MT VOID 11/21/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 21, Whole Number 1520

MT VOID 11/21/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 21, Whole Number 1520

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/21/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 21, Whole Number 1520

Table of Contents

Preview (comments by Mark R. Leeper) Common Sense (comments by Mark R. Leeper) Observable Evolution? (comments by Mark R. Leeper) Three Types of War Films (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper) QUANTUM OF SOLACE (film review by Mark R. Leeper) Non-Fictions Book Recommendations (book reviews by Greg Frederick) Capital Letters (letter of comment by Pete Brady) Leeper Screws the Pooch Again (comments by Mark R. Leeper) Pluto (letters of comment by Dan Cox and Tim McDaniel) Titanic (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky) This Week's Reading (THE BIBLE: A BIOGRAPHY,      ACQUIRING GENOMES, and NATION) (book comments      by Evelyn C. Leeper) Quote of the Week       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

Preview (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The trailer for the new "Star Trek" movie is playing with QUANTUM OF SOLACE. I think it is supposed to be James T. Kirk at Starfleet Academy. They should call it STAR TREK: THE PREVIOUS GENERATION.

You can see the trailer at [-mrl]

Common Sense (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Our financial advisor tells us that the stock market tends to recover. It is an equilibrium. It makes sense to trust in the Market. That is just common sense.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book THE BLACK SWAN, tells us not to trust an equilibrium. The unprecedented happens. That is just common sense.

The Green Movement tells us that it saves energy to buy local agricultural products and save the CO2 that long-distance shipping costs. That is just common sense.

Ronald Bailey in "Reason" magazine tells us that some products grown abroad may require less energy to produce than locally grown, and the transportation costs in CO2 production are small by comparison. That is just common sense.

The world is too complex. You need rules of thumb and simple principles to remind you how things work. That is just common sense.

Rules of thumb do not work because the world is just too complex. You have to look at each situation. That is just common sense.

Common sense will lead you astray. That is just common sense. [-mrl]

Observable Evolution? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

One of the reasons I like to talk to the Jehovah's Witnesses that come to my door is that I can turn it a learning experience. Not that I feel they have some special knowledge of religion that I do not have, but they frequently head me off on some subject that I feel I want to know more about. They visited me a few weeks ago to try and save me and win me to their cause. We got onto the subject of evolution. "Has anyone ever seen an animal evolve?" they asked me. That one I had an answer to. It seems that when I was young penicillin was still fairly new. There were all sorts of ailments that it seemed to cure. Today it is much less effective. Why is that? Well there were many strains of bacteria that penicillin countered. A small number of strains were resistant to the effects of penicillin. As long as what ailed you was one of these types of bacteria but not one of these resistant strains--and that was true of most of the bacteria that was causing the problem- -then penicillin was an effective counter-measure. Penicillin was used so liberally that these non-resistant strains of bacteria began to die out altogether. But a penicillin-resistant strain was safe against use of the anti-biotic. These days streptococcus pneumoniae, for example, is much more resistant to penicillin than it used to be. Wonder drugs are not necessarily a cure. Frequently they are just a delaying tactic. They give people a respite until the bacteria has time to evolve and adapt.

Well, when I gave that as an example the Witnesses quickly changed the subject. I recounted that to a friend, who said that a creationist would not accept it as evolution--real "macroevolution" as distinct from "microevolution". It could be argued that selecting for certain pre-existing strains is not really what we call evolution. So I asked my friend whether he knew of any observable evolution to replace this example? He said that no answer to "Has anyone ever seen evolution in action?" will persuade even a minimally knowledgeable creationist, say one who knew the word "microevolution".

Yes, but the Jehovah's Witnesses have yet to send a minimally knowledgeable creationist to my door. I almost wish they would. I get ones who are armed with one-question arguments. Like:

"Homosexuality must be unnatural. Have you ever seen homosexuality in an animal?"

"Yes, in horses."

"But wouldn't you want to see all people living together in peace?"

(Side note: Actually, homosexuality is very common in nature. Which raises the question of why, since it does not seem to fit the Richard Dawkins Selfish Gene Theory. Superficially this behavior seems counter-productive in passing on genes. This is discussed at

And by the way, if having been asked if I ever saw evolution in an animal I had responded, "Yes, in bandersnatches," that would have been every bit as effective as any other example I could give. They would have immediately changed the topic.

