MT VOID 05/18/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 47, Whole Number 1702

MT VOID 05/18/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 47, Whole Number 1702

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/18/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 47, Whole Number 1702

Table of Contents

      George Jetson: Mark Leeper, Jane Jetson: 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

Good News (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Good news! Archaeologists in Guatemala have found calendars that go "thousands of years into the past and future." This would seem to deny the notion that Mayan calendars end on Dec. 21 (or 23), 2012. See: [-ecl]

Angry Men (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I hear the Fox Network is bankrolling a film remake of TWELVE ANGRY MEN. In his version at the beginning eleven liberal jurors want to vote the man on trial "not guilty" and one conservative juror is voting "guilty". [-mrl]

Pop Culture and Classical Music (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

The good news about kids today knowing nothing about the pop culture of our generation is that Rossini's "William Tell Overture" may actually become recognized as that, rather than as the "Lone Ranger" theme, and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" will not immediately bring to mind the words "This is the cereal that's shot from guns." [-ecl]

[And the bad news is that the issue will not even come up. Most kids today have never heard Rossini or Tchaikovsky. "Lone Ranger? Is that a Janelle Monáe song?" -mrl]

How Accurate Are Holocaust Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A panel I attended a few years ago was discussing a somber question. Of all the holocausts and racial and ethnic cleansings that have gone on in history, why do we pay so much attention to the Nazi Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s? Why is it that there are so many more films for example made about that one event? What makes it unique? Rare is the year that goes by that there is not a new film on the subject. That was the question being discussed. People were saying that it had to come along in a time when there was film to record it. But that did not really explain why the Serbian ethnic cleansing in the breakup of Yugoslavia did is not better covered. There are a few good films about the Rwanda genocide, but not all that many.

My answer was that no holocaust should go unremembered lest it happen again. But that this particular holocaust, the Nazi one, was the only one so far that affected so many eloquent people. It happened to people who could communicate some of the horror of what happened. Film is one of the best media for teaching about the Holocaust, but you also need talented people to make the films. Now coincidentally I am involved in a conversation about communication of the experience, about the worst that humans create for other humans, through movies.

That exchange came back to me when I received the following piece of mail. I thought my response might make for interesting reading. Admittedly the subject is unpleasant, but I will try not to be unpleasant. This is the mail I received:


Hi Mark,

I am currently writing my dissertation for my history degree, it is about whether SCHINDLER'S LIST, THE PIANIST and ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR, show an in-depth to what the Holocaust was actually like [sic]. I have just read your review on THE PIANIST, which I think is a very accurate review! Briefly to sum my arguments up, I have stated that although Spielberg portrays the atrocities of the Jews, he does not show an in-depth [view of] the Holocaust, as I have sources from survivors from Krakow-Plazsow and Oskar's wife Emilie, who all quoted that the truth was much worse than the film. However due to Polanski surviving the Holocaust and using Szpilman's account, do you believe Polanski depicted the Holocaust as it was in the sense of portraying to the audience the full atrocities which the Jews were faced with in the Warsaw ghetto?

I would be very grateful to hear back from you, Thanks.


I gave my correspondent a short answer, but I would like to discuss the issue in of cinematic depictions of the Holocaust in a little more depth. (Side note: ironically I am writing this and considering these issues on the afternoon before the coming of Passover, the celebration of freedom and deliverance.)

Let me start with why visual representation Holocaust seems to fail in most films. I don't think it is possible to convey the Holocaust accurately in a live-action film. On a superficial level you probably cannot even get an accurate physical representation of the people. You would need to get actors who look emaciated like the films we have seen of the victims. Even Computer Graphic Imagery is not really ready to solve this problem. Just the idea of introducing CGI is repellent. The people in these films seem too healthy and whole. Every frame in the camps seemed ersatz in the TV mini-series THE HOLOCAUST. I am thinking of scenes like a somewhat robust-looking Fritz Weaver marching off to his death and trying to be positive about it. It just did not work.

For practical reasons the vast majority of films I have seen on the subject of the Holocaust were about the survivors. You cannot talk to the non-survivor victims of the Holocaust. You can talk only to survivors (and even that will not be possible much longer). Yes the survivors certainly experienced the Holocaust. But they did at some point realize that they had experienced the horror and it had not defeated them. I would think that that would color their attitudes and their remembrance of their entire experience. I have seen few films about the majority who did not survive and so never experienced the knowledge of surviving. I cannot believe the experience of realizing you have survived does not impact your memories. I guess it is like having cancer and dying from it is a very different experience from having it and being cured. When you remember it, you know it has a happy ending (for want of a better term).

