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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 07/26/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 4
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC 07/26 CRONOS (Monroe Township Library, 7:30PM) 07/29 CRONOS (Old Bridge Library, 7PM) 07/30 CRONOS (New Brunswick Library, 7PM) 07/30 WINDOW TO PARIS (East Brunswick Library, 8PM) 07/31 CRONOS (Highland Park Library, 7:30PM) 07/31 Hugo Ballots due 07/31 WINDOW TO PARIS (Monmouth County Library, Manalapan, 7PM) 08/01 CRONOS (North Brunswick Library, 7PM) 08/01 WINDOW TO PARIS (Monmouth County Library--Eastern Branch, Shrewsbury, 7:30PM) 08/02 WINDOW TO PARIS (Monroe Township Library, 7:30PM) 08/05 WINDOW TO PARIS (Old Bridge Library, 7PM) 08/06 CRONOS (Metuchen Library, 7:30PM) 08/06 WINDOW TO PARIS (New Brunswick Library, 7PM) 08/07 WINDOW TO PARIS (Highland Park Library, 7:30PM) 08/08 WINDOW TO PARIS (North Brunswick Library, 7PM) 08/13 WINDOW TO PARIS (Metuchen Library, 7:30PM) Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 email@example.com Backissues available at http://www.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/MTVOID/backissues.html or http://sf.www.lysator.liu.se/sf_archive/sf-texts/MT_Void/. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
URL of the week: http://www.unitedmedia.com/comics/dilbert. (Note that the ending period is *not* part of the URL.) Home of Dilbert. If you are employed in a high-tech industry, you *must* read Dilbert. [-ecl]
Not that I am a fan of either, but can somebody tell me why beauty pageants are such a bad thing and the Olympics are such a good and noble institution? Why is one any better than the other?
Every once in a while I like to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable in my own way. I take a couple of social phenomena, call them B (as in Bad) and G (as in Good): B is out of favor at least in some circles, G is held in reverence. Then I like to point out that the arguments applied against B, by in large, are equally applicable to G. And what I get are people who angrily ask me why I am defending B or why am I attacking G. And, of course, I get arguments attacking B. For the most part these arguments could be used equally well to attack G, but they are not. And you get a raft of arguments defending G. And just about any of those arguments could just as well work to defend B. But you know they never are.
It helps if I am not particularly fond of either B or G. Interesting pairings include "marijuana use" and "alcohol use." "Publishers or book stores that quietly under-represent women's writings" and "publishers or book stores that openly boycott men's writings altogether" is another pair. Then there is "private use of firearms" and "martial arts." In each case people use arguments against the former that they would never apply to the latter, yet the same argument applies.
Sometimes I will publish one of these arguments in the notice and find myself embroiled in controversy because the equating B and G looks like I am, both attacking something sacred and defending the profane. On the other hand, much of the article writes itself because I just take familiar and well-worn arguments to attack B and apply them against G. I may take the also familiar lines why G is noble and good and apply them to B. But since I am usually not fond of B, I do this with considerably less relish.
I am probably not writing these articles well since I almost never get responses actually comparing the two institutions. I get a list of the bad points of one or the good points of the other. If you have grown up hating B and loving G, you just can't see them any other way. It is much the same effect that people who grew up eating creamery butter and not slimy, rubbery squid think that the latter is disgusting. It never occurs to them that nice freshly- caught squid could actually seem more wholesome to someone from another culture than does the congealed fatty portions of the glandular secretions of a large and smelly bovine.
So this is not going to be a popular question but I will ask it anyway. Why do the same people who find beauty pageants disgusting and degrading think that there is anything elevated and noble about the Olympics? We probably all have heard the by now time-tested arguments against beauty pageants. I mean the derogatory nickname of beauty pageants is "meat parade." Meat is another name for muscle is meat, after all. The Olympics is much more a meat parade than any beauty pageant ever was. It is dedicated to muscle. Most beauty pageants take into account personality. The Olympics look at one thing: how well a person's muscles perform on demand. How mechanical can a person be? Can a person on demand lift some large mass or move quickly through water? Does anybody really care about the athlete's personality? Nobody cares. Just so they can act like powerful machines at the right time. Forget about minds, athletes are at the Olympics as bodies. Now which is really is the more dehumanizing?
Yet you hear fans of the games say in all seriousness that the Olympics represent the best in what is human. I have heard people who angrily denounce beauty pageants as degrading as well as dehumanizing exhibitions exploiting women's bodies who then turn around and think that the Olympics are just the biggest thing that happens all summer long. They rush to savor the sight of scantily-clad sinuous bodies leaping poles or doing gymnastics. Gymnastics may be one of the worst events. How many little girls have damaged their bodies for life to be Olympic gymnasts? How many were forced by totalitarian regimes to give up any other life but gymnastics so their countries could use them as status symbols? How many men for the same reason were given drugs that wrecked their bodies, but improved their athletic performance? Every Olympics bring stories of new and more creative ways to cheat in the games. It is hard to believe that beauty pageants ever achieved the same level of cheating to levels so dangerous to the participants.
Now I am sure somebody is going to tell me about all that gracefulness and poise in the figure skating competition. That is the competition that is most like a beauty pageant. When is the last time the gold medal winner was 20 pounds overweight? They all have to have great bodies and exude many of the same virtues that win in a beauty contest. The judges at the Miss America Pageant are far more interested in whether the contestants can think on their feet than the judges at the Olympics.
