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[No comments] Situation Normal preorders now open!: Preorders are opening up for my second novel, Situation Normal, which launches on December 14th! I'm just going to copy the meticulously assembled preorder links from Sumana's post on the same topic: you can read a preview that's long enough to introduce the main characters, and then order an ebook (Kobo, Nook, Chapters Indigo, Kindle) or a paperback (Amazon, Barnes & Noble).

Situation Normal is not yet at bookshop.org, which I've personally been using to buy paper books since the start of the pandemic, but I'm confident it will eventually show up anywhere you can order print books.

You can of course jump right in to the story—it's a science fiction novel, it's full of exposition, you'll figure it out—but to give a proper introduction I've revised my 2012 story "Four Kinds of Cargo", the inspiration and direct prequel to Situation Normal. The "Retcon Edition" of 4KoC changes some names and characterizations, but leaves the plot unchanged; it introduces the Terran Outreach, the Fist of Joy, and the stupid, stupid war they're about to fight.

If you've read Constellation Games you should know that Situation Normal is set in a completely different universe with a different tone—the only constant is humor and lots of cool space aliens. To give an example, I worked to make Constellation Games a book with high drama but no character death; whereas an important character dies in the very first sentence of "Four Kinds of Cargo".

I've been writing up some author commentary essays for Situation Normal which I'll post periodically on this weblog after the book launch. I won't go chapter-by-chapter like I did with Constellation Games, because that took forever, but I've written some fun essays on the design of the aliens, deleted and rewritten scenes, how throwaway lines in "Four Kinds of Cargo" became essential novel worldbuilding, and so on. I've been working on this book for a long time and am really excited to share it with you!

Pandemic Reading Roundup: While stuck at home over the past few months I've tried all sorts of things to keep occupied: eating food, sleeping, even working on a novel. But I've also made a lot of progress going through my backlog of books. I thought I'd give mention a few of these highlights.

October Film Roundup: Here we go! Take a break from your doomscrolling with some fun filmroundupscrolling. Remember, if you don't read the words, your scrolling has all been for naught.

In Television Spotlight news, we re-upped our CBS All Access account for the new Discovery season, and caught up with the first season of Lower Decks. We were initially very skeptical of the main character—a little "competent asshole" goes a long long way in this household—but the other characters are quite fun, and by the end we were on board and excited for season 2... which is about average for the first season of a Trek show. We loved the continuity deep cuts. My absolute favorite part was how the inhabitants of Beta III went right back to worshipping Landru the minute the Enterprise left and the Federation never followed up.

BTW, this is by no means a novel complaint, but the near-total (but not total!) lack of NCOs and enlisted beings in Starfleet really makes things weird for Lower Decks. All the schmoes and screwups in this show are Starfleet Academy graduates. Theoretically, any one of them could give orders to Chief O'Brien. But there aren't any O'Briens around to do the grunt work.

There is an explanation for the officer-heaviness of Starfleet vessels, which I learned in the "Is Starfleet Military?" episode of the Gimme That Star Trek podcast: it mirrors the structure of a bomber crew like the one Gene Roddenberry served in during WWII. It was great to learn an explanation for this, but when writing Situation Normal I tried to make things a little more realistic. In Trek's defense, I found it really tricky to keep the ranks consistent, and the exact ranks never mattered dramatically—only the distinction between commissioned officers and the rest.

September Film Roundup:

Yeah, so, a couple items for the Television Spotlight. We're in the middle of our Legend of Korra rewatch, and it's is still fun. New fun for us this time around is catching what we now see are a ton of Avatar references.

I forgot to mention this at the time, but we watched Star Trek: Picard as it aired and enjoyed it a lot... but maybe my expectations were too high? Certain very powerful character themes (my favorite being Picard effectively choosing to become Locutus again) were handled so subtly compared to the un-subtle plotting that I question whether they were even there or whether I was writing a better version of the show in my head. Anyway, haven't seen Lower Decks yet but between it and Picard and The Orville it seems like TNG has finally displaced TOS as the official Trek throwback show. Truly, this is my time!

"August" Film Roundup: Kind of a weird Roundup this month, made up of movies I forgot to review in earlier months and stuff we actually saw in September. That's because the "July" Roundup had a lot of overlap with August, and then instead of movies we spent the rest of August watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008), a really nice kids' show that paved the way for more sophisticated shows like Steven Universe, not to mention its own sequel, The Legend of Korra, which we saw in 2015 and are now rewatching. Time has lost its meaning and there might not be much to show next month, is what I'm saying.