Of course there is no single Holocaust experience. The experience of dying slowly of Typhus is very different from the experience of a quick unexpected death, perhaps being shot. But there are definitely films that show more authentic representations of the experience.

As to THE PIANIST I think that Polanski did as good a job as he could, having been there, albeit surviving. But he did not show the worst of the Holocaust. Certainly THE PIANIST is far more accurate a depiction than LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL or SEVEN BEAUTIES, films that almost turn the experience into a kind of comic game. In my opinion both of these films are reprehensible. As for whether the full atrocities can be depicted on the screen, I just doubt it. I liked the film THE PIANIST, but it is a story of a Holocaust survivor, and such people were a small fraction of the Holocaust victims. Szpilman had a hard time staying alive, but his experience would have almost certainly been a lot worse in a concentration camp. And he would have been unlikely to survive. Similarly SCHINDLER'S LIST has the Holocaust as a background, but the Schindler Jews had found a shelter and haven from what was happening to most other European victims. ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR's title speaks for itself. It climaxes with this rousing mass escape from the camp. The bleakest dramatic film on the subject that I remember seeing was THE GREY ZONE, written and directed by, of all people, Tim Blake Nelson. I think that it might be the most accurate account. But I really think it is a case that there is no cinematic substitute for the actual experience. That may not be entirely a bad thing. [-mrl]

The Measure of A Man--The Mentalist Revisited (television review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

You may have read my recent article [in the 03/30/12 issue of the MT VOID]--"Hypnotized By the Mentalist"--a compendium of my thoughts on THE MENTALIST. As my family continues to run through the DVDs, I happened on an episode that I have missed on live TV, and that is of special note. In my earlier article, I speculated that Patrick Jane is, although not in any way supernatural or superhuman, someone far out on the bell curve--a 1 in a billion genius. In fact, in the season 1 episode "Red Tide" Jane informs a rich, powerful man that "he has no superior." The direct meaning of the statement is that Libson is not Jane's boss, but it seems also to have a double meaning, literally stating that Jane "has no superior." This episode occurs before #11, "Red John's Friends" where Jane first begins to realize how capable a foe Red John actually is, and perhaps to start to doubt that he, Jane, truly has no superior.

In any case, episode #21, season 2, "18-5-4" was new to me, and is especially interesting as it provides a yardstick for gauging just how intelligent Jane really is. This episode is also of special interest to SF fans as it is the only episode in the series (that I am aware of) that is authentic SF, as opposed to a SF-flavored story using the tropes of SF. "18-5-4" is also of special interest since some of the characters are substantially derived from the idea-space of William Gibson (NEUROMANCER and others) and Olaf Stapledon (ODD JOHN).

In the story, Jane investigates the murder of Noah, a mathematical genius found dead with one finger removed. It gradually evolves the Noah, who graduated from high school at age 15 and obtained his first college degree at age 17, had been working on some complex problem. This leads to the investigation of Toman Bunting, a master chess player whose puzzle store-fronts for a firm that develops encryption technology for anyone who will pay for it. Bunting has a female Asian bodyguard straight out of a Gibson novel, and is so well connected that when arrested for a serious crime, the state attorney general calls to tell Lisbon to let him go.

Jane easily solves an interlocking chain puzzle Bunting describes as hard, and starts a chess game with Bunting. Jane plays Bunting throughout the episode while solving the crime, for the most part without the usage of a chessboard. At the end of the episode Jane, having defeated Bunting's schemes, tells him that it will be checkmate in 3 more moves. This has double meaning, as Jane is also telling Bunting that although Bunting may appear to have legal options to pursue his goals, this will come to naught.

Bunting has hired three individuals--Noah, a Dutchman, and Oliver McDaniel--to build a universal decryption device. Unlike in some other MENTALIST episodes which feature a fantastic device that later turns out not to work, the universal decryptor does really work, and the struggle to control the device is the core of the plot. The scenes involving Jane and Lison's initial interview with McDaniel, in which they find him living in a mental hospital, echo similar episodes in ODD JOHN, as well as provide a riff on DR. WHO.

