MT VOID 09/30/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 14, Whole Number 1302

MT VOID 09/30/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 14, Whole Number 1302

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/30/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 14, Whole Number 1302

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. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to


Thanks again to Rob Mitchell and Steve Goldsmith for sending out the MT VOIDs while we were on various trips. Any delays were due entirely to problems in the Yahoogroups moderation process and not to any failings on Rob's or Steve's part.

And because of these trips, some letters of comment and reviews have been delayed, but will eventually appear, along with about fouty-five film reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival. Not all in one week, though. :-) [-ecl]

London Travelogue Available (site pointer):

My log of our recent trip to London (including theatre reviews) is available at My Worldcon convention report is still being worked on. [-ecl]

A&E Network's Top 50 Science Fiction Shows (site pointer):

The A&E Network has listed (in somewhat inconvenient format) their picks as the top fifty science fiction television shows of all time. I cannot agree with all of their choices, but this is their list:

(Thanks go to Jo Paltin for pointing this out.) [-mrl]

Science Fiction Citations (site pointer):

The site is connected to the Oxford English Dictionary's updating process, and is described as follows:

"Welcome to the new version of the Oxford English Dictionary's science fiction words site. The base project was originally set up so that knowledgeable aficionados could help the OED find useful examples of words in their fields of interest. This first project, and still the only public one, is devoted to science fiction."

If you're curious who coined various science fictional terms such as "blaster" or "terraform", check this site out. [-ecl]

Your Horoscope (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

(Due to economy concerns we cannot provide complete horoscopes. Your cooperation is appreciated.)

All signs: Oxygen will be an important part of your day. Take care to breathe, not once but several times a minute. For best results, do not smoke. It is good if you eat something, but if you live in Central New Jersey, please do not have garlic on your breath. [-mrl]

The Toronto International Film Festival 2005 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Evelyn and I are back from the Toronto International Film Festival.


The first two are based on current best-selling novels and might be termed Jewish films. In BEE SEASON Richard Gere plays a scholar in religion and especially Jewish mysticism. His whole family is very intelligent. When the daughter shows almost supernatural ability to spell, Gere sees this as fitting into Kabalistic prophesy. Apparently the novel was an Oprah discussion book. Now what appeals to her is not necessarily material that I think would make a rousing good film. Our tastes and priorities differ. But in this case the film is really unique. It says things about comparative religions; it says things about mental states; and it has both an interesting father-daughter and father-son relationship.

I did not have to go to Toronto see EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. When I got home it was playing within walking distance from my house. This film is about an American Jew who goes to Ukraine to learn about his family background. Much of it is comedy as he interfaces with a strange non-Jewish family who specialize in helping rich Jews to find their roots, but the story has a serious side. This is also based on a best-selling novel. Elijah Wood is an actor who does not project much emotion. I think he builds a wall between him and his audience. His Frodo did little for me and here there is even more of a wall between him and the viewer as he wears grotesque glasses. But by the end of the film he is a much more likable character and so are the other major characters of the film. A decision that a character makes toward the end is poignant. This will not have a wide following , but it did appeal to me. The characters are off-putting at first, but that is done to make them become interesting the more you know of them.

MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS is Dame Judy Dench and Bob Hoskins in a true story about a feuding pair, one owning and one managing the scandalous London theater The Windmill. They get into censorship problems because of wanting to pep up their shows with nudity on stage. During the height of the blitz their theater was the only public entertainment open in London and it became a refuge for soldiers at home and a symbol of resistance to the Nazis. This is one of those films that touch just about every emotion. Nobody who saw it at the festival had an unkind word to say about it.

THE SUN is a character story of Emperor Hirohito at the end of WWII. He has to struggle to understand these Americans who have invaded his country. They want him to renounce his status as a god and he is becoming very skeptical himself that he could possibly be divine. The film is slow and deliberate, but the spaces are filled with a lot to think about.

THE LAST HANGMAN, originally made for British television, but then the filmmakers realized it was good enough for theatrical release. A fine actor, Timothy Spall (of TOPSY TURVY), plays the last official hangman in Britain before capital punishment was abolished. His attitude toward the job of killing people for the state changes with time as the emotional tension of his job starts changing him.

CAPOTE is Truman Capote manipulating events and people while collecting information on the "In Cold Blood" murders. Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role is oddly charismatic at the same time he seems detestable. This may be the role he is remembered for.

