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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/06/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 49, Whole Number 1809
Table of Contents
Changing Library Skills (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Our library just invested in a 3D printer. I told the head librarian that at one time a well-educated librarian needed to know the novels of Somerset Maugham. These days they are more valuable if they know how to fix a clogged plastic extruder. [-mrl]
To Boycott or Not? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A friend wrote me asking about what are my favorite Woody Allen films. I told my friend that my favorite Allen comedy was LOVE AND DEATH and his best drama was CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. The discussion turned to a larger issue.
My friend had been reading about the Woody Allen scandal. Allen had a long-term relationship with Mia Farrow though the two never married. After the two broke up Allen turned his interests to Farrow's adopted daughter. The two of them started a sexual relationship and eventually married. And there are other accusations against Allen. The question was should one boycott the works of a given artist if one does not approve of the artist's actions and opinions? He compared the question to the one of whether one should avoid the music of Richard Wagner since Wagner was an anti-Jewish bigot. The truth is I never gave much thought to whether I should have my own personal boycott of both Wagner's and Allen's art. This does not mean that I have decided the issue for myself, I just never gave the issue a lot of thought and perhaps this was the time to do that.
My father avoided Wagner's music, some of which I really liked. Toward the end of his (my father's) life he told me he had been listening to some Wagner and found it to be good music.
But was my father wrong to take an interest in Wagner's music? This is a difficult question. It is even more difficult in the case of Allen than it is in the case of Wagner. That is because Wagner had the decency to die before any action I could take could help or hinder him. Wagner's music is in the public domain. It is free for anyone to use without any necessity to reward Wagner or even his family. Admittedly it is not completely clear that keeping Wagner's music alive does not still benefit the decomposed composer. Some people could use the value of Wagner's music to better Wagner's reputation and indirectly his beliefs. But this is only a small concern. Wagner's musical reputation is established and beyond my powers to affect much at all. On the other hand, if I buy a Woody Allen DVD he does still benefit. Allen is rewarded for his art by collecting royalties on DVDs of his films. So arguably I could make the world a worse place by buying a Woody Allen DVD or a ticket to one of his movies.
A case could be made that one could not fairly decide that Allen is a bad man if we choose to ignore what is possibly redeeming work. One could take any person and ignore anything good they did and claim that since what is left is bad enough to be damning, it justifies ignoring the good. Looking at only the good equally distorts judging the person fairly. (Actually that is what happens in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The main character has undoubtedly done good and bad in life, but the film looks only at the good.)
I cannot make an ethical decision for someone other than myself, will not make one for the reader, and would not want to. You, reader, have to consider the issues and decide for yourself if there are people you want to boycott. Let me raise some questions that might have bearing on the issue. I will answer as a Jew with a particularly strong interest in anti-Jewish prejudice.
Some great artists, writers, and statesmen were at the same time anti-Jewish. Authors that come to mind include William Shakespeare, H. P. Lovecraft, John Buchan, and T. S. Eliot. (I am sure Google can find many, many others.) I may have already been harmed by these authors' anti-Jewish prejudices. Would I not be hurting myself and rewarding their prejudice by avoiding their works and the good they may do me? Can innocuous literature be immoral solely because of its source?
Many of the same issues apply to other fields. Would I be immoral to benefit from scientific data derived at the expense of unwilling human subjects? Where does it end? If a car company built tanks for the Germans in WWII, should I avoid their modern-day cars?
This can be taken further. What about patronizing people whose politics is very different? Should Democrats boycott shops owned by active Republicans, and vice versa? I cannot give you a consistent answer to this one. I do not think I would buy from a neo-Nazi. On the other hand, not buying from people with different political ideas was the spirit of blacklisting in the 1950s.
In the end I cannot give my correspondent a single concrete answer. As for Woody Allen films, I am willing to consider his films on their own merits. As for the people who do boycott his films, if people are going to decide not to see films, you cannot stop them. [-mrl]
SpaceX Hawthorne Factory Tour ("When we build the Mars Colonial Transport ...") (by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
The ISDC (International Space Development Conference) which is sponsored largely but not solely by the NSS (National Space Society, www.nss.org) usually organizes space-related tours on the Wednesday prior to the conference. With the 2014 ISDC in Los Angeles, there were a number of cool tours to choose from, including JPL, the Griffith Observatory, and the California Science Center where Endeavour has found a new home. But the coolest tour of all was limited to 20 lucky souls who got to visit the SpaceX central factory in Hawthorne. For a mere $60, I was able to squeeze in as the 19th such lucky soul.
