MT VOID 03/27/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 39, Whole Number 1538

MT VOID 03/27/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 39, Whole Number 1538

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/27/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 39, Whole Number 1538

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

Correction (comments by David Goldfarb, Mark Leeper, and Evelyn Leeper):

In response to the puzzle in the 03/20/09 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:

> What determines the order in the following sequence:
>     8,5,4,1,9,7,6,3,2

Are you sure you haven't got 9 and 1 reversed there? [-dg]

Mark answers, "No, I absolutely do not have them reversed. EVELYN HAS THEM REVERSED AND THEN SHE FRAMED ME!!!!! Incidentally, this is not the problem as it was in the Spanish-language film." [-mrl]

Evelyn says, "David is right. The 9 and 1 are reversed. I was re-constructing this and it *is* slightly different from the way it is expressed in the film. The answer will appear next week to people a chance with the correct question. David, of course, gets double-credit for (apparently) solving it even though it had an error!" [-ecl]

Hugo Nominations:

Best Novel:
ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson
LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow
SATURN'S CHILDREN by Charles Stross
ZOE'S TALE by John Scalzi

Best Novella:
"The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2008)
"The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
"The Tear" by Ian McDonald (GALACTIC EMPIRES)
"True Names" by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (FAST FORWARD 2)
"Truth" by Robert Reed (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette:
"Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" by Mike Resnick 
     (Asimov's Jan 2008)
"The Gambler" by Paolo Bacigalupi (FAST FORWARD 2)
"Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner 
     (Asimov's Feb 2008)
"Shoggoths in Bloom" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's Mar 2008)

Best Short Story:
"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's Jul 2008)
"Article of Faith" by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe Oct 2008)
"Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette Kowal (THE SOLARIS BOOK 
"Exhalation" by Ted Chiang (ECLIPSE TWO)
"From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled" by Michael Swanwick 
     (Asimov's Feb 2008)

Best Related Book:
RHETORICS OF FANTASY by Farah Mendlesohn
     by Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner, eds.
     by Lillian Stewart Carl & John Helfers, eds.
     by John Scalzi

Best Graphic Story:
     Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio
FABLES: WAR AND PIECES Written by Bill Willingham
SCHLOCK MERCENARY: THE BODY POLITIC Story and art by Howard Tayler
SERENITY: BETTER DAYS Written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews
     Written/created by Brian K. Vaughan

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
Lost: "The Constant"
Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog 
Battlestar Galactica: "Revelations"
Doctor Who: "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead"
Doctor Who: "Turn Left"

Best Editor, Short Form:
Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form:
Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
David G. Hartwell
Beth Meacham
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist:
Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine:
Clarkesworld Magazine
The New York Review of Science Fiction
Weird Tales

Best Fan Writer:
Chris Garcia
John Hertz
Dave Langford
Cheryl Morgan
Steven H Silver

Best Fanzine:
Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fan Artist:
Alan F. Beck
Brad W. Foster
Sue Mason
Taral Wayne
Frank Wu

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:
Aliette de Bodard*
David Anthony Durham*
Felix Gilman
Tony Pi*
Gord Sellar*

*(Second year of eligibility)

Full details, and links to on-line versions of stories, etc., can be found at or (though the stories themselves are all in English from either link).

Hadron (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

News from the Cern and the Large Hadron Collider is disappointing. The big prize of finding the Higgs-Boson particle has eluded the physicists there. This has not been at total waste since many intersting results have been discovered along the way and await further investigation. In specific they have made contact with subatomic intelligent life forms and proven the existence of archangels. [-mrl]

Just Me Again (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There seems to be a whole brouhaha over the Sci-Fi Channel renaming itself Syfy with a slogan "Imagine Greater". I think what they mean is "imagine bigger snakes." Hey, the Sci-Fi Channel dropped off my radar a long, long time ago. It has been an embarrassment to science fiction fans for many years. But take my opinion for what it is worth. It is coming from the guy who did not see what the big deal was that Pluto was reclassified a "planetoid" and not a planet. [-mrl]

