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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/18/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 16
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC (no meetings scheduled) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.hyperion.com/lurk/lurker.html. The Lurker's Guide to BABYLON 5: all sorts of BABYLON 5 information, but no spoilers of upcoming episodes. For that, go to http://pages.prodigy.com/wildfoto/spoilers.html. This is "The Babylon 5 Spoiler Junkies Page." [-ecl]
A while back I was discussing civilization with somebody. I was asked if I thought that civilization was getting better or worse. It was a pessimistic moment, I suppose, but I said that I thought that civilization had reached its height and was going back downhill. What, I was asked, was the event that turned things around and sent civilization downhill. I thought for a moment and said it was the breakup of the phone company. I intended it as something of a joke. Obviously being a Bell Labs person, the breakup was one of life's bleaker moments for me. But was I serious that it was a turning point for civilization?. Well, actually, yes. Why? Well I will get to that.
I have heard a story that somebody who was partially-sighted requested to meet with the people at MS to see if their products could be made more accessible to the handicapped. (I call them MS because I am not certain I remember the story correctly and I would not want to libel a major industrial giant.) After a long meeting in which the person in question made several suggestions that had generated interest, the conversation got around to how much of a market there was for software more friendly to the handicapped and they realized that they were still miles apart. It seems that MS was looking to see if they could increase their already huge profits by opening their software to a big paying market. The gentleman requesting the changes was doing so without much thought to what was profitable and was thinking more about what was fair to all. Well, the day of the corporate giant that stood back and took the long view about what was really fair ended with the break-up of the phone company.
The old Bell system was dedicated to the idea of Universal Service. The concept was that everybody who wanted would get phone service. The guy who lives in a dugout house on the Wyoming prairie could wake up one morning and say he wanted a telephone, even though the nearest town was 30 miles away. The old phone company would plant the phone poles and lay the phone lines and then charge the same for phone service they charged everybody else. The cost was just spread out over everybody who had phone service. You can be living in the center of Los Angeles but you are paying the cost for the prairie phone line. So along come little guys without the concept of Universal Service. Handle phone calls only to high volume areas and make a mint. They could pass the savings on to the customer. The breakup of the phone company was simply the government saying that you could have a bunch of little companies each making money the best they could. And since little companies could not really compete with a big guy the new paradigm became whoever could offer the lowest prices, not Universal Service any more. This was actually a big improvement for the businessman who rarely found themselves calling the Wyoming prairie. Luckily there were lines already out to most parts of the Wyoming prairie. But what about our partially-sighted friend? He probably never realized it but the breakup of the phone company was a disaster for him. It basically set a precedent that each little company could try to maximize profits any way it wanted to. For MS to be interested in making their interfaces friendly for the partially sighted, they have to be convinced that it has to be really profitable. MS is just not dedicated to Universal Service; they just want to make bucks. This means that if the handicapped want interfaces that compensate for their disabilities, they better be able to pay. The people who want the standard MS products don't want to pay higher prices to subsidize the handicapped.
I suppose that is the new world we live in. Government still lives by the concept of Universal Service. If your town has town meetings and one person needs to have an interpreter sign the content of those meetings, most towns by law have to hire an interpreter. Most very large corporations probably have to by law also. But small and agile companies only have to make a profit. And they are probably the wave of the future. And the shift in that paradigm was really the breakup of the phone company. [-mrl]
LEST DARKNESS FALL/TO BRING THE LIGHT
by L. Sprague de Camp/David Drake (Baen, ISBN 0-671-87736-4, 1996 (1939), 336pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
LEST DARKNESS FALL is a classic, and justifiably so. The cover describes it as "the novel that defined a genre," and while there were earlier alternate histories, this was the first to make a major impression on the science fiction field. (Harry Turtledove in his introduction talks about how it changed his life, giving a great example of how alternate histories work: what if he hadn't read it?) It is a book that should be in print and I'm glad to see Baen has brought it back. It is interesting that it has been reissued just as de Camp was given a "Special Achievement" Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and it was cited along with his works THE WHEELS OF IF and "A Gun for Aristotle" as major seminal works in the genre.
