MT VOID 03/01/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 35, Whole Number 1743

MT VOID 03/01/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 35, Whole Number 1743

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@

Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/01/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 35, Whole Number 1743

Table of Contents

      Antony: Mark Leeper, Cleopatra: 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

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ)

March 7: SHATTERED GLASS (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 
March 14: SLEEP DEALER (film) and "Waldo" by Robert A. Heinlein, 
	Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM; discussion after 
	the film (postponed from February)
March 28: THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS by Cory Doctorow and Charles 
	Stross, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
April 18: FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS by John Collier (some subset TBD), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
May 23: THE STARS MY DESTINATION by Alfred Bester, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
June 20: FLOATING OPERA by John Barth, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
July 25: TRSF by the MIT Technology Review, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
August 15: [canceled]
September 26: THE TIME SHIPS by Stephen Baxter, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
October 17: THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT by Steven Pinker (tentative), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
	K. Dick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
December 19: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures:

March 2: Ginjer Buchanan (Editor-in-Chief, Ace and Roc Books), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

Nebula Award Nominees:




Short Story:

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Costa Rica Logs:

The logs of our recent trip to Costa Rica are available at:

Worldcon Prospects (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There probably will not be World Science Fiction convention in Japan for a long while. The reason is the Fukushima radiation, but not because of the health implications. The problem is just fan jealousy. It seems the radiation has a half-life but most fans don't have even that much. [-mrl]

Case Closed at Last (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We finally have an answer, people. I know that a lot of you have been waiting with bated breath to find out what actually happened to King Rameses III of Egypt. If you are like me you probably have been waiting since the 20th Dynasty to get the last chapter of the tale. We left our story on a cliffhanger back in April of 1155 B.C.E. The question was whatever did happen to Rameses III?

I will remind you in case you have forgotten or came in late that Rameses was in that unfortunate marriage to Tiye. Tiye was one of Rameses lesser wives. Actually I think it was not really love at all--more what you might call "flapdoodle." She did that dance if you remember, the one with the palm leaves. Boy, that was really something! I mean his number 1 wife Iset warned him that Tiye just did not have what it took to make her a loyal consort. She had attitude. Of course Iset had some attitude of her own. But Rameses had his eyes full of palm leaves and more to the point on gaps between palm leaves. And ... well, it was a mess. Rameses thought that Iset was just jealous. And, well, she probably was. But we all knew from the beginning that Tiye just did not have that proper consort material. She was kind of common. But that dance made her uncommon. What she did have was that son of hers she had with Rameses, Pentawer. Not one of Rameses' favorite sons. Gad, he was a piece of work. Pharaoh's son or not, he just didn't have the brains to run a shadoof. Back in the good times he would have lived in a leaky mud hut instead of the palace. But that was the way kids were. It wasn't like 1185 B.C.E. any more, more is the pity. Kids had no sense of responsibility any more. Things had gone just straight to the Underworld of late.

So there was Pentawer, just hanging around the palace, and, well you know, fooling around and getting into mischief. Tiye just did not see Pentawer the way any of us did. She was his mother, and somewhere along the line she got the idea that Pentawer could and even should be El Queso Grande of the Two Kingdoms. Well, there was her sort-of husband, Rameses, and there was her son Pentawer. They could not both be Pharaoh. And anyway Rameses had already picked a son of Iset to succeed him. And Rameses was getting just a little bored of the palm-leaf routine anyway. I don't know why.

Well, Tiye had a brain to go with that bod. But it wasn't a nice brain, if you know what I mean. She decides that the Two Kingdoms would be better off without Rameses and she could take power. Well, Rameses found out about it, if that is how you put it. Actually what happened was he was spending the evening in the harem admiring the artwork. You know just enjoying all the ... the artwork. And suddenly there were blades and swords and pains from poison. It was a mess. Rameses was hurt but he lived and there was that trial. It was not a big trial in the sense that most of the public never even heard about it. Back in those days most of the public never heard about anything. For them the only news was the Nile had inundated or it hadn't. And that news wasn't told to them in a news flash, they sort of just looked at the Nile. If it was up it was up. If it was down it was down. Egypt had very few news junkies and the people never found out something had happened until it was carved into a stone monument. Even then they couldn't read it. And that news was sort of filtered for accuracy by the royal court, which meant you couldn't believe half of it.

