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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/12/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 15, Whole Number 1723
Table of Contents
Senior Dilemma (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There are all kinds of special perks for seniors. Movie theater tickets cost less. You can have the special seats on buses. Restaurants have special cheap menus only for seniors. It sounds great. Don't you believe it. Society is set up to try to ensnare you into becoming a senior. All this special considerations is just bait for the trap. It's like taking the King's Shilling or enlisting in the Army. Once you become a senior there is no going back. When you are a senior you are always a senior. One little meal one day from the Senior Menu and they got you. You are a senior for life. Or so my researches have led me to believe.
There is only one way out of that category and the cure is worse than the ailment. [-mrl]
TCM October Redux (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I hadn't noticed this before but Turner Class Movies has a nice set of film notes for each of many of their major Halloween offerings. Click on the following, and you will see a listing down the right side of the page. Just click on the movie you are interested in: http://tinyurl.com/void-tcm1210. [-mrl]
My Flange (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the Shelley poem of the same name, Ozymandias told the world to look upon his empire and despair at its grandeur. Yet even that huge kingdom had fallen to dust. Time and sand had reclaimed his great empire. It is true that one frequently cannot predict what is permanent in the world and what only appears currently to be permanent.
Aristotle looked at the force with which heavy objects try to fall to the earth and how slowly a leaf or a feather fell. He concluded that the heavier an object was the faster it would fall to earth. That remained the consensus of scientific thought until Galileo demonstrated it was not true.
Scientific consensus in the time of the Greeks was that the Earth was the center of the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus presented a theory that instead it was the Sun was the center of the universe. That proved to not be true either, but it was more nearly correct than the ideas that came before it. Our best ideas become dated and eventually no longer true.
Newton did some very impressive work describing the behavior of objects in motion. He was very nearly correct. His work stands, but later discoveries showed it was not just exactly right either. It was an oversimplification that worked only at low speeds. Scientific consensus from Newton's time held that light had to move through a medium. It required the Michelson-Morley experiment to show that could not be true. Einstein showed that his formulae were only approximately correct and did not work when very high speeds were involved.
Scientific consensus is usually the best model of the universe that fits the contemporary known facts. But no scientist can ever be certain that he actually knows the truth and that his work is ultimately correct.
So that is the way it is with most science. Newton had found what he thought were scientific facts that later had to be corrected. It is part of the scientific method that no finding is ever known to be permanent.
And then there is Euclid. Euclid proved theorems of geometry that will never need correcting. Euclid's five postulates really do imply all that Euclid said they did. (Yes, I am sure someone will say that Euclid's geometry has been discredited by the existence of non-Euclidean geometries. Not so. Non-Euclidian geometries are perfectly consistent with Euclidean geometry. They build from different axioms and draw different conclusions. Non-Euclidean geometry only shows that if you change the original premise you change the resulting conclusions. Different premises lead to different conclusions.)
Mathematics is a science, but it is the only science (unless Logic is a science) that has real proof and in which your conclusions can actually be permanent. While Ozymandias's empire has crumbled and fallen, Euclid's constructions are as fresh and strong today as they were on the first day that Euclid stated them. And on the date when the universe meets its ultimate fate Euclid's discoveries will remain true. Now that is real construction.
I myself made a mathematical discovery. In high school I asked myself a high school math sort of question. It took about two years for me to answer it by discovering a certain peculiar function. Later, in college, one of the graduate school professors (without telling me) gave his students the task of researching my problem. Who had worked on it before me and who was the first to discover what I had discovered? It turned out a famous mathematician had invented the same *techniques* for defining a function. He never looked at my particular bizarre function. My discovery will always be true, and it will be *my* discovery. The proofs are not difficult and are correct to a high degree of probability. My discovery is secure and permanent like Euclid's and a step better than Aristotle's and Newton's. It will never need correcting and will never be proven wrong. That is a small part of what makes mathematics a very special science.
It is really a very small thing I suppose, but I think I have added to humanity's knowledge of mathematics. I am the first to admit that it is something small and perhaps not really important. But it is sort of like being the man who designed the flange that held the valve on one of the tanks of liquid oxygen of Apollo 11. It is not a big contribution, but he was part of the Apollo 11 accomplishment. Unlike Isaac Newton's excusably faulty work that had to be fine-tuned, my discovery will be factual and be mine forever. I was the discoverer of a truth that will be true to the end of the universe. I can live with that even if it is a modest accomplishment.
