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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/30/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 44, Whole Number 1595
Table of Contents
The Case of the Gay Dog (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In Sidney, Australia a man with a guide dog was refused admittance to a restaurant because the blind man had told the restaurant it was a "guide dog" and the employee thought he had said it was a "gay dog." The restaurant did not want to admit a gay dog. I mean who knows what that would lead to. People are laughing about how someone could possibly hear "guide dog" and have it sound to him like "gay dog." Nobody seems to point out that while in print to two words look very different, in Australia they would sound almost alike. In Australia long'A's are really pronounced much like long 'I's. That is, the phrase "gay dog" would sound pretty much like "guide dog" or even "guy dog." So the phrases "gay dog" and "guide dog" would also sound very much alike.
Choice of Location (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Why is it in sci-fi films aliens who want to meet with world leaders always pick places like Washington DC? How come they never pick some place like Las Vegas?
On the other hand professional conventions, like dentist conventions, *always* seem to be places like Las Vegas and never places like Washington DC? [-mrl]
The Question That Shouldn't Have Been Asked (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I do pro bono mathematics tutoring at our local library. Kids who do not know how to do their homework can come and ask me for explanations. But problems in high school mathematics usually have very cut and dried answers. That is one reason why people volunteer to help students with mathematics. You do not find too many people willing to tutor students in history, for example. Also mathematics is arguably more fun to teach with than is history. Somehow the machinery is impressive to show off.
Every once in a while I get asked for help on a problem that gives me some trouble to solve. And every once in a while I catch the teacher or the book making a mistake and I try to explain that to the student. But the teacher is the one who gives them the grade and most students would rather get the same answer as the teacher even if some strange guy tells them that another answer is actually the correct one.
But I never have had the experience before of being irritated at a teacher or book just for asking a particular question. I was recently asked about a problem that I felt was mis-educating the students just to ask it. I am not sure if it was the teacher or the textbook company that framed this question, but whichever it was, they should have been stopped.
The chapter was on factoring monomials out of polynomials. For example the student was supposed to see that 3x^2 - 9x could be factored as 3x*(x-3). It was fairly simple stuff. Now the author wanted to create a word problem that would require this same sort of factoring. And this was the problem that was chosen:
The surface area of a sphere with radius r is 4*pi*r^2. If you place a square of paper with side length 2r on a sphere of radius r, how much of the surface of the sphere is left uncovered? As soon as I saw the question my response was "they can't ask you that." But of course they did. Nobody waits for my permission to ask a particular question.
The answer they were expecting was simply 4*pi*r^2 - 4r^2 which they would then factor into (pi - 1)*4r^2. But that is not the correct answer, as I tried to explain to the student. You cannot put an uncut piece of paper on a sphere and have its whole area covering the sphere. The surface of the sphere is rounded. You end up with pleats in edges of the paper. On those pleats the paper is three thicknesses thick. Now you could trim off the pleat and put it somewhere else on the surface of the sphere, but then even those pieces would have to have pleats on the edges, and those would have to be cut off and placed yet somewhere else. You would end up with an infinite process of repeatedly transplanting pleats and pasting them down only to get more pleats. And even that does not work because any piece of paper of positive area cannot be glued to the sphere without creating more pleats. In the end you have to cut the paper to dust and use the dust to cover the sphere. And even then is the dust uniformly as thick as the original sheet of paper. Can you add up the total area of the dust particles cut from the piece of paper and have it so uniformly thick that the area is once again 4r^2? Well, in theory perhaps, but not in the real world.
But even assuming that you could do all that, is that really the answer to the problem? After doing all that the paper is no longer a square. A square is, after all, a subset of a plane. It has to be perfectly flat or it is no longer a square. I suppose technically if you take square piece of paper and hold it in your hand so it is not perfectly flat, it is no longer a square but a piece of paper that potentially could be flattened to make a square. That is really splitting hairs, but if you cannot split hairs in a subject as precise as mathematics, where can you be precise?
And here I saw the correct solution to the problem. A square must lie in a plane. That plane can have at most one point of tangency to the sphere. A true square of paper can cover only one point on the surface of the sphere. And a point has area zero. Other points on the sphere, even points very near the point of tangency, are not really covered by the paper. The paper may hover above them but these points lay under the paper naked and uncovered. So the correct answer is that the surface area of the sphere left uncovered is 4*pi*r^2.
