MT VOID 06/21/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 51, Whole Number 1759

MT VOID 06/21/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 51, Whole Number 1759

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/21/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 51, Whole Number 1759

Table of Contents

Clyde: Mark Leeper, Bonnie: 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

New SF and Fantasy on TV This Fall:

Comments on Watching FRANKENSTEIN (1931) (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am continuing on with comments on James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN. This week I will talk about the production and acting.

One scene that has been frequently discussed is Fritz's theft of the brain. The good brain is destroyed when Fritz is startled by a gong-sound. Some writers have said it was never explained. I think that is was supposed to be Fritz's cane hitting the collapsed leaf of a metal table. If you watch the scene the stick is moving away from the table the instant you hear the gong, but that could have been a problem synchronizing the sound effect in producing the film.

Henry has chosen the stone tower as a place to perform his experiment, a tower that would have been very much at home in a German Expressionist film. The tower is supposed to guard his privacy and protect him from interruption while he performs his great experiment. If you think that the experiment was an error on Henry's part, look at how bad his judgment was in just choosing that tower for privacy. Henry seems to have an unending string of visitors to bother him, mostly at just the wrong moments.

Also, even in a rainstorm the top of the tower seems open to the elements. This is not a great place to fool with electricity. It does give him a chance to raise the monster to the sky as if invoking God. Then when the monster first sees light he again reaches for God. But later the monster is arsonphobic--afraid of fire--to use a five-dollar word I got for only $3.50. I am less than keen on some of the intended humorous touches probably inserted by director James Whale. There is the comic relief in the cantankerous behavior of Henry's father, and his disagreements with his family and with the Burgomaster Vogel. None of the scenes with Henry's father Baron Frankenstein work on a modern audience. The best that can be said for him is that he is not as irritating as Una O'Connor would be in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, also under whale's direction. James Whale had a weakness for irksome villagers and that humor has not aged well.

One of the biggest failings of the script is to rob the story of its deserted child theme. One major interpretation of the novel is as a metaphor for child abandonment. Henry acquiesces to allowing the monster to be killed, but never really abandons the monster as Victor does in the book. One feels Henry should do more to defend his creation. In spite of the supposedly criminal brain, the monster is never really criminal. The creature kills, but only in self-defense or by mistake.

For a script that brings down the whole novel to a tiny seventy minutes, far too much time is spent showing villagers dancing and other festivities that do not advance the plot.

The movie was created with an impressive visual sense, inspired in large part by German Expressionism. In the tower there are bright light sources offstage and coming from a low angle so shadows appear huge and monstrous. The lab itself is a wonderful piece of design. It was really a collection of unmatched electrical paraphernalia, but it still is very impressive. It is one of the great science laboratories in films.

Elizabeth's wedding dress tails behind her by what looks like ten feet, but somehow also looks like a burial shroud.

Visually it was a mistake to take some scenes in the hills and try to do them on sets. They are not very convincing.

In the film's original release Henry is killed on the windmill. But later Universal wanted the actor and character back for a sequel so an ending was shot to have him survive. They probably should have removed the scene that shows him broken on the windmill like a ragdoll only to have him and Elizabeth recovering later. And I think the writers of the post-release epilog could have come up with a better closing line than the servants saying, "Indeed, Sir. We hope so, Sir."

Dwight Frye, who had been effective as Renfield in DRACULA the year before, was in each of the first five Universal Frankenstein films, never playing the same character twice.

Elizabeth is played by Mae Clarke, who had James Cagney grind a grapefruit half in her face in a famous scene in THE PUBLIC ENEMY.

