MT VOID 10/25/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 17, Whole Number 1777

MT VOID 10/25/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 17, Whole Number 1777

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/25/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 17, Whole Number 1777

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: 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


Dan Goodman notes of Evelyn's book comments in the 10/18/13 issue of the MT VOID that the title is THE WORLD JONES MADE, not THE WORLD THAT JONES MADE. [dg]

Headline Seen (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I actually saw a headline that said "Van Gogh Works on Display in DC." Frankly I am impressed they can get any work out of him at all at this point. [-mrl]

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Filmes, Lectures, etc. (NJ):

[Note the changed book for December.]

November 7: THE COOLER, Old Bridge Public Library, 6:30PM
November 14: THE ABYSS, Middletown Public Library, 5PM (note time 
	change for this meeting only!), SPHERE by Michael Crichton, 
	discussion after the film
	K. Dick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM (note that this 
	is the *third* Thursday!)
December 5: Film (TBD), Old Bridge Public Library, 6:30PM
December 12: Film (TBD), Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM, 
	discussion after the film
December 19: THE EERIE SILENCE by Paul Davies, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM (note that this is the *third* Thursday!)
January 23, 2014: THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS by Cory Doctorow and 
	Charles Stross, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
February 27: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures:

October 5: Nick Kaufman, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for November (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We have another month coming up on Turner Classic Movies. Time to look at the list of upcoming films. Again the times given for the films are Eastern Time Zone. I have no connection to Turner Classic Movies. I'm just this guy, y'know.

A few years back I was in a book discussion group and one of the members suggested we read Herman Melville's BILLY BUDD. The group readily agreed because while nobody present had ever read the story, it was made into the outstanding 1962 film BILLY BUDD. And so we expected it had to be a good novel. It was a mistake, since the novel is really fairly boring. But it was also a lesson in how much can be done by a really good director--in this case Peter Ustinov--to turn tedious material into gripping drama. In 1797 a sailor is impressed into the British Navy fighting Napoleon. The sailors almost all take to the slow-witted but charming Billy Budd (Terence Stamp). One sailor is an exception. Robert Ryan plays the sadistic Claggart, the ship's master-at-arms, who has a terrible envy of Budd's winning ways and does everything he can to make Budd's life on ship miserable. As he tells Budd in a candid moment, "The sea is calm you said. Peaceful. Calm above, but below a world of gliding monsters preying on their fellows. Murderers, all of them. Only the strongest teeth survive. And who's to tell me it's any different here on board, or yonder on dry land?" Ryan was great playing villains and was rarely if ever better than in BILLY BUDD. Director Peter Ustinov plays ship's Captain Vere. Melvin Douglas plays the Dansker. That is a great cast. [Monday, November 11, 6:00 PM]

Terence Stamp is also excellent in THE COLLECTOR (1965), a psychological horror thriller based on John Fowles' novel of an introvert who collects butterflies because he just likes to look at them. Freddie Clegg (Stamp) is a fan of butterfly beauty and of human female beauty. He particularly is taken with art student Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar). Deciding to win her by treating her like he would a butterfly, he captures her and keeps her in a cellar just because he likes having her around. He promises her he will not molest here and will give her anything she wants but her freedom. Then start the games between the captor and the captive. This is a small personal story but very disturbing directed by, of all people, William Wyler, famous for his big films like THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE BIG COUNTRY, and BEN HUR. [Sunday, November 24, 4:00 AM]

THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949) gets stranger the more one looks at it. Ayn Rand took her own novel of an architect whose integrity will not give in to public opinion and adapted it into a screenplay for King Vidor to make into this film featuring Rand's sloppy idea of sexuality. Everything about this film is three times bigger than life. Genius architect Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) would rather fail and dig rock in a quarry than compromise his vision for the buildings he designs. Unrealistically all sorts of forces line up against him to rob him of his credit and to get him to give in to the mediocrity that pleases his employers and the public. Ayn Rand seems to think that the public is more fascinated by architecture than it is by sports. One problem that was faced by the art designers is that they needed to have architectural sketches that would be immediately recognized by the viewer as being works of genius. If the art designers could do that they would be genius architects themselves. Classic scenes have Gary Cooper stripped to the waist and sweaty drilling rock with a huge phallic steam drill while his Patricia Neal stares at him. Subtlety was not Ayn Rand's strongest suit. Nor was it in Gary Cooper's speech at the end giving the principles of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. Patricia Neal would two years later make THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which on the whole, is a more believable story. [Sunday, November 3, 12 noon]

