MT VOID 09/05/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 10, Whole Number 1509

MT VOID 09/05/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 10, Whole Number 1509

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
MT VOID 09/05/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 10, Whole Number 1509

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: 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

Observation (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

People confuse their morals with their politics. And their politics are chosen by self-interest. That allows them to feel they are courageous and standing by their principles when they are merely arguing in self-interest. [-mrl]

Godzilla After CLOVERFIELD (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was on a panel at Denvention in which the topic of giant monster movies was discussed. It got me thinking about them and how the film CLOVERFIELD will affect them. For most of my life Godzilla has been a cultural icon. Godzilla is today one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world, perhaps. We are now, however, in a new era on the whole Godzilla thing. It may be that there can never be another giant monster movie of its ilk. The film CLOVERFIELD was a nearly entirely different look. It wiped away some of our much-needed illusions about the giant monster film. Cinema has lost its innocence with CLOVERFIELD's message.

One of my earliest cinema-related memories was seeing on television the original trailer for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the somewhat butchered American release version of the Japanese film GOJIRA. That trailer can be seen at My six-year-old eyes were dazzled by the huge monster as seen in black and white in the half-light of night and from a very low angle. It looked terrifying in ways that THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and THEM! could not match. And kids love to be terrified. This trailer grabbed my imagination. Even more I was grabbed by the real film, and still more by seeing the original very grim Japanese film GOJIRA. The Japanese version was not afraid to leave nightmarish impressions on the viewer. One scene had a mother caught in the attack and sheltering her children in the protection of a building telling them that they would soon be with their father. Also you see the destruction and the people in pain and the chorus of children lamenting. You got the message that what you were seeing was harsh, but in the back of your mind there was also a voice saying "isn't it cool."

The next film Toho made in what was becoming a series was GOJIRA RAIDS AGAIN. That is one of several titles the film had. It cut back somewhat on the grimness and stressed more the coolness. By the time King Kong fought Godzilla in color there was more comedy and very little emphasis on any the pain these things were causing. As the series continued the focus moved downward. After a couple more films Godzilla became a good guy and the defender of Japan. The films aimed at a younger and younger audience. Godzilla was made even bigger but given a more rounded and pleasant look. The films seemed to be aimed at ten-year-olds.

There has now been not one but three series of Godzilla films, and many other films in the subgenre of "Kaiju" films. Kaiju is Japanese for "giant monster." A kaiju is more than just a dinosaur. It is huge and powerful. You could probably kill a dinosaur with a bazooka. A kaiju is something inspired by the idea of a dinosaur in the modern world, but it is really supposed to be a lot bigger and more threatening. Still few kaiju films seem to touch on the horror of the human toll of having a giant monster disassembling your city.

Few fans of Kaiju film would disagree that the best of the Kaiju films was the original GOJIRA that started it all. And the reasons might vary from fan to fan but they usually boil down to liking the realistic grimness of the first film.

That was how things stood until the film CLOVERFIELD was released. There was almost no "ain't it cool" to CLOVERFIELD. It was a kaiju monster film in which you saw very little of the kaiju. Instead it is a monster movie informed by the September 11 experience. On 9/11/01 people saw what happened in human terms when buildings were destroyed by great force. The point of this film was just what all kaiju films (but GOJIRA) ignored, the human toll of an attack by giant monsters or by airplanes turned into guided missiles. CLOVERFIELD was shot with a handheld camera, which not only keeps expenses low; it gives much more a feeling of immediacy and reality. Even 3D does not make a film seem so real.

In CLOVERFIELD we see the people caught in the deadly dust clouds when buildings are unexpectedly demolished. We see what happens to people caught in these buildings. People get hurt. People get killed. CLOVERFIELD is not about a monster attacking a city. It is about the human toll of having a giant monster attack a city.