Perhaps the most unjustly neglected actor in FRANKENSTEIN is Michael Mark. Mark plays Ludwig, the stricken father who loses his daughter Maria. The IMDB lists 135 films for Mark, many of them in the horror genre. Yet few fans know his name. He was in THE BLACK CAT (1934), MAD LOVE (1935), THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK (1938), SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), TOWER OF LONDON (1939), FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (1940), THE MUMMY'S HAND (1940), THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), CASABLANCA (1942), SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (1942), HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), PHANTOM FROM SPACE (1953), THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958), RETURN OF THE FLY (1959), THE WASP WOMAN (1959), FUNNY GIRL (1968), and HELLO, DOLLY! (1969). That is an impressive list of film roles even if he played only tiny parts in most. Yet few recognize his name. There is, however, a page on him at michaelmark.html.

But surely being in so many films he deserves more attention.

FRANKENSTEIN as a whole is one of the great milestones of the horror film. [-mrl]

MOOCing Around (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Recently as part of some work I am doing I decided to educate myself about image processing and recognition. This entailed re-learning a lot of math I had forgotten, learning even more new math, and trying to ingest the field of "computer vision" in which I never formally trained. Via web-surfing, I found a free on-line course offered by a Stanford professor named Arnold Ng on "Machine Learning." I signed up and before you know it, I had taken five or six on-line courses from Suddenly, and much to my surprise, it turned out that I had "caught the wave" of a new trend--the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, for short, of which Coursera is the #1 example. Founded by former Stanford profs Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera is on a mission to transform education as we know it while making it free, or at least cheap. I haven't taken any courses from other sources so my comments only apply to Coursera.

The mechanics proceed thusly. You go to the web site and sign up. For the most part the courses are free. They last different numbers of weeks, but generally in the range of 6-10 weeks, which is to say they are usually shorter than a typical 15-week college semester. They don't seem to start on any time boundaries that I have able to figure out. Most of them claim to require only modest pre-requisites, but this is sometimes deceptive, as I will explain. Each course has a "home page" where you start work. New lectures, homework, and quizzes are released on a weekly basis, and generally you have two weeks to do them from when they become available, but sometimes one week and sometimes more than one week. There is no uniform set of rules; as in college, each professor is a bit different.

There are usually a couple of hours of lectures on new material released each week, broken down into segments as short as 5 minutes up to as long as 25 minutes. During the lectures, which you can stream at any time, or download and watch with your own media player, the camera is pointed at a computer screen on which slides or writing appear. I found the streaming to be the superior experience; however they made the downloads it often disagreed with my windows media player to create odd screen effects. Sometimes the professor will appear in an image that fills the screen, or that is shrunken and stuck in a corner. The better professors have well-prepared typed slides with great graphics. The not-so-good professors rely on writing things out long hand much of the time. Virtually every professor suffers to a greater or lesser degree from the "my hand-writing is legible" delusion. Even if the slides were carefully typed out using LATX (typesetting for math), they all would add a few notes as they went, and sometimes those notes are, sadly, difficult to read. In the worst case, most of the slides are handwritten and hard to follow.

Some of the classes allow the student to listen at a faster than real-time clip, making the prof sound like Donald Duck. Most of the classes have inserted little interactive quizzes in the videos that don't count toward your grade. Sometimes these quizzes are helpful, but other times the questions asked are about future material, and you can't get them right no matter what, unless you look ahead. It is clear that some profs don't have time to make up the quizzes since they only provide a few of them. Generally, I found the mini-quizzes helpful. The best thing about remote video lectures is that you can watch them over and over to help understand a key point--a couple I watched five times or so. It is surprising how intimate the lecture seems--partially because the professor is right in front of you. I know it's a recording, but it *feels* like sitting at table with someone.

Most classes have a weekly quiz that counts toward part of your grade, although the details of how much it counts and how many times you can take the quizzes vary. The "normal" approach is to allow the students to take the quiz a number of times, say three times, but the quizzes change each time you take them. Basically, the quizzes are generated out of a pool of weekly questions, and the order of the answers always changes. They are instantly and automatically graded on submission. I found that if I was allowed to take them three times, it was pretty easy to get a high grade, although keep in mind that some of the questions have multiple correct answers. Also, the difficulty varied a lot, all the way from simple recall questions to seemingly impossible proofs or mathematical calculations. One class took the curious approach of allowing you to take the quiz as many times as you wished, but not telling you the correct answers for each question (i.e., just giving you your total score, 5/7 correct) until after a final deadline for credit. This turned out to be harder than you might think, and was an interesting experience.