My choice for the best film of the month would probably be Federico Fellini's LA STRADA with Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina. [Monday, November 18, 2 AM]


"30 Great SFF Films You Almost Certainly Haven't Seen" Article Patch (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We recently published a list of little-known films mentioned at the "30 Great SFF Films You Almost Certainly Haven't Seen" panel at LoneStarCon. I made comments on those I had seen, which turned out to be most. This is a patch to be applied to that article. These are films I have seen in the interim.


EUROPA REPORT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This science fiction indie that does just about everything right. This is an account of a privately funded space mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. From the beginning we know that Europa One never returned to Earth and the film after the fact tells the story of what happened. The visuals are just about right and the dialog is very believable. Sebastian Cordero directs a screenplay by Philip Gelatt. The film makes a good companion piece to the recent GRAVITY and some scenes are quite similar. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

We have just recently seen released GRAVITY, a surprisingly compelling and fairly accurate picture of the dangers of space flight. Science fiction films like that are few and usually far apart. Not so far this time. EUROPA REPORT is about a space mission far from the Earth but never very far from scientific and speculative accuracy. And still the story is a compelling thriller.

A private corporation, Europa Ventures, has sent six astronauts to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter originally discovered by Galileo. The moon is (in the film and in real science) covered with a water ocean under a frozen shell. It really is a leading candidate for where extra terrestrial life might exist in the solar system. Europa One's mission is to collect data about Europa from the surface of ice. Unfortunately the spacecraft has several unexpected problems starting with being caught in a solar storm that fries communication with Earth. The crew can record their progress, but cannot send reports to Earth so do not know if their account will ever be found. The film is primarily their report from in and around their spacecraft. The story punctuated with their recordings and a flashback or two makes compelling viewing.

The filmmakers explain carefully why there is enough footage to piece together a story. The crew is international and polyglot since as a privately mounted mission the sponsoring corporation could pick from around the world. There is a Chinese commanding the mission (Daniel Wu), a Russian space veteran (Michael Nyqvist), a science officer converse in Russian and English (Karolina Wydra), pilot Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca), and an American junior engineer with a sharp sense of humor (Sharlto Copley). The story is told in flashback by an executive of Europa Ventures (Embeth Davidtz).

By keeping the story very credible and drawing its characters well the film generates genuine excitement. You do not come away with questions like "why didn't the air all escape from Elysium." The filmmakers were very careful and scrupulous with the science issues. This is not a summer sort of action film but one with a great deal of credibility. Screenwriter Philip Gelatt has a feel for realistic dialog and director Sebastian Cordero gets the delivery to sound about right. That is not easy and in many similar films the characters are cute but hardly believable. Even the look of zero gravity floating looks very believable, and that is not an easy effect to make look right.

The best science fiction films have no chases, no guns blaring, no zombies, no prosthetic makeup, and no suspension of the laws of science. This is one of the best of recent years. No film has ever shown so realistically what it would be like to explore a new planet (or in this case a moon). That and everything else in the film is at the very least plausible. And the science as presented is engaging or even compelling. I rate EUROPA REPORT a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


VOODOO SCIENCE by Robert Park (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

"Some of these things are not like the others."

I was made aware of this book by a friend who found some aspects of the book, notably the anti-space flight chapter, to be depressing. VOODOO SCIENCE by physics professor Dr. Robert Park, published in 2000, starts out in the same vein as the classic debunking books by Martin Gardner like SCIENCE: GOOD, BAD, AND BOGUS, but then goes far afield. Most of the chapters are well-written exercises in shooting the homeopathy and perpetual motion fish in the proverbial barrel. There is a particularly apt tale about a young Park and his beliefs about raccoon food-washing that shines brightly in his memory. There are, sadly, three chapters which "are not like the others."

I have only a minor quibble with "The Belief Gene," which contains, among other things, the excellent raccoon food-washing story. After bravely admitting that the science concerning climate predictions and global warming was not clear-cut, Park concludes that "There are times, however, when society cannot wait for scientists to get it right." This is surely true, and Park continues. "There no longer seems to be any reasonable doubt that human activity is affecting Earth's climate. Governments must initiate some precautionary measures, even though the precise consequences are still unclear." These two sentences skip an entire book worth of argument. We move from one clearly true statement--most scientists believe that human actions are warming the Earth--to another highly disputable and ultimately political judgment--that we must take immediate action in this area.

