MT VOID 01/01/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 27, Whole Number 1578

MT VOID 01/01/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 27, Whole Number 1578

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/01/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 27, Whole Number 1578

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

I'll See Your SHANE (And Raise You a GORGO) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I rented a "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." DVD. The DVD was released by Warner Brothers. Now I seem to remember in the credits of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." that the series was the product of M.G.M. It was a good try, but M.G.M. was trying to steal some of the magic of the James Bond Series which was produced by United Artists. I am sure that it was United Artists even though Bond films seem to be M.G.M.'s now. Somehow M.G.M. got James Bond but lost "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." to Warner Brothers who also released on DVD the original KING KONG, which I always thought was from RKO. Now DR. CYCLOPS was always a Paramount film. Now it is being in packs of Universal horror films. All I can say is that must have been one heck of a night of poker. [-mrl]

From My Mailbox: AVATAR (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

[This mail contains some spoilers for the film AVATAR. This mail item has been somewhat edited.]

I got the following letter of comment from a reader on my review of AVATAR . It got into some interesting issues about the film, so I thought I would share them:

READER: Avatar was better than [deserving] a [rating of] 6/10.

ME: Well, yes, and worse. It depends what you look at. There was a lot to like and a lot that I did not care for. For me the first half was much better than the second half. And remember that like almost all reviewers I am giving you one person's reaction from seeing one viewing. Your opinions would be expected to vary.

READER: Your critique is interesting.

ME: Thank you. (But I bet here it comes...)

READER: You think it's not realistic to have alien races that have humanoid shape. We simply do not have enough information to say one way or another what the average intelligent races would look like. We have a sample of *one* planet.

ME: Very true. We also do not know for sure that the sun's light won't turn blue tomorrow. We can just say that based on what we do know it is very, very unlikely. As for the human form, evolution is a random walk very closely attuned to the conditions on the planet. If the moon were a little less massive there would be nothing humanoid on this planet, at least so I have been told. Evolution would have gone in a different direction. Actually life tends to go in many directions and only chance die-offs tend to limit the number of forms. If you look at the strange set of life forms found in the Burgess Shale you get an idea how the directions that life goes in can be extremely diverse.

Now it is true that nature does occasionally recreate and repeat forms. The dinosaur ankylosaurus is very similar in form to the doedicurus of the early Pleistocene. But it seems like a very low probability event that humans would run into another humanoid race in just another 150 years.

Also, there is some thought that life was seeded here and on other planets, but it is not likely because the planets would have sufficiently different conditions. And even if many planets did have humanoid life forms due to seeding, at the point of the seeding they would have had to be well on their way toward being humanoid. They would not fit into the evolutionary tree as well as we do.

I could see that using humanoid forms has to be allowed as part of the storyteller's license.

READER: Also [making the aliens humanoid] helps the audience connect with the characters. I know what you mean but they did the correct thing by not making them look so weird as to turn off people.

ME: This is true. The filmmaker's first responsibility is to involve the audience. He will not get far if he does not do that.

READER: [You called the film a polemic.] You think we still don't take advantage of people? We do it here on planet earth even with all the cell phone cameras. [I heard] a cop brought a gun to a snowball fight and was filmed, it would be totally expected for the Black Hills scenario to take place on a far away planet. Good old fashion greed is still alive a kicking and will be in 2154. Especially on a remote planet away from the prying eyes of earth, why not loot the planet? It seems very plausible; it would be more unrealistic to have it any other way. Everything that was done in the past is still being done today. Its done white collar and more covertly but its the same old song and dance.

ME: What you say is true, but that is not what makes the film a polemic. It is one thing to show two conflicting groups and to make one be the aggressors and show the others sympathetically. But you can go to the other extreme and make one group seem nastier with every line they speak and make the other group Christ symbols. That manipulates the viewer. The company people and the military are always shot in half-light and are shown to be a lot nastier. It is just unpleasant to see Cameron is so unsubtle in signaling the audience whom the viewer should side with. He did the same thing in TITANIC. Every word out of Billy Zane's mouth makes his character seem worse. This is not very good writing.

It was much the same way with Kevin Costner's DANCES WITH WOLVES. You see several white men in the West. With the exception of Costner how many are at all likable? Every single one is portrayed not even neutrally but definitely negatively. These films undermine themselves by overstating their case.

READER: I do think the story parallels how we took the Black Hills. This time they won vs. getting cheated. By the way, the American Indians won in court on the Black Hills. The problem is they don't want money; they just want the land back that they were cheated out of.

