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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/03/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 44, Whole Number 1752
Table of Contents
The Five Forces I Contend With (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Jim Susky's Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got this terrific question from reader Jim Susky:
"Starting with the impossible (time travel), if one were to "go back" and alter the world--which is more likely--that the alteration would magnify and drastically change the world, or would the change fade--like the ripples on a still pond after you throw a rock into it? (I favor the latter)."
Okay, let us start with time travel. It is a little broad to say that time travel is impossible. From context I can see you probably mean backward time travel. Nobody knows if backward time travel is impossible, but it might likely be. I think that mostly because of the causality paradoxes, like the Grandfather Paradox, it probably is impossible. Some very brilliant physicists disagree with me. Sending information back in time would seem to allow someone to prevent the sending of the information. There are a number of explanations how the universe could get around that paradox. I, myself, doubt any of them are feasible, but determining that they actually are feasible or not is way above my pay grade. I am old enough that I am pretty sure I will not see backward time travel in my lifetime.
But then there is forward time travel. There are three kinds of forward time travel. What I am most familiar with is going forward at a rate of 1. That is 1 = 1 second per second = 1 hour per hour. This is just going with the flow of time. It certainly seems to bring us into the future. As of this writing my calendar lists this as the latest date I have ever lived through.
Then there is slow time travel, time travel at a speed like 1/10. That means, say, that you have 60 minutes in your frame of reference but the world ages only six minutes. That is the sort of thing like H. G. Wells effectively had in his story "The New Accelerator." He created a fictional drug, which is not exactly having a physics means of time travel, but it sort of has the same effect. Under the influence of this drug your body "overclocks," to use the computer term.
Also, there is time travel at rates greater than 1. This is the sort of time machine you would need if you wanted to see the year 802,701 like the Time Traveler does in THE TIME MACHINE. There may be some effective ways of accomplishing it through suspending animation. If you freeze me now you could at least conceivably thaw me out in 802,701 and restore me to life. That is more preservation than time travel. But it has much the same in effect.
But does there exist in physics the possibility of a real time machine that can move you into the future at a rate greater than 1 second per second? The answer is, "Yes." They not only exist, you have ridden in them. You have your whole life ridden time machines that accelerate you into the future at rates greater than 1. Your first tricycle would do that. Your car does that. What's the catch? Well, it is just that the distance you have traveled into the future is very, very small. All this falls out of the theory of relativity and out of time dilation. As Wikipedia says in their "Time Dilation" entry, "Time dilation explains why two working clocks will report different times after different accelerations. For example, ISS astronauts return from missions having aged slightly less than they would have been if they had remained on Earth, and GPS satellites work because they adjust for similar bending of spacetime to coordinate with systems on earth." What does "aging slightly less" mean but moving slightly into the future. In THE TIME MACHINE the Time Traveler aged only an hour or so while his home around him aged to the year 802,701. That is what forward time travel is. It may be an expensive way to get any distance into the future, but it works and we have it now.
That was a wordy digression. But I thought it was an interesting point. Now what you are really asking is closely related to the "Tide of History Theory" versus the "Great Man Theory." To quote the great Evelyn Leeper:
"Now, in history there are two competing theories: the Tide of History, and the Great Man. The Tide of History Theory is often described as the Marxist approach, and was expressed by Robert A. Heinlein (of all people!) as "when it is time to railroad, you railroad." That is (to take a more familiar example than railroads), if the Wright Brothers had not built an airplane, someone else would have very shortly thereafter.
"The Great Man Theory (promoted by Thomas Carlyle) is that key events in history are driven by exceptional individuals, and if they were not present, history would take a very different course. Had there been no Julius Caesar, this theory claims, world history would be very different. No one else would have subdued Gaul for Rome, or brought about the political situation that resulted in the rise of Augustus and the Roman Empire."
This is roughly the same thing you are asking. Does one event change everything or does the overall system outweigh the one action. My answer would be a question. Who is measuring and what are his/her values?
Suppose there is an ant war going on in my garden. And suppose one colony of ants wins over another. If I am an ant from that garden everything is going to be very different from now on, assuming I even survive. The war has brought huge changes of power. If I am a human looking at the garden I may not be sensitive enough to see any difference at all. Whether this was a huge change or no change at all depends on the observer.