Oliver McDaniel is a school chum of Noah's who finished college at age sixteen, and grad school at age nineteen, and attempts to trick Jane with a series of clever ploys. The net of all this is that Jane easily out-thinks two certified mathematical geniuses, and one self-appointed puzzle master, who if not a genius, is certainly very smart. Jane may not have their mathematical background, but his natural ability and training allows him to solve their puzzles without great effort, while at the same time playing (and apparently winning) a chess game with an apparently very good player while not using a board, suggesting Jane operates at the Grandmaster level at a minimum.

Jane often says that anyone can duplicate his feats of memory by using the memory palace technique, and it is worth noting that in 1944 de Groot showed that chess masters do not have better memories than ordinary mortals do. Instead, they rely on special techniques and mental shortcuts to remember long sequences of moves, in a fashion similar to the memory palace technique and also to a technique called "chunking". However, as is well-known, playing chess on a high level requires considerable raw intelligence as well as much training, so Jane must have both, unless he is self-taught in chess, which is certainly possible.

Jane has said that he never went to high school, and thus there is no way to compare his abilities to those who have risen through the academic ranks. However, it is worth taking a look at a short quote about the famous mathematician John von Neuman's mental abilities from the wiki article:

Von Neumann had a photographic memory. Herman Goldstine writes: "One of his remarkable abilities was his power of absolute recall. As far as I could tell, von Neumann was able on once reading a book or article to quote it back verbatim; moreover, he could do it years later without hesitation. He could also translate it at no diminution in speed from its original language into English. On one occasion I tested his ability by asking him to tell me how The Tale of Two Cities started. Whereupon, without any pause, he immediately began to recite the first chapter and continued until asked to stop after about ten or fifteen minutes."

It is certainly possible that Jane has powers of recollection similar or superior to Von Neumann, and is simply prevaricating when he suggests that anyone could replicate his feats using memory tricks. There is another curious similarity between Jane (who always wears a suit with a vest) and Von Neumann, as can be seen from the following wiki article quote:

Von Neumann took great care over his clothing, and would always wear formal suits, once riding down the Grand Canyon astride a mule in a three-piece pin-stripe.

One of the mysteries of THE MENTALIST is the full story of Jane's education. The season 2 episode "Throwing Fire" contains flashbacks of Jane being trained in the art of human observation and deduction by his con-man father, but there must have been a long period of self-guided training after Jane left his father. Jane appears to be an auto-didact, spending much of his time between cases on his coach reading. The books he reads sometimes have a bearing on the cases, but for the most part their contents are unknown. Jane seems to have a considerable store of odd facts at his fingertips, including, for example, a database of brands and lists of cellmates at prisons, and to possess an encyclopedic and perfect knowledge of Shakespeare plays, which figures into some of the plots. He sometimes seems to forget things, but since Jane often lies, it is always possible that this is simply to avoid revealing how strong his memory actually is.

Another reason for the strength of Jane's abilities is surely constant practice, honed by the intelligent, devious, and ruthless adversaries he pits himself against as a consultant to the CBI. Rather like Captain America or Wolverine, who are great fighters in large part because they do little else but fight, Jane routinely uses all his mentalist abilities, surely constantly pushing to perfect his skills, driven by the sure knowledge that he will need every trick to survive his final encounter with Red John.

The only apparent limit on Jane's abilities is that he cannot crack safes, and in a recent season 4 episode relied on an old friend to accomplish this task. However, Jane has demonstrated many times great skill at picking ordinary locks. His command of escapology may not match that of Houdini, but he does have considerable ability in this area, enough so that in the season 2 episode he is able to escape from prison. Other episodes show him as a brilliant pinball player and a pool shark. One season 3 episode has him quickly pointing out what day of the week a date from decades ago fell on. This is an old mentalist trick that can be duplicated by the editor of the MTVOID himself, one Mark Leeper and many others, so I merely mention it for completeness. Another season 3 episode has Jane playing a bass with a professional orchestra for fun, improvising so fluidly that he appears professional in his skills. He has completely given up an ordinary life, avoiding dating (except once with Christina Frye) and sleeps in a bare room decorated only by a single mattress and Red John's smiley face.

