MT VOID 10/17/97 (Vol. 16, Number 16)

MT VOID 10/17/97 (Vol. 16, Number 16)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/17/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 16

Table of Contents

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  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: James Morrow home page. [-ecl]

Nuclear Weapons:

Before I take a point of view, particularly if it is one of these things that just about everybody knows and agrees on, I occasionally like to play this little game with myself. I am a lawyer and I am arguing for the opposite point of view. I am being the Devil's Advocate. Now I grew up in the nuclear era. Everybody lived under the Sword of Damocles of nuclear weapons. I went through the old "duck and cover" exercises in grade school. Like everybody else I hated nuclear weapons. But I play the Devil's Advocate role with nuclear weapons and I am not sure they have been the curse that we all think of them as being. In fact my best arguments have been in favor of nuclear weapons. So I am not telling the reader what to believe, but I would like to list some of the arguments in favor.

The first shock argument is that using nuclear weapons against the Japanese was like a slap in the face to someone hysterical. It shook them out of a mindset that was hurting them. These days you hear arguments all sorts of ways but I think the best arguments say that the Japanese would have kept fighting until a lot more were dead than were killed by the bombings. The bombings were a slap in the face to say you will not win and you will destroy yourself playing out the game. In a way the bombings may have even given the Japanese an honorable way out of the war, but I am convinced that more Japanese survived the war because of the bombing and it left more latitude for friendship between the two countries since there were not hundreds of thousands killed on both sides. So this adds up to saying the admittedly weird statement if taken out of context that Japan ended better off because of the bombings.

Then nuclear weapons remained around convincing us that if we fight too much with the communists we could be in for some real trouble in the form of nuclear retaliation. There probably would have been another world war over something like the Soviets grabbing Hungary or us doing something that angered them. There was not because it was all played out with nuclear weapons that never were used. Again nuclear weapons probably saved lives, this time perhaps in the millions.

And certainly our standard of living is better because countries have not had to field huge armies. Nuclear weapons have meant that people have not had to disrupt their lives for national defense.

Nuclear weapons have slowed our movement to biological and chemical weapons. We have not needed them because we have had nuclear weapons. And frankly they are a lot scarier. One of the nice things about a nuclear bomb is that it is not subtle. You see that mushroom cloud and you have a really good idea that somebody had it in for you. Now look at biological warfare. If you and most the people you know come down with a cold that just gets worse and worse, and soon your whole country is debilitated, at what point do you decide you have been attacked? But of course if you develop such a germ, there is always the danger that the news will get out and you will be threatened with nuclear weapons.

Finally there is this nice discovery that if you actually use nukes, it will trigger nuclear winter. It is a weapon you dare not use because it is as destructive to the person wielding it as it is to the person attacked.

I am not telling anyone that they should love nuclear weapons. I am not even saying that I have decided that they were a good thing, though admittedly I am starting to lean that way. But I do think it is worth looking at the possibility that they have gotten a bad rap. I think there are good arguments that the world is better off for their presence. The causes of World War I to me have always looked like a sort of immaturity on the part of nations. It was nations acting a lot like children. Nuclear weapons have taught the lesson that major powers cannot behave like children. And we all may be better off for the lesson. [-mrl]

Barnes & Noble:

The following is a comment by member Jeanette Walker:


I was reading your entry in MT Void on the discounts at Barnes & Noble. This is a program which resulted from a revamping of Lucent's purchasing policies, which was negotiated with the help of the Global Library Network. It is a program which should be available to any Lucent employee anywhere. It should appear in B&N's computers, so any employee encountering any problem should ask B&N to check their records.

This program offers a 20% discount off of list price. This is about 10% more than is usually discounted. But if you see a B&N sign offering more than 20% off, it is probably better to leave your badge in your pocket and get the better deal.

To the best of my knowledge, AT&T has made no such arrangements with any book vendor. [-jfw]

SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Only in the casting does SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET reveal itself as a very Western production. While the basic plot is very reminiscent of SHOGUN--each story is about a European who finds himself in an exotic and incomprehensible Asian land, eventually becoming the confidante of the ruler and a pawn in politics of momentous events--the setting is endlessly fascinating and director Jean-Jacques Annaud creates an entire world of the past caught in the wheels of changing time. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), 7 (0 to 10)
For millennia Tibet has been protected from intrusion by the tallest guards in the world, the Himalayan Mountains. There in the 7th Century A.D. a culture all but unremembered first mixed with Chinese culture. Until relatively recent history it was a culture that was so isolated that it could go its own way and not be very much influenced by any other culture in the world. SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET tells the true story of two Austrian climbers who happened to be in Tibet during its years of fastest change, probably the only Europeans in the country at the time.