THE WHITE MASAI is true story of Swiss woman who married a Masai warrior and went to live in Kenya with his people. It is hard to imagine two such different cultures blending without conflict, and they don't blend so well here.

REVOLVER is a British gangster movie that gets very bizarre. A man released from prison and looking for revenge gets some help from two mysterious men who seem to be almost omniscient. At times it is reminiscent of F&SF written fantasy. You won't guess who the villain is. This is a story of some audacity and not many people I talked to like it. But it is still one of the films I will remember fondly.

FESTIVAL is along the lines of a personal favorite, Michael Richie's SMILE. It has a multi-line story about the competition for the best comic at the Edinburgh Festival. It is cynical and funny and has more than few surprise plot twists. [-mrl]

Adolescence (letter of comment by Aliyah Sauer):

The 09/09/2005 issue had a quote from John Ciardi, who said, "You don't have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough suffering for anyone." One of our younger readers responded, "Ha Ha! ; )"

New Library Service (pointer by Charles Harris):

Charles Harris reports on a new library service in Sweden (from

"A Swedish library, realizing that books are not the only things being judged by their covers, will give visitors a different opportunity this weekend—to borrow a Muslim, a lesbian, or a Dane.

The city library in Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city, will let curious visitors check out living people for a 45-minute chat in a project meant to tear down prejudices about different religions, nationalities, or professions. The project, called Living Library, was introduced at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival in 2000, librarian Catharina Noren said. It has since been tried at a Copenhagen library as well as in Norway, Portugal, and Hungary.

The people available to be 'borrowed' also include a journalist, a gypsy, a blind man, and an animal rights activist. They will be available Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with a Malmo city festival and are meant to give people 'a new perspective on life,' the library said in a statement. 'There are prejudices about everything,' Noren said. 'This is about fighting those prejudices and promoting coexistence.'

Borrowing a person will be free, and the library will also provide coffee at its cafe where the 'living books' will answer questions about their lives, beliefs, or jobs. 'It’s supposed to be relaxed and human-to-human,' Noren said."

Harry Potter (letters of comment by Joe Karpierz and George MacLachlan):

Joe Karpierz writes, "Regarding the comment on Harry Potter [by Dan Kimmel, in the 09/16/05 issue of the MT VOID]--I have to admit that the possibility had not occurred to me. I like the thinking. I hope Rowling goes down that path." [-jak]

And George MacLachlan writes, " I was having a discussion over dinner about this with some friends who are serious Potter fans. They indicated that several clues are provided in the conversations that occurred among members of the Order of the Phoenix at S. Black's home. Also, apparently there is a website (using Dan's nomenclature--substitute the correct name)-- that is intended for those who have already read [HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE]. The site reviews many of the clues ostensibly provided in one or more of the Potter books and provides various conjectures and opinions." [-gfm]

THE ROAD TO DUNE by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson (copyright 2005, Tor, 494pp, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31295-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

This collection of "Dune" items is a must for the Dune fan and collector, but *only* the "Dune" fan and collector--although I suppose those are the only people that will buy it anyway-- because, well, most of the stuff is relatively uninteresting.

It's been well-documented that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson acquired a treasure trove of Frank Herbert-era Dune stuff when boxes and boxes of "Dune" notes and outlines were discovered in various locations, most notably a safety deposit box in a bank and in a garage. They've gathered some material here, but I suspect there's a whole lot more that should have been included than the material that was.

The book starts off with a "short novel" (since when is a 250+ page novel short? That used to be a normal sized novel), SPICE PLANET, written by Brian and Kevin from Frank's notes for a novel of the same name. SPICE PLANET was the first attempt at what would eventually become DUNE. It's a different tale, mostly of political intrigue and drug addiction. If this novel had seen the light of day, not only would it not have become remembered as one of the classics of all time, but DUNE itself never would have been published. It's a curiosity, showing some of the things Frank was thinking about before he wrote DUNE, but nothing more.

The next section chronicles Frank's attempt to get DUNE published. It begins by discussing the magazine article that started it all, "They Stopped Moving the Sands". The article never was published, but got Frank thinking in the direction of what would become DUNE. This is followed by "The Letters of Dune", a glimpse at the correspondence between Frank and some luminaries in the field (such as Harlan Ellison and John W. Campbell, Jr.) as well as a fan or two, which gives the reader more insight into the path to the publication of DUNE. There are also some interesting tidbits concerning the publication of DUNE MESSIAH.