The difficulty level of the classes varied quite a bit. Ng's "Machine Learning" felt like a junior- or senior-level engineering class. Koller's "Probabilistic Graphic Models"--the hardest by far--seemed like a graduate level class. My most recent class on image processing was easier, more like a freshman or sophomore engineering class. Most of the classes had optional programming assignments, and two levels of credit. Only one class, Hinton's "Neural Networks for Machine Learning" class required both the weekly quizzes and the programming assignments. I learned the most from Hinton, although the class was far from easy, because he went to more trouble to break up the programming assignments into doable chunks. He also allowed students to freely discuss the math needed to do the assignments but prohibited any exchange of code. This worked well for me since in many of these classes there are three steps [1] doing the math, [2] converting the math to vector form, and [3] implementing the code in Matlab [Matrix Laboratory, a programming language used by a lot of the courses], and [1] and [2] could be extremely complex. In fact, Hinton left to homework derivations that most professors would provide in class.

Matlab was a special problem for me. Most of the courses said having calculus, linear algebra, and some programming experience was all you needed. On paper, I am extremely well-qualified, but I found that I was very weak in converting calculus solutions to matrix/vector form, which is critical for many of the classes. Also, although I am an experienced programmer, and in fact had just taken a year of "Java" courses, the road to Matlab was bumpy. In the first two classes, I was pretty lost and gave up after doing the first programming assignment. Eventually a friend told me that you need to start with understanding that Matlab is completely untyped, i.e. "A" can be first an integer, next a matrix, and then a character, depending on what is assigned to it. If you are familiar with languages like Pascal, C, C++, or Java this is initially very confusing. Hinton's class really simplified the first assignment, reducing it to a kind of multiple choice among suggested lines of code that would complete a more complex program. The next assignment required writing short code segments, and eventually we moved on to writing entire subroutines. Hinton also provided us with most of the code we needed so that we did not have to put in place an overall data handling structure from scratch, which also made things a lot easier to understand. I do not want to give the impression that Hinton was a soft touch--with him, writing the code was only the beginning. Typically, you had to then spend 5 to 10 hours per assignment training the neural net and testing it with various parameters to get specified results.

The MOOC courses deliver top-quality lecturers. With one exception, I thought all of the teachers were excellent. Each was a major leader in their field who has written important textbooks or published major papers. Hinton is one of the top neural network people in the world--just google "New York Times" and "Hinton." Koller's book, "Probabilistic Graphic Networks," reminds me of "Principia Mathematica" or Knuth in its complexity and length. Each is strong in their own way. Ng has better physical and graphical intuition, Kohler describes math better, Hinton has superior high-level summaries, and Sapiro integrates Matlab demos into the lectures best.

Not all classes have finals, but some did. I tended to get in the 90-100% range on the quizzes and in the 60% range on the finals, for which you are time limited and get one try. I found the finals to be surprisingly pressured although they are open notes, open book, and open internet. Koller was fond of asking questions about new material during the final where you had to learn a complex concept and answer questions based on it in about 15 minutes.

One advantage of the MOOCs are the open forums. Typically, there are moderated forums on each lecture, each quiz, and each programming assignment. The posting of actual answers is policed, and violator's messages are removed. However, errors in quizzes get corrected fast based on student questions/feedback, and the quality of the best posters is very high. Generally, you interact only with the course TAs, but some profs wade in themselves, notably Hinton. There may be 100s or 1000s of students who don't have a clue, but most of them don't post, and you can ignore the ones that post nonsense. It's safe to say that I got as much out of the forums as I would have gotten out of classroom Q&A or lab sections run by TAs. It's not quite the same as working through a problem set with friends, but sometimes it's better--the forum posters are usually smarter than your friends!

