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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/15/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 3, Whole Number 1658
Table of Contents
A Rose by Any Other Name Would be Scottish (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been dieting of late and have not gone to a McDonalds Restaurant in a long time. I saw a billboard that talked about something called Angus Third Pounder. Somehow that sounds like a great name, if not for a sandwich, for a Robert E. Howard hero. Of course they give it a Scottish name though it has nothing to do with Scotland. That seems to be following in John W. Campbell's tradition. Whenever he wanted to give a contributor a penname it was Scottish. Heinlein became Anson McDonald, for example. [-mrl]
Five-Year-Old Discovers Relativity (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is a true story. Back when I was about five years old I was fascinated with giants. Well, I guess what I was fascinated by was science fiction and horror, and giants just seemed to fit into that category. I had seen a cartoon of Jack and the Beanstalk and was amazed at the ideas in the story. Ideas? Yes. I think what they had when Jack climbed the beanstalk was a whole natural world above the clouds. The giant lived just like people on the ground did. Well, it was not like I lived, but it was the sort of life Jack would have been used to, European village life. I decided that to giants we are just tiny vermin. They think they are normal people. If you were a giant and lived in (what we thought of as) Giantland you could not tell it was a land of giants. It just had a lot of people who were something like fifty of our feet tall. They thought their world was perfectly normal, and if we were giants we would have found it normal.
Now what would that mean if it were true? And I remember specifically thinking this. Everything in Giantland looks just like home (that is Jack's home). The furniture is big; the houses are big, the roads are wide. As I saw it there would be only one way you could tell you were a giant. Suppose the giant is fifty feet tall and Jack is only about 5'6", you know, tall but of not unusual size. (I know that 5'6" is pretty tall because that is how tall I am.) Now here is the problem. If I pick up a rock to my eye level, about five feet, and drop it, it will take a certain amount of time to fall. If the giant drops a rock from his eye level, say 45 feet, it will take a lot longer to fall, since it is falling a greater distance. The big guy would immediately know he must be very big. But he does not know he is a giant. Therefore he must move and think in slow motion compared to us. Basically time would compensate for distance so differences were indistinguishable. That is what I was thinking even if I was not yet old enough to say it.
So what does that mean? If time does not run slower for giants, they would know they are giants. The big guy must not know the rock is taking a long time to fall, and he must think more slowly than a human does. Everything in his world must go slowly. So clocks must run slowly so that you could not tell you were a giant by looking at the clocks.
That was about all the thought I could give it with my little five-year-old brain. Now I can bring a little mathematics to the question. An object falling from a rest position falls at a rate of sixteen feet per second per second. Let T be the time it is falling. When I drop the rock it falls five feet. So the time it takes to fall is T where 16*T^2 = 5. So T^2 = 5/16 and T = sqrt(5)/4. That is about 0.559 seconds or about 5/9 second. Now when Mr. Tall drops his rock it takes three times as long to fall. I know that because you are just putting in a factor of 9 and three is the square root of 9. Okay, let me write it out. The time it will take for the Mr. Tall's rock to fall, assuming that the gravity has the same force in Giantland, is the following. 16T^2 = 45, so T^2 is 45/16 or 3/4*sqrt(5). That is about 1.677 seconds and it is three times as big as 0.559.
So giants would not know they are giants if their time sense runs at 1/3 the rate ours does. What seems like a minute to us would seem only like 20 seconds to a giant. Giants are frequently portrayed as slow-witted, but perhaps they only take three times as long as we do to think. And that is because there is a time dilation.
Imagine my surprise to discover that the reasoning I used when I was five years old really is not all that different from some of the reasoning that went into Einstein's theory. I am impressed that Einstein and I both thought of it. [-mrl]
ALPHAS (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
The SyFy channel is at it again, and the summer season has started with a bang. For those who are interested, there are new episodes of EUREKA and WAREHOUSE 13 coming atcha on Monday nights, and HAVEN on Friday nights. However, the real treat is a new show--ALPHAS. For this one I had set my expectations low--really low. With THE CAPE, HEROES, and NO ORDINARY FAMILY all canceled or off the air (I'm not sure if HEROES is completely canceled), the movies are filled with superheroes and the TV screens were empty--until now.
The best superheroes are often those with limited nor no powers--Batman, Captain American, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Bullseye, or Rorschach. The best Avengers issues are often said to be when "Earth's mightiest heroes" consisted of Captain American (super endurance), Hawkeye (just a good aim and trick arrows), Quicksilver (runs fast, like a cheetah), and the Scarlet Witch (alters probability). Their relative weakness compared to other Marvel and DC heroes put the focus firmly on the team and the characters, not on implausible powers.