But I am sure the teacher would never believe me. [-mrl]
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, relatively standard mad scientist horror film elements combine with a truly twisted premise. Dutch filmmaker Tom Six writes and directs a horror film with a really tasteless gross-out concept. The film has good production values, but is still disturbing in ways that perhaps no film before it has ever been. This is a film experience for a narrow select audience. Rating: +0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Non-spoiler: As a mercy to the reader I do not reveal what a "human centipede" is.
The Independent Film Channel has a penchant for finding strange and unusual European and Canadian horror films. Last month I reviewed their MUTANTS and shortly before that was PONTYPOOL. More recently they are showing THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE which had previously played only at horror film festivals.
Until the viewer finds what the title of this film means, this film is made up of very standard elements, many of which can been seen with minor variation in films from Ed Wood to ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Two American tourists, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), are visiting Germany and go off looking for a nightclub that a waiter recommended. They don't know quite how to find the place and end up with a flat tire and lost in dark forest. They abandon their car only to get even more lost until they happen upon a house. The house is owned by one Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Heiter is apparently internationally known as a surgeon who specializes in studying and separating conjoined twins. This image conceals the fact that he is a particularly nasty mad scientist doing medical experiments that might have shamed the SS. It is Heiter's plan use these visitors to make a "Human Centipede", a particularly noxious concept out of a very vulgar joke.
Dieter Laser may not be familiar to most English-language film fans. He was a continuing character in the TV series "Lexx", and occasionally has small roles in English-language films. He actually has a long filmography in German-language film and TV going back to 1969. He makes a very satisfying villain having the sort of face that lends itself well to horror films. He is chilling giving a dry, impassive technical presentation to his victims telling them what he plans to do to them. He is good and he and a third victim, a Japanese tourist (Akihiro Kitamura), really carry the film. Sadly the same cannot be said of Yennie and Williams, who rarely do anything beyond the obvious or even give us enough personality to tell them apart from each other or even to care to. They are empty and interchangeable.
This film is a logical successor to film films like David Cronenberg's SHIVERS and Frank Henenlotter's BASKET CASE films, but oddly shows less and at the same time more of the anatomical horror of those films. No rubber prosthetics seem to be needed for this film but what is done is easily as disturbing.
Probably intentionally this film spills over into self-satire, but Six does have the intelligence to play the film perfectly straight. I suppose it could be called "tongue-in-cheek". THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE will go down well with the right sort of audience in spite of the fact that so much of the film is in familiar territory. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. The real title of this film is THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE). If not stopped Six intends to make THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (COMPLETE SEQUENCE).
Film Credits: http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt1467304/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/human_ centipede/
SKYFALL by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2003, audiobook copyright 2009 by Audible, 10 hours and 17 minutes, narrated by Suzanne Weintraub) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
I've been hearing some nice things about Catherine Asaro's works, and had even read THE QUANTUM ROSE back when it came out a decade ago. Audible.com was running a promotion where you got the first audiobook in a series for $4.99 or some such price, so I bought SKYFALL.
SKYFALL is not the first book written in the Skolian Empire saga, but it is the first chronologically. It introduces the universe, some of the main characters going forward, and of course gives us an introduction to the politics that are prevalent throughout the series.
Roca Skolia is the daughter of the ruling couple of the Skolian Empire. She's been on the run from her son, Kurj, who is trying to influence the Skolian leadership that a war with the Traders is in the best interest of the Skolian Empire. Roca disagrees. Kurj is trying to prevent her from attending the Assembly so that he can cast her votes in her place, voting for the war instead of against it. Roca has successfully evaded Kurj, but now finds herself on the backwater planet of Skyfall, which was at one time part of the Ruby Empire--unknown to its backward inhabitants. The planet does not have any technology--it is quite primitive. She falls in love and marries a local leader, Eldrinson Valdoria. It wasn't supposed to happen that way. When she landed on the planet, she was scheduled to meet a supply ship that would take her back home to vote at the Assembly. However, Eldrinson (Eldri for short) captured (well, sort of) her and took her back to his castle, where he wooed her and won her hand in marriage. That marriage is a problem back home, since she is due to be married as part of an arranged marriage.
And there are some other interesting issues. The Skolian Empire is built on the power of psions, especially the Ruby psions--empathic and telepathic members of the empire. It seems that Eldri is a Ruby psion, and so the son that Roca and Eldri have will also be a Ruby psion. When Roca finally gets home, the discovery of the possibility that Eldri is a Ruby psion causes much consternation with the ruling folks, especially Kurj.
