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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/12/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 11, Whole Number 1823
Table of Contents
The Length of This Issue (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I don't care how long this issue gets; we are not going to a semi-weekly schedule! [-ecl]
The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History were presented at LonCon 3. There was a tie for Long Form: SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES: WHAT IF KENNEDY SURVIVED DALLS? By Bryce Zabel and THE WINDSOR FACTION by D. J. Taylor. The Short Form award was presented to Vylar Kaftan for "The Weight of the Sunrise". [-ecl]
The Wheels on the Buggy Go Round and Round (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was at a museum of horse buggies. Yes, there is such a thing in Canada. I started wondering if horses thought of wheels as being a great labor-saving device for them. [-mrl]
When It Comes to the Internet Nobody Has Your Back (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My supervisor at work once went on vacation and asked me to cover a supervisor meeting for him. When they asked at the meeting if there were any issues to discuss I saw my opportunity. I had an issue to bring up that had bothered me for months. The common policy at that time was to distribute timecards to the employees by leaving them in a pocket outside the supervisor's office. Members of the group would leaf through the timecards and find their own card--the one with their name and Social Security number, fill it out, and turn it in to the supervisor. That was how timecards were distributed.
My issue was that I could leaf through the pack and get the Social Security number for anyone in the group. And anyone could leaf through and get my Social Security number.
Now the government had said that Social Security numbers should be used for government purposes only--tax forms, etc. Corporations were not supposed to use the Social Security numbers. But in building administrative systems for the company the temptation to have a unique pre-assigned number for each employee was just too great. The SSN made it quick to identify employees with a unique tab on each--something they could have done with employee ID numbers (and later they did). But at the time they did not want to give up that convenience of using the SSN wherever they wanted.
It bothered me that the system made my SSN so easily available not just to members of my group, but to other employees including people like the night cleaning crew. I brought the issue up. But after minimal discussion I was told the cleaning people were "bonded" with the company, whatever that means. The company said that they trusted bonded employees to go into offices at night and, as they said, even see on desks THE BUSINESS PLAN! This was getting me nowhere. To be honest, if someone on the cleaning crew got their hands on the Business Plan I have no idea how they could turn that into money. I had a much better idea what they could do with my name and my Social Security number.
I am afraid that in most corporations employee security takes time and money and brings no immediate financial return. Most of the risk of the downside is distributed to the employees and customers whom most corporations see as a "them" and not an "us." Many corporations will generously apply lip service to employee and customer security concerns, but they do not have the will or perhaps even the know-how to protect employees and customers. When/If their security is breached they will publicly express astonishment and embarrassment. I have never heard of a corporation expressing regret, though that is the proper emotion. The problem was caused by them failing to protect their collected data. But the pain goes mostly to the people whose data they had collected and left at risk and which subsequently was stolen.
In recent weeks there have been several news stories about stolen customer data and stolen photos. There are frequent stories large numbers of passwords being stolen from commercial chains and corporations. And each of those passwords was stolen from someone who did not do enough to protect that data. And because we could not examine their software and most of us would not know how to check it, from the outside there was no reason to doubt that the data was safe.
Even if we see no sign of tampering we are still all put in danger. Much of the world does its commerce over the Internet and much of that data exchanged is not as secure as we tell ourselves that it is. Just at the moment people are becoming aware that commerce over the Internet is virtually unavoidable and there is little we can do to avoid it security traps but to stop using it. If we continue to use it there is a little we can do to make ourselves more secure. We can change passwords (repeatedly!!!) and hope that the new passwords are not being sent directly to a hacker's computer. But for the most part we are helpless. This situation may well have devastating international economic consequences. If the Internet proves unsafe for monetary transactions the economy could be in real trouble. We are dealing with corporations and parties who I am sure would say they are doing great things to protect customer and employee data. But does that make you feel secure? [-mrl]
Fall 2014 SF/F TV Preview (comments by Dale L. Skran):
The purpose of this article is to provide a quick review of upcoming SF/F TV shows this fall that I think folks might find of interest. This is not a complete list of shows--just the ones I find interesting. The format is "name" followed by "starting date" and "network."
