MT VOID 12/14/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 24, Whole Number 1732

MT VOID 12/14/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 24, Whole Number 1732

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/14/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 24, Whole Number 1732

Table of Contents

      Wiley Coyote: Mark Leeper, Road Runner: 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

Paul Krugman and Asimov's "Foundation" Novels:

There is an article in the "Guardian" by Paul Krugman titled "Asimov's Foundation novels grounded my economics". The first paragraph is:

"There are certain novels that can shape a teenage boy's life. For some, it's Ayn Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED; for others it's Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS. As a widely quoted Internet meme says, the unrealistic fantasy world portrayed in one of those books can warp a young man's character forever; the other book is about orcs. But for me, of course, it was neither. My Book--the one that has stayed with me for four-and-a-half decades--is Isaac Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy", written when Asimov was barely out of his teens himself. I didn't grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behaviour to save civilisation."

The full article is at

Krugman's endorsement of the Foundation Trilogy inspired the Open Culture website to remind us that the BBC radio adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy--eight one-hour long segments--is available for free downloading at the site.

Storm Diary, Part 5 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

[It is now Sunday, November 4. We are now seven days into the into the power outage. We have been without power for about 114 hours. Things are getting better. Things are getting worse. The house is down to about 55 degrees. It is hard to sleep at night because my CPAP needs power. Evenings are very dull. On the other hand the days are getting better. We now know where we can go out for lunch. In fact today we actually have a good lunch. The problem is you cannot stay at Outback and McDonalds for long. Eventually there is that empty feeling when we come back to a dark, cold house. We see the sky getting darker. We can make the best of the situation and many have things a lot worse than we do. But going into the house and spending the night with the chill is a low point of the day.]


It was hard to sleep between the cold of the house and not having my CPAP. Each day the house temperature drops. Today it was 55 degrees inside, 26 degrees outside.

Today we changed the clocks. I went to sleep about 9 PM, which today would be 8 PM. I got very little sleep though I was in bed more than 9 hours. I am wearing thermal underwear, two pairs of pants, undershirt, button shirt, and two pullover sweaters and even a scarf to bed.

The good news is there are people working on the street. The bad news is that they are not directly involved with electricity but with cutting up fallen trees. Our neighbor had two trees fall apparently on his house. They probably removed some wires at the same time. The workers are over there cutting up the tree.

Without power, Internet, or cable, we can only see this storm from the inside. The only time we see the worst of the devastation is when we have found some place with power to plug in our PC. And then we are very rushed. Anything we cannot see driving around the roads near home we cannot see at all except for a few photos we can bring up on the laptop. From what people are saying there is probably spectacular damage that has been done.

I guess what frightens me is the idea that my neighbor had two trees fall on his power line. If there were only three houses that had damage in my development it would be unlikely that I would be so near one of them. That leads me to believe there are a lot of homes with damaged lines. The repair people were taking a good piece of the day to make that repair. This leads me to believe that there may be several weeks of work to be done restoring power to just my development. The ambient temperature in my house today is 55 degrees F and it drops one or two degrees a day. It won't be long before it will be darn unpleasant and cold in the house. It was below freezing this morning when I woke up. If it gets below 32 in the house, we could be in for some real trouble. Outside the temperature is due to be below freezing.

We went out to use some free electricity to charge batteries on my iPod and our laptop. Dinner was at a working class Mexican restaurant. We turned it into a one PC Internet cafe.

It is 4:15 in the afternoon and already it is getting dark and cold. Is this the fun part?

Less than an hour later the phone rang. Our friends had returned from New York to a house with light and power. They had called home to find if there was power back and their answering machine had turned on.

One of the first things they did was invite us over to spend the night in a house with electricity and heat.

To help earn our keep I suggested we bring a movie to watch. They said they wanted a comedy to lift their spirits. They needed a good laugh. With a little thought I decided to try the original DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2007). (Both hosts thought it was a good choice. One was just laughing at the film and the other was laughing so hard Evelyn claimed his face was turning red. It is a very funny movie.)

But that was later. They offered us a warm bed for the night. We tried a few times to call our phone, but the answering machine did not answer so we knew there was still no power.

Our hosts had dinner and wanted us to join them, but we could not eat after that big lunch.

Later we saw the movie and went to bed. The house was actually warm, which was a delightful change.


Our friends served us breakfast in the morning and we made plans to go home and then return at 5 PM bearing Chinese take-out.

