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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/05/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 10
Table of Contents
What Time Is It? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I talked a little about how we all feel we have a right to know the time. But there are so many people willing to give us the time and so few that can be trusted. In truth I guess we all need to know the time, but we vary in our tolerance for inevitable inaccuracy in the time. Back when electronic watches were first common (but sense was not) you used to hear a lot of watches beep on the hour. You could sit in a movie theater and hear the beeping each hour. They would start about seven minutes before the hour and would still hear other watches five minutes after the hour. If someone is inconsiderate enough to let his watch beep in a movie theater he probably is not considerate enough to be sure he is broadcasting to the audience members anything like the exact time.
The world is full of people willing to tell the world the wrong time. With all this misinformation it is very hard to get the right time. We see so many new buildings and shopping centers built with clocks in prominent places. It makes the stores look good that they are putting up public clocks. After about a year the poorly maintained clocks start being really inaccurate and then probably stop altogether. They tell the world that when this edifice was built somebody thought it was a good idea to tell the world what time it was, more or less as a public service. Somehow that commitment did not prove profitable and now the clock has been left to its fate. That may be for the best. It is better a clock be wrong by three hours than by fifteen minutes.
My cable company has a viewing guide channel with a clock. They are generally off by about a hundred seconds. I am sure they are just running a program on a PC that is not set to the right time.
Clocks in American cars were always terribly inaccurate the whole time I was growing up. The General Motors designer got too smart to know he was doing something stupid. The clock was mechanical but was supposed to be self-adjusting. If you turned it ahead by five minutes it would recognize it was going slow and would run a little faster. After a few such adjustments it would be reasonably close to ticking off exactly 24 hours in 24 hours. You would be fine until you had to reset the clock for Daylight Savings Time. Turn the clock back an hour and it got a lot slower. It took a lot of resetting to undo that damage. I think it was Japanese cars that introduced electronic clocks in cars with the accuracy of digital watches. That is one reason why Japanese cars had an edge with me.
As I have pointed out many times banks want people to think they are very precise and exacting with numbers, getting everything to the penny. Yet on their sign out from they will alternate between a time that is four minutes fast and a temperature that is twelve degrees too high. It is considered a public service and good for the business to tell the time and temperature whether they get it right or not. While I was writing this article I passed a church with a big clock that constantly read 7:45. I am sure the clock was put on this church with enough good intentions to pave a road.
Some people intentionally set clocks and other devices to the wrong time. Spammers love to set their PCs to inaccurate times. Most people have their email sorted by time and date sent. Spammers, and by having their PC put the wrong timestamp on their output, can arrange to have their mail sorted to the top or the bottom of the stack and thus get special attention.
My mother-in-law always sets her kitchen clock five minutes fast so as never to be late. But she knows how fast it is running so she loses the effect. I admit that I am part of the problem. I intentionally set my VCRs two minutes fast and then program them to record an extra five minutes. That way there is less chance of me missing some of the program if it starts a little early.
So while we all think we want to have access to the time, the requirement for exactness on that time varies a great deal from person to person. I generally could get by with a quote that is within a minute of being correct. Still a personal quirk, I want the time much more precisely than that.
So while we all think we want to have access to the time, the requirement for exactness on that time varies all over the map. I generally could get by with a quote that is within a minute of being correct. Still a personal quirk, I want the time much more precisely than that.
Next week I will give you techniques you can use at home to get not just accurate time, but REALLY, REALLY accurate time. [-mrl]
GIRL IN HIS POCKET (1957) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
GIRL IN HIS POCKET is a breezy sci-fi comedy from Gaumont studios in France. It was adapted from by the short story "The Diminishing Draft" by Waldemar Kaempfert, which appeared in "All-Story Magazine" in 1918. This film was made in 1957 as AMOUR DE POCHE, directed by later cult director Pierre Kast. But it was not dubbed into English and released in the United States until 1960 or 1962, depending on the source. Perhaps complicating the question of when it was released is the fact that it was released in the United States under two different titles, GIRL IN HIS POCKET and the more salacious NUDE IN HIS POCKET. It may have passed for sexy stuff at that time, but this light science fiction comedy would probably be G-rated today.
