MT VOID 05/06/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 45, Whole Number 1648

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/06/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 45, Whole Number 1648

Table of Contents

      Frick: Mark Leeper, Frack: 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

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):

May 12 (Thu): SOMEWHERE IN TIME by Richard Matheson, Middletown (NJ) 
	Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of the book and 
	1960 film after film
May 26 (Thu): CITIZEN IN SPACE by Robert Sheckley, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
June 9 (Thu): I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (film THE LAST MAN ON 
	EARTH), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, 
	discussion of the book and 1960 film after film
	edited by Elizabeth Kolbert , Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 

The Undiscovered Country (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

It has been pointed out to me that Shakespeare's character Hamlet is not just slow to act, he is also slow on the uptake. He refers to "death, the undiscovered country from which no visitor returns." No visitor? Does that include his father? If he believes that no visitor returns then he does not believe that he really saw his father. So what is all this furor about? [-mrl]

Sophomoric Libel (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

True story: When I was a sophomore in high school I had two pairs of school pants. I had a dark gray pair of pants and a blue pair. My mother had bought the two pairs at the same place and time, and they were the same brand. They were even made of the same cloth, only a little different in color. They were of only a slightly different cut. One had loops for a belt and one did not. Suffice it to say the two pairs resembled each other. So most days I went to school I would be wearing one or the other.

You hear a lot today about bullying in schools. Today students have their consciousness raised that they have a responsibility not to let bullying happen in school. Back when I was in high school bullying had much less visibility. Today it is considered like a felony; in those days if there was no blood spilled, it was just a misdemeanor. It was a failing on the level of talking in class or coming in late in the morning without a note from a parent. There was very little concern for the victim.

Being generally considered weird, maybe because I liked mathematics and was bad at athletics, whatever the reason, I was bullied a lot. My policy on being bullied was always the same. I tried to ignore it. I was not going to get much help from the school administration. And from grade 1 to grade 12 I remember only once seeing a student as a third party step in trying to stop a case of bullying. Most wanted just to remain uninvolved. So I was the butt of a lot of bullying, mostly (definitely not all) verbal.

The rumor started in my sophomore Spanish class. "Ever notice that Leeper wears the same pants every day?" "Leeper only wears one pair of pants." "What kind of S***head always wears the same pants?" They were wrong, of course. They were seeing two similar- looking pairs of pants and could not tell them apart. Not that they really tried.

My reaction was what was always my policy. I could easily have responded. I could have pointed out with icy sarcasm that some days these "magic" pants had belt loops and some days they didn't. And some days they were blue, some days they were gray. But I was not going to lower myself to their level. I was just going to be dignified and ignore the allegation. And after a couple of weeks they moved on to make fun of something else about me. In the meantime I have no idea how many other students and teachers heard the rumor and believed it. How many potential relationships were spoiled by the false libel? I might have been worse off by not denying the stupid rumor or it might have only called attention to the allegation. I will never know how many people later would hear my name and later think, "Oh yeah. Leeper. He's the guy who wears the same clothes every day." For decades I have wondered if I reacted in the right way by just not lowering myself to respond. Perhaps I could have squelched the rumor, or perhaps it would only spread more.

Well, now after decades I am getting an answer. I am seeing my high school dilemma played out on a national scale. There is apparently a large number of Americans who actually have heard and believe that there was some sort of "Manchurian Candidate" conspiracy to put a foreign-born agent into the Presidency. And there are certainly others who know that the charge is absurd, but it serves two purposes for them. It rallies the gullible to their cause and it pins down the President fighting a fictitious claim keeping him from being effective in his office. There also is also a vicious racial component convincing people that a black man can become President only through conspiracy.

Barack Obama is faced with a dilemma that is very familiar to mine. Should he maintain his dignity or respond to the slanderers and possibly be pulled down to their level. After many months of ignoring the claims that if he is innocent all he has to do is show the country his birth certificate--a simple thing to do--to put the rumor to rest.

