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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/21/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 47
Table of Contents
Hugo-Nominated Short Fiction (announcement):
The Neil Gaiman story is now available on-line as well as all the other stories (URLs listed last week) at http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/StudyinEmerald.asp
Thanks to Travis Cartwright for this information. [-ecl]
Apropos (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A local jewelry store has billboards up all over that looks like they are fairly staid ads for their store with a lot of blank space. Then it is supposed to look like someone has spray-painted over the ad "Amy will you marry me?" it is supposed to look very romantic. I just feel I am supposed to say "Awwwwww!" when it see it. And that is a lot of aw-saying because there are a lot of those billboards around with identical spray-painting. I guess it is supposed to conjure up feelings of old-fashioned romance, the kind that led to buying lots of jewelry. Just to make it a little more topical I have wanted to get a matching color of spray paint and sign it "Susan." [-mrl]
Pineapple Pizza (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It has come to my attention that there are people out there who are putting pineapple on pizza. I am happy to say that the movement at least did not start in the United States. I hear about it mostly from Britain.
There are plenty of us, probably most of us, who hear that and give a little cringe of disgust, but we have come to accept a live-and-let-live society in which we are expected to turn a blind eye to attacks upon our most cherished traditions. But there comes a time when we have to admit to ourselves that the whole concept of pizza is imperiled. When anybody can put anything they want on a piece of round bread and tell us that we have to accept it as "pizza" something has gone very wrong with the whole order of things.
You may ask yourself, what difference does it make if some people are putting pineapple on pizza? Let me tell you why it makes a difference. I know that when I was first dating we would go out for a pizza. I thought I knew what a pizza was. The lady thought she knew what the pizza we were going out for was. Surprise! Neither of us knew. At least if you listen to these pineapple people, neither of us knew. They had their own plans in mind for what a pizza had to be, and it didn't matter what we thought.
When I was in a work environment there were people who did not want to go out to lunch for Chinese. Some people had never eaten Chinese and did not know what it was or if they would like it. Some people did not want to go to a bar for a grilled hamburger. That was a funny environment. Greek food with those little pieces of lamb? Forget it. But everybody knew pizza. Everybody liked pizza. Well, as long as we stayed away from white clam pizza everybody knew what they were getting. A lot of important business relationships were cemented over pizza. Pizza was the All-American dish. And those relations started with agreeing that we liked pizza. Well, that era is just about over now. Now there are two kinds of pizza. There are the pizzas with pineapple and pizzas without. And when I say pizza, do I mean with or without? Nobody will know. That basis of trust will soon be gone.
You put pineapple on a pizza and you get, well, I don't know what you get but it surely is not pizza. It may be some sort of dessert thing, but it isn't a pizza. And if you call it a pizza you betray every true pizza that has ever been made. You betray everyone who has ever eaten a pizza and thought they knew what a pizza was. A pizza with pineapple is no longer a pizza.
I think the thin edge of the wedge was when we started tolerating onions on pizzas. Then it was anchovies. Now there are all sorts of weird things people put on pizzas. But pineapple is a new low. When you reach the point that some people are putting pineapple on pizzas things have gone wrong and you have to draw the line. You have to say things are going too far and as accepting as you have been willing to be in the past, some things really cannot go. If we don't take a stand soon, in ten years we won't know what the heck we mean when we talk about pizza. What we need is a national Defense of Pizza Act before the word "pizza" becomes totally meaningless.
Now any such law cannot be made to apply to Britain and other places where civilization has fallen to the extent that people are putting pineapple on pizza. True, Americans will be able to travel to Britain to get pineapple pizzas. But at least they will have to go abroad for them. America will be an island of sanity where the traditions like real pizza still mean something to us. I would like to think that Canada and Mexico still have enough sane people that they join us in our efforts to respect the institution of pizza. I would like to think that. But I am afraid that they may be just as crazy as the rest of the world. You don't know who to trust these days.
