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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/19/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 12, Whole Number 1824
Table of Contents
MT VOID contributor Daniel Kimmel has been named editor of "The Jewish Advocate" on Boston. Details and photo at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/316124.Daniel_M_Kimmel/blog.
MT VOID contributor Gwen Karpierz was a finalist in the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing competition. Details and photo at http://www.asimovs.com/2014_08/editorial.shtml.
LonCon 3 Convention Report:
Evelyn's full LonCon 3 convention report, complete with Hugo comments and Retro Hugo reviews, is available at http://www.leepers.us/evelyn/conventions/loncon3.htm.
Wait. How's That Again? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
For months I have seen books advertised like ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE. Even the government run Center for Disease Control has issued "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." I thought it was all a joke that everyone was just going along with like those newspaper stories about Santa Claus. But the Delaware County Times ran a story with the title:
Pa. trooper killed in deadly ambush now conscious, talking
Life Imitates Gorgo (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Some of you may remember GORGO, a dinosaur-loose-in-city movie in which a live dinosaur is captured and brought to London. Then it is discovered that as big as the creature was, it was only a young dinosaur and there might be a mother Gorgo coming after her offspring. Well, there are no live dinosaurs in this story, but otherwise the same situation has just occurred. Paleontologists have just recently found a skeleton of a huge dinosaur dubbed the "Dreadnoughtus Schrani". This creature beggars our imagination of how big were big dinosaurs. This beast was 65 tons, about 13 times the weight of a bull elephant. It was 85 feet long. Is this the largest land animal that ever lived? Well, not this one. This one 1) fails to have the fusing of certain bones that would be fused in an adult and 2) has inner bone structure that an adult would not have. It is that big and had it survived it was not done growing. Which means it like Gorgo had an even bigger Mama somewhere. It still cannot be known where is the growing process this animal was, but it almost certainly was pre-adult. We used to think Godzilla was much bigger than any real animal could possibly be. Well, he was still larger than the Dreadnoughtus, but the margin is getting less and less. [-mrl]
Some Thoughts on Television in the 21st Century (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
People's attitudes about television have changed. I remember in the old days you did not want to admit to other people that you were spending hours watching television. Television was for the most part a lowbrow medium, a poor imitator of the much better entertainment you got from movies. According to Ernie Kovacs, television was called a "medium" because it was neither rare nor well done.
Somehow now there are programs that are better respected. It is almost as a badge of honor how many and which television shows you watch. I guess the writing quality has gone up. Everybody seems to agree that television has been uplifted and one or two programs running right or at least not long ago now are the best things ever made for television. But the agreement breaks down when one tries to be specific about which programs those one or two programs are. Some say THE WIRE was when it was on. Some say GAME OF THRONES. BLACK ORPHAN and CONTINUUM have been claimed to be among the best. BABYLON 5 is another candidate.
Evelyn and I are not binge-watching, but we may be getting close. Binge-watching is where you watch from two to a dozen episodes of a television show in rapid succession by DVD or streaming without waiting a week between episodes. We watch an episode a day or sometimes just devote an evening to watching a program, a recreation that was not really practical when we were growing up. The earliest example of binge-watching I know of was our friend Kate. We recorded all the episodes of TWILIGHT ZONE run by our local station onto VHS tape and gave Kate a copy. She watched them end-to-end until her apartment neighbor asked her what was this television station that did TWILIGHT ZONE around the clock. Kate may have (independently) invented binge-watching.
At least Evelyn and I feel we are being a little erudite by rapid- watching a course from the Teaching Company. What we watched was a Teaching Company course called "THE INEXPLICABLE UNIVERSE with Neil deGrasse Tyson." That is available for Netflix streaming. We were watching this at the same time we were watching COSMOS.
But we almost learned as much about Tyson as we did about the Universe. Tyson is sort of the new Carl Sagan. Few people make it as being a science celebrity like Sagan and Tyson. (I guess Isaac Asimov did, but he got a lot of his fame from his science fiction writing.) Tyson seems to show up everywhere on science programs.
But taking the course I noticed something strange. The thing is, when you take a Teaching Company course you see a live-action teacher. Until recently there was a real classroom and real students taking the course. You never saw the students and rarely heard them, but you could tell they were there because of the way the teacher was reacting to them. Nowadays I understand they have eliminated the classroom students and the teacher must present to empty space. But you have a feeling there is a real teacher there teaching a real class.
