MT VOID 03/26/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 39, Whole Number 1590

MT VOID 03/26/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 39, Whole Number 1590

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@

Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/26/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 39, Whole Number 1590

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

Squirrel!... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Sign I saw on a building: "A.D.D. Clin."


Philip K. Dick on BLADE RUNNER (pointer by Richie Bielak):

What You Don't Know You Can't Do (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was at one point visiting my in-laws. My wife's father had recently read a book about the spying case of the Rosenbergs. He had come to the conclusion that the Rosenbergs had sold the secret of the atom bomb to the Soviets.

Many of you may remember that one of the most famous espionage cases in American history led to the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The claim had been that after World War II the United States had a monopoly on the technology for making nuclear bombs. Then in a surprisingly short interval of time the Soviets developed their own nuclear bomb. The American public was incensed. In the thinking of the time only we could develop the Bomb. And the Rosenbergs were accused of giving the "secret of the atomic bomb" to the soviets.

Did the Rosenberg's sell the secret? That is not the current opinion. The Rosenbergs (or more likely just Julius) may well have sold data and it may have been helpful, but the modern opinion is that the real secret of the atom bomb was made public the day Hiroshima was bombed. What was the secret of the atom bomb? Simply that there are no insuperable problems in building an atom bomb weapon. The Manhattan Project was a big gamble. At no point until the first bomb was detonated, was it clear that the bomb that was built was ,either too weak or too strong to be usable. On August 6, 1945 scientists all over the world found out that atom bombs were actually feasible. Simply knowing the task of building such a weapon could be successful made it became a great deal easier. [It is an interesting coincidence and irony that later my father-in-law taught at the same college as one of the Rosenbergs' two sons, and that the son was instrumental in nominating my father-in-law for an emeritus position. I don't think they discussed this issue.]

I was reminded of this when I was helping a student with a problem. It was not an easy problem and it was giving me trouble. This is the problem. (A cube has eight vertices and twelve edges.) A bug sits on one vertex of a cube. He spins around and chooses one of the adjacent edges completely at random. He walks to the other vertex of the edge. He repeats the process of spinning, choosing and walking. What is the probability that after seven repetitions the bug would have visited all eight vertices?

The obvious way to do it is to count up all the successful paths and divide by the 3^7 possible (successful or not) paths. I started to try to count up all the successful paths and quickly ran into difficulty. Okay, I thought, how about if I try to figure the probability for each move that it was to a new corner. That also seemed to be computationally too complex. I decided to leave the problem alone for a while and come back to it. I had to explain the solution to the student so I decided to take a quick peek at the answer. It was an expression over 3^7. I snapped the book shut. Somehow the only thing that could have been over 3^7 was the number of paths that worked.

I went back to the problem. The bug has three possible choices for the first move and they are all safe. On the next move the bug has three choices and as long as it does not return the way it came the remaining two are safe. Without losing generality I place the cube on a table with the three points visited against the table top. The bug can now finish by going up a level. Only one direction around the upper corners will leave it directly above the unvisited point on the table. He goes that way.

On the other hand, the bug for its third move can go to the last unvisited vertex on the lower level. It can then go up a level and hit those corners clockwise or counter-clockwise. Those are the only three ways to finish. So there are 18 successful paths. The probability is 18/3^7 or 2/3^5.

Now could I have found a way to easily count the successful paths if I had not known that there was an effective strategy for doing it? Perhaps eventually when I gave it enough thought. But a lot of my time would have been wasted in other approaches.

"Double Dare" by Robert Silverberg involves two races--one human, one alien--each trying to recreate three items of the other's technology. But what they don't know is each has been given one item that neither race has but both want. By believing it has been invented by the other race, it makes it possible to "re-invent" what never really existed.

A related idea is that what you don't know is impossible may not be. A mathematics graduate student came late to class one day and copied the homework from the board. The problem turned out to be a real bear, but he found the way to prove the assertion. You guessed it. It was actually not the homework but an unsolved problem. It was a previously unsolved problem. He got a Ph.D. out of it.

See Thanks to Evelyn for finding this article. [-mrl]

MUTANTS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This 2009 zombie film from France does everything it does well but little that is original. Fans of the zombie sub-genre will get very much what they are expecting whether that is what they really want or not. Two lovers fight to survive in a world over-run but microbe-transformed zombies. Most of the photography is shot though a blue-gray filter to give a downbeat sensibility and a great deal of not-quite-believable stage blood gets dripped, sloshed, spattered, and sneezed. David Morlet writes and directs this graphic horror tale with strong action sequences with immediacy. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

In the last two years the United States has been treated to a Swedish vampire film, a Norwegian zombie Nazi film, a Canadian zombie film, and now a French zombie film. The Swedes are out in the lead. These films are in subgenres of horror in which the United States has been the most prolific. I believe all of them have shown on the IFC cable station, which is doing a fine job seeking out interesting international horror films. Of these four films I would say that the Swedish LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and the Canadian PONTYPOOL show us interesting and different takes on the old horror themes. The Norwegian DEAD SNOW gives us little different from what we have seen before and for the most part echoes American approaches to the zombie film. Still less is new in MUTANTS. Writer director David Morlet is able to create a good action scene and packs the film with them, but the style of the film is really better than the ideas. One keeps seeing people barricaded against the onslaught of ravaging mindless zombies. We have people bitten, but hoping against hope they have not been infected, usually in vain. These are staple situations going back to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, though much is borrowed also from 28 DAYS LATER.