Write your congressman and tell him we need a Defense of Pizza Act and we need it NOW so Americans will know clearly what a pizza is. We need a law in black and white that says "no pineapple" before every pizza we have ever eaten is spoiled by this subversion of the whole concept of pizza. [-mrl]
[To my readers not from the United States puzzling over this editorial: This has been an inside political joke. You can put pineapple on pizza if you want and it is fine with me. Please believe you do not need to send me (more) angry letters. And you do not need a Defense of Pineapple Pizza Act. You can put whatever rubbish you want on your pizza. Why not try watermelon? [-mrl]]
Comments on A WRINKLE IN TIME (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel and response by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Dan Kimmel responded to my comments on A WRINKLE IN TIME by saying, "Haven't watched the TV movie yet and read the book nearly 40 years ago. Evelyn admits she missed the target age (as I did reading Catcher in the Rye in my 20s. Yawn!). What remains with me over the years is that chilling image of a suburban street where every family was in perfect sync with their neighbors. For a young reader, that's pretty scary stuff, and it led me further into the world of fantastic fiction. By the time they were assigning stuff like Brave New World and 1984 I had long since read them. However, without further elaboration Evelyn writes, 'The fact that I'm way over the target age for the book may have affected my opinion, or the fact that it is so overtly religious, but it isn't something that I personally can recommend.'"
"I'm not saying it's not 'overtly religious' but it's been a long, long time since I've read it. Could you fill in the blank? That's the first time I recall coming across that reaction to the book." [-dk]
Since someone else asked the same thing (in person), I will respond here. I guess primarily I'm referring to three passages:
BLIND LAKE by Robert Charles Wilson (copyright 2003, TOR, ISBN 0-765-30262-4, 399pp, hardcover) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Our third installment of Hugo nominee reviews comes from our second Canadian author in the group - Robert Charles Wilson (the other being Robert J. Sawyer). And like Wilson's last nominee, THE CHRONOLITHS, I came away disappointed.
BLIND LAKE is a federal research installation in Minnesota where scientists are observing the everyday life of aliens on a far distant planet - the lobsters, if you will. The scientists are using a technology that they barely understand or even have much control over. It's a kind of sentient, self-modifying, highly advanced, computer (called O/BEC, for those of you who love acronyms) that has figured out a way to look at far away planets. Blind Lake is one of two of these kinds of installations, the other being Crossbank. All that is being watched at Crossbank is a bunch of flora and fauna - no living, sentient beings there. Then something happens at Crossbank (we find out later), and a quarantine/lockdown in placed on Blind Lake. No one can get in or out, and supplies are delivered by automated vehicles. Anyone attempting to leave is killed by robotic, flying drones.
Our characters are many and varied, and as with other Wilson novels, well developed. Marguerite Hauser (one of the researchers) and her ex-husband Ray Scutter (one of the administrators still on site when the lockdown hits) are at odds with each other over both the direction of the project and their daughter Tessa, who has seen a strange entity called Mirror Girl both at Crossbank (where they were before Blind Lake) and at Blind Lake. Chris, Elaine, and Sebastian are journalists of sorts who are doing a story for a magazine about Blind Lake. Chris gets involved with Marguerite, which drives Ray closer to the edge. He has written a book that some people accuse of causing a prominent man to commit suicide. Elaine is a respected scientist, and Sebastian has written a pseudo science/religion book. They are assigned because they have different viewpoints and can come at the story from a different angle.
Well, the gist of the story is that strange things begin to happen at Crossbank and the lobster planet. The Subject, as he is called, decides to change his boring existence and go for a trip away from his life, something that no one was expecting. At Crossbank and elsewhere, strange structures are popping up - starfish shaped structures. And the same kind of structures are discovered on the boring planet with no life.