The novel splits its time between two fronts--Roca and her time on Skyfall with Eldri, and Kurj and his struggles with his feelings about his mother, his history with his stepfather, and the fear that he has sent his mother to her doom with his machinations behind the vote at the Assembly. In fact, we spend a *lot* of time finding out about the history of the Ruby and Skolian Empires, as well as the history of Skyfall, Eldri, and his people. The majority of the first half of the novel is spent on Skyfall and the goings on there, including the history of the people, the relationshiop between Eldri and Garland, and a rival leader that believes that he is the rightful ruler of Eldri's people. The second half is spent back in the Skolian Empire, investigating the history, politics, and structure of the people who inhabit it.
SKYFALL does seem to be a nice introduction to the worlds and people of the Skolian Empire--a really good starting point for those who are new to Asaro's universe. The novel is, for the most part well written (although I cringed a few times at the word/love play between Roca and Eldri--it felt like high school romantic dialogue all over again), the characters are well written and the story is okay. My first gut level reaction is that its structure will be like that of the Miles Vorkosigan universe--lots of novels that don't tell a complete story together, but tell individual stories within the structure of that universe. It's also a science fiction romance, something I'm definitely not into on a regular basis. I'd say that based on this book, I will read/listen to another novel of the Skolian Empire.
I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the narrator, Suzanne Weintraub. I won't say that I've listened to a huge number of audiobooks, but I've listened to enough to know what I like and don't like, and know what I think is or is not a good job. Weintraub did a decent enough job, but each mispronunciation of a word (and for goodness' sake I can't for the life of me right now remember which word grated on my nerves, but I remember that she would be inconsistent in pronouncing it) really got me irritated. Especially irritating was her pronunciation of the word psion: puh-sion. I know that psion and scion sound alike, but pronouncing it the way she did was truly annoying.
My next review will be of BONESHAKER, the Hugo-nominated novel by Cherie Priest. [-jak]
Don't Read This Book (book review by Tom Russell):
In March I have an opportunity to do some reading coming up, so I head off to the county library to check the "New Books" shelf. A few of the books on the shelf have little blue and white stickers on the binding. Surely you've seen these stickers--blue background, white lettering and a little "Jetsons" style spaceship: SCIENCE FICTION. Is this some kind of consumer warning label? "Don't read this book!" Who puts these stickers on the books? What do they mean? How does the library decide which books get these labels? The librarians didn't know. That struck me as a little amusing.
Anyhow, I find three interesting-looking books on the new book shelf: Dexter Palmer's THE DREAM OF PERPETUAL MOTION, Kim Stanley Robinson's GALILEO'S DREAM and Andy McDermott's THE TOMB OF HERCULES. But I find McDermott's book is a sequel to his THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, so I get that book as well.
A little about the books:
Dexter Palmer holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton University. THE DREAM OF PERPETUAL MOTION is his first book. So, how did his book win the blue-and-white sticker? The story seems to take place somewhere between Oz and Charlie's Chocolate Factory. The main characters are Harry ... and Prospero and Miranda. (Maybe Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST also has the blue-and-white sticker?) Along the way there are lots of interesting ideas, including speculation about whether mechanical men will always be distinguishable from humans, and if they will ever be able to think: If a mechanical man said it couldn't think, is it thinking? Very interesting stuff but the plot didn't grip me quite enough so I gave up about half way through the book. Perhaps if I'd ever read any Shakespeare I'd be more curious how it all turned out.
Kim Stanley Robinson is a well-known, award-winning author of science fiction, so no surprise his book has the SCIENCE FICTION sticker. This is the first of his I've read. GALILEO'S DREAM is, in one part, a portrait of Galileo as fine as the portrayal of Mozart in AMADEUS. It is a great historical novel. In parallel to that story there is the story of Galileo's dream, which takes place in the year 3020, and which might or might not be a dream, as Galileo learns some profanity which didn't exist in his time. Why Robinson is an award-winning author: "If I have seen less far than others," Galileo complained in irritation to Aurora, "it is because I was standing on the shoulders of dwarfs." [page 176] Mozart was a genius who didn't have a happy ending; by the middle of Robinson's book it seems Galileo's chances of a happy ending are vanishing. One of the reviews on the book cover compliments the book's conclusion, but I may never know as I gave up on this book too. Lots of science fiction has disappointing endings and I fear I won't like this one either, so I quit while I'm still enjoying the book.