Inflate Wolverine (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

You may have seen a picture on the web of a kids' inflatable punching bag that is decorated with a picture of Wolverine. The inflation valve is right over Wolverine's loins. or

I guess the coincidental placement takes the character with a threatening look on his face and long attack razor blades coming out of his knuckles and makes him seem almost unwholesome for young kids. [-mrl]

Economic Face-Huggers (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The film ALIEN created a classic philosophic dilemma with the creature dubbed a "face-hugger." This thing grabs the victim with its tail around his neck. The tail is strangling the victim, but at the same time the thing is feeding the victim oxygen. You try to remove it and it just stops the oxygen flow and tightens its grip, strangling the man in its clutches. What is the best strategy? Well, if you are willing to let it kill the victim in its grasp, it is not a problem. You can just try to take it off and it will strangle the victim. Or you just let it have its way. That can be much worse. There is no winning strategy. The best plan is not to let it get a hold on a victim. Once it has grabbed on, the question is only how badly are you going to lose. It is odd that I am reminded of this when I think about the last week and the situation with A.I.G., the American International Group.

Under the last administration the Securities and Exchange Commission was duty bound to regulate A.I.G. But the administration's policy at the time was one of the Republican mantra of non-regulation, a guiding principle harkening back to Ronald Reagan's policies. I was reminded of the horrific creature from ALIEN when I was reading a New York Times article about A.I.G. A.I.G really is necessary for the world's economy. It did a lot to create the whole financial mess and it cannot be untangled without A.I.G. I won't go into why, but A.I.G. failing would really heavily damage the global economy. A.I.G. has its tail around the throat of the economy. So the government must not allow A.I.G. to go under and instead it went in to bail out A.I.G. with what has now amounted to $170,000,000,000. That was the part of the ALIEN when they decided they could not remove the face-hugger and get rid of it. It would kill the patient. Instead they supported the creature and kept it going. That was the government pumping huge amounts of money into A.I.G., so much so that the government nominally owns 80% of the company now and it has put in their own man in as CEO, Edward Liddy.

That sounds like the government are now in control, but that really is not true. Certain obligations still have to be honored. Even making nice to the face-hugger in the movie did not give the humans control of it. It continued implanting embryos. In real life it seems that the company had made contracts with its upper management before the government took control. The contracts obligated the company to give obscene bonuses to the upper management. After all, the company needs good management if it is to continue making the great business decisions like those that endangered both A.I.G. and the world economy. These people running the company were to be given huge bonuses as a matter of contract. And a contract is a contract. It is not like the pension promises or healthcare promises some company has made to its grunts. Contracts really have to be honored. The company is contractually obligated to give out $165,000,000 in bonuses if it has the money. And it got $170,000,000,000 in bailout money. The company needs to pay these retention bonuses for fear that the employees will go to some other employer. I suppose there must other companies waiting in line to hire them to screw up the economy. (The sad thing on second thought is that there probably are.) Now you can suggest that these bonuses not be paid. But as soon as you do the face-huggers tail is going to tighten around the neck of the economy. Don't pay the bonuses and A.I.G. will let the economy fail. You don't argue with a face-hugger that has its tail around your neck.

So the public just looks on helplessly as their money, and the welfare of their children and that of their grandchildren gets vacuumed up by multi-millionaires and multi-multi-millionaires. And the system is so broken by years of under-regulation by the S.E.C. that there is nobody who can stop the flow. It is going on right before our eyes and the public and Congress are helpless to stop it. Right now the country owns 80% of A.I.G. and appointed the CEO and still it cannot stop the machine that is going to give horrendously big bonuses to the people at the top of that company. But those bonuses are small compared to the damage that will be done if the company defaults on those promises. Contracts that were allowed to be made last year and two years ago that the S.E.C. should have blocked at the time were allowed to be made. Not just the rewards should have been stopped, what A.I.G. people were doing to "earn" those bonuses should have been stopped by the S.E.C. A.I.G. arranged for trillions of dollars of credit default swaps that lulled people into thinking they had diversified, high-rated investments when really what they had was a lot of little pieces of bad investments.