It is also interesting to compare Jane to the great pulp hero, Clark Savage Jr, also known as "Doc Savage." Savage was the "man of tomorrow," with the equivalent of many Ph.D.s, who trained every day for two hours. Like Jane, he lived as a monk, avoiding women and devoting himself completely to adventuring and good deeds. Unlike Jane, Savage was a physical powerhouse and a skilled fighter, and also an inventive genius. One similarity is that both surrounded themselves with a team that they utilize on their adventures. Savage's team consisted of Monk, a chemist, Ham, a lawyer, Renny, a civil engineer, Johnny, an archeologist, and Long Tom, an electrical genius. Monk is an ape-like fighting machine, Renny sports fists so large they can be used to batter down doors, Ham a sword cane, and Johnny has a knowledge of the eastern fighting arts.

Jane's team at the CBI--and it is his team, willing to do anything for him, as has been demonstrated in many episodes, consists of Lisbon, Cho, Van Pelt, and Rigsby. Rigsby is man-mountain with expert knowledge of arson, although perhaps a bit slow on the uptake.

Cho is a former member of the Avon Park Playboys street gang and ex-army special forces. With this background, it should come as no surprise that Cho is an expert shot and a tough street fighter. However, his greatest skills are as a cold, relentless, implacable interrogator and the imperturbable façade that earned him the Playboy nickname "Iceman." When pushed or personally threatened, Cho sometimes reverts to his gang background and hands out private street justice with great gusto and ruthlessness.

Grace Van Pelt is a tall, athletic, and beautiful small town girl anxious to prove herself at the CBI. Her computer skills boarder on the preternatural (mainly thanks to Hollywood movie magic) but she is sometimes deceived by a bad guy. On occasion she has lied or played a part so well that some fans of the MENTALIST speculate that she is really Red John, something I think unlikely. Lisbon is "small but fierce." Her contributions are mainly as a leader and as a detective, but she clearly enjoys the chase and the capture, often bringing down prey much larger than herself, and is frequently underestimated by the bad guys, whom she prefers to bag with a hidden TASER or her trusty side arm. In season 3 she mentions that she ran track in high school and concludes "I'm fast." Lisbon earned the nickname "Saint Theresa" in a prior life for her good deeds in bringing in the worst of the worst criminals in difficult cases. Jane has no need of a chemistry expert as the CBI crime lab supplies a department of such folks.

Part of what makes Jane so compelling is that unlike Doc Savage, he displays a believable range of emotions. His sadness hangs heavily on him, and is often pointed out by other characters. Jane is visibly stressed by the extreme pressure of going up against Red John. He also sometimes fails to completely conceal his concern for Lisbon.

Another curious connection to Doc Savage is that Doc set up a "Crime College" where criminals could be cured of evil via surgical technique of Doc's invention. Many of these criminals found their way into Doc's employ afterwards. THE MENTALIST season 1 episode "Red Brick and Ivy" concerns itself with a machine that can "recalibrate" the mind from good to evil and back again. Jane jokes that if the machine works, it will "put us out of business." Fortunately for Jane the machine turns out to be a fraud.

That wraps it up for now. The first three seasons are available on DVD if you want to catch up. Although there are many stand-alone episodes, I recommend watching them in sequence so that you can see the Red John story unfold as it was intended. I'll also add that having just re-watched the first three seasons, the MENTALIST is still going strong. [-dls]

EMBASSYTOWN by China Miéville (copyright 2011, Ballantine Books Del Rey, $16.00, 345pp, ISBN 978-0-345-52450-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

So, as I perused the list of Hugo-nominated novels this year, I was struck by the fact that I was actually looking forward to reading them. Or, maybe, more appropriately, I wasn't looking at them and thinking, "You have *got* to be kidding me--do I have to read *that* dreck?" To be honest, I'd only heard of the Jo Walton book by word of mouth and reputation, and it does intrigue me somewhat. And full disclosure up front, I will not be reading the George R.R. Martin book; I did not read the other four doorstops, and it's too late in the game for me to start now. I'll be content watching the HBO show.

So, what to choose first? I wanted to start with the Mira Grant, but as luck would have it my wife shipped it off to my daughter at college in Colorado as part of a care package, so that idea was out (side note--my daughter, and thus the book, will be back tomorrow as I write this, so it will be next, assuming it isn't buried somewhere in her stuff). I'd heard good things about EMBASSYTOWN, and since I liked CITY & THE CITY, I decided to start with it.

I made the right choice.

I'd heard this called "the long awaited and rumored space opera from China Miéville", but that's really not quite right. It happens on a distant planet and involves aliens, but I wouldn't call it a space opera.