[Comments] (2) Hundred Dollar Brain: I just finished Len Deighton's 1966 computer-age thriller Billion Dollar Brain and unfortunately must report that it's much less computery than I'd hoped. Deighton wrote an excellent alt-history, SS-GB, so I'd been hoping for some retro SF or at least sciency fiction, but in this novel the titular Brain is naught but a minor piece of set dressing, to the extent that I kind of want to write the spy novel that seemed to be taking shape and which would have been really groundbreaking had Deighton gone there.

Basically, if you're using a computer with a telephonic voice interface to run a privately-funded spy ring in 1966, there's no guarantee the individual actions of your agents add up to what you're trying to do. You're incredibly vulnerable to the ELIZA effect. Someone else could be using your computer and your agents to run their own spy ring! (Again, this is not what happens in Billion Dollar Brain.)

I will reproduce the most technically sophisticated paragraph in the book, since it's clear Deighton at least talked to someone who knows computers and I like to see that rewarded:

"I don't want to bore you," Harvey said, "but you should understand that these heaps of wire can practically think — linear programming — which means that instead of going through all the alternatives they have a hunch which is the right one. What's more, almost none of them work by binary notation — the normal method for computers — because that's just yes/no stuff. (If you can only store yeses and noes it takes seven punch holes to record the number ninety-nine.) These machines use tiny chips of ceramic which store electricity. They store any amount from one to nine. That's why — for what it does — this whole set-up is so small.

No, please, bore me!

[Comments] (1) Presenting AT NASFiC: Today at Columbus NASFiC 2020 I'm giving what is hopefully the definitive edition of my talk "How Game Titles Work". It had to wait until 2020, because the ultimate game title that proves all my crackpot theories wasn't released until last year. But now we should be good!

The talk starts at 2:00 PM Eastern time and you can watch it online for free. Because there's a lot of text on the slides, I'm making sure to put up a PDF of my slides before the talk, so you can follow along. After the talk I'll work on an HTML version with a transcript.

Later tonight, at 9:30 PM Eastern, I'll be giving a prerecorded reading of two unpublished flash pieces. Hope to see you there! (In the Discord.)

July Film Roundup: As countries I don't live in get the coronavirus under control, National Theatre and the weird musical channel have both died down, so our household is back to watching movies. Also I've been real busy with work and the Situation Normal proofread, so this Roundup goes well into August. Any concerns? Let me direct you to this humorous painted-script sign I have hanging on my wall: "My Blog, My Rules!" Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go "Live, Laugh, Love!"

[Comments] (3) Situation Normal: I'm happy to announce that my science fiction novel Situation Normal is being published by Candlemark & Gleam! It'll go on sale December 14th, 2020. Here's the acquisition announcement, and it's time for the cover reveal!

(Cover art is by Brittany Hague, who did a fake book cover as part of Thoughtcrime Experiments way back when.)

My elevator pitch for Situation Normal is "the Coen brothers do Star Trek". It's a military SF story where no one is incompetent but everything goes wrong. Situation Normal is a direct sequel to my Strange Horizons story "Four Kinds of Cargo", but the crew of the smuggling starship Sour Candy is now only one thread of a plot that includes weaponized marketing, sentient parasites, horny alien teenagers, and cosplaying monks. It's the result of a lot of work for me and Athena Andreadis, and I hope you love it!

June Film Roundup: More months, more quarantine, more big drama! We started watching the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus and weren't into it. Here's what we were into:

Tonight the gala Television Spotlight shines on CanCon production Schitt's Creek, co-starring Film Roundup favorite Dan Levy, who is either playing himself on this show or took his Schitt's Creek character to The Great Canadian Baking Show, because they're the same person wearing the same outfits. The show's fun, low-key Canadian take on "Arrested Development but not mean", the sort of thing we saw with Jane the Virgin.

May Film Roundup: More prerecorded live theater, but since all the National Theatre productions etc. have IMDB pages I've decided to just call them "films".

April Theatre Roundup: For the first time since the institution of Film Roundup, I didn't watch any films last month. Instead, Sumana and I streamed recorded-live theater performances from two British sources. With theatres closed, the National Theatre has been putting up one play a week from their 2010s archive. So far they've all been excellent. (I'm adding IMDB links where possible, to disambiguate from other performances of the same play.)