What follows this is easily the most interesting material in the book: deleted scenes and chapters from DUNE and DUNE MESSIAH. While the material itself is not all that interesting, except for an alternate ending to DUNE MESSIAH, what *is* interesting is the contrast between the writing styles of Frank Herbert and Brian/Kevin. There is no contest--Frank is clearly the better writer, with much more texture, layering, and meaning than Brian and Kevin have shown themselves capable of in the six "Dune" novels that they have written so far. Reading these pieces have me salivating at the prospect of rereading all six of the original "Dune" novels.

The book finishes with four short stories written by Brian and Kevin. The best and most interesting is "A Whisper of Caladan Seas", which takes place during Dune itself. The other stories are those of the "Butlerian Jihad", which while I enjoyed that series for what it was, don't really add anything to this collection. What would have been more interesting is the missing material from CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE that is currently up on the Dune novels website,

The scariest thing I saw in this book was that there is yet another book by Brian and Frank "in preparation"--"Paul of Dune". Ugh. Enough already.

But, back to that website. It says that the first of the two- book conclusion to Frank's original series, entitled "Hunters of Dune", is set for publication in September 2006. Time to get moving on reading the original series before then. [-jak]

An Animated Discussion of CORPSE BRIDE (site pointer):

Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person have a different take on Tim Burton's new film THE CORPSE BRIDE. I liked the film but did not think it was up to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHIRSTMAS. Waldrop and Person thought it was considerably better. They picked up on some a spects that I did not and it does make for interesting reading. Their enthusiastic discussion on the film is at:

LORD OF WAR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a comedy/drama that is first funny and then chilling--all the laughs are in the first half. Or perhaps it is both as the same time. Nicolas Cage plays a Ukrainian-American who gets into international arms dealing and finds he is very good at it. Once you are trapped into being interested in the characters you may find you are learning more about the business than you really wanted to know and a lot that you hope is untrue. Sadly, there seems to be a uniform real ring of truth to this discouraging story. Andrew Niccol usually writes very good scripts. He also directs. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Under the opening credits we see a biography of the short life of a rifle shell. We follow it as it is made, as it is sold, as it moves to Russia, as it goes out in the field, and as it kills someone. Then we go from looking at the life of a bullet to the life of the man who sells it. Nicolas Cage plays Ukrainian-born Yuri Orlov, who grew up in the Little Odessa section of New York. Early on he discovered that he could get his hands on an Uzi machine gun and resell it surprisingly fast and easily. He suddenly finds this is a business in which he can make large profits for products that are always in demand. He is on the way for his life's career as an arms dealer.

The first part of the film follows him on the route to success. Those heady days are reminiscent of Al Pacino's rise to power in Brian De Palma's SCARFACE. We see his skill. We also see the amazing banality of the business including the arms fairs where attractive models with AK-47s wear skimpy camouflage outfits and pose standing on fighter plane wings. There armored tanks are sold on a "buy six and get one free" basis. But it is not always so easy, and Orlov is smart and thinks on his feet in an emergency. And he has emergencies as he is tracked by Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke). Orlov gets the trophy wife of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan), but the world of easy money and drugs is too much for his brother (Jared Leto) to handle.

Yuri Orlov is a seductively amoral animal. There is the white area of legal arms sales and the black area of illegal arms sales, but Orlov likes best to play around in the gray area between. He likes to stretch the law, but is very cautious about breaking it. He can defend his business as one that is really highly moral, in spite of appearances. His rationalizations would make Harry Lime's jaw drop in envy. Orlov is troubled by his business, but he argues well for it. Guns kill fewer people than cigarettes or cars and they come with a safety catch, he says. Most people run away from gunfire. He runs to it. Gunfire is scary for a moment, but greed is forever. And war lords and dictators always pay their arms bills on time. Orlov knows more than a few war lords and dictators on a first name basis. The president of Liberia (Andre Baptiste) he calls "Andy." LORD OF WAR takes us all over the world and has some astonishing sequences. The film is an education in itself as to how the arms business operates. It raises a lot of questions and does not settle for pre-digested answers.

New Zealander Andrew Niccol wrote THE TRUMAN SHOW, a brilliant script. He wanted to direct it, but reportedly when he could not he instead got a deal to write and direct a second film, GATTACA. GATTACA is frequently named as the best science fiction film of the 1990s. S1M0NE was decent but his least popular film. He provided the story for THE TERMINAL and now he has written a script very relevant to the current world and perhaps for that reason his best script to date.