Sadly, scientists like Park are susceptible to the temptation to wrap themselves in the cloak of science to justify their political views. The science of climate change is clear--the Earth is warming, and humans are the main cause. But the clear science ends here. As examined in Nate Silver's THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE, climate predictions are improving but have often been incorrect on the high side. In time, we can expect that these predictions will become more accurate. However, the major controversy lies in what to do about climate change. Some advocate carbon taxes and ground solar/wind power, but this is not the only solution. It would be straightforward to replace all coal plants with nuclear reactors and all gasoline cars with electric cars, and continue on without otherwise disrupting our society. That we have not already done this is as much a political choice as an economic one. If you don't like nuclear power, there is always space solar power as an alternative. This approach receives little attention today because the anti-centralized-power "environmental" groups are so strong. This again, is politics, not science.

Park takes out the long knives more clearly in "Only Mushrooms Grow in the Dark," which mainly focuses on the so-called "Star Wars" program from the 1990s and the role of Edward Teller. This chapter is fatally marred by that fact that it is a left-wing political screed against Teller that masquerades as a criticism of his proposals for X-ray anti-missile lasers. In Park's telling of the tale, Teller and his associates are hacks and incompetents, and Teller "was productive only when he was teamed up with great physicists such as Hans Bethe and Freeman Dyson, who forced him to confront reality." Hold this thought about Dyson, as I'll return to it later.

Park's overall point in "Mushrooms," which is that secrecy can lead to cover-ups of scientific failures, is surely a good one. Park seems at least marginally aware that some degree of secrecy is necessary in the real world, where, as my daughter likes to say, "All is not peaches and cream." However, Park remains blissfully ignorant of how political his views on Teller come across. Teller's original sin is not his scientific failings, but his testimony against Oppenheimer, and even more, Teller's refusal to join many of his fellow physicists in becoming an anti-nuclear activist. If Park were more honest with himself, he would admit that his differences with Teller are mainly political, and not scientific. It is even possible that Teller was fully aware of the issues with nuclear-boosted x-ray lasers, but used the program to put more pressure on the Soviets. This type of deception is anathema to "open science" but remains a useful tactic in war.

VOODOO SCIENCE was written in 2000, before the 9/11 attacks, and it is interesting to note that missile defense has become normalized since then to the point that a left-wing democratic president (Obama) supports it almost as strongly as republicans. In our new era of rocket-armed rogue states, anti-missile defenses are no longer "star wars" but the bread and butter of defense. Of course, many of the big ideas of SDI have not come to pass, but this is often the case in the course of technological evolution. The recent successes of Israeli systems like "Iron Dome" have also shown the usefulness of missile defense in combat conditions. Park tends, like many anti-SDI writers, to focus on how SDI could not have provided 100% protection against a massive Soviet attack, and even if it did, this would be destabilizing and might lead to an all-out war. Today we are more interested in reasonable protection against the 10 missiles that North Korea might fire. This is both more possible than Park anticipated and less destabilizing than Park feared. Moreover, Park's arguments against SDI are mainly political and military, not scientific, and are thus are out of place in this book.

If "The Belief Gene" chapter was just a bit out of step with science, and "Mushrooms" veered substantially into politics, "Astronaut" descends entirely into the unthinking depths. Park devotes an entire chapter--"The Virtual Astronaut"--to attacking manned space flight, the International Space Station, and dreams of space settlement. Gerard K. O'Neill and Zubrin are singled out as particular menaces. To claim that the construction of the ISS is "voodoo science" and put it in a book that fires rhetorical blasts at homeopathy, cold fusion, and perpetual motion machines is the worst kind of guilt by association. Gerard O'Neill was a serious scientist, not a backyard tinkerer or a deluded self-promoter. His ideas on space colonization have never been faulted on their scientific merits. Park even admits this, and faults them on their economic merits, which, is not Park's area of expertise, and in any case, not "Voodoo Science."

