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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/15/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 33, Whole Number 1741
Table of Contents
How You Look at It (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A shoe is just a prosthetic callus. [-mrl]
The Verbinator (comments by Lee Beaumont):
[Long-time member Lee Beaumont has created an Internet tool to aid writers. It is an original and I have not seen anything quite like it. Those curious may want to play around with the Verbinator. I will let him describe it. -mrl]
Don't hesitate, verbinate!
Are you looking for that perfect verb to go along with the noun you have so carefully chosen? Perhaps the verbinator can help. While a thesaurus lists words with similar meanings, the verbinator is based on a different relationship; it lists verbs used to animate the noun. Based on more than 7 million noun-verb pairs extracted from the American National Corpus, it suggests verbs found in the same sentence as the index noun. These are listed in order of decreasing conditional probability p(noun | verb). The results are a bit quirky for several reasons. The ANC transcriptions and annotations are not entirely accurate, the ANC includes real-life language samples, the verbs may pertain to the noun as the subject or object in the sentence, and lengthy sentences may have several nouns and verbs not closely related. In any case I hope you have fun and gain some inspiration from the verbinator. [-lrb]
Try out the verbinator:
For a more complete explanation of tool click on "about" low on the Verbinator page. [-mrl]
Comments on CARNIVAL OF SOULS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
These are notes I made for an on-line discussion of the film CARNIVAL OF SOULS.
This very low-budget but atmospheric film has become a horror film classic.
The film can be found in it entirety on YouTube at:
Excerpt from my Utah and Four Corners Trip log:
After we were done walking around the city, we had three hours before our flight. We could have sat around the airport or driven out I-80 and seen the Great Salt Lake. We did the latter. We passed by this large, weird building on the edge of the lake. I pointed it out to Evelyn and said that is where the dead dance after dark. Evelyn chuckled. Then it struck me that CARNIVAL OF SOULS *was* filmed on the Great Salt Lake. "That's the place!" I told Evelyn.
Okay, let me tell you what this is all about. December 31, 1966, New Years Eve, I was alone. My parents were probably out at a party. At something like 1 AM there was a film coming on called CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Never heard of it. But, what the heck, it was an intriguing title. What I saw was just about the best horror film I ever have seen. It was made on what had to be a super-low budget, black-and-white, no gore, no special effects beyond stage makeup, but what a creepy film! It owes a lot to "Twilight Zone" and to the traditions of the silent horror film. So for years I would ask other film fans what they thought of it. The response was uniform~...~"never heard of it." Eventually I started running into people who had heard of it and most who like horror films think this one is pretty good. Much of it was filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, but part was filmed in this baroque, crumbling dance hall on the Great Salt Lake.
We went inside, 90% sure that this was the place in the film. Now it is called Saltair. What we found out is that there have been three baroque buildings on this site. The building in the film burned down in 1970 and was rebuilt not quite so ornately in 1983.
Notes made watching the film:
That was my introduction to Saltair and previously to CARNIVAL OF SOULS.
What is amazing about the film CARNIVAL OF SOULS is that the cheap budget works so much in its favor. There is little unreal to get between the actors and the viewer. Other films have used their low budget to seem more real including NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, NIGHT TIDE, and some of the films done in the "found footage" style (though definitely not CLOVERFIELD).
The neighbor, Mr. Lindon, who looks really creepy, was actually a drama professor from University of Houston.
To further save on budget the film uses exclusively music from one organ. Much the same thing was done on one piano for THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK.
The film borrows heavily from the radio play "The Hitchhiker" by Lucille Fletcher. The play was very successfully done on the radio twice by Orson Welles, once in 1941 and again in 1946. Only the second of these recordings survive. It was also done on the radio series "Suspense" in 1942. Then it was remade on TV's "The Twilight Zone." The main character--male on the radio, Inger Stevens on "Twilight Zone"--is driving across country after having just survived a car accident. Over and over again he/she passes the same mysterious Hitchhiker. If you have seen CARNIVAL OF SOULS you know where this is going. The film also borrows from stories like GHOST in which someone dead cannot get the living to see him.
(As a side note author Lucille Fletcher was the wife of Bernard Herrmann who scored among much, much else, our previous discussion film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.)