At the end of the MOOC the instructor mails you a certificate in PDF form that states the class, the level you performed at, and your score. Coursera is offering real college credit in combination with a remote proctoring approach, but I have not taken any of these classes yet. It is my impression that perhaps only 10%-20% of the students that start the classes finish. Many students are, in effect, "auditing" the class.

Based on forum discussions and my own judgment, I'm confident that the "official" on-campus versions of all these classes are harder. Firstly, they are up to 50% longer and so cover more material. Second, there is tighter control of prerequisites, which allows the professors to assume more and move faster. Third, I suspect you don't get do-overs on quizzes. Finally, programming assignments, one suspects, are not optional! This does not mean that the MOOCs have little or no value. I have learned a great deal from them, although I think I would have learned more on-campus. On the other hand, free!!!

One major weakness in Coursera's classes right now is that they have a large number of fun and interesting classes, with a few of the curriculum mainstays like circuit analysis. What they don't have is a progressive set of classes that you can start with to build yourself up to the level of the more advanced courses. They desperately need a two-course sequence in Matlab, for example, or a two-course sequence in linear algebra, or just four semesters that cover all of basic calculus. Until they can provide this sort of ladder, regular colleges are not in serious danger.

It is easy to see that many educational institutions are threatened by MOOCs. It seems like it would be possible to assemble a MOOC that would provide the first two years of college better than 90% of the colleges in the US. I also thought Coursera was surprisingly good at presenting "cutting edge" courses. Hinton's neural nets class was a particular gem, bringing the student very close to the actual point at which the most advanced research is conducted. In any case, check out a MOOC and see for yourself--it's free! [-dls]

[If anyone has any experience with systems other than Coursera and wants to add their comments, feel free. -ecl]

THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE: WHY SO MANY PREDICTIONS FAIL--BUT SOME DON'T by Nate Silver (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Normally I try to summarize the most important aspects of a book when I review it, but in this case instead I will limit myself to mere endorsement. This is the best popular science book I've read in the last ten years, maybe in the last twenty. No one can call themselves educated who is not familiar with the material in this book. THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE should be required reading for all college students, as well as anyone who votes, works in science or engineering, is engaged in business or investment activities, or thinks they want to gamble on sports or play poker. Nate Silver deserves his ranking by TIME as being among the 100 most influential people in the world.

In short, THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE is an excellent book - packed with as much real information and insight as ten other books of above-average quality. Nate Silver's advice ranges from excellent to profound. In addition to all this, the book is well written and easy to follow. Topping it all off, after you have read THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE you will really understand Bayes's Theorem and its application to real world problems.

In summary, THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE has my highest recommendation--read it as soon as possible--you are not ready for the twenty-first century until you have read this book! Since I know that some of you will not follow this advice, I am concluding with a list of distilled recommendations based on the book:


My Random Thoughts on FRANKENSTEIN (1931) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

The film has an introduction, a unusual stylistic touch, although it is similar to the ending speech of DRACULA.

There are interesting graphics under the credits. In particular, the eyes remind one of the Salvador Dali sequences in SPELLBOUND.

One credit reads "From the novel by Mrs. Percy B. Shelley", a very peculiar way to refer to her.

Balderston (who did the script for this) also did DRACULA.

The gravedigger throws his hat on the ground, but when he is done he picks it up from a pointed rock. Frankenstein and Fritz do likewise, but later we see Frankenstein's coat (and a hat that he wasn't wearing) on a stick, and even later the hat has disappeared again.

Frankenstein combines his errands--first the graveyard, then the gibbet.

There are women in Goldstadt Medical College, making one wonder when this takes place. Goldstadt seems to be in the "then-present", but the graveyard and gibbet seem to be from an earlier time.

The hanging skeleton is bouncing in close-ups of Fritz in the classroom, but not in long shots.

