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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/07/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 10, Whole Number 1718
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ)
September 13: GATTACA (1997), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, discussion after September 27: CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 4: Film: OCTOBER SKY (1999), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM October 18: THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN by Alexander McCall Smith, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 15: TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (tentative), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM (note this is the *third* Thursday) December 20: DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Speculative Fiction Lectures:
September 8: Ginjer Buchanan (editor at Ace Books), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N October 6: Ellen Datlow (Hugo-Award-winning editor), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N November 3: Michael Penncavage (author), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
Northern New Jersey events are listed at:
Hugo Award Winners:
The Incredible Sameness of Snowflakes (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, here it is, summertime. It is hot. I decided this week to talk about a cold subject. My topic is snowflakes. Just sit someplace cool and read it.
I just heard it again the other day in a nature documentary. Snowflakes! There are so many snowflakes in the world with no two alike. People are all so astounded about how there can be trillions of snowflakes in the world and no two are just alike. I mean is that really at all unexpected? There are also about a trillion rocks. (I don't know the figure. I am guessing.) You find me two rocks that are just the same and I will be impressed with snowflakes being all different. Nobody gets excited that no two rocks are the same. It is not the differences in rocks that impress most people. Rocks are strong and snowflakes are fragile. Everybody gets mushy over snowflakes.
What is really amazing about snowflakes is not difference but sameness. Picture a snowflake. It has six "legs" and they are all decorated the same way. Each leg looks just like its five partners. How does one leg know how the other legs are going to be decorated to decorate itself in the same way. In a sense there has to be some way they are communicating with each other so that each knows to decorate just like the others. Sure they are all connected at a hub and at that hub is a bit of dust or some such that the snowflake froze around. Now that bit of dust is not symmetric. Yet the snowflake it creates is symmetric. Is there a snowflake's equivalent of DNA. Where is the message to an individual branch of the snowflake that the Central Committee has decided that this is going to be our theme for all six branches. What is to stop a healthy, not partially melted, snowflake from having one branch that is different from the others?
For that matter can you perform surgery on a snowflake to transplant a different branch onto it so that the flake has five legs that are the same and one that is different? (Would it end up looking like a snowflake from THE FLY?) Would a snowflake reject a foreign branch that is not decorated the same way the other five are. Is there some sort of H2O molecular police force leg of the snowflake that would reject a foreign branch? Does it go to a transplanted branch and say "Excuse me, sir. I notice that you are not the same shape as the other five of us. Can you prove you were naturally born on this snowflake?" "I'm sorry, officer, I don't know what you mean." "I mean we all have straight stems with a block on the end of the branch. You are wider at the base and have this thing that looks like a bow-tie at the end. You're going to have to leave the snowflake."
Actually, perhaps what makes a snowflake so symmetrical may come down to a nature-nurture sort of question. Is it some feature of the particle at the center of a flake that determines how the branches will develop? That would be a sort of genetics of snowflakes. Or is it environment? As the snowflake is forming there are tiny changes of temperature and humidity up in its cloud. All six branches are subjected to pretty much the same nano- environment since they are very close on the snowflake. Maybe it is environment that determines how the snowflake is formed and however that shapes the flake is repeated twenty-three times.
Twenty-three???? Where did twenty-three come from?
Most people who look at snowflake say that it is six-way symmetry. You have six identical branches each of which is somehow nice and symmetrical. Actually you have six branches, but each of those branches has four-way symmetry. It is symmetric from left to right with the left side being a mirror image of the right side. But it is also symmetric from front to back. Now on something so tiny as a snowflake the front very nearly *is* the back, but they are different parts of the snowflake even if they look the same. So this one little random bit of the snowflake is there twenty-four times. It is there twelve times identically and twelve times in mirror image. And the ice crystal acts like a three-dimensional kaleidoscope, creating symmetry from randomness. It repeats this random shape 6x4 or 24 times. One 24th has a shape and it is repeated 23 more times.
So it could be the snowflake is really a record of nano- meteorological conditions and the report is just repeated twenty- four times a single snowflake. But if that is true, would a snowflake that formed just tiny distance away be almost the same?