The book takes place in what is presumed to be a distant future--the time frame is never really established. We presume that it is way out in the future, as there is travel between the stars. Humanity has colonized a distant (again, we must presume distant) planet named Arieka. Our protagonist is Avice Benner Cho, who grew up on Arieka and is an immerser--one who has the ability to travel in space, or the Out. She has left and come back, which is unusual in and of itself. Immersers usually don't come back to their home planet once they leave.

The natives of Arieka are called the "Hosts", and they have an unusual Language that cannot be spoken or understood by most people. The genetically engineered Ambassadors are the only ones that can speak and understand the Language of the hosts. Humans and Hosts live together in peace for thousands of hours (time is not measured in years), until an unusual Ambassador arrives who throws everything out of balance. I should point out that Ambassadors, while a single unit, actually come in pairs, because in part that is the only way to speak the Hosts' Language. This particular new Ambassador, EzRa, is different, and it turns out is the pawn in a very dangerous political game that could destroy all civilization on Arieka.

The central theme of this book is language. The Language of the Hosts is really a different concept than that of our language, and it is very difficult to describe--at least for me. It is at the center of their civilization, the center or their relationship with the humans, and indeed the center of the political struggle and the war that takes place during the book. Indeed, the teardown and rebuilding of society *centers around the use of language*, a concept which I'd not encountered before. It's a wonderfully original idea, and Miéville implements it beautifully.

At first I was bored with this book. The idea of the language was interesting, but nothing much was happening. When the major event occurred that sent things spiraling out of control, I was completely surprised and utterly pleased. Things moved at a good pace after that, and the ideas that Miéville introduced going forward from that point were interesting and insightful. The solution to the problem and the conclusion to the book were entirely satisfying and well executed. This is a terrific book.

So yes, we've started out with a bang. Let's hope the run of good books continues. [-jak]

NORMAN MAILER THE AMERICAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: One of the great chroniclers of the American culture and politics of his time was the novelist, essayist, social critic, and political candidate Norman Mailer, one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century. For most of his life, but particularly the 1950s to 1970s, he documented his times and focused the quiet rage of the public, often turning it violent. Staccato and compelling, this fast-paced biography recounts some of his views and opinions--writings that alienated people and won supporters. It also focuses on his out-of-control life style. The parallel stories of public and private life are documented with extensive interviews and contemporary documentary film footage. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

There are people you appreciate are around; there are people you wish they did not exist. And there are people that you are glad they exist, but hopefully will never be around you. Norman Kingsley Mailer, who lived from 1923 to 2007, was a chronicler of his time, particularly the 1950s to 1970s. The breadth of the subjects that he wrote about--and, incidentally expressed contentious and often maddening opinions on--is simply stunning. He is the author of ten novels and numerous works of non-fiction and was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize; he was a journalist, he wrote essays, poetry, plays, and movies. Mailer was a founder of the New Journalism movement and one of the three founders of New York's "The Village Voice". He even directed films. In his time almost every American benefited from his writing shaping the thinking in the country. And all but a few benefited from not having him in close proximity. He was a violent drunk, a heavy drug user; he bedded a very large number of beautiful women and married six of them. He had nine children. His angry writings attacked much of society and the people in it. Mailer wrote about the history of his time writing about Adolf Hitler, the World War II soldier's experience, the Kennedys, the 1968 national party conventions, civil rights, the murderer Gary Gilmore, political power in America, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali's "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman, and the list goes on and on.

NORMAN MAILER THE AMERICAN, directed by Joseph Mantegna (not to be confused with actor Joe Mantegna), is the fast-paced and sizzling story of the life of Mailer. There is a lot of content packed into 102 minutes. Mantegna balances both Mailer's provocative professional life with a torrid personal life. Interviews include close family members from his six marriages and other sex partners, political and personal enemies, and interviews with the Mailer himself.

As the film recounts Mailer loved to alienate people. He was a small man, only about five feet tall, but he loved to provoke fights. In one famous incident on the normally placid Dick Cavett Show he took on Cavett, Gore Vidal, and much of the audience in angry contention, calling them all idiots. Mostly his fights were battles of rhetoric that purveyed his rage and hate, but he was not above pushing people close to him into physical fights. For reasons even his friends could not explain he turned a favorite game of his to be almost deadly. While playing bullfight with friends being the bulls, he stabbed his current wife with a knife telling his friends, "Let the bitch die." Later he and a cadre of friends, associates, and literary luminaries convinced his wife--who had nearly died--not to testify against Mailer. Few people could have so fast-paced and juicy their biography fill a full-length film. He was at once a genius and totally out of control.