Anyway Tiye and Pentawer were found guilty, which was about as unexpected as that the Nile would go down in summer. Pentawer was left in a chamber with lethal stuff and a generous offer of assistance if he was unsure what to do with it or even if it just turned out to be one of those tasks you keep putting off and putting off. You know the sort. "Expeditious." That's the word. They promised to give him help if he were not EXPEDITIOUS in the task.

Rameses actually lived and took the whole affair as a sort of life lesson--the sort of life lesson in which a whole bunch of people get put to death. We left the story 3167 years ago. (You add 1155 and 2013, but then you have to subtract one because there was no year zero, you know.) And we never found out what happened to Rameses. We can be pretty sure he died because we have his mummy and that tana leaf thing only works in the movies. But we do not hear a lot of Rameses after that. The papyruses fell dumb.

Anyway, we have a final chapter to all this. Just last December Rameses, or what is left of him, has been given a CT scan as part of a really delayed autopsy. Also another mummy was found with him and has proven by DNA test to be a son of Rameses and that son was strangled. That body did not get the most respectful mummyization treatment. So they think that is Pentawer and apparently mummy bandages weren't the only things wrapped around his neck. And the next Pharaoh was the son that Rameses had chosen and who became Rameses IV.

So case closed. Well ... not entirely. They also just discovered Rameses III died of an acute case of having his throat slashed. So they got him after all.



The Olympics and Wrestling (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

[You are probably wondering why I am getting into a discussion of wrestling. In part, it is because after having read the Iliad and the Odyssey several times, as well as various Greek dramas, I have some sense of what the original Olympics were about, and how the modern Olympics are really moving away from it. But read on.]

The International Olympic Committee has announced their intention to remove wrestling from the Olympics starting with the 2020 Olympics. This is apparently being done so they can limit their events to 25 "core sports", including such critically important ones as synchronized swimming, canoeing, and taekwondo. This is the same committee that so fanatically protects the Olympic name that it goes after Greek restaurants named "Olympic Restaurant". But their devotion to the Olympic tradition seems shallow indeed, when they discard a sport that dates back to the original Olympics in favor of ... basketball?

To my mind, there are four reasons why wrestling should remain: it is traditional, it is popular, it is egalitarian, and it is individual.

Traditional: Wrestling has been part of the Olympics almost since the very beginning (the games started in 776 B.C.E., and wrestling was introduced in 708 B.C.E.).

Popular: In 2012, wrestling events had *medalists* from 29 different countries. The "modern pentathalon" (pistol shooting, fencing, 200-meter freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3-kilometer cross-country run) had *entrants* from only 26 countries. (The original pentathlon had a stadion foot race, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin, and the discus.)

Egalitarian: As with most of the original ancient events, the cost for a participant to train is quite low for wrestling. No special equipment is needed (other than a mat). The result is that someone from a very poor country (or a poor background in a rich country) can compete in this sport on a relatively equal basis with someone who is rich. Yes, travel and trainers cost money. But for the modern pentathalon, the competitors need pistols (and ammunition), swords (and protective gear), access to a swimming pool, and a horse. If the IOC wants the Olympics to reach into all corners of the world, this should matter.

Individual: The ancient games celebrated the individual. Okay, in the chariot race, there was a horse *and* the winner was considered to be the sponsor, not the horse or the driver. But there were no team sports--no relay races and certainly no sports like basketball, baseball, or synchronized swimming. The ideals of ancient Greece were the ideals of the individual: bravery, strength, leadership (in a monarchical sense). Teamwork was important only in the sense of loyalty to your family or your city-state, and even then not over personal honor. (When Achilles sulks in his tent over being "dissed" by Agamemnon, the Greeks saw this as perfectly justifiable. What brings him out was not any claim that his comrades needed him, but his need to avenge his lover's death.) Our cultures respect teamwork more, but the Olympic Games are the wrong venue to promote this. It would be like a ribs place deciding it was going to promote healthy eating.