Still our answering machine was not responding. On the drive home several intersections had traffic lights that either were completely out or only flashing red.

On our street in one tight group in front of our house and a few others there were 15 trucks, mostly cherry-pickers. There were no other trucks we saw in the whole development. We must have a particularly troubled set of lines.

Inside the house there was still no power. The temperature was 54 degrees and continues to drop.

I am beginning to think that Lakeridge is the Mount Everest of power outage locations. If you are destined to fail to restore power to an area of New Jersey there is still honor in failing to restore power to Lakeridge. They are throwing their best repair people from all over the country at Lakeridge and they are coming back bloody and humbled. Lakeridge is undefeated. Avalon Hill next month will publish two new war games: Kursk and Lakeridge.

This morning I was guessing from all the attention that Lakeridge was getting it would fall today. Now I think I was optimistic. There is no real sign that the job is even approaching done. This is an older neighborhood with lots of grown trees. They get in the way of work and cause all sorts of problems. Really no progress today. We are staying with our friends. We brought take-out Chinese. At least we could sleep in the warmth of their house.

I believe there are 1300 households without power in Old Bridge. I believe that that is like three times as many as any other town served by Jersey Central Power & Light.

11/06/12 (Election Day)

I have a little bit of Chinese from the previous night for breakfast.

We have been visiting our house daily to be sure things are all right and to look at the progress of repairs. On the way home we saw about ten vultures congregating at the side of the road. Some driver had hit a deer, perhaps because of the darkness of the roads. The vultures were enjoying their windfall.

We stop at our house. The house is down to 51 degrees.

There was about a twenty-minute line to vote. We were able to compare notes with other people who were also suffering from the storm and the outage. There was a family from Cape May who had just arrived for refuge in this area. They were using special voting procedures for refugees from the storm.

After voting we went to the library to use their computers. After that returned to the house. Most gas stations are functioning without long lines.

Then back to the house again to change clothes. Then back to our friends. We had some mushrooms and bread for dinner. She cuts the mushrooms and drizzles them with olive oil and Parmesan. Then she bakes them. That is pretty good.

In the evening we watched MARGIN CALL. All agreed it was good. Then we followed the election returns until it was clear that Barak Obama had won.

The nice thing about a hurricane and losing power is that it gives you an appreciation for the simple things of life. "Look. A traffic light. And it's red when the top is lit. It's green at the bottom. And look. In the middle it's YELLOW." It is just nice to see someone nearby to our house has power.

I am starting to think this whole superstorm thing was a bad idea.


It is Wednesday. After cereal for breakfast we go out shopping ready to go to the house. Maybe there will even be power back.

A nice thing about this power outage is the JCP&L somehow phrases things so that you always feel you are having the last full day of the outage. You go through the day optimistic and just feel bad as the sun is going down.

For quite a while they have been saying most people will have their power back by Wednesday and just about everybody by Friday). This is Wednesday. I am expecting the power back really soon now. With maybe a 30% probability.

And surely by Friday. And almost definitely by Thanksgiving. And nearly certainly by Valentines Day. And it is a virtually guaranteed it will be back by Tish'a B'Av.

I have Gyros for lunch. We go to an electronics store just to keep warm and look for DVDs, though we are not likely to find any we want.

We drive home looking at the devastation. It is pretty bad. At we in sight of our house THE LAWN LANTERN IS LIT!

OK, I was wrong. When we got home in the afternoon we found the lantern on my lawn on. Getting into the house we found that we had arrived just 20 minutes after power had been restored. It came back at 1:18 PM. We had been without power and heat for just two hours and 20 minutes short of 9 days. The house is getting warmer. I run around resetting clocks.


16 days later...

Our recovery is going slowly, but there is no pressure to get things done faster. We need to hire help to remove some fallen trees and it is hard even getting a callback from these people because they are so much in demand. I thought damage on our street was bad, but if I drive around I see so much more destruction than I expect to see. A friend had a nice wooded lot last month. I think he lost most of his trees and his backyard looks like a battlefield. So we are lucky.

Well, hearing about the extent of Sandy, this scenario of the storm would make a really believable, really scary movie. Just a little too much coincidence of factors coming together to make it worse.


When we drive around the area I am amazed to see how much destruction there really was. There are trees down just about wherever you go. There is now a water alert that our water supply was damaged by the storm and we need to cut back on usage. I think we will be feeling the effects of the storm for a long time.