This is not true of THE INEXPLICABLE UNIVERSE with Neil deGrasse Tyson. You never get the feel that he is standing there teaching a class. Tyson may be standing there talking about the solar system and you see animated planets orbiting around him as he talks. Now nobody you pass walking down the street has animated planets orbiting around him. If you are looking at an animation, that is Nature's way of saying what you are looking at is not real. Nature just does not do animation. It is more into live action. But when you see Tyson he has CGI animation coming out of his fingertips. He is like a computer simulation. It is as if his personality has been downloaded to a machine and we no longer need a physical person to be Tyson.
I mentioned this to a friend and she said one of her friends went to see a lecture by Tyson. She was all excited about meeting him. But it turned out to be just a film of the man. And he had CGI all around him. I am not really sure that there still is a physical Neil deGrasse Tyson out there in the physical "real world." And now that machines have passed the Turing Test I don't think we can ever know if there is a physical Neil deGrasse Tyson out there somewhere. [-mrl]
THE SCRIBBLER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A woman with multiple personality disorder is sent to a halfway house to submit to a cure that will "burn away" her unwanted personalities. As soon as she arrives there is a rash of suicides and the woman is questioned by two police who think her the cause of the deaths. Is one of her personalities killing people? "The Scribbler" is a popular graphic novel from England and its author Dan Schaffer has adapted it for the screen. John Suits directs. The film exudes a grunge look and a grunge feel while it shifts gears and genres. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Katie Cassidy of TV's "Arrow" plays Suki, a mentally ill young woman who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. In other words she has a menagerie of alternate personalities living in her head and not all of them does she control. She has been placed in a sort of mental illness halfway house--nightmarishly ugly--to be given a treatment called the Siamese Burn. This involves her being put on an unperfected device that somehow goes into her head, seeks out extraneous personalities, and destroys them. Somehow it knows not to remove the last personality and Suki is worried that the last remaining personality is not the one she wants. But since she has arrived there has been an outbreak of patient suicides. Perhaps one of Suki's personalities may be the homicidal personality called "The Scribbler." The Scribbler seems to compel Suki to write in mirror images and soon the walls are covered with the backwards writing of a very disturbed mind. Perhaps that mind is one of several minds whispering to Suki. But Suki looks at her illness as the source of her strength. As she puts it: 1) the crazy don't play by the rules, and 2) there are always side effects.
We never get a coherent view of what Suki's illness involves. And later in the film we see some unexpected advantages the sickness gives her, though this really turns the story into something very different. One cannot really see it coming because of the convoluted story-telling. And we are given some very major twists after the first hour of this 88-minute film. Knowing that this is a comic book film I should have suspected the changes coming. In the end we have been given more strange visual images than coherent explanations. For some reason--not entirely explained in the plot--the facility has only one male patient. Though there are several female patients, there is only one male, Hogan (played by Garret Dillahunt). Hogan enjoys the access this affords him. As he puts it "every henhouse has its rooster." If there were no males it would make sense and if there were a lot more it would make sense. But why is there only one man, particularly because of the benefits he receives? Frankly, for me the most likable character is a dog that we see all too little of.
In the end we see something rather familiar being presented in an unconventional way. Perhaps this film is a little ambitious to fit into what appears to be a less than modest budget. As a result the film is demanding on the actors and frankly demanding on the viewer with a tendency to bog down a bit and become muddled. Perhaps writer Dan Schaffer is finding that there are some basic differences between the comic book and motion picture media. Overall I rate the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. THE SCRIBBLER will be given a limited theatrical release on September 19, 2014. It will be available on DVD and Blu-ray starting October 21. Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396721/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_scribbler/
LonCon 3 (2014 Worldcon) (Part 3) (convention report by Dale L. Skran):
Saturday, August 16, 2014
10:00 [10 am] "Welcome to Clone Club"
As best I recall this panel was all female, and much younger than many of the other panels. I would describe this as a "fan enthusiast" panel although it was on the "media" track, and so was fun to watch as long as you are part of the Clone Club, which I think I am at this point. It seemed clear that ORPHAN BLACK has a powerful appeal to women and to gays/lesbians. BLACK certainly has many strong female characters (although a lot of them are played by a single actress), and the main heroine's best friend is gay. However, as a straight white male I find the show interesting as a serious attempt at near-term hard SF, something echoed by at least one member of the panel, who professed mainly to be interested, like Cosima (one of the clones), in the science.