Suppose I had unlimited computer power to exactly map every wave in a pond. For each wave I know its height, its shape, its speed, its everything. And my map is recorded and remapped every instant. And I even have enough computer power to extrapolate and know that in one minute from now the waves of this pond will have Configuration C. But in that minute I throw a tiny pebble into the pond. That messes everything up. I am never going to get Configuration C out of this pond or any pond. Configuration C is gone forever because I threw a pebble. That alteration would magnify and drastically change the world of that pond (to use your words). Or maybe I am wrong. On the other hand maybe the change would just fade--like the ripples on a still pond after you throw a rock into it. Whether history changes by the Great Man Theory or the Tide of History Theory depends very much on who is making the observation.
Anyway, any phenomenon has many variables that could be used to measure it. I think some may be in stable and some would be in unstable equilibriums. What I am saying is that depending on to what variables you are sensitive a single phenomenon will have some variables in stable equilibrium and some unstable. If you observe only the variables in stable equilibrium they will return to a state of normalcy. If you look at aspects in unstable equilibrium they will never return to normal. The rock in the pond might shake things up so they are never the same from one point of view and they may return to normal from another point of view. [-mrl]
THE HUMAN DIVSION by John Scalzi (copyright 2013, Tor, $12.99 Kindle Edition, 432pp. print edition, ISBN (print edition) 0-765-33351-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
THE HUMAN DIVISION is John Scalzi's latest novel in the "Old Man's War" universe, and takes place directly following the events of THE LAST COLONY. As most of you probably know, John Scalzi and Tor decided to experiment with the publication of the novel, releasing one "episode", or chapter, a week between January and April. Not unlike a television show, the weekly-published episodes were standalone stories that nonetheless built on each other, with result being the climactic 13th episode where it all came together (the side result of that is that I didn't quite know how to list the publication information at the top of this review). The book is also coming out as a traditionally published hardcover book in May.
The title of the book refers to the rift between factions of humanity. The folks who live on Earth have learned that the Colonial Union, which has protected them from the dangers of alien invasions, has also kept them ignorant of what is really out there in the universe, has sheltered them from many technological advances, while using the planet as a source of military recruits. So the Earthers aren't happy with the Colonial Union. To make matters worse, all those aliens out in the universe have formed the Conclave, an alliance against the Colonial Union, and the Conclave has invited the people of Earth to join the Conclave against the Colonial Union. Hence, the "human division".
The story, then, revolves around the efforts of the Colonial Union to keep humanity together via a diplomatic unit called "the B Team". As the name implies, these aren't your top of the line diplomats and negotiators--they're the folks that get the dreg assignments mostly, it turns out, because they usually come out on top in the negotiations. And thus, we follow Harry Wilson, Hart Schmidt, Ode Abumwe and the rest of their team as they try to keep humanity together not only against the Conclave, but against some unknown third party that appears to be trying to set humanity against the Conclave.
In attempting to write this review, I find that I'm going to end up reviewing the method by which the story was published as much or more than the story itself. Why? Because reading the story in episodic format as I did affected the way I felt about the product- -not only the finished product, but the "in progress" product.
As all of you have probably guessed by now, I'm a horribly slow reader, so you would think that reading basically a short story a week for thirteen weeks (except the first and last episodes, which were "double length") would be right up my alley. However, reflecting on the novel and experience as a whole, I would have to say that it didn't quite work for me. When I tried to read a story a week, I felt disconnected from the experience. "Okay, I'm done with that one, now what?" I found myself letting the stories back up so I had a few in a row to read, thus keeping myself immersed in the story. But that's just me, I guess.
In addition to that, it never really felt like the story was advancing along as each episode went by. Each week I would see comments on the net that were along the lines of "so, how's he going to wrap this up? What's going on? There aren't enough episodes left. What's the story here, anyway?" I felt the same way. Then, of course, it became obvious at the end that the way it ended was the way it HAD to end (no, I won't give any spoilers, other than to say I was a bit disappointed in the ending).