I see some problems with the script. Nobody seems to be amazed or to question that Mary is under water for hours and survives. It is hard to imagine the minister of Mary's new church would fire her over just playing eerie music.
It is curious that when the living people cannot see Mary she never tries touching one to see what happens. Evelyn point out that the other customer at the ticket window must be seeing Mary since he avoids bumping into her when both are at the same window.
It is not explained why a chirping bird is both times what brings her back from being undetectable. But that is an interesting touch. It is sort of nature brings her back into the living world.
Wes Craven remade this film. I thought it was terrible and he does not seem to understand what made the first version good. More likely he just wanted to make a color film with an active copyright to trade off the popularity of the older film.
The film seems either in public domain or its copyright is just not defended. That is both bad and good. It is a pity that the creative filmmakers are not getting anything back when this film shows up in a cheap multipack, but at least it is getting seen.
Read more about Hitchhiker and hear two of the productions at:
Arya Stark--An Inquiry (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
[SPOILERS all over the place here! Note that the DVD set of Season Two will be released February 19.]
One aspect of GAME OF THRONES is that due to its massive size, it is simply impossible to summarize or easily describe the plot. Perhaps the best short encapsulation is that it recapitulates part of the rise of Western Civilization and Eastern Civilization in an alternate universe where magic, especially blood magic and death magic, really work. However, it is possible to focus on one character and try to lay out a clearer picture.
As one reads A GAME OF THRONES [a.k.a. "GOT"] (the first volume of "A Song of Fire and Ice") you quickly realize that the main characters in the first volume are not going to make it to volume seven at the rate they are dying. However, it is also obvious that characters who are children in the first volume will grow up and become major players by volume seven. One of these children is Arya Stark, a girl of nine at the start of the saga, the third of five of Eddard Stark's children. Eddard, the Lord of Winterfell, becomes the Hand of the King in the first volume, a decision that leads to his execution as a traitor by the end of the first volume. By the end of the third volume his oldest son, Robb, has been killed by his enemies after a brief run as "The King in the North," his oldest daughter, Sansa, has vanished, and the younger sons Bran and Rickon are believed to be dead. Jon, his bastard son, has become the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, but as such has foresworn any interest in Winterfell. And Arya has simply vanished, although a false Arya is being paraded around by some enemies of the Starks in hopes of eventually being able to claim the castle via marriage. Winterfell lies in ruins, and many, if not most, of Eddard's retainers are dead.
The Starks have a secret, however, which they don't fully understand themselves. At the very beginning of GOT, Eddard comes upon a dead female direwolf, with exactly six surviving pups. The pups are adopted by the children, and over time some are killed (Robb's, Sansa's) but the other children develop a bond with the wolves of which by the end of volume three only Bran is fully aware of--they can literally wear the skin of the wolf, with their minds riding in the body of the wolf. This connection can be, as Bran finds, addicting and even dangerous. The full import of this relationship, which apparently was the original key vision that Martin had when he started thinking about the story that became GOT, is yet to be fully explained, but will no doubt figure large in the remaining two volumes. Certainly, it helps to explain how the Starks remained "Kings in the North" for many hundreds of years.
I present this only as background to Arya Stark. She may well have a special heritage that has given her super-human abilities, but as yet these abilities have had only a minor influence on her life. Instead, as one of two survivors of the massacre of the Stark retainers in volume one associated with Eddard's execution (the other being Sansa), Arya is given a rugged road to walk. One almost hopes that someday her story might be told in a single volume, or a single movie, but this would inevitably reduce the richness of the experience, which depends in large part on the interaction of all the characters in a complex world. Arya has been recognized by various commentators as one of the more interesting characters in GOT. For example, see "No One Dances the Water Dance" by Henry Jacoby in GAME OF THRONES AND PHILOSOPHY: LOGIC CUTS DEEPER THAN SWORDS, which investigates Zen ideas in the context of Arya's life.
