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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/27/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 9
Table of Contents
Letters of Comment (request):
We are doing a bit of catch-up on this. If you want to send a comment, please send it either by just responding to the MT VOID email (which will automatically go to both of us), or by mailing to both of us (firstname.lastname@example.org will do this). If only one person gets the mail, it may get lost in the shuffle before finally appearing.
Kubler-Ross (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross just died this week. It reminded me of some comments I made back in 1987 about this woman. She was a Swiss-born psychiatrist who became famous writing about the psychology of dying. And her conclusions have become quite famous. She occasionally comes up in my conversations. Gee, I wonder if that is a bad sign. In any case, as some of the more morbid of you out there might know of her (also a few of you who saw the film ALL THAT JAZZ may know her name and what her ideas were. There are some who feel she was, in fact, the world's greatest expert on the subject of dying. That wasn't very hard to achieve. When she came to the field, what was known on the subject of death psychology could have fit into a booklet the size of the one you get with a coffee maker. The thing is that people have been dying throughout much--I will even say most--of history. But somehow all the psychiatrists are out there studying sex. (Indiana U. has a whole library devoted to sex, I found out when I spent a summer there. Unfortunately it wasn't open to the public and all I ended up with was barbed wire wounds on my hands and tongue.) I guess it makes sense. Which would you rather study? Besides, you ask for subjects for a sex study you get volunteers lining up around the block (particularly at Indiana U.). How many people do you think line up for Kubler-Ross's studies? Also sex studies make after- the-fact interviewing a lot easier, or at any rate more productive.
So in any case, Kubler-Ross found a field that nobody had wanted to study, so she had an easy monopoly. In any case, she divides death into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Aren't you glad there is a happy ending? Is there always a happy ending? How well would her results have been accepted if she had said that at the last moment it was just agonizing? It occurred to me to wonder if all deaths went through the same five stages. The archetypal death to compare all others against is falling off the Empire State Building. That one comes up a lot in morbid philosophical discussions (usually it comes up at about 1:53 in the morning). It occurred to me to wonder if someone falling off the Empire State Building goes through the same stages. You know:
Floors 105 to 85: Denial: "I knew that railing was loose, but heck, it can't have given way. I mean there are laws about dangerous railings. But I do have a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. And those do look like windows going by. Hey, I'm falling!"
Floors 84 to 64: Anger: "How could they be so stupid as to leave a dangerous railing like that? I am going to sue the.... Oh, shoot. This is just the wrong damn time for me. Hey You up there, do something. Now."
Floors 63 to 43: Bargaining: "OK, God, now is the time. I am going to flap my arms and think about Church. How's that. I am sorry for all my sins. Just don't make it the big D right now, God. You can do it, God. Just one little miracle and I will be faithful to you for life. Let me die and my friends will curse Your name. OK, now try. Just a little awning open under me and that breaks my fall."
Floors 42 to 22: Depression: "Who am I kidding. I can see the cracks in the sidewalk. This is it. This is the Big One. It is all over. Aaarrrrrgggghhhh!!!!"
Floors 21 to -1/2: Acceptance: "OK. It is coming. Lots of people have gone through this before me. I can take it. What a pretty view."
Letter of Comment on Harlan Ellison (by Joseph T. Major):
Regarding Mark's comments on Harlan Ellison in the 07/09/04 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph T. Major writes:
"The mad dogs have kneed us in the groin." How could you have omitted that stirring, unforgettable phrase!
You mention a certain book which has been called "Last", and which for thirty years and more has been a Holy Grail of literary history. Allow me to deliver a theory as to why it was not published.
The editor, as may be deduced by his screenplay writing, is involved in both media and books. As may be deduced from his exuberant, energetic nature that leads him to pen such vibrant comments as "The mad dogs have kneed us in the groin," he puts all his energy into his current project.
