MT VOID 12/01/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 22, Whole Number 1363

MT VOID 12/01/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 22, Whole Number 1363

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/01/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 22, Whole Number 1363

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

Janis Ian on Howard Waldrop:

"Howard Waldrop doesn't have e-mail. He doesn't have a word processor. He doesn't surf the Internet. I guess that means he spends most of his time writing. From my point of view as a devoted Waldrop reader, I'm eternally grateful to the Luddite in him." --Janis Ian

A Lot of Mathematics in Ten Pages:

Those of a mathematical frame of mind will find much of interest and value in ten pages of PDF with the "Theoretical Computer Science Cheat Sheet." You need to have Acrobat PDF-reader installed on your machine. The cheat sheet is at [-mrl]

Breaking Into a New Dimension, Just a Little Bit! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We were at Philcon at a panel on ideas connected with dimension. One of the panel members commented that there are figures that are of a number of dimensions that is not a whole number. He said he could not imagine how this could be, but he knew it was true. How can it be? I explained it to him. It sounds like it is a very complex idea, but I was able to stand up in the audience and explain it to him in under a minute. That must be some measure of simplicity of an idea. I will take a little longer here.

It seems an amazing concept that a curve can be so jagged that it becomes more than one-dimensional, yet still less than two-dimensional. But it is true. And a surface can be so crinkly that it is more than two-dimensional, but less than three-dimensional. Yet some such curves and surfaces can be shown to have this property in a way that is so simple that one is not sure at first that it really is that simple.

Suppose you are playing with sugar cubes. You want to make a single cube that is twice the scale of the ones you are playing with. It takes eight such sugar cubes. That is 2x2x2 or eight, which is 2 to the power 3. To make it three times the scale it would take 27 cubes or 3x3x3. That is 3 to the power 3, or 3-cubed. For three-dimensional figures you cube the scale to find how many pieces you would need.

On the other hand if you have a square it takes 4 or 2x2 to double the scale. To triple the scale it takes 9 or 3x3 or 3-squared. The number of pieces needed is the scale raised to the power that is the number of dimensions of the figure. For two-dimensional figures you square the scale to find how many pieces you would need.

For those comfortable with logarithms the actual formula is:

dimension = log(pieces)/log(scale)

For example if it takes 8 individual cubes to make a cube twice as long on a side, then the cube is of dimension log(8)/log(2) which is 3.

Now consider what is called the snowflake fractal. It is so called because it looks like an edge of a snowflake. It is created by taking a line segment of, say, nine inches long. Then you build an equilateral triangle whose base is the middle third of the segment and then remove that base. We then have a piece that looks like _/\_ made up of four segments that are each three inches long. You repeat the process on each of those four segments. That gives you 16 segments each 1/3 the length of the ones in the previous step. You continue this an infinite number of times. That is the snowflake curve. You can see it many places on the Internet under its proper name, the Koch Snowflake. For example, see .

Suppose you have copies of the snowflake curve. How many do you need to make a triple scale model of the one? You place one horizontally, then one tipped up at a 60-degree angle, then one tipped down at a 60-degree angle, then one more horizontal. It took four copies to make a copy of the edge three times as big. The question is then what number does three have to be raised to in order to make four? That will tell you the number of dimensions of the Koch snowflake curve. If you know how to play with logarithms you get a number just a little less than 1.26186 or about 665/527. The precise value, by the formula above, is log(4)/log(3). So the snowflake pattern is more than one- dimensional but less than two. It is a little more than 1.26-dimensional.

Now somebody may object that when we make the new larger snowflake model it is not really the same shape as the original. It has one more level of crinkle than the originals had. That is just like _/\_ has one more layer of crinkle than does ___. However that is part of the magic of working with infinity. We said that the original process is completed an infinite number of times. It has an infinite number of crinkles. Adding one more crinkle is not going to change the number that it has. Just like there are precisely as many elements in the set {1,2,3,4,5,...} as in {0,1,2,3,4,...}. You can pair them up, one from one set one from the other set and each member of the first set is paired with one member of the second set, and vice versa.

