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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/13/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 29, Whole Number 1684
Table of Contents
Publlishing Schedule (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
You may have noticed more reviews and columns from people in the MT VOID. If you want to send us something, you should know that the deadline for an issue is the Tuesday before it comes out, but also that if an issue is already somewhat long, book reviews and other non-time-sensitive materials may be held over until the next issue. [-ecl]
Friday the 13th (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Welcome to 2012. A year that not only has *three* Friday the 13s, they are at fixed intervals of 91 days. [-mrl]
Free PKD Stories, the BBC Adaptation of THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY and More (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The always-interesting Open Culture Site has published the locations of some Philip K. Dick stories in text and mp3 format, all free for download. See http://tinyurl.com/void-pkd-stories.
It also has links to the archive.org sites where the BBC adaptation of THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY by Isaac Asimov can be downloaded free. See http://tinyurl.com/mtvoid-foundation.
Note that they also have links to other dramatizations:
I assume this is all on the up and up, but other people who have provided downloads of BBC materials have had to remove those links when the BBC found out about it. I assume that is not the case here, but if you are interested, you might want to not delay too long.
Thanks, Open Culture. [-mrl]
On the Brink of Understanding (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am fascinated with the British science fiction character Bernard Quatermass. In his storyline Britain is the first country to put a man into space. Never mind that the astronaut did not return entirely human. This film was THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. But in the real world, I think Britain has yet to send a man into outer space on a British rocket.
I think the reason Britain did not dabble in space travel can be summed up in the title of another film. This film I am referring to tells how American test pilots were preparing for space prior to NASA. The American title of this 1956 film is TOWARD THE UNKNOWN. Now that is an exciting title! It makes you feel you want to be in one of those planes headed for space and whatever mysteries it holds. You can see how Americans could be gung-ho about space. But on the other hand when the film got to Britain it was retitled. The Brits saw the film under the title BRINK OF HELL. I think that says it all about why it was the United States that had the major space program and Britain did not. [-mrl]
Tunnel in the Sky (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When I was about five or six years old I was fascinated with aircraft. I was like the kid in EMPIRE OF THE SUN. I thought that air travel was something pretty special. Now at this time most planes were propeller-driven. When my father travelled on business he would go by jet, and I thought that had to be a really terrific experience to ride through the sky with a jet engine pushing you.
A few years later the airlines started going to the 707 aircraft. To me that was cool. Then a few years later they made a bigger version the 727 and later a super version of it and called it the 747. This had that big dome toward the front of the plane. People like me did not spend enough money to use the spiral staircase, but I still thought that was great.
I think there was a 767 somewhere there along the way. I don't remember for sure what the experience was like. But today, as I write this, I am flying across country on a 757. I had to share with you my impressions. Here goes! The phrase that comes to mind is "What a sewer pipe in the sky!" I know we are living in a time of diminished expectation, but this is a plane that takes my expectations as a kid and puts them through a trash compactor... Twice. And even then they would not fit under the seat.
I may get sued for this, but this is about the farthest thing from what I grew up imagining about flight. I guess I had figured the bigger the number the bigger the plane. This was not a 707 or a 727 or a 747 but a 757. Wow!
My first thought on entering the plane is that they are doing away with the center aisle. I don't know what people will do then without it, but it is almost gone. I have known people who could not walk down that center aisle without rubbing on both sides at once. Admittedly the problem is not all builder Boeing's fault. The plane was probably designed for five seats across and a reasonable aisle. The airline decided they wanted more paying customers so they narrowed down the seats, narrowed the aisles, and put a sixth seat in each row. They also shorten the leg space and add more rows. Now I know what a book feels like on a shelf. Maybe it is more like an orange in a crate.
At one time if you wanted a little more space you got an aisle seat. There is no such advantage any more. On this plane every aisle seat has under it a box with an inflatable life raft or electronics or something. We are not flying over water so probably will not need a raft, but the Boy Scout Motto is "Be prepared." The space that leaves under the seat for carry-on luggage is about eight inches wide. It is just about wide enough to put both feet in. I fly with a backpack and a small roller bag. Neither is going to fit in an eight-inch wide space. A briefcase is about all that would fit in that hole. As a result nearly everybody on the plane has two pieces of luggage each in the overhead. There is just not that much space in the overhead to accommodate two pieces of luggage for each passenger. So while people are trying to find there seats you have other people walking all over the plane looking for empty space in the overhead compartments to stow their luggage. I am in row 28 and I moved some of my stuff to make room for some guy from row 2. That is how crowded things are. This in an 18-inch-wide mini-aisle.
