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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/23/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 43
Table of Contents
Seven with One Blow (announcement):
Well, not exactly seven, but two. But you can hit both Leepers with one e-mail address. You can address your mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can just send to email@example.com if you just want to talk to the brains of the operation, or firstname.lastname@example.org if you want the one with the good looks. [-mrl]
Degrees of Science Fiction Fandom (comment by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, the Hugo nominees for this year are out. That means my days as a "second-degree science fiction fan" are probably numbered. It was good while it lasted. What is a second-degree fan? I defined degrees of fandom many years ago. The first-degree fan reads the Hugo-winning novel even before it was nominated for a Hugo. The second-degree fan read it once it is nominated, but before it wins a Hugo. A third-degree fan reads the Hugo-winning novel after it wins, but before the next year's Hugo nominations. A fourth-degree fan, retroactively named, reads the Hugo-winning novel at some point in the future. A fifth-degree fan has seen THE MATRIX. (It used to be STAR WARS but I am told that today's younger fans have decided that STAR WARS is no good and what rules is THE MATRIX. Only us old fogies still prefer STAR WARS.) Years ago I felt cheated. I read all the novels nominated but BLUE MARS. I had read RED MARS, but was not going to read two long novels for one nominee. Wouldn't you know, BLUE MARS got the Hugo. Last year I read only HOMINIDS and by gosh it won. I wonder if I should extend degrees of fandom to the Retro-Hugos. [-mrl]
Cattle Wars (comment by Mark R. Leeper):
Hmmmm. It says here in the news that a cattleman wants to test his cattle for mad cow disease and the government is prohibiting him. Wait. I must have that wrong. That must be backwards. Surely it is the government that wants him to test his cattle and the cattleman is refusing. No. That is not what it says. It is the cattleman who wants his cattle tested and the government that does not want buyers to know if the cattle are sick or not. Can that be possible? I mean surely the government is put in place by us taxpayers to look out for our interests. How can it be possible that they would ever be against testing? Well, I guess that is how things are in the topsy-turvy looking glass world of politics under the current administration. What is the story here?
Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a meatpacker based in Kentucky, wants to certify the beef it sells as being free of mad cow disease. Now that seems like a good idea to me. They are doing it not so much for American market but for the Japanese market who insist that all beef that is imported is certified free of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Well, maybe American consumers are not going to reap the benefits, but it seems like a fair request on the part of the Japanese. And if Creekstone wants to test its own cattle at its own expense then the United States government should and would cooperate. Right? No. It seems the United States Department of Agriculture is not cooperating. Well, that's got to mean that they are just too busy. Well, no, it seems that they disagree on principle with allowing cattle to be tested for mad cow disease. They are telling Creekstone that they have to send the cattle to market without testing them. Why? Well, apparently like God, the Cattle Industry requires faith. Yeah, that's it. It is a lot like God. The Cattle Industry feels that to actually test cattle for sickness constitutes a denial of faith in Them. If They allow one company to prove its safety, it cold lead to a crisis of faith in beef all across the United States.
Alisa Harrison of the USDA says "We are looking at what the consensus of international experts is when it comes to testing, and that consensus is that 100 percent testing is not justified." Creekstone is not asking for 100 percent testing, of course. They are only asking for the beef they are selling Japan to be tested. Still apparently the Department of Agriculture agrees with Cattle Industry reasoning that faith in beef is better, possibly as a part of President Bush's Faith-based Initiative. After all if one producer of beef proves its safety, where will it all end? Perhaps tomorrow another beef producer who sells to a foreign market will want to certify his cattle as safe. Then what happens if some of this certified safe beef accidentally leaks into the American market. It could lead to disaster. You could end up with proven-safe beef popping up all over the country. People might start using it as a selling point that their beef is certified safe of mad cow disease. That could lead to a crisis of faith all over the country. Marketers of certified beef (CB) might start using it to get a competitive advantage over sellers of faith-based beef (FBB). The Cattle Industry is still smarting from wars they have had to fight over small homesteaders putting up fences on what They have always considered Their open range. And after that they had to fight against the onslaught of sheepherders. Now this new issue comes up to threaten Them. They may figure there is no need to start now a war between CB cattlemen like Creekstone and the FBB cattlemen. They might just start lynching anyone with the gall to test his beef.
The fault is probably not Creekstone Farms. They cannot afford to lose a major customer like the Japanese, who are the biggest foreign market for American beef. They say they are now losing $200,000 a day and have laid off around fifty employees due to the loss of the Japanese market. They are caught in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with the Japanese who for some reason cannot see the logic of accepting FBB when it is easy enough to test and get CB. Creekstone has to do business with these Japanese who figure if they are willing to pay for the certification process they should be able to buy beef that has been proven safe. In some senses I feel sorry for the Japanese who, coming from a comparatively simple and straightforward culture like theirs, have to deal with the admittedly weird and inscrutable Americans. It is also possible to see it from the point of view of the Americans who see the insistence on safe food as just the third major attack on this country from the country that previously fought WWII against us and then later gave us Karaoke.