The interior seems very large for a watch tower.

The Creature gets a criminal brain, but is not a criminal. It is not clear whether they think that the brain caused the criminality or that the criminality formed the brain, but the only message in the actual script is that the concept of a "criminal brain" is meaningless.

The watch tower shows definite influences from German Expressionism.

"One man crazy, three very sane spectators." What is Fritz, chopped liver?

When we first see him (after the "coming alive" scene), why does the Creature back into the room?

Do orange blossoms really keep for three generations?

Who does the Creature kill? It seems to be just Fritz, Dr. Waldman, and Maria, which doesn't seem to mesh with the notion of him rampaging through the countryside. For that matter, how can Maria's father know that Maria was murdered?

How come Maria doesn't just stand up in the water? Unless there is a huge drop-off she is close enough to the shore that it must be fairly shallow.

The sky during the search is obviously a backdrop.

Clearly, Frankenstein and the Creature originally died. The coda shows Frankenstein living, and the sequel brings back the Creature. [-ecl]

THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed (copyright 2012, DAW Books, 288pp, $24.95, ISBN 0-756-40711-7) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Saladin Ahmed's THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON ("Book One of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms"), is the final Hugo nominated novel that I'll be reviewing this year. It's probably fitting that I leave the most disappointing book to the last. That statement sounds a bit harsh, and maybe it is. Let me just get there, I guess.

THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is a Sword and Sorcery novel of sorts; well, upon further reflection, it definitely *is* a Sword and Sorcery novel. What's different about it is that it does not take place in the typical medieval England setting. It takes place in a Middle Eastern setting, and it has more in common with "1001 Arabian Nights" than traditional Sword and Sorcery novels.

It is also the debut novel for the author, much like THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS was a few years ago for N. K. Jemisin, which was also a Hugo nominee and the first book in a series. I'd heard many good things about THRONE, much like I did THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS. And both books bring something different to the table, with KINGDOMS dealing with gods and demons walking among us, and THRONE having an unusual setting.

So, what is THRONE all about?

THRONE seems ultimately to be about a power struggle between the currently reigning Khalif of Dhamasawaat and the Falcon Prince, a Robin Hood of sorts for the people of the city. However, they are not the major characters of the story--at least not of the story that is told in this book. This is in part the story of aged ghul hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood. Adoulla has spent his life hunting and killing monsters that threaten the citizens of Dhamaswaat. He is assisted by Raseed, a member of the Order of Dervishes. Adoulla and Raseed have seen a lot of action together, but Adoulla is tired. He would like to retire. But time and time again, ghuls show up on the scene, and Adoulla must once again come to the rescue of his jeweled city.

And, in fact, a ghul makes another appearance, and Adoulla and Raseed leave the city to track it down, and come upon a shapechanging girl, the last of her clan, which was destroyed by a very nasty set of ghuls. And so, once again, Adoulla and Raseed set out to deal with the evil creature. This particular time, though, the adventure causes the pair to cross paths with two of Adoulla's closest friends, the Khalif, the Falcon Prince, and the secret of the Throne upon which the Khalif sits.

Two things become clear in something of a hurry. First, the story is bigger than the reader first thinks it might be. While Ahmed wraps most of the story lines of that were introduced in this novel, it is very clear that there is more to the saga of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms that can fit in one novel. Second, well, there's nothing tremendously original or unusual about this book. Yes, the setting is a little different, but other than that this book is perfectly ordinary. It is nicely written, it is easy to read and follow, and tells a nice, straightforward story.

But didn't I say this was something that I wanted in every book? Well, yes, I did. I won't deny that. However (and this is true of four of the five novels that were nominated this year), there is nothing that special about it. It is very ordinary, and thus in my mind is not Hugo material. Having said that, I can tell you that I believe that four of the five novels probably cannot be considered Hugo material. There is only one, and in my mind that one is lacking a necessary element for a Hugo-winning novel. Yes, I gushed over BLACKOUT, but in reality, none of these books stands up to and against some of the great novels of the past that won the award, and certainly not THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book. It was a pleasant read. It's just not a *great* book.

