austerity on the Martian economy would be willing to make, especially if there was some family connection to the Dublin region of the Celtic Confederation? 

Worth<1000?

Dan Hon reminds his readers of Layer Tennis:

Ben Hammersley [tweet] and Anil Dash [tweet] both chimed in later to remind me about Layer Tennis, which used to be both a website (perhaps initially community run, and then unsurprisingly and smartly sponsored by Adobe) and then a live event (Ben’s got a photo from 2009).

I was merely an utterly unskilled, unworthy spectator rather than a participant, but it’s still good to be reminded of something that used to be fun on the internet even though its’ days have passed. I see the last season of Layer Tennis was back in 2014.

I assume that sort of thing still goes on, but not necessarily in public.1

[Via Things That Have Caught My Attention]


  1. I see from Wikipedia that Worth1000.com, a take on the same general concept, is no more, stopping in 2013 and becoming a static copy of some of the content. Not surprising, but still a little bit of a shame. 

Apple TV+ quality

If it turns out that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content out of all streaming services

A new study reveals that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content when compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu. […]

In terms of their libraries of content, Apple TV+ has the highest percentage of “good” and “excellent” at almost 86%. But […] it has the smallest offering at just 65 titles.

… does that help make Apple TV+ a sound idea for the company?

So far I’ve greatly enjoyed several Apple TV+ shows (For All Mankind above all else, but also Calls and Mythic Quest), and found several other Apple TV+ shows (Little Voice, On The Rocks, The Banker, Little America, The Morning Show and Ted Lasso) to be decent-to-pretty-good. The thing is, I could as easily pick a similar number of really good shows from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or Now1 or Disney+. There’s not yet a distinctive ‘type’ of show that Apple TV+ is getting to be known for known for and it’s way too early to tell2 whether Apple are going to prove to be better at supporting shows long enough for them to build an audience.

I don’t doubt that Apple has sufficiently deep pockets to keep up the level of spending on content for the Apple TV+ streaming service for quite some time to come, but will they? Surely Apple are just one more potential source of finding for producers; yes, there are plenty of Apple devices out there, but Apple are as close-mouthed about audience numbers for their streaming service as everyone else, so who can say how well their shows are doing? Putting out numbers and surveys that use figures like this as proxies for audience numbers doesn’t really address the question of which shows are doing well compared to their rivals.

In this era where the streaming services are competing for a monthly subscription from their audience, how come most of these Apple TV+ shows seems to disappear from the online discussion online within a couple of weeks of their launch.3 That cannot possibly be a good sign, can it?

[Via Daring Fireball]


  1. Recently rebranded from NowTV in the UK, and heavily associated with the Sky TV empire. Basically, a way (with “No contract!”, as their ads emphasise) to get access to a slice of Sky TV’s library for those who don’t want to commit to the full package. 
  2. Come back after a decade and there might be sufficient data to form a meaningful picture of Apple’s track record. 
  3. Am I just looking in the wrong places, or is it just that commentary on TV shows is so dispersed nowadays that it’s a full-time job to keep on top of it? This was much better in the days of Usenet, IMHO. 

Transpacific

A tale of a chain of miracles and the sea goddess of Okuki in the wake of Japan’s 2011 triple disaster:

When a pair of Oregonians stumbled upon what looked like debris on a beach, it precipitated a chain of events that culminated in an emotional reunion some 7,000 kilometers away.

Fascinating that the specific shrine the debris originated from was identified by a plank bearing the name of a benefactor from when the Torii gates were originally built. Presumably if that plank hadn’t stayed attached, at best the identifiably Japanese but not otherwise distinctive debris might well have ended up an anonymous part of an exhibit illustrating how many different cultures border on the Pacific Ocean. Much better this way, for sure.

[Via MeFi user MartinWisse posting to MetaFilter]

Comics are weird

A couple of minutes into his video speculating1 about a new-to-the-MCU appearance by a guest character in this week’s episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, MovieBob reminds us, which storyline the Power Broker first showed up in Jack Kirby’s comic adaptation/expansion of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mind BLOWN!

Comics are, as MovieBob says, Weird…

I’m still sceptical that the Power Broker’s identity will be shown this season. Unless Disney have an unannounced appearance for the character in one of the next phase of feature film projects, they’ll get more mileage from dropping the name in a TV series like this then leaving a portion of the fan base to speculate – feverishly, as is their way – about the Power Broker being at least a supporting character up in every future MCU storyline set on Earth-616. Disney’s executives must be delighted at how much bang for the buck they got from encouraging viewers of their recent TV tie-ins/spin-offs to create publicity for the franchise by picking up on the tiniest hints. Until they reach a point where the blizzard of speculation about what might be to come creates so much hype that the actual films are seen as a disappointment (and, to be fair, there’s no sign of that) they can use the fannish anticipation to keep audiences hyped for what might be to come for a while yet.2


  1. Wrongly, or at any rate prematurely as it turns out, that the identity of the as-yet-unrevealed Power Broker character would turn out to be Sharon Carter. 
  2. Not because a significant portion of the population cares about the Power Broker. More because the sheer volume of chatter about these shows adds to the impression that these are interesting, so media need to devote attention to them. For goodness’ sake, I’ve spent some of this morning listening to a Vanity Fair podcast which includes a section speculating about the identity of the Power Broker and what’s next for the character of Sharon Carter after she’s apparently reacted to being dropped by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the Civil War storyline. Condé Nast think this is worth putting a podcast out over, and the actress gets to spend time pretending that there are things she’s not allowed to tell us about this plot! How much would Disney have to spend to get these column inches/screen time by other means? 