1 - Haven - 9/11/15 - SyFy - Returning 2 - Z Nation - 9/12/14 - SyFy - New 3 - Sleepy Hollow - 9/22/14 - CBS - Returning 4 - Gotham - 9/22/14 - Fox - New 5 - Forever - 9/22/14 - ABC - New 6 - Scorpion - 9/22/14 - CBS - New 7 - Shield - 9/23/14 - ABC - Returning 8 - Vampire Diaries - 10/2/14 - CW - Returning 9 - Originals - 10/6/14 - CW - Returning 10 - Supernatural - 10/7/14 - CW - Returning 11 - Flash - 10/7/14 - CW - New 12 - Arrow - 10/8/14 - CW - Returning 13 - The 100 - 10/22/14 - CW - Returning 14 - Constantine - 10/24/14 - NBC - New 15 - Ascension - 11/25/14 - SyFy - New
I haven't seen a trailer for Z NATION, but I'll probably watch it once just to see if it seems interesting. GOTHAM seems to focus on [Commissioner] Gordon as a young man, and a host of villains/heroes as kids. This might be good or just plain silly--we'll have to wait and see. FOREVER is one of those "immortal man seeks to understand himself" stories. I'll be checking it out but expecting very little. SCORPION seems promising. It follows a team of "geniuses" that are drafted by Homeland Security for the tough cases. Led by an all-around thinker with an IQ of 197 (sic), it includes a mechanical wizard, a master of psychology, and a human calculator. Seems a bit like Patrick Jane split into a number of characters, but worth checking out. There are obvious echoes of Doc Savage and the Fabulous Five here as well.
I'm sure you've heard that the CW is adding FLASH to ARROW as it builds a TV version of the DC universe. ARROW has generally done a good job with a lot of minor DC characters that lack powers. We'll see if the same quality can be maintained as real meta-humans join the fray. I've seen the trailer for CONSTANTINE, and it comes off a bit like SUPERNATURAL. Certainly worth checking out if you have a tolerance for horror.
Finally, perhaps the most interesting new show is ASCENSION. The quick plot summary is that after the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy became concerned that nuclear war was inevitable, and to save the human raise initiated a project to build and launch an Orion generation ship called the Ascension. This show has been called "Mad Men in space" since the idea is that a crew from the early 1960s has been drifting through space for all these years. It's now 2014, and a new generation is coming to power on the ship. Fun ensues. Also, the radioactive cloud left by the Orion engines has cut off all communication with Earth. This could be anything from stupid derivative junk to amazing hard SF, but is pretty much a must-see on the idea alone. [-dls]
LonCon 3 (2014 Worldcon) (Part 2) (convention report by Dale L. Skran):
Friday, August 15, 2014
General comment: LonCon 3 has a much-needed series of media panels to introduce fans to SF TV shows they may be unaware of. I've been complaining for quite a while that we live in a golden age of TV SF, but all fans seem to watch is DOCTOR WHO. On Friday there was a panel titled "What do you mean you don't watch ... ORPHAN BLACK, GRIMM, or THE RETURNED?" This was followed on Saturday by "What do you mean you don't watch ... IN THE FLESH, ARROW, or DA VINCI'S DAEMONS?" The series concluded with "What do you mean you don't watch ... SLEEPY HOLLOW, CONTINUUM, or ELEMENTARY?" on Sunday. This set of nine different shows is by no means all-encompassing, although it does include some of the best. I could list another nine and still not cover the wealth of current programs (SUPERNATURAL, DEFIANCE, TRU BLOOD, THE WALKING DEAD, THE MENTALIST, THE LAST SHIP, HELIX, LOST GIRL, BITTEN). See, I just did it! And this does not include any canceled shows or new shows starting in the fall!! The con organizers have the right idea here. There is a real need to inform fans about the virtues of the many SF shows currently available.
11:00 [11:00 am] "BIS: Mission for the Future Part I & II"
This section consisted of talks by British Interplanetary Society (BIS) leaders Alastair Scott and Chris Welch. Scott made a general presentation of the kinds of things the BIS has done in the past, including seminal studies of a lunar landing and interstellar travel. Scott followed this by a list of their current active studies, which includes:  Icarus interstellar explorer,  STARDROP, a 10-GW space-to-space solar collector power system,  Tsiolkovsky (far-side lunar rover),  SPACE (a reworking of O'Neill's space settlement vision with modern technology, and  Project 3033, a visionary competition. Icarus is an updating of the older BIS Daedalus project, while  and  are self-explanatory. The far-side lunar rover seems neither ambitious nor that interesting. Project 3033 seeks to identify a "new O'Neill" with a vision for space in 3033, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the BIS.
The BIS also conducts technical projects, including  Sprites/Kicksat (LEO Chipsat),  Pocket Space Craft (moonlanders),  WISP (A solar powered sprite), and  BEETLE (exploratory effort to create small deep-space craft). The LEO Chipsat has been built and launched, but due to Kicksat failure, none of the Sprites were launched, and all hundred burned up on reentry. Another hundred are being built for launch on a future mission.