There was a very interesting discussion of whether the clones were too different. There are at least two reasons the panel put forward to explain this:  the Dyad corporation tested genes by putting a different one in each clone and  epigentic menthylation of the DNA could lead to substantial differences between the clones. I would add that the apparent transexuality of one of the clones might result from hormonal imbalance in the womb. Another point raised during the panel was the ethics of making the clones sterile and how this was handled on the show. During a nuanced discussion, the panelists acknowledged that although this seems horrible, and certainly some of the clones don't like it, there is a serious scientific/ethical argument for doing this to avoid possible harm to a third generation.
The panel concluded with a discussion of the final episode, which appears to presage a major change in the show's direction, which superficially appears negative. I tend to agree with this assessment, but also with the panelists who thought it could be handled well. Even the best TV series can go bad with a new season! All in all, a fun and informative panel.
11:00 [11 am ] "2014: Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form"
I attended this panel as a kind of masochistic exercise. I knew that I would be watching a panel of British fans gushing over all the "Doctor Who" episodes nominated, and I was not disappointed. 75% of the discussion revolved around which of the four nominated "Doctor Who" episodes were best, and it was a most fuzzy and nostalgic love festival. My observation is that the hold "Doctor Who" has over British fans is two-fold. First, "Doctor Who" has a dominance over British SF fandom that can only be compared to that of "Star Trek" over American fandom, except more so. At this point I think most American fans have evolved beyond a rapturous endorsement of anything Trek, but the affection of British fans for "Doctor Who" seems so vast as to completely "exterminate" all critical faculties. Second, many British fans sincerely and deeply support the episode-based nomination system, while at the same time acknowledging that many excellent story-arc based series are as a result ignored by the Hugos.
There seemed to be at least some recognition that ORPHAN BLACK might be a good nomination, but the level of critical analysis turned on GAME OF THRONES, ORPHAN BLACK, and CONTINUUM exceeded by many times that directed toward "Doctor Who". ORPHAN BLACK seemed to have appeal more as a feminist/diversity poster child featuring a "gay male prostitute" than as good near-term hard SF. I found the general insularity of the panel members depressing. One acknowledged that she hadn't even watched ORPHAN BLACK until it was nominated--and ORPHAN BLACK is a BBC production! The panelists seemed for the most part unaware of American SF/Fantasy TV, although a couple mentioned ARROW and CONTINUUM favorably. My impression here is that British SF/fantasy TV flows pretty strongly to an American audience via BBC America, but that the reverse is not the case. A review of local newspaper TV listings shows a few channels featuring major American shows like BIG BANG THEORY, but one suspects that many shows don't make it across the Atlantic.
In any case, as I am pleased to mention later in this report, "Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere" gave "Doctor Who" the boot this year. Personally, I would have preferred to see ORPHAN BLACK win, but this is just fine! It seems clear that the only possible way justice can ever be done is to create a new Hugo--"Best Dramatic Presentation, Series" with a limitation to the episode length that it must be more than thirty minutes and less than sixty minutes. This is just a way of removing from consideration a series of long form movies and also excluding very short presentations of different kinds. It is certainly possible that "Doctor Who" will win in both the episode and the series categories, but at least a much larger number of SF/fantasy TV/Webcast series will receive recognition.
12:00 [12 noon] "What do you mean you don't watch ... IN THE FLESH, ARROW, or DA VINCI'S DEMONS."
The con committee's excellent series of media panels designed to broaden the TV SF watching of fans continued here. I'm a significant ARROW fan, but through no fault of the show this was the least good presentation. IN THE FLESH received an excellent promotion, but I think I'll continue to pass on this "zombie cure as a metaphor for the war in Ireland" BBC production. I've seen one episode and it's just not the sort of thing I like much--dark and dreary. DA VINCI'S DEMONS seemed interesting enough for me to catch up on at some point but not to subscribe to the premium channel I would need to in order to watch it regularly.