Neither Andy McDermott book has the SCIENCE FICTION sticker, in spite of the books' titles and some very science-fiction-looking cover art. Puzzling. Shortly after getting into the first book I had this thought: if McDermott rewrote "Frankenstein", Igor would be leading a small army of ex-Special Forces agents, and the townspeople would have been armed not with torches and pitchforks but with helicopters and short-range missiles. McDermott's books are Indiana Jones meets James Bond, with brotherhoods older than the Illuminati on both sides, and many allusions to other books and movies. Every chapter of ATLANTIS--every new billion-dollar "Frankenstein's castle"--is a new cliff-hanger. It's all in fun: McDermott points out if the heroine, Dr. Nina Wilde, married the hero, Eddie Chase; theirs would be the Wilde-Chase wedding. That kind of writing keeps you turning the pages. But halfway through ATLANTIS I started turning more than one page at a time. After you learn what the new challenge is, the only question is: Who is going to still be alive at the end of this chapter? McDermott pokes fun at his own style by having one chapter start with a character telling Eddie Chase to spare the locals when he blows up this factory. Fun, but the second book was so much like the first that I don't see any reason to read the third in the series (due April 2010) or the fourth (later in 2010). [-tlr]
W. B. Yeats (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Evelyn's quoting of a Yeats poem in the 04/23/10 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
I know the Yeats poem Evelyn quoted, and herewith I quote part of a poem about Yeats himself by Adrian Mitchell:
My girl Kate's teaching in the States, Lecturing from town to town, Pays her bills by, gets her thrills by Studying the influence of Yeats on Yeats.
I came across this first in G.W. Turner's STYLISTICS, and again in a book titled BECOMING GEORGE: THE LIFE OF MRS W. B. YEATS by Anne Saddlemyer, extracts of which are available on-line. [-sl]
Financial Science Fiction (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):
In response to Sam Long's question about financial science fiction in the 04/23/10 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:
In a LoC, Sam Long asks about financial science fiction. The first thing that springs to my mind is "Compounded Interest", by Mack Reynolds. It's a story with some similarities to "John Jones' Dollar", which Long cites: in the 15th century, a mysterious personage makes a deposit in an Italian bank. Once every hundred years thereafter, he returns to give the bank investment advice. By the 19th century, the Fortune (as it's now called) has grown so large that the line between *taking advantage* of a knowledge of history, and *causing* that history to happen as it was known, blurs to nonexistence. In the 20th century, the trustees of the Fortune guess what's been going on and fund research into time travel. It turns out that their researcher is indeed the Fortune's owner...and that the time machine requires so much power to operate, that running it to create the Fortune requires the Fortune to be liquidated entirely, leaving the researcher with nothing to show for it all.
Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's novel GLADIATOR-AT-LAW also has corporate dealing and stock market manipulations as an important element.
Cordwainer Smith's NORSTRILIA has a computer programmed for various kinds of warfare, including financial; its owner becomes wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. ("Buy the whole Earth" wealthy.) This is more a device to get the action started than the focus of the story, but it's certainly finance in SF.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's BROTHERS IN ARMS, the finances of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet become important. At one point Miles Vorkosigan asks their accountant if there's some way to work the float of Earth's financial systems to create virtual money, and the accountant explains why that wouldn't work. [-dg]
Roman Polanski (letter of comment by Susan de Guardiola):
In response to Mark's review of THE GHOST WRITER in the 04/23/10 issue of the MT VOID ("With all the problems in Polanski's life (perhaps not undeserved)"), Susan de Guardiola writes, "I find this little aside very bizarre. 'Perhaps'? Do you not feel that the problems of being a fugitive child rapist are deserved by virtue of being, you know, a fugitive child rapist? Ethical people--even talented ones--avoid having such problems by not raping children." [-sdg]
The word "perhaps" is shorthand for saying that there are people on both sides of a complex issue--an issue that I have not studied. Consider:
I am not one of those people who thinks that everybody has a responsibility to take a stand on a question whether they understand the issues involved or not. My understanding is that there are a lot of people who share your opinion. You may be right, but I have not fully studied the issue. My "perhaps" was not taking a side. Sometimes a "perhaps" is just a "perhaps." Please forgive one person who hesitates to immediately jump to your side of the issue. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
STRANGE MAPS: AN ATLAS OF CARTOGRAPHIC CURIOSITIES by Frank Jacobs (ISBN-13 978-0-14-200525-5) seems like it would have a lot of fantastical content. But unlike Alberto Manguel's DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES, Jacobs's book is based mostly in the real world. True, there is a section titled "Literary Creations" which includes maps of Utopia, the island from MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, Oz, and so on. "Fantastic Maps" includes "Tolkien's Australia" as well as "If Land Was Sea and Sea Was Land". And "Watchamacallit" has "Europe, If the Nazis Had Won: Neuropa" (where Jacobs says of alternate history that it is "either a maligned branch of history or an obscure branch of science fiction").