So eventually he did the simple thing. He showed the country his birth certificate. Are there legions of people who were doubtful about Obama but now have a better impression of him? I am not hearing from any of them. Is anyone apologizing? Not that I have seen. The conspiracy rumor-mongers have redoubled their efforts to sabotage and disable Obama. The people who were reasonable did not need to be shown any documents in order to believe that Obama is legitimately in office. And the people who claimed the issue would rest if they could see the birth certificate are now claiming that the document does not prove anything. Donald Trump is claiming that the issue is not the birth certificate; it is Obama's academic transcripts. All he has to do is show the country his transcripts. It is such a simple thing for Obama to do.

People will believe what they want to believe. The will to believe what one wants to believe is stronger than any logic or evidence. [-mrl]

WWW: WONDER by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2011, Ace, $25.95, 338pp, ISBN 978-0-441-01976-2) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

The conclusion to Robert J. Sawyer's World Wide Web trilogy, WWW: WONDER, arrived in my mailbox in early April, right on schedule. Not only was it on time, but the timing was good. This year, I was able to read the latest Sawyer novel *before* I embarked on the task of reading and reviewing the current crop of Hugo-nominated novels. That's a good thing, because I know what I'm going to get with a Rob Sawyer novel: a good, well written story with a ton of terrific ideas and characters, and a bunch of interwoven plots that while potentially complicated, typically work themselves out satisfactorily near the end. And I like all that.

So, here we are: Webmind is conscious and self-aware. All he really wants to do is make life better for humans and humanity. He discovers the cure for cancer, for example, and that can't be all bad, can it? According to Peyton Hume of the Web Activity Threat Containment Headquarters, the U.S. government entity known as WATcH, Webmind is a threat that must be eradicated before he gets so powerful that humanity can no longer contain him.

In a sense this story parallels Hume's feelings: Webmind has taken over the story. While Caitlin Decter was the focus of the first novel, we did see a shift in the second novel as Caitlin raised and nurtured Webmind, taught him about humans and humanity, and helped him form his morality and worldview. In this novel, Webmind becomes assertive and active; he is still learning, to be sure, but he's read everything there is to read written by humanity; he learns from them every day as he holds millions of simultaneous IM sessions and email discussions with people all over the globe; and he watches over Caitlin (in more ways than one) as she comes of age in this novel.

But most of all, he defends himself--in many manners. Most notably, he must protect himself from Hume's machinations against him. Hume publicizes a key to what makes Webmind conscious, and then goes about attempting to recruit hackers to take advantage of that knowledge to take down Webmind. Hume is a patriot--he believes that he is doing what is best for humans and humanity, and goes about this task against the orders of the President of the United States. He truly believes that he is doing the right thing; he's not a bad man, just a misguided one.

The thing is, all the hackers on his list are disappearing. He blames the disappearances on Webmind. While he's correct in that assumption, he's wrong about what's going on. What *is* going on is something that is wonderful (there, I used that word in this review - tried not too, but figured what the heck) for all of mankind.

And that really is the theme for this book, isn't it? *Wonder*. As usual, we have more than one item that fits the bill. Webmind's wonderful act that has a global effect. The wonder of a teenager discovering love and coming of age. The wonder of a community of hackers united in a cause for good instead of mischief. There are a few more, but I think you get the idea. What about the Chinese bird flu epidemic on one side of the globe, and Bobo on the other? Well, yep, their stories are resolved here too. Yep, it all comes together.

I do have some very minor quibbles with the book, but other than saying that I have them, they really aren't worth mentioning, and they certainly don't detract from the novel in any significant. What *is* significant is that WATCH gives you what you expect from a Robert J. Sawyer novel, and that is a *very* good thing. WONDER is a very satisfying and terrific conclusion to the World Wide Web trilogy. I highly recommend it.