Park opens "Dreams of a Station in Space" with a discussion of his anti-space station testimony to Congress in April, 1997, and, after a brief history of past rationales for building the station, concludes "The space station stands ... as the single greatest obstacle to the further exploration of space." In "Beyond the Ionosphere" and "The Retreat to Low-Earth Orbit" Park reprises the Van Allen attack on humans in space, i.e., humans are expensive and fragile and robots are better, while adding little to it.

A more honest scientist would start by admitting that "space science" collectively is vastly overfunded relative to any possible value that it might produce, and that this over-funding is mainly due to the fascination of the public with the romantic dream of human flight in space. If the possibility of humans in space were definitively removed, as Park advocates, I predict that over time the amount of money spend on robots in space would drift downwards until it was a minor fraction of the current spending levels, to the benefit of Earthbound research projects, probably mostly in the areas of health and longevity.

A more honest scientist would take note that the costs of robotic probes has been increasing as the missions get more difficult. My own integrity compels me to admit that in 1997 this trend may have been less clear to Park than it ought to be today, but increasingly the "next" big robotic space mission has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise, verging toward a 5-10 billion dollar expedition. The simple reason for this is that most of the "cheap" flybys and orbiters have already been sent. The remaining targets are much more distant, or the remaining missions are more complex--e.g., Mars Sample Return. It is becoming more apparent that the robotic exploration of space may become self-limiting in the same fashion as the construction of particle accelerators--the cost of continuing vastly outweighs any possible scientific gain.

In this same spirit of honesty, I will admit that the advocates of robotic exploration of space are basically correct, and further, over time they will become more correct in the sense that as artificial intelligence improves, our robots will increasingly have human-level exploration abilities. Advocates of humans in space will sometimes argue that one person on Mars can do more science in a week than robots could do in months or years. That is certainly true today, but it will become less so over time.

The basic mistake of Park and Van Allen is the assumption that the primary justification of activity in space must be the advance of science. This is rather like suggesting that the major value of exploring the Americas for Columbus was science. Or that the main value of humans expanding out of Africa to Asia and Europe was science. Or that the main value in fish evolving to live on the land was the advance of science. None of these things was mainly justified by the advance of science. In the same fashion, we need to admit that the advance of science is no more than a side-effect of the human movement into space, not the overarching goal.

In "The Martian Chronicles" Park takes aim at Bob Zubrin and Gerard O'Neill and their plans for space settlement. We are told that "The idea attracted a cultlike following of dedicated supporters called the L5 Society. They tirelessly roamed the halls of Congress lobbying for federal funding to make O'Neill colonies a reality." As a former President of an L5 Society Chapter I can assure you that the organization was wholly rational and un- cultlike in its outlook, and far from tireless in lobbying for its cause! In any case, Park is sure of his position when he says "No one talks seriously about space colonies any longer. It was not that a space colony couldn't be built--it would violate no laws of physics--but the future must also conform to the laws of economics." Alas, here Park falls off his own wagon. As a physicist, he is entitled to make authoritative statements about physics. As an economist, not so much! In any case, the title of the book is VOODOO SCIENCE, not VOODOO ECONOMICS.

The considerably misinformed Park now tells us that "the L5 Society has faded into oblivion. But Robert Zubrin has taken up the cause of establishing extraterrestrial colonies." This brief summary misleads in many ways. The L5 Society merged with the National Space Institute to form the National Space Society (NSS) which has continued to advocate space settlement. NSS has expanded on the work of L5, and among other things hosts an annual international space settlement design competition for high school students. Zubrin is only one current advocate of space settlements. Those who found the NSS too staid split off to form more radical groups like the Space Frontier Foundation that Park was apparently unaware of. There is also a Lunar Society that advocates for lunar settlement. When other groups like Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) are added in, the "spawn of L5" vastly exceed the size and activity level of the original group. And now that a vibrant commercial space industry exists, many of those once active in the L5 Society and NSS have moved on to building and flying real rockets. For example, Aleta Jackson, former L5 Executive Secretary, now works at XCOR building suborbital tourist rockets. George Whitesides, former NSS Executive Director, is now CEO of Virgin Galactic, another space tourism company.

Park's mockery of space settlement is tinged with subtle digs at O'Neill's religious and philosophical beliefs. One suspects Park is trying to say O'Neill is *gasp* a Catholic or perhaps just a libertarian who thinks the government should not impose population control. The horror! Park can disagree with O'Neill on these matters if he likes, but he should not pretend that science endorses his viewpoint.