One of the signature moments of the Godzilla series occurs at the end of GODZILA 2000. The story is really over and the filmmakers wanted to give us one last touch. So Godzilla, standing in the middle of a city, flames a circle around him. It was just a sort of parting shot. After CLOVERFIELD viewers are more likely to ask what happened to the people who were charbroiled just for being within his reach? This is no longer the innocent victory gesture it was intended.

The kaiju sub-genre has been faltering for a long time. One seriously wonders where it can go now that CLOVERFIELD has sensitized viewers. Even watching the older Godzilla films they seem far more naive than they did before. They ignore the major part of the story. But how many films can be made about the painful effects of such an attack. I suspect the CLOVERFIELD really was the kaiju film to end all kaiju films... literally. [-mrl]

Multiple Massive Electronic Failures (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

We went on a two-week vacation recently and had what has to be the most unlikely series of failures you could imagine (or rather, couldn't imagine).

Less than a week before leaving, for example, we had some work done on the house exterior. Shortly after they started working, our (cable modem) Internet connection died (problem #1). Our first thought was that they has disturbed the cable, but they denied it. So we called the cable company, and an automated message said that there was a known outage in our town and they were working on it. Okay, we waited.

The next morning the recording was gone, and they said that problem was fixed. But ours wasn't. So they sent someone out, and he discovered that the underground cable had gone bad! (Think about this a minute. What are the chances that our underground cable would go bad just when there is a town- wide outage *and* work being down on our house?) He laid a temporary above-ground cable, but couldn't lay the permanent one for another week (after we were gone). This mean we had to cancel the lawn mowing for that week, but at least we had cable/Internet service until we left.

(Oh, it turned out that the cable had actually gone out earlier that morning, and naturally that was the day when we had hoped to record six movies off TCM!)

Anyway, we get to Denver and suddenly the flash card in my palmtop starts acting up, with corrupted files indicating possible bad sectors (problem #2).

Backups are your friend.

And not backups thousands of miles away. Luckily, I had taken an extra flash card, loaded with backups of my important files. So I swapped that in.

Then we discovered that at least some of our rechargeable batteries would be completely discharged after only three or four pictures (problem #3). Luckily we were not in picture- intensive mode, so we managed with the decent batteries and occasional use of alkaline batteries.

And then we got home, and our PC would not start (problem #4). I don't mean it wouldn't boot up completely--it wouldn't even power up.

This was not entirely unexpected--we had been having power-up problems for a while. If the PC were powered off, one needed to unplug the power cord from it for an hour, then plug it back in and start it up. Well, we unplugged it before leaving to save ourselves the hour, but instead of being over-heated it seemed to be that it over-cooled or something. Anyway, it was dead.

Backups are your friend. Especially on external USB drives. Especially when the absolutely last thing you do before shutting off your computer is to run your incremental backups.

So we got back on a Tuesday evening. On Wednesday morning, we went to the Post Office and picked up our mail, then went next door to the library for an hour on the PCs there. Then it was off to the Apple Store where we bought a new iMac. (Luckily, because we knew we were having problems, we knew exactly what we wanted to buy.)

It was amazingly fast to set up the iMac, and within a day we had loaded our mailers and browsers and imported our old mail, bookmarks, addresses, and so on. [Problem 4.5 was that I lost all the mail I had received over the previous two weeks. Luckily I had seen it and had some idea what I had lost. -mrl]

The biggest problem is spreadsheets. Microsoft Office 2008 on the Mac does not read Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets (problem #5). And I had about two hundred Lotus spreadsheets on my palmtop. Luckily, we have a really old PC (from the mid-1990s). Its version of Excel *can* read Lotus spreadsheets. So all I had to do is upload the spreadsheets to the old PC, read them into Excel, write them out *as* Excel, then upload them to the Mac.

But the only output device on the old PC is diskette, and the Mac does not read diskettes (problem #6).

Luckily, the palmtop is the solution as well as the problem. I could use the serial connectivity cable to connect the palmtop to the old PC, then upload through that, then download the Excel files to the palmtop through that, then use the palmtop's flash card in the USB card reader on the Mac.