ME: I think I knew that. The Black Hills were sacred to the Indians and a cash payment is not going to do it.


BETWEEN THE FOLDS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This 56-minute documentary written and directed by Vanessa Gould looks at origami, the art of paper-folding that has gone from a simple art of creating figures of animals out of paper to an explosion of styles and practical applications. The film looks at some of the major figures in creating origami and the vast array of applications in the real world of engineering, biology, and mathematics. The film sweeps viewers from intricately beautiful works of folded paper art to the submicroscopic origami of proteins, and it is well worth the trip. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

The documentary BETWEEN THE FOLDS, written and directed by Vanessa Gould, is being shown on PBS's Independent Lens series in December and January.

A personal note: I am a hobby origamist. I started folding toys out of paper by age six. Like many origamists I began with paper airplanes. Since then I got into many forms of origami, mostly still folding toys and mathematical ornaments. Over the years I have probably invented more than a hundred figures. But I have always gone from squares and/or rectangles and folded animals, spaceships, or perhaps abstract pieces. While I was folding simple figures this the field completely changed under me and seeing a film like BETWEEN THE FOLDS tells me much of what has been going on of which I had been ignorant.

This is an art form, but it is an art form that is restricted by mathematical rules. In the TED Talk cited below Robert Lang gives the four mathematical laws that restrict the structures that can be made using origami. Artists love self-imposed constraints and BETWEEN THE FOLDS shows the vast panoply of creations that can be made under those restrictions.

We see examples of people who start with wet paper to get more realistic contours when creating animals. Michael LaFosse makes his own paper and folds figures using the paper, sometimes wet. By making his own paper he can control the texture. But he basically is folding like I am, creating figures as realistic as possible. If there is a difference there is the complexity of his creations. Over the years figures have gone from seven or ten folds to dozens and then hundreds. Pangolins, for example, can be given realistic surfaces by tessellations of scales on their backs each individually folded.

The film continues on to show origami subjects following the styles of modern art, getting less realistic to find a greater truth in their subject. More abstract forms are found. Some are more complex, but Paul Jackson has made a study of abstract shapes that one can get with a single crease and just some flexing.

All of this is art, but so far it has little practical application. The simplest use is to use origami to teach geometry as a geometry instruction tool as Miri Golan does in Israel. (I have done this myself.) Origami turns geometric principles into a game. Tom Hull applies it to more advanced subjects such as number theory and higher algebra. Still it is being as just an illustration.

Martin and Erik Demaine, father and son professors at MIT, work on general theoretic questions like what shapes can be formed by folding paper and then making one straight cut. But their work has a practical side. They, Robert Lang, and others contribute to medicine, biology, natural sciences, and space. Lenses for space telescopes can be folded into packages small enough to send into space only to be opened up when they reach orbit. Science now applies origami to a broad range of applications from compacting car airbags so they too can be stored in a relatively small space, to DNA structure. Erik Demaine has made advances in folding the molecular structure of proteins to create drugs to use against toxic viruses.

As one folder makes the point, everything seems to fold. Geological pressure makes the surface of the planet fold. DNA folds and unfolds. Even when we speak the vibration of our voice folds the air. The science of what can happen when things fold is turning out to be a fundamental study of how our world works. Sadly at 56 minutes this film cannot cover to satisfying depth the origami-related art, technology, science, mathematics, and even philosophy. But what it does cover is well worth seeing.

This is a film that is intelligent, intriguing, and beautiful. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

A T.E.D. Talks with Robert Lang discussing practical applications of origami and new software approaches to solving origami problems is available at


THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE by Joe Haldeman (copyright 2007, narrated by Kevin Free) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):

I've been wanting to read a bit more Joe Haldeman; I'd read THE FOREVER WAR, MINDBRIDGE, and ALL MY SINS REMEMBERED back when I was in high school, and I remember getting blown away by all three of them. I've read a book or two of his since then, but I never really picked him back up the way I'd wanted to. I don't know if that's because of a lack of time or a feeling that I'd be disappointed after those first three books. But I did sort of have my eye on THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE just because of the title--so when I started listening to audio books again I made sure that I picked it up.