CONNECTED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: CONNECTED is a story with two unfolding plots. One is science fiction and the other is a love story. But the love story gets in the way of the science fiction story and the glacial pace of the telling gets in the way of the love story. This film is nearly two hours long and everything of value could have been told better in a 25-minute length. The film is written, directed, produced, and edited by Dave Ash as his first film. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

John Cooper (played by Clarence Wethern) is a software designer working on producing a machine that can pass the Turing Test. (This is a test of human intelligence simulation software that asks can a machine carry on a conversation with a human and the human will not know if he speaking to a person or a machine.) Through an explanation involving DNA John's company seems on the verge of producing a machine that will pass the test. But John is emotionally disconnected from humanity and is toying with ideas of suicide. Then John's outlook changes. He meets attractive, intelligent Emily Christiansen (Bethany Ford). They spend time together and though awkward at first are certainly interested in each other, but Emily is reticent to let John come too close into her life. Once that is established the film moves at a glacial pace.

While at heart there is a science fiction premise to this film, it is not really one engaged in new ideas. Instead the film has expository dialog. John as a discussion with his psychiatrist "Have you heard of Kurt Godel?" "No." So John explains Godel's proof to the psychiatrist. Frankly I am a little surprised someone with enough education to be a psychiatrist would not have at least heard of Kurt Godel. Admittedly this particular doctor seems in many ways to be clueless. Even more surprising is that John does know of Godel but mispronounces the name as if it rhymes with "yodel". The explanations of science are of some interest though many of the viewers will already be familiar with some of the concepts. The story keeps promising to go somewhere, but never does. The viewer should not expect much of a conclusion to either the love story or the story of the development of the replication human intelligence. The focuses more on John than on the development of the artificial intelligence device and more on John's predicament than his personality. We see a little more of Emily's persona but it is left enigmatic. Emily's story seems to focus on a scene toward the end of the film, but it even there is not clearly explained.

In the hands of cinematographer Jason P. Schumacher much of CONNECTED seems to be shot with a hand-held camera. This does not work for the film. Even with John and Emily standing still, the camera is not locked down and it jiggles around. The top of the frame often will come down and cut of the top of an actor's head. In scene after scene the camera seems to be misaimed. The sound direction seems better through most of the film, but one sequence shot in a movie theater the characters sound like they are speaking in a glass jar.

Moments in the dialog often go slowly with pregnant pauses, but which do not pay off dramatically. They made me wonder if somehow their dialog was supposed to be part of a real Turing Test. One place that the film does very well is that the people working for John's company look the part, better than a Hollywood film would have. They look like people you might actually find working for such a tech company.

This is a first feature film for Dave Ash and for it he took four important functions behind the camera: director, writer, editor, and soundman. As I frequently feel with the first film of a director who has several appearances of his name in the credits, he is spreading himself too thinly. Few new directors have the talent of an Orson Welles to be chief cook and bottle washer on a film. Most film is a collaborative process. Doing so much is an ambitious undertaking, but it may not be well advised. I rate CONNECTED a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Film Credits:


HITCHCOCK (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: HITCHCOCK is the story of the great director, his marriage, his relationships with his starring actresses, and the making of his most easily remembered film, PSYCHO. Combining film history, rumor, folklore, fiction, and speculation, Sacha Gervasi directs John J. McLaughlin's adaptation of a book by Stephen Rebello. We will never know how much of this is true, but it probably does not matter. This is a generally enjoyable production with some foibles of its own. Like an episode of Hitchcock's TV show, HITCHCOCK is entertaining but not great art. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

HITCHCOCK is about so much on and off the set of PSYCHO, that it really is not about a lot of anything but Hitchcock himself. It is mostly about Alfred Hitchcock's double-edged relationship with Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife, who seems to have had at least half of the perceptiveness of the couple--probably more than half. When the film is working on all cylinders it is reminiscent of TOPSY- TURVY's account of Gilbert and Sullivan creating "The Mikado". Too often it is more like ED WOOD's compilation of fan magazine stories about its title director.

HITCHCOCK takes Hitch, as he is called (played by Anthony Hopkins), from his triumph with NORTH BY NORTHWEST, telling the story of how he found his next property in Robert Bloch's novel PSYCHO. He finds he has to fund the production with his own money. If the movie fails he will lose the lovely house he shares with Alma (Helen Mirren).