You and I have to face it. We insignificant small wealth holders have lost the fight. For many years now (and particularly the last eight) we have let the rich and powerful become even richer and get a lot more powerful. They have better schemes and better lawyers and everything they need. You may think that Obama was elected to put the brakes on the situation and restore sanity. But the economy now is like a large pump, pumping money from taxpayers up to the wealthiest people. Barak Obama can make faces, but the machine goes right on. It is coming to a question of strength and resolve and the public is simply out-matched. The best hope of the public is just to make sure that it does not happen again.

Some Republicans are saying they hope the Democrats fail to fix the economy, and they certainly are not being cooperative. They think that if the Democrats fail to fix the damage that has been done over the last few years they will return the country to the party that was in power during those years. Who else do they have in the two-party political system? The Republicans may be wrong. Here in admittedly liberal New Jersey people I talk to blame the Republicans for the whole mess. If the Democrats fail not a whole lot of people are going to go over to the Republicans. The public will be looking to the left of the Democrats and not the right. The public will be looking for an alternative that is as close as possible to the opposite of the Republicans. And they are going to be looking for extreme solutions. Those will probably be very left-wing solutions. The Republicans do not have the monopoly they assume on everybody unhappy with the Democrats.

Now this is just now wild guess. But it is what I think is going to happen. The machine is just too broken to be fixed in a matter of months or in even four years. I don't think that people are going to discover that the current administration gives people a whole lot of hope that things are going to get better. I think we might get a heavy shift to the left and perhaps a militant leftist third party. But the people surely are not going to feed this country again to the hounds of the right. If I were a rabid socialist (and I'm not) just about now I would be thinking that my time had come. A lot that is happening sounds like socialist theory with the working classes being heavily exploited from above.

Too many people have been losing their jobs and their pensions and their salaries and reasonable prices for goods. In one battle after another the working classes have been losing to the wealthy. In a democracy frustration is the most powerful force for change. I think frustration is going to really change the political landscape in some extreme ways. And it probably will not be for the better.

The article was inspired by A.I.G. Coverage by the New York Times: business/15AIG.html


SITA SINGS THE BLUES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Nina Paley interweaves her own story of her relationship with her lover (husband?) with a parallel story of the Indian epic poem, the Ramayana. Paley emphasizes the relationship of Rama and his wife Sita. Each layer of the story seems to have its own animation style and the narration, apparently done by shadow puppets, is apparently informal and very funny. Sita sings out her sadness in the voice of 1920s blues singer Annette Hanshaw. The film is charming on many levels. It may be running on PBS stations, but it can be downloaded for free. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

SITA SINGS THE BLUES is a unique animated film, 81 minutes in length. It tells a double story of director/screenwriter/producer Nina Paley and her relationship with her man, and in a parallel line it is a retelling of the story of the Ramayana, one of the two great epic poems of Hindu culture (the other being the Mahabharata). Each animated story is done in its own style, but greater screen time and much greater creativity goes into the Ramayana story. Each different level of the story uses its own animation technique from very simple to complex. The film seems heavily influenced by Terry Gilliam's animation in films like MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, but there are also pieces that look like better animation films from the National Film Board of Canada.

In one plotline the story of the Ramayana is commented on by three shadow puppets who apparently learned the story in their youth but who cannot quite agree on how the story should be told. Their style is something between that of a Greek chorus and that of the robots on "Mystery Science Theater 3000". They argue about the facts of the story and correct each other. They tell the story of Rama who was unjustly banished from his father's kingdom. His wife Sita follows him into the forests. There the evil Ravana sees Sita and decides to abduct her. Will Rama rescue his loyal wife? Will Sita's and Rama's loving relationship ever be restored. Sita pours out her feelings, and they come out as songs from 1920s blues singer Annette Hanshaw. The story has parallels to Paley's relationship to her lover and their relationship is similarly tested when from San Francisco he gets a six-month job in India. The humor comes from many levels. The images are full of visual puns. Westerners will find this a light and bright introduction to the Ramayana.