Prof. Jerome Nordman (played by Jean Marais) is a scientist and a college professor. Handsome, he is the heartthrob of all his female students, but emotionally he is very backward. He plans to soon marry Edith (Genevieve Page), attractive but manipulative. She wants him to work for a beverage company, Juvacola, because that is where the money is. But Jerome is devoted to science. He is looking for a chemical process to put animals and people into suspended animation. Unfortunately currently they seem to just vanish when he administers his formula, N730A.
One of Jerome's students, Monette (Agnes Laurent) convinces him to let her be his lab assistant. Within minutes she proves her worth as a lab assistant, shooing away a pesky colleague. Together they discover that the disappearing test subjects are actually shrinking to about 1/16th the scale of their original size. But at first nothing seems to restore them to life and full size. Eventually they find that the animals have to be dropped in a large quantity of brine. (It is not clear why.) When an animal drinks the chemical it turns into a miniature version of itself, solid as a dehydrated vegetable. Dropping in salt water brings the animal back to life, healthy, and happy. They have some fun shrinking/suspending animals and bringing them back to life.
Jerome is finding he likes Monette, but does not want to admit his attraction to her. Then Edith comes to the lab and accuses Jerome of having an affair with Monette. To hide, Monette drinks some N730A. What follows is a farce with Monette changing size frequently and Edith trying to destroy her. The experience with Monette teaches Jerome to go after what he wants and make him a full human being. In specific he wants the pleasant and intelligent Monette rather than the irritating Edith, no surprise to the audience.
The film was made, apparently as a B-picture by Gaumont. Perhaps the only actor familiar to Americans would be the star Jean Marais. He was the actor with the exaggerated good looks who played the prince and the beast in Jean Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a classic.
One cannot say that the jokes are particularly funny to modern audiences. Perhaps something was lost in the dubbing. But the situations are amusing. This film has become obscure, but it has as much entertainment value as the Cary Grant MONKEY BUSINESS. In the tradition of the theater, the special effects are really all in the staging. Metamorphoses take place out of sight of the viewer. A shrunken and solid dog model will be dropped into a tub, and then Jerome will pull out a real dog.
BEST TOUCH: While this hardly functions as a science fiction film, it is a pleasant and light piece of entertainment.
WORST TOUCH: There is a little too much exaggerated farce with exaggerated caricatures of the behavior of scientists.
This is an amusing light comedy with some of the feel of a Thorne Smith story. I would rate GIRL IN HIS POCKET a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. Postscript: The original story has a somewhat darker ending and has the villain be the wife of the scientist, not a fiancee. [-mrl]
PICOVERSE by Robert A. Metzger (copyright 2002, Ace Hardcover, 389pp, ISBN 0-441-00899-2, $22.95) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Mailing lists. We're all on them. We get stuff in the mail because we're on mailing lists. Most of the time, it's junk mail. We throw it away, or, if we're good humans, we recycle it. Every once in a while, we look at it, *then* we throw it away. Even more rare - we look at it, and act on it.
I received a letter in the mail from Robert A. Metzger. Well, not a personal letter. It was a glossy flyer describing his novel Picoverse in such terms as to want to make the reader of the flyer go out and read his book, preferably buying it first instead of going to the library to get it.
I bought it. And I liked it, I really did, for about the first, oh, 90% of it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Katie and her ex-husband Horst are working on a fusion power project called the Sonomak. Funding is cut, and the project, and their lives, face an uncertain future. Among other things to worry about, Katie and Horst have a son, Anthony, whom Katie is raising on her own with the help of nannies. And he's going through those nannies like they're going out of style. He's gifted - just how much we find out later on. So, things are in turmoil.
Until Alexandra Mitchell steps in, with her associate Dr. Quinn. They take over the funding of the Sonomak project, but not for fusion power, but to open new universes (or would that be univerii?).
Okay - now we stop for yet another digression.
Most of the SF I read these days tries for intense scientific accuracy. All the authors give extensive credit to the scientists that they've gotten help from. Then, of course, they go on to say that any error was introduced by themselves, and the helpers are innocent.
Give me errors.
I want some wild extrapolation, some weirdness, some Cosmic Stuff happening. I want the author to take a chance that his main premise is full of so much poop that it makes everybody's head spin, but at least he/she is telling a decent tale. I'm not saying that what Metzger did was full of so much poop - because I don't know enough about high energy physics and all that stuff, but I can say that I don't think we're actually creating universes *that we can travel to* in the laboratory.