But most of the book consists of maps of the real world. These are not always accurate maps, as one section heading might indicate: "Cartographic Misconceptions". Often they are not even intended to be accurate ("Artography", "Zoomorphic Maps", "(Political) Parody", "Maps as Propaganda", "Linguistic Cartography"), or are accurate in different ways ("Cartograms and Other Data Maps", "A Matter of Perspective", "Maps from Outer Space").
Some are historical ("Obscure Proposals", "Ephemeral States"). Others look at some of the peculiarities of geopolitics ("Strange Borders", "Enclaves and Exclaves"). Then there is "Iconic Manhattan", which is overlapped somewhat by one of the maps in "Linguistic Cartography" and does not include what one might consider the classic "Manhattan" map: Saul Steinberg's "New Yorker" map of the world. If one wants to argue that that includes more than Manhattan, it still seems as though it belongs somewhere in this book, or at least one of its many offspring. After all, there is an entire section, "Based on the Underground", devoted to the descendents of Harry Beck's 1933 London Underground Map. (On the other hand, I suspect that the rights to Steinberg's original are expensive, and to the offspring legally suspect.)
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Do not read the rest of this article unless you have already read Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY.
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
The one section I found that had unexpected fantastical content was "Enclaves and Exclaves", and in particular "Enclaves, Counterenclaves and a Dead Body: The Borders of Baarle". If you've read China Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY, you'll understand why. One wonders, in fact, if Miéville was aware of Baarle before he wrote the book.
And the similarities are strong enough that I'd like to talk about
them. The following comes from
Baarle consists of two "administrative units": the Dutch Baarle-
Nassau and the Belgian Baarle-Hertog. These occupy 5732 parcels of
land which are completely surrounded by the Netherlands, but are
allocated to either Belgium or the Netherlands. Baarle is
described as having 22 Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands and 5
Dutch ones in Belgium.
One result of this is that, because taxes on a building are paid to
the country in which the front door is located, front doors are
sometimes moved to gain tax benefits. Because of differing closing
times, people in bars can get drinks longer by moving their tables
across the room. And so on.
But there are even more striking similarities to Beszel and Ul
- "To make the enclaves visible for the visitor, the little plates
with the house numbers are made to look different: ovals with the
Belgian colours and rectangles with Dutch colours."
- "Officially a letter goes by post from Hertog over Turnhout to
Brussels and then by air to Amsterdam, and for the last part of the
journey over Tilburg to Nassau."
- "Police detectives from the two countries [trying to solve a 2008
murder in Baarle] each had to look for clues in their own half;
they feared that if they literally overstepped their boundaries,
any case they might have against a suspect could later be thrown
out on a technicality."
I know--you think I'm making the last one up. But I'm not. The
body of a non-resident of Baarle was found in a building that had
parts in both administrative units, which made it even more
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Quote of the Week:
It is a curious thing ... that every creed
promises a paradise which will be absolutely
uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.
-- Evelyn Waugh
Baarle consists of two "administrative units": the Dutch Baarle- Nassau and the Belgian Baarle-Hertog. These occupy 5732 parcels of land which are completely surrounded by the Netherlands, but are allocated to either Belgium or the Netherlands. Baarle is described as having 22 Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands and 5 Dutch ones in Belgium.
One result of this is that, because taxes on a building are paid to the country in which the front door is located, front doors are sometimes moved to gain tax benefits. Because of differing closing times, people in bars can get drinks longer by moving their tables across the room. And so on.
But there are even more striking similarities to Beszel and Ul Qoma:
- "To make the enclaves visible for the visitor, the little plates with the house numbers are made to look different: ovals with the Belgian colours and rectangles with Dutch colours."
- "Officially a letter goes by post from Hertog over Turnhout to Brussels and then by air to Amsterdam, and for the last part of the journey over Tilburg to Nassau."
- "Police detectives from the two countries [trying to solve a 2008 murder in Baarle] each had to look for clues in their own half; they feared that if they literally overstepped their boundaries, any case they might have against a suspect could later be thrown out on a technicality."
I know--you think I'm making the last one up. But I'm not. The body of a non-resident of Baarle was found in a building that had parts in both administrative units, which made it even more confusing. [-ecl]
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