On a less highbrow note, on the weekends we've been watching Andrew Lloyd Webber shows on The Shows Must Go On!, a YouTube channel created just for this purpose. Despite what I thought going in, it turns out I'm not a big fan of Webber's stuff. I remember liking Evita when I was a kid, and I'm holding out hope for his quirkier shows, like the Jeeves and Wooster musical and the... Thomas the Tank Engine???

[Comments] (1) It's All the Go!: When I'm under a lot of ambient stress, one of my low-energy hobbies is browsing old catalogs. One that caught my eye recently was the 1926 Albert Pick, Bath & Company supply catalog for soda fountains and ice cream parlors. My nostalgia for tutti-frutti and walnuts in syrup is secondhand—the drugstore soda fountain was basically dead when I first encountered one in the late 1980s—but I was spending a pleasant hour paging through this catalog and chuckling at the old-timey language when I saw an intra-catalog ad. A space in the catalog was being used not to advertise a product, but to advertise a page further along the catalog:

"Krusty Korn" Baker

Turn to page 94 and see our New Money Maker. Cooks Frankfurters and Hamburger in Corn and Molds them like an Ear of Corn. They're going to be a Big Hit.

That's pretty silly, I thought. Who the heck thought "Krusty Korn" would catch on? How do you even cook a Frankfurter "in corn"? But it worked. I turned to page 94. And there I saw...

Catalog ad for the 'Krusty

Krusty "Korn Dog" Baker

Something New in Money Makers

It's new, novel, and delicious to eat. The Krusty "Korn Dog" is a corn bread waffle, shaped like an ear of corn, with a "hot dog" baked inside. All done in one baking. IT'S ALL THE GO AND MAKING BIG MONEY FOR OPERATORS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. The "hot dog" is baked inside the corn batter, which, as it bakes, moulds itself to resemble an ear of corn. When broken open it looks exactly like an ear of corn with the golden kernels on the outside and the red cob of sausage in the center.

It's corn dogs. This is the ancestral form of the corn dog. They used to be molded like ears of corn with little kernels. Amazing. Maybe we shouldn't have stopped thinking of the coating as a "corn bread waffle"; corn dogs might be haute cuisine today.

Film Roundup: "These Trying Times" Edition:

The Television Spotlight is in full force this month; Sumana and I are watching Ken Burns's epic "Baseball" documentary (1994) with all its slow pans and Shelby Foote drawls. PBS is streaming it for free within the US. We're not quite done, but I feel comfortable recommending it. Don't care about baseball? It's for you! I think for people who do care, this documentary may be a little boring. For me, it's nice hearing people really passionate and knowledgeable about the long history of something I don't really care about. And only about 20% of it is depressing, unlike the Civil War documentary. Steven Jay Gould is a nice surprise.

Finally, just a reminder that my Film Roundup Roundup page has over 150 recommendations to tide you over while Film Forum is closed. Take care!

Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: Analog, September 1980: The big highlight here is Steven Gould's very un-Analog "The Touch of Their Eyes". Good writing, cool 'superpower'.

A couple other bits worth mentioning:

In an inversion of the usual, Mack Reynolds's "What the Vintners Buy" is an era-typical sexist romp right up to the end where there's an incredible plot twist that should have been revealed at the beginning of a much different story. For the record, the twist is that the entire interstellar economy is a scam, with every planet spending all its money on a genetically tailored drug produced by some other planet. Too clever to leave unexplained, too specific to rip off.

And in a "no longer satire" moment, Susan M. Schwartz's "The Struldbrugg Solution" mentions a college class called "Myth in the Classic Stan Lee Comic".

Back cover ad pushes The Number of the Beast with the blurb "Look Where Heinlein's Been for the Last 7 Years". I admit I haven't exactly been cranking out the novels, so I probably shouldn't snark. In fact, maybe this ad points the way to what my work has been missing: "sensual scientists."

February Film Roundup: I wasn't kidding about Space February:

January Film Roundup: Welcome to Space January! Thanks to the museum's new 2001 exhibit and its filmic tie-ins, I got to see lots of space flicks in January. Next up: Space February!

Got a hot Television Spotlight tip for ya today: "The Repair Shop", a wholesome BBC reality show where conservationists who normally (I'm assuming) make top £££ restoring Rembrandts and Louis XIV cabinets, turn their skills to family heirlooms brought in by random people. You may have noticed that I only like reality shows where people are nice to each other, and this one's 100% collaborative, very relaxing to watch.