In mathematics a high school student can still make a discovery that in some senses trumps Isaac Newton. Newton's work was incorrect and mine will be true to the end of the world. That is not the only thing that I love about mathematics, but it is one amazing aspect. [-mrl]
Ellen Datlow on Anthologies and Publishing (report by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This is a brief report on Ellen Datlow's talk to the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers at the Old Bridge Public Library last Saturday.
Well, actually, it was more a question-and-answer session than a talk. Many of the questions were about the "mechanics" of publishing anthologies: open vs. closed, reprint vs. original, etc. A lot were specific to writers; I'll cover just the general interest ones.
There was quite a bit of discussion of YA publishing. It began with someone asking what Datlow did if the stories submitted for an anthology were too similar. She gave the example of a recent anthology she was working on. When she started line editing it, she realized that almost all of them were written from a first- person point-of-view. When she called one of the authors who had yet to send his story in and asked what his point-of-view character was, he said, "Getting a lot of first-person stories?" It turns out that the topic (post-apocalypse) was one a lot of authors were writing for the YA market, and in that market, first-person stories are the rule, not the exception.
As primarily a horror editor, this was new to Datlow, particularly since when she was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, there was no YA market. Instead, there were children's books and adult's books. Now the publishers are actually subdividing the YA market into "Middle Grade" (eight to twelve years old), "Tweens" (twelve to sixteen years old), and "Young Adult" (sixteen to nineteen years old). In all cases the story needs a young protagonist, of the age of the target readership.
As for content, some swearing is allowed, sometimes, but no "F" words. There can also be some violence and some sex, depending on the content. Datlow pointed out that many of the complaints people make about YA books are that they have rape, incest, and drugs. And the response is that the books have these things, because many of the readers are dealing with these problems. She noted that she saw the film ON THE BEACH as a pre-teen, and it scared her to death.
There was also a discussion of the horror genre. The Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers used to be called the Garden State Horror Writers, but many members wanted something less limiting. As it is, horror blends in with dark fantasy in one direction and with thrillers in the other. Datlow said it has been primarily a marketing category and she was not sorry to see it go, especially since the marketing resulted in covers that were completely useless. (I can remember the entire horror section in bookstores being filled with books with embossed black covers with and a splash of red and/or silver, often with a cutout,
Datlow said that she does not usually do open market for anthologies unless some one else is willing to read the slush pile. (While it is true that there may be a gem in the slush pile-- Nicholas DiChario's Hugo-nominated "Winterberry" was sent to Mike Resnick for ALTERNATE KENNEDYS, which was not even an open-market anthology--they are rare.
Datlow claimed it is less risky to take a flawed story for a magazine than for an anthology, because there is much more room. (But others claim that it is more risky, because if someone picks up one issue and finds a story they don't like, they won't subscribe, and if they are subscribers, they may not renew.)
Datlow said that there is some plan to use Kickstarter for her next anthology. It is a non-theme anthology and non-theme anthologies don't generally do well. Also, Kickstarter is too much work in general, but she figured she would give it a try, for a non-theme horror anthology. To keep the costs down, she is paying six cents/word (which is low). [-ecl]
Names (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am listening to a podcast series, "The History of Rome", and I am having problems keeping track of the emperors. This is understandable during the Third Century Crisis, when some emperors lasted only six weeks and at times there might be several men claiming simultaneously to be emperor. But I am thinking of a different problem.
I have no problem distinguishing between Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson, or between James Madison and James Monroe, or even between John Adams and John Quincy Adams. In English history, I don't confuse Richard II and Richard III, or Henry II and Henry VIII, though I will admit that keeping all the Edwards and Georges straight is a bit iffy.
But I just cannot sort out Septimus Severus, Severus Alexander, and Severus II. Maximinus Thrax, Maximianus Herculius, Maxentius, Maximinus Daia, and Maximinus II are a total hash. (And every time I hear the name "Maximinus" I expect there to be a "Minimaxus" to go with it. Sorry--math joke.) And I am sure that Constantine the Great chose his sons' names (Constantine, Constantius, and Constans) just so we would have to keep track of Constantius I Chlorus, Constantius I through II, Constantine I through XI (or possibly XIII--I haven't figured that part out yet), and Constans I and II.