And this "25 core sports rule"? The IOC has self-imposed this limit, and could just as easily un-impose it. But if it is that important, the IOC should be dropping things like synchronized swimming, basketball, table tennis, or badminton (all of which are team sports), or the modern pentathalon (with what has to be the highest "entry cost" of any event).

Meanwhile, Greece should sue the IOC for abuse of the name of their highest mountain and get enough in damages to bail out their economy.

[By the way, if you want to see a great movie which has a fair amount about wrestling, and specifically Graeco-Roman wrestling, watch NIGHT OF THE CITY.]


QUARTET (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: At a home for retired musicians many of the residents are some of the former greats of the operatic stage. To save the home they are putting on an opera gala and would like something smashing to perform. The home has three of the singers from an opera history classic performance of the quartet from RIGOLETTO. When the fourth singer moves to the home it seems like the repeat performance is a real possibility, but newly arrived Jean (Maggie Smith) is not at all happy with the home and its residents. Ronald Harwood adapts his play to the screen. At age 75 Dustin Hoffman directs a film for the first time, a film with comedy and grace. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

There is a rarely recognized genre of film I would call "octogenarian films." Most films seem to concentrate on people considerably younger, say from age seventeen to thirty. Fewer films seem to have main characters in the forty to sixty range. But then there is a genre of films for and about people roughly in their eighties. You have films like THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, and MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT. They seem to play in art houses largely to audiences of retirees. This is a viewership that has time and money but very little interest in Wolverine or Iron Man. So some films are being made for them.

Beecham House for Retired Musicians is having financial problems. Generally the way they handle such problems is staging a gala performance once a year. They do have some of the great names in 20th century musical talent. A real coup would be if they could restage one of the great legendary performances of opera, four great stars singing the quartet from Verdi's RIGOLETTO. They actually have three of those great singers living at the home. They have Reginald Paget (played by Tom Courtenay), Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins). But it will not be a great performance if they cannot their fourth star Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). The repeat performance is just a pipedream until Jean Horton actually also comes to live at the home. But all their problems are not over. Jean is having a very hard time adjusting to the new surroundings. In addition, Reginald will not work with Jean under any circumstances. There is history between Reginald and Jean. Reginald has had a grudge against Jean for many decades now and he refuses to have anything to do with her.

The star of the film is, of course, Maggie Smith. Smith is almost a female equivalent of Morgan Freeman. We see a lot of her playing with a sly wit, but it is nearly always the same character with no more than minor variations. Jean is little different from Muriel Donnelly from THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL or Violet Crawley from TV's "Downton Abbey". Here, however, Smith has some first-class competition from a very funny Billy Connolly who plays at being a perpetually randy, occasionally vulgar, dirty old man. He flirts with every woman within range and a few that are not. Connolly is as funny as John Cleese to whom he bears no small physical resemblance. (At least one person from our party came away thinking she had seen John Cleese.) The plot is simple, and the acting is quiet. Dustin Hoffman, directing a film for the first time, gives us a film as comfortable as an old stuffed chair. And in one touch unusual for a film about old people, nobody even comes close to dying. Another touch is that a very large number of the home residents really are well-known music makers. If you know classical music be sure to stick around for the credits as well as enjoying the music throughout. I rate QUARTET a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


COIN TOSS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: COIN TOSS is set in a world of light fantasy or magical realism; we have a gentle story of chance, luck, romance, lottery tickets, and financial chicanery. Newcomer Satya Kharkar co-writes, directs, produces, and films this story of a magic coin, a Powerball lottery ticket, and of course romance. As Kharkar's first feature film outing shot on video the film has a few rough edges including some flat performances, but is also has charm and promises more from the new filmmaker. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