But if the presence of drug-resistant bacteria did not demonstrate evolution what did it demonstrate? Well, I think of evolution as putting more useful genes into the gene pool. What good is a gene pool to a microbe that reproduces by fissioning? Streptococcus pneumoniae may as a species have become more robust to penicillin, but it is not so much from a gene pool but just by selection of the resistant strains. That is probably not what we usually call evolution. It is probably a form of natural selection, but not evolution. It strikes me, or did at the time, that a species of bacteria reproduces by fissioning. It does not exchange DNA. (As another side note, this raises an interesting question. I had thought that at some level the definition of two things being in the same species is that they can interbreed. No amoeba can interbreed with another amoeba, they fission. So does this mean every amoeba is its own species?)

Anyway, so there I was thinking that bacteria do not exchange DNA and so cannot really evolve by exchanging DNA. In a nick of time the "Scientific American" web site had a fascinating podcast on various aspects of e. coli.

Part 1:
Part 2:

E. coli do not have sex, of course. E. coli reproduces by division something like every 20 minutes. They do, however, stick something like a tube into each other and exchange genetic material asexually (if indeed that can be called asexually).

See: abstract/M105678200v1.

Also it turns out that just because bacteria do not have sex does not mean at all that they do not exchange DNA. They just do it is cell-to-cell contact. See

If the penicillin-resistant bacteria exchanged DNA, then they could still be my example of observable evolution. I thought I was on to something. But when the second part of the e. coli podcast became available it became irrelevant because apparently e. coli do observably evolve in the laboratory and are used to measure evolution and to see how it takes place.

Richard Lenski of University of Michigan is observing evolution in the laboratory and experimenting with the mechanisms of evolution:

More on Lenski and the long-term evolution experiment:

So the next time I am asked if I have ever seen an animal evolve over time, I can tell them that Richard Lenski has. [-mrl]

Three Types of War Films (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

There are three kinds of war movies (and, more generally, historical movies).

The first kind is the very accurate, attention-to-detail, war movie where the buttons on the shirts are accurate to the period, and the dialogue is all taken from firsthand reports. Examples of this would include GETTYSBURG and TORA! TORA! TORA!

The second kind is reasonably accurate in the history, but feels obliged to add on a completely fictional love story (or other "human interest" angle), like while history is going on, Mom is trying to save the farm back home or something. You'd think that the history would be "human interest" enough--did we really need Billy Zane as a comic book villain to give the sinking of the Titanic human interest? Examples of this kind would include TITANIC (not a war film, but definitely an historical one and MIDWAY. (A clue for most war movies is whether there is an actress in a major role. Molly Pitcher and Florence Nightingale aside, one simply is not going to find a lot of women in major roles in war movies.)

The third kind is both inaccurate and over-ripe. Actually, it divides into two sub-species. The first were the films made during the war whose purpose was (for World War II) morale or (for the Vietnam War) anti-war sentiment, and who (at least for World War II) had to operate under military censorship rules. So names and places were changed, troop deployments fictionalized, and every squad made up of a politically correct (for the period) diverse set of men: one career military, one college boy, one farm rube, one wise-cracking ethnic guy from Brooklyn, and so on. In short, they bore little resemblance to any actual history. While their motives may have been laudable (depending on one's politics), they vary wildly in quality, and are always disappointing to history buffs. Examples include WING AND A PRAYER; GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM; and GUNG HO!

The second sub-kind are films made later by people who just don't care. What they want is a setting familiar to their audience, but the ability to drop whatever story or message they want into that setting--and, oh yes, a lot of explosions. Examples here would be PEARL HARBOR and FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE. (Mark says that the historical parts of PEARL HARBOR are fairly accurate, but not on everything and it seems to me there have been complaints about the film's accuracy.)