In Austria of 1939 lives Heinrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt), a world-renowned Olympic athlete, a member of the Nazi Party as a matter of style, and a totally selfish boy-man. He abandons his pregnant wife--who is nearly due to give birth--over her objection and he goes on a four-month climbing expedition in the Himalayas. His first shock is to discover that the expedition will be led by an awkward-looking climber, Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis).

Harrer determines to undermine the ungainly man's authority and to make himself the star of the expedition for the press. His little battle only gets him into trouble, first of the sides of the mountain to be climbed, then when war breaks out in Europe the troop of climbers are captured by the British in India and imprisoned in a POW camp. Harrer fights a two-front war against the British imprisoning him and against Aufschnaiter's authority. Eventually Harrer and Aufschnaiter escape from the camp, lead the British a chase through India, and flee across the border into Tibet, a country officially closed to foreigners. The two lie their way into the capital city of Lhasa, a beautiful mountainside city forbidden to any non-Tibetans. After some time there dealing with the bureaucracy of monks, Harrer is given counsel with the Dalai Lama. The great lama, still a young boy, finds he likes the brash German. Harrer becomes a friend, confidant, and teacher to the boy. The warm relationship between the two forms the core of the film. But their relationship is cut off when the country is virtually stolen by invading Chinese Communist troops.

There has been discussion on whether this was a good role for Brad Pitt or not. As the supercilious Heinrich who finds his humanity by loving Tibet, Pitt was fairly believable. I had the feeling that if I had never seen him before I would not have thought twice about whether this part was right for him. In fact associations with previous films were about the only thing that got in the way of the credibility of the story. We have people like Victor Wong of THE JOY LUCK CLUB and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA; Mako of CONAN THE BARBARIAN; and B. D. Wong, whom we saw around the incubator in JURASSIC PARK and flitting around in FATHER OF THE BRIDE. It almost makes the film seem less Asian to see these actors present. David Thewlis has turned in one good performance after another over the last four years since he stood out in Mike Leigh's NAKED. The Dalai Lama, played by three boys of varying age, seems not so much a font of wisdom as an unending source of simple straightforward curiosity, mostly about Western culture. Jetsun Pema, who plays the Dalai Lama's mother is in reality the Dalai Lama's sister. The film is directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who directed THE NAME OF THE ROSE and THE BEAR. As with the former, the setting is main attraction of the film.

One disappoint of the film is that the actual time covered in Tibet is shortened by a long introductory section. The screenplay by Becky Johnston spends nearly half of the film just getting Harrer and Aufschnaiter to Lhasa so that the story from that point forward seems rushed. Most of the adventure, however, is in the first hour, with some harrowing scenes of mountain climbing. The stories of escapes, bound by the truth, seem almost cliched. John Williams spices the score with eerie Tibetan music. I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI by N. Lee Wood (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00450-4, 1997 (1996c), 337pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

This book is not without flaws, but it did keep me up until 3 AM to finish it, so I guess that serves as a recommendation.

Kahlili bint Munadi Sulaiman is a television journalist. She covered a war in Khuruchabja (not unlike the war in Iraq, from the description), and now finds herself involved in escorting John Halton to Khuruchabja. But neither are what they appear: Sulaiman is also K. B. Sulaiman, male journalist (because frankly, there was no way a woman could cover a war in a Muslim fundamentalist country), and Halton is a fabricant. And besides the issue of gender, there is also the layer of deception and concealment inherent in the television journalism business: the newscasters are just "bubble-heads" repeating the words fed to them and nothing is what it seems. Given that the whole Middle East situation in real life and in the book seems tied up with identity in strange ways, I am sure that this emphasis on multiple and hidden identities is not accidental. (I might quibble that "Khuruchabja" sounds more Central Asian than Middle Eastern, but let it pass.) If you question whether Sulaiman could carry off her disguise, consider Linda Hunt in the film THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY.

Halton is also trying to conceal his identity. Fabricants are not entirely popular, even with heavy government regulation. This regulation, by the way, is one of my two major complaints. LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI was obviously written before the recent cloning announcements, but even then reproductive technology had gone far enough that the sorts of definitions of "human" used here would never have been accepted.

Wood thinks through this whole issue of concealment more than most. Her characters need to acquire more than just the clothing and the hair cuts, they need to think and react the way their false egos would. They do not always succeed. One of the things that makes the story ring true is that they are not perfect at it. They make mistakes. Things happen beyond their control. And they have to deal with it.

Wood focuses primarily on intra-Muslim strife, and maybe because both (all?) sides are Muslim, she seems to avoid the stereotypes and extremes that so many writers fall into when they have the Muslims all on one side as inhuman monsters bent on destroying Western civilization. My only other complaint is the ending--I find Wood's "solution" to the Middle East situation unlikely, to say the least.