Except that one of the connectivity pins had broken off on my palmtop (and since I never used it, why bother to get it repaired?) (problem #7).

Backups are your friend. This includes hardware backups.

Luckily I had a spare palmtop. (I suppose I could have used Mark's but that would have been inconvenient.) So I had to transfer all the files from my old palmtop to the spare, remembering to install the special drivers for the large flash card.

Now the only problem is that once the spreadsheets are on the Mac, the only way to get them back on the palmtop in a usable form is to reverse-convert them on the old PC. (Before I could read the same files on either the PC or the palmtop.) I cannot even save them as comma-separated files on the Mac and import them on the palmtop, because the Mac puts quotations marks only around text fields that themselves contain commas, while the palmtop's program assumes that *all* text fields are contained in quotation marks, and hence converts any non- quoted field to numeric! So I basically have to decide what lives where.

I've sure something else can go wrong, but I haven't yet figured out what it is. [-ecl]

REDEMPTION ARK by Alastair Reynolds (copyright 2002, Gollancz Science Fiction, C$10.99, 646 pp, ISBN 0-575-07384-5) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Have I mentioned the problem with my to-read stack? Actually, I know I have because I just finished reading the reviews I wrote of REVELATION SPACE and CHASM CITY, two other novels by Alastair Reynolds. I complained that it took me three years to get around to reading CHASM CITY after REVELATION SPACE, and that I wanted the interval to be much shorter between CHASM CITY and the next book, REDEMPTION ARK.

It was. It was only a year and half or so this time.

REDEMPTION ARK is the second book in the "Revelation Space" trilogy (for lack of a better name) but the third in the "Inhibitor" universe (which includes CHASM CITY). It is just as good, if not better than the previous books.

The story this time surrounds the items known as the Doomsday Weapons, or hell-class weapons. They are the objects of everyone's desire this time around, and every one for various reasons, but there is one underlying reason for the whole thing: the Inhibitors are coming. The Inhibitors are those machine intelligences that have decided that the best thing to be done for the galaxy is to stifle the expansion of intelligence in the galaxy. In REDEMPTION ARK, our buddy Dan Sylveste set off an alarm that alerted the Inhibitors to the expansion of intelligence in this part of the galaxy, so they decided it was time to pay us a visit.

Our caste of characters is large: Nevil Clavain, a Conjoiner who used to be a Demarchist but has decided to defect *back* to the Demarchist side when he finds out what's really going on with the weapons (and did I mention there's a war going on between the Conjoiners and Demarchists, and the Conjoiners are winning the war?); Ana Khouri, a holdover from the REDEMPTION ARK, who is working with Ilia Volyova, to evacuate the planet Resurgam before the Inhibitors destroy the system, with the odd thing being that Khouri is working for the government (as the Inquisitor) trying to find Volyova, the hated Triumvir who is accused of some nastiness or another; Thorn, a terrorist who eventually helps with the evacuation of Resurgam; Scorpio, a "hyperpig", a mutated pig with intelligence who is another nasty criminal critter in all this mess; Skade, a Conjoiner who wants the weapons for her own purpose; the Captain (you remember the Captain, don't you, from REDEMPTION ARK?); and a few others littered along the way that makes this story very complex and yet for me very compelling.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that the Inhibitors were building a machine right in the Resurgam system that would destroy it when it was finished? Or did I mention that the weapons are programmed with intelligence and personalities, so that dealing with them can be a royal pain?

While this book is certainly space opera, it's not the kind of space opera that you and I read when we were young. There are very big and very complex ideas here, and there's much more going on than there ever was in those pulps that we read all those years ago. I'm hoping that these books by Alastair Reynolds go on to make the kind of impression and have the kind of affect on the field of SF that a lot of the stuff we read years ago did--we need more books like this, in my opinion.