Park's knowledge of space settlement proponents is very selective. Although he calls Freeman Dyson "a great physicist" he seems unaware that Dyson is also a major voice calling for space settlement. Dyson, in addition to having written about space settlement is on the Board of Governors of the NSS (, the organization that carries forward the L5 torch. A couple of years back I personally presented Dyson an NSS award for his contributions to space settlement at the annual NSS meeting! It is also interesting to note that Stephen Hawking, someone I suspect Park would be forced to agree is "a great physicist" is also an advocate of space settlement. Both Hawking and Dyson have provided pro-space settlement essays to the recent 2013 book STARSHIP CENTURY edited by the Benford brothers. It is easy to dismiss Zubrin as a self-promoter, and to ignore O'Neill now that he is dead, but harder to dismiss the views of two of our very best scientists, both far more accomplished than Park. As it turns out, however, Park does dismiss Hawking's advocacy of space settlement in a June 16, 2006 post on his "What's New" blog, concluding "Maybe we should focus on taking care of the home we have."

Park spends a good bit of ink mocking O'Neill's vision of space solar power as a justification for building space colonies, but is apparently unaware of all that work that has been done on SSP since 1970. Current plans for SSP call for robotic self-assembly of uniform parts in space based on a vastly evolved and more effective design with no central points of failure. Park focuses a good bit on the various shortcomings of the Space Shuttle, while ignoring the fact that most space advocates would agree with his criticisms. It is only with the recent retirement of the Shuttle that we are starting to see private industry unleashed to build lower cost methods of access to space, something that in 2013 has made enormous progress relative to 2000.

Space advocates need to take note of Park and Van Allen's arguments, and focus directly on the only sustainable justification for humans being in space--space settlement. This is a very long term project that has virtually zero scientific justification. That does not make it any the less a vital project, nor any less essential to human survival. Toward this end, the ISS, far from being an "obstacle" to space exploration, is in fact the first real space settlement. Paradoxically, a serious focus on space settlement will lead, in my view, to a greater emphasis on using robots to pave the way for human settlement. The vision of "human hardhats in space" needs to be replaced with a new vision of robotically constructed settlements being occupied by humans.

Ironically, the human settlement of the solar system will pay vast scientific dividends, far greater than any self-limiting program of robotic exploration. The simple fact is that the incremental cost of doing science once there is a settlement anywhere in space (Mars, moon, asteroids) is much less than the cost of lofting custom-made robots from Earth. Park should be thanking the space settlement advocates, but I'm not holding my breath! [-dls]


The following is a review of the technology history book titled THE IDEA FACTORY: BELL LABS AND THE GREAT AGE OF AMERICAN INNOVATION by Jon Gertner. The historical period covered in the book about Bell Labs is from the early 1900's until the initial breakup of the AT&T Bell Telephone Company in the 1980's. It's hard to imagine how the modern telecommunications world of today could exist if not for Bell Labs. The technologies of vacuum tubes, the transistor, the laser, the maser, satellite telecommunications, information theory, solar cells, fiber optics for data transmission, the cell phone, UNIX code for computers, and many other associated inventions were created at this idea factory. Not only did the lab invent many essential things it also developed new ways to invent things. Bell Labs was one division of the very large AT&T Bell Telephone monopoly which consisted of Western Electric, AT&T, and its local phone companies. The large amount of revenue created by the phone company allowed them to have the funds and the time needed for long term research and development which was needed to create the transistor, for example. They not only invented new technological devices but also the new materials for these devices and all of the technology to manufacture them as very reliable items. The first transistors were made from Germanium but this material is very rare and does not perform well at higher temperatures, so silicon was used next since it would function even at higher temperatures and is abundant but it was easily tainted. Transistors are semiconductors which require the base material (in this case silicon) to be very pure but the silicon had to be infused with a very small amount of another element like aluminum for example to become semiconductors. If the very pure silicon were tainted before the total process was completed it became useless. Eventually, it was determined to expose the silicon to an aluminum gas in a furnace which would diffuse into the silicon. This process created a very precise manipulation of the needed aluminum impurity. It took years for all of this to occur, many companies today concentrating on a fast turn around and quick profits would not do this work.