The main character of our story is a poor but honest and nice guy Tom Bennett (Joe Mastrino). Bennett wins the audience by taking care of his dying mother, and he tries to be certain he treats everybody he knows fairly. The mother gives him his father's lucky silver dollar. The coin turns out to be really genuinely lucky and it goes to purchase a winning Powerball lottery ticket. The film then becomes a race to steal the ticket, which lots of people possess but nobody ever bothers to sign and turn in. COIN TOSS begins with a few too many characters for its own good, but they all fit into the plot sooner or later. It helps a little that the characters are somewhat sorted out by a resonant-voice narrator. But there are several threads of action going on at the same time, and they are a little hard to keep straight.

As with many low-budget films, there are problems in the casting. The film calls for Tom's scheming fiancee to be drop-dead gorgeous. Linda (Shirin Caiola) is about as attractive as the film's finances would allow, but we have to take on faith that everybody in the film is attracted to her. Performances by most of the peripheral characters should not be met with high expectations. Acting for most of the cast is about on the level of a high school play with several of the actors apparently concentrating on mostly making sure what they say can be understood. Perhaps the most engaging actor is Shalaka Kulkami as Meera, a bag lady who ironically has considerable smarts and whom the viewer knows immediately is a cut above most of the homeless. It somewhat confuses the film that Meera has the dramatic potential to become a romantic lead herself. We know that she ends up all right at the end of the film, but somehow that does not seem to be enough. Her story is just a bit short of being a loose end.

This is a very low budget, direct to video film by first-time feature by director Kharkar. Not surprisingly it still has a few rough edges. Kharkar himself takes a small role as someone with the unlikely name Agent Polecat. Actually several different Kharkars show up in the titles and credits, making the film a family affair. Music by Nik Phoeniks sets the tone of the film handily. It uses its Chicago locations to add some visual interest. I would rate COIN TOSS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Special kudos for working into the plot references to the great (and tragic) Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. There is also some discussion of Chaos Theory, but it is rare to find a scientifically literate comedy.

Film Credits:


INESCAPABLE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In a Canadian South-African coproduction is a thriller set against a backdrop of Syrian politics. A father fled to Toronto years before, but he now returns to his native Syria to look for his missing journalist daughter. The film is sparing in its car chases and gun fights and instead is a serious thriller with the main character raking up the past to try and save his daughter from falling victim in one of the world's most dangerous countries. The film is entertaining enough, but could have more dramatic impact. Writer/director Ruba Nadda directs a good performance from Alexander Siddig (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Marisa Tomai. But how can a film be set in 2011 Syria without any mention of the civil war? Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

INESCAPABLE is the latest in a long line of films with one-word titles about family men in foreign countries looking for a missing female loved ones. Finding he has to defend his family he is forced to fight like a tiger. Previously there was FRANTIC, TARGET, TAKEN (1 and 2), and others that don't immediately come to mind. INESCAPABLE is more believable than most since it trades away popcorn-crunchers' thrills for a little much-needed realism. There is gunplay and there are one or two chases, but that is held off mostly for the final act. Instead there is just a serious investigation of what could have happened to the missing woman. On the other hand some of that credibility is lost in one or two unlikely coincidences without which the investigation might have been too long to show in the film's spare 93 minutes.

Many years ago Adib (played by Alexander Siddiq) left his native Syria and immigrated to Toronto to raise a family there. Now he has a daughter who is in her early twenties. She is supposedly visiting Greece, but without telling her father who would never allow it, she makes a side trip to Damascus to see where her father lived and in the sincere hope that her father would not find out she did it. Then that trip went very wrong. As the film opens Adib finds out that his daughter had gone to Damascus and then very suddenly went missing. Adib decides if his daughter is going to get out of Syria safely, he has to go there and find her himself. He flies to Jordan and with forged papers he crosses the border into Syria where he can get help from Fatima (Marisa Tomei). Before Adib left Syria he and Fatima were engaged to be married. When Adib left he felt it was not safe to tell Fatima or to later even send her an explanation. Now he has come back into her life needing her help and the help of an old friend from before he left. Then the plot gets complex.