This film is not being sold anywhere. It is being given away free with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. That means everybody is allowed to copy it, share it, download it ... everything but make money off of it. That is very rare for a feature-length film and more so for a film that is this much fun. Channel 13 (NY) is not only making it available for download (see below) but they also broadcast it.

All the various visual styles come together perfectly. It is rare to find a film that can be enjoyed from start to finish. I rate SITA SINGS THE BLUES a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. Take my word on this one. You can see it free. If you watch five minutes I bet you will watch the whole film, even if you do not think you would have an interest in the Ramayana. See it.

That's all.

The film is on-line from Channel 13, New York, at

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


[It's also available at its own web page, [-ecl]

BLONDE ROOTS by Bernadine Evaristo (book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I read BLONDE ROOTS by Bernadine Evaristo (ISBN-13 978-1-59448-863-4, ISBN-10 1-59448-863-0). Let me start by saying that I may have been reading a different book than Evaristo was writing (as they say). But there were problems in this book, and it's not just something that requires a "willing suspension of disbelief," but which undermines the entire premise.

Okay, here goes. The idea of this is (according to the jacket) "what if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed, and Africans had enslaved Europe?" Now that may be a sort of obvious premise, but it at least seems to have possibilities. However, these are dashed on page -4 (that's "minus 4"), when one encounters a map of Evaristo's world. It contains "Amarika", which looks and is positioned like "America" in our world except for an archipelago of islands containing the cities of "New Ambossa" and "New Londolo". So far, so good. But in the Old World, she has swapped "Europa" and "Aphrika". And although "England" is on the new Europa, there is a Britain-shaped island northwest of of Aphrika called the "United Kingdom of Great Ambossa" with a capital of "Londolo" (which explains "New Londolo").

To avoid putting Europa in the tropics and Aphrika in the temperate zone, everything has been moved south so that the equator runs just south of what seems to be Greenland, the middle of Great Ambossa, and what would be the Sahara region of your Africa. So when the jacket says that the Africans enslave the Europeans, we *still* have the situation of the people from the north enslaving those from the south. (The map seems to have everything in the Southern Hempisphere, which does move the slave trade a bit south.)

One problem, though, is that if one looks at the proportions of the land masses on the map, Europa still seems to be in a tropical area. Another is that the map does not show any land connection between Aphrika and Europa which would account for a population which evolved on one continent migrating to the other. (Okay, maybe it's off the edge of the page.)

Almost lost in all this geographical confusion is the wholesale adoption of European names, "Aphrikanized" a bit but still recognizable: Voodoomass, Paddinto Station and the Bakalo Line on the Londolo Tube, Edgwa, and so on.

This playing fast and loose with words extends to more mundane expressions. Doris talks about being with someone "24/7". She talks about clothing being size 4 or size 20. She even says things like, "She's like totally spoiled, y'know?"

There are posters for films called GUESS WHO'S *NOT* COMING TO DINNER, TO SIR WITH HATE, and LITTLE WHYTE SAMBO, ESQ. There's a hymn titled "When the Saints Go Marchin' In".

And ultimately, the book undermines many of the basic premises of what we "know" about the slave trade, and makes unclear what Evaristo is trying to say. What we have in BLONDE ROOTS are Aphrikans from the tropics with black skin enslaving Europanes in a (more) temperate zone with white skin apparently only because Aphrika is north of Europa. The culture of the Aphrikans seems based on African culture, and the culture of the Europanes seems based on European culture. There is no explanation of whether the Aphrikans are more technologically advanced than the Europanes and hence able to enslave them for that reason, or whether there was some other reason. (One would think that living in a harsher climate would force a culture to advance its technology at least somewhat, but maybe not.) The technology is certainly inconsistent: they seem to have a knowledge of DNA, as well as highrises and skateboards, even though in transportation they haven't gotten past trains. (The question of when this takes place is never answered. It reminds me of the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, which seem to take place in a central Europe which is a mixture of the then+-present and sometime around 1890. In any case, the technology levels in Aphrika and Europa don't seem different enough to account for the widespread slave trade.