Bell Labs employed many talented scientists, mathematicians, technicians, and engineers like Bill Shockley, Mervin Kelly, Bill Baker, John Pierce and Claude Shannon. Claude Shannon was considered to be so exceptional that he was usually left on his own to work on whatever interested him. In the late 1940's he wrote one of the most important papers concerning the transfer of information and data. His information theory written before the internet and the wide spread use of digital computers is the basis of today's internet and most of telecommunications. He stated that all communication could be considered to be information and that that information could be stored and transferred digitally as bits. At the time he wrote that paper all information was sent as analog waves. What he proposed was revolutionary.

Bell Labs also built the world's first telecommunications satellite called Telstar it was launched into orbit in 1962. It used solar cells invented by Bell Labs for power and it had 15,000 parts including semiconductors invented at Bell Labs. Another great innovation was the cell phone. The modern realization of the cell phone and how to implement it came about in the 1970's at the lab. A system of hexagonal shaped areas each with its own antenna was created and as the driver moved thru one hexagonal area to another his phone conversation would be connected by the next antenna. It took an immense effort to get this rather complex system to actually function correctly. It's hard to imagine that happening with venture capitalist funded tech companies of today. When you look it's not difficult to find technology associated with Bell Labs at work all around us. This is a very complete and entertaining book that illustrates where some of today's technology came from. [-gf]

LIFE TRACKER (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Mark's review of LIFE TRACKER in the 10/18/13 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

Didn't Heinlein write that same story back in 1939? The story I [am] thinking of is "Life-Line". According to

"Life-Line" is a short story by American author Robert A. Heinlein. Published in 1939, it was Heinlein's first published short story.

The protagonist, Professor Pinero, builds a machine that will predict how long a person will live. It does this by sending a signal along the world line of a person and detecting the echo from the far end. Professor Pinero's invention has a powerful impact on the life insurance industry, as well as on his own life. ...

[end Wikipedia quote]


Mark responds:

Well, Heinlein put his main emphasis on the mechanism and proving to skeptics that it worked. That is nearly glossed over in LIFE TRACKER. The film deals more with the effects on society and what the knowledge does to personal relations. To be honest the film seems like the more intelligent treatment of the theme. [-mrl]

GRAVITY (letter of comment by Steve Milton):

In response to Mark's review of GRAVITY, Steve Milton writes the following. [Reminder: You can go to to decrypt the messages below]:

Quibble on the encrypted comment on GRAVITY:

Qe. Fgbar qryvorengryl ghearq bss gur bkltra, cerfhznoyl erfhygvat va bayl avgebtra orvat srq vagb gur punzore. Fur gura ghearq vg onpx ba nsgre gur unyyhpvangvba. Gurer vf fbzr qbhog jurgure vg vf ernyvfgvp gung fur pbhyq erpbire rabhtu gb qb fb, ohg gur bkltra fhccyl vgfrys jnf abg qrcyrgrq.


Mark responds:

Be fur pbhyq fgvyy or unyyhpvangvat sebz gur cbvag fur ghearq bss gur bkltra. V jbhyq jnag gb frr gur svyz ntnva, ohg vg whfg frrzf guvatf jbex bhg zhpu gbb rnfvyl sbe ure sebz gur gvzr fur vf bkltra-qrcevirq ba.


Ross-Littlewood Infinity Paradox (letter of comment by Peter Trei):

In response to Mark's comments on the Ross-Littlewood Infinity Paradox in the 10/18/13 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

I think you've mis-stated the Paradox; it only runs one hour, not two. [-pt]

Mark replies:

On this one I plead "not guilty." How long the operation lasts depends on who is stating the paradox. What is important is that you have an infinite number of time intervals with a finite sum, much like in Zeno's Paradox. When I saw the paradox stated it ran like I said. The first hour (10 AM to 11 AM) really just set up the experiment, but it was unlike the others as nothing was removed. Wikipedia has the entire operation take place in just one minute. It is still the same paradox. In fact you can also state the paradox eliminating my first step and saying that the first step is putting ball zero in the bag or you can say that there already is a ball in the bag and you start with my second step. I have the operation take place over two hours. [-mrl]

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

I re-read THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT by Edgar Rice Burroughs (ISBN no ISBN, but available through Project Gutenberg) before listening to a podcast discussion of it (on SFF Audio), and while I am not going to give it a full review, I do have a few comments.

First, like just about everyone else, the internal narrator uses "Frankenstein" to mean the Creation. He also thinks Piltdown Man was real (as I suspect Burroughs did, since it was not debunked until 1953).

