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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/07/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 6
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 2E-537 732-957-6330 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.fnal.gov. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, including a clickable tour of the facility. [-ecl]
Fermi Lab: While I was in Chicago a friend gave us a tour of Fermilab. This is a lab with particle accelerators. The building is surprisingly like Holmdel was in the late 1970s. It has a big, uncluttered atrium. They still have funded clubs of all sorts with a big investment in the social life of its employees. They have a thriving cinema club which they give facilities for. They schedule concerts for the staff. People who come in do not have to wear badges. The whole atmosphere was a lot like Holmdel in the late 70s. It gave me a good feeling to know that Fermilab is at least 20 years behind Bell Labs. [-mrl]
Antarctica: I was reading a piece about global warming and the possibility that the ice caps will melt and raise the level of the sea. Of course, this is a serious problem since the land near the water is not highly banked. If the land rises with a slope of 1/24, then you will lose two feet of beachfront for every inch the water level increased. Of course it will take a heck of a lot of water to raise sea level an inch. It is the difference in volume between a sphere the size of the Earth and one that is two inches greater in diameter. All that is multiplied by about 3/4 since about 1/4 of the surface of the earth is covered by land. A quick spreadsheet calculation and I get that as about 2000 cubic miles of water would have to be liberated to raise the water level one inch. That is not an absurd amount, but it still would take quite a bit of warming.
But really what got me thinking is they talked about melting in West Antarctic. That sort of brought me up short. Just what exactly is West Antarctic? Where is it? How do you determine what part of Antarctica is West Antarctic? Now I know where South Antarctic is. It is a circle around the South Pole. How big a circle can be argued, but it is a circle. North Antarctic is the outer rim of the continent toward the coastline. But there is no Western Antarctic. Of course, if you are not too far north, you can start someplace in Antarctica and start walking west and just keep walking forever. There is always an infinite amount further west you can go. It is the same for east. So I would think that there is no Western or Eastern Antarctic. It is all central. This also gives the answer that nobody ever thinks of for the Bear Problem? You know the one. A hunter shoots a bear, walks over to the bear. He then walks one mile south, one mile east, and one mile north and is back where he started. What color is the bear? The answer is supposed to be while because he must have started from the North Pole. Note that there are lots more points in the South than there are in the North. There is a circle around the South Pole with circumference of one mile. You could start anywhere a mile north of that. You could start one mile north of a circle that is a half mile in circumference. It is the same for a third mile. So there a are a set of rings around the South Pole that could do it for you. The rings get closer and closer until they converge to a ring one mile north of the South Pole.
The map that accompanied the article does not seem to concern itself with such niceties as West Antarctic and East Antarctic. It shows Antarctica with Western Antarctic on the left, East Antarctic on the right. The Weddell Sea is in the upper left; the Indian Ocean is on the right. So what does this map think is directly north of Antarctica with this orientation? Now this must not have been an easy decision to make because it is somewhat political. When you have the freedom to say, with some justification, that any point on Earth is due north of you, what do you choose? In a sense you are siding with a given hemisphere. You are saying that what they call north, you will also. You are telling people on the other side of the world that what they think of as your northernmost point, you think of as your southernmost point. That is pretty insulting when you come to think of it. It is showing real favoritism for someplace in the world, but what place was chosen? Well, it would appear that naturalized Antarctica citizens (there is no indigenous human population and the penguins aren't talking) have chosen to think of their north as being a line through the Greenwich Meridian. Antarctica has chosen to think of themselves as being directly south of Greenwich, England. They are of course, but they are also directly south of Newark, New Jersey, and they do not think of themselves that way. I am sure this was a real propaganda victory for Britain. Rah! Rule Britannia. This may be just one more confirmation that God is an Englishman. I suppose that it doesn't really surprise me, but I would have liked them to choose some place more imaginative. I know what you are thinking, but that is how I feel. I am not still bearing a grudge. It is not just because the English burned our Capitol down. Though they did. [-mrl]
ALTERNATE GENERALS edited by Harry Turtledove (Baen, ISBN 0-671-87886-7, 1998, 348pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Mike Resnick has edited eight alternate history anthologies; this is Harry Turtledove's first. The first thing I noticed was that there was very little overlap between the authors in Resnick's anthologies and this one. In part that is probably due to the fact that the editors deal regularly with different people, but it also may be connected with the publishers and their emphasis. Baen Books is known for its military science fiction and in this obviously military collection regular Baen authors are featured. So I suppose it's a reasonable prediction that if you like their other works you'll like this.