Coming up: while I'll be reviewing the occasional audiobook in the coming weeks, my next set of reviews of printed books will be the remaining Hugo-mominated novels. [-jak]

MEETING SPENCER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: British director Malcolm Mowbray (best known for 1984's A PRIVATE FUNCTION) gives us a one-setting, real-time film that could really have been a stage play. A once-great Broadway director is trying to get a gem of a play produced on Broadway and finding everything good about the play has to be compromised. The material Mowbray's film is familiar and the characters are thin, but the dialog is crisp and witty. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Just like people like to talk about their own ailments, people in the film industry like to talk about what is wrong with the film industry. Not infrequently they make films on the subject. People in theater like to talk about what is wrong with Broadway. One of the best-known exposes of the film industry is Robert Altman's THE PLAYER. My personal favorite, a little less familiar, is Christopher Guest's THE BIG PICTURE. In it, Kevin Bacon is a promising filmmaker who lets a successful film producer modify his idea little by little until it becomes unrecognizable and incidentally also a piece of trash. That same corrupting dynamic moved to the Broadway theater environment is working in MEETING SPENCER. The film is set in Frankie & Johnnie's (a real theater- district steakhouse) where once-great theatrical director Harris Chappell (played by Jeffery Tambor) is trying to get a serious piece of theater (as opposed to show business) produced and financed. The play is the last work of a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright, now deceased, and its original idea is dying a death of a thousand cuts the more Chappell is being asked to make changes. The play is a tragedy of an elderly man, but a bit at a time it is turning into a musical comedy starring the callow Spencer (Jesse Plemons). Actors, agents, and investors each want to add their own spin to the play as less and less of the original vision remains. It is like subverting DEATH OF A SALESMAN into HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.

The point of MEETING SPENCER is made early on. Art suffers when it becomes too much of a business run like a corporation. With too many people serving their own ends making decisions about the production of a play or film, only mediocrity can follow. Tambor's character is a pleasure to watch. He is a little pompous and a little corrupt, but he remembers how to give a good play the production it deserves. Years ago he had been a great theatrical director, but when he went to Hollywood he undoubtedly faced the same sort of deal-making pressures he is seeing here in the theater, and his seed of corruption probably led him to compromise. He knows that he has a vision for this new play, but every instinct he has about the play is being undermined a bit at a time. There is sympathy for the play's fate, but Chappell is a little too haughty to earn much sympathy himself.

Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine, and Scott Kasdin wrote MEETING SPENCER. Having three writers for a film can be a problem. While it is not obvious from the final result, three different viewpoints on one script is perhaps at least one too many. While Tambor takes his role and runs with it as Chappell, the other characters go under-developed. One could choose a single adjective for each and it would fairly well cover their characterization. Nevertheless frequently the dialog is nimble.

Mostly this film shows off Jeffrey Tambor's comic art. I suppose I could say that I knew exactly what it would take to make this a boffo comedy with just a few little suggestions from me. But the point of the MEETING SPENCER is that it is better to ignore suggestions, so I will just rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Aussie Joe Cross is the anti-Spurlock. He has made a documentary of his odyssey while consuming only life-saving food. He probably did save his own life and the lives of others by first going on an all-liquid vegetable juice fast and then by spreading the word of this diet to others. We join him as he spreads the gospel of juice fasts followed by a diet exclusively of fruits and vegetables. He tells us of his self-redemption and his explanation of the principles is mostly entertaining, though eventually repetitious. The case histories he presents are effective and even sometimes moving. Along the way he looks at the problem of bad diets in the United States and Australia. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

At the start of this documentary Australian Joe Cross's diet was bringing him to near-death. He weighed 310 pounds and had a 53- inch waistline. His consumption of food was immense and his consumption of drugs to fight the effects of his diet and keep him going was proportionally large. He decided to fight for his life and that the way to do it was to go on a diet exclusively of vegetable and fruit juice, a sinister-looking green potion that would be his exclusive food. While he live on this diet he would go to the United States and spend one month in New York City and one month traveling across the country interviewing people about nutrition and educating them about his juice fast and what a powerful tool he expected it to be over the sixty days. After the sixty days Joe no longer needs his medication and his doctor is delighted with his condition.