13:30 [1:30 pm] "2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form"
After being shut out of two [2!!!] other panels I finally slid into this one. My general impression is that the movie markets are for the most part globally homogenized. In other words, although the panelists were, I believe, mainly British fans, I heard pretty much the same discussion as you might have heard at a US SF con. There was some pro and con on GRAVITY, with claims that it was not really SF. Most panelists believed GRAVITY or FROZEN would win, although some held out for IRON MAN 3. Perhaps the only thing that *might* be different was a greater attention to gender-based analysis, with obvious support for GRAVITY and FROZEN on a feminist basis, but surprisingly for IRON MAN 3 as well (Pepper Potts). There was a certain amount of dumping on PACIFIC RIM, with disappointment with del Toro as a writer/director. And finally, pretty much all the panelists thought CATCHING FIRE mostly repeated HUNGER GAMES. Like I said, this is more or less what you might hear at a US con.
16:30 [4:30 pm] "The Art and Science of Scale and Imagination"
After a break to take in the art show, I returned to the panels. Generally LonCon 3 had an excellent art track, of which this panel was one example. It included such SF art luminaries as John Harris, Chris Foss, and Les Edwards, with Alastair Reynolds there to kibitz. Various panel members put up slides of the art that they thought best conveyed scale/imagination, and a discussion followed. I found the pace of the discussion a bit slow and sometimes overly complimentary, but at least mildly entertaining/educational.
Before I tried to get into this panel, I was shut out of "Asimov predicts 2014 World's Fair." This was just another bit of evidence that this was a large Worldcon, reaching 6,000+ on Saturday and over 7,000 on Sunday. 18:00 [6:00 pm] "Kaffeeklatsch with Robert Reed" I was one of three white males who attended this event. Loud talking at the other table in the kafeeklatsch room featuring a female blogger with a full table of largely female fans made it difficult to hear Mr. Reed. I confess to having lost track of Mr. Reed after following his work for a few years. He has been quite productive writing short fiction, and did win one Hugo, but unfortunately had a falling out with Tor books that led to hard times for him, particularly in terms of his ability to sell novels. He has also made a decision as a writer to avoid returning to universes/characters once he creates them, which I think has limited his income. Where would George R. R. Martin be if he had written one GAME OF THRONES story?
However, I am pleased to report that Mr. Reed has struck back, and over the last three years has spent a great deal of time working on a major new video game titled DESTINY which will be out shortly. He noted that Greg Bear, another writer of note, has made a great deal of money writing HALO novelizations. If writers like Reed and Bear start to spend most of their time working on video games due to a lack of remuneration from the written fiction markets, I think we'll be revisiting the discussion of whether video games can be art or not. I certainly think of Reed as a "writer's writer" very much concerned with his craft, and not a generator of hack gaming fiction. [-dls]
Mars One (comments by Dale L. Skran):
Lee Beaumont writes to ask:
Do you know if any MT VOID subscribers have signed up for the Mars one mission? [-lrb]
I doubt it. Actually this is the first time I have heard of a specific plan. Somehow Mars is not a place I would want to spend my remaining years, but the idea is exciting. Dale Skran probably would know more about any such plans. [-mrl]
And Dale writes:
I don't personally know anyone who has signed up for Mars One, although it would appear that many have done so.
Personally, this seems in the short run more a reality TV stunt than a serious plan. I have never seen any evidence that Mars One has the kind of technical or monetary support it would need to make its plans real.
That said, the idea of one-way trips to Mars is fundamentally more logical than a stunt to have an astronaut play golf and pick up rocks on Mars and fly back. There would, of course, have to be a great deal of preliminary work before you sent the first settler.
It should also be noted that Elon Musk has declared his intent to die on Mars, and not by crash-landing. Mr. Musk seems a lot closer to making his plans a reality than Mars One. [-dls]
Super-Hero Films (letters of comment by Jim Susky and Dale L. Skran):
In response to Dale Skran's comments on the "The Superhero- Industrial Complex" plan at LonCon 3 in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
[Dale says,] "It is reasonable to expect that the superhero film will have the kind of extended dominance once enjoyed by the Western."
I have little stake in superhero films ("fascistic" or otherwise), but I think that there are two important non-political differences between these and the once-dominant Western.