References: http://tinyurl.com/36jp4 and others. This is a real news story. Honest. [-mrl]
The English Language (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
Mark wrote, "For that matter, when someone calls someone else half-assed, is that better or worse than being fully-assed? Are there people who are completely non-assed? I can see that anatomically it might be impossible, but might it not still in some senses be a superior state?" Jerry Ryan responded, "Somehow, this would be a posterior state, I would think."
TIMELINE (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Mary Beth Semler wrote me back in January: "I also have a request. I saw "Timeline" which I quite enjoyed, even though most critics panned it. I didn't read the book, so I'm not sure if that was a factor in their dislike. I'd be quite interested in your comments, should you ever choose to review it."
I finally saw TIMELINE, which was just released on DVD. I found myself thinking the science was wrong more than usual for a Crichton story. Transcription errors would NOT happen the way they said. They would be no more likely on the tenth transmission than on the first. They don't occur because you have been somehow weakened by previous transmissions.
They use the analogy of the fax machine for transmission. A fax sends the information to make a facsimile rather than sending or destroying the original. The original doesn't go anywhere.
The concept of the story finally comes down to hocus-pocus.
The chances that they would end up at a memorable point of history are minimal. That made the story somewhat contrived. Too often the story relies on coincidence.
On the other hand any film with a recreation of a 14th century siege can't be all bad.
I like the fact it didn't have a lot of familiar actors. It meant they could be the characters, not the characters the actors played in previous films. The one familiar face (to me) was David Thewlis, a fine actor but perhaps even his part should have been played by an unknown.
I would give TIMELINE a high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10. [-mrl]
CALLAHAN'S LADY by Spider Robinson (copyright 1989, Ace Science Fiction, ISBN 0-441-09072-9, 237pp, $3.95) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Those are the sounds of my expectations being dismantled. This isn't a Callahan book.
Those of you who have read this, please raise your hands. How many of you are saying "but wait a minute, there's Jake, and Eddie, Sally, Mary, and even Callahan himself.
It's a wolf in sheep's clothing. It *looks* like a Callahan book, it smells like a Callahan book (well, maybe not :-) ), and I'd be willing to bet that if I took a bite out of it it would taste like a Callahan book. It's a good thing we didn't step in it (with apologies to Cheech and Chong).
Let's see, it's got a place where everyone hangs out--Sally's House. The main character isn't Sally, it's Maureen (or Sherry, depending on how you look at it). There's a parlor where people tell puns, and there's a fireplace in the parlor. Sally is in complete control, and every one listens to and respects her.
Is this Sally's House, or Callahan's Place? See what I mean?
Given the end of Callahan's Secret, the only way to tell more stories in the Callahan universe was to go back before the end of that book and tell more stories. We were introduced to Sally and Mary (as well as Sally's staircase) in Callahan's Secret, so what better place to go to find stories than Sally's House?
You know, this really isn't *that* bad--it's just that I was expecting something else, although I don't know what that something else would be. I guess that part of the problem is that I don't identify at all with a prostitute, so it's hard to get into the characters at all. The basic idea is that Sally's is a House of some not-ill repute, whose clientele may or may not have special tastes, and who may or may not be well known, and...wait a minute, that sounds like what I would think would be a regular House.
Well, yeah, except this one has a werebeagle (I kid you not) in its employ, and we all know the truth about Sally from Callahan's Secret. I honestly think that those are the two only "fantastic", if you will, things about the place.
There are four stories in this book that purports to be a novel, or at least looks like one. The first "A Very Very Very Fine House", introduces us to Maureen (who later takes Sherry as her House name), and how she became an employee of Sally's. The second, "Revolver", tells the story of a scientist who's House name is Colt (he's a client--both employees, or "artists", as they are called, have House names), and how one of his experiments goes dreadfully wrong (I dare any male to read this story and think he'd be in heaven if he were in Colt's shoes). "The Paranoid" relates the story of a beautiful scientist who thinks that, well, everyone is out to take advantage of her. The final story, "Dollars to Donuts", is probably the best excursion of the lot, and relates the story of an old lover of Sherry's who is in grave danger of having, well, donuts where most guys would rather not think of donuts being, if you catch my drift.
Again, as with all the Spider Robinson that I've read, the reading is light and entertaining. Unfortunately, the humor falls flat, something that wouldn't happen at Callahan's Place. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
First, a follow-up on my theory regarding the Ten Commandments: Someone on another mailing list says that in the original Hebrew the description given in Exodus 34 is not of commandments (either "mitzvot" or "chu-kim u'mishpatim"), but simply words or things ("d'varim"). This is an answer of sorts, but I still don't know why it says that *these* are what was written on the tablets--that would seem to imply more importance than just plain words.
Second, someone asked for more publication information for the books if they want to order them. On the assumption that people are ordering through a bookstore, I'll try to give an ISBN number at least, with more information for small press items.