Matt Fuller is a research assistant in physics at MIT. It's pretty much a dead end position for him; he's been there forever, and has pretty much worn out his welcome. In addition to that, his girlfriend has left him for a guy who turns out to be a student whose papers Matt has graded. Just before he's let go, one day in the lab while he's working on the research project with his professor he hits the reset button on some gizmo he's working with, and said gizmo momentarily disappears. Of course, the professor didn't see it happen. Just before leaving the lab, he hits the button again, and it disappears again, this time for a slightly longer period of time. He begins taking some measurements, and begins to extrapolate how long the machine will disappear for each time. He sends objects with it, including a turtle. He eventually figures out that he needs a Faraday cage in order to travel with it, and since he doesn't own a car, he goes over to his drug- dealing friend to borrow his classic 1950s Thunderbird, with the intention of returning it when the experiment is over. As a side note, the time machine, as he is calling it, also moves, but he hasn't gotten down the technique of predicting well enough where the machine will reappear as well as he has when. He leaves with the car, only to rematerialize in the middle of a highway where he causes an accident, with the Thunderbird being totaled. He's also up on the murder charge of the drug dealer he got the car from. He is bailed out of jail by a mysterious benefactor who forks over the $1 million dollars, but the problem is that he knows of no one that has that much money. All he knows is that the guy looks like him from behind. Matt figures that it must be himself from the future. So he finds a way to get access to the Thunderbird and press the button again.

And so begins what can only be called a romp through the future. Each time he presses the button, things get progressively stranger and potentially more dangerous. I don't want to talk too much about each individual stop along the way, but noteworthy is the stop a few thousand years in the future at the Massachusetts Institute of Theosopy. Much of the northeast seaboard (we find out later) has been taken over by a crazed madman who calls himself Jesus but is actually just a man with delusions of power. He has the whole area whipped into a religious frenzy. Matt is recognized for who he really is, and is given a "graduate assistant" (he was made a full professor in a previous stop), whose sole purpose is to be at his beck and call. I got visions of Doctor Who at that point, with her calling him "professor" (reminiscent of Ace calling the Doctor that back in the '80s) and a bit of Heinlein, with his attitudes towards women and sex.

As I said, things get weird, silly, and dangerous. It's really a pastiche of various time travel tropes, and is quite enjoyable. The ending, while upon further reflection is fairly predictable, is still fun and appropriate. This is not a novel with deep meanings or hidden messages - it's a fun romp through time, and if you take it that way, you'll enjoy it. [-jak]

NEWTON AND THE COUNTERFEITER: THE UNKNOWN DETECTIVE CAREER OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST SCIENTIST by Thomas Levenson (Houghton Mifflin, 2009, 247 pages text plus notes, bibliography, and index, hardcover, $25) (book review by Pete Brady):

We all know of Isaac Newton (1642-1727) as perhaps the world's greatest mathematician. He deduced the model for gravity, invented calculus, solved the two-body problem (which shows that the planets move in elliptical, not perfect circular orbits, explaining and confirming Kepler's observations), and by his own admission, failed to solve the three-body problem. He published PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA, working on it when he was in his 40s. Many of his mathematical accomplishments are summarized in this book, but mainly in the first few chapters.

There was another side of Newton. He was a confirmed bachelor, but he did have social friends. His experiments in alchemy are well- described, and were often dangerous. In the 1790s, in his 50s, he decided to forego the isolated academic life in Cambridge and head for London, where there was more action. He also got a paying job - Warden of the Royal Mint. His job, among other duties, was to catch and convict counterfeiters and bring them to trial, for which the sentence was to be hanged.

His main and worthy opponent was William Chaloner, a flamboyant crook, who mastered several kinds of counterfeiting, both in coinage and in bills. Newton went after Chaloner as Sherlock Holmes did after Moriarity. The contest lasted years, but in the end, Newton prevailed.

One feature of the book is the way it describes London in the 1690s: a vermin-infested place, with sewage flowing in the streets, and with people dying of the plague. There are many absorbing descriptions of low-life in those times. I'll quote one, which tells of Newton's journey from Cambridge to London (today, an hour's drive):

"[In March 1697], Newton left Trinity College for the last time. His luggage ... would have gone ahead. For his own journey, he could have chosen to jounce with strangers on one of the early stagecoaches that had just begun to run. More likely, he would have hired a horse, as became a gentleman. He would probably have broken the journey at the inn at Ware, waiting there, just as Chaucer's pilgrims had three hundred years before, for enough of a company to provide mutual protection along the isolated stretch of road that followed, a notorious haunt of highwaymen."