Alexander Siddiq acts with a facial expressiveness honed over years on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". But the amazing performance is from a Marisa Tomei totally believable as a Syrian. I cannot claim to be an expert, but if I did not know who it would under the makeup and the accent, I would have assumed she really was Syrian. Joshua Jackson as the third lead is a little bland, though not unrealistically so. Surprisingly the film is set in 2011 in Syria. That country fell into civil war in March of 2011. I kept waiting for references to the war that was coming in at most a month or two or was already happening. Part of the suspense is expecting to see how the Syrian Civil War was going to affect the action. Minor spoiler: it never happens. There is no mention at all of the unrest or the war that is going on. To me that indicated at the very least a lost opportunity.

INESCAPABLE is entertaining as a mystery, perhaps a little reserved for modern audiences, but that is actually a virtue. It should have been a little more of an education in how Syrian politics works besides having accounts of corruptions and ever-present giant portraits of Assads painted on buildings. The film certainly has some missed opportunities. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Futurism and Nuclear Disarmament (letters of comment by Jim Susky and Dale L. Skran, Jr.)

In response to Dale Skran's comments on predictions in the 02/01/13 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

You (and I) may thank Gregory Benford for linking your website/newsletter to his blog. I saw an item by Dale L. Skran--wherein he commented on a number of 25-yr-old predictions by Benford and other luminaries in SF and Science-in-general. Perhaps you would be kind enough to forward this to Mr. Skran.

SHELDON GLASHOW predicted: "Mutual nuclear disarmament of the major powers." To which Mr. Skran commented: "--a big zero here."

This rung a bell since I have read a number of accounts describing reductions in warheads by the US, Russia, and perhaps other former Soviet "republics" since the USSR dissolved. I offer links below for an Wikipedia entry, "Nuclear disarmament", and a related graphic which address the topic in general and "total stockpiles" of warheads in particular. It appears that the USSR and USA had about 70,000 combined warheads (not all "actively deployed") ca. 1987. This figure has declined to under 30,000 ca. 2005. While 30,000 warheads is undesirable the > 40,000 reduction thereby is not "zero" nor "a big zero". It looks to me to be slightly over half-right--a glass I will regard as half-full.

Dale responds:

With regard to Mr. Susky's comment and Mr. Glashow's prediction:

Jim Susky is correct to point out that there has been a substantial reduction in the nuclear arsenal of both the USA and Russia. Whether this constitutes "mutual nuclear disarmament of the major powers" is indeed a glass half full/half empty situation. It should be viewed in the context of China not participating in this mutual disarmament and the growing nuclear might of smaller powers. I note that North Korea tested a nuclear bomb within the last week. Overall, Mr. Glashow deserves more than a "a big zero"--perhaps a grade of 25% instead. Glashow correctly predicted significant nuclear disarmament. However, given that the spread of nuclear weapons and concern about their possible usage is one of the most important foreign policy issues of our time, I think that Mr. Glashow missed the mark if he thought nuclear weapons would no longer play much role in the events of 2012. [-dls] Jim replies:

I never regarded "nuclear disarmament" to mean *all* "swords would be beaten into plowshares"--this cannot happen so long as the dominant primate remains dominant.

I clearly remember, as the USSR was fragmenting, Henry Kissinger cautioning that operable nuclear missiles were then within new sovereign borders. I trust (hope) that we and Russia took successful steps to correct that sort of proliferation. I am ignorant of the details, but I suppose that fewer warheads leads to fewer missiles leads to less expense on nuclear war machinery--so your 25% estimate may well be reasonable measured in on-going relevant DOD [Department of Defense] dollars.

My main objection was to your rhetorical "zero"--placed in a journal that discusses matters scientific (if science-fictional)--sounded too much like what passes for journalism these days.

