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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/05/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 23
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
http://www.y2ktimebomb.com. This is a site updated daily that looks at various aspects of the Year 2000 problem. It is beginning to look like this is a huge disaster looming that will affect every one of us more than we ever suspected. My recent editorial on the subject is scratching the surface. It is worthwhile and more than a little scary to read what experts have to say on the subject. [-mrl]
Cloning and Septuplets:
Recently scientists cloned a sheep. The cloned sheep was born healthy and as far as we can tell happy. The birth caused an international controversy. People all over the world thought it was horrible and unnatural to clone a living creature. What are the consequences for humans if people will be able to clone themselves? Many people, particularly people with a religious viewpoint, think scientists should not be fooling around with something so basic as reproduction. To some cloning is an abomination.
More recently a woman who had been using fertility drugs gave birth to four boys and three girls at one time. One is almost tempted to call this giving birth to "a litter" since it is so uncommon for a birth in such numbers to happen to a human. At this writing the hospital has labeled six of the newborns in serious condition and one in critical condition. I hear a clamor, but not the clamor I was expecting. People are overjoyed and are showering gifts on the new brood. I just heard they have been offered free disposable diapers for life by one well-known producer of such products. [Postscript: by the next day this has turned into a flood of gifts from companies looking for cheap publicity.] The public on the whole seems to be taking great pride in the idea that people can mass produce themselves with the use of drugs, even if a few of the babies die afterward. The father has asked that people around the world pray that the seven children all survive and at this writing it looks like it will be a close thing. The babies have underdeveloped lungs as a result of the process.
Nobody asked for prayer that the cloned sheep would survive and had the scientists been foolish enough to ask for it, they would have just been derided. But of course the sheep did not need any prayer; she was born completely healthy. If, as some believe, health is under God's control and He uses it to express his pleasure and displeasure, the message I am getting is that He more favors the cloned sheep.
The public does not like the idea of reproducing people one at a time through cloning. The complaint cannot be that there would be pairs of people running around with identical DNA. That happens all the time with identical twins. As near as I can figure out the difference is that drug-taking to increase births seems natural to people. I think the belief is that God sees nothing wrong with people swallowing any sort of strange chemical concoction. That is, as long as the drug does not alter consciousness and brain function and as long as it means more children and not less. Drugs that change behavior and are considered wrong. And certainly there are religions who are aghast that someone would use a drug to prevent pregnancy. But taking a pill that creates more children, healthy or not, is just fine by most people. Mind-altering substances are banned; birth control in the usual sense is bad; but taking drugs to increase fertility is much more acceptable, apparently. Most religions do not complain about that. Of course, some, like Christian Science, probably do. But fertility drugs are considered natural and non-fertility drugs a sin.
On the other hand cloning which also leads to more children is not so subtle as a drug now and it may never be. It involves operations done outside the body. It involves mechanical processes. It involves using metal and glass. Of course, so does artificial insemination and especially in vitro fertilization, but I think people do not so feel warm and fuzzy about that either. The rule seems to be that if fooling with reproduction is technically complex or results in fewer people being born, it is bad. But if it is as simple as taking a drug and results in more people, that results in a flood of gifts and well-wishers. Does this make sense? [-mrl]
FOUNDATION'S FEAR by Gregory Benford [Harper Prism, hardcover, copyright 1997. ISBN 0-06-105243-4, 425 pp] (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
I would venture a guess that there are very few among us that have not read Isaac Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy." I remember it being among the first works of sf that I read during my own personal "golden age" of sf. While I don't remember as much about "The Foundation Trilogy" as I would like, I do remember that I liked it very much, and that it pretty much caused me to run out to the library to find more of this Asimov fellow. It was truly the best sf that I had ever read.
The problem with that kind of statement is that, with time, our memories may play tricks on us. Was "The Foundation Trilogy" all that good, or is that just a fond childhood memory? I really don't have the answer to that question, because I haven't read it in many years. I have a vague recollection of reading it about the time that FOUNDATION'S EDGE came out, back in 1982 or so. Isaac himself said that when he was finally convinced to write FOUNDATION'S EDGE, he went back and reread the original trilogy. He said that he was amazed, because nothing ever happened. It was all dialogue.
Well, I deliberately didn't go out and reread all the "Foundation" books before I embarked on FOUNDATION'S FEAR, the first of a new "Foundation" trilogy. That was mostly due to time constraints. If I went out and read prior books in any series any time a new volume in that series came out, I'd never have the time to read anything new. The new trilogy was commissioned by the Asimov estate, and is being written by what fandom is calling the Killer B's: Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and David Brin. Gregory Benford was first up, and he turns in a reasonably decent story, but somehow it doesn't feel quite right.
The timeframe for the story is just before Hari Seldon has been elected First Minister of the Galactic Empire, and also before he has completely worked out the theory of psychohistory. Hari is a "mathist" just trying to do his job; he wants nothing to do with Imperial politics. His problem is that Cleon the Emperor wants him as First Minister. And it gets worse from there.
It's hard to talk about this novel in a sequential fashion when so many different things are going on at one time. One subplot deals with the behind the scenes maneuvering on the part of Hari's wife Dors (a robot) and our old friend R. Daneel Olivaw to make sure that Hari gets the First Ministership *and* survives the process. Another subplot deals with various attempts on Hari's life because of the enemy that he has made on the council. Yet another subplot deals with two artificial personalities that are loose in the "Mesh," which is the Empire's version of the Internet, and what they find there. And of course there is the subplot dealing with Hari and his staff attempting to work out the details of psychohistory. (For those of you who like things like this, one whole section of the novel is either adapted from Benford's 1997 Hugo-nominated story "Immersion," or that story was adapted from this portion of the novel. It's used as a way for Hari to discover more things about psychohistory.)
Having said all that, I have discovered that I have some mixed emotions about not only this novel, but the concept of the entire trilogy. It's been said by several friends of mine that they did not care for 2010: ODYSSEY TWO because it attempted to answer the questions that were posed in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. They felt that the questions were best left unanswered, so that the reader had a chance to think on those questions and come with his/her own answers. I sort of feel the same way about the new trilogy, especially in the fact that it deals with Hari Seldon at an early stage in his career. To me, Seldon was a very mysterious, authoritative, nearly godlike figure that appeared when you needed him most. Have Hari revealed like this is somewhat disturbing to me; I didn't *want* to know about him (And yes, the same could be said for Asimov's treatment of Seldon in FORWARD THE FOUNDATION-- but it almost doesn't count. There was more of Asimov in Seldon's character there than there was of Seldon himself, especially near his death.).
Other aspects of the story don't seem to fit in our accepted view of the Galactic Empire, and I wonder why they were introduced. Why the artificial personalities, or "sims," as he calls, them? And why the introduction of the alien life forms? Benford admits in the afterword that he is setting things up for Bear and Brin. I'll assume for the moment that the sims and aliens are part of the setup. We'll see.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the novel overall. It was a good read, nicely paced (in my opinion), and reasonably well done. Benford doesn't try to copy Isaac's style, which I think was a good idea. And things *did* happen in the novel, which is certainly different from the original, if you were to ask Isaac himself. I'd recommend the book even with my mixed emotions about it. I think it's worth the time. And I do look forward to the next two books in "The Second Foundation Trilogy." [-jak]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Liberty is the right to do whatever the law permits. -- Charles Louis Montesquieu