The technical efforts of the BIS are admirable, and appear to exceed that of any non-profit US group, although the Planetary Society does fund some excellent projects. There is no United States group that conducts long term technical studies like the BIS. Chris Welch, the VP of the BIS then presented a good review of their educational efforts, which, though extensive, resemble those of the National Space Society (NSS) and the Planetary Society in the United States.
12:00 [12 noon] "BIS: SKYLON and spaceflight of the future".
In this excellent talk, Alan Bond, the Managing Director of Reaction Engines, presented the status of the Skylon spaceplane project. You can read up on Skylon on the web or the reaction engines web site, so I'm going to focus on what I found especially interesting. For some reason I thought Skylon was a scramjet, but it converts to rocket mode at mach 5, which means it does not require a working scramject to operate. The design seems clever, and overcomes the various issues of the older HOTOL spaceplane project. I was left with the impression that the complex multi-mode SABRE engine might be made to work, but I question its longer term reliability and maintainability. The device seems complex and fragile. If Skylon works, Bond predicts launch costs at 2-5% of current numbers.
Bond presented his own design for a SpaceX style 1st stage re-use, which he admits will work but which he projects will only bring costs down to about 30% of current levels. He also was skeptical of the SpaceX propulsive descent approach, and called for a flyback first stage with a jet engine. It is rumored that the Chinese on also taking Bond's approach to first-stage reuse.
Something new to me is Bond's proposal to re-use the stage that launches geosynchronous satellites from geostationary transfer orbit to geosynchronous orbit. If this could be made to work, it would be revolutionary. Bond claims Skylon will have a launch capacity similar to the Ariane 5, and presented his own plans for a Mars mission launched using Skylon technology.
However, one thing is clear--Skylon is on a ten-year road to operational status at best, and will require billions of dollars of additional funding to get there. For a small company, Bond has done well, recently receiving $60M from the European Space Agency, but he has a long way to go. When he is ready to fly, he'll find SpaceX waiting with ten years of operational experience under their belts, and very likely with their own reusable spacecraft fully operational.
15:00 [3:00 pm] "BIS: How we imagined the future, Cultural influences on today's space leaders"
I tried to get into "Space on the Screen" but it was completely full. One of the annoying things at this Worldcon is that the fire regulations are very strictly enforced. Although the rooms have ten-foot wide paths on each side where many fans could stand or sit, these areas are keep completely empty by security guards and volunteer enforcers. Due to either their sudden popularity, poor planning by the con committee, or the high attendance [over 5,000 live bodies today], many panels seem to fill up completely. Even the 6 pm "What's New in Maths" panel filled up so that latecomers were ejected.
In any case, a return to the excellent BIS track was rewarding. The first speaker, Gerry Webb, detailed his childhood love of Dan Dare and how it influenced him to spend his life in the space industry. This was followed by a similar talk by Alan Bond, the Managing Director of Reaction Engines, and the creator of Skylon. Mark Leeper will be most pleased to hear that in addition to Dan Dare, Quatermass and the Pit played a major role in young Mr. Bond's life, and the talk reviewed the science of the film in some detail.
16:30 [4:30 pm] "BIS: Going Interstellar--Projects Daedalus and Icarus"
This section consisted of Bob Parkinson describing the Daedalus project and Kelvin Long describing the Icarus project, two studies of interstellar vehicles conducted by the British Interplanetary Society. I won't bother repeating the details of the Daedalus project as it is widely available on the web. Parkinson did a good job of presenting both ideas and the history of the project, which has been quite influential as a proof-of-principle for a fast interstellar fly-by mission. The project assumed helium-3 fusion could be made to work, and Parkinson seemed to think that reasonable progress had been made toward this goal since the study, which is now a bit dated. As a thought experiment, Daedalus made it clear that you need fusion or something better for interstellar flight in time spans less than the human lifespan.
Parkinson noted that one of the Voyager scientists has been working on that project, which has now reached near-interstellar space, for 37 years!!! One thing I learned in this talk was that Daedalus, if built, would make a decent interstellar attack vehicle. It would deliver a 450-tonne (I assume these are metric tons) payload to a distant star at about 12% of the speed of light. During the final stage of the flight it would drop a number of fly-by probes that would get closer to any planets found and radio back information. If these probes were slammed into the planets their effects as relativistic kinetic weapons would be devastating.
Mr. Long choose to deliver his Icarus talk in the form of a long poem to accompany his slides. Although his poetic skills are impressive for a technical person, and I found his efforts mildly amusing, I never got a clear picture of exactly how Icarus improved on Daedalus. Thus, I guess it could be said that the sun melted Mr. Long's wings and he fell to Earth.