In ALPHAS Dr. Lee Rosen (played by David Strathairn) brings together a team of just over the edge of reality superhumans. Guided by his drug infused 60s guru style leadership, they serve an unknown government agency in solving really difficult problems. The most conventional of the Alphas is Bill Harken (played by Malik Yoba), a black former FBI agent who is a "hyperadrenal"--when angry, he gains strength and pain tolerance, just like real people do, only more so. To give you an idea of what ordinary folks can do under real pressure, on one of my travels I encountered a visitor center telling the tale of a volcanic eruption. A camping couple were trapped between a river of lava and an actual river filled with trees and logs moving at high speed. The woman had a broken leg. They escaped *across the river* on the logs *with a broken leg*--something that would be virtually impossible for a well trained Olympic athlete, even forgetting the broken leg. This is the kind of thing a normal human can do when pressed. Harken is just one step, really a little step, over the line.
Also fairly conventional is Cameron Hicks (played by Warren Christie), a former soldier who has hyperkinesis--basically superhuman coordination, balance, and accuracy. In practice his powers are similar to those of the Marvel villain Bullseye, although less trained and more variable in effect. Again, a power that is right over the edge of the possible. Hicks is joined by Nina Theroux (played by Laura Mennell), who has the power of hyper-suggestion. This appears to be a few more steps over the edge, as it has no clear mechanism, although pheromones might produce the effects seen.
The autistic Gary Bell (played by Ryan Cartwright) is a transducer who can see the entire E&M spectrum, allowing him, to for example, watch TV without a TV, or listen to cell phone calls without a cell phone. Seems like a handy power, and at least vaguely plausible. The last member of the team is Rachael Pirzad (played by Azita Ghanizada), a synesthete who can focus her entire mind on a single sense to gather much more information than would be otherwise possible, although placing her in danger as she is losing the other senses for a period of time. As displayed in the pilot, her hyper-senses probably exceed those of the Marvel character Daredevil, although she lacks his physical prowess.
In their first outing, they investigate an impossible murder--a government witness shot in the head in the middle of a locked interrogation room--and face a dangerous foe, who himself has a power. I'm avoiding spoilers here, but the story works as a kind of superhero procedural, with a lot of focus on how the bad guys are tracked using their powers. As individuals, the Alphas are weak and troubled, but as team--under Rosen's guidance, they can accomplish the impossible.
A series can go wrong in a lot of ways, and ALPHAS certainly may do so as well, but it is off to a really good start. Not Oscar material, but based on only one episode, it has a shot at being something really good. In spite of the 10 PM hour, the pilot has no sex and only modest violence by crime show standards. Worth checking out--and much more promising than TNT's FALLING SKIES. [-dls]
DEEP FUTURE by Curt Stager (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
DEEP FUTURE--THE NEXT 100,000 YEARS OF LIFE ON EARTH has joined my recommended list of books on global warming, bringing it to a grand total of 2! Stager is a Duke PhD who teaches at Paul Smith's College while studying paleoclimatology. He brings the long [and I mean LOOOOOONG] perspective to the climate change debate.
Don't be put off by the jacket blurb endorsement from Bill McKibben, who is high on my "Enemies of the Future" list for his neo-Luddite manifesto ENOUGH. Stager is no polemicist beating the drums for eco-socialism. In a valiant attempt to avoid a long review of a book well worth reading I will net out what I think are the main points:
Most importantly, Stager provides a sense of deep time that is often lacking in our discussion of issues that should be welcomed by the SF fan. In some important sense, Earth is an alien world that we are only marginally adapted to and that we don't fully understand. And it changes--a lot--over time. Stager does have some practical suggestions--he suggests we stop burning coal now so that we can burn it later to prevent future ice ages. When was the last time you heard something like this from an environmentalist? In any case, I join Stager in welcoming you to the Anthroprocene--the age during which the climate is determined mainly by human action. This is the future we'll all live in--so we better get adjusted to the idea. [-dls]
Disney Princesses (letters of comment by Rick Kleffel, Andre Kuzniarek, and Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's comments on Disney princesses in the 07/08/11 issue of the MT VOID, Rick Kleffel writes:
I enjoyed your piece on the Disney princess phenomenon, and it made me think of a very good book on just that topic, CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER: DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT LINES OF THE NEW GIRLIE-GIRL CULTURE. When it arrived in the mail for review, it was so pink I had to hide it. But it is very insightful and entertaining; it asks and answers many of the questions you ask and answer in your piece. Here's a link to my review of the book:
Here's an audio interview with the author.
