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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/10/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 11, Whole Number 1614
Table of Contents
Best Novel: (tie) THE CITY & THE CITY, China Miéville; THE WINDUP GIRL, Paolo Bacigalupi Best Novella: "Palimpsest", Charles Stross Best Novelette: "The Island", Peter Watts Best Short Story: "Bridesicle", Will McIntosh Best Related Book: THIS IS ME, JACK VANCE! (OR, MORE PROPERLY, THIS IS "I"), Jack Vance Best Graphic Story: GIRL GENIUS, VOLUME 9: AGATHA HETERODYNE AND THE HEIRS OF THE STORM, written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colours by Cheyenne Wright Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: MOON Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: "The Waters of Mars" Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow Best Editor Long Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan Best Semiprozine: CLARKESWORLD Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl Best Fanzine: Starshipsofa edited by Tony C. Smith Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Seanan McGuire
[With Jack Vance at 94 and Fred Pohl at 90 on the list, this year's Hugo winners may have the oldest average age of any year's. -ecl]
Salute (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week's VOID is a salute to Parmesan, the cheese that made Italy grate. [-mrl]
Do We Need Manned Spaceflight? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the space of about a week I have read three thought-provoking articles about the future of humanity in space. Each was written by an Englishman, coincidentally, and taken as a whole they are a whole lot more than the sum of their parts. We have opinions by Martin Rees, officially Britain's Astronomer Royal; we have opinions by Charles Stross, one of the leaders of the current generation of science fiction writers; and we have Stephen Hawking who is... well... Stephen Hawking.
Martin Rees sees spaceflight as a means toward bringing astronomical data to the Earth. Now what do you want to send to collect that information? Do you want to send instruments, which are fairly robust and durable and these days can also be made fairly miniature and robotic. Or do you want to send humans in these big high-maintenance bodies? What humans can usefully do is eventually dwarfed by what instruments can do. The instruments can even be controlled and redirected remotely by real breathing humans one Earth. The effort to actually put humans in space is just not cost-effective if you want to collect data.
If I may expand on what Rees is saying: the resources required to keep humans alive off-world are far greater and more complex that that which are needed to maintain robots and keep them useful. Machines do not have private lives, which means that retrieving them and bringing them back to Earth is much less necessary than it is with humans. The complexity of the life support systems for (a) human(s) were probably much more to put a man in orbit than those which were required for just sending a man up into space for a few minutes and bringing him back. Sending a crew to the moon required much more life support. And let's face it. Sending people to Mars is going to require two years travel time out and, if the crew is coming back, two years of travel time coming back. That is probably about as much sacrifice as we can ask a Mars mission crew to make. But that is just the next rung on the ladder.
Just in our solar system the ladder to the stars has rungs that increase greater and greater in their distance apart. Our economy is (at least currently) crumbling while the costs of sending crews further out will increase exponentially. We are limited in the potential for what we can hope to accomplish in space if we have to tend humans along the way. It is just too expensive to have the life preservation systems that humans will need. Rees sees putting humans on Mars as more of a stunt than a real scientific endeavor. "I hope indeed that some people now living will walk on Mars, but I think they will do this with the same motive as those who climb Everest or the pioneer explorers," he says. If we are serious about increasing knowledge we would send instruments.
Stross does not like the brand of thinking that expanding into space is equivalent of the expansion into the American West. The simple difference is that in the American West you could breathe the air and you could plant grain. In the 19th and 20th century you could move to the West and get more out of the environment than you put in getting there. That is not true of any destination outside of Earth. Colonization will require extreme dependence on being supplied from Earth.
Stephen Hawking's article, however, says more that it is sending humans into space that is the necessity. The abstract scientific knowledge may be important to him, but even more so he sees space as a necessary refuge from what is happening right here on Earth currently. He is thinking more about what will be the effects of global warming, nuclear proliferation, and any of a huge assortment of other threats we face. We can have a huge compendium of data collected from space probes, but if, for example, we are still stuck on Earth and climactic warming evaporates off the oceans, all that data will do us little good. Hawking tells the editors of the Big Think website that "it will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."
So which opinion do you believe? I think they are all correct. And that is very scary. Unless conditions change a very great deal it looks like getting civilization off the planet is not really an option and the same time failure to do so is also not an option if the human race is to survive.
What do I conclude from all this? As the Earth warms up and as a very possible result we are getting floods, melting ice, fires, monsoons, and more disasters, as the Phytoplankton die off, as the oceans have smaller and smaller stocks that can be used for food, as there are dozens of more trends just as troubling, it looks like we might be running out of options. We either have to preserve the Earth or be able to survive without it. Actually we need to do both, and realistically we probably cannot do either.
Martin Rees's opinions at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jul/26/martin-rees-space.
Charles Stross's opinions at http://tinyurl.com/35ss5en.
Stephen Hawking's opinions at http://bigthink.com/ideas/21570.