18:00 [6 pm] "What's New in Maths"
This panel should have been named "What's new with the Fields Medals." Populated by four [three men and one woman] not especially distinguished mathematicians, and led by popular science writer/mathematician Ian Stewart, this panel did a reasonable job of presenting the history of the Fields medal and other mathematics awards before reviewing the four new awardees and the significance of their work. This year's awards are notable since for the first time a woman received the Fields, sometimes called "The Nobel Prize of Mathematics."
A native of Iran, Maryam Mirzakhani is at Stanford University in California. She won for her work on the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces. The panelists expressed the view that Maryam had been on a lot of Fields Medal shortlists for the past several years, and that she might well have received it earlier. Medalist Artur Avila of the Institute of Mathematics of Jussieu in Paris, also worked in the area of dynamic systems. In particular, the panelists reported that Avila worked with the logistic equation in the context of dynamic systems. Medalist Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University in New Jersey, produced key results providing a new perspective on finding rational solutions [solutions that are ratios of integers] to cubic equations. Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick, UK, created an entirely new way of solving differential equations.
The panelists noted that both solving problems and creating new mathematical tools were required to win the Fields Medal. They all expressed admiration for the winners, and described the Fields Medalists as true geniuses, well beyond the run of ordinary mathematicians such as themselves. There was also a suggestion that the limitation of the Fields Medal to persons under 40 may be an issue with women winning, but all expressed satisfaction that the first woman had won, and that she was a highly deserving winner.
The panel concluded with an amusing discussion of unsolved mathematical problems that are easy to state, including the Brazil nut problem and the triangle billiards problem. They ended by discussing a recent result that explained why the bubbles visible in a pint of Guinness float down and not up.
[Spoiler] It turns out that the bubbles in the center are going up, and only the bubbles right near the side go down, but since it is Guinness, these are the only bubbles you can see. It also turns out that the standard glass used for Guinness maximizes this effect. [-dls]
LonCon 3 (2014 Worldcon) (convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I did not attend Loncon 3 this year, but I do not see why that should stop me from writing a convention report.
Registration and Membership
One thing not attending saved me was standing in the registration queue for ninety minutes. Apparently there was one queue for everyone, pre-registered and new members alike. And there was no separate line for program participants--they had to stand in line just as long as everyone else, and then *after* registering they could get their program participant packages.
This was especially bad as this was the largest Worldcon ever, with over 10,000 total members, and over 8000 "warm bodies" on site. The membership size is due in large part to a substantial British/Irish/continental European membership, plus the fact that London, while expensive, is still the city in Europe most likely to draw American fans. In fact, checking the demographics shows that there were 4250 United Kingdom members, 4184 United States members, 1469 non-UK European members, 358 Canadian members, and 283 Australian members. This is the first time, I believe, that another single country has had more Worldcon members than the United States.
I've said a lot about the Hugo Awards this year, so I'll try to avoid repeating myself too much.
Loncon got 2,690 new Supporting members (i.e., Supporting members who had not voted in Site Selection), of which 345 had joined prior to nominations opening, 605 joined during the nomination period and 2,340 joined during the voting period.
The Retro Hugo Awards Ceremony was held on the first night of the convention and carried on ustream--well, sort of. It was supposed to start at 8 PM London time (3 PM EDT). For the first ten minutes all that was visible on the stream was a static slide of London. For the next forty minutes there was video but no sound. The chat stream was full of people asking, "Who is that?" and "Can anyone here lip-read?" I had to leave after about a half-hour, but reports are that the audio, when it finally kicked in, sounded like someone in the back row had the microphone in their clothes. This was particularly annoying for the Retro Hugos because, as was pointed out, there was no way to identify the winners by seeing who went up onto the stage to receive the award.
During the Retro Hugo Awards Ceremony, the following special awards were also given out:
I imagine that moving these to the Retro Hugo Awards Ceremony was due in large part to pad it out, because there were only nine categories here, and seventeen for the regular Hugo Awards Ceremony. And the presenters of these awards cannot complain about being shunted off to an "Other Awards" ceremony, because the Retro Hugo Awards *are* Hugo Awards. But it is only a partial solution to the positioning of these awards, because there are not many more opportunities for Retro Hugo Awards (2015, 2016, 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025, and 2027). (Has Sasquan decided whether to award Retro Hugos?)