The director/star/co-writer tells his story with illustrations in the form of amusing animation interspersed with pieces of his background. He conducts on-the-street interviews about diet, nutrition, and people's attitudes on both. He openly proselytizes for a healthy diet of vegetables and fruits. As his own proof of the vast improvement that a good diet brings he talks with Phil, a morbidly obese truck driver (429 pounds), and helps a woman who suffers from migraines. Then about an hour into this 97-minute film he returns home, his diet a very big health success. So what will he do for the rest of the film? Joe gets a call from truck driver Phil, who has decided he desperately needs Joe's diet and his help. Phil is one of two brothers from Iowa, both morbidly obese. So we see Phil's story as he is successful enough on the diet that he becomes the local advocate and teacher of good nutrition.

This all gives the feel of an infomercial crossed with a Biblical story. Of course, Joe does not seem to be selling anything for money. He is only trying to get people to salvage their lives by improving their diets. His approach is a radical one, but one which seems to be successful. Repeatedly we see Cross feeding vegetables into his juicer and we hear people giving their opinion of the flavor. There is a spectrum of people: some like it and some find it odious. This is one film that suffers from not providing a sample for the viewer to taste.

I have no reason to doubt Joe Cross's facts. Most people in both the United States and in Australia have little more than a rudimentary knowledge of nutrition and lack the will power to confine themselves to a diet that could add years to their life, but which lacks the appeal of fast food and pizza. Cross brings his message on strong, but it is one that will not bring a very big following. Also, Cross includes images of food that are far more tempting than healthy. Seeing this film on an empty stomach might have just the opposite effect than intended. But this film makes a useful pairing to Morgan Spurlock's SUPERSIZE ME with its journal of an unhealthy diet. Spurlock and Cross sent the same message by documenting opposite diets. In the end Cross comes out the winner. I rate FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Truth, Justice, and the Un-American Way (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

This news item about Action Comics #900 is a ruefully amusing sign of the times:

"Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day--and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective."


Mark replies:

It is a sign of the times. I think the "American Way" no longer means what it used to. There is much less an "American Way" now than there used to be that even most of the country at least pays lip service to. We are becoming less and less a country that values fairness. The country is moving away from the ideal of making things uniformly not terrible (maybe not good, but just not terrible) for everybody in the country. The American Dream now seems to be to game the economic system and/or game the political system for personal benefit. I think that when Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko told the country satirically that "Greed is Good" he didn't make sufficiently clear that that was intended to be, and was, a reprehensible philosophy. Too many people were seduced by the message and happily took it seriously. I think DC Comics realizes its readers no longer feel reverent toward the current "American Way" but are not yet cynical about the world as a whole.

I suspect Captain America will not be following suit. [-mrl]

Cubicles (letter of comment by Nathan):

In response to Mark's comments about hot-bunking cubicles in the 04/29/11 issue of the MT VOID, Nathan writes, "Actually, in the company I work, our cubicles are less than 6' square. And if you work in support, where there is 16 hours/day of coverage, hot bunking in cubicles is done. I find it revolting, missing my semi- private office that I last had in 1996. But then again, corporate life has done nothing but decline since I started my career in 1986." [-n]

Mark responds, "Ah, you should have seen Bell Labs Holmdel in 1978. Now that was a great environment. You want a great environment now, you probably have to go to Google." [-mrl]

Brain Teasers (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Tim McDaniel):

In response to Evelyn's comments on whether brain teasers become out-dated ("You would think that brain teasers and logic puzzles are things that do not become outdated..."), Kip Williams writes:

Au contraire! The thing that stood between me and Henry Ernest Dudeney, writer of many great puzzles, is the dead past of British coinage and postage. So many puzzles in his books seemed to hinge on knowing what the values of UK stamps were, and how many farthings made a furlong.