There is a *lot* going on in this book, more than I have time to write about or you should read in a book review. What I will say is that if you're into space opera, love good old fashioned space battles, weird technologies, intriguing characters, and mysteries that will keep you guessing until the end of the book, then you'll enjoy this novel. [-jak]

HAMLET 2 (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Awkwardly written and borrowing heavily from other comedic films, this film is about an actor/playwright/teacher who is not particularly good at anything he does. Then he puts together a play involving Hamlet and Jesus in a time machine and discovers he is good at causing an uproar. There is a germ of a good idea here, but only a germ. The film is trying to go in too many different directions at once. It is just a thin storyline on which the writer has hung too many unfunny jokes. Andrew Fleming directs and co-writes. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

Humor is very subjective and some other viewers might find the film much more funny. HAMLET 2 is a tribute to some of the funniest moments in cinema. One can see in it bits from TOOTSIE, Woody Allen's early comedies, THE PRODUCERS, and Inspector Clouseau. However, rarely have all these bits been borrowed to less effect. Perhaps because the bits are all so familiar, they needed an extra twist for them to have some punch. Instead they are poorly delivered with little comic timing. The central plot could have been developed, but was instead just an outline and gags were glommed onto it wherever the writers could think of them. A Peter Sellers has the right timing and the right false-dignity so that when he catches his hand in a door it is funny (at least sometimes). But when Steve Coogan tries to imitate the same stunt his timing and his attitude is wrong and the joke comes off tired. Thrown gratuitously into a scene it does not have the same snap. On the other hand a teen audience might find some of the humor a little less stale. Most of the wit of a comedy should arise from character. Here more comes from the circumstance, with characters left undeveloped.

Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor, a failing drama teacher, and a miserable playwright. He in not sure how to teach acting and inspire his disinterested class, how to convince the school board to not cut the drama program, or how to write an original play. He is even not sure how to pronounce his own last name. Marschz seems to have little to offer his classes beside platitudes that for him are deeply felt, but seem really irrelevant to his students. In this Arizona school there has been a big influx of uninterested Latino students. One of them pointedly is not portrayed as a typical Latino tough guy, but the script treats most of the rest of the class very superficially and stereotypically. In most teaching movies the students are well characterized. They are, after all, the most important part of the classroom. Here most of the students are merely props. They are not developed at all.

Marschz's drama classes do an annual play, till now always a near-transcription of a blockbuster movie. The teaching of drama is being dropped from the school curriculum. Dana's last play is an original story, "Hamlet 2" in which the Prince of Denmark escapes death and together with Jesus takes a time machine back in time to save all the characters whom William Shakespeare had die in his play. The vulgar language of the play and the use of Jesus has polarized the Tucson, Arizona, community between people who object to his treatment of Jesus and those who defend artistic freedom. Meanwhile Marschz is having personal problems. He is having a less personal relationship with his wife (Catherine Keener) and a more personal relationship with alcohol. Which all goes to make the story seem deeper than it really is. The plot has several lapses in logic. Somehow his class manages to put on a play with Broadway style production values, though the effort to get it so is never really shown. Bits of the musical play within the story are good. Sadly we see even less of the play "Hamlet 2" than Mel Brooks shows us of his "Springtime for Hitler".

Steve Coogan has a long history of British comedy particularly for playing his alter-ego, the smug, venal, and superficial radio and TV personality Alan Partridge. In American comedy he does not have the same resonance. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. There are several pieces of vulgar language in the film that some viewers might find objectionable. I found them neither objectionable nor particularly funny. In fact, that sums up how I felt about the entire film.

