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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/04/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 1, Whole Number 1500
Table of Contents
Issue 1500 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I guess I should say something. It is hard to believe. 1500. This is our 1500th issue. Let this be a warning to aspiring fanzine writers. Have a good idea when you start a fanzine, how long you expect it to go and how you are going to bring it to an end. Starting the MT VOID was a whole lot like starting to sing a song before you have memorized the ending. How can we stop the insanity? How many fanzines can say they have gone for 1500 issues? And we are working on 1501. [-mrl]
The Man of the Future (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A memory of the past has come back to me. The weekend I got my first palmtop pocket computer was back in 1992. Evelyn was in Virginia for a class and I took the train to Washington to meet her for the weekend and to see some museums. I spent the train trip learning about my HP 95LX. So there I was walking around the Quadrangle. As we walked between museums I would have my palmtop out and be typing on it as I walked. Evelyn was downright embarrassed. It looked very strange to be walking around and typing on a keyboard at the same time. Flash forward to the present. People are interacting with electronic devices when they walk, when they drive, when they are watching movies. Talking on cell phones is now illegal in my State because so many people do it. Evelyn pulls out a palmtop and types on it when she is stopped at traffic lights. This woman who found my typing on keyboards while I walked is the same Evelyn and not the same. I was just a long, long way ahead of my time. [-mrl]
Part of US Is THEM (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Carl Sagan said that we are all star-stuff. All the matter you see about you was originally created in a star. So yes we are star stuff. It is true, but perhaps not very interesting. We are star stuff, but so are rocks and water and the contents of your town dump. But it seems now like we might actually be star stuff in a somewhat more personal way--a way that rocks and water are not. It now looks like there is a better case that the first life on earth might have partially come here from space.
It has been known for some time that some of the building blocks of RNA and DNA can be seen on meteor fragments. This gives some support for the Panspermia theory. That is this theory that suggests that life or the building blocks of life on earth did not originate on this planet but were brought here by meteorites or by some other means. The chemicals fell in the primordial soup and joined with terrestrial chemicals that are not at all rare. Together they formed the first primitive life. But what is intriguing about this theory is that if the really key molecules came to Earth hitchhiking on meteors, they could have also fallen on other planets. There they could have combined with the same common chemicals. This might mean that earth-like life might be more common in the universe than we might think.
This probably does not mean that life forms that came from the same seed would look like a lot like us. In "Star Trek", aliens might look like humans with horseshoe crabs on their foreheads, for example. In real life that would require way too much very parallel evolution. But it is not nearly so farfetched that other planets would have microbes that are a lot like our microbes. We could easily have viruses in common. (And isn't that a scary thought?) Also--I am guessing here--their sugars might curl the same way ours do and have other similarities. It might mean that there are more habitable planets out there than there would be otherwise. But that is speculation. A couple weeks ago this was something of a pipe dream. Now it seems to be a little less of a pipe dream. What changed the facts? A meteorite was found in Australia that contained two nucleobases.
Okay, first, what are nucleobases? They are molecules of chemicals. The most familiar ones are cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine. These are the building blocks of DNA. But other nucleobases include uracil, a base in RNA. Xanthine and hypoxanthine are not actually RNA bases but participate in the same chemical reactions. Nucleobases are the basis of life and reproduction and are the building blocks that all life on Earth depend on. The Australian meteorite contains uracil and xanthine. Some of the pieces of the first living organisms may have come from space in the then recent past.
Where were they likely to have come from? Well, we found them on Planet Earth, today that is the Planet of the DNA and RNA. If a meteorite were found with signs of coffee on it you would assume that it came in contact with the coffee on Earth and it would not provoke much interest. If you could prove it picked up the coffee when the meteorite was formed that would provoke a lot more interest. Well if a meteorite contains the molecules of nucleobases that is interesting all by itself, but we would just assume that they got spilled on the meteorite after it arrived on Earth. If you could demonstrate that the nucleobases actually hitched a ride on the meteorite and came here from outer space, that is a much more impressive fact. They could have chemically formed or they could have come off of something interesting. Who knows?
Zita Martins, a researcher at Imperial College London, is the lead of a team that has proven that the uracil and xanthine on a meteorite found in Australia was in the meteorite, not splashed on after it arrived.
When the Earth was covered with the primordial soup that first spawned life, the atmosphere intercepted fewer meteorites and there were meteor storms in which extraterrestrial rocks fell from the sky. Chemicals from Earth and what appear now to be chemicals from space came together in some reaction we are still a long way from explaining and created life.
So at the risk of getting all Quatermassy on you I have to inform you that it now looks like the odds are good that you are part extraterrestrial. [-mrl]
WALL-E (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Pixar Animation is known for making good kids' films that even adults can enjoy. But now they really have crossed over the line to make an adult film that even kids can enjoy. WALL-E is a light fun comedy set against a very grim background. This film has a lot more message than just "have a good time." It is all about some serious problems our world is facing. Under the laughs and the humanized robots this is a serious science fiction film and well above average for the genre. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Spoiler Warning: There are minor plot spoilers in this review.
Pixar makes great, cute animated films. Their process does not lend itself to making realistic human images so they tell stories about toys, and insects, and fish. And these are good family films in the sense that they are aimed at the kids, but the adults really will have a good time also. With WALL-E for the first time I think they started making good family films in the sense that it is aimed at the adults, but the children can enjoy it also. WALL-E has nice robots with real personalities that kids and adults will respond well to. But rather than the little morals to the stories that their previous films have had for those looking for morals, this film has serious messages. The messages are wrapped in a nice animated film, but they can hardly be missed. And they are a dark core to this pleasant film.
