MT VOID 05/02/03 (Vol. 21, Number 44)

MT VOID 05/02/03 (Vol. 21, Number 44)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/02/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 44

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Trading Spaces (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Some people we know are a fan of a TV show called "Trading Spaces." This is the official description of the idea of the show: "Ever sit in someone's home and wonder what would happen if you stripped, ripped and painted as you pleased? Find out during this one-of-a-kind decorating show when two sets of neighbors swap keys to transform a room in each other's home. They have two days, a set budget, and they're not allowed back into their own homes until the moment of truth. This is how-to with a neighborly twist." Neighborly? It sounds to me like a real high concept show. It's "This Old House" meets STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. [-mrl]

Ouch. That ad! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor ------------------
Get A Free Psychic Reading!
Your Online Answer to Life's Important Questions.

We send out the MT VOID each week through the facilities of Yahoo. Yahoo allows us to manage the mailing list and they keep an archive of the messages we send out. We pay for this service not with money but in a more subtle way. They put an advertisement on each issue we send out. I have received mail from readers struck by the irony that while our editorial policy is to point out the inanity of professional psychics and foolishness of the credulous suckers who foolishly pay them. Let's talk a little about extra- sensory perception and psychics and set the record straight.

Q: Does extra-sensory perception exist?

A: Almost certainly. (Just like there are almost certainly intelligent aliens somewhere in the universe. They are just not here visiting on this planet.) The senses a being, human or animal, have are determined by how that being evolved. Some animals have some senses that humans never evolved. It appears that animals use senses that humans do not have in order to navigate. Some animals seem to know when earthquakes are coming and avoid them. It isn't the shaking of the ground because, it is claimed, they can detect it before a seismometer can. If indeed they do have such a sense we may never know its nature. Our brains just do not work that way, unfortunately.

Q: Is it then not conceivable that some humans have senses that most other humans do not have?

A: Yes, but conceivable is about all it is. If such powers existed in humans there would almost certainly be some that could demonstrate these powers in an incontestable way. Apparently nobody ever has. If psychic powers really existed there would be people demonstrating it by openly using the powers to make themselves rich in the stock market. (Why do psychics so frequently seem to live in the low rent part of town?)

Q: If psychics are not wealthy, isn't it just that psychics cannot use their power for personal gain?

A: They make predictions for personal gain all the time. That's how they stay in business. Does it seem likely that there is some force in their mind that recognizes that a psychic vision would be for personal financial gain and would block just those visions? It seems more likely that the claim they cannot personally benefit from those predictions is to rationalize to customers the concept that they are the key to good fortune while the psychic herself lives in a malodorous ugly little house that needs paint and has five cats running around. If their visions cannot be used to help themselves, why not pair up with another psychic and each make the other rich?

Q: Haven't psychics been of inestimable help to police?

A: Not so anyone has ever noticed. Basically all they do is use standard "psychic" tricks and make guesses. With all the psychics in the country anxious to help police, still nobody knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Think what a publicity coup finding Hoffa would be for anyone who had real psychic powers. They have had no better record of predictions than one would expect by chance.

Q: Isn't it possible that psychic powers are jammed by the presence of skeptics?

A: Psychics frequently have claimed they have used their powers in situations that after the fact it was clear there were skeptics present. It seems much more likely that this claim and the claim that psychics cannot use their powers for personal gain are just excuses to avoid any rational evaluation of their powers.

Well, that is my rant for the week. I cannot tell in advance, but it will probably be brought to you by some so-called "psychic" who figured it paid to advertise. He or she did not know that his ad would be coupled with an argument against using their "service." I guess that is what you call an "unforeseen circumstance." [-mrl]

Letter of Comment on MCSWEENEY'S (by Rich Horton):

Last week, I wrote, "Michael Chabon's own story is also an alternate history in which the British still rule North America in 1876. However, because it is presented as the first chapter of a serialized novel, and the rest isn't there (is it possible Chabon will actually finish it?), it is ultimately disappointing."

Rich Horton wrote in response to that: "Ian McDowell says that Chabon wrote a movie script called THE MARTIAN AGENT, an alternate history in which the British rule North American in Victorian times, and that it may be produced by the same folks who are doing THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. (Depending on the success of that film.) So it seems quite likely that Chabon has done an extended version of the story, even if only as a script."

IDENTITY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A set of strange and apparently dramatically contrived circumstances bring a set of strangers to a motel in a very bad storm. Then they start being murdered in assorted ways like AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. This is a strange mystery which is a variation on the slice-and-dice horror film. It is a different idea, but that is not enough to make the film stand out. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4) [Minor spoiler]

A set of odd and unlikely events brings an assorted group of people to a cheap motel in an unrelenting rainstorm. There a killer runs loose, whittling their number down. The real problem with IDENTITY is its timing. By now if a film is going to cover the well-trodden field of a mad killer knocking off a bunch of people there has to be something new and novel in the approach. The fact of the film's mere existence points to there being some strange twist coming over the horizon. And the film lives or dies on whether that twist is sufficient reason for the film to be.

Ed (played by John Cusack) is an ex-policeman who these days is working as a driver for Caroline (Rebecca DeMornay). On a very rainy night he accidentally hits a woman who is standing in the road due to a flat tire caused by Paris (Amanda Peet). With the road out he cannot get her to help and takes her to a local motel. Meanwhile another policeman, Rhodes (Ray Liotta), brings his prisoner Robert Maine (Jake Busey) to the same motel for shelter from the weather. Through similar strange events, ten rooms are filled at the sinister little motel, but vacancies open up soon as murders take place, one at a time. This all has something to do with a hearing for a mental patient who has murdered several people.