Maybe Niccol's real victory here is to get us to understand the arms business. He has us see it from the point of view of one of its successful practitioners without ever condoning the business itself. Just when we start respecting Orlov's intentions we are reminded of where his reasoning leads. This is a sophisticated film that will come back to you the next time you read a newspaper. And perhaps it will stick with you a lot longer than that. I rate LORD OF WAR a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

CAPOTE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a film portrait of Truman Capote that in its own way is both admiring and damning. Capote investigates the murders that he was to chronicle in his docu-novel IN COLD BLOOD. To make the story better he also manipulates events and people. He is incisive, ironically charismatic, and treacherous. Philip Seymour Hoffman has his best role to date--perhaps the best he can ever hope to get. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

On November 15, 1959, a successful Holcomb, Kansas, farmer, Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, his daughter Nancy (age sixteen), and his son Kenyon (age fifteen), were bound and gagged, robbed, and murdered. New York writer Truman Capote saw the news story and became fascinated with the murder. He traveled to Holcomb to investigate and report on the murder himself. The result was a non-fiction novel serialized in the New Yorker magazine in 1965, published as a novel in 1966, and made into a film in 1967. CAPOTE is the story of how Truman Capote imposed himself into the investigation and got both law officials and the accused to cooperate with his inquiry.

Dan Futterman's screenplay based on a biography by Gerald Clarke is a powerful indictment of the man. Capote was one of the last people one would expect to be charismatic. His voice was an odd combination of Southern accent and swishy lisp. His manner was elitist and intellectual. He dressed flamboyantly. Hoffman does an amazing impression of the real Capote. While his mannerisms might be off-putting to the people of a rural Kansas town, he exudes a certain grace and allure that gets people who normally would be on their guard to open up to him. He seems harmless and sincere, so much so the viewer is shocked to see that when he himself lowers his guard he is vicious and callous to the people he has charmed and even to his close friends. Of his friends his closest confidant is Nelle Harper Lee (played by Catherine Keener) who is working on her own book at the same time, a book whose title keeps changing but will have something to do with a mockingbird. Any conversation with Capote, no matter how informal it seemed, could be on the record. Capote measured his own recall at 94 percent.

Truman Capote uses these characteristics to get his story written, a goal that becomes an obsession. When the town sheriff (Chris Cooper) wants little to do with the New York City writer Capote manages to wangle a dinner invitation from his wife by parlaying his modest fame as a writer to win her over. He similarly charms the two suspects of the crime and convinces the weaker of the two, Perry Smith (played by Clifton Collins, Jr.), that he is their only friend. He lies and confuses people and manipulates timing of events for his convenience.

Director Bennett Miller's only previous film is the documentary THE CRUISE. Here he make a powerful film that does not replace the film IN COLD BLOOD, but should been seen with it. It is hard to imagine Phillip Seymour Hoffman ever getting a better role or ever making a role so much his own. His Capote is reminiscent of Salieri's attitude toward Mozart in AMADEUS. He seems to have far too much talent squandered on too unworthy a person. Capote has the ability to write the book this murder account could make, but he is undeserving of the honor of the accomplishment.

Particularly for people who have seen IN COLD BLOOD (or read the book), this film is a compelling look at what else was going on so close to the action. I think that this film will do good things for Philip Seymour Hoffman's career. I rate CAPOTE a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

PROOF (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: David Auburn's Pulitzer prize winning play about the frustrations and fears of a great mathematician's daughter comes to the screen with Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins as a mathematician father and daughter. Paltrow overcomes her ingenue actress image and does a good job with a role of a deeply troubled and perhaps brilliant woman, the daughter of a schizophrenic mathematician who was one of the great lights of modern mathematics. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10 (Spoiler Warning: At the end of the review I will discuss a problem I have with the concept of the play.)

David Auburn and Rebecca Miller adapt Auburn's Pulitzer Prize- winning play "Proof" to the screen with John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN) directing.

Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a deeply troubled woman. For years she had cared for Robert (Anthony Hopkins), her father and one of the world's truly great mathematicians. That would be difficult enough, but from his late twenties he had had ever increasing bouts of insanity. The insanity came and went and his awareness of the insanity came and went as well. Catherine's love for her father was conflicted to the point of occasional hatred. She had to care for her father and try to nurture her own not inconsiderable talent for mathematics, two goals that were frequently at odds. Even worse is the ever-present possibility that her father's madness is in her genes. Catherine seems to have loved her father very much and at the same time hated the insanity that took him. She paid a heavy price for the love of her father.