As you might have guessed, I am always on the look-out for more of the first type. Any suggestions? [-ecl]

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Picking up just after where CASINO ROYALE left off, James Bond is involved in trying to find the people behind the death of his beloved Vesper. This is a decent spy thriller on an adult level. The tone is downbeat, but it is still one of the best in the series. Marc Forster's action scenes could be more coherent, but he is better with the dramatic material. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The reinvention of James Bond films continues with QUANTUM OF SOLACE. The old James Bond had incredible luck and nearly always did the right thing. This Bond bungles his way into situations and is as likely to foul up someone else's plan as he is to fix it. The tension between M and Bond always seemed a little disingenuous since Bond was clearly MI6's super-weapon. The new Bond as of the last two films is more of a loose cannon and is dangerous to both sides. This makes for a much more believable story. Bond super- villains used to have nonsensical goals like starting World War III or otherwise wiping out humanity. Dominic Greene (played by Mathieu Amalric of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) has a rather nasty plot in the current film, but it is not very different from plots that have been hatched in the real world.

The new Bond no longer has the incredible luck at gambling the old one did, that kind of luck would have severely damaged the story of CASINO ROYALE, but he does have some unaccountable skills like the old one did. In the new film Bond seems to know how to pilot a 1950s vintage cargo plane. But the new Bond is no longer the guy every schoolboy wanted to be. The old Bond, when he loses the love of his life, drowned the man responsible in a mud bath. The new Bond drinks, and mourns, and strikes out only sometimes at the people responsible. Most of the glamour is gone. So are the gadget-weapons (with the exception of one in CASINO ROYALE). And the insistence that his drinks be shaken and not stirred is a relic of the past. Just about everything that made the series childish have been done away with. Rather than the romantic setting of previous films like Istanbul, this Bond is not afraid to spend much of the film in a Bolivian slum. The film's colors are subdued and faded to give the film a downbeat feel.

The new film starts uncharacteristically without the usual gun- barrel and blood logo. Never fear, fans, the trademark logo has been relocated to the end of the film. Instead the film starts with three long and mindless chases as well as the worst Bond title sequence in recent memory over the worst title sequence song. With those out of the way to placate the wrong kind of Bond fans the film settles down to a reasonable pace and a more acceptable--even complex--story. Vesper it seems had gotten involved with a highly secret yet ubiquitous international criminal organization, a sort of a latter-day S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Daniel Craig as very probably the best of the Bonds rushes in to find the new organization and get revenge. He is not quite equipped with all of the facts. Bond follows the trail to Haiti. There his masquerade as someone else brings him into contact with Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who is on her own mission of vengeance. Greene, a member of this secret organization--it is called Quantum--is working a deal with a Bolivian general involving politics, power, and a stretch of worthless desert. (By the way, calling the organization Quantum is an insult to the viewer. The title would have made perfect sense if the word "quantum" was never used in the film. It was like putting the mine in ENEMY MINE rather than explain the title.)

Director Marc Forster has had a very mixed bag of films to his credit. He directed MONSTER'S BALL, FINDING NEVERLAND, STRANGER THAN FICTION, and THE KITE RUNNER. That is a very mismatched set of films. While this film has one of the worst title songs of the whole Bond series, it also has some of the best music. Sadly it was not music written for the film, but rather for Giacomo Puccini's opera TOSCA. One of the film's few funny moments had the leaders of Quantum hashing out their plans electronically at a performance of TOSCA. This bit of extreme boorishness, talking over the transcendent music, had to be a new low point for Bond villains. The film takes some swipes at the United States (as they did in previous films like YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) and for the first time in my memory took a little swipe at Israel (claiming one of the villains is ex-Mossad). Also the evil Dominic Greene masquerades as an ecology advocate spouting cliches.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE has one of the more complex and satisfying of the Bond film plots. The character of Bond has more depth than he does in some of the more pulpy entries in the series. It is one of the rare Bond films that can be appreciated on an adult level. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

This is my ranking best to worst of the Eon Bond films (subjective and subject to change).