If this all sounds like dozens of other movies, that is really part of the idea. This is a movie of cliches twisted together with a new approach. Most of what you are paying for in your movie ticket is to see the new idea. The film is not so much a "whodunit" as a "whatsgoingon." The movie mixes the strange with cliche, but it has more of the cliche and less of the strange. And the strange that is there is not strange enough.

IDENTITY is directed by James Mangold, whose mixed bag of films includes his riveting HEAVY and GIRL, INTERRUPTED, but whoalso plays with variations on more standard genres with COP LAND and KATE & LEOPOLD. The screenplay is by Michael Cooney, who seems to be best know for writing the "Jack Frost" horror films.

Is IDENTITY worth the price of admission? Not for me, it wasn't. It wasn't so much a "What???" experience as it was an "uh, okay" sort of experience. I rate it a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

DUNE: HOUSE CORRINO by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Bantam Spectra, 2001, 496pp, $27.95, ISBN 0-553-11084-5) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

At Windycon a couple of years ago Kevin J. Anderson was one of the guests of honor. Being the book and autograph collector that I am, I ask him for his signature on the final book in the Dune prequel trilogy, HOUSE CORRINO. In addition to his signature, he wrote: "At last, we reach the beginning!".

And so we do.

I stated in my reviews of the first two books of the trilogy that I would stick it out to the end in the hopes that the series would continue to get better. In my review of HOUSE HARKONNEN, I said that it *was* a better book than HOUSE ATREIDES, possibly because we were closer to what the universe would look like when the original novel began. Well, this indeed is a better novel than the previous two, but it still doesn't have the FEEL of the original. It still isn't *right*. It's decent, but it just isn't quite DUNE. This time, it's better not only because of the fact that once again we're getting closer to the point where DUNE starts off, but because there is just so much stuff going on that I did indeed want to keep turning the pages, unlike HOUSE ATREIDES. This would be a fine novel if it didn't have the word "Dune" in the title - in this case, due to the expectations that are raised because of its pedigree, it's just an okay novel.

In HOUSE CORRINO we find out, much to my surprise, that Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV is an incompetent bungling idiot. I honestly don't remember him being so daft in the original DUNE. Shaddam is obsessed with the amal project - the artificial spice that will give him economic and political control over the whole known universe. He invokes a well known but completely ignored law that states that Houses in the Landsraad may not keep stockpiles of spice for themselves unless they are documented. This law gives him the excuse to obliterate several planets in what he calls the Spice War. The flaw in his plan is that amal has its own flaw, as evidenced when a couple of Spacing Guild Heighliners get lost or destroyed due to the "tainted spice".

As you might guess, the whole thing is one big interrelated web of intrigue, with Rhombur Vernius attempting to take back Ix from the Tleilaxu with the aid of House Atreides, Jessica being pregnant with, as we all know, Leto's *son* instead of a daughter, throwing the millenia-long Kwizatz Haderach breeding program for a king sized loop. The Spice War completely backfires when Shaddam threatens to obliterate Arrakis itself.

By the end of the novel, everything is indeed in place for DUNE. Paul is born, Harkonnen still controls Arrakis, even though he was in charge when Shaddam threatened to level the place, etc.

There was indeed a lot of stuff going on to get us to the beginning, and it was enjoyable. But now Anderson and Herbert go back even further, back to the Butlerian Jihad. Someday we'll see the completion of the Dune Series. I hope I'm still alive to see it. [-jak]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I'm still intending to write a full review of Brian Stableford's THE OMEGA EXPEDITION, and the entire "Emortality" series. However, that will have to wait a bit, as I suspect my Hugo reading will encroach on my time.

But I can talk about some books that require less time. GRAVEN IMAGES by Ronald V. Borst is basically a picture book of classic (and not so classic) posters and publicity materials for science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, starting from the silent era up through the 1990s. There are long essays on each decade written by well-known authors such as Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison (the former was more interesting than the latter), but one gets this book for the illustrations.

Our library book discussion group read C. S. Lewis's PERELANDRA. Actually, it was both our groups--the science fiction one and the general one--but interestingly, only one person showed up who wasn't in the general group. My conclusion on reading this for a third time was that as a theologian Lewis was an acceptable science fiction writer, and as a science fiction writer he was an acceptable theologian. Only one person really seemed to like it, and she said that was because she had been attending church services all through Holy Week and could see a lot of what she was hearing about in the services.

I read another Hugo nominee, Robert Sawyer's HOMINIDS. This seemed a typical "Analog" story--a lot of emphasis on the science, but the actual story and characters were not very interesting. Part of the problem was that Sawyer seems to have designed his non-human society so that it's better in all sorts of ways, and without having religion. (Or maybe even *because* it doesn't have religion.) As a result, it reads a lot like Heinlein, and when the character talks about how well it works, I find myself thinking, "Well, yes, because Sawyer wrote it that way." Ultimately, in the context of the story, *Sawyer* is God, so it's rather disingenuous of him to construct an ideal fictional society and then say, "See, you don't need God."

I'm also reading Rene Descartes's "Discourse on Method" (and other works). Of "Discourse" there is little to say that hasn't been said before, but I did find his argument for the existence of God, while not as weak as that of St. Anselm, still a bit shaky. Basically, it seems to be that when he thinks of a perfect being, this thought is more perfect than he (Descartes) is, and so he could not have originated it, hence it must have originated from this more perfect being and placed in his (Descartes's) mind.

There is also a late 1960s anthology of translated Russian science fiction, THE MOLECULAR CAFE, which seems a little more accessible than a lot of translated Russian science fiction. It still seems very different than English-language science fiction--I don't know if it's the translating, or whether the basic assumptions about story and structure are different. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters 
           cannot be trusted with important matters.
                                          -- Albert Einstein

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