And of course, what we find out is that there will be a "second season" of sorts. There's more story to tell. And while that's okay, I almost felt taken advantage of, finding out that well, we're not done yet.
Look, John Scalzi is a terrific writer. I've liked, or even loved, everything of his that I've read. And while I'm a bit disappointed with THE HUMAN DIVISION, it really is vintage Old Man's War Universe Scalzi. Scalzi writes commercial, accessible, readable stories that appeal to the masses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, no matter what the various literary pundits and critics say about needing to "advance the field along", blah blah blah. Like Robjert J. Sawyer, he *tells a good story*, as opposed to trying to make science fiction into some literary art form, and thank goodness for that. We need more Scalzis and Sawyers in the field, and a lot less of the "form over substance" folks that the critics like. So, with all that said, Scalzi succeeded with THE HUMAN DIVISION--just not as much as I would have liked him to. [-jak]
AMPED by Daniel H. Wilson (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Daniel H. Wilson is, according to his Wikipedia page a "New York Times best selling author, television host, and robotics engineer." He has a Ph.D. in robotics from CMU, which is nothing to sniff at. As an author, he has written a number of books, including ROBOPOCALYPSE, HOW TO SURVIVE A ROBOT UPRISING, and WHERE'S MY JETPACK? AMPED has a jacket blurb from F&SF that includes the phrase "terrific book." With all this hype, you would expect that AMPED would be an excellent SF novel, and you would be disappointed.
AMPED seems to have cribbed the plot of any number of X-Men comics, but the graphic novel GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS seems to be one of the main sources. There is virtually nothing in AMPED that you haven't seen in dozens of X-Men comics and movies, except that Wilson has substituted cyborgization for mutant super-powers. Although the cyborg abilities described are generally plausible, the overall situation is not. For starters, it sure seems that metal-based cyborgs would be quite vulnerable to EMP weapons and TASERS, but little use is made of such weapons in AMPED, aside from a brief mention that the military grade cyborgs in AMPED has been hardened against EMP.
AMPED brings us the familiar figure of a young hero who DOES NOT YET KNOW THAT HE IS THE MOST SUPER OF THEM ALL!!!!! Repaired by his scientist father after an accident, Owen Gray has been raised to believe that he has been "amped" to cure epilepsy, which is true, but this is the tip of the iceberg. Unknown to him, his father has implanted a stolen military grade Zenith upgrade, and enhanced it even beyond the abilities normally provided to Zenith super-soldiers. As in many X-Men comics, the regular humans, herein called "reggies," rise up and ghettoize the "amped" population, which includes a great many poor folks who were uplifted to superhumanity as part of a poverty reduction program.
Owen ends up in run-down trailer park besieged by "reggies" and the Pure Human Citizens Council. Here he meets Lyle, one of a few surviving Zenith super-soldiers, who quickly realizes that Owen is also a Zenith. Shortly after this Lyle begins training him to use his abilities, which can only be accessed by a succession of acts of will, and once turned on, are difficult to turn off. It should come as no surprise to any comic book reader that the "Pure Human Council" is in fact a puppet of Lyle, whose main ambition, rather like that of Magneto, is to scare the "amped" population into a general uprising. In a final battle, Owen defeats Lyle, demonstrates that the leader of the Pure Humans is Lyle's puppet, and generally saves the day, also getting the girl, who happens to be Lyle's sister.
AMPED is well written, with crackling, somewhat Gibsonian prose. It is a quick and breezy read. Alas, all this talent is wasted on a story that seems both implausible and trite. There are many chapter introductions that quote from various press releases and court decisions. I'm not sure what legal research Wilson did, but I found the legal speculation declaring "amped" humans to no longer be citizens unconvincing. For some reasons that are never explained, the USA has descended into a nightmare world of roundups and pogroms, which Europe and China are unaffected. This world is presented rather thinly and journalistically, with no apparent thought as to how we got from where we are now to the time of the story. Using current day technology, the "reggies" should have no trouble shutting down the "amped" but instead seek to fight them with fists and guns, which does not work out so well.