It is something to think about. [-mrl]
SERVING UP RICHARD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What begins as a dark comedy becomes a grim psychological horror film with a battle of wits between the Hutchins couple who perform ancient Mesoamerican blood rituals including cannibalism and their captive, a man of whom they intend to make a meal. From his cage, a prison cell set up in the Hutchins house, Richard Reubens plays a cat-and-mouse game. Written and directed by veteran TV actor Henry Olek, the film has moments of tension, but moves too slowly in the middle act. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Richard (played by Ross McCall) had thought the dog-eat-dog world of finance was bad. Now he is in a world of people-eat-people. Until recently Richard worked for a failing Wall Street firm. He had kept secret from his fellow workers that the company was going under and they were all to lose their jobs. The collapse came and Richard feels guilty. Wanting to distract himself from his guilt he is getting himself a flashy vintage Ford Mustang. He is going to answer an ad for the car, and as he later reflects "the smallest decisions lead to your biggest mistakes." The Mustang is being sold by Everett Hutchins (Jude Ciccolella) an anthropologist and expert on pre-Columbian Zapotec culture. The offer is, however, a trap and a blowgun dart puts Richard in a prison cell built in the Hutchins house. The Hutchins it seems have revived and perform Zapotec rituals here in the comfort in what seems like a pleasant suburban house. Susan Priver, the executive producer of SERVING UP RICHARD, plays Glory Hutchins, a sort of child-woman trying to be as pleasant as possible to the man she will be preparing as food. Richard immediately sees her childish qualities as useful and may be the key to a possible escape. This possibility becomes even more promising when Everett goes alone on a six-week trip leaving Richard in the custody of Glory. But the question is whether Glory is strong enough to be of any help and at the same time impressionable enough to be turned to being willing to help Richard.
SERVING UP RICHARD is at its best when it seems to have a sense of humor in the first act. It effects something of the tone of EATING RAOUL (1982). But there is nobody in this film who can sustain the gruesome silliness like Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov did in that film. So there is a bit of fun with the concept, but that dries up and is replaced by a serious contest of wills between Richard and the Hutchins. The film is a little slow in the second act then, waiting for tension to grab the viewer, though little true tension is generated. The script, written by director Olek from a story by Jay Longshore, hints at undefined supernatural shamanist powers from Everett, but the evidence is ambiguous. This film is clearly shot on a low budget with very little shot outside of the films main set, apparently a living room cut in half by prison bars. Almost all could have been filmed in and around a real suburban home. Beyond that the film has only four characters who interact and are around for more than a moment. The film could very easily be adapted into a stage play.
SERVING UP RICHARD is something of a mixed bag of an apparently whimsical film title and concept, some over-the-top gory images, and a serious conflict of attitudes and acting. To some extent it has the feel of an old EC comic like "Tales from the Crypt". A man does some bad things and then is thrown into a horrific situation completely unrelated to his crimes, but indicating that the Universe has a nasty sense of justice. At the same time it is a film of the present where the crime is topical financial chicanery. This is not the stuff of a solid, serious film. But SERVING UP RICHARD has its moments of fun and does keep the viewer guessing where it will be going. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1766143/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/serving_up_richard/
GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (letter of comment by Peter Lux):
In response to Mark's comments on GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE in the 08/31/24 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Lux writes:
I couldn't let you slip GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE by so easily.
Hammond is very likeable--*too likeable*! This movie supposedly got a good box office response when it was first released but it played to the darker spirit of the Great Depression. Millions were out of work and felt that many of their problems were caused by the financiers, the criminals, the politicians, and foreign governments who were playing Americans as patsies. Sound familiar?
Since all these elements had the resources to twist the laws in their favor, clearly the only way for the working stiff to get a break was to find a defender willing to blast his way through the corrupt legal system--use the army on the gangsters, intimidate foreign powers with the navy, give money to the demonstrators in the street, and generally use the powers of the state to shake down the 1% for the sake of the 99%. I also sensed an ethnic taint in "Diamond" the top gang leader.
As I recollect, this film was very successful and profitable; but to their credit when the studio saw what was happening in Germany they appreciated the danger this film presented and pulled it from distribution. It lay unknown in the archives until Turner bought them and felt the historical value outweighed the evil of the political message.
Every time I start thinking that a Nazi Germany could never happen here I watch this film to dispel my complacency. No one thought it could happen in Germany either--one of the most intelligent and educated populations around. Take GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE out of its dated "1930s cool" idiom and recast it in a "modern cool" style, and I think you'll have a good picture of what it will look like here if it ever happens. Remember Brecht:
Therefore learn how to see and not to gape To act instead of talking all day long The world was won by such an ape The nations put him where this belongs. But don't rejoice too soon at your escape The womb he crawled from is still going strong.
Sorry for the diatribe, but I had to get that out--at heart this is a very dangerous movie. [-pl]
I am not sure I would say dangerous, but certainly it is politically interesting. I would like to think that the United States public is not so willing to be manipulated as they would be by this film. Then again ... ask me again in November. It was directed by Gregory La Cava, who also three years later directed another film about class and the common man with MY MAN GODFREY (1936). Carey Wilson, who wrote the story, had a long history in Hollywood, including co-authoring the original 1925 BEN-HUR. I do not know much about either man's politics. [-mrl]
Neil Armstrong (letter of comment by Greg Frederick):
TOPIC: Neil Armstrong (letter of comment by Greg Frederick)
Greg Frederick sends the following:
You probably have heard about the recent death of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon. But I imagine most people do not know how many times he survived a near-death situation and saved himself and at times the life of another astronaut. Maybe you know about the situation where he took control of the lunar lander during the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and manually landed the lander in a safe flat area when the on-board malfunctioning computer was trying to land the ship in a field of large boulders which would have destroyed the craft and killed him and Buzz Aldrin. There was something like less then thirty seconds of fuel left for the landing but he just coolly took control of the craft without even telling mission control what he was planning to do. There was not even time to explain this better approach to mission control.