This is not a very constructive process. If, for example, I wanted to see a curve that is exactly 1.5 dimensions it would not help me a bit. But does give us a toehold in this new world of fractional dimensional spaces. There is at least one curve we can show has a number of dimensions that is not a whole number. [-mrl]

ETERNITY ROAD by Jack McDevitt (copyright 1997, Harper Prism, 338 pp, SFBC, ISBN 0-06-105208-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Back in September my wife and I decided that we should attend Windycon, a local long-running convention that we attend occasionally. Jack McDevitt was to be the author Guest of Honor, so I decided that maybe I ought to start reading one of his novels before the convention. I picked ETERNITY ROAD simply because it was the shortest of his novels that I had in my to- read stack.

McDevitt has long been one of those authors whose books' capsule summaries invariably draw me to them. I pick them up and put them on the aforementioned to-read stack. And just as invariably, I keep buying books and I never get around to reading the last book I bought. You'll notice the copyright date of ETERNITY ROAD. Yep, it languished *nine years* on my to-read stack.

The problem with finally picking up and reading books in that fashion is that many times the book is just good enough to make you want to read more of that author's work. So of course, I picked up something like four more McDevitt novels to read. If Evelyn and Mark are still publishing the MT VOID when I get around to reading them (after all, my to-read stack has probably over a hundred books on it), you'll finally see reviews of them.

ETERNITY ROAD is the story of a post-disaster civilization. The United States has fallen victim to a plague. (It's not clear if the rest of the world has fallen victim to the same plague, and it's actually irrelevant to the story.) Civilization has regressed. Economics, farming, and technology--for our cast of characters in particular--resemble that of something from the middle of the 1800s. They are certainly aware of the plague and its results. The ruins are all around them--roads, cities, artifacts. They call the folks from before the plague the Roadmakers--and legend has it that the Roadmakers stored all their knowledge in a far-away place called Haven.

As the story begins, a sole survivor of an expedition to find Haven returns after a long absence. He claims he never found it --that his information and maps were wrong. It just doesn't exist. He refuses to talk about the trip. He feels responsible for the lives of his fellow members of the expedition, and it's just too tough on him. When he dies, he leaves a copy of A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT to Chaka, the sister of one of the members of the expedition. It's rare because all of Mark Twain's books were thought to be lost. So, where did it come from, and why did it fall into her hands?

Chaka, reluctant at first, finally decides to put together another expedition to Haven to find out what really happened. Chaka lives near the Mississippi somewhere--the impression is down south near the Gulf of Mexico--so she and her band have no idea how far away it is or how long the trip will be; or, for that matter, what they will encounter along the way. The only clues they have are the sketches her brother made while on the trip, and the trail markings along the way made by the guide who led the last expedition to Haven.

The story then settles into a typical kind of adventure story, with the party experiencing strange technologies, large cities (the party makes it to Chicago and Detroit, just to name two), abandoned highways, pirates, remote villages, and all sorts of other wonders. It felt to me that I may have been reading parts of an old Clifford Simak novel. Half the fun is trying to work out what or where McDevitt is describing, because for the most part he doesn't name anything. We have to figure it out on our own.

The point of the story, of course, is not whether they reach Haven, but what happens along the way. ETERNITY ROAD is a well told story--nothing more. The plague disaster is the backdrop-- it's the reason this story can take place. If this book were written today, I suspect it would be about 250 pages longer with much more detail about the plague, current civilization, etc. I'm glad it was written ten years ago.

This isn't a great book--it's a good book. And hey--it made me pick up more McDevitt novels. [-jak]

THE FOUNTAIN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Mystic pizza. This is an enigmatic story involving the Tree of Life with three story lines: one in the 1500s, one in the near future, and one in the far future. Darren Aronofsky is less interested in coherence than in creating New Age-ish cosmic images. This is the sort of film that plays much better at midnight whether you stay up that late or not. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

The film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY actually caught on when a certain sort of customer discovered it was a great film to see stoned. If there are any of you guys left around, boy do I have a film for you! You will probably not see another film like this one this year. You many not see one like this again this decade. And you may never see the credit "Directed by Darren Aronofsky" ever again.