A large ensemble of familiar actors take parts irrespective of whether they actually resemble their originals. It should be noted that Hopkins is present because he is a darn good actor and not because the makeup staff could do anything at all effective to make him look like Alfred Hitchcock. Anthony Hopkins just looks like a bald, fat Anthony Hopkins finding it impossible to fade into the character he plays. Scarlett Johansson will never be mistaken for Janet Leigh. The one and only exception, and perhaps one that should have been exploited more, is that James D'Arcy appears to naturally resemble Anthony Perkins.

Too much is happening in too many directions to say what the story is. Janet Leigh is able to hold her own and not conflict too much with Hitchcock, which she explains is because she did TOUCH OF EVIL with the even more impossible Orson Welles. Meanwhile Hitchcock is having fantasy conversations with Ed Gein, the real-life serial killer who inspired two different horror series, the "Psycho" films and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" films, as well as the character of Jame Gumb in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The scattershot insults to Hitchcock also imply that Hitchcock himself used the peephole in PSYCHO for much the same reason that Norman Bates did in the movie. Hitchcock and his attractive leading ladies seem to have the same relationship where each feels persecuted by the other.

Alma is trying to be supportive of her husband and at the same time has a relation--platonic and professional, she hopes--with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), the screenwriter of Hitchcock's STAGE FRIGHT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Cook hopes to write another screenplay he can peddle, perhaps to Hitchcock. But Alma does not have the name recognition with the viewer that Hitchcock had, so there is no need to tarnish her reputation the way Hitchcock's is in this film.

Today there is still much controversy about just who Alfred Hitchcock was, and 54 years later it is too late to verify how much of this film's picture of him is true. Gervasy gives us a picture of a genius who is nonetheless full of personal demons and both obsessed by and sadistic toward beautiful women. More than half a century after these events Hitchcock has become legend, and dead legends get no opportunity to defend themselves. I rate HITCHCOCK a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Even More SF TV to Consider (TV reviews by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Fall 2012 has rolled around, and there are always new SF shows starting. This fall has a new season of NIKITA, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and SUPERNATURAL on the CW network. New shows ARROW and THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST appear on the CW as well. FRINGE is playing on Fox, and HAVEN has returned to SyFy. Finally, newbie REVOLUTION from J. J. Abrams is in mid-season hiatus on NBC.

SUPERNATURAL (moved to Wednesday night following the new ARROW) is in its eighth season, but still wearing well. My understanding is that the show's creators had a particular story arc they wanted to do, and they finished it in either Season 5 or Season 7, with the result that they are now beyond any of their original plans for this show. The formula is to have a new menace each week, but after 7 seasons the mythology is getting mined pretty deeply. There is also usually a season-long or even multi-season story arc of some kind, the Season 8 version of which has only been hinted at, but apparently involves someone trying to keep Castiel out of Heaven.

Still, they have done creative things in the new season. The season starts with Dean but not Castiel (an angel) escaping from Purgatory, and the fall-out from this adventure informs many of the Season 8 episodes. BITTEN, which aired October 24th, is a "found footage" episode in which Sam and Dean are rather peripheral as a group of friends, CHRONICLE-style, discover first what is cool about being werewolves and then what is not so cool. A more recent episode, HUNTERI HEROICI, will have a lot of appeal to Bugs Bunny fans as Sam and Dean encounter not a supernatural menace, but a really powerful telekinetic who lives in a nursing home, lost in his memories of childhood cartoons.

NIKITA (still running on Friday night) returns to the CW for a full third season. Nikita and her friends are now working at a "new Division" run by Ryan Fletcher, a brilliant former CIA analyst Nikita saved in earlier episodes, with the mission of tracking down and either eliminating or bringing in from the cold thirty rogue division agents. Of the old Division leadership, Percy is dead and Madeline is in hiding. One of the episodes recapitulates HANNA to some degree, with a rogue division agent having taken up training a new teenage protégée to complete the one mission he failed to accomplish while at Division.

Nikita's main challenge is that the President, as Nikita has recently discovered, has stationed a large number of well-equipped troops right outside Division, ready to break in and kill everyone at a moment's notice. The President is terrified of what will happen if news gets out that Division exists, and is operating on a hair trigger. The tension between the supposed mission of "shutting down Division" and new work has already reared its head, and it is easy to imagine that one day the President will wake up and realize that she needs Division to do something that only Division can do. And then Nikita will have to decide whether she wants to perpetuate Division indefinitely.