I think you'll find it worth your valuable reading (and listening) time. [-rk]
The book looks like it covers similar material, but there is a distinction. Though Orenstein seems to be saying more that girls should not be forced into the Princess mold or any other mold, I was saying more that the Princess mold is a bad thing. I think little girls should have free choice, but I am saying some Princesses are bad role models. A princess gets special treatment as a right of entitlement by birth. I would say it would be better for little girls to believe that the things they want have to be earned. [-mrl]
Andre Kuzniarek writes:
I really realize your pseudo-rant about Disney princess was tongue-in-cheek, but since I just happened to have watched SNOW WHITE, which set the mold, I can respond with some clarification on your point(s).
Snow White starts out essentially minding her own business, but indeed dreaming of a nice dude (and singing about it). But key point: she's scrubbing floors at the same time--since apparently she's a low ranking princess (as proclaimed by the Queen). Just before Snow White escapes assassination in the forest, she was gathering flowers, and after her escape, she ends up in the dwarf house and does all the dishes, laundry, and cleans the floors (with help from her forest animal friends). She also cooks for them, and they agree this is a useful arrangement and allow her to stay. It isn't until the last few minutes of the movie that she gets poisoned, sleeps, and gets encased in a glass coffin. The passage of time is elided with the dude showing up right away to wake her up. At that point she goes off with him, perhaps to do his cooking, cleaning, and laundry instead.
I can't speak to the rest of the princess fables, but in this one I can't see little girls being excited about being the "princess". [-ak]
I am not sure the little girls are going back to the story and saying this really was something bad to be. I don't think my niece has even gone back and seen the earlier Disney cartoons. But I think Snow White is now considered one of the princesses in the pantheon. Probably it is that she has a right to be treated as a princess and the Queen is denying her that right. [-mrl]
And Taras Wolansky writes:
Reading Mark's critique of Disney Princesses, I began to wonder what Evelyn thinks. Did she also imagine herself a Princess, when she was a little girl?
Only some of Jane Austen's novels are "Cinderella for adults". In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, the handsome "prince" abandons one "princess"; the other is freed to marry the man she loves only because he loses his inheritance. In MANSFIELD PARK the heroine refuses her wealthy suitor in spite of severe social pressure and chooses a much poorer man. In EMMA, the "prince" is using the princess as a beard, while he's secretly engaged to somebody else; she marries her next-door neighbor instead.
Julia Roberts' character in PRETTY WOMAN is indeed a very bad role model--especially for fourteen-year-old girls with two-digit IQs. Being a streetwalker is the road to wealth and true love: Ann Coulter was hardly even engaging in hyperbole when she called the movie diabolical (or words to that effect). [-tw]
I don't recall ever imagining myself a princess when I was a child. I have pictures of me in a cowgirl get-up, and I went through the usual "I want to be a nurse" stage, but never a princess. [-ecl]
Museum of Mathematics and Pi/Tau Controversary (letter of comment by Dave Anolick):
In response to Mark's comments on the Museum of Mathematics in the 07/08/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dave Anolick writes:
Your commentary on the museum of math made me realize I'm not sure if I have seen anything in the MT Void about the Pi/Tau issue. Have you seen this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG7vhMMXagQ?
[To those unaware, it has been suggested that in some ways pi is hard to deal with since the circumference of a circle is 2*pi*r. It has been suggested that a new number tau=2*pi be used. -mrl]
There seems to be an interesting "war" brewing in the Math world on this issue. By the way, Vi Hart didn't start this, but her video is great.
I wonder if the new Museum of Mathematics will consider the Pi/Tau issue. [-da]
I have seen the video and in fact I think in high school I made the same suggestion. In fact, I don't think that using either gives a real advantage. Yes the circumference of a circle is 2*pi*r, but it is also pi*d. It is a little simpler to say that the circumference of a circle is tau*r, but it is also tau*d/2, which is uglier than 2*pi*r. The area of a circle, generally more important than the circumference, is (tau)*(r^2)/2 which is much worse than pi*r^2. And Euler's beautiful identity becomes e^(i*tau/2)+1=0. That is not nearly as nice as e^(i*pi)+1=0. [-mrl]
Hugo-Nominated Novellas and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Hugo-nominated novellas in the 07/08/11 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
I think Evelyn misunderstood Rachel Swirsky's Hugo-nominated novella, "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window". The story is, indeed, told from the viewpoint of a stiff-necked, flint-hearted woman sorcerer, simultaneously appalling and admirable, from a ferociously matriarchal culture, who is quite willing to see the human race wiped out by a plague rather than give what she considers women's magic to men. (She doesn't exactly grow much as a person in the course of the story--but then for most of the story she is, after all, dead.) However, there's no hint that Swirsky is trying to present this utterly ruthless and inflexible character as a role model of any kind.
The story is something of a tour de force, for all that it lacks a strong ending, and will probably occupy the first slot on my ballot. In some ways, it reminded me of the classic story by Jack Vance, "The New Prime" (which Robert Silverberg called "a miracle of compression").