The captain made an announcement that we were going to make up the time we lost from people getting settled. Apparently getting places for luggage has taken longer than expected. This comes as a surprise to our Captain. I don't know why. This is probably happening every flight in this plane. Even after everyone is seated, in order to move a cart down the aisle the stewardess has to call out "Watch the cart. Watch your elbows and knees, please. Watch the cart." Even worse they only do that for one trip down the aisle. After that they figure you have been warned. The motto becomes, "Let the passenger beware." After that they push the cart down the aisle with impunity, knocking elbows and funny bones. That is another inconvenience you live with an aisle seat.
This is all being done on Continental Airlines, which a couple of years ago was one of the better airlines to take. I think they have merged with United Airlines, which has been a less-than- comfortable airline for several years. The old Continental jingle used to say, "We really move our tails for you." These days they really do. But most often it is just to let you by them in the aisle.
Wish me Happy Landings. And getting off this plane will be a happy event. [-mrl]
Impossibilities (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Can you make something happen just by saying some magic words? Of course not.
But when the Justice of the Peace says, "I now pronounce you man and wife," isn't he making it happen just by saying it?
Does the date and time you were born affect your life? Of course not.
But back in 1968 when they were pulling dates out of a bin for the draft, if you were a male eighteen to twenty-five years old, when your birthday was very much affected your life.
So what does all this prove? That when someone describes something, we often see it through a narrow lens. We don't think about all the possible meanings and implications. [-ecl]
[How about when you say "I thank you," or "I apologize"? Don't you do those things by saying you do? -mrl]
[Absolutely. Those are performative verbs. -ecl]
THREE INCHES (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Apparently the Syfy channel ordered two similar pilots, and one ended up as the show ALPHAS, which I have previously reviewed. The other lies in limbo somewhere, although reportedly Syfy execs liked it, and for some reason they decided to air the two-hour pilot. There are a lot of similarities between ALPHAS and THREE INCHES. They include:
At this point it makes sense to review the THREE INCHES team. In addition to Reid and Marsters, we have:
In the best tradition of the super-hero team, these odd-balls with apparently not very useful powers are actually fairly devastating as a team. Walter's limited telekinetic ability allows him to open any lock, with is a pretty neat trick all by itself. Control of insects is a traditional 1950's analog psi power that has obvious utility. A two-minute look into the future is really useful in tactical conflict management. Although Watts can't directly induce actions, her ability to make people feel anything she wants gives her a powerful weapon. The emission of a really bad odor works for skunks, and also for Carlos as a kind of area denial weapon.
It's a bit unclear where THREE INCHES is going. I tend to agree with Syfy's management that ALPHAS is the better idea for a series, but THREE INCHES is certainly worth checking out. The background ideas on how the powers are activated are just silly--like being bit by a radioactive spider--but once you get over this the characters are fun to watch. It is nice to see characters who look like real people--Ethan is a rather decrepit old man, while Todd is a balding middle-aged man. Annika is a long way from being pretty, and Carlos is a flabby teenager who talks about himself in the third person. Perhaps the least realistic character is Walter, who although portrayed as a loser who washes dogs and lives with his mother, seems good looking, intelligent, and imaginative.
There is a good bit of fun with the team interactions, with "Captain Human" filling the role of the disgruntled handler, resentful that he has no super-powers. The Human Smell empties a bar at one point, and there is a great scene where the team hazes Walter by getting him to put on skin-tight super-hero suit which is really way too tight. The initial mission revolves around the recovery of a mysterious package from a fortress, and somewhat resembles one of the ALPHAS' plots, but is generally handled well.
Given the success of ALPHAS as a series, I doubt THREE INCHES is going anywhere, but it is still worth checking out. Although Walter has the problems of an adult, THREE INCHES is suitable for most audiences. You'll see typical SF action violence. [-dls]
[If you gave me the power to move tectonic plates just three inches, I think I would have a great deal of power. -mrl]
THE FORGOTTEN BOMB (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: THE FORGOTTEN BOMB offers many good arguments for nuclear disarmament but compromises its own position by including some very debatable material. First-time producer and director Stuart Overbey gives us the history of the nuclear bomb, harrowing victim accounts, and the testimony of experts, lead by George Schultz. His arguments are compelling and for the most part convincing. Some touches like humorous cartoon images seem ill-considered. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
First-time producer and director Stuart Overbey gives us a summary of the threat the world still suffers from nuclear weapons. He begins with the assumption that since the end of the Cold War, people around the world are less worried about the threat of nuclear weapons. That is arguably true, but his title certainly overstates the problem. Particularly in relations with Iran and North Korea with the use of nuclear weapons looms big among the world's fears. The nuclear bomb and the issues it raises have certainly not been forgotten and this film is a call to action to prevent the usage of nuclear weapons against people.