With this book, I took a fascinating trip into life in the17th century. The world did not have to wait until the 1880s for the real Sherlock Holmes! [-ptb]

Myrrh and AVATAR (Letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Mark's comments on myrrh in the 12/25/09 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

Two (well, three) sentences leapt out at me:

I hate holiday-themed gifts. Can anybody tell me what I am supposed to do with myrrh?

Have fun! You know the expression, "The myrrh the merrier!" [-dk]

And in response to Mark's review of AVATAR in the same issue, Dan writes:

[Mark says]:

AVATAR has the most fully visually realized science fiction world I can remember in a science fiction film.

Yes, bingo. Mark you hit it exactly. I don't dislike the story as much as some, but I know how derivative it is. Nonetheless, I felt seeing it in 3D (which I generally don't like) that this was the closest I'm going to get to visiting another planet. For that alone the film is a must see for SF fans. [-dk]

AVATAR (letter of comment by Richie Bielak):

In response to Mark's review of AVATAR in the 12/25/09 issue of the MT VOID, Richie Bielak writes, "I haven't yet seen it (maybe tomorrow). But here was an interesting article on science in AVATAR:" [-rb]

Myrrh (letter of comment by Jay Morris):

In response to Mark's question about myrrh in the 12/25/09 issue of the MT VOID, Jay Morris writes, "Well, if you haven't got a recently deceased body you wish to anoint: " [-jem]

Mark replies, "Ratz. Not one at the moment." [-mrl]

Memory and Propranolol (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Mark's comments on memory in the 12/25/09 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "Recently I've been seeing some literature on the use of propranolol in PTSD patients, mostly discussing the ethical (and forensic) implications of using the drug to suppress traumatic memories. I am waiting to see some more literature on the ethical aspects of denying this relief to a patient suffering from PTSD." [-fl]

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Mark's review of FANTASTIC MR. FOX in the 12/25/09 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

Mark got the plot of The Fantastic Mr. Fox a little wrong: "Mr. Fox is actually no longer a chicken-thief and now writes for a newspaper, but the farmers have long memories and do not forgive."

The plot is really about Mr. Fox's midlife crisis, and the male ego in action. First he buys a house in a dangerously exposed location. Then he decides to raid the three big farms in the area, just to prove to himself that he is still the "fantastic" thief he used to be, years before. Years before he promised his wife to stop thieving, after getting them both caught in a trap through rash stupidity. (He set off the trap just to see how it works!)

After he raids the three farms, the farmers go after him, destroying the aforementioned house in the process, even as he and his family escape. (Here, they tunnel as fast as a dolphin swims.) He escalates the war by stealing the farmers' entire inventories; they retaliate by flooding his tunnels.

At most, the farmers are guilty of over-reacting. The film treats them as villains without showing them do anything very villainous. Perhaps the book made more sense.

For me, the film had a very even level of drollness. I did not laugh even once; I'm not sure I even chuckled. I just smiled broadly through the whole film. [-tw]

Mark responds, "[Actually there is a short prologue that tells why he gave up stealing. Then the film flashes forward two years at least for a while he is no longer a chicken-thief. Beyond that I did not want to tell too much of the plot. What I said was true, but of a window of time just after the prolog." -mrl]

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

Time to recap 2009. My reading was down somewhat, 180 books instead of the 200 or so in previous years. I think that this was due more to other demands on my time than on the larger size of books, especially since I have always read a lot of older books anyway.

About 37% of my reading was non-fiction. Of the fiction, about half was science fiction (including alternate history), about a quarter was mysteries, and the rest was non-genre fiction.

Starting with this issue, the only time I will give ISBN-10 numbers is for books that do not have an ISBN-13. Up until now, the ISBN-10 guaranteed uniqueness because all ISBN-13s started with 978. But they are now starting to assign ISBN-13s starting with 979, so multiple ISBN-13s would map to the same ISBN-10.

The best new book I read in 2009 was China Mieville's THE CITY & THE CITY.

THE MATRIX AND PHILOSOPHY edited by William Irwin (ISBN-13 978-0-8126-9502-1) is good--up to a point. The problem is that the essays pretty much all center on the question of "what is reality?" and after a while seem to be repeating the same ideas over and over. This is part of a series on "[pop culture entity] and philosophy", where the pop culture entity might be a movie, a television show, or a filmmaker. Most of the others seem to provide a broader range of topics, and might not seem as repetitive. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           I am coming more and more to the conviction that the
           necessity of our geometry cannot be demonstrated ... 
           geometry should be ranked, not with arithmetic, which 
           is purely aprioristic, but with mechanics.
                                          -- Carl Gauss, 1817

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