Leonard's Excursions 2019: Just a memorandum of some of the unusual travel and fun things I did in 2019.

Early in the year I took my first trip to Chicago, for DPLAFest. I stayed with Beth and we did some fun tourist things, like the Chicago Architecture Center boat tour! Accept no substitutes! Or do, it's probably okay. But the CAC tour was great.

We also hit the Chicago Art Institute, which was a real highlight, since Beth is a fine artist who went there all the time as a kid and talked about her favorite pieces. A few of my favorites which I'll share with you, via the medium of website links rather than my own awkward photos.

Leonard standing at a podium on the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange.

They've also got the old floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange off in a corner! A corner I guess they use for events, since I don't think the Chicago Stock Exchange originally had a grand piano on the floor. Some live music would have really classed up the joint, though, I tell you what.

In May, my sisters came to New York and surprised me with a weekend of tourist activities and a fancy dinner!

Susanna and Rachel on the Staten Island Ferry. Susanna, Leonard and Rachel in front of the Unisphere Rachel in Fish's Eddy, standing next to a gigantic mug that says 'Cat Person'.

For my birthday we planned a getaway in upstate New York at a rented house with a few friends. Allison and I did some stargazing and saw a little bit of a meteor shower. Shout out to Rodgers Book Barn, the perfect mix of "peaceful rural atmosphere" and "huge used bookstore". Thanks to Zack and Pam for driving.

A fire pit surrounded by wooden chairs, with a small pond in the backgroundThe main building of Rodger's Book Barn

Allison and I went to a Manfred Mohr retrospective at a gallery. Never heard of him before but it was definitely art the two of us can agree on. I really liked his plotter-esque pictures from the 70s and 80s, such as P2400-297d_5225__black. The names of the artworks feel like program filenames; I was expecting a bunch of _final_FINAL.

PS: in June, Sumana and I randomly ate dinner at Copinette, a French restaurant on the former site of Copain, the much fancier French restaurant that Gene Hackman stakes out in The French Connection. You live in New York for a while and these odd coincidences become smaller and less common, but they still happen!

The Crummy.com Review Of Things 2019, Part Two: Film: Well-covered throughout the year as always; what you're here for (assuming you're here at all) is the top ten!

Most of the movies in this year's top ten come from the 1980s, due in large part to Bill Forsyth's dominance of the scoreboard. Sorry to be the person in the Youtube comments on a rock video saying "Wish I had a time machine! I'd go back to the 80s and relive the same ten-year span over and over until I died! Who's with me? haha!"

  1. Wings of Desire (1987)
  2. Knives Out (2019)
  3. Breaking In (1989)
  4. Comfort and Joy (1984)
  5. Face/Off (1997)
  6. Gregory’s Girl (1980)
  7. Working Girl (1988)
  8. Puppy Love (1985)
  9. Booksmart (2019)
  10. Sweet Charity (1969)

On a meta level, I love how almost every year my top film of the year has been one I went into without any particular expectations. Keep the surprises coming, I say.

If you only care about recent movies, here's my top list from 2019:

  1. Knives Out (2019)
  2. Apollo 11 (2019)
  3. Booksmart (2019)
  4. Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (2019)
  5. Born Bone Born (2018)

I snuck Apollo 11 in there even though I saw it on January 5th, because it's just that good. As always, I've updated Film Roundup Roundup to include about thirty recommended films that in I either first saw or first reviewed in 2019.

The Crummy.com Review Of Things 2019, Part One:

Leonard in a lion outfit and Sumana in street clothes, facing each other among the crowds of Times Square. Here's our Christmas card photo. I impulsively volunteered to wear the Patience suit for an NYPL photo shoot that I don't think ended up being used for anything? I would not repeat this experience, but I'm glad I did it: I got a taste of what it's like to be the weirdo in Times Square everyone has decided to ignore. So let's start this Review of Things off right, with:


The Crummy.com Books of the Year are the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirsten. I can't say enough good about these books: how they're fantasy and science fiction at the same time; how tight the integration is between worldbuilding, character development, and plot; and how varied the pacing is. I'm so glad that the Internet has let the books come out of midlist purgatory, find their audience, and give Kirsten a way to finish the series.

Some other notable books I read in 2019:

I finished volume 3 of Mark Twain's autobiography, as promised. He's the Twainiest! Also, I recently learned about the incredibly sleazy tactic UC Berkeley used to keep copyright on this book until 2047, when it would have otherwise expired in 2003. The best I can say is that, judging from the contents of the autobiography, Twain himself would have approved.