Film Credits:


Short Takes (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):

Back in the days when Toho Films of Japan were first seeing the popularity of their early Godzilla/Gojira film they made three films of Earth fighting alien attacks, very probably inspired by George Pal's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. The films probably would look a little hokey to anyone too young to have lived through that period, but the films were a lot of fun. The characterization was thin, and by today's standards the special effects were primitive, but perhaps that is what makes these films fun. BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE was made in 1960. It followed THE MYSTERIANS and was succeeded by WAR IN SPACE. Poor dubbing was actually part of the fun. But while the visual images often were poorly executed, the images they created were very imaginative. On any objective scale this is not a great film, but at least it is fun. Rating: high 0 or 4/10

This film made several years after BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE is supposed to capture some of the feel of THE MYSTERIANS and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. In fact it is a poor TV-level film made in reaction to the release of STAR WARS. It even has a demon Wookie that looks like Chewbacca with horns. Even in Japanese the words don't seem to fit the lips. The story is set in 1988. Earth is under attack by the Emperor of the Galaxy who is attacking Earth from an interstellar ship shaped like a Roman galley. Earth sends a special spaceship to Venus to fight back. The idea that the Emperor would put himself in such a dangerous position is just one more really stupid idea. Those who expect the quality of plotting, the look, or even the quality of music score that was present in previous Toho films will be disappointed. If they spaceship looks a little familiar, it is a model of the submarine used in previous films tricked up to look like an interstellar craft. Toho's science fiction films were never great, but they usually could be counted on to have a higher level of quality or entertainment. Rating: -2 or 1/10

I admit I may be one of the last science fiction fans in the world to see SPIDER-MAN 3. I liked the first film in the series but was not keen on #2, and #3 does not do much for me either. In this film three different super-threats descend on New York City at the same time. One is a creature that arrives in a meteor much like the old "The Blob", but it turns Peter Parker black and makes him selfish. One is an escaped criminal who falls into a particle experiment and becomes a pile of sand held together by thought power. Just how eyes made of sand can possibly see. And Peter Parker's former best friend (who was the son of the original Green Goblin) dons the Green Goblin paraphernalia and becomes Green Goblin, Jr. Of course the story leads to a giant fight among the three and Spider-Man. The plot also involves Spider-Man's girlfriend falling from being the featured star of a Broadway musical to being totally unemployed and then reduced to being a waitress. It is hard to say which plot is the least credible. Most of the action is made of fast-paced but when can do anything you imagine with CGI you really need a good imagination and the filmmakers not here. None of the individual stories are particularly good but you do not have to stick with one for long before the film flashes to the story. The plots are almost as full of holes as a spider web. By the way a mineral dendrite is not the same thing as a cellular dendrite. And once again Stan Lee has a cameo and tells the audience that one man can make a difference. When that one man has spider super-powers the message is not very convincing. The writing seems like the first draft of a script rather than a finished product. Rating: +1 or 6/10

This is a 1931 film from Warner Brothers starring Edward G. Robinson and featuring James Cagney. As such it is a curiosity as it is the only film these two movie gangsters appeared together. But people used to films like LITTLE CAESAR and PUBLIC ENEMY are going to be disappointed with this not very engaging crime film. The crime is gambling, which was illegal but did not threaten the general public so did not really arouse much emotion. In fact, unless there is cheating involved it seems less than totally immoral. This is the story of the rise and fall of a big gambler, Nick Venezelos, a Greek barber who becomes a big-time gambler. After being taken by other gamblers, mostly cheaters, he proves to be the best of all. The Warner crime films of this time are popular and still this is a film that few remember. And just about nobody remembers it fondly. Part of the problem is that while organized crime is an issue that involves the audience, gambling is a crime that for the most part only hurts the gamblers themselves directly. More people feel that they themselves could be victims of gangsters, less fear being victimized by gamblers. Rating: +1 or 6/10[-mrl]

Jews and Chinese Food (letters of comment by Dan Kimmel and Mike Glyer):

In response to Mark's article on Jews and Chinese food in the 08/29/08 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

Mark's thoughts on Jews and Chinese food hit the spot. Several years ago I wrote a piece (for Boston's "Jewish Advocate" yet) on an animated PBS program called "Arthur's Christmas Special." It's based on the series (and the books by Marc Brown). The pertinent excerpt:

On the special, Francine's best friend Muffy is upset that Francine isn't coming to her big Christmas party, and then learns why: the Frensky family is gathering that night to celebrate Chanukah using a menorah that has been in the family for years. After the friends make up, one of the funniest moments in the show occurs when Muffy asks what Francine and her family do on Christmas if they don't celebrate it. Simple, answers Francine, we go to the movies.