Our technology has reached a point that it is perfectly possible for the human race to destroy itself. THE FORGOTTEN BOMB is a survey of the dangers of nuclear war. Overbey begins in Japan at the Hiroshima Museum and gives eyewitness testimony of people who experienced first hand the horrors of nuclear warfare. As bad as he makes it sound, I had the feeling that the actual experience would have been more painful and devastating than his descriptions of people being vaporized. Indeed, before the film is over he will return to Japan for more descriptions and documentary footage of how terrible the effects of the first nuclear attack were one its survivors, and these accounts truly go beyond the stuff of nightmare.
Somehow Overbey's organization of his subject matter seems scattershot. He will talk about the pollution from the original Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. From there the film will go into 1950s Pacific nuclear testing. He will talk about the problems of nuclear waste. He will move on to times after the development of the bomb in which nuclear war almost started--as during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The progression seems to lack organization.
Frequently his expert witnesses do not seem to separate fact from conjecture. One interviewee states as fact that preventing John Kennedy's efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons was the motive for his assassination. Nobody knows that for certain. The film also tells us that the nuclear bombing of Japan was unnecessary as the Japanese were beaten and presumably invasion would have been unnecessary. The real reason the double bombing was, we are told, a demonstration for the Soviets. All of this is perfectly reasonable as hypothesis but is hardly established fact. Overbey finds it ridiculous that school children were taught in the 1950s use desks as protection against a nuclear blast. Actually, depending on the distance and force of the explosion the protection of a desk could have been the difference between life and death.
Overbey gives us a comparison of Japanese and United States museums' accounts of the story of the nuclear bomb. In Japan there is considerably more emphasis on the victims' experiences. In the United States one such museum seems to aim its discussion at a child's level intending to interest children in science. Overbey argues that the United States museum's approach is wrong, but it really is just trying to engage people in the science. Unless the United States is planning to abandon science altogether both approaches are valid.
None of this is to say that the issues raised by this film are not desperately vital to understand and to be concerned about. The film makes many important points that really need to be thought through. Nuclear proliferation is a very genuine threat to human survival. The inadequacy of our approaches for disposal of nuclear waste constitutes a very dangerous situation. Many of the topics raised are vital to consider and the problems need to be solved. But arguing whether the bombs should have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will not accomplish much. The fact is the bombs actually were used and no argument can undo that fact. Overbey would have done well to cut out the non-productive material and concentrate on the issues that need immediate action.
THE FORGOTTEN BOMB focuses on many of the right issues at the right time, but it is at least in part the wrong film to bring those issues to public attention. I rate THE FORGOTTEN BOMB a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. The FORGOTTEN BOMB will be released on DVD January 17, 2012.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1669815/
WAR MADE NEW by Max Boot (book review by Greg Frederick):
WAR MADE NEW: TECHNOLOGY, WARFARE, AND THE COURSE OF HISTORY is a book covering the last five hundred years of technological advances on the battlefield. The book starts with the blitzkrieg attack by King Charles VIII of France in 1494 against the Italian states. Then it covers the most important battles from that time to today illustrating how technology completely changed warfare.
King Charles VIII used one of the first truly national armies in Europe and utilized a more mobile cannon cast from bronze. These were lighter and could be mounted on wooden carts. The Italians were still using mercenary armies and large unwieldy cannons made from iron hoops. The Italians did not know what hit them and in a few months Charles defeated the Italians and progressed all the way down to Naples.
The English navy battling the Spanish during the Spanish Armada's attempted invasion of England in 1588 is the next event covered. The English with a smaller navy and a smaller army defeated Spain the most powerful country in Europe at that time. The English developed a new kind of naval warfare, which the Spanish did not even imagine was possible. The Spanish expected the English to board a Spanish ship and then the fighting would commence. The Spanish with its larger army on their ships would then probably beat the English in close quarter fighting. This was the typical means of naval warfare since the time of ancient Greece. Instead, the English would stand off from a Spanish ship and continually blast it with their superior cannons and better firing skills.