The story conflates the biblical Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden with the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon searched for in the New World and failed to find. In the 1500s Tomas Creo (played by the ubiquitous Hugh Jackman) comes to explore the New World. Through mystical means he believes he has a map of the way to the Tree of Life which God has hidden in the Mayan jungles. The radiantly beautiful but otherwise uninteresting Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) sends him on this mission.

Interwoven with this plot line we have the story of Tom (Hugh Jackman), a near-future medical researcher who is trying to cure disease, but instead finds his new botanical substance may also reverse aging and restore youth. He has a special interest in saving lives and giving immortality because his beautiful wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) is dying of a brain tumor and Tom will wants to save her life. Her hobby is writing--longhand--a story of Tomas Creo who may be real or may be her fictional imagining. We do not know for sure which so we do not know if we are supposed to accept the 1500s story as being fact in this world or her fiction. She is creative, but still is an untouchable image, emotionally as flat as Queen Isabel.

A third plot thread takes place in the far future with Tommy (Hugh Jackman) floating in Xibalba, a golden glowing nebula out in space. He is there to worship his love embodied as a tree. The tree has absorbed his love more or less like something out of "The Quatermass Experiment". The tree cannot talk to him, being a tree, but it does show its love by having tendril-like fibers in its bark respond to the proximity of his Tommy's hand.

Bits and pieces of what is going on do sneak past all the beautiful, but mostly incomprehensible imagery to tantalize the viewer with hints of what the story is actually about. These frequently take the form of images repeated from one age to the next. For example, there is a repeating image of three stars (or holes or objects) forming an equilateral triangle to point to the fourth object at the center. Or we see a car or a horse coming at the camera, but the camera is upside-down. The eye is momentarily confused, but as the car/horse passes under camera, our view follows it turning right side up. One wonders whose point of view this is supposed to be.

Eventually the coherence of the story is forgotten and replaced by more incomprehensible images. Certainly we see mandalas as a background for Tom floating and levitating in lotus position. The images are nicely reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s psychedelic style. The story is very nicely illustrated, but opaquely told.

The film appears to be short in a most thrifty manner. All scenes seem to have been filmed on a soundstage, and a small one at that, making the film seem a little claustrophobic, ironic for it cosmic themes. The film does have major actors like the ubiquitous Jackman and like Weisz. Smaller roles go to Aronofsky veterans Ellen Burstyn and Mark Margolis.

It is hard to completely pan a film that is so visually, if claustrophobically, stunning. But it is harder to recommend a film that is so cryptic as to be incomprehensible. This is a film for the very narrow audience who can be just be immersed in its mysterious cosmic imagery. Drink deep of this fountain or not at all. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. [-mrl]

BABEL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a moving but very downbeat film. Four inter- related tragic stories are told in parallel. In that sense it is much like last year's CRASH. But the stories do not add up to much other than to say that bad things happen. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga give us what is we are told the third film in their trilogy, following AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS. In it, four interrelated absorbing stories are told in parallel.

A Moroccan goatherd buys a high-powered rifle to protect his goats from jackals. He allows his sons to practice with the gun, and one takes a potshot at a tourist bus. The results have tragic consequences for his family.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play Richard and Susan, Americans on a tour in Morocco. Susan is very cautious about all the tourist sorts of worries like ice cubes from non-purified water. However, she sits next to a window on a tour bus and is very badly wounded by a bullet that mysteriously flies through a bus window. There are no medical facilities nearby to handle such a crisis. But with Susan bleeding profusely Richard must manage the nightmarish situation and try to save Susan's life.

Two American children are left in the care of a trusted nanny Amerlia (Adriana Barraza) while their parents tour Morocco. Amerlia needs a day off to attend her son's wedding in Mexico. Unable to find a substitute babysitter, the housekeeper realizes she has to bring the children into Mexico and to the wedding. Driven by her irresponsible nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal) the four go off across the tense international border.

Kikuchi (Rinko Kikuchi), a hearing-impaired young woman in Japan, has deep emotional problems after the loss of her mother. Her sympathetic father desperately wants to help her, but she is looking for something that he cannot provide. (This story eventually has a minor connection to other story lines, but it seems the most forced connection.)