At the time the stories for "Last" began pouring in, the editor of that portentous tome became involved in another project. A television series, one that he was sure would advance televised science fiction light years beyond "Star Trek." He put all his effort into it.
And of course, had no time to perform the many small and large tasks attendant upon editing even an ordinary anthology, never mind the staggering work of breathtaking genius that "Last" would be of necessity. These additional tasks included writing carefully crafted introductions recounting in exquisite detail the editor's close personal relationship with the author, the history of said author prior to their encounter, and the sheer genius of the work in question.
But, with his other duties, this work could not be done. Now there were over a hundred stories submitted for "Last". Think of all the work that would entail! But the editor had other engagements, other work; all the matters involved in being chief story editor and creative consultant for a television series.
So, when the series ended (as series will), the editor had a tremendous task now laid upon him. Which was perhaps too much for him to even think of beginning, not until he had rested, not until his health was improved (for, as we have seen in his brief introductions to his later works, his health has been precarious, which may also explain the brevity of said introductions), not until people quit pestering and persecuting him over the book's not coming out.
But how could he say, "I didn't get the book done because I was working on 'The Starlost'."? [-jtm]
Letter of Comment on God and on the Civil War (by Mike Glyer):
Of the 07/23/04 issue, Mike Glyer writes:
I was reading Mark's thoughts on the psychological origins of the idea of God. I've been on both sides of the fence during my life. I mused over some of the same thoughts Mark discussed when I used to wonder why people believed in a deity.
The concept of God as Big Parent wasn't convincing to me, even before.
There is something in the human mind that is well-adapted for spiritually-oriented processes. Whether the mind was created for this experience, or the experience created by the mind depends upon one's point of view.
Some years ago a book called "The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" discussed (among other ideas) that the spiritual experiences of ancient people were attributable to the physical function of the brain. The book's notion of how this worked doesn't seem to have been accepted by anyone (myself included), however, I think the book was closer to asking the right question (if one is not inclined to believe this is all attributable to a deity.) [-mg]
[Note: The book was by Julian Jaynes, and a panel on its influence on science fiction was held at Boskone 36. -ecl]
I was very interested to see [George Washington Cable's reasoning about what the real causes of the Civil War were], too. Recently, the BGSU alumni magazine had an article about business majors going to the Gettysburg experience. One of the minor points in the article was a journal entry by a student agreeing with some instructor's explanation that the South fought the Civil War for state's rights, not to preserve slavery. And after all, the emancipation of slaves didn't become an official Union war objective until the second year of the war, sometime well after Lincoln made his oft-quoted comment about being willing to take the South back with or without slavery if he could restore the Union.
I didn't actually throw the magazine across the room. But good grief -- apart from slavery, what other "state right" would the whole South gone to war to preserve? It's a cinch they didn't object to such federal intrusions as programs of internal improvements, the delivery of the mail, the defense of the country against European powers, or much else that the limited federal government of the day took a hand in.
[Well, we just heard some thing about this yesterday in a class we were taking about Andrew Jackson. Tariffs were apparently a big issue, so one could say that "free trade" was another "state right". I don't know if this was mentioned in all the Acts of Secession, though. -ecl]
[[That would be the nullification crisis of 1832? I remember reading about that in the latest installment of Robert Caro's bio of Lyndon Johnson (Master of the Senate). I know that South Carolina and Senator Calhoun were on the verge of violence, but what about the rest of the South? [-mg]]
Letter of Comment on God (by Nick J. Sauer):
In another letter about Mark's comments on God in the 07/23/04 issue of the MT VOID, Nick J. Sauer writes:
This is a follow-up to your Psychological basis for God essay last week as I feel that you missed what I consider a major point in the idea of religious beliefs existing to keep us all sane. This point is what I like to call the "Immortality Insurance" clause of religion. As an agnostic, I find myself acknowledging the concept that there may be no immortal part of a human being (what is most commonly refered to as the soul). More specifically, maybe we are just all very complex organic machines and, when we die, that is it. There is nothing more. Now, this concept is probably very horrifying to most people as it strikes directly at their hubris "how could the world possibly go on existing without me!?". I also firmly believe that if this concept where introduced to most people it would cause them so much psychological trauma that they would effectively shut down. Why risk doing anything when there is a potential payoff that is the end of your existance? The result is that we end up like the Puppeteer society from Niven's "Known Space" stories. The concept that after you die, you get some kind of reward, is something that I have always felt is a major purpose of religion in keeping society functioning and moving forward. [-njs]
Letter of Comment on the Second-Highest Priority (by George F. MacLachlan):
In response to Mark's article in the 07/30/04 MT VOID on the second-highest priority, George Maclachlan writes:
Your article reminded me of a couple of photos that a friend recently sent me regarding a version of the room you were mentioning had been omitted from the apartment by Candid Camera.