The strength of NIKITA is that it takes its premise seriously, and I like how they are working out the "winding down" of Division. A final confrontation with Madeline looms, but the real question is always whether Nikita and her friends will ever leave Division for good, or will they find that, ultimately, it is their only true home.

The previous Nikita TV series ends with Nikita standing in the perch, overlooking the Division operational center, having just taken over as Operations, the head of Division. Division is finally a trap for her. She has worked for years to escape it, but found that in the end she is responsible for it and must stand between the public and the vast damage Division could do run by the wrong person, a job she will never be thanked for, and that will, in end, almost certainly kill her, just as it killed the previous holder of the title Operations.

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES started its fourth season on Thursday night. The main theme of this season is that (finally) Elena Gilbert, the main protagonist, has become a vampire. In a lot of ways the fourth season is a new beginning, with new villains, and with our heroes actually working with Klaus, the previous main villain, much of the time. This universe is a complicated one, people by witches, hunters, vampires, werewolves, and vampire-werewolf hybrids. However, the stories are dominated by the love triangle between Elena, and the Salvatore brothers, Stefan and Damon. In Season 4, Elena decides that as a vampire, she no longer loves Stefan, and turns her affections to bad-boy Damon. Superficially, just another teenage love triangle, VAMPRE DIARIES brings a surprising depth and nuance to the eternal triangle. VAMPIRE DIARIES is still going strong, with fast-paced stories and an interesting cast. I have read at least the first book in the series, and am pleased to report that the TV show is better in every way than the book.

The CW has two new genre shows this season, THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and ARROW. I never watched the original B&B TV show, and I decided not to watch this one either. Although no doubt a timeless tale, it is in the end just a retelling of beastly boy meets delicate girl. ARROW, on the other hand, seeks to play off the popularity of Green Arrow in SMALLVILLE, although the character is played by a different actor, and with a total concept reboot. ARROW is a highly watchable super-hero TV show.

It has long been said that the weakest heroes make the best stories, and Green Arrow is surely one of the weakest DC heroes, pretty much on the same level as Batman. In many ways the Green Arrow comic, with the sidekick "Speedy" dressed in red circus togs, was one of the sillier DC comics, although not as silly as Green Lantern. I am pleased to report that all that is silly in the comic has been dumped, and all that is good has been retained. "Speedy" is now a nickname for Oliver Queen's (Green Arrow's) sister and his sidekick is a large and muscular black special forces soldier originally hired as Oliver's bodyguard, and who wears the costume at key times to protect Arrow's secret identity.

The rob from the rich/protect the poor aspect of the comic has been retained, and ARROW introduces a number of minor DC characters, including Slade Wilson, as Deathstroke the Terminator, Deadshot, and the Huntress. These characters so far have been handled well. Deadshot is, well, dead after his first encounter with Oliver, but it looks like the Huntress will be a major on-going character, and I suspect Slade Wilson will make a number of future appearances since Oliver has a special bone to pick over being tortured on that mysterious island by Wilson.

ARROW creates new origin story for Oliver Queen, spoiled playboy turned masked vigilante, namely that he is on a yacht that sinks, and ends up on a mysterious island, where he meets a man dressed rather like the Green Arrow who lives in a cave. The man attempts to teach him how to survive, but Oliver will have none of it and escapes, only to be captured by soldiers and tortured by Slade Wilson. Oliver somehow endures the torture, which leaves his body extensively scarred, and is rescued by the man in green. Among the things Oliver brings back from the island are a much hardened body, skill with a wide variety of weapons, a strange herb with healing powers, and a book given to him by his father that contains a list of all the crime lords in the city.

Dressing in the Arrow costume, Oliver Queen tries to balance his life as a decadent playboy by day with heroic costumed adventurer at night while he seeks to destroy every crime lord on his father's list. This Green Arrow, unlike Batman, is more than willing to kill if need be, but he does not seek out violence for its own sake. The show is fun and surprisingly entertaining--at least as good as SMALLVILLE and in many ways better. Although the characters are for the most part young and beautiful, this seems more natural given their ages and backgrounds than was the case in SMALLVILLE.