And now, I will take something of a break--well, maybe. On June 17th, before this review appears in the MT VOID, I will be undergoing an operation to completely replace my arthritic left hip (the pain meds I'm on right now may be contributing to the fact that this review is more, um, incoherent than usual). I will be spending my recovery time reading the Hugo-nominated short fiction, watching the Hugo-nominated movies, and basically trying to fill out a reasonably complete ballot. I'm currently listening to Heinlein's TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE. I'll review that eventually. In any case, until next time.... [-jak]

NICKY'S FAMILY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Nicholas Winton, like Raoul Wallenberg, found himself in a country under Nazi oppression while the German military was murdering Jews. He arranged papers to allow Jewish children to be taken into Britain and adopted. Matej Minac directs and co-writes the story of Winton and the children whose lives he saved. It includes the poignant bittersweet stories of parents who gave up their children to save their children's lives. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Matej Minac directs and co-writes with Patrik Pass a documentary, with dramatized portions and extensive interviews, telling the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, who at the beginning of WWII, arranged to save the lives of 669 children from the German invaders of Czechoslovakia.

There have been now several films of those heroes who risked their position, their fortunes, and often their lives to save large numbers of Jews and other victims who would otherwise have been ground under the Nazi heel during the Holocaust. Some names are familiar: Raoul Wallenberg, Oscar Schindler, Chiune Sugihara, Varian Fry. Sadly, by the time these people's contributions to human decency are recognized, to many of them are no longer with us. This is not surprising since these people did what they did as adults seventy years ago. One of the delights of NICKY'S FAMILY is discovering that Sir Nicholas George Winton--called the "British Schindler,"--is alive and apparently spry at 104 years of age.

This film tells the story of Winton and of 663 children, mostly Jewish, whom Winton saved in winter of 1938-9. He did this by arranging for transport and entry into Britain, part of the Kindertransport mission. Winton was in Czechoslovakia as the Holocaust was ramping up. He saw that while no country but Britain was allowing in more than a handful of refugees, Britain's House of Commons had set up not quotas but conditions for allowing in refugee children. The difference was crucial. Winton created an organization, made of just himself, to aid parents trying to find safe havens for their children. Parents were frantic to give their children over to Winton's custody in the desperate effort to give the children a means of survival they could not share.

Primarily the story is given by eyewitness testimony, mostly from people whose lives were saved. Amateur and professional film recreating those times accompanies this testimony. There is also dramatization of incidents in Winton's rescue. The film shows us the children's lives in Czechoslovakia before the invasion of the Germans, and then the painful story of what happened to these children when faced with Nazi persecution and murder. We are shown in dramatizations Nicholas Winton disobeying his supervisors to work to save refugees. We are told what happened when the children were shipped by train and boat to England. Here the tone again lightens and we see the children adapting and living far better lives in England.

It was an interesting approach to shift the focus of the action from Eastern Europe to Britain. The real and horrifying drama was not in the fate of these children, but in that of their parents, most of whom were going to their deaths. The horror of the situation is exemplified by a mother who as the children's train was pulling out of the station had her child handed from the train into her arms only to realize moments later that she was condemning her own child to death and at the last moment handing the child back through the window. It was a last-minute decision to spare her child the death that was awaiting her herself.

The story of what is happening to the parents might have been more dramatic, but Minac keeps the camera eye on the children and their reaction to the British environment so alien to the lives they have known. Minac keeps the film to ninety minutes to avoid becoming ponderous. The children adapt. Flash forward to 1988 and Winton's actions and heroism finally become more generally known. Winton himself never mentioned the children he had saved. We move forward to the children today living in England but who never knew that it was Winton who saved their lives. Where Stephen Spielberg in SCHINDLER'S LIST was content just to show the large number of people alive because of Oskar Schindler, Minac goes beyond to show what the people who owe their lives to Winton are doing with those lives.