Mass Culture isn't what it used to be. When Westerns were ascendant, we had three television networks and Hollywood was just starting to address the threat that television presented to its bottom line. Today, the sheer multiplicity of media-distractions make the prospects of a long-term superhero dominance more unlikely--the longevity of the "next new thing" seems less long-- the cycles are shorter. This is what my gut tells me, it would interesting to see some more objective confirmation of this notion.
Cost/Reward: Westerns were made during and the transition out of the studio system--they were cheap to make--and stars were paid less. Box office expectations were lower, blockbusters less needed. Superhero films have special effects as the most expensive "star" to date. Nine-figure "salaries" to SFX teams/contractors are not so unusual. It seems that to expect a minimum of $100- million at the box-office is hardly stable. [-js]
Good points, but you also need to consider that with a worldwide movie audience, it is much easier to reach $100M per film. Also, those special effects films have an appeal beyond language, contributing to their global appeal. The cleverness of the film makers in taking an "all-American" hero like Captain America and creating a film like THE WINTER SOLDIER that has global appeal is also part of the trend. Films like THE WINTER SOLDIER and IRON MAN manage to be both pro- and anti-American at the same time, and in a reasonably intelligent fashion, which is no small trick. [-dls]
First Pass at figures from Wikipedia:
"List(s) of Western Films"
Beloit College Mindset List (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Beloit College Mindset List in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
Thanks (again) for citing the Class of 2018 Mindset List.
It seems in part to recall "historical milestones" (mile-pebbles) some 20-22 years ago.
It appears to have an overstatement:
20. Citizens have always had a constitutional right to a "dignified and humane death."
A quick review at Wikipedia shows that the SCOTUS upheld (in 2005) Oregon's 1994 "Death with Dignity" Act.
Unlike the injunctive effect of Roe vs. Wade, this has had only a permissive effect (to keep hands of the Oregon law). So far as I know, the large majority of states have not codified the concept that a person's life is hers to end--by whatever means at her disposal.
Students at Beloit may largely have the belief that suicide-as- self-determination has a de-facto element (viz Hemlock Society), but this is far cry from its broad de-jure realization. [-js]
Political Orientation and "Great Man vs. Tides" (letters of comment by Jim Susky and Dale L. Skran):
In response to Dale Skran's comments on "The Superhero-Industrial Complex" plan at LonCon 3 in the 09/05/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
I was interested in your World Con "Hard Right" panel observation that "opinions ranged from a left-wing United States Democrat on the right to hard-line Marxist on the left".
In his (1980) second autobiographical volume Asimov made no bones about his politically-left orientation--he even speculated that Heinlein's rightward shift was (at least) correlated (if not explicitly caused by) with his marriage to his last wife.
Anyway, this caused me search my mail and find the letter I sent Mark Leeper on the Great Man vs. Tides theories.
I'd like to hear your reaction--at your leisure of course:
(an unedited ramble--edit at your discretion)
The Leiber story I sent you alluded to multiple "lifelines"--the tendency of which are to converge to a single one. For purposes of the plot the denouement was to assure that the protagonist would end up dead.
I don't like to think too much about causality violations, time- travel paradoxes, etc. Like the anguished fellow in an early Monty Python sketch it makes my "brain hurt".
The "inanimate" world demonstrates many examples of equilibria-- stable, slowly-changing states. To borrow a term from electrical control theory "forcing functions" cause a change to the state(s) of a system--but generally the system goes to a different equilibrium--especially if the disturbance is momentary (the "impulse", ideally infinite in magnitude and of zero duration, is a typical one). Continuous forcing functions--a sine wave--tend to cause the system to a state resembling the forcing function-- another sine wave--different in magnitude and shifted in time relative to the function.
(Sure hope there aren't any actual EE profs reading this rolling their eyes--more than thirty years since I struggle with this stuff in anything like a formal, rigorous fashion)
In theory a very simple, nearly ideal thing such as an electrical network can be used--with sufficient complexity--to model non- electrical "real-world" systems. I stopped with the hard work after five years and my BSEE, so can't comment with any confidence as to practical demonstration of such theory.
The "animate"--living--world is so complex as to beggar the imagination--makes me feel like one of those ants in the ant war-- but it seems that this is where the Great Man vs. Tides theories take us.