Rather than recapitulate Arya's journey, I will instead focus on four lists, and through these four lists, attempt to provide some sense of the kind of path she is walking:
By the end of volume four (FEAST OF CROWS) Arya is well started on her training as one of the "Faceless Men", the GOT equivalent of the Assassins crossed with the Ninjas with a dollop of real magic. The "Faceless Men" are one of the most original creations in GOT, and come with an elaborate philosophy that somewhat resembles Zen Buddhism melded with Thugee. However, by the time Arya walks into the temple of the Faceless Men for the first time, she has already been forged by circumstance into someone who has killed many times. She also has become proficient at changing her name and appearance, blending into the background so that even her worst enemies do not recognize her. The theme of a young innocent, raised to be a player in the game of thrones, but thrown on hard times, occurs a number of times in GOT. Daenarys and Sansa are both examples in addition to Arya, as are Bran Stark and Jon Snow. Each has their own tale to tell, but let's get back to Arya.
The list of those Arya killed, both directly and indirectly:
The list of names in her nightly prayer:
The list of those who mentored Arya:
The list of Arya Stark's names:
It's safe to say that sometime in volumes six and seven Arya will reject being "No One," dig Needle out of its hiding place, and return to being Arya Stark, at least for a while, and her nightly prayer will get a lot shorter--or perhaps not. As a fully trained assassin of the Faceless Men coupled with the complete realization of her skin changing powers, and reunited with her direwolf Nymeria, Arya will almost certainly become a key player in the Game of Thrones, should she wish to do so. Whatever happens, after her vengeance is complete, rather like Buffy, Arya will need to decide whether she is just a weapon of the Faceless Men, just a princess of House Stark, just a skin-changer, or something more. Martin is ever unpredictable, but I am sure the tale will be interesting.
1 A CLASH OF KINGS, pg. 681.
DEGREES KELVIN by David Lindley (book review by Greg Frederick):
The book titled DEGREES KELVIN by David Lindley is a biography of a scientist who most people of the 21st Century probably would not know much about. His actually name was William Thompson but after various honors and titles he became known as Lord Kelvin later in his life. He was extremely well known and celebrated in his time, which was mostly in the 19th Century. In fact, it would be quite correct to call him truly a man of the 19th Century. When he visited the University of Rochester in New York State in 1902 near the end of his life students and even townspeople jammed a hall to see this great scientist. They were cheering him and the hall was bursting with excitement. He was a remarkable scientist who over his lifetime contributed to the newly developing fields of study in heat transfer, electromagnetic theory and thermodynamics.
When not much was known about heat, light, electricity, and magnetism he helped to lead the way. As a boy of sixteen years of age he published a scientific paper in England (in 1841) that basically stated that a well known professor in Scotland was wrong; the professor was critical of a book about heat transfer (using Fourier series) written by Joseph Fourier. Fourier was correct and William knew that. The very young William Thompson realized that the Scottish professor did not really understand the new mathematics of Fourier series but William did.
William Thompson excelled at mathematics and its application to scientific problems. He contributed not only to the development of scientific theory but also advanced engineering academics and he patented numerous devices to advance the technology of the era. He invented devices to improve the new telegraph system especially the first underwater telegraph cables that traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. He invented a tide predicting machine (a type of mechanical calculator), a device which was the fore runner of the today's ink jet printer, and compasses which could be used on the increasingly metal ships of the time. He devised a new method of deep-sea sounding (to measure the depth of water a ship passes over). Thomson more than any other person involved in electrical phenomena in the 1800's introduced accurate methods and many new instruments for measuring electricity. He also created new standards based on solid scientific principles to use when measuring electrical properties. Therefore, though he is not well known today he helped to create the modern world we dwell in. He met and worked with many of the pioneers in science and technology of the 1800's like Faraday, Maxwell, Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse, and Lord Rayleigh.
Possibly why he is not so well known today is because he refused to believe some of the newer theories and ideas of the late 1800's and early 20th Century. He doubted the existence of atoms, he disliked Charles Darwin's ideas about evolution, he did not think that radioactivity was actually the transmutation of elements, and he stubbornly kept looking for the ether, which he thought was filling Outer Space. Also, he greatly underestimated the age of the Earth and the Sun and refused to change his estimate even as new evidence came about to disprove his estimate. So, the new scientists of the early 20th Century considered him to be a representative member of the inflexible, complacent old school of mechanistic thought. When he died in 1907; he was slowly and mostly forgotten about in the public sector except for the Kelvin temperature scale.