NICKY'S FAMILY is not as dismal as other stories from Holocaust documentaries. There are many positive notes as well as the welcome difference that the hero in question is still alive so we can see Winton brought together with the then children he saved. And Sir Nicholas Winton deserves all the adulation he gets. I rate NICKY'S FAMILY a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


"Star Trek" and Our Future in Space and Designer Genes (letters of comment by Gregory Benford, Tim Bateman, David Friedman, David Harmon, Dan Goodman, and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Dale Skran's article on "Star Trek" and our future in space, Gregory Benford writes:

I largely agree with Skran on space, some good points about economic reality. I said some of this earlier in "Reason" magazine:

Skran misses Bigelow's hotel, planned for launch around 2015. The soon-to-be-published but now-gettable STARSHIP CENTURY anthology deals with such prospects in detail, as did the Symposium 3 weeks ago:

On designer genes, I also wrote this:

Much has changed but strikingly, the genetic revolution has so far delivered not much of real help in longevity, alas.

I like seeing these summary pieces--good stuff! [-gb]

Tim Bateman writes:

[Dale says,] "Just as capitalism replaced mercantilism which in turn replaced feudalism as economic systems, there may well come an improved economic system..." [-dls]

Did Karl Marx not theorise this some decades ago? [-tgb]

[Dale continues,] "... perhaps birthed into existence by combination of nano-tech replicators and mass utilization of intelligent robots making jobs as we know them untenable going forward. However, this future economic system will come when it comes. It is minimally decades in the future, if not centuries, and it may not come at all." [-dls]

I'd tend to agree with this more. Forcing it won't help; that was tried, again decades ago, in Russia... [-tgb]

On this same section, David Friedman writes:

I don't think feudalism really was an economic (as opposed to political) system--certainly markets and trade and investment and such existed on a substantial scale through the medieval period.

And capitalism hasn't replaced mercantilism. The central mercantilist error, the belief that a positive balance of payments is good and a negative balance of payments is bad, is alive and well, unfortunately. Governments continue to meddle in economies on more or less mercantilist arguments.

I'm not even sure that the twentieth century was, on net, less mercantilist than the eighteenth. [-ddf]

David Harmon responds:

ObSF: Miriam, the protagonist of Charles Stross's "Merchant Princes" series, sees severe problems with the zero-sum mercantilist outlook of the ruling establishment and plans to introduce reforms by creating real economic value in ways they have overlooked. The ruling establishment resists these efforts. [-dh]

To Tim's comment on Marx, Dan Goodman replies:

Sort of. As I understand it, his theories took for granted that industry as he knew it would continue forever--but under a different kind of management. [-dsg]

And Keith Lynch replies to this:

I don't know if it's from Marx, but one common socialist criticism of capitalism is that it will inevitably break down when technical progress comes to an end. [-kfl]

MUD (letter of comment by Art Stadlin):

In response to Mark's review of MUD in the 06/14/13 issue of the MT VOID, Art Stadlin writes:

Thank you for your excellent review of MUD. I knew nothing of this movie when my wife requested I go with her to see it on Mother's Day. Frankly, I was very surprised that I enjoyed it so much! Not even one good car crash. Instead, this story is so much more about the human spirit and an exploration of deep feelings and emotions. Told through the eyes of a 14-year old, the story brings into contrast the innocence of youth with the realities of adult life.

This is also a study in life on the river, or at least a small slice of it. And a little bit of fantasy to think there might be an island in the river, or a river bank so secluded that someone could hide there for weeks on end.

McConaughey will surely get Hollywood kudos for his fine performance. However, at least to me, the strength of MUD is in the casting of those two 14-year old boys. Could they have selected any two less perfect for those roles? I seriously doubt it. They were amazing and "Ellis" should get an award for his performance.