I hasten to add that the last beauty pageant I saw was when I was about ten years old and I wasn't very impressed even then. [Just a side plug here. Michael Ritchie's cynical 1975 comedy SMILE, about a California beauty pageant, got it just about right. If you get a chance to see it on PBS or someplace like that, don't hesitate. It is one of the great American comedies.] On the other hand, I have watched the Olympics just enough so that I know that the 100-meter butterfly is NOT a Japanese monster. But as far as I have ever seen, the Olympics is just another meat parade, and a pretentious one to boot. [-mrl]
CELESTIAL MATTERS by Richard Garfinkle (Tor, ISBN 0-312-85934-1, 1996, 348pp, US$23.95)
(a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Most alternate histories are based on some historical event happening differently. For example, it might ask, "What if the South had won at Gettysburg?" A few go back even further, with some change in prehistory, such as "What if the dinosaurs survived and developed intelligence?" But Garfinkle goes even further in CELESTIAL MATTERS and changes the basic premises of the universe, by asking, "What if Aristotelian science and Ptolemaic cosmology were an accurate description of the universe?" So what we have is a universe where the stars and the planets really are fixed in crystal spheres; everything really is made up of earth, air, fire, and water; and the gods and goddesses really do exist and interact with mortals. Garfinkle also assumes that Alexander did not die young and went on to conquer Asia until he ran up against China, and the story takes place nine hundred years later, with Greece and China still fighting each other. (Well, if Greek medicine actually worked, then Alexander probably would have survived.)
I had two main problems with all this. One is that my knowledge of the details of Aristotelian science and Ptolemaic cosmology is fairly skimpy, since they aren't really taught in great depth these days. So whether the universe Garfinkle constructs is accurate or consistent is not clear to me, nor did I always understand the explanations given. My other problem is that Garfinkle has constructed a universe in which both Aristotelian/Ptolemaic and Chinese science and cosmology are "true," but they also appear (to me, anyway) to be somewhat contradictory. Harry Turtledove did something similar in THE CASE OF THE TOXIC SPELL DUMP, which assumed that *all* religions were true. Even though that premise is just as contradictory, I found it presented more believably than Garfinkle presents his competing cosmologies. (For that matter, one might ask how other cosmologies such as Mayan or Maorian fit into all this.)
In spite of these quibbles, I enjoyed this book. But I am a fan of alternate histories, and the original approach that Garfinkle takes sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill alternate histories that use fairly traditional variations. And in science fiction in general and alternate histories in particular, originality is getting harder and harder to find. (I just hope that Garfinkle's next book is not a sequel to this one, since the ending does seem to imply that there could be sequels.) Also, since I did minor in classics in college (and actually took three years of ancient Greek, of which I remember distressingly little), the classical setting appeals to me on its own. I guess the best question to ask is whether you are interested in the *history* of science. If so, this book will probably appeal to you.
[Publishing note: I see that Tor is releasing this first novel as a hardback rather than as a mass-market paperback or trade paperback. While this will keep it on the shelves longer and give it more of a chance to find its audience than if it were mass-market, I wonder if the hardback price with limit its audience. It is my personal- -and admittedly relatively uninformed--opinion that trade paperbacks are the format of the future for quality fiction. Mass-market books have major drawbacks as far as bookstore shelf life goes, but hardbacks cost too much for many readers to spend. This of course has very little to do with whether this particular book is good or not. Let's just say that while I recommend the book, I'm not entirely comfortable with saying you should spend $24 on it.] [-ecl]
ONE FOR THE MORNING GLORY by John Barnes (Tor, ISBN 0-312-86106-0, 1996, 319pp, US$22.95)
(a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
"Drawing a pismire from his swash, he stepped over the corpse, leaned far out the window, and peered upward. A lone pigeon was still circling its way upward, as they will when they look for altitude and have a long way to go. It was barely more than a speck, and no one knew the limitations of a pismire better than Slitgizzard, but nonetheless he tested the lovelock, cocked the chutney, rested one wrist upon the other, held his breath, and squeezed the trigger very gently. The pismire spat fire. ... The pigeon hit the parataxis and bounced onto the tiled roof of the clerihew, where it lay still."
Well, I suppose one could say this takes place on an alternate world. Firstly, magic works, and secondly, the English language seems to have evolved differently. Barnes does violence to the language, yes, but measured, precise violence. If a pismire is a weapon here, it's a weapon everywhere it's mentioned. That's part of what makes this book such a pleasure to read, but there is one drawback. This is *not* the book to give an adolescent. It's not the violence, or the sex, but the vocabulary: it could have a permanent effect on her vocabulary, and not a good one.
The plot is a somewhat standard fantasy one of Prince Amatus and his four companions Golias, Mortis, Psyche, and the Twisted Man. They have to perform the usual sorts of tasks--fighting goblins, defeating the evil neighboring king, and so on--but have the additional problem that, as a result of a childhood accident, Prince Amatus is half invisible. Barnes knows the plot is standard. In fact, even his characters know it, and comment on it.
In spite of all this tongue-in-cheekiness, however, this is not a completely light-hearted fantasy. Good people have bad things happen to them, and good people die. Though Barnes does seem to reign back on the malapropisms during the more serious scenes, this still means the reader may at times be torn between the humorous tone and the serious content.
I am not a regular reader of fantasy, or at least not a reader of what I think of as "regular" fantasy. So when I say that ONE FOR THE MORNING GLORY is unusual, I could be wrong. But I found it a well- crafted variation on the usual fantasy mores. Whether or not you enjoy it will depend more on what you think of the use of language, though, than what you think of the story itself. (Two other books that did different things with language are RIDDLEY WALKER by Russell Hoban and FEERSUM ENDJINN by Iain M. Banks. I liked the former, but not the latter.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
The amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity. --Arthur Schopenhauer