He also avoided death when training on a lunar-lander training vehicle back in Florida. This training craft was basically malfunctioning and then it crashed with Neil using a rocket assisted parachute device to jettison himself away just before the crash and explosion. After this near death experience he just went back to his office and started doing paperwork. He was cooler then Steve McQueen.
Neil was also the pilot/astronaut on Gemini 8. The mission of Gemini 8 was to dock with an orbiting Agena rocket. The flight's objective was to practice this docking maneuver for Apollo. When his spaceship started to roll end over end in an uncontrollable fashion after docking he again manually took control and undocked from the Agena and used the Gemini retro rockets to stabilize the Gemini 8 spacecraft, saving himself and his fellow crew member from blacking out and an eventually dying in space. I believe he did this without much assistance from NASA's mission control.
He was a test pilot for NASA's dangerous X-15 rocket plane program and a Navy jet fighter pilot during the Korean War. I think he flew at least fifty missions over North Korea. In one mission part of his wing was torn away by a power cable but he still managed to fly his plane back to friendly territory and then parachuted to safety.
After Apollo 11 he worked in NASA as an administrator and then retired from NASA to teach engineering at a University in Ohio. I just borrowed the five-DVD collection titled "From the Earth to the Moon" from the library. This was a miniseries on HBO some years back which covers the Mercury, Gemini and then the Apollo missions. You will see Neil Armstrong doing his amazing deeds for the Gemini and Apollo missions in this docu-drama series. [-gf]
I knew of Armstrong's death and of how he saved the Apollo 11 mission. (Actually this just came up while Evelyn and I were at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.) When Mission Control says, "We're breathing again," most people did not know how serious they were.
I had not heard of the crash landing. You hear about the heroics of Chuck Yeager and James Lovell, but not so much about Armstrong.
Evelyn and I saw FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON when it was first broadcast and again when we got it on DVD. Actually we purchased it in Armstrong's home town. We had just gone to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum there. Anyway the two best episodes are not directly related to the space program ironically. One deals with teaching the astronauts how to do geology. The other is about Georges Melies. It is timely after the release of HUGO. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This month's book discussion group choice, THE ASTONISHING HYPOTHESIS: THE SCIENTIFIC SEARCH FOR THE SOUL by Francis Crick (ISBN 978-0-684-19431-8), is mis-named. The "astonishing hypothesis" is a form of determinism--everything is reducible to the activities of neurons. Of it, Crick says: "There are, of course, educated people who believe the Astonishing Hypothesis is so plausible that it should not be called astonishing. ... I suspect that such people have often not seen the full implication of the hypothesis. I myself find it difficult at times to avoid the idea of a homunculus. One slips into it so easily. The Astonishing Hypothesis states that *all* aspects of the brain's behavior are due to the activities of neurons. ... Many of my readers might justifiably complain that what has been discussed in this book has very little to do with the human soul as they understand it. ... Such criticisms are perfectly valid at the moment, but making them in this context would show a lack of appreciation of the methods of science."
There are several problems with this. First, the book is *not* about the "scientific search for the soul"--indeed, the soul is barely mentioned. Most of it seems to be about how vision works. Crick explains that this is because that is one of the easiest brain functions to study. (I am reminded of the joke about the man looking for his keys under the street light.)
Second, Crick spends a lot of time talking about vision and color, and describing various optical effects and illusions, but there are no color plates or illustrations.
Third, I find it rather patronizing that Crick tells the reader that if she does not think the hypothesis is astonishing, that is because she does not understand it.
Mark gave what I thought was a good parallel to much of what Crick was saying: a television picture is due to the actions of pixels, yet the collective result seems to be more than just the sum of the parts.
As is often the case, the discussion group drifted off-topic, talking about such diverse topics as how many brains an octopus has, the possibility of multiple origins of life, and "the doorway effect." The last is the fact that you are more likely to forget something when you pass through a doorway. For example, if you get up to get a pen and walk ten feet within the same room, you will probably remember why you got up. But if you walk ten feet into the next room, you are more likely to get there and find yourself thinking, "Now why did I come in here?"
I read ALIEN FROM THE STARS by R. L. Fanthorpe (no ISBN) because I felt I should read something by this (somewhat) infamous author. What I discovered was that Fanthorpe *loved* infodumps, and every once in a while he would bring the action to a screeching halt while one character gives a highly technical lecture on biology or whatever to another character. They are so technical, I have no idea if they are accurate. I am glad I have some idea of what Fanthorpe's writing is like, but I cannot recommend it. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I see it all perfectly: there are two possibilities, one can either do this or do that. My honest opinion and friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it, you will regret both. --Soren KierkegaardTweet
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