  1. CASINO ROYALE (2006)
  6. DR. NO


Non-Fiction Book Recommendations (book reviews by Greg Frederick):

I finished that really interesting history book by Roger Crowley titled EMPIRES OF THE SEA. It was his follow-up book to his first history book titled 1453: THE HOLY WAR FOR CONSTANTINOPLE AND THE CLASH OF ISLAM AND THE WEST. EMPIRES OF THE SEA is about the battles between the Ottoman Turks and Christian Europe during the 1500's and it mostly occurs in the Mediterranean Sea with galley ships (ships powered by many men with oars). The battles at Malta and Lepanto were Christian victories at sea that stopped the Turks from advancing further west into Europe if they had dominated the Mediterranean Sea. Crowley's great narrative makes it seem like you are right there in the middle of the events he describes.

I then read a cool book about the invention of the telephone titled THE TELEPHONE GAMBIT written by Seth Shulman. It's a very detailed history of this invention and indicates with recent reviewing of the records, that probably Elisha Gray was the true inventor and not Alexander Bell as most people assume today. Recently, the lab books and other records of Bell have been made available thru the Library of Congress online and for a century it was not possible for most to view these records since the Bell family would not permit this. Shulman's book uses all of the newly available records. Gray developed the concept of liquid variable resistance with a vertically oriented metal needle moving up and down in a small cup of sulfuric acid solution with an electrical contact at the bottom of the cup. The needle was stuck in a cork attached to a parchment diaphragm. The diaphragm was stretched across the bottom of a metal cone shape that the speaker talks into. When the sound waves hit the parchment the cork glued to it vibrates and the needle moves up and down in the acid solution (which conducts the electric current) and as the needle moves closer to the electrical contact at the bottom of the cup, the electric resistance is reduced and if it moves away the resistance is increased. This telephone transmitter converted sound waves into a variable electric current to be sent by wire to the receiver. Elisha Gray did extensive research into this method but Bell did not. Both filed patents on the same day at the U.S. Patent office and the legal issues started from that event onward.

I also read a book titled UNCERTAINTY by David Lindley. It's about the big debate between, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bohr about the uncertainty principle and it's effect on Modern Physics. Bohr was Heisenberg's mentor and eventually agreed with him about this principle. Then the battle begins between Einstein and Bohr about this concept. It seems that ever since probability became an important part of the theories of Physics; Einstein was against this probability as related to the cause of events. I am not referring to the probability used in thermodynamics for example when you are dealing with a large number of atoms to calculate air pressure. It mainly started with the theory of radioactivity and the model of the atom produced by Bohr (especially the electron shells). Einstein was always looking for the cause and effect principles behind all of modern physics' theories. And the random effects of radiation and the movement of electrons (quantum movement between the energy level of the shells) were not to his liking. Then when Heisenberg come out with his uncertainty theory for the science of quantum mechanics, Einstein was even more determined to find what he thought was the true cause and effect underlying quantum mechanics. Einstein was certain that though quantum mechanics theory worked well he have to remove the uncertainty, randomness, and probability associated with it, to reveal the true cause and effect.

Considering the uncertainty of these times this book has an appropriate title. I am now reading a book titled THE TEN MOST BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS by George Johnson. It's about ten experiments that are truly fascinating and how these experiments opened up our understanding of nature. [-gf]

Capital Letters (letter of comment by Pete Brady):

In response to Mark's comments on capitalization in the 11/14/08 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Brady writes:

You would have a grand time with the Irish language. The Irish word for "father" is "athair", pronounced roughly "AH-hur". The word for "our" is "ar", pronounced "our". Thus, as in the beginning of the Lord's prayer, "Our father" would be "Ar Athair."

But not so fast. Because it is awkward to say that, the Irish put a meaningless "helper" consonant "n" in front of Athair, and because it is meaningless, it is not capitalized. (But it is pronounced.) So, the Lord's prayer begins "Ar nAthair".

And, there's a story here. Many years ago, the massacre site at Auriesville, New York was dedicated, and they decided to engrave the Lord's prayer in many languages on tablets in a circle. (I once went to Auriesville, but perhaps before the tablets were made.) Irish was one of the chosen languages, and the prayer began, properly, as "Ar nAthair."

But the stonecutter (who must have felt the way Mark Leeper feels about this) decided that this was a misprint, and changed the opening to "Ar Nathair." Unfortunately, this means "Our snake."