I've been reading Bleak House for most of the year; it's slow going! But not for the reason I expected: there's a whole other subplot in here that I don't find super engaging.


The Crummy.com Game of the Year is "Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead", an open world zombie survival game that's also run as a modern open-source project, with pull requests and code review. Not only is this great for keeping gameplay fresh in these kitchen-sink roguelikes where wealth of detail is really important, it's really good to see on its own. This could be the gaming gateway that gets The Kids interested in software development best practices!

Other fabulous 2019 games I played include "Baba Is You", "Untitled Goose Game", "Dicey Dungeons", and "Super Mario Maker 2".


I wrote four short stories in 2019: "Meat", "Mandatory Arbitration", "User Error", and "The Scene of the Crime". Three of those stories feature a character who in one of my luckier future timelines becomes my Sherlock Holmes, a character who is remembered long after I and all of my other work have been forgotten. Very positive about this character, is what I'm saying. Really fun to write.

I assembled a NaNoGenMo novel: Linked by Love.

I'm getting much more aggressive this year about placing my fiction, so hopefully we'll see some sales. In terms of novels, there's good news and bad news and for now I'm gonna have to go with a big NO COMMENT.


I created only one bot this year, Secretly Public Domain, and I made it for a specific activist purpose which is more or less seeing results. As per NYCB passim I had some additional bot ideas, did the fun part of the work, and let the code sit in the programming/2019 folder of my archive.

I decided not to keep Almanac for New Yorkers going in 2020. There's one more year of life in the project, thanks to 1939, and the 1938 almanac for San Francisco, but the project wasn't super popular and 2020 isn't the year. Maybe later.

I do have two "just for fun" bot ideas that I'm gradually seeing through to completion. One of them is going to have to wait until I'm sick or otherwise mentally impaired and have nothing better to do than go through a huge amount of text, but you're gonna love it. And by "you" I mean "Allison".

December Film Roundup: A pretty highbrow month with some well-done films but not a lot of joy. Thank goodness for the Muppets, that's all I can say.

Olipy3: Right under my self-imposed deadline I've reached my 2019 goal of porting olipy and botfriend to Python 3. Enjoy it! I sure am.

Cassini metadata: This year I spent some time doing the pleasant part of botmaking (ideation, data gathering) without the boring part (handling dozens of edge cases, signing up for accounts). One of the bots I never completed was "Cassini GIFs".

All the photos taken by the Cassini probe are online, and each photo has associated metadata. By looking for photos taken by the same instrument at evenly spaced times, you can find frames that would look good as an animation. Here's a nice example: a "movie" of Saturn's moon Dione taken on November 1, 2011:

It was really fun to make these animations that probably only a few people before me had seen. And the fun doesn't need to stop at Saturn: the SETI Project's OPUS3 has aggregated imagery from across NASA's outer planet missions.

The bad news for anyone else who wants to try this out is that the Cassini data is huge. You can download individual frames pretty easily, but the metadata is bundled in enormous tarballs and stored in an ad hoc 1990s file format. To provide a booster seat for the future, I converted the metadata into NDJSON format and put it up as cassini-metadata. Here's one more GIF to whet your interest: Saturn's rings on July 15, 2014:

Openly Public Domain: I was showing Secretly Public Domain to my brother-in-law and noticed that Hathi Trust has marked a lot of the books as public domain! In Hathi parlance, Books that used to be "Limited (search only)" have been made "Full view" (though this is geofenced within the US). You can read the whole book, download a PDF, etc.

This is probably the visible result of the work described in "It's No Secret - Millions of Books Are Openly in the Public Domain", the first known blog post to cast shade on one of my bots with its title. I knew Hathi had done a few books as a test, and now it's really ramped up!

Now we're at the point where thirteen of the last twenty books my bot posted are already "Full view". And notably, the computer-history book I mentioned in the Vice story, The compatible time-sharing system: a programmer's guide., is also "Full view"! Way to go.

[Comments] (1) Only g62 Kids Will Remember These Five Moments: Doing a little year-end cleanup in preparation for a big announcement. Back in February I sold a flash piece to Daily Science Fiction: "Only g62 Kids Will Remember These Five Moments". I think it's pretty good. Don't like it? All I have to say is: "OK, g61er."

This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, September 09 2013, 18:05:52 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Saturday, November 28 2020, 14:50:01 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2020 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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