In the regular Hugo Awards, Loncon 3 received 3,587 Hugo Award final ballots (from 8,784 eligible voters), almost 50% more than the previous record (Renovation's 2,100). The "25% rule" therefore said that any category which did not receive 897 ballots would not be awarded. Now apparently there was a campaign to give "No Award" for Best Fancast because the campaigners did not want anything to win that. There were 1177 ballots in that category, but 237 of them voted "No Award" first (and nothing else at all). Without those ballots there would have been 940 ballots, so it still would have been awarded, but the campaign came bizarrely close to being self-defeating.
As you could tell from Joe's and Dale's convention reports, the suitability of room size varied wildly. The bottom line is what has been dubbed "The First Law of Convention Rooms": No matter how many times convention planners are reminded, and no matter how many conventions they have attended, they will never remember that science panels are way more popular than they expect. (When the "What's New in maths" panel audience exceeds the room size, you know science panels are popular!)
(When I worked at Burroughs, and had to do an estimate for how long it would take to write a program for a salesman's requirements, there was one salesman for whom I would take the normal estimate, double it, and add a week. This new estimate seemed to be amazingly accurate.]
Reports indicate various glitches such as poor sound for the opening ceremonies, and a room for the Mark Protection Meeting that turned out to be locked (and no one could find the key).
Other than the Hugo Awards, I did attend one programming item: the 200th episode of "The Coode Street Podcast":
The Coode Street Podcast
Jonathan Strahan, Gary K. Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Jo Walton
MP3 at http://tinyurl.com/void-coode-st-200
There is quite a discussion on the current state of the field, with Silverberg's views (as summarized in Joe Karpierz's convention report last week) as well as Robinson's and Walton's, compared and contrasted. Silverberg said he did not want to be a praiser of things past, which he then said came from a good Latin phrase, if anyone knew Latin anymore. The Latin phrase is "laudator temporis acti"--use it on him next time you see him.
Silverberg expressed his underlying discontent as being that science fiction used to be a village where everyone knew everyone else, and now it's a megalopolis. Walton suggested that his mistake was in confusing "community" and "network". Science fiction used to be both, but now is too large and diffuse (geographically) to be one's community.
Also, it used to be that one read all the good stuff because one read *everything* (and could easily do so). Now there is too much for one to read everything. Walton suggested using the Internet to find the good stuff, which Silverberg seemed to interpret as finding the good stuff on-line, when what Walton meant was reading reviews, blogs, etc., to hear what people are talking about. This of course becomes the question of finding out which reviews, blogs, etc., to read.
Later, this exchange occurred on the distinction between science fiction and fantasy:
Silverberg: "There are science fiction writers who say that writing fantasy is like playing tennis without a net."
Robinson: "Yes, but the science fiction writers are playing tennis with the net up but they've got this magical thing that whenever the ball goes at the net, the net opens up and let's the ball right through, so it's not the toughest game around."
Walton: "There's wormholes in the net."
Wolfe: "Let's just flog this metaphor to death, why don't we?"
Robinson: "It's a heroic simile, godammit!"
Wolfe: "Postmodernism is playing tennis without the ball."
Silverberg: "The truth is that fantasy and science fiction are both parts of the same form--non-realistic fiction--and they're both played without a net because we just make it up! We make up both of them."
Robinson also summarizes some of his talk on "Time in the Novel" ("This talk begins with a brief unpublished correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Olaf Stapledon. It reveals that Woolf was an admirer of Stapledon's STARMAKER. This admiration seems to have had an impact on her later novels, as she tried to incorporate Stapledon's deep time into her stream-of-consciousness "moments of being," arguably a bad fit. From here, the talk shifts to more general considerations of time in the novel, including calculations of narrative pace ranging from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Marcel Proust, and beyond; this will provide a new way of looking at fiction and literary history, and require a final dive into the shallow end of the digital humanities, which will be defined and misused.")
The entire 75-minute panel/podcast is *well* worth listening to.
WSFS Business Meeting
Passed for the second time; now in effect:
Passed for the first time; must be passed next year as well to take effect:
Not surprisingly, Kansas City won the bid for 2016, and MidAmeriCon II will be held August 17-21, 2016.
Another mini-review, as much about fandom as about Worldcon, by a first-time Worldcon-goer, can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mnanox4. [-ecl]
LIFE OF EARTH (PORTRAIT OF A BEAUTIFUL, MIDDLE-AGED, STRESSED OUT WORLD) by Stanley A. Rice (book review by Gregory Frederick):
Stanley Rice is a biologist who wrote a timely, and insightful, book about the evolution of the global network of life on Earth. Life formed relatively soon after the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. But it took about 3 billion years before those simple cells in the World's oceans formed more complex multi-cellular life forms. These simple cells were developing complex chemical reactions and some simple cells were combining with others to form the more advanced single cell organisms. That is the nucleus and mitochondria or chloroplast organelles in eukaryotic cells are the result of these combinations. Billions of years ago bacteria with two different types of photosynthesis joined together and developed into a more efficient photosynthesis method. These were the cyanobacteria which became very successful and very abundant. They are the most abundant cells on Earth even today. Cyanobacteria removed much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and replaced it with oxygen. Oxygen is so reactive that it must be constantly renewed or it will be used up by combining for example with the iron in the rocks to become rust. An oxygenated atmosphere also shields the creatures of the Earth from ultraviolet radiation which can damage cells.