(I can manage the emperors from Augustus through Commodus with little problem, and certain others stand out--for example, Diocletian. But when one looks at the names of the Eastern emperors, one must conclude that they seemed to want to choose some of the most complicated names, with given names, numbers, and appellations or family names (or both).) [-ecl]
SIMON & THE OAKS 9film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Two boys grow up in Sweden before and after WWII comes to Europe. Isak is Jewish and Simon discovers that he is adopted and half Jewish. Director Lisa Ohlin tells us about how that affects the boys, but it also is very much about the relation of Simon to the woman he as been brought up thinking was his mother. SIMON & THE OAKS is based on the novel, a bestseller in Europe, by Swedish author Marianne Fredriksson. Though the story does not seem to go into new or even unexpected territory it is engrossing and ultimately affecting. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
I particularly like films like SOLDIER OF ORANGE, HOPE AND GLORY, or WINTER IN WARTIME or the TV series WISH ME LUCK that develop characters and then show the affect that World War II had on them individually and upon their relationships. Both the horror of the war and the prejudices fostered by the Holocaust change people in these dramas.
Growing up in neutral Sweden, specifically in Gothenburg, during the years just before and after World War II, Simon (played by Jonatan S. Wachter and later by Bill Skarsgard) is protected from the violence happening in much of Europe. But the imaginative but odd boy is lonely. His best friend is an oak tree and he likes to find pictures in clouds, behavior out of place in a family of farm stock. Simon's mother (Helen Sjoholm) is sympathetic, but his father (Stefan Godicke) wants his son to toughen up. Simon gets to go to a forward-looking school in spite of his father's misgivings. There Simon meets Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson and later Karl Linnertorp) a Jewish boy from the same school. The other boys bully Isak for being Jewish, but Simon and Isak become fast friends and bring together the two families. Isak is the son of a prosperous bookseller Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers) who takes a liking to Simon. Ruben sees potential in the boy and is interested in helping the boy live up to his intellectual potential and want to help Simon without alienating the boy's father. Ruben had brought his family to Sweden to flee the Nazis and their sympathizers, only to face prejudice in Sweden. And Simon finds out not only is he adopted, but also that he himself is half Jewish.
One would think that the most dramatic years of this relationship would be during the war years. Director Lisa Ohlin tells the story in segments separated and flanking the war, which eliminates the need to show the actors playing the characters as boys transforming into the different actors who play them as men. Ohlin gives us a view of the forces on the two youths and then tells what happens to them as adults. The war and the Holocaust hang over the story but stay at arm's distance from the two. We see more the affect on Simon of his adoption and his actual parents. Simon, who had always been close to his stepmother, all the while thinking she was his biological mother, searches for what his new attitude should be to the woman who gave him loving care while all the while tacitly leaving him deceived.
Dan Laustsen's photography captures those all too rare days of really pleasant weather in Swedish summertime seasoning them with a touch of fantasy in showing us the lonely boy who has befriended trees and sees camels in the clouds. Liefers is particularly strong as Ruben. Unexpectedly he becomes a more central character than Isak. If anything, Isak seems to drop out of the story after a point. The story is more compelling in the prewar years. Later as the characters to keep track of proliferate it is a little troublesome to keep them all straight. Somehow the plot loses its some of its forward momentum. The story has done well in Europe, both as a novel and a film. The film comes to the US on October 12. I rate SIMON & THE OAKS A low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1375669/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/simon_and_the_oaks_2012/
What Is Science Fiction? And One Impossible Thing (letter of comment by Paul S. R. Chisholm):
In response to Mark's comments on "what is science fiction?" in the 10/05/12 issue of the MT VOID, long-time subscriber Paul Chisholm writes:
I've been meaning to ask the two of you (Mark and Evelyn) something about that.
I very vaguely remember a definition of science fiction, probably by Isaac Asimov, something like this: Science fiction is a category of stories where the author is allowed one impossible thing, and everything else in the story must follow logically either from the universe as we know it or from that one impossible thing. I'm sure this was covered in the panel.
There are obvious flaws in this definition. Some SF has zero impossible things: extrapolating from our current world into the future one, or depending on a possible alternate history. Some very hard SF combines multiple impossible things, such as fast than light travel plus time travel. Maybe Harry Potter is SF if "one impossible thing" is "magic works" (and that "magic" explains werewolves and a bunch of other stuff, and we accept the secret history as possible); clearly Mark's definition avoids this. Problem is, despite the obvious queries to my favorite search engine. I can't find that definition. I can find a lot of discussions that reference it, but not the definition itself.
How about you?