The climax is unsatisfying to me. We certainly learn more about the structures, the Subject, and all of our characters. The end of the quarantine seems a bit odd, contradicting the need for a quarantine to begin with (I won't go into it here). It's well written, and the characters are well fleshed out. But the end is, again, unsatisfying. I want to learn more about the structures and the mysterious universal sentience, or whatever those structures seem to represent. While the best SF deals with the effects of technology and science on its characters, it can fall short if it doesn't do enough with that science and technology. This one fell short, in my mind. Again, unsatisfying in the end, and a nice read, but that's about it. Not Hugo quality.
Next up, SINGULARITY SKY. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Michael J. Benton's book about the Permian mass extinction, WHEN LIFE NEARLY DIED. In the book, he attributed the extinction to volcanic eruptions, but new evidence may indicate that it was caused by an asteroid impact instead. See http://tinyurl.com/2lvyc for more details. For an article disputing the new evidence, see http://tinyurl.com/26my4.
Trudi Alexy's THE MEZUZAH IN THE MADONNA'S FOOT: A WOMAN DISCOVERS HER SPIRITUAL HERITAGE (ISBN 0-06-060340-2) began as an examination of the phenomenon of Fascist Spain as a haven for Jews fleeing the Nazis, among them Alexy's parents. It covers this, of course, with stories both of the Jews and of the people who helped to save them, but it also expanded to include the stories of Marranos in Spain and the Crypto-Jews of the American Southwest as well. This was a wise decision, I think, because the original idea was not all that different from many other books. It's true that Alexy does attempt to explain why a country that expelled its Jews five centuries earlier, and persecuted any suspected Jews for another three hundred years, and was friendly with Nazi Germany, would make such an effort to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Her conclusion--that because the Spanish had no experience with Jews for so long that they had no basis for any anti-Semitic feeling-- is intriguing but not entirely convincing or encouraging. But her experiences dealing with Marranos and Crypto-Jews, and their reactions to her research, are far more interesting from a psychological point of view.
Isabel Allende's CITY OF THE BEASTS (ISBN 0-06-050918-X) is a young adult novel whose hero is the fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold. Alexander has to stay with his grandmother because his mother is ill, but his grandmother is going on a journey into the Amazon jungle to look for "the Beast" and so Alexander has to go along. It's a combination of Arthur Conan Doyle's LOST WORLD and W. H. Hudson's GREEN MANSIONS, with some CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON thrown in. It's a bit too politically correct at times, with the peaceful natives who really are much wiser and more spiritual than the "civilized" people, but if you can accept that it's not a bad magical realism adventure story.
Rupert Woodfin and Judy Groves's INTRODUCING ARISTOTLE (Totem Books, ISBN 1-84046-233-7) is yet another in the graphic book series of introductions to various scientific, cultural, and philosophical subjects. This one is a bit harder going, and is sprinkled with drawings of later philosophers who covered some of the same topics but who are not always identified. I guess they assume that if someone reading this book sees a picture of a brooding man in a World War I trench and the word "Tractatus", they will automatically think "Wittgenstein".
I am reminded of one of my favorite moments. When I was working, there was a table where people from our project tended to gather for lunch. Four or five of us would often get into discussions about philosophy or theology, but not everyone was into these topics, preferring cars or sports. One day we were discussing the implications of transubstantiation and one person was explaining that "the problem is that you've all bought into the Aristotelian notion of substance," just as one of the cars-and-sports folks arrived and started to sit down. The bemused expression on the latter's face was quite amusing.
However, this brings me to a problem with this book (and others in this series): the index is very skimpy. It fits (one suspects by design) on a single page, and doesn't include the word "substance" at all, or "morality", or many other concepts that do appear in the book. I guess I'd say that this book is a good introduction, but not good as a book to refer back to, and may serve best to help the reader decide whether to continue in studying Aristotle. (Even here I have a quibble. The author says, "[R]eading Aristotle in the original is not an easy experience." However, his subsequent remarks lead me to believe he doesn't mean not just in the original Greek, but even in translation, because he then recommends a lot of books about Aristotle rather than suggesting which translations might be the best.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. -- P.J. O'Rourke
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