Eventually, multi-cellular plants and animals evolved and a feedback mechanism was born where animals created carbon dioxide and the plants used that carbon dioxide to create sugars and oxygen for the animals. The network of life on the Earth is called Gaia by some scientists. As life became more complex and developed Gaia became more complicated also. An example of this network of life and its feedback loops on our planet is the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. Our atmosphere has had a range of 15-35 percent of oxygen in it's past. A robust Gaia network tends to keep environmental conditions from going to extremes beyond a range which could prevent life from existing on Earth. But as we clear more forest lands of trees and other plants Gaia's network is degraded. Additionally, as we add more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and more radiate heat cannot escape into space our planet gets hotter. The author believes that human created pollution and vast over production of carbon dioxide will probably not kill off all life but will greatly alter our climate so that many species will not survive. He thinks that the human economy will be one of the first casualties of climate change. We produce food today in a very effective and efficient way because of our advanced farming technology and genetically modified crops to feed the 7 billion plus people of the planet. But climate change will quickly and negatively impact this fragile agriculture structure.
Religion and its impact on our environment are also mentioned. In particular, how conservative, fundamentalist Christians who do not believe in evolution or the real (4.5-billion-year) age of the Earth tend not to believe in climate change and are shaping our reaction to it.
This book is definitely important reading to understand Earth's life and environment and how it functions. [-gf]
LonCon 3 (letters of comment by Gregory Benford, Joe Karpierz, Tim Bateman, and Kevin R.):
In response to Dale L. Skran's comments on LonCon 3 in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
[Dale wrote,] "Panelists like Hartley and Cannon expressed more balanced views, but it was hard to escape the idea that the panelists as whole believed that there was a deep strain in SF that lionized rule by kings, exulted in mass death, and gloried in ignorant colonialism."
GAME OF THRONES shows that this is more a property of fantasy. The panel "Hard Right" seems to be populated by the deliberately ignorant. No surprise they think science is somehow political with a right-wing flavor. Never occurs to them what this says about them. [-gb]
In response to Joe Karpierz's comments on LonCon 3 in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory writes:
[Joe wrote,] "Silverberg was clearly unhappy with the convention. In fact, I think he's completely unhappy with the state of the field. The con was too big, there is too much fiction so he can't find the good stuff (never mind he could use the Internet to find recommendations), he doesn't really know anybody any more. He was cranky about it on just about all the panels he was on that I attended. I think it's all passing him by."
Recall he nearly died in London last year, heart stopped twice ... so there were unconscious associations working there. [-gb]
See my LonCon 3 report above for a pointer to the Coode Street Podcast, where you can hear Silverberg express his feelings about the state of science fiction today (and in the past). [-ecl]
In response to Dale L. Skran's comments on LonCon 3 in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Joe Karpierz writes:
With regard to Dale's report, I did not attend any one of the programming items he did. Not only is it good to get some information on some other items I didn't attend (but did have on my list of potentials), but it attests to the great variety of programming at the convention.
If I would have known Dale was going to be there--and maybe he said something here but I missed it--I would have liked to get together to say hello. Probably something I missed.
Tim Bateman writes:
[Dale says,] "Like most British Worldcon panels, this one displayed "balance" between a left-wing American writer (Vaughn) and a Marxist Brit (Kaveney), that is to say, there was no balance whatsoever." [-dls]
Well, given that a "left-wing" American is in the centre or to the right of it compared with any other country in the West, I suppose this isn't that surprising. [-tgb]
[Dale says,] "I liked Penny since she was articulate and intelligent. I didn't much agree with what she said, but she made a clear presentation of far-left views on this topic." [-dls]
Yes, I enjoy her writings in "The New Statesman" usually. [-tgb]
[Dale says,] "In fact, much of the time the panelists talked as though the movie industry was being run by a right-wing cabal, a view that would be viewed with astonishment pretty much anywhere else in the United States. Perhaps all this means is that from the viewpoint of British Marxists and Socialists, the decidedly left-wing Hollywood movie industry appears 'right-wing.'" [-dls]
Alternatively, it may mean that viewpoint of American right-wingers, the decidedly right-wing Hollywood movie industry appears "left-wing." It depends where one starts. [-tgb]
Kevin R. replies:
I suppose the range of opinions might have bothered me too, but as a US-style libertarian, I don't consider the left-right spectrum a true map of political thought. I've got a lot of common opinions with both so-called "leftists" and others I share with so-called "rightists," though both groups have the annoying habit of defaulting to statist methods to get their way when they get their hands on the levers of power. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy a Charlie Stross or Ken MacLeod novel, of course. The US movie industry is inhabited by "hypocritical lefties." They champion a great many "socially liberal" causes, in the US sense, but when it comes to making money, they are all for corporate welfare when it suits them and defend their intellectual property rights to extraordinary lengths.