A bus took us from the hotel for about 30 minutes to the Hawthorne Works. Before being re-established as a spaceship factory, the facilities were used by Boeing to build 747s. There is not a lot to see from the outside--just a very large building with "SpaceX" on the side, and a very small entrance flanked by enormous wall-paper posters, one of the Dragon docked at ISS, and the other of a Falcon launch. Our entrance was via side door where we were kept in kind of outdoor tent snack area while our IDs were checked and we were given badges. Pictures and note taking were not permitted, but I was allowed to carry a notepad as long as I didn't write on it.
Once inside, we walked along a corridor that brought us out near their "secondary" mission control facility, which was in "lock down mode" as it was actively managing CRS-3 at the ISS. The by now familiar SpaceX minimalist control room was on display--simple tables such as might be purchased at IKEA, ordinary chairs, and standard large screen displays surrounding each chair. On this day the backup/secondary control room had only a few workers, but we quickly moved on to the nearby main control room--the one where you see Elon Musk sitting during the launches. It is a lot bigger, but mainly in height. Ceiling mounted projectors cover the far wall floor to ceiling with data outputs and live images from the ISS. Here there were more people working, but not the full complement you would see during launch. It is hard to believe that the entire room cost more than $100-$200K for the equipment inside. Contrast this to the custom-built Apollo control room, which I've seen, and which certainly cost tens to hundreds of millions just for the specialized equipment. Of course, the real work today is all done in software, and so we need to account for how much was spent on this. However, it is hard to imagine it is more than a tiny fraction of what NASA spent for the same function.
As we moved forward, the hall opened out into a sort of "Batcave" of trophies. On the left was a rather cool looking two-floor open cafeteria, with circular blue overhead lights. Looking forward, you can see a long corridor extending into the factory. The floor is polished and gleaming, and the factory not all that noisy by factory standards. It is clear that they have set up one long walk into the factory for tours, and mention was made that a lot of the welding and cutting was really done in small buildings nearby.
Overhead hung the first cargo Dragon to return to Earth. It had a window, although the later cargo Dragons do not. We were told that this was done to test the heat control, and during re-entry the inside window temperature was 90 degrees. We were also told that the heat shield, which is based on NASA developed technology, was made extra thick for absolute safety, and that later shields are thinner. The shield had an odd layered look, with some parts clearly much thicker than others. One of the landing legs hung nearby that will be used to return the first stage to the launch pad. This was far overhead, but seemed immense, much wider that it appears on videos.
We now moved a bit deeper into the factory. On the left they were assembling "Octo-webs." These structures hold 9 Merlin engines, 8 in an octagonal pattern, and one in the center. This structure, which is new with the Falcon 9 v1.1, allows for faster and lower cost manufacturing. The nearest Octoweb appeared to be near completion, with people on ladders clambering over it installing parts. The engines are visibly simpler than rocket engines you may have seen previously, and gleam like Hollywood props. It was reported that Elon is concerned about both form and function, and there has been a deliberate effort to ensure that the Falcon both works and looks cool. Immediately to the left (further into the factory) could be seen an Octoweb with no engines installed. I noted that the second Octoweb had a sign on it stating "Octoweb for F9R dev2." My interpretation is that these engines will be used for the Falcon 9R dev2 that will be flown to heights of 300,000 feet out of Spaceport New Mexico. Falcon 9R dev1, which has only three Merlin engines, is currently flying out of McGregor Texas, but only to a maximum height of 10,000 feet. From this we can conclude that the F9R dev2 won't be flying right away, but it is definitely coming along. It would be great to see it flying before the end of 2014, but this clearly depends on the progress made with the F9R dev1 and the length of that testing campaign.