The main character is WALL-E. He is a servo-mechanism that was left behind to clean up the environment when all (surviving) humans left the earth to go to a utopian resort ship. This ship looks like it will give the humans an ideal hedonistic life while back on Earth machines try to make the destroyed world livable again. It should be noted that now, seven hundred years later, the entire surviving human race is just a few thousand people. The film glosses over what happened to billions of other humans, but it is suspected they all died from something very nasty on Earth. The affable robots distract the viewer from asking what really happened to create this hellish future Earth. We are led to assume that the giant corporations like the fictional WalMart-like Buy & Large ended up owning and destroying our planet. Meanwhile the remaining humans are pampered on the Axiom, a ship deep in space that has become dangerously comfortable. Humans have become fleshy eating machines, obtuse and obese, who have as a race voluntarily given up the ability to walk. They get their nutrition from what look like 7-Eleven cups. But that is the back-story. We see little of it and its grimness is not where the emphasis lies.
We focus on WALL-E, a likable earthbound clean-up robot whose usually wordless antics echo the antics of silent screen humor. He runs about his little home area picking up trash, compacting it into building blocks, and building what looks like a large pavilion out of them. In his spare time he watches and loves one old human movie, HELLO DOLLY! His only friend is a sociable cockroach.
Then one day a spaceship lands and drops off an egg-like robotic pod. Like Robinson Crusoe surveying the cannibals on his island, WALL-E cautiously spies on the pod. After a somewhat shaky start in which the pod tried to destroy WALL-E multiple times, the two become friends. WALL-E has not had a friend larger than an insect in hundreds of years. The two become fast friends--"fast" in the sense of "over too quickly." Eva, as the pod is named, has found something important and has to return to her point of origin. WALL-E stows a ride and finds himself on the resort ship Axiom where in spite of the original plan it is really the robots that have all the power. A fair chunk of the film--too much really--is just chase around the charming but sinister starship Axiom.
Science fiction fans will find the film is informed by a good knowledge of the genre. I found myself reminded not just of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (though there are obvious allusions to that film) there are echoes of the writings of Clifford Simak and Robert Heinlein. There are also echoes of the film TITANIC, though physically they do not make sense. In written form WALL-E would have made a very decent 1950s science fiction story. It may be the best new science fiction film of 2008. I will not go into detail but the end-credits are one more very creative aspect of the film.
Pixar gives a light treatment to some very heavy ideas and has made a film that the adults should appreciate even more than the kids who see it do. While the kids have a good time, the adults may find that this is a film with several serious messages. It is ironic that Pixar has made a film warning us about large corporations, and it is being released by industry giant Walt Disney Pictures. I rate WALL-E a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0910970/
While I am talking about good fantasy films from Pixar, PRESTO (a short animated film that runs with WALL-E) is both very funny and a film with a fun fantasy premise, expanding around an idea that would have been a quick gag in Looney Tunes. Together WALL-E and PRESTO make a package that returns a lot for the price of admission. [-mrl]
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (letter of comment by Douglas E. Milliken):
In response to Mark's review of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in the 06/27/08 issue of the MT VOID, Douglas Millken writes (about why no one noticed the Hulk crossing several borders), "Tell your wife he jumped. This character is one who can leap miles straight up and run at about 300 mph and is therefore harder to spot traveling thru town than one might think, since if he cares to do so he can leap *over* many a major city. Unfortunately only we fanboys young and old would know this, and to those who have lived actual lives it would appear to be a hole in the plot." [-dem]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
[I had hoped to finish my comments on the short fiction Hugo nominees but that won't happen until next week.]
THE DRAGON'S NINE SONS by Chris Roberson (ISBN-13 978-1-84415-404-6, ISBN-10 1-84415-404-X) is set in the same "Celestial Empire" alternate history universe as many of Roberson's other stories (including the Sidewise Award winner, "O One"). This universe supposes that the Chinese did not curtail their exploration in the 15th century, but went on to reach and colonize North America, and eventually expand to control almost the entire world. This story is set after Mexica has successfully broken away from the Han Empire, and during a space race/war between the two. It is sort of a "Dirty Dozen" in space (though with nine rather than twelve soldiers)--a band of misfits under death sentences sent on a suicide mission.
As the first novel Roberson has written in the series, THE DRAGON'S NINE SONS suffers from some problems that one would not have in short stories. For example, there is (to my mind) far too much fore-shadowing at the ends of chapters (e.g., "That was the intention, at any rate. As with so many things, though, the reality fell far short of the ideal."). I also have a quibble with the method required to start the Mexic engines. (Without saying too much, let me just say that while it sounds plausible in theory, the exigencies of battle might cause problems if a ship is understaffed.) Given this method, however, the "practical joke" one Han character plays is so clearly stupid that one is reminded of Damon Knight's term, "idiot plot". Indeed, there seems to be a fair amount of coincidence and contrivance in the story. The most egregious, is how the characters justify the killing of women and children in a Mexic stronghold in their plan. Perhaps the idea is that the reader should *not* agree with them and should see it as an example of how the military rationalizes all its actions, however immoral they may seem. (On the other hand, one character explicitly condemns an action that directly copies a decision from World War II that most people accept as necessary--and no, it's not the atomic bomb.) And one final minor complaint: the copy editor at Solaris does not seem to know the difference between "flout" and "flaunt".
The story itself has more of straight military science fiction and less of the "Celestial Empire" background than Roberson's short stories, and as such is a reasonably enjoyable read, even if not as "pure" an alternate history. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Those who would give up a little freedom to get a little security shall soon have neither. -- Benjamin Franklin
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