(Plus, too many in the "Twitter-Age" will see "zero" as literal rather than rhetorical)

And you are indeed correct that the current nuclear weaponry situation is complex--much more so than the Good Old (Cold War) Days. I clearly remember when there was a one-for-one correspondence between the Nuclear Club and the UN Security Council...

(cheating now--checking on Wikipedia again--Confirmed)

... this was before India and then Pakistan openly developed nukes and Israel secretly got them.

I somehow think China will put its thumb on North Korea before the Onion's "Sexiest Man Alive for 2012" gets truly effective nuclear sabres to rattle. Perhaps we can eventually send John Kerry on the Israeli sortie that cripples Iran's nuke capability. [-js]

SIDE EFFECTS and QUARTET (letter of comment by Sherry Glotzer):

In response to Mark's review of SIDE EFFECTS in the 02/22/13 issue of the MT VOID, Sherry Glotzer writes:

We saw SIDE EFFECTS last week. Not expecting much, as Newsday gave it only two stars; we were "pleasantly" surprised to find the performances quite good. And we were kept guessing as the plot unfolded. The same was true of QUARTET. Again, only two stars, but very pleasing. Maybe we are just getting older than the reviewers????? [-sg]

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

Our reading group did THE STRANGER by Albert Camus (ISBN 978-0-679-72020-1) this month. Reading it with today's perceptions, I found myself convinced that today we would diagnose Meursault as at least somewhat affected by Asperger Syndrome. He seems disconnected from emotions, or at least from the outward manifestations of them, both in how he interprets what others are doing, and in what actions of his own he finds appropriate. This is similar to the way that those with Asperger's describe themselves.

As far as the general feeling of the book, I found it similar to Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL. There is a certain level of coldness and remoteness. Whether this is from the existentialism, or from the characterization of Meursault, or from the writing style, I cannot say. One person proposed that it was the whole absurdity of the situation in general and of the trial specifically, where whether Meursault drank coffee near his mother's corpse seemed to be very important.

I see things that seem to reflect more a Stoic philosophy than something specifically existential (for which I cannot even find a good definition). For example, Muersault says, "Deep down I knew perfectly well that it doesn't much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy, since in either case other men and women will naturally go on living." And later he says, "Since we're all going to die, it's obvious that when and how don't matter."

One can argue that there is some existentialism in the sentence, "He [the priest] wasn't even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man." If I were to try to define existentialism based on this sentence, it would be that only by accepting that life is meaningless and that there is no afterlife can one truly live in this one.

I have been doing a lot of reading for the Sidewise Award these last few weeks. For some reason, a lot of publishers wait until the end of the year to send out books they think are eligible. In addition, I have trouble getting inter-library loans of "new" books, which are defined as books published in the current year. So come January I can start requesting a lot of them. You would think this would give me a lot to write about, but it doesn't.

For example, many of the books are book N of a series, and often one needs to have read all (or at least some) of the preceding books for the new one to make sense. (This is, of course, not specific to alternate history.) Talking about even the second book in a series without covering the first as well seems pointless. There are two kinds of series. One is composed of books or stories that can be read in any order, and do not require knowledge of what came before, except possibly for the basic premise. Examples of this would be the "Sherlock Holmes" stories and the "Discworld" novels. The other has each book building on the previous one, and reading a later one without reading what came before will leave the reader confused. An example of this would be Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series. And the extreme of the latter is the multi-volume single novel, such as the three-volume "Lord of the Rings" or (I believe) Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time".

In addition, there seems to be much that people *think* is alternate history that isn't. There are books set in superhero universes that call their city "New York" but have no real alternate history aspect. There are books in which there is some vast conspiracy we don't know about (these are secret histories, not alternate histories). There are books that postulate some different military technology, and then devolve into a typical action espionage scenario with only the country names modified. There are books that have parallel universes which could just as easily be alien worlds in our universe. What there do not seem to be are a lot of books whose authors carefully think out the consequences of a change in history and then write about them. There are some, but most of what I have been reading lately does not fall into this category. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more 
          than you love yourself.
                                          --Josh Billings

Go to our home page