About this time I hear the tour guide say something like "When we build the Mars Colonial Transport ...." and I mulled over the idea that, as Glenn Reynolds likes to say, "Well, it is the 21st Century!" It is easy for forget that behind the now and then launches of the Falcons there are now over 4,000 employees working at SpaceX (which makes it bigger than Orbital Sciences before the Orbital-ATK merger). Our tour guide was a business major who had worked at SpaceX for three years. She had mainly worked on marketing projects, but reported that she recently moved over to being a project manager since she wanted to get more involved with the manufacturing work. She reported that her boyfriend worked on the Dragon solar panels. Her excitement as she talked was palpable, although the factory was not quite as bustling as I thought it would be. On the right side of the hall was an area for assembly of composite fuel tanks. An immense machine rotated a black composite cylinder as we watched. As we walked further into the factory, on the right we could see an area were Merlin engines were assembled. This area seemed more like an electronics lab than an assembly line. Each set of benches was associated with a Merlin engine being assembled. The engines, which are about the size of a person, are moved on circular pallets. One observation about the tour was that it was easy to see how things were done, but hard to get a sense of the full size of the factory, or how many total Falcons were under construction. No doubt this is deliberate. It was certainly difficult to see how many Merlin engines were being assembled other than it was more than a few. I was also a bit surprised to see the highest volume component, the Merlin engine, was not being made on an assembly line.
Moving further into the factory on the right we saw Dragons being assembled. Final assembly is done in a large clean room. I saw one in the clean room, one immediately outside, and the superstructure of two more further on along our path. My main observation is that a Dragon is quite a bit larger than an Apollo capsule even though at a distance they appear similar in size. Also, we tend to forget that there is an unpressurized "trunk" directly underneath the capsule which also carries cargo to the ISS.
On the left side we could see "Interstages" in various degrees of completion. There are large metal cylinders that connect the first stage to to the second stage and cover the vacuum Merlin engine. We saw one of these was well--it is the same engine, but with a very large nozzle to allow it to work better in space. By "large" I mean the size of a truck. Also on the left we could see a robot arm that was used to test the composite tanks for flaws. The arm stood on a stand perhaps ten feet high, and held an enormous device that superficially appeared to be a giant U-shaped magnet, but was obviously something else. This entire assembly hung inside a large composite tank that was open at one end. It would have been interesting to see what this looked like while in operation.
On the right we passed a large area which could not be closely observed due to the presence of tall tinted blue translucent panels. I asked and was told that this was a welding area, but that most of the welding was actually done in other buildings.
We stopped to look at an additive manufacturing area. Three machines use lasers to anneal metal powder into difficult to machine parts. A sample of odd-shaped parts were on display, including what appeared to be a nozzle, a complex grating, and a just-for-fun model of a Falcon9. We were now reaching the deepest point of penetration into the factory for the tour. Here we could see immense metal cylinders being constructed--these were assembled to be the outer skin of the first and second stages. We were told that the construction of the two stages is the same, except multiple segments are used to construct the first stage while only one for the second stage. Somewhere we also saw "fairings" being constructed--these are metal shields that protect a satellite that might be launched instead of a Dragon.
Now we simply turned around, and retraced our steps through the factory and out of the building. Afterwards we were allowed to take some pictures in the front of the building, and then the bus took us back to the hotel. The tour wasn't that long in time, but there was so much to see that you didn't feel cheated. It was a privilege to have a direct look at the future being welded and cut into reality.
I thought it would be a good idea to conclude the factory tour review with a brief review of past SpaceX achievements, and then look at few years into the future. Some key milestones for SpaceX include the first privately funded liquid fueled rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1/2008), the first privately funded company to launch and recover from orbit a spacecraft (Dragon on Falcon 9/2010), the first private company to send a spacecraft to the ISS (Dragon/2012), and the first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (Falcon 9 v1.1/2013). These efforts have started a sea change in the commercial launch industry as other players scramble to compete with SpaceX's lower prices.
Some things that we can look forward to over the next two or three years are the launch of a crewed Dragon to the ISS and the first flight of the Falcon Heavy, the largest US Rocket since the Saturn V in terms of payload to low earth orbit (about 50 metric tons). More importantly, there is a strong probability that within the next two years we will see the powered return to launch pad and re-use of the first stage of the Falcon 9. This event will mark the opening of the true age of space, and herald the advent of significantly lower costs for getting to LEO.