BELLWETHER by Connies Willis (copyright 1996 Connie Willis, 2009 Blackstone Audio Inc.; 6 hours, 30 minutes; narrated by Kate Reading) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
Anyone who has met Connie willis knows that she is a funny, personable, and friendly human being. Anyone who has listened to her speak, whether at panels at conventions, a lecture at a high school auditorium (she came to our town many years ago to do just that), or as a Mistress of Ceremonies at various big time events knows that she is an extremely funny lady. And anyone who has read any of her work knows that she is one of the most talented (and decorated) writers in our field today.
And thus we come to BELLWETHER.
Dr. Sandra Foster is a statistician investigating the origins of trends and fads for the corporation known as HiTek. HiTek has her researching trends in order to determine how trends start, so that they can start one and thus capitalize on the knowledge. She is currently attempting to discover the origins of hair bobbing. Dr. Bennett O'Reilly is a researcher specializing in chaos theory who ends up studying monkey behavior for HiTek. They meet at HiTek when Flip, the fairly useless and insolent office assistant, mis- delivers a package to Foster that is intended for someone else entirely. Things go wrong for both Foster and O'Reilly. Much hi- jinks and hilarity follows.
But you knew that might happen. This is a Connie Willis book. No, not all of her books are funny. This one is. Those of you who work in cubicle/corporate land know HiTek. Pointless meetings, led by "management" (whose name we never discover, but that's okay, it's "management", complete with new silly acronyms, sensitivity exercises, and simplified funding forms. We've got office politics, office romance, and office incompetence. We've got birthday parties, coffee houses, personal ads in the paper. And we have Flip.
At one time or another in our lives, we have worked at a corporation where the office assistant (he/she may not have had that title, but you know what I'm talking about, is completely and utterly incompetent, disrespectful, and insolent. Flip rolls her eyes, wears duct tape, has her hair cut weird (to which you might say "so what?", and be right, but it's important to the story), and in fact seems to be at the center of every current trend. And she is in the middle of every problem that our characters encounter during the course of the novel.
Willis sprinkles pop culture references and the history of certain trends throughout the book. Many of you will probably remember some of them--she talks about fads back in the 1800s through to the present day. She talks about current trends that come and go quicker than you can turn a page. It's entertaining and informative, and she clearly did her research in that area.
So, what was the book *about*, you may ask. I don't rightly know. It's about silly corporations trying to dictate how science should work in order to win a grant that will set the researchers free for life. It's about fads, trends, love in the workplace, and discovery (speaking of discovery, there's a cool little revelation near the end of the book that was quite surprising to me, and thus elevated my opinion of the book higher than it was at that point).
And most of all, it was about *fun*. Which is not what most of this year's Hugo nominated novels were about. *This* is a book to read. Go out and get it. Read it. Laugh with it. Enjoy it.
I also can't say enough about the reader, Kate Reading. She reads all the parts mostly to perfection, but I think she steals the show when it comes to Flip. I could just see the rolling of the eyes, the exasperated look, and the whole lazy person persona (does that make sense) just through Reading's, well, reading. Go read this. It's good. [-jak]
Water Wars (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Focusing predominantly on Bangladesh Jim Burroughs examines the water crises in countries facing floods and drought. Bangladesh's problems are particularly severe because they are heavily influenced and in large part caused by damming and human manipulation of rivers in India with insufficient concern for the country that is so dependent on that water downstream. Martin Sheen narrates a 55-minute documentary examining a country that before long may be simply washed away. This is a serious and worrying documentary. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Second only to air, the substance that the human body most urgently requires is water. Where clean drinking water is not available it is impossible for people to live for long. Civilizations' fates are frequently determined by the rivers that run through them. Here in the United States the source of most of our water comes from rain falling on our own country. The Mississippi contains some water from Canada, but most of the Mississippi River Basin is in the United States. The Brahmaputra River, on the other hand, follows a course that starts in Tibet, continues through China, flows into India, and then flows into Bangladesh where it is desperately needed for survival. The river provides 65% of Bangladesh's fresh water. That means that the river water has been through two industrialized countries before it reaches Bangladesh. Both India and China are building dams for electrical power and general water control the river. Bangladesh is a small country bordered on the west, north, and east by India. Its rivers are its lifeblood and they consist entirely of water that has flowed through India.
Lack of control of its water's sources places Bangladesh in a particularly vulnerable position. Without consulting Bangladesh the dams of India can cut off that water, causing drought, or open the floodgates and release a flood on Bangladesh. As a very low- lying country--essentially a delta--Bangladesh is subject to huge floods and droughts, not from nature, not from global warming, but from India controlling the waters running through its country. As India opens its floodgates the floods frequently come without warning in Bangladesh. When India closes its floodgates or redirects its water, rivers in Bangladesh dry up and droughts follow. But Bangladesh is not the only victim of less than careful water management in India. Indian villages are also flooded and inundated by rising waters caused by damming. People from Bangladesh and from India politically protest India's water management policies. Between water manipulation to the north and rising water levels in the Bay of Bengal to the south low-lying Bangladesh can flood covering as much as 70% of the country, displacing large percentages of its population. Making matters worse for the dry times, while the Brahmaputra supplies 65% of Bangladesh's fresh water, in 2006 India announced a mammoth river- interlinking project that would draw off 70% of that water.