The typical background in an X-men comic is better conceived than back-story in AMPED. The mutants in the X-men are not so easy to overcome (how do you fight Magneto, anyway?) and the periodic outbursts of fascism seem better thought out than in AMPED. This is the sort of book that may come as a revelation to a mainstream reader who is unfamiliar with comics, but in reality is highly derivative. AMPED would have been more plausible with genetic supermen, whom would not be so easy to detect electronically or fight using EMP devices.
AMPED is best understood, not as a real SF novel, but as a parable in which we are supposed to identify with the cool but victimized "amped" population. The book is quite effective at evoking the feeling of Nazi-style pogroms, and it may be that the author's main point is to warn against the large scale round up of unpopular groups, most plausibly in the US, Muslims or gays. The fact that in AMPED Europeans are highly accepting of the new technology, suggests that cyborgization is a proxy for something that Americans don't like but Europeans do.
Your time would be better spent reading SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE by Austin Grossman. This book, while being a pastiche of every superhero story you've ever heard of, transcends its comic book origins in a fashion that AMPED fails utterly to do. SIWBI uses super-hero battles and the struggles of "Dr. Impossible" to conquer the world to perform deep investigation into the human condition, something AMPED does not attempt.
AMPED is highly readable, and author Daniel Wilson quite talented, but I recommend making Dr. Impossible's acquaintance in SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE instead of reading AMPED. [-dls]
Required Science Fiction (letter of comment by voxwoman):
In response to Mark's and Evelyn's comments on requiring science fiction in West Virginia schools in the 04/26/13 issue of the MT VOID, voxwoman writes:
Regarding the West Virginia senator requesting SF be taught in schools: When I was in high school (and even in middle school, come to think of it), I was permitted to read SF novels in English class. They weren't required (other than various Utopian/Dystopian novels including BRAVE NEW WORLD and 1984), but I did have permission, since many of the assignments were based on "free reading" (student's choice). I remember doing a paper senior year of high school on Heinlein's TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE. I figured it was a reward for having slogged through HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, TALE OF TWO CITIES, and TESS OF THE D'URBURVILLES the year before.
Summary: I was permitted to read SF in high school and thought Baywatch was vomitous (never saw an entire episode). [-vw]
Reading a "later" Heinlein novel was a reward for reading HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME???? Surely you have that backwards! [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our book discussion group did several stories from FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS by John Collier (ISBN 978-1-590-17051-9):
"Bottle Party": This is a traditional fantasy with a somewhat predictable twist.
"Evening Primrose": Did Collier originate this idea (the story was first published in 1941), which has been dramatized at least twice on television and twice on radio, as well as apparently inspiring several other teleplays? It is definitely a more poetic/literary style than "Bottle Party".
"Witch's Money": The ending is almost "The Lady or the Tiger". I have seen this idea before, I thought with a large bill that made the rounds in a small town, functioning almost like Eric Frank Russell's "obs" from THE GREAT EXPLOSION. Collier's story was published in 1939, but the story I am thinking of may pre-date even that.
"Are You Too Late or Was I Too Early?": This one was a bit too poetic and airy for me.
"Fallen Star", "Pictures in the Fire", and "Halfway to Hell": I suppose the "deal with the Devil" story was not stale when these was written, but by now tricking the Devil has gotten very familiar. In any case, Collier seems to love this theme.
"Three Bears Cottage": This is another story with a predictable ending.
"Wet Saturday": Another twist ending, but I cannot figure out the motivation for it.
"Squirrels Have Bright Eyes": Eh.
"The Lady on the Grey": This is not as traditional as "Bottle Party", but still has a somewhat predictable twist.
"Incident on a Lake": For some reason, this made be think of the film LAKE PLACID, though it really has very little in common plotwise.
"Over Insurance": Mark has often related this story, but it turns out his description does not exactly match the story--and I think I like his better.
THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker (ISBN 978-0-062-11083-1) sounded promising, but like a lot of "mainstream fantasy" did not have enough to hold my interest. It is about *a* golem, but not about *The* Golem. In addition, Wecker violates some of the rules about golems, such as the one that says that golems are mute. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either. --Gore VidalTweet
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