Which reminds me that weights, measures, and distances in these puzzles are another obstacle, with the decimalization of things, at least for some audiences. They may still use rods and pecks, but they're not widely understood in this urban age.

Who knows how many things will be incomprehensible? Puzzles hinging on 33s, 45s and 78s? Phone dial foolery? DOS jokes? [-kw]

Tim McDaniel responds:

No, it's how many farthings make a shire.

(It's a trick question. You can't make a whole Shire out of Farthings.) [-tmd]

And Kip replies:

"You're crazy! You'll never beat a Mingle and a Snazzle with a lousy Farfle!" [-kw]

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

HOW I KILLED PLUTO AND WHY IT HAD IT COMING by Mike Brown (ISBN 978-0-385-53108-5) is by the discoverer of Quaoar, Sedna, Haumea and Hi'iaka, Makemake, and Xena and Gabrielle (Eris and Dysnomia). Brown spends a lot of time discussing exactly what a planet is, i.e., the definition of planet. But he never gives the definition in a single bullet-list, and what he says does not seem to match what I thought was finally decided by the International Astronomical Union. First, he says that the IAU said that a planet has to be round, or roundish, anyway. That is, its shape has to be affected by its own gravity. Second, it has to orbit the sun. And as a third point, he says that the IAU said that a satellite of a planet is not a planet if the center of mass of the satellite- planet system is within the planet, but is a planet in its own right if the center of mass is outside the planet. But in fact this third point got dropped (due to technical difficulties), and replaced by one saying it has "cleared its neighborhood" of smaller objects around its orbit. This would eliminate all the asteroids, and most of the trans-Plutonian objects, but it seems to me that Sedna still meets these requirements. However, since Brown never gives the exact wording of this requirement (or even mentions it!), it is hard to know.

In addition, according to Wikipedia, Alan Stern objects that "it is impossible and contrived to put a dividing line between dwarf planets and planets," and that since neither Earth, Mars, Jupiter, nor Neptune have entirely cleared their regions of debris, none could properly be considered planets under the IAU definition. Mark Sykes, points out that "since the definition does not categorize a planet by composition or formation, but, effectively, by its location, a Mars-sized or larger object beyond the orbit of Pluto would be considered a dwarf planet, since it would not have time to clear its orbit."

Actually, it isn't clear what degree of "roundness"--"hydrostatic equilibrium"--is required either.)

(The problems with the "center of mass" requirement are interesting. The rationale is that if the center of mass is outside the larger then the smaller is not really orbiting the larger, but they are both orbiting a "neutral" point. However, by this reasoning, Jupiter is not orbiting the sun, but the center of mass for those two objects is outside the sun. And since the moon is moving away from us, at some point, the center of mass of the Earth-Moon system will be outside the Earth. Does that magically turn the moon into a planet?)

Brown seems to think it is important not to expand the definition/idea of "planet" to include Kuiper Belt objects, asteroids, etc. On the one hand, he says, "Definitions like this are unimportant, [many astronomers] say. I, However, will tell you the opposite." On the other, he says, "[Let] me tell you why you should never think about the IAU definition of the word 'planet'. In the entire field of astronomy, there is no word other than 'planet' that has a precise, lawyerly definition, in which certain criteria are specifically enumerated. ... [In] astronomy, as in most sciences, scientists work by concepts rather than definitions."

To me this latter attitude is just plain wrong. Scientists work by definitions. If you ask a zoologist what a mammal is, he can cite a definition: three bones in the inner ear. If you ask a biologist what a fruit is, he can cite a definition: part of a flowering plant that derives from specific tissues of the flower, mainly one or more ovaries. These definitions may get modified or changed with time as new discoveries are made, but they do exist.