All this is mere prelude to the accomplishment of Elon Musk's great ambition--the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has already rented test stands at NASA's Stennis facility in Mississippi to begin the testing of the Raptor, a revolutionary re-usable methane-lox engine providing one million pounds of thrust. It is widely speculated, based on hints from SpaceX, that the Raptor engine will be used to create a 9-engine Falcon X similar to the Falcon 9 in overall design, but with 9 million pounds of liftoff thrust. For comparison, the first stage of the Saturn V produced about 7.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust. Unlike the Saturn V, the Falcon X will be at least re-usable in the first stage. But this is not Musk's end goal. In a design similar to the Falcon Heavy, three Falcon X first stages will be attached to create the Falcon XX, a rocket with an unprecedented liftoff thrust of 27 million pounds. Such a vehicle will, in its reusable form, serve to power the voyages of thousands of settlers to Mars. And did I mention that methane has been chosen as a fuel because it both maximizes engine re-usability and can be readily manufactured on Mars? Welcome to the 21st century indeed!!! [-dls]
Women's Suffrage (letters of comment by Charles S. Harris and Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on women's suffrage in the 05/30/14 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
[Evelyn wrote,] "It was less than two decades earlier [than 1938] that women finally got the vote on a United States-wide basis--and in Britain, it still had not happened."
"On 6 February, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. About 8.4 million women gained the vote. In November 1918, the Eligibility of Women Act was passed, allowing women to be elected into Parliament. The Representation of the People Act 1928 extended the voting franchise to all women over the age of 21, granting women the vote on the same terms as men."
And Tim Bateman writes:
Actually, it happened the previous year, following a period of two decades from 1918 in which women had the vote from the age of 30, possibly with some small print (men had it from the age of 21). A cynic might think that women were being geared up for the next war, which the government were expecting two years from then.
There was also some bizarre set-up in which some women had the vote prior to the late nineteenth century when there was a big shake-up in re the matter of voting rights. [-tg]
I'm not sure exactly what was going through my head when I wrote what I did. I could have sworn I saw something indicating that women in Britain did not fully get the vote until after World War II, but obviously I either mis-read or mis-remembered it. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week I discussed Retro Hugo novel nominees CARSON OF VENUS and GALACTIC PATROL; this week I will finish up the novels.
THE LEGION OF TIME by Jack Williamson (ISBN 978-0-312-94283-0) (82 pages): They said this was a novel, but even with a generous estimate, my omnibus edition (a "Galaxy Magabook") seems to have only about 35,000 words for "The Legion of Time". But it cannot be the omnibus of "The Legion of Time" and "After World's End" together that is the actual nominee because, although both have a 1938 copyright, the latter was first published in a magazine with a 1939 cover date. And although Galaxy Magabooks had the bad habit of cutting the novels they printed, without actually indicating that they had done so, someone with access to the original serial says it comes in at 34,668 words. Since the leeway for the novel category is 5000 words, this should actually have been in the novella category. (For what it's worth, I appear to be the first person to point this out.)
THE LEGION OF TIME starts with a team, or rather, a leader and three sidekicks, which was very common in fiction at the time (particularly in such popular series as Doc Savage, which first appeared in 1933). We have four Harvard students: Dennis Lanning, blond and wiry; Wilmot McLan, a mathematician; Lao Men Shan, a Szechwan engineer; and Barry Halloran, "gigantic red-haired All American tackle." Then we get a couple of pulp adventure princesses, one good and one evil, before going on to an aerial battle in 1930s China. It seems as though Williamson wanted to include in this every type of pulp fiction there was. And in fact THE LEGION OF TIME is really just a pulp adventure novel, with the time travel aspects really minimal. When I am reading about our heroes fighting mutant ant-men in the future with knives and axes, it is hard to read this as hard science fiction. Yes, they are trying to make sure that the "good future" is victorious over the "bad future" (and guess which one has the mutant ant-men?), but other than a few convenient rays, there is not much futuristic about any of this.
Williamson seems fairly prescient when in this book (written in 1937) he describes someone as being blown up in 1940, fighting to save Paris. But when he also references "Las Alamos" as having secrets, which makes no sense in 1937 (even assuming "Las" is a typo for "Los", which it must be for proper Spanish), and mentions uranium and hydrogen bombs, then I begin to wonder if the version I read was updated in 1963 when Galaxy reprinted it. And guess what? Someone with access to the original publication text confirms that while the 1940 reference *was* present in the 1938 version, none of the others were. Galaxy strikes again!
All in all, this was a disappointment. I was hoping for a more traditional "time patrol"-type story, and maybe that is being unfair, but there you have it.
OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET by C. S. Lewis (ISBN 978-0-743-23490-0) (159 pages): This is the first book of the "Cosmic Trilogy" (a.k.a. "Space Trilogy") and was followed by PERELANDRA (1943) and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH (1945). The last was also nominated for a Retro Hugo, but lost to THE MULE by Isaac Asimov (itself part of the "Foundation Trilogy").
It is claimed that OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET was inspired by David Lindsay's A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, but frankly I saw the imprint of Jonathan Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS all over it, particularly Swift's "Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms". This was especially noticeable in the first paragraph of Chapter Nineteen:
"They were much shorter than any animal he had yet seen on Malacandra, and he gathered that they were bipeds, though the lower limbs were so thick and sausage-like that he hesitated to call them legs. The bodies were a little narrower at the top than at the bottom so as to be very slightly pear-shaped, and the heads were neither round like those of hrossa nor long like those of sorns, but almost square. They stumped along on narrow, heavy-looking feet which they seemed to press into the ground with unnecessary violence. And now their faces were becoming visible as masses of lumped and puckered flesh of variegated colour fringed in some bristly, dark substance... Suddenly, with an indescribable change of feeling, he realized that he was looking at men. The two prisoners were Weston and Devine and he, for one privileged moment, had seen the human form with almost Malacandrian eyes."
This is amazingly similar to Gulliver's reactions to other humans when he returns to England from the land of the Houyhnhnms.
OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET is clearly science fiction and does an excellent job of describing an alien planet, alien races, and so on, but it is also thinly disguised polemic (particularly Chapter Twenty-One), and suffers for that. It is true that THE SWORD IN THE SWORD has a message to deliver, but it does it with a lighter touch (in my humble opinion, of course).
THE SWORD IN THE STONE by T. H. White (first part of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, ISBN 978-0-441-62740-0) (204 pages): One note here: The text of THE SWORD IN THE STONE by T. H. White has been modified from the original 1938 text. First it was edited for its American publication, and then further modified when published as part of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. Supposedly, stand-alone editions of THE SWORD IN THE STONE retain the original American edition. Be that as it may, I am reading the 1958 text.
The best description I can come up with for this is Thomas Malory meets Mark Twain, except of course, Twain did it first with A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT. By this I mean that both authors take the King Arthur story, set in some unspecific time, and gave it a modern twist in language and attitudes. Twain did it by adding a modern man to the mix; what White did was to bring it up to date to 1938 by making it totally anachronistic. This is clearly intentional; White says so on page two when he has a character talk about sending Kay and Arthur to Eton, and then writes, "It was not really Eton that he mentioned, for the College of Blessed Mary was not founded until 1440, but it was a place of the same sort. Also they were drinking Metheglyn, not port, but by mentioning the modern wine it is easier to give you the feel."
So when characters talk about Indians with bows and arrows, and turkey feathers, and such, we are supposed to understand that they are talking about something else entirely. This makes things a lot easier for White, because he does not have to worry about being accurate.
I just wish White would be consistent. In Chapter 3, he refers to a bunch of turkey feathers in Merlyn's upstairs room (along with dozens of other anachronistic items), but in Chapter 15, he says there was no turkey for Christmas dinner, because "this bird had not yet been invented."
However, White also seems to have decided he has to use every arcane medieval-sounding word: gad, goshawk, snurt, craye, swivel, varvels, rufter, merlin, tiercel, mute, asting, yarak, austringer, rouse, sounder, gore-crow, warrantable, fewmet, libbard, brachet, mollock. And those are just from the first two chapters! Maybe this is to counteract the modernity of some of the imagery so that you remember you are in an earlier time.
The big difference between Twain and White is that while Twain's goal is to show the reader the darker side of the whole medieval "myth," White shows its foolishness by cranking it up to the ridiculous: "In the spring, the flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dews sparkled, and the birds sang. In the summer, it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed. ... And, in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned to slush." (Or as paraphrased by Alan Jay Lerner, "The rain may never fall till after sundown / By eight the morning fog must disappear.") In fact, all of Chapter 15 is like this and it, along with the joust in Chapter, are the two tours-de-force of the novel.
(This reminds me of what I always say, that I do not mind if it snows, as long as it snows only on the lawns and not on the roads and driveways.)
My ranking: THE SWORD IN THE STONE, CARSON OF VENUS, OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, no award, THE LEGION OF TIME, GALACTIC PATROL
Next week, the novellas. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: What other culture could have produced someone like Hemingway and not seen the joke? --Gore VidalTweet
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