At last, a wild, weird concept in modern SF. Oh, I'm sure there are others that I don't know about, but there aren't in what I'm reading these days.
It seems that Alexandra comes from the universe of the Makers, the folks who made our universe. She wants to make another one to get out of the reach of the makers. Seems they sent her here to stop us from making new universes, but her programming was changed, and now she wants us to do it so she can get away from the Makers.
But of course, that's not all there is to the story, as you might guess. We do go into a few other universes, one in particular in which the Russians, with the aid of "our" Alexandria, are the rulers of the planet. The Alexandria of that planet is actually married to Albert Einstein, who may or may not be in league with Heisenberg and Tesla in trying to start *their* Sonomak. But they need Katie's, Horst's, and Jack's (remember him?) help to do so. The side note is that Anthony, our Anthony, is helping get the Sonomak running.
The refreshing thing about this book is that it doesn't seem to care how many rules it breaks, and how inaccurate the science might be. It also kills off a character or two, which may or may not be saying much in that a particular character may be alive in another of the universes (oh, yeah, picoverse, because they're smaller than our universe).
I was prepared to give the book a really rave review, but when the Neanderthals were brought into it, the book dragged. Sawyer does Neanderthals better than Metzger, and they make more sense when he uses them. The end is a little weak, in that nothing is ever decided, it seems, but a lot of books seem to have that kind of ending these days.
Not a rave review, but overall a good one. I did like the book overall, I just wished it would have lived up to its potential. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I just read INTRODUCING FRACTAL GEOMETRY by Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon and Will Rood, and Ralph Edney. This is part of a series of introductory books from Totem Publishing which don't have to appeal to dummies or idiots. :-)
I have read several in the past--INTRODUCING KAFKA by David Zane Mairowitz and R. Crumb is probably of the most interest to readers here. But isn't Robert Crumb an artist, you might ask. Yes, and these books are ... well, if they were fiction, they would be called graphic novels, but since they're non-fiction, I'm not sure what to call them. If you are familiar with Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS, it's in that category, although it does not use a series of frames per se, but rather a system where the illustrations occupy a large proportion of the page and are integral to the content.
(Actually, this is somewhat discussed in the July issue of LOCUS, which has a special feature section on "Graphic Novels." An alternative that never caught on was "Drawn Books"; the Comic Relief store has a section labeled "GNF" for "Graphic Non- Fiction.")
These latest books seem to have been inspired by a previous series, "X FOR BEGINNERS." These were less ubiquitous, though David Brizer and Richard Castaneda's PSYCHIATRY FOR BEGINNERS (1993) seems to be number 59 in "Beginners Documentary Comic Books", indicating there were more than a couple of them. I also have Joseph Schwartz and Michael MacGuinness's EINSTEIN FOR BEGINNERS from Pantheon Books (1979). But the granddaddy of them all seems to be CUBA FOR BEGINNERS by "Rius", published in 1970. The "X FOR BEGINNERS" books frequently have a strong political point of view.
Just to show the range of this series, other volumes I have previously read and recommend include INTRODUCING POSTMODERNISM by Richard Appignanesi (who is also the editor of the entire series) and Chris Garratt, INTRODUCING SEMIOTICS by Paul Cobley and Litza Jansz, INTRODUCING HEGEL by Lloyd Spencer and Andrzej Krauze, INTRODUCING WITTGENSTEIN by John Heaton and Judy Groves, INTRODUCING KANT by Christopher Want and Andrezey Klimowski, INTRODUCING MACHIAVELLI by Patrick Curry and Oscar Zarate, INTRODUCING JOYCE by David Norris and Carl Flint. and INTRODUCING QUANTUM THEORY by J. P. McEvoy and Oscar Zarate.
Still queued up are a batch I bought recently: INTRODUCING LOGIC by Dan Cryan and Bill Mayblin, INTRODUCING SHAKESPEARE by Nick Groom and Piero, INTRODUCING STEPHEN HAWKING by J. P. McEvoy and Oscar Zarate, and INTRODUCING MODERNISM by Chris Rodrigues and Chris Garratt. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: This is the way the world is lead to war: politicians lie to journalists, and believe those lies when they see them in print. --Anonymous
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