Actually, Annalee Newitz summed this problem up in someone's blog by noting 1) the difficulty of maintaining paper documents and wooden housing in a tropical climate, 2) the lack of stone for building in Africa/Aphrika, 3) the tse-tse fly preventing the effective use of calvary or farm animals in Africa/Aphrika, 4) the heat of Africa/Aphrika precluding heavy body armor, and 5) the scarcity of African/Aphrikan plants and animals suitable for domestication.

Here's the problem, then: if Evaristo made just swapped Europe and Africa, then all that would change would have been skin color--and even that would not, because that is due in large part to climate. But by keeping Aphrika tropical and Europa colder, she ignores that these are among the factors that would have created the societies or cultures that would make Europa capable of dominating Afrika rather than vice versa.

But as it stands, an Aphrikan culture similar to our African one is the slave-holding society. So it isn't culture that makes slavers. (So much for the glorification of African cultures with the claim that they would never have done such a thing--which of course they did in our world, but that's another story.) And it isn't climate, given that in Evaristo's world the hot climate people have enslaved the cold climate people. And it isn't skin color (well, it wouldn't be, would it?). Apparently it is pure chance.

And, as has been pointed out, in our world Romans enslaved Angles, Turks enslaved Europeans, and even in some cases, Africans enslaved Europeans.

And it is not as if Evaristo is the first author to do this black- white reversal. There is the duology LION'S BLOOD and ZULU HEART by Steven Barnes, and "Lion Time in Timbuctoo" by Robert Silverberg, both of which rely on a much more severe Bubonic Plague of 1348 than our world experienced.

Some think even this would be insufficient. Someone else said, "I think to have an African dominated global civilization we'd have to change history much earlier and then reverse events several times again later on. I think the inflection point would actually be the defeat of Twenty-Fifth Egyptian Dynasty at the Battle of Sile by the Assyrians."

And my last complaint is aimed not just at Evaristo, but at a lot of authors who, for whatever reason, decide to attempt to write in dialect. Here is a passage which is a snippet of spoken dialogue:

"I been meaning to aks yu dis. I want mi bwoy Yao to have more storee in his hed dan what go round in mine about dis damn place, which, kwite franklee, give me flamin hedake all de time! Yao will neva git outa dis hellhole exept to be sold to some odder plantashun, but de wurld out dere will get into his hed if you help him reed an rite. I have contakt in de big house who will git book fe me."

Now, this is harder to read that the "correct" spelling would be. The argument is that this reminds the reader that the person would sound different. But all it does is remind the reader that English spelling is irrational.

"I been meaning": This (and other examples) do actually represent different grammar.

"aks", "dis", "dan", "dere", "odder": These actually represent different pronunciations.

"yu": What is the point of this? It is pronounced exactly the same way as "you".

"I want mi bwoy": Is "mi" pronounced "my" (in which case why change it, or "mee" (in which case "mee" would be better)?

"storee", "hed", "kwite franklee", "hedake", "plantashun", "wurld", "hed", "reed", "rite": Why not "story", "head", "quite frankly", "headache", "plantation", "world", "head", "read", "write"?

"damn": And if one is going to change spelling to match pronunciation, this should be "dam".

"hellhole": This just seems an odd word to find in this long dialect speech.

This book has gotten good reviews from others, but I found it very predictable, and cannot really recommend it. [-ecl]

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

This is the time of year when I find myself reading several alternate history novels as part of the Sidewise Award judging. I vow to keep up through the year, but some books don't look that good, and I hope other judges will read them first and let the rest of us know we can skip them. Others are unavailable at the library, and the publishers somehow wait until the "last call" to send copies. So here I sit with a book about dragons fighting the Napoleonic Wars (book 4 for a series), a book in which several communities are all flung back in time to the Cretaceous (obviously book 1 of a series, and distantly related to another series as well), a book about a different geography (book 2 of a series), and a few books that actually seem to stand on their own. But it's hard to bring myself to read those, when I can read a really enjoyable book like STEINBECK'S GHOST.