'I think that came from growing up in New York where Christmas was Chinese food and movies,' said [series head writer Peter] Hirsch. 'We wanted to show that to that kid the day was not all that important.'

And a P.S. -- Flanken and gefilte fish are a matter of a taste, and taste better with horseradish. (I like gefilte fish.) But anyone who doesn't think chopped liver isn't a great treat needs to have his taste buds examined. Or go to a different deli. [-dk]

Mark replies, "I definitely agree with you that flanken and gefilte fish are a matter of a taste, and do taste better with horseradish. I will go a step further and say that horseradish tastes better without flanken or gefilte fish. As going to a different deli where chopped liver tastes good, I have looked for such a deli all my life." [-mrl]

And Mike Glyer asks:

How much of what I have experienced as "delicatessen" food would you classify as Jewish food--pastrami apparently is. Because I have wondered if one of the points of convergence are foods that depend for their flavor on a greater fat content. Dim sum certainly does, and so does pastrami.

And I mean that literally, not as an inference about how many calories are in a serving. Favorite foods of other national cuisines can have a lot of calories, but they may come from carbs or starches. [-mg]

Mark responds, "It is hard to sum up what are Jewish foods and what are now just part of our overall national cuisine. Bagels were once Jewish but have been co-opted by the majority. Bagel with lox and cream cheese is probably still Jewish. On the other hand there is nothing Jewish about an Einstein's bagel. Jews know bagels too well to not know the difference between an Einstein's toroid roll and a real bagel. Einstein has now confirmed this by offering a ham on bagel sandwich. If someone points out that food is Kosher, using the word, it is more likely to be really Jewish. Though you see the 'K' or the 'U in a circle' on lots of products that are not pointedly Jewish. On the other hand 'Kosher Style' as in 'Kosher Style Corned Beef' could mean that they bludgeoned the cow and then hid the evidence." [-mrl]

Olaf Stapledon (letter of comment by Guy Ferraiolo):

In response to Evelyn's column on Olaf Stapledon in the 8/29/08 issue of the MT VOID, Guy Ferraiolo writes:

Question: "? being more a work of fantasy, or even of theosophy,"

Did you mean theogony or theology? Theosophy is very specific.

[I specifically meant theosophy; Stapledon seems influenced by Madame Blavatsky et al. ?ecl]

Comment: "Indeed, his notion of the mechanics of planetary formation is very outdated: "I knew well that the birth of planets was due to the close approach of two or more stars, and that such accidents must be very uncommon."

This understanding of planetary formation was scientific orthodoxy in the 1930s.

It's actually crucial to Lensman. In those novels the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies have already collided and are now separating and it is this very rare event which has caused these two galaxies to have many planets, the collision having caused the normally rare close approach of stars to be much more common. So when the Lensman and Arisians fight the Eddorians for control of these two galaxies, apparently a large enough venue, it's really for the universe since this galactic collision is presented as a unique event. Other galaxies might have a planet to two in the entire galaxy.

SPOILER: Note that the future galactic collision plays a crucial role in Alastair Reynold's books, too.

Comment: [someone said writers] "are responding to the challenge which Stapledon made clear constituted a chief raison d'etre for the genre: to replace traditional mythologies of a universe tailored to the human scale with one which--without falsifying the findings of modern science or denying the terror they have stirred in all our hearts--can redeem them for the imagination."