Here two pictures of such a room on a street corner in Switzerland [I have put them on my web page -ecl]:
The room is made entirely out of one-way glass. No one can see you inside, but once you are inside it appears that you are sitting in a clear glass box.
I don't understand the motivation for such a structure. [-gfm]
Letter of Comment on Environmental Refugees (by Vince Guinto):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Kim Stanley Robinson's FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN in the 08/20/04 issue of the MT VOID, Vince Guinto writes:
I wouldn't be surprised if you have heard of the Tuvalu situation already, but after reading about FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN, I thought you'd be interested in a recent article from Smithsonian Magazine:
HTML teaser with a few photos: http://tinyurl.com/4qvvs
Full article text in PDF, but no photos: http://tinyurl.com/4cchb
Basically, Tuvalu says their islands are being washed out by rising ocean levels, and is alternately trying to sue the major industrialized nations for the damage (blaming the US and a few selected other nations for much of global warming), and trying to establish themselves as "environmental refugees" so that people can emigrate from Tuvalu to other nations while bypassing quotas and other limits on normal immigration.
Both sides accuse the other of fudging the data to support their claims, of course. It's an interesting read, but this article by itself won't shift a person's opinion on whether global warming is a real problem. [-vg]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Somehow Neil Gaiman managed to stay off my radar until he was nominated for a Hugo for AMERICAN GODS. As soon as I read that I started looking for other works by him. The latest I've read is NEVERWHERE (ISBN 0-380-78901-9) from 1996. Richard Mayhew is just an average guy in London until one day he helps the wrong person and finds himself in the London Underground. Not the "subway", though that figures into it, but a shadowy world that exists below London in the same way that Faerie exists next to our world. This Underworld, however, is connected to the "real" Underground: Knightsbridge is "Night's Bridge" and there is an Earl holding court at Earl's Court, for example. NEVERWHERE may not as mythic or encompassing as his AMERICAN GODS, but the latter is a classic. NEVERWHERE is still highly recommended.
My mystery discussion group chose Lilian Jackson Braun's THE CAT WHO COULD READ BACKWARDS (ISBN 0-515-09017-4) as this month's selection. It may be good for cat lovers, but I found it rather ho-hum, with the art milieu not really working very well for me either. I think with mysteries what appeals to someone is often very specific. Some authors have wide appeal (e.g., Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie), but there are a lot of authors--and series--that have a much more focused target audience. I wrote a while ago about Peter Tremayne's "Sister Fidelma" series (06/04/04), and Beth Sherman's "Jersey Shore" books (07/23/04). This is probably in that category.
And if whether mysteries work is very specific to the reader, that is doubly true of humorous mysteries. Maxim Jakubowski's THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF COMIC CRIME (ISBN 0-786-71002-0) is a mixed bag-- some I found very funny, others I found too obvious, and some just fell flat. The same will probably be true of you, but it is unlikely that you will put the same stories in the same categories. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: How do you know so much about everything? was asked of a very wise and intelligent man; and the answer was 'By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions as to anything of which I was ignorant. --John Abbott
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