For those who don't know, the plot is very much a "Connecticut Yankee" sort of plot: Martin Padway, walking along in 1939 Rome, is struck by lightning and wakes up in sixth century Rome. He determines to use his superior knowledge to prevent the fall of Rome, or rather the Dark Ages following it. While Twain intended A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT to be a rather bitter description of how bad life--and people--were in the so-called "golden days" of Camelot, de Camp is more an engineer and hence concentrates more on just what a twentieth century man could do with his knowledge.
David Drake's novella "To Bring the Light" is very much in the same vein. (In that regard, the cover blurb that describes it as "a brand-new story that stands that genre on its head" is completely inaccurate.) In it, Flavia Herosilla, an educated woman in the Rome of 248 A.D. is hurled back to 751 B.C. Not surprisingly, she meets Romulus and Remus, and finds that the area that would be Rome is smelly, dirty, and altogether uncivilized. So she takes matters into her own hands and attempts to improve the situation.
But the novella suffers by comparison to the de Camp. In addition, there are several problems that should have been caught by the editors. I have no problem with the omniscient narrator. However, that is not the voice in which this novel was written, and even if it were, the phrase "the sun was still a finger's breadth below the eastern horizon," would still strike me as awkward. This, combined with punctuation errors, grammatical mistakes, and unfortunate word choices make me again bemoan the current state of editing.
If you haven't read LEST DARKNESS FALL, this is a must-buy. But if you already have that book, then the additional novella is not sufficient reason to buy this edition. [-ecl]
CHILD OF THE EAGLE
by Esther Friesner (Baen, ISBN 0-671-87725-9, 1996, 312pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Alternate histories are about "what if"s, but even so I was skeptical of this one. After all, the premise is that Venus (the goddess, not the planet) comes down and convinces Brutus to save Caesar from the assassination attempt. This could be a pretty silly idea, but Friesner manages to avoid the pitfalls. Venus is not just a silly love goddess, but the more accurate serious deity of Greek mythology. And her intervention is kept to a minimum.
Friesner also manages to come up with a plausible alternate history--perhaps someone more familiar with the period could pick holes in it, but I found it believable. I also found the motivations interesting, though the ending was a bit telegraphed. (Does saying that constitute a spoiler?) But Friesner is never one for the simplistic and manages to cast an unexpectedly mythic interpretation and motivation to it all.
Don't dismiss this one as just another silly-premised alternate history. Unusual the premise may be, but Friesner develops it with seriousness and diligence, and more than a little philosophy. I won't argue that Shakespeare's treatment of Julius Caesar and Brutus isn't greater, but I would recommend this book to those interested in historical fantasy.
Oh, and while it's true that Charleton Heston was in two film versions of Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR, he never played Brutus (or any of the other conspirators), which appears to be how Gary Ruddell depicted him on the cover. [-ecl]
TIME STATION LONDON
by David Evans (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00364-8, 1996, 249pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This is basically a time travel story with alternate history aspects, rather than an alternate history novel, and is very much patterned on Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" series. (Here it's the "Temporal Corps.") The story itself has some promise (renegade time travelers are trying to assassinate Churchill and affect the outcome of World War II). But Evans doesn't have the skill that Anderson does (given that Anderson holds the record for most fiction Hugos--seven--this is not surprising), and the story never seems to take off. And perhaps more damaging is that Evans over- uses the time travel idea, which makes the story very non- chronological and also means that the reader soon realizes that it is too easy to get around problems using time travel. If nothing is permanent, why care about anyone or anything? And what tension is there in such a story?
There are other problems. One is that Evans seems to be stuck on the letter "S"; his three main female characters are Samantha, Sandy, and Sally. (He has a male character named Steven as well.) And he is sloppy with his history. For example, a character gets his Elizabethan English module replaced with one for the 1940s and also gets a smallpox vaccination for the latter period. Wouldn't he have gotten one for the earlier period already? And a character from the early 1950s trained in the 2700s refers to people in the 1940s as "you James Bond types."
Obviously, there will be other stories in this milieu. (For one thing, the back cover says, "Don't miss this thrilling debut of the all-new Time Station series!") But I found it rather flat and uninteresting, and recommend you seek out Anderson's stories instead. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing. -- George Bernard Shaw