Varley’s Worlds

Cory Doctorow brings sad news that John Varley, a writer whose work from the 1970s onwards gave me faith that the world of speculative fiction was not doomed to be swallowed by interminable multi-volume epic sagas about future galactic empires and their fall, has been having health problems.

John Varley, a beloved, versatile, funny, and wildly imaginative sf writer, recently had a quadruple bypass and is recovering well, but this is America, so he’s also in need of financial support through his recovery.

It’s difficult to decide which of Varley’s early works I enjoyed most – too many magnificent short stories1 to choose from – but then I remember how much fun the late teens-early twenties me got from the Gaea Trilogy of novels and I’m torn.

In the end, whatever length he worked at, I reckon the somewhat loosely-connected stories in and around the Eight Worlds setting were his best work. After an overwhelming alien invasion forces the human race to survive in various somewhat less comfortable spots, Varley gets to tell us tales of life spread across the solar system and they’re just tremendously well-done and humane and a joy to read.

Anyhow, the important thing now is that given the way health care operates in the USA this would be a very good moment to show John Varley some love, be it by using the Donate link at John Varley’s web site or by buying one (or more) of his books.2

(Varley, being an old hippy at heart, would be the first to point out that sending love and sending money are very different things.)


  1. Seriously, Varley is right up there with Ted Chiang in his ability to hit the ball right out of the park when he works at shorter lengths. 
  2. FWIW, I did both. 

Time travel

I really wish I’d read Craig Mod’s piece on The Healing Power of JavaScript earlier:

[As we join the story, Mod has decided to use some of the time afforded him by the pandemic to rebuild his personal web site…] In that spirit, as I moved my homepage I also rebuilt it as a so-called static site. A simpler version that should continue to work for the next hundred years. It looks nearly the same as it did before. With static sites, we’ve come full circle, like exhausted poets who have travelled the world trying every form of poetry and realizing that the haiku is enough to see most of us through our tragedies.

As is true for most infrastructure work, these gruntish behind-the-scenes tasks are often neglected, or derided as irrelevant, underfunded, ignored. That is, until they break, or a pandemic hits, and then we realize how infrastructure is everything, and without it our world reverts to some troglodytic cave state, or perhaps worse, an ever-widening extreme of haves and have-nots. […]

I really wish I’d taken the time to dive in and restore my older content and publish it under one roof again, rather than have the content spread around various ancient archived files, generated by umpteen different Content Management Systems over the years. That was always my plan, but somehow I let myself get distracted1 and kept putting off turning my attention to personal projects like web site rebuilds.

I can’t help but wonder whether, if I had rebuilt Sore Eyes, I’d have dared to run a link checker against all the links to external sites to see what didn’t generate a 404 response code.2 I’ve been doing this since early 2000, and I suspect I’d be horrified at the number of sites that I linked to that are no longer up (or, worse yet, which are still up but have been completely repurposed so that the content I was linking to is no longer at the URL I pointed to.)

Do I really want to do that to myself, to confirm to myself how much of that linking – and the work I might have put into restoring and republishing my content – was a waste of time?

Anyway, that’s my feeble excuse for having let Sore Eyes fall apart like this. I could start work on resolving the problem tonight, but I plan to spend much of the rest of my evening finishing a rewatch of the last four episodes of the final season of Travelers.3 A better use of my time, I think…


  1. It’s also partly that my working week has continued to be taken up with working from home, so lockdowns 1-3 didn’t really free up any time to spend on personal projects. I know, I’m lucky to have been in a job rather than furloughed, but still… If anything, I found myself spending spare time during lockdown thinking about how to live life under lockdown, or just resorting to watching TV programmes of varying qualities to fill up free time and distract myself from my situation. 
  2. Of course, the absence of a 404 response tells me nothing about whether the content that’s present at that URL now is still the content I was pointing to at the time. I wonder whether there’s some straightforward way to have the link-checker look for the presence of whatever blockquouted content I included in my blogpost. That sounds like one of those things that should be possible, but is almost certainly beyond my coding skills to put together. (Or, alternatively, there’s an API for doing that but it’d require me to learn to use an unfamiliar language to make it work and my brain’s no longer up to it.) 
  3. A pretty decent – though by no stretch of the imagination hard-SF – tale of time travel from some of the folks who brought us the Stargate franchise. Yes, I already know it doesn’t end particularly well for our Travelers, but I’m glad they at least got to wrap up the tale rather than just have it stop in mid-story. 

Radio Silence

Radio Silence, a short but very creepy story…

36,400,000. That is the expected number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, according to Drake’s famous equation. For the last 78 years, we had been broadcasting everything about us – our radio, our television, our history, our greatest discoveries – to the rest of the galaxy. We had been shouting our existence at the top of our lungs to the rest of the universe, wondering if we were alone. 36 million civilizations, yet in almost a century of listening, we hadn’t heard a thing. We were alone.

That was, until about 5 minutes ago. […]

Even if you recognise where it’s going well before it gets there, very nicely done.1

[Via @kbiegel, via RT by @tomcoates2]


  1. Yes, you can quibble about the accuracy of that figure from the Drake equation given the number of approximations and ballpark estimates fed into it, or about how convenient it was that that last message was encoded as ASCII and contained a message expressed in English, but addressing those points would have lengthened the story to no great effect. At this length, it works well enough. 
  2. Credit to @owenblacker for posting a link to the text of the story. 
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