Meanwhile Catherine's sister Claire (Hope Davis, currently in DUMA and THE MATADOR), with no great interest in mathematics, had moved away and was living an affluent private life. While Catherine was caring for her father, Claire was caring for her complexion. Now the two will confront each other. Also complicating the matter is that Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), a geeky student and disciple of her father is searching through the over one hundred notebooks the mathematician wrote in his madness. Hal is prospecting for pieces of mathematical gold in among the schizophrenic's nonsense.

This is a very serious dramatic role for Gwyneth Paltrow and she rises to the occasion of playing the troubled and fearful mathematician. It is a necessary role in her career. Her "sexy babe" image works against her throughout the film. She has to project a frailty and self-doubt that I have not seen in her in the past and it is still a little hard to see. I did not see Mary Louise Parker's interpretation in the original New York production, but in other performances she has a frailty and introspective quality that really seems to make her more natural for the role. This is a very good performance by Paltrow, but it is casting against type. Perhaps that makes her accomplishment all the more. Hopkins does a respectable job as a great mathematician, but that is not too unexpected.

The inclusion in the film of a rock music band, mentioned only as a quick joke in the original play, fills a much-needed gap. One of the pieces the band plays is connected with a mathematical pun that works as an orally told story in the play but does not work when it is dramatized in the film. And by the way, psychosis is roughly as common the mathematical community as any other community. We have recently had two major films about great mathematicians, probably both inspired by John Nash. Hopefully higher mathematics will not become associated in the public's mind with schizophrenia.

I rate PROOF a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. I do have a problem with a major plot twist in the second half of the play.

Spoiler warning: One of the questions the story raises is who is the actual author of a new forty-page mathematical proof. I am skeptical that this could ever be difficult to determine. It seems to me unlikely that anyone could ever successfully fake being the author of such a proof if he or she was not. Experts could ask not just questions about the proof itself but what insights led the mathematician to the proof approach. I doubt even that the true discoverer of a proof could tutor another mathematician effectively to bluff authorship. In fairness, I have discussed this question with mathematicians who were less skeptical than I was that it could be done. One improvement of the film over the play is to have Hal asking about the inspiration for some of the approaches in the proof. On the other hand there is a suggestion that the proof about prime numbers has something to do with random matrices. That seems unlikely.

Incidentally, I have been asked if there is a conjecture about prime numbers that fits the description in the film. My guess, based on limited knowledge, is that it is the Goldbach Conjecture that any integer greater than one is the average of two prime numbers.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: David Cronenberg adapts a graphic novel into a potent crime film. Viggo Mortensen plays a peaceful man from a peaceful town who unwillingly becomes a hero when he outguns some vicious killers. He tries to shrug it off, but his publicity brings unwelcome visitors to town. The plot is really very close to being a 1950s Western plot warmed over. The film is short and takes a good long while establishing characters and getting going. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Movie Westerns never die, it seems. When I previewed A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE a lot of other people thought that this was a cutting-edge film and a minor masterpiece. I thought it was good and entertaining, but it also seemed like it could have been just a 1950s Western brought up to date. Except for the fact that it takes place in the present and the gunslingers are here gangsters, I felt this would have made a standard Western. True story: I said to myself they probably would call it something like "The Fastest Gun Alive." I must have been half-remembering that film because a moment later I realized I had seen a film of that title and that it really did have an almost identical plot. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is, intentionally or not, a remake of Russell Rouse's 1956 western THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE. Maybe it is not identical in every detail, but it is a very close match in plot. Viggo Mortensen plays the character previously played by Glenn Ford.

In fact, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is supposedly not based on that film at all. I have no evidence that director David Cronenberg even knows of that film. Like many films in this period of diminishing box office receipts, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is based on a graphic novel. In this case the novel in question is by John Wagner and Vince Locke. It may be that this is an archetypal story rediscovered or it may be that Wagner and Locke had seen the film and decided to update it. The social issues of living in a society where law really does not rule are nothing new to cinema; they were just examined in the past in Westerns in which the law had not yet fully come to power.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, the mild cook from the local diner. He has an equally docile son Jack (Ashton Holmes) who also will go to just about any ends to avoid a fight. Tom is a bland and very attached to his family. So far there is no real dramatic tension. Then two killers on a spree come into Tom's diner. One holds a gun on Tom while the other attacks the waitress. Tom has only a pot of hot coffee in his hands. That is all he needs. Moments later there are two dead toughs on the floor and Tom has inadvertently become a local hero he really does not want to be. Then he gets his picture in the newspaper. Soon there are more thugs in town including Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) who insists that Tom is really Joey Cusack a deadly killer from Philadelphia. Eventually Tom will have to face the evil that his heroic act has brought to the town and to him family.