Unsatisfying as this definition is, it has its uses. Too many genre movies skip the "everything else makes sense" part. If an audience is crazy or dumb enough to accept aliens or robots or whatever, some filmmakers seem to feel, they're crazy or dumb enough to accept anything. This leads to the summer blockbusters where the price of admission includes checking your brain at the door. The "one impossible thing" is a good place to stand if you want leverage for avoiding such nonsense.
As for myself, sometimes I define SF as a marketing category. Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein were marketed as SF writers, and shelved accordingly. Vonnegut was marketed as a mainstream writer, by his very deliberate choice, and would have remained so even with rocket ships and ray guns.
Hope this helps. [-psrc]
In *my* favorite search engine (at least for things sfnal), rec.arts.sf.fandom, Butch Malahide pointed me to http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/wellss_law:
"Term used in this encyclopedia for the principle, formulated by H G Wells, that an sf or fantasy story should contain only a single extraordinary assumption. James Blish paraphrases it in More Issues at Hand: Critical Studies in Contemporary Science Fiction (coll 1970) as by William Atheling Jr, speaking of Wells's "hard rule . . that only a single fantastic assumption was admissible per story, and must thereafter be developed with the strictest logic of which the writer is capable." Wells's best-known statement of the "law" appears in his introduction to The Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells (omni 1933; cut vt Seven Famous Novels 1934)" [-sfe]
It then goes on to quote Wells:
". . . Anyone can invent human beings inside out or worlds like dumb-bells or a gravitation that repels. The thing that makes such imaginations interesting is their translation into commonplace terms and a rigid exclusion of other marvels from the story. Then it becomes human. "How would you feel and what might not happen to you," is the typical question, if for instance pigs could fly and one came rocketing over a hedge at you. How would you feel and what might not happen to you if suddenly you were changed into an ass and couldn't tell anyone about it? Or if you became invisible? But no one would think twice about the answer if hedges and houses also began to fly, or if people changed into lions, tigers, cats and dogs left and right, or if everyone would vanish anyhow. Nothing remains interesting, where anything may happen.
For the writer of fantastic stories to help the reader to play the game properly, he must help him in every possible unobtrusive way to domesticate the impossible hypothesis. He must trick him into an unwary concession to some plausible assumption and get on with his story while the illusion holds. And that is where there was a certain slight novelty in my stories when first they appeared. Hitherto, except in exploration fantasies, the fantastic element was brought in by magic. Frankenstein even, used some jiggery- pokery magic to animate his artificial monster. There was trouble about the thing's soul. But by the end of last century it had become difficult to squeeze even a momentary belief out of magic any longer. It occurred to me that instead of the usual interview with the devil or a magician, an ingenious use of scientific patter might with advantage be substituted. That was no great discovery. I simply brought the fetish stuff up to date, and made it as near actual theory as possible.
As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention." [-hgw]
I suspect that if Asimov stated the "one impossible thing" rule, he was paraphrasing from Wells. [-ecl]
I don't remember Asimov's definition being mentioned. I am not too sure that I like counting the implausibilities. Asimov would say that a story that assumes that the Earth is a giant space-traveling animal is science fiction, but one that assumes a starship has an interstellar drive and a cloaking device is not because that is two (or really three) assumptions. You have to take into account the degree of implausibility. And you have to distinguish on the spectrum from "for now not yet possible" to "ain't never gonna happen ever, no way!" Of course there is not working plausibility test to decide if a story is plausible for all. I think each person has to decide on the overall plausibility of a story to decide if it is or is not science fiction. Of course that makes it hard to be certain a story is for all people science fiction.
I can find a different definition of SF by Asimov, but not yours. He said, "Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology." Notice that the "one impossible thing" limit may merely be an observation that may be true but was not intended to be an actual definition. That may be why you are having a hard time finding documentation that it is Asimov's definition.
But figuring out who wrote the definition of SF you are using is a digression. We can discuss the definition without knowing where it came from. I am not keen on the definition, though it is more useful than mine since there would be more agreement on whether a particular story is SF or not. All you have to do is find the particular impossible thing. [-mrl]
Tim Bateman also quoted Mark's comments favorably in rec.arts.sf.fandom, prefacing them with:
I always enjoy this "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" discussion. In this instance, Mark does an excellent job with the following: ..." [-tb]
Dictionaries (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Tim Bateman, and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Evelyn's comment about finding an error in a dictionary, Kip Williams writes:
Back in the glory days of Popeye, somebody makes fun of him for saying "I yam..." He ends up going to the dictionary, where he finds that "yam" is defined as a sweet potato. Popeye chuckles at the absurdity of this, "I swee'potato what I swee'potato an' thass all I swee'potato!" and concludes "I bet I yam the only guy wich foun' a mistake in the dictionary."