A runaway virus that, like rabies, turns people into mad animals anxious to viciously bite other humans has infected France about six months before the action of the film. Now the infected seem to outnumber the uninfected. Sonia (played by Hélène de Fougerolles), her lover Marco (Francis Renaud), and Perez (Marie-Sohna Conde) drive a commandeered ambulance looking for a military camp aptly called NOAH. NOAH seems to be their hope for survival. After being on the road for a while and nearly being killed several times what is left of the main party takes refuge in a large disquieting empty building. When the zombies become attracted to the presence of humans than attack the building in force. The action is fast-- often a little too fast to follow. Characters are lost from the story and added to the story.

That story is drenched in syrupy blood and punctuated with bullets from large firearms. It is generally filmed in blue and gray tones that effectively drain the life out of the people. These are not unfamiliar touches. Sonia is the main focus for much of the film. She is both hero and victim. While she goes through the same trials as most of the other characters she continues to survive. She can be hurt, but seems unkillable and in that some of the tension of the film is lost. The issue is not will she survive until near the end of the film. It is will she be alive after the end. That takes some of the suspense out of the film.

Fans of zombie films may be a little sorry that so much of the film is familiar. This is a one viewing film. But for that one viewing it is a polished work. I rate MUTANTS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The title MUTANTS is probably a misnomer. People infected may be victims, but they are not mutants in the usual sense. People are affected by the virus itself and not its change to their DNA which probably would not be the same from person to person.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Remakes (letter of comment by Dave Anolick):

In response to Mark's comments on remakes in the 03/19/10 issue of the MT VOID, Dave Anolick writes:

I loved your article on remakes of movies, a bad film is a bad film and remakes *can* be good films. Even so, I think the odds of that happening are much lower than for a non-remake. If the ratio of Good Movies to the Number of Movies made is 1:n, I would argue the ratio of Good Remakes to number of remakes made is closer to 1:3n.

Why is it so hard? One factor that can help make a movie good is originality. Since the plot of a remake is by definition not original, it gets harder for a remake to score "points" based on originality.

Another factor is that typically remakes are made from good movies and since the original movie already beat the 1:n odds, it raises the bar even more for the remake. An original so-so movie will be considered by some people to be good, but a so-so remake movie will have so much comparison to the original which vastly reduces its chances to be considered good.

You implied a lot of this in your article, so I'm not sure I'm adding anything new. Hmmm ... is this message a remake? [-da]

Mark replies, "I think that was what I was trying to say in the article. Also your 1:3n may be generous. But each film has to be considered without preconceptions and evaluated on its own merits. Expect that the remake of DEATH AT A FUNERAL will be a very funny film. Not many people saw the original and for much of the new audience the humor will be fresh." [-mrl]

Zeugma and Syllepsis (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):

In response to Evelyn's question in the 03/19/10 issue of the MT VOID ("What about pseudo-parallel construction, e.g., 'He got awakened, ready, and his coat"? Is there a name for this sort of thing?'"), David Goldfarb writes:

Have you no faith in the ancient Greeks? Of course there's a name for this sort of thing. The construction where one verb governs several subclauses is called "zeugma"; when the clauses are intentionally anti-parallel as in your example, that's a subcategory of zeugma called "syllepsis". You can find a discussion of both in Wikipedia: . [-dg]

Evelyn responds, "Well, I guess I knew there would be a name for it; the problem is that there is no good way to look up the name from the description. Thanks!" [-ecl]

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

THE DECHRONIZATION OF SAM MAGRUDER by George Gaylord Simpson (ISBN-13 978-0-312-15514-8) is a novella-length time travel story. Inspired by H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE (also novella-length), it chronicles a trip into the distant past rather than one to the future. (If there were any doubt as to the source of the inspiration, the use of designations rather than names for the characters (e.g., the Universal Historian, the Ethnologist) is the final clue.) There is also perhaps a touch of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD and other prehistoric adventure tales. Simpson is described on the back cover as being "widely regarded as the greatest vertebrate paleontologist of the twentieth century," so this is not very surprising.

But there are other connections one can make, and the main one is one that Simpson had no way of knowing about. Since Simpson died in 1984, he may have written it even before the Alvarezes' proposal that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. But it was certainly written before the events dramatized in the recent film INTO THE WILD. In that film (based on a true story), Chris McCandless tries to survive on his own in the wild, much as Magruder has to do. McCandless does not have to deal with a finger bitten off by a large reptile, but there is one definite parallel between him and Magruder. Both McCandless and Magruder decide to build up a food supply by killing an animal and drying the meat. Magruder, in the tradition of most adventure heroes, manages this fairly successfully, with fish and turtle meat. I suppose McCandless might have been more successful trying these rather than mammal meat, but I still think that preventing other animals from stealing the drying meat would have been a big problem for either one. (In McCandless's case, the meat went bad, so having animals steal it became less of a problem.)

I suppose what all this means is that fiction does not have to be true to reality.

THE GREAT TAOS BANK ROBBERY by Tony Hillerman (ISBN-13 08263-0530-X) is a collection of essays. The title story is about a bank robbery--of sorts. "We All Fall Down" describes the search for the source of a bubonic plague outbreak in New Mexico a la Berton Roueche. "Mr. Luna's Lazarus Act" is a very topical discussion of election mathematics (with aspects of Arrow's Theorem in play, even if it is not explicitly named). Some of the remaining "essays" are just very short anecdotes, but overall one gets a sense of the atmosphere and culture of the Southwest. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Opera in English is, in the main, about as 
           sensible as baseball in Italian.
                                          -- H. L. Mencken

Go to my home page