This is a film of strong violence, as the title seems to imply. The sex scenes between Tom and his wife Edie (Maria Bello) are a little tasteless. In one they pretend to be high schoolers having their first sex. That seems a little too Max Bialystock to be taken seriously. As the violence takes more of a hold on Tom their lovemaking becomes more violent is a scene that could almost be rape. William Hurt and Ed Harris are reasonably creepy but do not have much screen time to have a lot of impact.

This is a film with good and bad elements, but the good elements I have been familiar in films for almost half a century. To be blunt I preferred the Glenn Ford version. I expect David Cronenberg to do something with a little more freshness. I rate this a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

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

STRANGER THAN FICTION by Aubrey Dillon Malone (ISBN 0-8092-9904- 6) is a delightful little book of literary lists, such as "10 unintentional double-entendres from the classics" and "5 authors who went missing or got lost". And unlike most books of this sort, this one has an index! So if you know there was something interesting about a particular author, you can actually look up that author. (Of course, if it's Ernest Hemingway or W. Somerset Maugham, you still have a lot of pages to check.) Two examples (from another well-represented author): Brendan Behan was asked to come up with an advertising slogan for Guinness. He suggested, "It makes you drunk." And when he was offered thirty pounds for a play if they could change the title, he said, "For thirty quid you can change it to "The Brothers F***in' Karamazov."

THE ANCESTOR'S TALE by Richard Dawkins (ISBN 0-618-61916-X) works its way back through evolution, seeing it as a pilgrimage in which we meet up with our "distant cousins" as we all march back to the beginnings of life. Dawkins sticks fairly closely to his rule of not including species whose descendants have not survived until the present, though he admits to cheating a bit to include Homo habilis, Neanderthals, and the dodo. His initial discussion of "most recent common ancestor" (and how someone could be the most recent common ancestor of everyone on earth and still have none of his genes surviving in anyone) provides a very good lesson in basic genetics and evolution. My one complaint is Dawkins's tendency to throw in political asides that have nothing to do with his subject. One might argue, for example, that the claims of creationists have something to do with evolution, but snide remarks about how the Baghdad museum was looted because the American "invaders" were guarding the Oil Ministry instead really are completely off-topic. Still, there are only a smattering of them throughout this large book, and the rest is fascinating. The pattern here reminds me of Matt Ridley's GENOME, where each chapter was about a different gene on a different chromosome. Here it is about a different current species and how they derived their current characteristics from their earlier origins. And each tale illustrates a different principle of evolutionary biology--sensory perception for duck-billed platypuses, sexual selection for peacocks, the definition of species for salamander, the defintion (and purpose) of race for grasshoppers, and so on-- so by the end of the book you have a very good grounding in the subject.

HEART OF WHITENESSE by Howard Waldrop (ISBN 1-59606-018-2) is a limited edition collection of Waldrop's recent stories (1997- 2003). Waldrop is one of my favorite authors, but his stories are hard to find (although recently is a fairly reliable source for them). So this is a particularly welcome collection, even if a bit pricey at $40. (Luckily, my library seems to have decided it was worth getting a copy.) Without giving too much away, I can say that the first story, "The Dynasters", could be considered a companion piece to his classic "The Ugly Chickens". The second, "Mr. Goober's Show", uses a classic Waldrop theme, childhood pop culture. Then there's a Christopher Marlowe story, and an alternate Charles Lindbergh story. In fact, in some sense all of the stories posit an alternate world to ours in one way or another. There's no author quite like Howard Waldrop, just as there's no author quite like Jorge Luis Borges. (Not that they are similar, although there's something slightly Waldropian about "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote".) In addition to the stories, Waldrop gives lengthy afterwords for each in which he talks about the writing of them or some of the ideas in them. Highly recommended if you can find it. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           If you would be a real seeker after truth, 
           it is necessary that at least once in your 
           life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
                                          -- Rene Descartes

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