FRINGE is an old friend returned, and I still find the characters engaging. Alas, the plots have grown ever more improbable, and now, with our heroes transported into a future in which the Observers [bald telepaths from the future] have conquered the Earth and imposed a grim dictatorship, things are getting really dubious. Well, they are getting reduced to Mark's classic "three otters in search of a ring" except it is "some number of Fringe Agents in search of video tapes with the secret to defeating the Observers." I'm finding the fifth [and final] season less and less interesting, and have actually stopped watching regularly. My suggestion is to get the first three seasons on DVD and watch them--and forget the last two seasons. J. J. Abram's inability to properly finish first LOST and now apparently FRINGE on a high note does not bode well for his other projects, including STAR TREK and REVOLUTION. So far, the only Abram's show that I found to have a satisfactory conclusion was ALIAS.

HAVEN has returned this fall to the SyFy channel with thirteen new episodes. It has been renewed for a fifth thirteen-episode season to run in the fall of 2013. At first I found HAVEN so slow that it was hard to stay interested. Gradually, it grew on me, and I started watching consistently. HAVEN is a weird pastiche of the supernatural, super-science, super-hero, and the police procedural that is not quite like any other TV show. Week-to-week there are tight little mysteries, some super-hero-ish, some SF-ish, and some supernatural-ish, but all quite watchable. There is, however, a "many plates in the air" tone to HAVEN, and it is easy to imagine that the big explanation, when it comes, will be either incoherent or a huge letdown. The main character is FBI Special Agent Audrey Parker, who finds on arrival in HAVEN that she is a sort of energy sink who is unaffected by the powers of those in the village, and thus a natural for resolving difficult issues.

Audry is assisted by Nathan Wuornos, at first a member of the Haven police department, and later its chief, who is, as they say in Haven, "troubled" himself by having an inability to feel any touch, which as a side effect makes him unable to feel pain. Also working with Audry is Duke Crocker, a restaurant owner and modern-day smuggler who, in addition to being roguishly handsome, turns out to have the power to permanently end a trouble by killing its owner. Together they challenge an army of "troubled" souls with a wide array of super-hero and supernatural powers, some quite inventive.

It gradually evolves that there is a lot more to Audrey than meets the eye--she returns to the town every 28 years, always looking exactly the same, always the same age, but with a new set of memories--but always with the power to help those with "troubles." It gets weirder from there. If they pull it off, it will be something special, but the odds are the show will collapse under its own weight eventually.

We conclude our tour with REVOLUTION, a new J. J. Abrams show. REVOLUTION operates well tactically, and episode to episode, as a sister seeks out an uncle and, joined by a few friends, undertakes a dangerous journey to recover her brother who has been kidnapped by a militia. Oh, yea, this is about fifteen years after the point that electricity stopped working for some unknown reason. Not an EMP attack--electricity just won't work any more, or at least so it appears. Uncle Miles turns out to be a very useful fellow to have on a trip, death on wheels with any weapon, but especially his sword.

For a network show, there is a surprising NRA theme--the good guys are American rebels who own their own guns, and the bad militia have made it illegal to own guns, and have split up the USA into several regions, each with its own warlord. It gradually evolves that there are these odd looking amulets that can turn on electricity, at least locally, and there are some mysterious scientists who seem to know something about how the power might be turned on. Eventually, the leader of the Monroe Militia gets wind of some of this, and the hunt is one to figure out to turn the power on--and just exactly what the dickens is going on!

Rather like HAVEN, this is going to end up with a good explanation, or a terrible one. I'm reluctant to recommend it since there seems to be such a high likelihood of things ending badly, but it is entertaining as an adventure show.

And so, in summary:

New and interesting: ARROW & REVOLUTION.

Getting better with age: NIKITA, VAMPIRE DIARIES, HAVEN.

Still interesting if a bit tired: SUPERNATURAL.

No longer recommended: FRINGE.

Adults and older teens only, mainly due to graphic or horrific violence: VAMPIRE DIARIES, HAVEN, SUPERNATURAL, FRINGE.

Okay for older kids and younger teens, keeping in mind that these are all action shows where people are killed in pretty much every episode: ARROW, REVOLUTION, NIKITA. [-dls]

PRIMARY INVERSION by Catherine Asaro (copyright 1996, Tor, 2000, Blackstone Audio, 10 hours, 59 minutes) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):

PRIMARY INVERSION was the first novel that Catherine Asaro wrote in the Skolian Saga sequence even though it come fifth, more or less, in chronological order. I say more or less because my wife pointed out to me a source that showed it coming a few books later in the sequence. But I digress.