I don't know if this was ever corrected. [-ptb]

[Accent marks removed for ASCII version. -ecl]

Leeper Screws the Pooch Again (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In last week's article about Pluto I referred to Neptune by a special pet nickname I have for the planet. I call it "Uranus". Sorry for any confusion it caused. [-mrl]

Pluto (letters of comment by Dan Cox and Tim McDaniel):

In response to Mark's comments on Pluto in the 11/14/08 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Cox writes:

While Pluto may be designated as a Kuiper Belt Object, I don't think we know yet if it's actually from the Kuiper Belt (versus being a former moon of Neptune pulled out of that orbit by an encounter with another body).

When Ceres was discovered, there was only one person previously known to have discovered a planet. That planet was Uranus. The other planets known at the time had been discovered "in antiquity". The world's only known discover of a planet would loose that distinction if it was decided that Ceres was a planet, and lobbied against that decision. The discovery of additional asteroids, some rather small and not round, supports the decision to call Ceres something other than "planet. I don't know if or how many additional asteroids were discovered before it was decided that Ceres was not a "planet".

Pluto had better luck. For a long time after discovery we had no good measure of its size. We could not see it as more than a point in any telescopes. The initial size estimates were based on its brightness, and an assumption about the brightness of its surface. These estimates turned out to be larger than reality, supporting the opinion that Pluto was a planet rather than a far-out asteroid or something new. But size estimates were made by watching as Pluto as it crossed in front of various stars and eventually it was concluded that it was smaller than originally thought. This re- opened the question "Is Pluto a planet?", which went on for years (decades, I think), slowly gathering momentum. Supporting the people who wanted Pluto to be called something other than a planet was also the fact that Pluto's orbit was more eccentric (stretched) than the orbits of other planets, and tilted more than the orbits of the other planets, which were pretty close to being in a singe plane.

A conference was called to decide on a definition of a planet. (Calling groups of people together to decide unknown questions is a practice that goes back at least to the Council of Nicea, and probably much further.) Going into the conference it looked like the leading candidate definition was "an object in orbit around the sun, and having enough mass to pull itself into a roughly spherical shape". Under that definition, Pluto would have been a "planet". But it does have the odd effect that a moon that is pulled from a planet's orbit into a solar orbit suddenly becomes a planet. I speculate that concerns such as this caused the definition to be expanded into including some language about dominating its solar orbit (as reported in the story I read) or clearing out the debris in its solar orbit (as Mark has reported). The decision was made that Pluto was not a planet. There is still disagreement over what the definition of a planet should be.

The definition has some interesting side effects:

A planet made of rock needs to be more massive than one made of ice before it can pull itself into a round shape.

The minimum mass of a planet probably depends on its orbit. Would an object with mass of Mercury be able to clean its orbit if it were in an orbit the size of Pluto's? [-dtc]

And Tim McDaniel writes:

In re "The Ruckus About Pluto" of the 14th inst. I think the problem people have with demoting Pluto is not change, but demotion in particular.

The term "planetoid" appears to be obsolete: the American Heritage on-line just points to "asteroid (sense 1)". quotes the IAU's definition as making three categories: planet, dwarf planet, and Small Solar System Bodies. Dwarf planet versus SSSB is based on the body being massive enough to become approximately spherical due to gravity. Planet versus dwarf planet adds "has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit".

Mr. Leeper posits that "The concept we previously had was that the solar system was a nice orderly comprehensible collection of a few objects and that school children could memorize everything large enough to be called a planet. That simplicity fed our egos ..."

I don't think that particular explanation is complete. The first IAU proposal, by planetary scientists, just had the requirement for hydrostatic equilibrium. The discussions I saw mentioned that it would classify Ceres, "Xena" (now Eris), Charon, Vesta, Quaoar, and likely several others as planets. The reactions I saw were along the lines of "cool!", "that's interesting; what's the current list?", or at worst "what's a good definition?". Examples of the latter two:

But I notice, from 2005, in which Sea Wasp wrote that Pluto ought to remain a planet: "trying to redefine the term to exclude one of the base cases that every kid in the country has known for over two generations is unacceptable". But he added that that means that anything larger orbiting the Sun is a planet. That fits Mr. Leeper's "But any kid with a science orientation does know the names of the nine planets as we were taught them, and some of us feel a little betrayed that Pluto was demoted to a planetoid.". Indeed, I think that some such people thought that *Pluto itself* was insulted.