Of course, I am not a big fan of military science fiction. I read this for its alternate history content, which turned out to be minimal, but, thank Ghod, not connected with the perfectly awful and completely inaccurate back cover blurb: "At Gaugemela the Macedonians had Alexander and the Persians had--Darius. Result: world conquest. But what if the Persians had--Erwin Rommel. Or what if George S. Patton had commanded Southern forces at Bull Run, and Lincoln had become a Confederate prisoner? The possibilities are endless. . . ."
Alexander, Rommel, Patton, and Lincoln do not appear in this book, nor do Gaugemela or Bull Run. Whatever possessed them to put this on the book?!
If one manages to get past the blurb and the rather garish metallic cover with bursting stars with authors' names, what does one find? Well, apparently all the authors' notes on the historical backgrounds that they used were omitted. Since not all the stories have backgrounds obvious to the non-historian, this will make the book somewhat inaccessible to a reader coming to alternate history for the first or second time. (After you read alternate history for a while, you pick this stuff up, even if you were not a history major.)
[Not all stories are commented on. Not every story had features I wanted to comment on.]
The first story, "The Test of Gold" by Lillian Stuart Carl, is a reasonable lead-off, though I had the feeling that if this story of Boudica and C. Marcus Valarius was the strongest in the anthology (as the lead story traditionally is), it would be a fairly weak collection.
"And to the Republic For Which It Stands" by Brad Linaweaver started out with an intriguing look at Julius Caesar's possible musings about the Roman Republic. Unfortunately, lines like "[h]er breasts are perfect, smooth hills rising and falling like legions marching over countless landscapes of countless campaigns" and expository lumps like "[t]his night of March the fourteenth there is much to think about."
"The Craft of War" by Lois Tilton was one of my favorites. She used a different style and an original approach, and managed to avoid making it just the description of battles and maneuvers that so many stories here were.
Joy Lynn Nye's "Queen of the Amazons" was an example of what is often called "alternate history," but to me doesn't quite qualify. Everything is described right up to the change, and then it stops. There is no extrapolation of what happens next, which is what I read alternate history for.
"The Phantom Tolbukhin" by Harry Turtledove is at least alternate history, and goes a bit beyond the "troop movement" stage, though not nearly enough.
"An Old Man's Summer" by Esther Friesner is another story that attempts a different style. Probably the most literary in the volume, it is not the sort of alternate history story one starts out expecting it to be, and it provides a refreshing change of pace to the book.
"Billy Mitchell's Overt Act" by William Sanders uses yet another stylistic technique--articles, interviews, and quotations--to tell the story of a different Pearl Harbor and a different result. And Sanders follows his changes through to a reasonable extrapolation of their future, rather than just leaving it hanging.
"A Hard Day for Mother" by William R. Fortschen is, not surprisingly to anyone who recognizes the title, about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and though the execution is well done, I found the premise a bit weak and the conclusion unlikely.
Brian M. Thomsen's "Bloodstained Ground" does have Mark Twain, so I may be more favorably inclined toward it than otherwise. Frankly, the Twain aspect was more interesting than the Custer one (which I suspect was supposed to be the main part).
Overall, I found this less rewarding than some of the other alternate history anthologies around. For the person who is new to alternate history, I would recommend the new reprint anthology ROADS NOT TAKEN (edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt) as a better introduction. For the experienced alternate history fan, I would say that this is of more interest for those who are interested in the military aspects of how alternate histories happen than those who are interested in the sociological results. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Go into the street and give one man a lecture on morality and another a shilling, and see which will respect you more. -- Samuel Johnson