This is essentially the goal of much of H. P. Lovecraft's work, although taken in a positive way rather than in the very pessimistic and dark way he saw it. I think the explosion of scientific knowledge in the early part of the 20th century had a lot more effect than we usually understand. It was still going on in the 1920's and 1930's so it was extraordinary work, cutting edge stuff, that HPL and Stapledon were doing. Of course, despite the more nominally acceptable prose style of Stapledon, HPL is vastly more influential these days. Since I've been reading a lot about and by HPL recently, I see a connection rarely noted.

I'm going to read some Stapledon to see how it meshes with HPL. [-gf]

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

BEYOND STAR TREK: PHYSICS FROM ALIEN INVASION TO THE END OF TIME by Lawrence M. Krauss (ISBN-13 978-0-7522-2464-0, ISBN-10 0-7522-2464-6) is not entirely beyond "Star Trek", as Krauss uses several examples from that series. But he also discusses "The X-Files", 12 MONKEYS, INDEPENDENCE DAY, and so on. For example, the first chapter is Krauss's analysis of why the invaders in INDEPENDENCE DAY really did not need to fire anything at us to defeat us.

On the whole, the book is yet another attempt to write a science book for the layperson, though the use of "Star Trek" and other popular television shows and movies to initiate ideas and illustrate examples will probably do a lot to make this rise above the rest of the genre. While some may object to this approach, I figure that anything that gets people (especially teenagers) interested in reading about science) is all for the best.

Krauss does make the occasional error. For example, on page 92 he talks about Joseph Banks Rhine and telepathic communication and says, "[Rhine's] popularizations, combined with the interest of the publisher of the pulp magazine 'Astounding Science Fiction', helped fuel public interest...." It was the editor of the magazine--John W. Campbell, Jr.--not the publisher, who latched on to telepathy. And when, in talking about time travel and changing events, he says, "[If] you go back in time to try to kill Hitler before he became Fuhrer--when he fact he survived until shortly before the end of the Second World War--you will trip at the crucial moment, or the gun will misfire," I'd like to think that the "aside" regarding real history is stylistic rather than added because Krauss thought his readers wouldn't know what happened to the real Hitler.

Bud Webster's column in the latest "Helix" ( is about Fredric Brown, and as part of it he compares "Answer" by Fredric Brown with "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov. Webster points out (rightly, I think) that Brown covers the same material in 250 words that Asimov takes 2500 to do. And he also notes that what most people remember as the last line of "Answer" is actually three sentences from the end. But I think he is wrong that people think that Asimov wrote the Brown story, partly because the last line of the Asimov story is even more memorable than the "last line" of the Brown. (Both stories have been anthologized many times; see for a list.)

WORKING IX TO V by Vicki Leon (ISBN-13 978-0-8027-556-2, ISBN- 10 0-8027-556-7) is about all the various jobs, professions, and occupations in the ancient world (Rome and Greece). The ones touted on the cover and in the advertising are orgy planner and funeral clown, but I found a note in one of the other entries more interesting. For town crier, Leon says, "To enhance his verbal communication in those unamplified times, the crier drew on 'chironomia', the laws of gesticulation also used by actors, orators, and demagogues ... which can be seen on series like HBO's ROME...." This confirms what I had thought while watching ROME, in which I found the system of gestures of the town crier (played by Ian McNeice) absolutely fascinating. There is apparently a standard treatise on this by John Bulwer, "Chirologia or the Natural Language of the Hand" (1644).

I finally got around to requesting from the library system HERCULE POIROT'S EARLY CASES by Agatha Christie (ISBN-10 0-396-07021-3). I'm pretty sure I had read these stories before, but I had forgotten that Christie's novel THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN was basically just a longer version of "The Plymouth Express". One problem with short stories as Poirot mysteries is that there is much less opportunity to introduce suspects, clues, and so on. (I am reminded of the--possibly apocryphal--story of the radio "mystery" show on such a tight budget that they had money for only three actors: the victim, the detective, and the killer. There was not much mystery there!)

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           If you follow reason far enough it always 
           leads to conclusions that are contrary to reason.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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