One problem with the film is it may be just a bit over-stuffed. There is more material than Mantegna could handle in standard feature length. Frequently one is not quite sure if the life details just heard are about the current book named or the previous one. But Mantegna seems to remain detached from the man, reporting the facts and not judging, something that the man who was his subject would have been completely unable to do.

Mailer himself said he loved America and hated it. This biography of him is one of this year's most rambunctious documentaries. I rate NORMAN MAILER THE AMERICAN a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

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A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING by Lawrence Krauss (book review by Greg Frederick):

This book is a short read about how the Universe could have come from nothing. Krauss is a particle physicist who also deals with cosmology so he covers both ends of this immense spectrum. Scientists know that even empty space without matter or visible energy present is not really totally empty. At the Quantum Mechanical (atomic particle) level there are virtual particles being created and being annihilated all of the time in what seems to be empty space. These virtual particles for example--photons, electrons, positrons--will appear from nothing and then disappear so quickly that we do not directly detect them but they can be indirectly detected. Virtual particles affect the spectrum (influencing the electron orbiting the nucleus)--for example, of a hydrogen atom--and can be detected doing this to a high degree of accuracy.

So, the idea that something can come from what seems like nothing is more than possible it actually happens all of the time we just do not notice it. The author goes on in his book to argue that there are at least three types of Universes, and these types are close, open, and flat. The current evidence supports the prevailing theory that our Universe is 13.72 billion years old and it is a flat and expanding Universe. A flat and expanding Universe is what is expected to occur if our Universe came from nothing or at least almost nothing. The latest data from the background microwave energy signature left over from the Big Bang and estimates of the amount of mass in the Universe point to a flat Universe. Krauss details most of the background needed to understand the possible beginnings and evolution of our Universe. I recommend this book to those who like to understand one of the big questions facing humans for centuries. [-gf]

3D, THE AVENGERS, and 1701 (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

In response to Mark's comments on 3D in the 05/11/18 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

The View-Master company used several sorts of 3D. The best was natural three-dimensional photography with a stereo camera. They used it for nature reels, TV shows, some movies, and (using model photography) various cartoon characters.

Second best was material drawn as cartoons, and carefully photographed for left- and right-eye views. I suspect they did not shoot these through a multi-plane camera, but carefully arranged the items on two pages, using photocopiers for exactness, and colored them with something like Chartpak color [self-adhesive] film. The suspicion comes from a set where some area of color wasn't the same on both sides.

Third best was the crummy paste-up, used with stuff that had been photographed flat. A background photo. A floating slab with another photo on it. Floating text in front of that. Big whoop.

Worst of all, every so often something would go out completely flat. They made a historic 3-reel set of stereo slides of, if memory serves, Abe Lincoln. There were one or two that weren't real stereo to begin with (the problem is not new), and these were included and passed along uncritically. There may have been a footnote that these pictures were so good they used them even though they did not possess the one indispensable element that should be the main reason for existence of any View-Master photo.

I guess there could be one worse than that, though that's in the eyes of the beholder. Once in a while, stereoscope slides got reversed, leading to a sort of crash of the dimensions. Objects that should be closer are tracked as if they are farthest away, and backgrounds are shoved to the front, minus cutouts for the now-embedded foreground items. It sounds sort of cool, but the cortex doesn't know what to do with it, so it's mostly irritating. If you look at a hologram from the back, it's neater, because the embedded foreground bits move within their confining backforeground. (I tried reversing my 3D glasses in THE AVENGERS, but didn't get this effect--just doubled items.) [-kw]

Mark responds:

I guess what I remembered in View-Master were the third category. At the time I might have noticed the other kinds, but the "pasteboard stand-ups" type of 3D is what stuck with me. [-mrl]

On response to Mark's review of THE AVENGERS in the same issue, Kip writes:

In your review, you came perilously close to quoting some version f a joke I've been telling for years, where an assistant says to Stan Lee, "Um, we've had the villain shot, stabbed, strangled, decapitated, quartered, blown up, atomized, the atoms disassembled and neutralized, and each one sent to a different galaxy, and then we went back in time and made those galaxies stop existing." "So?" "Well, I was wondering if we were planning on killing him off." "Nah, just leave it hanging." [-kw]

Mark replies:

I had never heard the Stan Lee story, but it appears he is aware of the situation. Stan Lee has some bizarre ideas. He seems to like the theme that one man can make a difference, but it does not mix well with a fantasy genre. I mentioned it in my review of DAREDEVIL (where the comment was rescued by member Bill Higgins for occasional use in his signature file). I said:

In his angst Daredevil asks himself the question, 'Can one man make a difference?' And I think the film answers inspirationally with a resounding 'Yes, one man with radioactive mutant super-powers can make a difference.' I think that is a message we all needed in these troubled times."