Numerous other examples of major advances in warfare are discussed including the Koniggratz battle between the Prussians and Austrians in 1866 (where the Prussian needle gun and the use of railroads allowed the Prussians to defeat the larger Austrian army), the Russia/Japanese war of 1905, the German blitzkrieg attack on France in 1940, the more recent United States wars against Iraq, and the United States success against the Taliban in Afghanistan. One of the key ingredients, which the author considers to be very important to success, is a military bureaucracy that allows for new advances in warfare to be made available for it's military. For example, the English in the 1500s had established a naval bureaucracy, which helped them to create faster and more nimble ships then Spain had. The English also created a more advanced way to mount cannons for rapid fire on their ships and had their own cannon manufacturing industry. Spain did not have this industry and had a difficult time locating and mounting cannon for all of their ships. This book is a good read about how technology changed warfare and also society. [-gf]
Top Ten Lists (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Mark's top ten list of films from 2011 in the 01/06/12 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:
Well, I can make your life easier. Regardless of when you saw them BARNEY'S VERSION and THE ILLUSIONIST are both 2010 films. [-dmk]
I have to go by the timing of when films become available to me. I happen to think that awards and top ten lists really should be delayed to take propagation delay into account, but if these things need to be published just a day or two into the new year it is more important that slow-to-arrive films get consideration than that you pin a specific year on them that everybody agrees upon. I figure that with my list most people just use it to get recommendations. If the year I associate a film with is just a month or so off, it will not make a huge difference to anyone. I don't like the inaccuracy, but it seems the lesser evil. [-mrl]
HUGO and TINTIN (letter of comment by Morris Keesan):
In response to Mark's comments on HUGO in the 12/23/11 issue of the MT VOID, Morris Keesan writes:
Mark wrote, "Spoiler: I had the impression that the film said that the pictures that flew around the room were created by the automaton."
It was clear from the book that the pictures which Hugo and Isabelle found hidden away in a box in the wardrobe were Papa George's old sketches, not anything the automaton had done. It may not have been as clear in the movie, but having recently read the book I didn't even think about it. [-mmk]
Mark also wrote, "If you think of it, let us know what you think of TINTIN."
It met our expectations. There were about ten other people in the theater with us at 10AM on December 25 (as contrasted with the year we made the mistake of trying to get in to see SCHINDLER'S LIST). eleven-year-old Joseph, who has read all of the "Tintin" books multiple times, was giving us details, on the way home, of the differences between the books and the movie, and which books the different parts of the movie came from, but he laughed enthusiastically at all of the appropriate parts. In general, the mood of the movie was much darker than the books, but it's a fun adventure romp. [-mmk]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
LABYRINTHS OF REASON: PARADOX, PUZZLES AND THE FRAILITY OF KNOWLEDGE by William Poundstone (ISBN 978-0-385-24261-5) is a reasonable overview of epistemology, paradoxes, and the quest for knowledge. The problem is that if you have read anything on the topic, most of what is in it will be very familiar. Poundstone covers Hempel's Raven, grue and bleen, liars and truth-tellers, and "last Tuesday-ism" (though not by that name), among others.
The one new tweak that Poundstone provides is an explanation for why grue and bleen are not concepts as justifiable as blue and green. Briefly, grue is anything green until December 31, 1999, and blue afterwards. (It's an old paradox; you should probably substitute another future date.) Bleen is blue until that date, and green afterwards.
The paradox of why these terms seem less valid than blue and green is that one could just as easily define blue as something that is bleen until December 31, 1999, and grue afterwards, and similarly for green. So why does blue/green seem more valid than bleen/grue? Poundstone goes through several other false arguments, but the convincing one is that children learning the Gruebleen language will not learn these colors as easily as blue and green. We can point to the sky and tell a child it is blue, and point to the grass and say it is green, and the child understands. But if we point to the sky and say it is bleen, the child will not understand that this means it will (supposedly) change color on a specific future date. This asymmetry is what makes blue-green more basic than bleen-grue.
Other than this (which may well have appeared elsewhere), there is nothing new here, but if you're looking for a good book to start someone out on the topic, you could do worse.
As an aside, I find it interesting that of all the authors--not philosophers or scientists--that Poundstone references, Jorge Luis Borges gets the most mentions, six. They are:
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf. --H. L. MenckenTweet
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