A few weeks ago, I was rather critical of Ernest Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES (ISBN 0-684-80071-3). Last week we had the discussion meeting, and all six other attendees agreed with me--a unanimous thumbs-down vote. (In case anyone wants to see this as gender-based, the group was three men and four women.) I think I can safely say we won't be doing more Hemingway soon. (Our next books include Joseph Conrad's LORD JIM, Graham Greene's THE END OF THE AFFAIR, Betty Smith's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, John Steinbeck's SWEET THURSDAY, Kate Chopin's THE AWAKENING, Paulo Coelho's THE ALCHEMIST, Jasper Fforde's THE EYRE AFFAIR, and Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL.)
However, by coincidence I just finished reading THE TRIAL (ISBN 0-805-21040-7), and what can I say but that it's very ... Kafkaesque? What is the strangest thing about the events, I suppose, is that no one in the novel finds them strange. For example, hearings appear to be held not in some fancy government building, but in a back room in a tenement other occupied by various members of the lower classes. The one problem I see in recommending this book is that its originality will not be as evident as it was to its original readers, because Kafka has influenced so many authors since his time.
Daniel M. Jaffe's WITH SIGNS & WONDERS (ISBN 1-931-22930-9, Invisible Cities Press) is an anthology of "international Jewish fabulist fiction." I think that means halfway between fantasy and magical realism, but even if not, that's a reasonable description. I don't think this would appeal to everyone, but it seems a reasonable representation of this sub-genre. (The idea that a small press in Montpelier, Vermont, published this is almost as odd as that Martin Gidron's alternate history about Yiddish culture, THE SEVERED WING, was published by Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama.)
Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (ISBN 0-385-51210-4) will undoubtedly be compared to Elizabeth Moon's THE SPEED OF DARK by those reviewers who have read the latter. However, since Moon's book is science fiction and this is not, most mainstream reviewers probably will not have read the Moon. Both are about people with autism (Asperger's Syndrome), but there the similarity ends. THE SPEED OF DARK is told by a third-person narrator, and is set in a future when major medical advances have been made regarding autism, while THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is told in the first person by its main character in what is very much the present. Only in the sense that the main characters have similar personalities are the books similar. Since they seem to have consistent views of how autism affects people, and since both authors have direct experience with autistic individuals, I am assuming the portrayals are reasonable. In Haddon's book, the narrator (Christopher John Francis Boone) is a fan of Sherlock Holmes (because he thinks Holmes has a lot of the same personality traits as he does). But though it starts as a mystery, the mystery is solved relatively early, and the book is more about Boone's learning to cope with his family and with the world at large. Perhaps because of the first-person narration by someone whose though processes are very different than mine, I was reminded more of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON. (I hasten to add that this is not because Boone has a lower intelligence than average--it's quite the opposite, in fact.) For readers who want books examining "alien" ways of thinking, this is a reminder that sometimes other human beings can be the most alien of all.
Another book marketed as mainstream is Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE (ISBN=1-931-56164-8), but this *is* science fiction. (It's so mainstream-marketed, in fact, that the book is a selection of the "Today Show Book Club".) Henry has "Chrono- Displacement Disorder--he spontaneously time-travels, both backwards and forwards. He first meets Clare in 1997; she first meets him in 1968. (She does not time-travel.) So in 1991, she has many years of memories of him, and he doesn't know her at all. But because he has been time-traveling since 1968, he doesn't have a major problem accepting this. Niffenegger seems to take a lot of time working out all the variations. For example, Henry time- travels back to 1981 before he time-travels back to 1977, so this is why in 1981 Clare remembers him [again] while he doesn't know her. Or Henry time-travels back and meets an older version of himself, also time-traveling back. Niffenegger doesn't consider this a paradox, though interestingly she does limit the time- traveling to just Henry's body--no clothes or even (we discover later) tooth fillings. (She does gloss over the problems inherent in finding yourself somewhere with no clothes--there seems to be a convenient clothesline, locker, or even trash bin with clothing in it more frequently than one would find in real life.)
Of course, the reason I say all this is that I am reading this with the protocols of a hard science fiction novel rather than with those of a mainstream novel about the relationship between a couple, which is what it is. The problem is that I find it more interesting as a hard science fiction novel, even if it is going over somewhat familiar ground, than as a mainstream romance novel. (Robert A. Heinlein would have loved it--take "All You Zombies" and "By His Bootstraps", add some explicit sex, and bingo!)
If you are a fan of time travel novels, I recommend this just for all the convolutions. If you're not, I can't say it did much for me on any other level.
And one non-review: I am working my way through the Hugo and Retro-Hugo nominees. I read 150 pages of Lois McMaster Bujold's PALADIN OF SOULS before giving up. (And, yes, I had read the first book in the series, THE CURSE OF CHALION.) I understand that a lot of people liked this, but for me it was the Eight Deadly Words Effect that killed it: "I don't care what happens to these people." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The three great apostles of practical atheism, that make converts without persecuting, and retain them without preaching, are wealth, health, and power. -- C. C. Colton
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