This is a good book that sheds light on how modern technology and science came about. [-gf]
All the Love (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
Dan Kimmel writes regarding the 02/08/13 issue of the MT VOID:
I was quite taken by all the love I got in the recent MT VOID. Mark allowed that we often disagree but that he enjoys my reviews because reading people who echo his own view won't teach him anything. Dale Skran noted he was moved by my review of HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS to check it out and wasn't disappointed. Thank you, Mark and Dale, for your kind words.
Let me amend that slightly. I can learn from someone who agrees with me, but it is more likely I will learn from someone who disagrees with me. That should be obvious. I can learn from someone who likes the same film I do, but who has insights on the film I had not thought of. On the other hand I have nothing to learn from someone who responds to a review with, "You like that film???? It sucks and so do you." [-mrl]
My philosophy as a film critic has been that people should be able to read my reviews and disagree with me yet still get the information they need to know if they should go see the film. I'm opinionated. It's my job. But anyone who sees a given movie is entitled to their own opinion, even if it disagrees with mine. That's why Mark and I are friends even though we often disagree. Having differing opinions does not mean that the person who disagrees with you is "wrong" simply that they see things differently.
Somehow I think there's a lesson there for the current members of Congress, but I'll let someone else try to figure it out. :-) [-dk]
It's Hard to Predict ... (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Dale's comments on predictions in the 02/01/13 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
I liked Dale's comments so posted it on my blog, with my replies.
I tossed off those predictions & only one I regret was the expansive view of our expansion into the solar system. I knew that was wrong in my heart, from having served on many NASA study groups, held grants, seen so much fine work go for nothing. Things may change now that markets and rewards come into play. My brother & I finished an anthology of fiction and science about interplanetary expansion, STARSHIP CENTURY, focusing on this. Let's hope.
[I've tagged who says what to make this look like a playscript. Benford's blog can be found at http://www.gregorybenford.com/blog/. -ecl]]
DALE: The title is a quotation from Niels Bohr.
DALE: "Writers of the Future" had created a time capsule of predictions by SF writers made in 1987, and now, twenty-five years later, have posted them on the web. I briefly discuss some of the set of predictions, with an emphasis on analyzing why they went wrong--or right. I won't address all of them since, frankly, some are just plain silly or are obviously intended as a joke or parody.
DALE: The first set of predictions is from Gregory Benford, a well- known hard SF writer that I generally like. Benford has provided a neat and easy to follow list, so here goes:
DALE: World population is nearly 8 billion: It turns out to be a mere 7 billion; the reason for the shortfall is that in the olden days of 1987 the extent to which increasing global wealth would depress birth rates was not well understood. Benford's prediction was a very reasonable one--it just turned out to be wrong.
GREGORY: Mea culpa!
DALE: Benford next throws out a snide little line about how "Most Americans are barely literate--just like today." Although this statement is clearly intended to be witty, it turns out to be true. There seems little doubt that the increasing usage of computers and the playing of video games has decreased the general level of literacy, but, as Benford reminds us, it was never that high anyway!
GREGORY: Sad to be somewhat right on this one.
DALE: As far as I know, Berkeley does not have a theme park dedicated to the 1960s as Benford predicted. This does not seem like it was a seriously intended prediction.
GREGORY: Right--I meant it as a marker for a nostalgia for the 60s, which we certainly had. Indeed, most divisions are at base disagreements about whether the 60s and early 70s were a peak or a pit.
DALE: Benford walks off the deep end, holding hands with just about every futurist who wrote anything about space in the 1980s, predicting a base on the moon and an expedition to Mars, along with vague evidence of intelligent life off the Earth. None of these things have come to pass. Generally predictions of progress in space made before about 1940 tend to be very pessimistic compared to what actually happened between 1940 and 1970, while predictions written from 1960-1990 tend to be wildly optimistic about space exploration. Perhaps the simplistic way to understand this phenomenon is that the earlier group of writers failed to grasp how the Cold War would drive the space race, and the later futurists failed to grasp that the Cold War would end, and with it, the space race.
GREGORY: Alas, yes. But now entrepreneurs are changing that quickly. In a few months I'll have a long story about this in a new anthology, STARSHIP CENTURY.
DALE: "I will be old, but not dead"--Benford won on this one all around!
GREGORY: And glad to be here!