The central character of the novel is Soz Valdoria, a Rhon psion and an Imperial heir to the throne of the Skolian empire. She is a Jagernaut, one of a group of technologically enhanced fighter pilots. She is the leader of a squadron of four Jagernauts. As the book opens, Soz and her squadron are taking shore leave on a planet neutral in the war between the Skolian and Trader Empires. While in a bar with the rest of her team, she meets a man whom she later discovers is Jaibriol Qox, the heir to the Trader throne. While the rest of her team wants to take him out once they find out who he is, Soz convinces them otherwise, ostensibly because how would it look if they fought the enemy in neutral territory. However, what her team does not know is that Qox is also Rhon and a powerful empath. Soz and Qox link and fall in love, and in the process Soz finds out what Jaibriol's father is planning for his next attack. Soz and her team escape and try to warn the planet that will be under attack, but barely escape with their own lives in the process. One of those injured is one of her squad members, Rex, who was going to retire in order to marry Soz. The injury to Rex hit Soz hard, but it hits Rex harder, damaging their relationship irreparably.

The next section of the book deals with an enforced leave that Soz is on, courtesy of her brother Kurj, Imperator of the Skolian Empire. Soz doesn't understand why she needs rest, and is resentful for the assignment. She doesn't think she needs help. She meets some of the locals and tries to fit in, but only ends up feeling more and more lost. Her mental and emotional condition deteriorates to the point where she accidentally points her weapon at her head with the safety off while trying to pick up a singer at a bar. It is that that point that she realizes that she does need help, and she goes to see a "heartbender", the equivalent of a psychologist, one who specializes in mental and emotional problems with Jagernauts.

The final section of the book deals with the capture of Jabriol Qox by the Imperialate fleet. Kurj wants Soz to interrogate Qox. However, Soz finds herself in a very unenviable position. She knows Qox's secret, and she knows that if Kurj finds out she's likely to be sent to prison and interrogated at the very least, possibly executed for treason at the worst. Soz must know that she can't interrogate Qox. She must find a way to free Qox and extricate herself from the situation. She finds help from an unexpected family member. The solution is simple--the execution is difficult.

PRIMARY INVERSION is an absolutely terrific first novel from Catherine Asaro. It is a terrific blend of action, adventure, science, and romance. Even though by this time those of us who have been reading the Skolian Saga chronologically have come to know and love the characters as if they were their own family, this novel manages to make us care about its characters as if we'd known them a long time, even though it was the first novel published in the sequence. And her characters are real people, folks we can identify with, *especially* Soz herself, as she goes through an extremely difficult period in her life and realizes that she needs help from someone else because she cannot help herself. Qox has secrets that could potentially make him an outcast among his own people. The list goe on.

Anna Fields narrated this book. She is not the first narrator that has been employed in this series, but she is certainly the better of the two. I was jarred by her presence at first, since I'd been used to the prior narrator. But at this point in the saga she has grown on me, and I hope she continues to narrate the rest of the books in the sequence. Yes, I know I could look it up, but where's the fun in that?

PRIMARY INVERSION is an excellent entry in the Skolian Saga story, whether for the reader it's the first book or the fifth. I recommend it. [-jak]

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

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín (ISBN 978-1-4516-8838-2) was chosen by the New York Times as one of the hundred best books of 2012, but it seems that you probably have to have a Christian background to appreciate it, while at the same time if you are devout you may well be offended by it. My observation is that I am not sure Tóibín understood the history of Judaism very well. Mary talks about living in what is presumably Nazareth, but definitely not Jerusalem, and she says, "I love watching my husband and my son walking together to the Temple, and I loved waiting behind to pray before setting out to the Temple alone ..." This is in the early part of the first century, when the only "Temple" for Jews was the Temple in Jerusalem, and there is no way people in Nazareth would walk there on the Sabbath. In fact, she later describes it as Jerusalem being two or three days' journey away.

I have commented before on various Agatha Christie tropes such as impersonations and intentional mis-identifications. Another one seems to be a bunch of people who were present or involved in a murder forming a team to try to solve it, but one or more of the people are concealing something, or have an ulterior motive, or in some other way are not what they seem. We see it in THE ABC MURDERS and in THREE-ACT TRAGEDY and possibly in others I cannot recall offhand. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Professor Bernard Quatermass: Roney, if we found 
          out our own world was doomed, say by climatic changes, 
          what would we do about it? 

          Dr. Matthew Roney: Nothing, just go on squabbling 
          like usual. 

          Professor Bernard Quatermass: Yes...

                                          --Nigel Kneale, QUATERMASS 
                                            AND THE PIT


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