Okay, now he's not alone any more. [-kw]
Tim Bateman writes:
This made me smile, as it reminded me of Christopher Tietjens in Ford Madox ford's PARADE'S END; his hobby is correcting errors in the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA. [-tb]
And Keith F. Lynch asks about the "one error":
It's out of date? The print is too small? :-) [-kfl]
No, those are defects, not errors. And the magnifying glass helps. (At one time I didn't need it.) [-ecl]
Quatermass (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Mark's comments on Turner Classic Movies in the 10/05/12 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT was indeed good, but I liked the second Quatermass just as much--and can't find it anywhere. Does any copy of it remain? [-gb]
Are you asking about the television play:
or the film that Hammer made from it?:
I like QUATERMASS 2 a great deal, but QUATERMASS AND THE PIT had for me a fresher idea. QUATERMASS 2 was a good paranoia piece, but the idea of taking over human minds had appeared in INVADERS FROM MARS, two years earlier. What makes QUATERMASS AND THE PIT stand out is that Kneale, in my opinion, beat out Arthur C. Clarke and 2001. Both used a premise that pre-humans had been altered to have greater intelligence. Clarke takes the idea and basically says uplift will happen again. Kneale looks at how are we different today because of the uplift. And he gets out of it psychic and telekinetic phenomena, race prejudice, and the similarity of myths across cultures. I just think he did more with the idea of uplift. I have not found an earlier example of uplift in science fiction unless you count ISLAND OF DR MOREAU. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
UNDER THE HARROW by Mark Dunn (ISBN 978-1-59692-369-0) by Mark Dunn is hard to describe without *some* spoilers. However, much of what may seem like spoilers is guessable fairly early on, and is revealed in the first third of the book. The spoilers may be more of the works I discuss that it seems to have borrowed from (been inspired by).
We begin in the valley of Dingley Dell. For most people these days, this will conjure up a "Monty Python" sketch, but the original reference is to Charles Dickens's THE PICKWICK PAPERS, and that is where the name has come from. In fact, this isolated valley seems to have comes straight out of Dickens, but the 2003 timestamps at the beginning of each chapter would appear to make that impossible. We eventually learn that this valley has built its society, founded entirely by orphan children abandoned there in the 19th century, around the few books left to them: the Bible, the Encyclopedia Britannica, an atlas, a dictionary, and the works of Charles Dickens. But how (and why) it has remained isolated all this time takes a bit more explanation.
The action of UNDER THE HARROW takes place in 2003, but was published in 2010, and I found myself thinking of many earlier works that this seems to be similar to. There is M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE (2004), where the set-up is similar--but the explanation is different. There is GALAXY QUEST (1999), where a society uses fictional works as their guideline, but in UNDER THE HARROW they know that Dickens's works are fiction. And the final parallel is to the G.E. TRUE episode "The Last Day", in which what appears to be a normal American town [*SPOILER*] turns out to be an entire town constructed and populated in the Soviet Union to train their spies on how to infiltrate the United States. ["END SPOILER*]
Dunn attempts to explain how all the problems inherent in the premise are solved. Why, for example, do so few people try to leave Dingley Dell? How do they manage to be self-sustaining? And so on. The book is a combination of puzzle and thriller, written in large part in Dickensian English, and will appeal primarily to those who are comfortable with that style.
As a side note, Dunn does not write normal books. His ELLA MINNOW PEA was progressive lipogrammatic writing (i.e., writing that avoids one or more letters). And his "IBID: A LIFE / a novel in footnotes" is just what it says--the introductory material explains how the actual book was accidentally destroyed, and only the footnotes are left. In 2004 this was entirely imaginary; in 2009 Justin Gawronski discovered that he owned just such a book when Amazon deleted his Kindle copy of 1984, leaving him with only the footnotes he had made on it.
I really liked TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson (ISBN 978-1-56865-278-8) back in 1971, because at the time it really seemed to convey a sense of wonder about deep space (and deep time). Now, alas, the characterizations seem dated and the science outdated. (There also seems to be more hand-waving than I remember about exactly how they are going to find a suitable planet without decelerating if they are traveling through entire galaxies in the blink of an eye (by their frame of reference). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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