While they aren't left in the sense of being doctrinaire Marxists, those running Hollywood could be pegged as crony capitalists who want the government to defend and extend the civil liberties that make it easier for them to make money (notably, the 1st Amendment) while also using state power to the same end (regulation of radio and TV broadcasting that favors incumbent licensees, cable TV franchise agreements that effectively shut out start-up competitors). In no wise are they advocates of pure free enterprise, a criticism that could be made of many a US corporation.
Sometimes, when I feel especially grumpy, I wish that our artists, writers, musicians and film makers who are lickspittles for statism could get what they ask for, "good and hard," to borrow Mencken's phrase. Since that would mean I'd get smacked with it, too, I hope such justice isn't actually visited on them. [-kr]
IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES (letter of comment by Joe Karpierz):
In response to Steve Milton's comments on IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Joe Karpierz writes:
With regard to IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, [that the Gentleman's Speculative Societywas a front for the Company] was a piece of information I did not have. Since I was not familiar with Baker's work, I did not know this. Thanks. [-jak]
THE FOUNTAINHEAD, ATLAS SHRUGGED, and Pretentious Toxic Brain Sludge (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Kip Williams's comments on Ayn Rand in the 06/20/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
[Kip Williams wrote,] "I've read THE FOUNTAINHEAD twice and ATLAS SHRUGGED three or four times*--they can be read for enjoyment, as an exercise in temporarily swallowing a premise--but no power on earth will make me revisit that pretentious toxic brain sludge. ...
[*I skipped through The Insulting Monologue at least once, so an exact count is tricky.]" [-kw]
My own experience with Rand's best known novels is similar in a way.
I read FOUNTAINHEAD as a teen and a couple times since. I tried to read ATLAS three times and stopped. I later succeeded in reading about 95%--skipping the 30,000-word John Galt speech.
The premises (not "a premise") are what keep me coming back. They are pretty good premises. I like to use them as one who is essentially powerless but who likes to entertain himself and others with policy questions--suitably leavened with compassion, moral-thinking, experience, and a desire to interact meaningfully and congenially with folks (in other words, not as the ideal-creatures-posing-as-men-and-women in the novels).
For instance, the non-aggression principle strikes me as a good first pass (not the final word) on moral and policy questions.
My broad observation of expressed reactions to both novels is that it serves as both a litmus test and a lightning rod. Few seem to be indifferent and most are extreme in their opinions.
(Though the self-selection of expressing such reactions would mostly exclude the indifferent.)
Detractors sometimes resort to Appeals to Authority: "Academics largely say that Rand is not a philosopher".
Thing is, like ANTHEM, both have been in print continuously since 1943 and 1959--with an alleged 50-million copies extant. This figure implies that over 100-million have read one or both. Further, I suspect that both might constitute the only philosophy that many have read.*
Mr. Williams' letter is a tease of sorts for what it does not say. Why in the world would one re-read novels a collective three or four times and conclude that they are "pretentious toxic brain sludge"?
I hope he will return to this sandbox and play a little.
*This evokes a question: what SF novels/stories constitute philosophy? Heinlein's TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE is the most explicit that I recall at this moment. [-js]
Baseball (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Mark's comments on baseball in the 08/29/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
Mark Leeper wrote: "I have to admit little interest in Baseball ... I am afraid I never developed a taste for [baseball]. I guess that make me a nerd." [-mrl]
I like baseball and other "jockish" things to go along with my other "non-jockish" interests. My wife is wont to say "in this crowd the term Nerd is a sign of respect".
Since "Bill Gates" became a household word the nerd "stock price" has increased in social/reputational value. The term "nerd" was, at my Midwest Engineering College, narrowly drawn. The first week in my freshman year I was surprised to see the stereotypical depiction of The Nerd to be rooted in reality (lets face it, we reject stereotypes when only faintly derogatory, even if substantially objective). The thing about stereotypes (in particular the nerd stereotype) is that they are often unkind--they focus on, and negatively shade, physical attributes--as if to deny a nerd's mental/intellectual positives by omission.