Burroughs has a strange notion of how evolution works (worked). I do not mean just the notion of creatures evolving individually as they travel upstream. I am referring to the whole Caprona "continent." If Caprona split off long enough ago to preserve the dinosaurs (i.e., more than 65 million years ago) then there would not also be deer, antelope, panthers, lions, wolves, wooly rhinoceroses, and gorillas and other anthropoid apes. The latter evolved to fill an ecological niche left vacant by the extinction of the dinosaurs, but even if they had evolved without the death of the dinosaurs, they would not have evolved exactly the same as in the other land mass(es). Clearly the "humans" on Caprona did not, so why should other mammals? For that matter, do the other mammals have the same strange reproductive method as the "humans," or are the "humans" somehow unique in this, and if so, how did *that* happen?

CAIN by Jose Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa, ISBN 978- 0-547-41989-3) is Saramago's last novel and follows in a tradition of speculative fiction both in and out of the "science fiction" marketing category. One could argue, I suppose, that John Milton was one of its earliest practitioners, the tradition being that of re-telling Biblical stories from a different perspective. Within science fiction, the leading modern author of these works is James Morrow, with his "Bible Stories for Adults", but other examples abound.

In CAIN, Saramago follows the eponymous character as he travels through space and time, somehow being present at all the important Pentateuchal events. And he sees nothing admirable in God's behavior at any of them, and indeed, expresses what many modern theologians feel in his questions of why a god would order a man to sacrifice his own son, why destroying all the innocent children in Sodom was justified, how God giving Job ten new children makes up for the ten He killed (especially to those ten, and for a wager, no less), why God thought destroying all humans except for Noah and his family was going to produce a better human race than had developed before, and so on.

It is all summed up in Cain's dialogue with the angels outside Job's house:

"If I've understood you rightly, god and satan made a wager, but this man job isn't to know that he is the object of the gamblers" agreement between god and the devil, Exactly, exclaimed the angels as one, That doesn't seem very fair of the lord, said cain, if it's true that I've heard, that job, for all his wealth, is also a good and upright man, and very religious too, he has committed no crime, and yet, for no reason, he is about to be punished with the loss of all his money and possessions, now it may be, as many people say, that the lord is just, but I don't think so, it reminds me of what happened to abraham, whom god, in order to put him to the test, commanded to kill his son isaac, so it seems to me that if the lord doesn't trust the people who believe in him, I really don't see why those people should believe in the lord, the ways of the lord are inscrutable, not even we angels can fathom the workings of his mind, Oh, I've had enough of all this nonsense about the lord's ways being inscrutable, answered cain, god should be as clear and transparent as a pane of glass and not go wasting his energies on creating an atmosphere of constant terror and fear, god, in short, does not love us."

[punctuation and capitalization sic]

I finally read BORGES Y LA CIENCIA FICCIÓN by Carlos Abraham (ISBN 978-84-96013-85-8); first it took a few years to find at a reasonable price, and then it took several months to read (I think I started it before I broke my hip the first day of spring!). Part of the time was because it was in Spanish, but part was that whenever Abraham would draw parallels between a Borges story and an earlier science fiction story, I found I had to go dig them both out and read them.

I wrote a review/commentary/summary of the book, but since it came to almost 20,000 words, I'll do a much briefer commentary here; the full review is at

Briefly put, Abraham's contention is that Borges appropriated various science fiction stories he read and stripped them of their science fictional elements to create derivative works that would be "high literature" rather than "genre fiction." Some pairings he particularly looks at are:

(Apparently he thinks Borges read a lot of Lovecraft.)

Of course, his premise is predicated on the notion that science fiction (or other genre literature) is less worthy than "high literature" ("literatura alta") and if you do not buy into that argument, then the exercise of converting science fiction to non- science fiction does not seem worthwhile in and of itself. Abraham also presumes that Borges perceived the ideas (and indeed, a lot of the language, at least for the Lovecraft derivatives) of the stories as part of the common heritage, available for other authors (such as himself) to use. This may well be true--there are essays in which Borges says something very close to this--but I suspect a court of law might see things differently. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          The dog has seldom been successful in pulling 
          man up to its level of sagacity, but man has 
          frequently dragged a dog down to his. 
                                          --James Thurber

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