Jim Burroughs spent two years in Bangladesh examining that country's water issues and the increasingly political responses. WATER WARS--subtitled WHEN DROUGHT, FLOOD AND GREED COLLIDE--was the result of that study. To give his viewers a little more of a feeling they have a stake in these issues, Burroughs shows us water issues of two other countries. One is the Netherlands, which had a disastrous flood in 1953, but now can boast preeminent expertise in the technology of controlling water and preventing flooding. The Dutch were more immediately ready to help remove the waters after the Katrina flood than our own government was, which brings up the other country with water control problems. That is, of course, the United States, not just for the problems from Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed so much of New Orleans. The United States also faces massive ongoing droughts in its Southwest. There simply is not enough fresh water to supply the large population areas of that region.
These are matters of life and death. Nobody can survive for long without fresh water, and these are issues that could lead to some very serious wars. It is important to know about what is happening and track how serious the problem is becoming. I rate WATER WARS a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1509836/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/water_wars/
Education and Careers (letter of comment by Charles Harris):
In response to Mark's comments on the dental fraternity in the 09/03/10 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harries writes, "A high school classmate of mine, Lewis Smoller, swears that his career choice was dictated by his name. A friend told him: 'Lew Smoller--with that name, you've *got* to become a dentist!' [Say it out loud; the last name rhymes with 'roller'.]" [-csh]
Mark replies, "I got it before you told me to pronounce it. However it works better spoken *orally*. " [-mrl]
TCM Suggestions (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on the movies on Turner Classic Movies in September in the 09/03/10 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
One thing that really gets me about TOUCH OF EVIL (which I agree is a neat and very watchable movie) is how much Orson Welles reminds me of an over-the-top William Shatner. His expressions are like the ones Shatner would later use, for instance, when portraying the 'bad' side of Captain Kirk (which the series managed to contrive more than once).
My favorite thing about THE MOUSE THAT ROARED is just watching Peter Sellers as the Grand Duchess, doing a letter-perfect impression of the Queen, as s/he drives through the countryside in an ancient car, graciously giving the Royal Wave to all and sundry with one hand.
John Williams, the detective in DIAL M FOR MURDER, used to do the TV ads for a collection of 'moments' from great classical music. He shares a name with the film composer. I sometimes imagine the latter doing his own version of the ad, saying, "I'm sure you all recognize these lovely melodies from all the times I lifted them for my own movie music..." [-kw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The Hugo Awards were announced at Aussiecon 4 last weekend, and are listed elsewhere in this issue. The tie for Best Novel is interesting--it is not easy to have a tie, given the "instant run- off" voting method used. For novels, it has happened only twice before: 1966 (THIS IMMORTAL by Roger Zelazny and DUNE by Frank Herbert) and 1993 (A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge and DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis). (And in fact, there is a theory that the 1966 tie may have been more a very close result that was treated as a tie, since there was less glasnost about the voting back then.) For short fiction, there have been three ties: 1968 Novella ("Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip Jose Farmer and "Weyr Search" by Anne McCaffrey), 1973 Short Story ("Eurema's Dam" by R. A. Lafferty and "The Meeting" by Frederik Pohl), and 1977 Novella ("By Any Other Name" by Spider Robinson and "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" by James Tiptree, Jr.). Given the large number of ties in nominations (three of the four fiction categories, plus the related book and fanzine categories), one suspects that forensic mathematicians might find this year a bit unlikely.
Also of note are some of the other winners. At 90, Frederik Pohl must be the oldest Fan Writer winner, but he's not even the oldest overall winner this year--that would be Jack Vance at 94. Vance also holds the record for oldest Hugo winner, beating out Jack Williamson (who won at age 92 a few years ago). Does this make this year's average Hugo-winner age the highest ever?
[Evelyn raises an interesting question. Are ties less likely with the instant run-off system? My intuition is that going to instant run-off does not affect the probability of a tie. The event that causes a tie is that in the final run-off as many people either voted A over B or voted for just A as voted B over A or voted for just B. I assume the previous system is just giving book A 5 pointsfor everyone who voted it in first place, 4 if in second place, etc. Then A and B just get an equal number of points. I would say the point system is actually more complex, but probably has the same probability of a tie. Anybody out there want to take a stab at this one? Keith Lynch, maybe? -mrl]
On to current works, "The Precedent" by Sean McMullen (F&SF, Jul/Aug 2010) is a rather over-the-top story about climate change. Set in 2035, it is all about "climate crime", where basically everyone born before the turn of the millenium ends up on trial for such specific crimes as denial, squandering, greed, and gluttony. McMullen does think up all sorts of apropos Dantesque punishments, and indeed there are explicit references to Dante in the story. I suppose if one takes it as a parable one might accept it, but it still has a somewhat weak ending. I will say, though, that it is memorable. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Life is one long process of getting tired. -- Samuel Butler
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