As an aside about "We have found a chunk three-quarters the mass of Pluto out at 130 billion kilometers out": Eris, at 6-15 Gkm out, is larger and more massive than Pluto. [-tmcd]

Titanic (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to the comments on Titanic in the 11/14/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes, "In retrospect, I now realize that the problem wasn't really with the Titanic casualty stats you presented. It's just that Evelyn must have been comparing the wrong columns when she erroneously concluded that "a man in first class had a better chance of surviving than a woman in third class". Actually, the stats were for women and children lumped together -- but still untrue." [-tw]

Evelyn responds, "Looking at the statistics, you are correct. I'm not sure where I got the idea that a man in first class had a better chance of surviving than a woman in third class, unless I was reading casualty statistics as survival statistics." [-ecl]

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

THE BIBLE: A BIOGRAPHY by Karen Armstrong (read by Josephine Bailey) (audio ISBN-13 978-1-400-10394-2, ISBN-10 1-400-10394-0; book ISBN-13 978-0-871-13969-6, ISBN-10 0-871-13969-3) seems to be more a condensation of Armstrong's book THE HISTORY OF GOD than a book about the Bible per se. For example, she spends a lot of time on the Talmud and the Mishna, which are not part of the Bible. (She justifies this, as far as I can tell, by talking about them as an oral rather than a written Bible, even though they are eventually written down.) There are also odd slips, such as when she contrasts second Isaiah with "the rest of the Pentateuch," even though second Isaiah is not part of the Pentateuch at all. I thought THE HISTORY OF GOD was excellent, but I have been disappointed in all her other books that I have read.

ACQUIRING GENOMES: A THEORY OF THE ORIGINS OF SPECIES by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan (ISBN-13 978-0-465-04391-X, ISBN-10 0-465-04391-7) has a interesting theory (speciation happens by the acquisition of genes from symbiotic organisms), but made statements that I thought at odds with current definitions. For example, the authors say, "Groups of organisms, again like people or corn plants or chickens, considered to be all descended from the same ancestors ("clade") are classified as members of the same species. Such organisms are called 'monophyletic' because they are descended from 'a single common ancestor.'" But as I understand it clades are nested, e.g., all primates form a clade which itself exists within the clade of all mammals. Clearly this crosses species boundaries (or makes the term "species" meaningless.)

And "... viruses are not alive and indeed they are even, in principle, too small to be units of life. They lack the means of producing their genes and proteins." One can deduce from this that viruses are not alive *if* producing their genes and proteins is the definition of life (and if it is true that viruses cannot do so). But my suspicion is that this is probably not the only accepted definition of "life" and other, equally valid, definitions may imply that viruses are alive.

I have to say that the authors show more desire for intellectual honesty than most. Rather than attempt to hide contrary views, they include a foreword by Ernst Mayr that contradicts or denies them on several key points (e.g., symbiogenesis as an instance of speciation, the validity of the principle of acquired characteristics). Mayr says, "Given the authors' dedication to their special field, it is not surprising that they sometimes arrive at interpretations others of us find arguable. Let the reads ignore those that are clearly in conflict with the finding of modern biology. Let him concentrate instead on the authors' brilliant new interpretations and be thankful that they have called our attention to worlds of life that ... are consistently by most biologists."

NATION by Terry Pratchett (ISBN-13 978-0-06-143301-6, ISBN-10 0-06-143301-2) is *not* a Discworld novel. It is an alternate history novel, though most of it is a pretty straightforward survival-after-disaster-and-shipwreck novel, and the alternate history is really only important to the final chapter or so. What is notable is that to some extent Pratchett is following in Philip Pullman's footsteps, and writing a young adult novel that has at its heart the questioning of established religion. (They are both, I will note, British.) Pratchett is more subtle, with most of the questioning being of a Polynesian belief system rather than any of the monotheistic religions--but with a heavy emphasis on the question of the meaning of suffering in a world supposedly controlled by a beneficent god, the application to the monotheistic faiths is obvious. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions 
           from insufficient premises.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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