Speaking of lacking a strong ending, Ted Chiang's "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" will be farther down my ballot. The story he has to tell is not without interest but seemed almost interminable. And, as I said, it more or less winds up rather than concludes.
Alastair Reynolds' "Troika" (perhaps we should vote for it to encourage shorter titles) is a satisfying entry in the sub-genre of stories about astronauts--cosmonauts in this case--who encounter the Alien in outer space and come back *strange*. The story's picture of a world in which Russia has a monopoly of space exploration is one that has lately become very plausible indeed. There's a hopeful hint at the end that the authorities are not as stupid and hidebound as the protagonist thinks they are. [-tw]
And in response to Mark's review of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS in the same issue, Taras writes:
I found MIDNIGHT IN PARIS a sorry piece of work, made of cliches at all levels. The protagonist has the standard shallow, materialistic fiancée, who comes with the standard shallow and boorish parents; all obviously unworthy of the artistic and sensitive hero.
A big problem is that Owen Wilson, so convincing as an air-head male model in ZOOLANDER, is hopelessly miscast as the artistic and sensitive hero. The film would have made more sense if he had gone back to his fiancée in the end, recognizing that he is just as shallow as she is.
Instead, Woody Allen opts for the cheap device of her having an affair, permitting Wilson to dump her without denting the moral superiority Allen has granted him.
The scenes set in the past are also cobbled together out of cliches: Hemingway says Hemingwayesque things; Zelda Fitzgerald acts deranged while her husband, F. Scott, chases after her; Josephine Baker dances African-style; and so on.
[SPOILERS AHEAD] Allen presents this past as a real place where one might choose to stay. Yet his protagonist's adventures in the past smack more of wish-fulfillment. He is immediately invited into the inner circle of his literary and artistic heroes, and his novel manuscript is read and critiqued by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. [END SPOILERS] [-tw]
[SPOILERS AHEAD] I think you missed the point of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. (Note: I could not talk about this in my review to avoid spoilers.) What you would expect is that when you meet the real people they do not quite live up to their reputations. People we have read or read about turn out to be even more of what we think of them as being rather than less. Hemmingway writes in a certain style that we think was just an affectation of his writing. When we actually meet him we find that he really does think and talk that way he has to restrain that style in his writing. Everyone is more of what we thought of them as being, not less. It is a funny joke and it also opens a possible interpretation that this is all happening in Owen Wilson's head. He is interacting not with the real people but with his own mind's essence of these people. Most of the reviewers, myself included, seem to think that Woody Allen's speaking style seemed to fit Wilson very well. And that would not be easy for most actors to do, even more so for a goyishe kopf like Wilson. :-) [END SPOILERS] [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week I commented on the Hugo-nominated novellas; this week I will cover the novelettes and short stories.
"The Jaguar House, in Shadow" by Aliette de Bodard (in ASIMOV'S 07/10) is another in her series in which the Azteca are not conquered by the Spanish. This is a very self-contained story, with little connection to the world outside the Azteca, and as such does not use the alternate history aspect as strongly as some of her others. The result is a story than seems to lack much science fictional content.
"Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly (in ASIMOV'S 12/10) is yet another entry in the "let's-respond-to-Tom-Godwin's-'Cold-Equations'" sweepstakes. (Has anyone compiled a list of these?) Kelly has a bit more characterization, but it serves more to obscure the story than develop it.
"Eight Miles", Sean McMullen (ANALOG 09/10) is a steampunk-meets-Edgar-Rice-Burroughs story. It's okay, but nothing special, and not what I would consider Hugo material,
"The Emperor of Mars" by Allen M. Steele (ASIMOV'S 06/10) is full of nostalgia for classic science fiction about Mars, but nostalgia does not a story make.
I am sure that someone, somewhere has described "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" by Eric James Stone (in ANALOG 09/10) as "Mormon whales in space"--it's just too tempting to pass up. But to some extent it is too simplistic, because the underlying issues are a bit more universal than that description might lead one to believe. What is a god? Who determines, not what the correct belief set is, but what is the protocol to determine what interactions between belief groups is allowed? Basically, this is a story that questions "Star Trek"'s "Prime Directive": who determines whether one culture is allowed to affect (or interfere) with another? And under it all is the question of what evidence of "God's plan" is valid when what we get are piles of conflicting events. Stone does not ask us to take a particular stand on Mormonism (or any other religion); he presents a variety of views and then says, "You decide."
My voting order is: "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made", no award, "Eight Miles", "Plus or Minus", "The Jaguar House, in Shadow", "The Emperor of Mars"
[short story section to be added when complete]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first, and the lesson afterward. - Vernon Law
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