And the common usage of these terms may not match the scientific definitions. In the case of mammals, in casual usage, a mammal is basically an animal that has hair and bears live young. The fact that this does not include pangolins or echidnae doesn't bother most people, though people do often add duck-billed platypuses as an afterthought. The fact that a tomato is biologically a fruit does not mean that people will call it one, or vice versa. Mushrooms are considered plants by the general public, but not by biologists.

Oh, and Brown also tells the story of how the Spanish tried to claim the discovery of most of Brown's objects by hacking into the telescope databases to see where he had been viewing, and then rush their claims to the press while Brown followed standard astronomical procedure.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: FIVE WOMEN EXPLORERS IN TIBET by Luree Miller (ISBN 0-89886-097-0) is published by "The Mountaineers" and so is somewhat biased in glorifying the adventures of these women. But readers may disagree somewhat. For example, Nina Mazuchelli did almost all her exploration carried in a Barielly dandy by four men. She only walked when the bearers were too weak from hunger (due to poor planning regarding provisions) to carry her.

Not all the women explorers were so catered to, and their motivations changed over time from missionary work in the late 18th century to exploration and study for Alexandra David-Neel in the early 20th century. The focus shifted from imposing a Western view onto the Tibetans to learning an Eastern view from them.

I took a break from my reading for the Sidewise Award (and before starting on the Hugo Award nominees) to read a new Jules Verne novel. No, not PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY--that is now an old Jules Verne novel. The new one is THE SECRET OF WILHELM STORITZ (translated by Peter Schulman) (ISBN 978-0-8032-3484-0). I know what you're thinking: wasn't that published in 1963 in the I. O. Evans translation? Well, sort of. First of all, the French text Evans used was one edited--one might almost say re-written--by Verne's son, Michel Verne. The introduction to this edition provides details, but the major changes include changing Jules Verne's original setting of the late nineteenth century to the eighteenth century, and changing the ending. This in turn entailed changing any anachronistic references, so out went the steamship, the railway, the references to Napoleon, and so on. And the introduction implies that Evans's translation may also not have been the best, though it seems to tread lightly here.

Now, early translations of Verne have been notoriously bad. Possibly the worst example is the line from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: "And, provided with a lentil, he lighted a fire of dead wood that crackled joyously." "Lentil" in French, means "lens"; the legume takes its name from its similarity of shape, but no one tries to light a fire with a legume. More recent translations have usually avoided such gaffes, so I was distressed to read in this translation of THE SECRET OF WILHELM STORITZ, "Most of the dishes were spiced with paprika, as they are throughout Hungary ... the Hungarian pallet is particularly fond of that spice!" (In case your proofreading skills have become rusty, that should be "the Hungarian palate".)

Verne is often considered prescient in scientific matters, but he seems to have predicted the start of World War I, when he wrote well before 1914, "The Serb is born a soldier, lives the life of a soldier, dies a soldier. Isn't it to Belgrade, its capital, that all the aspirations of the Slavic race turn? And if, one day, this race rises against the Germanic one, if revolution erupts, the flag of freedom will surely be carried by a Serbian hand!" The only thing he didn't forecast was Gavrilo Princip's name.

And regarding invisibility, Verne was fairly cavalier about it, since not only did the potion make the person invisible, and also their clothing, but apparently also whatever clothing they put on. (One wonders if the clothing they took off became visible.) But over time, all the molecules in our bodies are replaced. (I seem to remember that they all change every seven years.) So if an invisible person waits seven years, will all the invisible molecules be replaced with visible ones? And will the person be a ghostly image after three and a half years? I find it ironic that Verne complained about H. G. Wells's scientific laxity, yet Wells seemed more concerned about accuracy than Verne in his portrayal of invisibility.

In any case, I will say in passing that I would consider this 2011 translation to be sufficiently different from the earlier translations to be eligible for nomination for the Hugo Award. How to compare it to works first written this year is another matter entirely. I do confess that the idea of having Jules Verne get a Hugo nomination is appealing.