STEINBECK'S GHOST by Lewis Buzbee (ISBN-13 978-0-312-37328-3, ISBN-10 0-312-37328-7) was probably inspired by the announcement in late 2004 that the Salinas Public Library was going to close because of lack of funds. Salinas was John Steinbeck's hometown, the town he wrote about the most, and for many years now has housed a very impressive John Steinbeck museum which draws a lot of tourists. So the closing of the library was not just sad, it was ironic.

In STEINBECK'S GHOST, teenager Travis Williams has just moved to a new neighborhood, hardly sees his parents because they have started working late every night, and then discovers that they are closing his favorite place--the library. On top of all this, he starts seeing characters out of Steinbeck's stories around town, and someone--Steinbeck's ghost?--in the upper window of Steinbeck's old house.

I would like to believe that someone who obviously loved books and libraries as much as Travis would receive the acceptance that he does rather than be considered a dork. To be fair, he at least is concerned about this, but the book does really show this as a problem. In fact, in spite of video games and cell phones, the Salinas of this book seems like a town from twenty years ago, or more. All the books that Travis loves are older books: A WRINKLE IN TIME, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, and so on. There was some mention of Harry Potter for Halloween costumes, but no one seems to be reading the "Ender" books or anything else recent.

However, if you can exercise a willing suspension of disbelief, the book is a delight for people who love books, and writers, and readers, and libraries. (It is no coincidence that Lewis Buzbee has also written the non-fiction book THE YELLOW-LIGHTED BOOKSHOP.)

(Oh, and not to leave you in suspense: when word of the library's imminent closing appeared in the press, Salinas was pretty much shamed into keeping it open.)

REDCOATS' REVENGE by Col. David Fitz-Enz, USA (Ret.) (ISBN-13 978- 1-57488-987-1, ISBN-10 1-574-88987-7) is a novel of the sort I haven't seen since FOR WANT OF A NAIL by Robert Sobel--the fake history textbook. (This doesn't mean there haven't been others, just that I haven't seen them.) There is some dialogue, but on the whole it's clear this is written more as a history book from this alternate world (where the British win the War of 1812) than as a novel. True, it lacks the fake footnotes, bibliography and other accoutrements of Sobel's work, but that may be just as well. These days, if it had all that, people might actually believe it was really true. For that matter, for reasons known only to the publisher, they have decided to give the Dewey Decimal classification as 973.5/2, which is plop in the middle of the American history section, rather than in fiction. (I got my library to ignore the given classification and move it to fiction before some high school kid tried to write a report on the War of 1812 from it.)

Of REDCOATS' REVENGE, Joseph T. Major wrote, "... this is an attempt to provide a serious speculation about a point of departure and its consequences. ... Those who want to read about what if Spartacus had a Piper Cub and the like likely won't be thrilled by this."

44 SCOTLAND STREET by Andrew McCall Smith (ISBN-13 978-1-400-07944-5, ISBN-10 1-400-07944-5) is the first book in another series by the author of the "Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency" books. This one is set in the art world of Edinburgh, and I did not find it anywhere nearly as enjoyable, but that is probably because I thought none of the characters were really interesting in the same way that the characters in the "Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency" books were. The only interesting characters were Bertie and his pushy mother. What was intriguing was McCall Smith's discussion of what it was like to write a serial novel, which this was.

First, McCall Smith did not write the entire novel ahead of time, so although he started with several chapters written, he fell behind in his writing, and found himself up against a perpetual deadline. And he also discovered something perhaps less commonly thought of: he could not go back and make any changes in earlier chapters. So if he decides while writing chapter 15 that it would have worked better if the painting at the beginning was a still life rather than a seascape, that too bad--he's stuck with the seascape. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, 
           not only as to the things which I have explained, 
           but also as to those which I have intentionally 
           omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of 
                                          -- Rene Descartes, 1637

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