Another aspect of this film I found interesting was the way in which the story unfolded. While not unique, it was certainly a nice twist. Instead of a lot of front-end (and often boring) character development before the heart of the story, in MUD we get right into the story! It is only in the course of the movie that we begin to unfold previous events and relationships important to understanding the motivations and emotions of the characters. Now, I find myself wanting to see it again (when it comes out on DVD) so I can watch it *with* the knowledge of how the characters have been developed and their deeper relationships with each other. [-as]

Mark replies:

You write a pretty good review yourself. [-mrl]

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

And my Hugo nominee reviews begin. As usual Joe Karpierz has reviewed the Hugo-nominated novels, and I will cover the short fiction. However, I will still say a few things about the novels.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (ISBN 978-0-316-09812-0) is full of all sorts of technical details (a.k.a. "infodump") about terraforming and other sciences, so it is somewhat surprising that Robinson makes an elementary mistake, when he says: "Charon, half the size of Pluto, has a surface temperature of fifty K. The Next closest moon-to-planet size ratio is Luna to Earth, with Luna one-fourth the size of Earth. Pluto has a 2,300-kilometer diameter; Charon, 1,200 kilometers." [page 327]

Charon is *not* half the size of Pluto--it is one-eighth the size of Pluto. And Luna is one-sixty-fourth the size of Earth.

Other than that, my main problem was that stripped of all the infodumps, extracts, lists, and other stylistic elements, the plot was extremely minimal, and of the sort that one might have found in ANALOG back in the 1940s--in a novella, not a 561-page novel. (And though the main character is female, she is the only female I noticed in the book, which would also be in keeping with the 1940s.) I know it won the Nebula, but I can only assume that is because the SFWA gives it more points for style than I do.

BLACKOUT by Mira Grant (ISBN 978-0-316-08107-8) is the third and final book in the "Newsflesh" trilogy. Books in series almost always suffer from one of two problems: they spend too much time recapitulating what has happened in the earlier books, or they are hard to follow or meaningless for those who have not read (or don't remember) what has come before. In the case of BLACKOUT, it is the latter problem. It is conceivable that people will do what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and give the award to the final episode, intending it to represent giving the award to the series as a whole. But as a book standing on its own, it does not stand on its own. (On the plus side, it has several female characters, and they talk to each other about things other than the male characters.)

I started CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE by Lois McMaster Bujold (ISBN 978-1-451-63845-5) but it had the same problem that the Mira Grant novella did--if you were not up to speed by having read all the other works in the "Vorkosigan" universe, you would probably have problems following this.

I reviewed REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi (ISBN 978-0-765-33479-4) in the 09/14/12 issue of the MT VOID ( It is a well-constructed meta-fiction, and I do like meta-fictions.

THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed (ISBN 978-0-7564-0711-7) was okay. As many have noted, it is nice to find a fantasy not based on some European mythology or legend, and it is nice that though this is the first book in a series, it does actually have an ending, albeit one that leaves room for sequels. However, on the down side, the female characters are not developed as well as the male characters, and it seemed as though Ahmed could not decide if this was taking place on an alternate Earth with a slightly different geography, or a completely unrelated world. It really must be the former, because the names of kingdoms, animals, foods, etc., are all from Earth, but the addition of the fantasy elements and the map depicting a non-Earth geography works against this interpretation. (Yeah, I know, a lot of fantasy has this problem. "A Song of Fire and Ice" seems to take place not on our Earth, but it has horses and all the biology works like our biology.) It is not that I disliked THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, but that I do not think it Hugo-worthy.


As far as Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, all I can say is "Thank Ghu for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, because the rest of the candidates are all below 'No Award'."

Next week: the short fiction. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          I'll tell you exactly what I would do if I were 20 
          and wanted to be a good writer.  I would study 
          maintenance, preferably plumbing.  So that I could 
          command my own hours and make a good living on my 
          own time.
                                          --Gore Vidal

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