MT VOID 02/19/99 (Vol. 17, Number 34)

MT VOID 02/19/99 (Vol. 17, Number 34)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 02/19/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 34

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 201-447-3652 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 2E-537  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


Well, guys, it is all starting to happen. As the Millennium approaches the world is just getting weirder and weirder. Admittedly, we knew that some of the serious problems we would be facing at the end of the century would be the stuff of science fiction. Famine. Nuclear weapons. That sort of thing. But some of the world is getting to look like some of the more whimsical pieces also. This one is worthy of an episode of the old "X Minus One" radio show. For some of you this is going to sound like old news and for the rest, you are going to think I am crazy. Our National Security Agency has a new problem, a new threat to the security of the country. It seems that a potential security hazard has been found inside their own building. The source of this hazard is people bringing to work Furbies. Furbies, you may know, have gone into millions of unsuspecting homes. But they have also been adopted by adults who have taken them to work. They have gone to places that would have known better than to let a child in, but people figure a doll is safe. They are cute little furry dolls that look a lot like the title characters in GREMLINS. They also may behave like the title characters in GREMLINS. It seems that this is sort of a little mechanical pet that is just chock full of computer chips so that it acts like a child. What all does a Furby do? The manufacturer is not giving a complete list of its capabilities. That is the idea. The thing is supposed to be as unpredictable as a child is. You don't know all the weird things that a child can do and you are pretty much in the same position with a Furby. You never know where you stand. If you put two Furbies together they will start talking with each other in their own language. Sometimes they sing little duets. Or they may start discussing you. Or they might discuss something you said. And if you happen to have said it some place like the NSA it may be something that was a national secret. Until the Furby heard it. Now you see why the NSA is scared.

It seems that one of the surprise capabilities of a Furby is to listen to the world around it and keep mum for a while, but to talk about it later. They pick up words and use them in their own conversations. Honest. They have a little recorder on a chip inside them and they remember a lot of what they hear. And then later they will repeat what they have heard. Are you starting to see why the NSA might be very nervous about them? Furbies have been brought into their building and now have been privy to national secrets. You would never let a child into such meeting for fear of what the child might repeat, but nobody thought twice about letting a little inanimate doll sit in on these meetings. Well, perhaps it was not so inanimate. Of a memory, a voice, and discretion, which do you think is the hardest to give a doll? Let us just say that these fur and metal beasties currently have at best the lessor part of valor.

Now the big problem is what to do with the Furbies that have been found in the NSA building. In some cases it will be possible to know that Furbies know something they should not. I mean when you hear a toy doll talking about our deployment of operative abroad you generally know that he is guilty of a security breach. And being that there are few people to stand up for Furby rights, I think the openly indiscrete Furby is probably dispatched with the utmost barbarity. The problem is what do you do about a Furby who just sits that with an enigmatic smile on its little pelted puss. Does it know about the assassins we hired in Paraguay for that all-important job? It may look innocent enough, but can you afford to take that risk? How do you know that once you release it, it will not go straight to the newspapers? NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker told the Washington Post: "Getting them out is going to be almost harder than getting them in. You'd have to take them to the basement and sweat them a lot." And who knows what the circuitry is. Put electrodes on one to get the truth out of it and you may just change his circuitry. Who knows what it would do if it wants revenge?

Now raise your hands. How many of you out there figured that by the end of the century we would have a problem with toy dolls in the NSA possibly spying and revealing national secrets? I just how that this guy Baker has them locked up good and tight. How does he know they won't stage an escape? [-mrl]

COSM by Gregory Benford (Avon Books, 1998, ISBN 0-380-97435-5, HC, 344 pp., $23.00) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Well, it's nearing Hugo nominations time again, soon to be followed by the Hugo balloting itself. When the balloting rolls around, I end up looking at the nominations list only to find out that most of the books are ones that I've not read. It seems that the tastes of the typical Hugo nominators and mine just don't agree.

The annual LOCUS "Year in Review" issue arrived at the house last week. Within it are LOCUS's recommendations for the best in every Hugo category--their "Recommended Reading List". And again, I look at the lists, and see that the books that I liked and read are not among the selections.

Until, I hope, now. LOCUS recommends it highly. I do too. COSM, by Gregory Benford. Benford draws on his experience as a real life physicist in coming up with one of the best novels I've read that were published in 1998. Alicia Butterworth is a UC-Irvine particle physics professor doing experiments in high energy physics on the Relatavistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The experiment goes wrong (come now, you shouldn't be surprised at *that*), and there is a massive explosion. As she and others clear away the rubble, she finds a silver bowling ball shaped object. Reasoning that it was her experiment, and that the folks at Brookhaven wouldn't do the right thing, she steals it away, unbeknownst to them (for the meantime, anyway), back to UCI. There, she and a couple of her assistants, as well as a professor from Caltech, Max Jalon, make an amazing discovery: what they have there is a whole new universe.

The story, then, follows Alicia as she tries to deal with the Cosm, the publicity it brings, the death of one of the assistants, the budding romance with Jalon, the legal problems of walking off with the Cosm, the philosophical ramifications of creating a universe, and being single and feeling out of touch with her feelings and emotions. Benford very effectively weaves the human element of the characters in with the hard science of just what this thing really is to tell a Really Neat Story. The only problem I had with the story was that, as much as I like hard sf stories, and hard sf written by Benford, the physics was a little tough for me to grasp in some instances.

But that can be dismissed, I think, as one looks deeper into the implications of just what it means to have created a universe, and, in Alicia's case, one that seems to behave just like ours. Brookhaven created another one by attempting to duplicate her experiments conditions, but the universe created didn't quite behave the same way. In any case, should we be creating these things, and what about the life forms within them, if any? Are *we* living in a Cosm, as it were? Did somebody create our universe, not God, or god, or gods, but some scientist just like Alicia in some (un)controlled laboratory experiment? And does that make that scientist (G)(g)od?

The book comes to, I think, a satisfying and reasonable conclusion. While after a while that conclusion really was predictable, it made sense. Read the book, and I think you'll agree.

Actually, read the book, and I hope you'll agree it was terrific.

Now, where's that recommended reading list??? Better get started.... [-jak]

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

Quote of the Week:

     Marriage is an arrangement by which two people start
     by getting the best out of each other and often end
     by getting the worst.
                                   -- Gerard Brenan