And in reference to that same issue's number, Kip adds:

1701: Trek reference! [-kw]

Mark responds:

Does that mean we have had one MT VOID issue for ever starship, cruiser, escape pod lifeboat, garbage scow, troop ship, etc. in the Federation? [-mrl]

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

WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF INNOVATION by Steven Johnson (ISBN 978-1-59448-771-2) has a structure that lends itself to summary by chapters: Reef, City, Web: In reefs, in cities, and in the World Wide Web, there is "superlinear scaling": doubling the size of a reef more than doubles the variety of species, and similarly for cities and for the Web.

The Adjacent Possible: What is possible is constrained by current conditions, but each piece of progress makes even more possible. Johnson uses the analogy of a room with four doors, each opening into another room with four doors, and so on. A simpler example is that before high-quality metals are developed, you cannot make delicate machinery. But once you have brass and steel, a lot more becomes possible.

Liquid Networks: This is mostly about the idea of allowing people to form ad hoc connections--as with open-plan offices--that may encourage ideas. This to me is more aptly termed "fluid networks".

The Slow Hunch: We think of science and technology as being full of "Eureka!" moments, but in fact most big ideas come about gradually. Even if at the end there is a sudden "coming-together" of all the pieces, it took time to assemble the pieces.

Serendipity: Ideas often occur when we are not looking for them. Many scientists say they got their ideas, or their solutions to problems, when they stopped working and went for a walk.

Error: Evolution only happens when errors are introduced into DNA. If DNA replication were perfect, there would be no change. And many ideas come from "failed" experiments or accidents.

Exaption: Creativity is greater when many different disciplines are brought together simultaneously, either in a group or within one person.

Platforms: This chapter would have made more sense if Johnson had not relied so heavily on the examples of jazz and of Twitter, because I am not all that familiar with either. It seems mostly an extension of the "adjacent possible" he talked about earlier.

The Fourth Quadrant: (I cannot summarize this because it seemed to consist of a lot of confusing diagrams with orthogonal characteristics defining quadrants, but why these particular characteristics?)

As Jorge Luis Borges once said, "Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness: expanding in five hundred pages an idea that could be perfectly explained in a few minutes. A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer a summary, a commentary." Or as Mark said, this book might have made a good ten-page article.

MURDER IN THE PLACE OF ANUBIS by Lynda S. Robinson (ISBN 978-0-345-38922-X) is the first in a series of mystery novels set in ancient Egypt during the reign of Tutankhamun. One might suspect that this period was chosen because Tutankhamun is about the only Pharaoh most Americans are familiar with. (Second place would be held by Rameses II, but that would get you all involved with all those Hebrew slaves.) Tutankhamun's reign was an era that has some inherent interest, though, as Egypt returns to the worship of the old gods after the brief period of monotheism under Akhenaten, and all the intrigues and in-fighting that arise from whipsawing people's religions around are present.

However, Robinson assumes her audience is fairly ignorant of ancient Egypt, and there appears one infodump passage after another. There are descriptions of furniture, descriptions of buildings, explanations of the irrigation plans, explanations how the food supply works, and so on. None is very long, but after a while, they become a bit annoying. And for all the atttempts at authenticity, it seems as though the attitudes of the people are very 20th-century. (The book was written in 1994.)

The mystery is okay, though an attempt to introduce additional suspects very late in the book seems awkward--it is Father Knox's first commandment that "the criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow."

(Yes, I know that Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, among others, have violated several of Father Knox's commandments. Nevertheless, it is not something that should be attempted by authors of lesser skill.)

MURDER IN THE PLACE OF ANUBIS is okay, though I cannot say I am eager to rush out to read any of the others in the series. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Never have more children than you have car windows. 
                                          --Erma Bombeck 

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