The film flashes around from Morocco to the United States to Mexico to Japan. The language shifts from Arabic to English to Spanish to Japanese, justifying the title. Each country has a different life style. Each individual story is compelling and well told. BABEL's biggest weakness is its attempt to tie the four subplots together into a single story. The moral of all this is that there is no moral. The problem is not tourism or terrorism or immigration policy or globalization, though we are reminded of all these issues. And perhaps it is even a bit of a relief that this film is not grinding some political axe. The problems the people face is just that bad things happen to good people. The fates may have it in for us. This is a film populated with decent people who are just unlucky. So, perhaps it is saying to enjoy life if and while you can. Even that theme is somewhat undercut by the contrivances tying the stories together. How often do so many dramatic events happen to a single family in a single day? It reminds one of the vengeance of the gods in Greek tragedy. The film as a whole is much less believable than any of its parts are. The glue does not work even if each of the pieces standing alone is a good piece of story-telling and the tension is made stronger by interruptions for jumps to the other stories.

Some small mistakes are nonetheless bothersome. Susan sits on the left side of the bus. When the rifle is fired, that is the side away from the rifle so the shot is impossible.

Perhaps this is just four stories of unfortunate people and the stories are connected in an unlikely contrivance. There is a lot that is done well in the film, but it is still flawed. I rate the film a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]

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

I read THE LITTLE SISTER by Raymond Chandler (ISBN 0-394-75767-X) because I had listened to the BBC adaptation. It turns out the BBC kept a lot of Chandler's distinctive writing, but simplified the end. (Of course, with Chandler many people would say the attraction is the writing, not the plot.) It is ironic that Chandler is so well known and influential, since he wrote only seven novels and less than two dozen short stories. But they are all classics.

When our book discussion group read Jorge Luis Borges's "Funes the Memorious", someone recommended THE MIND OF A MNEMONIST by A. R. Luria (ISBN 0-674-57622-5), an account of a real-life example of phenomenal memory. The subject (called only "S.") remembered things through synesthesia--a "crossing" of the senses. So, for example, he may remember a certain word as not just the word, but also a puff of smoke, or a certain smell, or a particular sound. Of particular interest was the way S. solved mathematical problems, using visualizations which often seem to have only tenuous connections to the problem itself.

THE RABBI'S CAT by Joann Sfar (ISBN 0-375-42281-1) is a graphic novel about Jews in Algeria in the 1930s, told from the point of view of the rabbi's cat. I am beginning to think that the audience for graphic novels must be people with good eyesight--I found the cursive font large enough, but a bit ornate, and the sans-serif font a bit small. I am not sure who the target audience is for this, though I suspect that my library's apparent decision to file all graphic novels as "YA" is not necessarily always the right choice. This has a fair amount of religious philosophy, and also what are often referred to as "adult themes and language". In any case, I certainly would expect that its target audience would be mostly Jewish. (Joann Sfar, by the way, is a man--it is probably pronounced something like "yo-han".)

Coincidentally, I also just read INTRODUCING CAMUS by David Zane Mairowitz and Alain Korkos (ISBN 1-840-46064-4). Coincidentally, because Camus was from Ageria and set many of his works there. (He also played goalie at soccer. This is a fact which won me a "Dublin Literary Pub Crawl" t-shirt when I was the only one in the group who knew which position he played. This was because it was about the only position I knew the name for.) This is one of the good books in this series, and of necessity covers the political situation in Algeria as well as Camus's life and writing.

FARTHING by Jo Walton (ISBN 0-765-31421-5) is an English country house murder mystery set in an alternate history in which Hess's mission to England succeeded, and England and Germany signed a peace treaty early in the war. The primary suspect is David Kahn, a Jew who has married into an old established family, but is resented by most of them. Readers of this column will know that the anti-Semitism of 1930s England came as no surprise to me, although several reviewers seemed to think this was quite a revelation. For example, Lisa Goldstein wrote, "[Walton] deals with prejudice and class in ways Sayers and Christie never dreamed of." I think a large part of this is how we are reading it differently, not that Walton is writing it differently. I thought the book worked well as a mystery, but there seemed to be some heavy-handed parallels being drawn between the society and the government in the book and our present day. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Hollywood grew to be the most flourishing 
           factory of popular mythology since the Greeks.
                                          -- Alistair Cooke

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