Elegant Formulae (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Mark's response on whether mathematics has a personality in the 02/08/13 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
is the most elegant formula of all.
With the Fadiman books I'd like to mention Rucker's MATHENAUTS.
For a math fan, here's my one contribution to the actual math logic genre, attached. [The paper Benford attached can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/void-newcombs-paradox.] [-gb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I had no sooner written an article for Steven Silver's 'zine, ARGENTUS, on my favorite bookstore, extolling the Cranbury Bookworm, when the Bookworm announced that after 38 years it was moving to a much smaller shop. The original location was an old Victorian house, owned by a relative (or friend--it was not clear to me). The owner now has to sell and so the Bookworm has to move. Luckily the Bookworm was able to find a location a block down the street, but it is much smaller, and not nearly as charming.
For the record, here's what I had written:
And now in New Jersey our favorite is the Cranbury Bookworm (in Cranbury, not surprisingly). In part this is through lack of choice--almost every other used bookstore in the area has closed. But it is also because the Cranbury Bookworm has all the same characteristics as many of those other bookstores. It is in an old Victorian house, and is full of cheap books, with a huge, if disorganized, science fiction section. Most mass-market paperbacks are fifty cents or a dollar; most trade paperbacks are a dollar or two. The back porch books are a quarter each or six for a dollar and are whatever they think won't sell at their normal "elevated" prices. :-) Back there I have found relatively recent travel guides, various foreign-language books, VHS tapes, and so on. (On our most recent visit, I noticed that a lot of "Star Trek" novels have been demoted to the porch.)
And as if the prices are not cheap enough already, they seem to have two or three charity half-price sales a year (you need to make a minimal donation of food, or coats, or whatever else they're collecting).
(My favorite purchase from there would be a set of the early 1930s "Encyclopedia Britannica" for $35. This is from when it had long articles about obscure history.)
And even earlier Si Courtenage had said:
Just outside Princeton, there's a small town (whose name I've forgotten) that a friend once took me to visit. On the main street through the town, there's a large three-storey, white- boarded house with a porch and garden, a little ramshackle but otherwise unexceptional. But inside, the house as a completely different character--it's an Aladdin's library of books. From basement to attic, every inch of wall, every available table and much of the floor is covered with books. It's impossible to describe the atmosphere of musty seediness, of volumes lying sadly neglected, tired and shelf-worn, in the gloomy basement under the creaky floor, of the stacks piled up the main staircase, of prize books locked in glass cabinets, and of rooms where the light seems to seep through the windows with the speed of slowly-turned pages. It's like a kind of treasure house, full of common copper coins and fancy inflated banknotes. I came out feeling a little book-happy, bibliothecally-overdosed."
[The basement was actually closed about twenty years ago due to safety concerns with its uneven floor and low rafters.]
So last weekend the Bookworm had its "moving sale". Its already low prices were slashed to the ridiculous level: mass-market paperbacks a dime each, trade paperbacks a quarter, hardbacks $2. I decided to take this opportunity to upgrade the condition of some of our older books and grab classics with multiple copies for our science fiction discussion group. So I ended up with about a hundred paperbacks. I also bought a couple of dozen other books that looked interesting, meaning we left with four heavy bags of books for under $30. Sorting and comparing them to our copies will take a while, but that will be something to keep me occupied until their opening day in the new location March 1. (The reading is another story. I estimate that what with reading for the Sidewise Award, reading for discussion groups, reading what I already had, and reading what I just bought, I'm all set for the next year.
The owners were saying to someone that there was a line of people waiting to get in when they opened the first day of the sale, but surprisingly the shelves did not look as if locusts had been through (except for the drama section, for some reason, which was practically bare). It is true that dealers regularly scour the Bookworm, so I suppose what was still there was not appealing to them. But we found (for example) two D-series Ace doubles we did not have, a couple of Groff Conklin anthologies, a Joe Lansdale graphic collection, and several mystery novels certainly worth a dime each.
So when March 1 rolls around, we expect to be visiting the *new* Cranbury Bookworm, and hope that wherever it locates, it lasts a long time. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: For years a secret shame destroyed my peace -- I'd not read Eliot, Auden or MacNeice But then I had a thought that brought me hope -- Neither had Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope. --Justin RichardsonTweet
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