FIXING MY GAZE by Susan R. Barry (ISBN 978-0-465-00913-8) is in many ways the result of a real-life experiment very similar to the thought experiment in Frank Jackson's classic work, "What Mary Didn't Know" (1986). As described in the notes in FIXING MY GAZE, "[Jackson proposed that] Mary is [a] brilliant [neuroscientist] and knows everything there is to know theoretically about color and color vision. However, she has lived all her life in a black-and- white room, her entire body covered in black-and-white clothes, so that she saw absolutely no color. Finally, Mary is let out of her room. She sees red for the first time. Is red what she imagined? Had she been able to imagine any of the colors that she now sees? Has she learned something new about the world?" (The paper is one of the most important papers in the field of the mind-body problem, along with the similarly-themed "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" by Thomas Nagel.)

As Oliver Sacks says in his introduction to FIXING MY GAZE, Barry lacked stereoscopic vision, but "she was a professor of neurobiology, and she had read plenty of papers on visual processing, binocular vision, and stereopsis. She felt this knowledge had given her some special insight into what she was missing--she knew what stereopsis must be like, even if she had never experienced it."

But (as Sacks writes), in December 2004 Barry wrote him, "You asked me if I could imagine what the world would look like when viewed with two eyes. I told you that I thought I could.... But I was wrong." Sacks continues, "She could say this with some conviction because she had suddenly, unexpected acquired stereovision herself, and the reality of this, the actual experience, was utterly beyond anything imagination could have conceived.

Barry also describes one reason that it has been so rare for people to acquire stereoscopic vision later in life: "[Many] adults with binocular vision disorders are told their deficits are permanent, so they seek no further treatment." This is almost an exact parallel to what was shown about autism in the film TEMPLE GRANDIN: everyone was told that there was no hope for people with autism to learn to cope with it, so there was very little actually done to test this hypothesis. (Ironically, when I closed the book after typing this, I noticed for the first time that the blurb on the front cover is by Temple Grandin!)

When does SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson (ISBN 0-553-56261-4) take place? It was published in 1992, but assuming it is a straightforward future setting leads to problems.

For example, Hiro's father was born in 1928, and Hiro was born in his "late middle age." If that means around 50, then Hiro was born in 1978. Hiro seems to be about 30, so that would make it 2008. L. Bob Rife was born in 1948, so he would be 60 in 2008, and Uncle Enzo would be about the same.

But Rife bought the U.S.S. Enterprise *after* General Jim's Defense System and Admiral Bob's Global Security were formed, and it has been drifting around for at least two years. Given a history that matched ours until 1992, there just doesn't seem enough time to privatize the military, not to mention to set up all the burbclaves and FOQNEs.

There are also complaints about how some of Y.T.'s weaponry violates Newton's Third Law of Motion, as well as other technical complaints. And then there are the objections to the racial and ethnic stereotypes, the unlikelihood of some of the organizations, and so on.

The problem, I think, is that people are trying to apply realistic rules to a satire. No one complains about ANIMAL FARM by saying that the animals in it display stereotypes. No one complains that the insect in THE METAMORPHOSIS is impossible because of the square-cube law. No one complains that the idea of visiting the worlds of classic literature in THE EYRE AFFAIR is contrary to science. (For that matter, hardly anyone complains when we have faster-than-light travel in science fiction.) It's called willing suspension of disbelief. Is the world Stephenson describes in SNOW CRASH plausible? No, not in its detail. But as a "heightening" of trends in our world to provide social commentary, it works just fine. We don't have the Enforcers and The Cops, but we do have private security companies. We don't have burbclaves but we do have gated HOAs. We don't have "You have a friend in the Family" ads for the Mafia, but we do have the Yakuza providing disaster relief in Japan. We don't have the Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates, but we do have any number of similar religious organizations. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Man is the only animal that can remain on 
          friendly terms with the victims he intends 
          to eat until he eats them.
                                          --Samuel Butler

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