I haven't read Wood's first novel (FARADAY'S ORPHANS), but after reading LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI, I will be looking for that one as well. Wood is an author to watch and LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI is a book to read. [-ecl]

FOREVER PEACE by Joe Haldeman (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00406-7, 1997, 326pp, US$21.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

One, this is not a sequel to THE FOREVER WAR. Two, the title of this is FOREVER PEACE, not THE FOREVER PEACE.

Haldeman has claimed that FOREVER PEACE is part of a triptych of thematically connected novels containing THE FOREVER WAR and 1968. This is true, but only to the extent that they are all about war and what makes us fight and kill each other. And while the idea of FOREVER PEACE is that there may be a way to end the killing, most of it is devoted to descriptions of battles and attacks and killing.

One problem is that the pacing is off. We spend half the novel following Julian Class, the operator of a "soldierboy"--basically a remote-controlled robot soldier. Then suddenly within a few pages, we find out that there is something happening that can destroy the universe, and that there is a way to convert humanity to a non- aggressive state. Another problem is that while the first plot twist is moderately believable, the second I found completely unconvincing. All the problems that are introduced are solved with a wave of the hand. It's as if we have a solution to world hunger that involves getting to Proxima Centauri in an hour, and then on the next page someone says, "Oh, by the way, we just discovered how to travel faster than light." (And while we're at it, Haldeman also postulates the miracle of nanotechnology, which can provide for all material needs.) Another problem (at least for me) was the foreshadowing, where you would read some first-person narrative from Julian, and then a third-person omniscient would break in to say, "But Julian had no way of knowing how wrong he was, " or some such.

But FOREVER PEACE is still worth reading. Haldeman is at his best when he is describing everyday life in the "permanent war footing" of the future, with all its restrictions and "acceptable" dangers. If THE FOREVER WAR was the Vietnam War transposed to the future, then FOREVER PEACE is Nicaragua, Kuwait, and Oklahoma City. It's a world full of security precautions that don't work, but which are followed because they make people feel better. (Exactly what purpose does showing a picture ID serve when you fly somewhere now?) It's a world of elaborate rules of friendship based on who gets paid what, and when, and how. (And haven't you heard of someone picking up a dinner check by explaining that they can claim it as a business expense?) One of the aspects of science fiction I like is the way it looks at the near-future and consequences of our current politico-economic situation. Had Haldeman just written about nanotechnology and the war between the haves and the have- nots, it would have been far more satisfying. As it was, there was too much going on here for any one thread to be given sufficient space.

As I said, I think FOREVER PEACE is worth reading, though not for the plot so much as for the setting. The obvious comparison will be to THE FOREVER WAR, and it doesn't stand up to that--but then, that is very high standard. [-ecl]

STARLIGHT 1 edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor, ISBN 0-312- 86215-6, 1996, 316pp, US$13.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Two Hugo nominees out of twelve stories--not a bad percentage for an original anthology. (And this anthology undoubtedly contributed to Nielsen Hayden's own Hugo nomination as Best Professional Editor.) And it's not a theme anthology. This is not "Science Fiction Stories Set in the Interior of Stars" or "Fantasy Stories About Light." It's just good science fiction and fantasy. Everyone seems to be comparing this to such series as Terry Carr's "Universe" or Damon Knight's "Orbit," but in my opinion it's too soon to tell. I will say that this is a very auspicious start.

The first story in STARLIGHT 1 is "The Dead" by Michael Swanwick; the last is "The Cost to Be Wise" by Maureen McHugh. Traditional anthology wisdom is to start with your strongest story, and end with your second strongest. Nielsen Hayden is certainly in agreement with the readers here--these were the two stories nominated for the Hugo Award. But don't ignore the stories in the middle, or you'll miss some excellent works.

For example, "Mengele's Jew" by Carter Scholz is a unique combination of quantum mechanics and the Holocaust. "The Weighing of Ayre" by Gregory Feeley is a science fiction story of the seventeenth century. Jane Yolen has "Sister Emily's Lightship," the second "Emily-Dickinson-and-the-space-aliens" story of the year (and in my opinion, the better of the two). John M. Ford's "Erase/Record/Play" is written in the rather unusual form of a playscript, and reminds me in some ways of the plays of Vaclav Havel. It is subtitled "A Drama for Print," though it wouldn't surprise me to see this performed at some point. In fact, I wouldn't object if the folks at Boskone who do theatrical performances each year decided to do this one. (Consider that a hint.)

I won't list every story, but I will recommend that you go out and get this book and discover them for yourself. I'm looking forward to the second volume. [-ecl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     All politics are based on the indifference
     of the majority.
                                   -- James Reston