As a youngster, I rode the arbitrary "fence" between "nerd" and "jock" in high school (really there's an intersection between the two regions). So I prefer to regard "nerd" as term that describes only part of actual personages. [-js]
And in response to Evelyn's comments in the same issue:
Evelyn wrote: "The fair/foul line is not infinitely long, but it is arbitrarily long. That is, it is as long as the builders of the ballpark want to make it. If they chose, they could put the foul pole three miles out (or on Mars).
My reaction was that the foul line was indeed finite--it turns out Evelyn's statement is correct by MLB rule which only prescribes the minimum fence distance (250-ft) and "prefers" customary minimum's (320-ft to the foul-poles; 400 to center field). Good Show, Evelyn! [-js]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Re-reading THE CITY & THE CITY by China Mieville (ISBN 978-0-345-49752-9) I was struck by his descriptions of tourism in Besz and Ul Qoma. It seems inspired by seeing (and reading about) amazingly clueless tourists around the world, people who seem to think that because they are tourists, the laws and customs of another country (or even the same country) do not apply to them. (I say the same country because there are plenty of American tourists who see signs saying not to approach the bison, or not to let their children stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon, but seem to think they are somehow exempt. And in other countries it is even worse. They do not see why they should take their shoes off in a mosque, or not sit next to a woman on the bus, or not chew gum, or whatever.
So Mieville has written about tourism in Besz and Ul Qoma. For these city-states, there is mandatory two-week training course and an entrance exam, both as a written test and a "role-playing" section. They need to learn--not just maybe read about, but *learn*--"architecture, clothing, alphabet and manner, outlaw colours and gestures." Even if they pass the tes, any violation of the laws and customs they have learned will get them instantly deported or worse.
Is Mieville suggesting this for all tourists? No, no more than he is suggesting the "fractured city" method as a solution for any of the world's problems. (Amazingly, someone has apparently suggested this "solution" for Jerusalem! Mieville thinks that is "seriously demented!")
One thing that does date the book is that someone's friends think that something has happened to her because she hasn't updated her MySpace account.
(Oh, and Random House apparently decided to take no chances, and so bought and kept fracturedcity.org, the domain name mentioned in the book. There are no .uq or .zb suffixes, though.)
ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie (ISBN 978-0-316-24662-0) has won just about every major science fiction award there is. I'd be happier if it weren't the first book of a trilogy, though it does have a sort of resolution. I know that science fiction is supposed to be an open form rather than a closed form, but this tendency towards series is pushing it.(*)
ANCILLARY JUSTICE is good space opera, but what seems to be getting the most comment is the examination of gender. The main character comes from a race whose language does not distinguish gender, and apparently has problems distinguishing it in general. (Compare that to many Westerners' inability to distinguish among Korean, Japanese, or Chinese ethnicities--or even to the fact that we lump several dozen groups into "Chinese".) One problem facing the protagonist having to speak languages that make distinctions she cannot see. Leckie conveys this by using "she/her/herself" as the default pronouns, rather than "he/him/his/himself". I assume that the fact that I picture all the main characters as female is a result of this. Then again, who knows--I see the child in THE ROAD WARRIOR as female, even though it is clear from the narration at the end that the child is male.)
"'But we are sadly changed, captain, from your day. It used to be you could depend on the aptitudes to send the *right* citizens to the *right* assignment. I can't fathom some of the decisions they make these days. And atheists given privileges.' She meant Valskaayans, who were, as a rule, not atheists but exclusive monotheists." Actually, it sounds like very little has changed in millennia, except the targeted groups. And even that has not really changed--had the Valskaayans been polytheists, the thought would resonate just as much.
Sentences like "Now I just have to get to the docks before I do" and "The only advantage I have is what might occur to me when I'm apart from myself" are reminiscent of other works, in particular Christopher Priest's THE PRESTIGE. The whole idea of a fractured/multi-body/gestalt intelligence has been used since Theodore Sturgeon's MORE THAN HUMAN, and more recently in Vernor Vinge's A FIRE UPON THE DEEP.
(*) "Open form" means that at the end things have changed, and will continue to change. "Closed form" means that things return to a more or less stable position. For example, a science fiction story may have humanity making first contact, implying continuing change past the end of the story. But a mystery novel results in a solution to the mystery and leaves nothing unresolved to continue. (Yes, this is a gross generalization.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. --George Bernard ShawTweet
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