It seems intuitively obvious that the world would be very different if General Alexander had not subjugated much of the West and Near East (and established his own brand of civilization and governance). So, it seems that if one were to "go back" and cause his parents to conjugate even slightly differently that fateful night (of his conception) that a different face of the resulting 200-million-sided die would have faced upward and produced a different, less conquesting child--a significant fraction of which would be female.
For one "small" item: the Library at Alexandria would not have been built--and centuries of classical literature not preserved--and later copied. Much of classical literature now extant would have been lost.
(while we're at it, it's possible that other lost works would have survived due to the libraries non-existence.) Someone once said (probably a scientist) said that life is an entropy-reversing phenomenon. He did not mean that life violates the Laws of Thermodynamics--but that when the living "system"--a subsystem of the universe--operates it causes it's own entropy to decrease--of course at the expense of its surroundings (the universe).
I guess I'm saying that there's an important difference between and bunch of billiard balls crashing about on a pool table and a sentient hedgehog on that same table.
So oddly, I guess I believe that time-travel-induced disturbances on the inanimate will almost invariably "damp out" (as Leiber said) but also believe in the Great Man theory.
P.S.--before I hit SEND--I suppose I could ride the fence a bit-- because nothing about the Laws of Nature requires the two theories to be mutually exclusive.
All depends on the nature of the forcing function and what part of the system it's applied to. You could throw a bomb into a uranium mine with little effect. But put an army of sentient primates into that mine with focused urgent effort--add a few years and Geniuses like Oppenheimer and Teller--assisted by a genius like Feynman--and you get a 10kT fission bomb--and as a result, we had the freedom to not speak Russian and give the finger to the likes of Stalin, Krushchev, and their ilk.
Aren't you glad that a great man like Einstein convinced another great man (FDR) to get the Bomb first? [-js]
#1 - There is little doubt that if evolution were run over again, due to random chance it would not take the same course, although we would see many of the same structures. For example, we would see "eyes" for sure, and so on, but how many and where they turn up might vary. Some structures are driven by physical laws like conservation of energy so they would recur no matter how many times you re-ran evolution. The natural variation we see around us is so extensive that I expect we will be amazed when we see true alien life.
#2 - It seems equally true that a fairly small change in human lives would result in different children being conceived on different days, with the result that subsequent events would be quite altered in substance. On the other hand, a kingdom would always arise on the British Isles no matter who was in charge.
#3 - I tend to agree with you that both the "tides of history" and the "great man" theory can be right at the same time. I observe that one can give rise to the other. For example, once Einstein went to America and convinced the US to build the bomb, this eliminated a large number of alternative timelines where other countries built the A-bomb first.
#4 - Having said all that, there are clearly a large number of changes that won't have much affect on history. For example, if I re-arrange the stones in my back yard, my guess is that won't do very much. [-dls]
Google and Robots (letter of comment by Gregory Frederick):
Gregory Frederick writes:
Google is doing some very interesting things these days. It has bought innovative robot companies, AI companies, and invested in quantum computer firms. It looks like they want to advance artificial intelligence, robotic intelligence and use quantum computers in the effort. By the way, I ran into a fellow CAE (computer aided engineering) engineer who I worked with at Navistar. He is now working at Roush Company near Dearborn, Michigan, and he is helping to develop that driveless car for Google. I included part of the article below and a link to the full article.
"Google is without question one of the most innovative companies on the planet. It's a company that is known mostly for its amazingly successful search and advertising businesses, and will probably be known for this for the foreseeable future. But lately it's also quickly becoming known for its rather unorthodox array of secondary business efforts. These efforts include things like driverless cars, wearable technology (Google Glass), human-like robotics, high-altitude Internet broadcasting balloons, contact lenses that monitor glucose in tears, and even an effort to potentially solve death."
Forbes article on "What's Driving Google's Obsession With Artificial Intelligence And Robots?":
Security (letter of comment by Tom Russell):
In response to Mark's comments on security in the 09/12/14 issue of the MT VOID, Tom Russell writes:
Your MT VOID story about security in the office--unsecured time cards with social security numbers on them--reminded me of an incident at work from many years ago.
It was the custom then to have open house for family members to visit on the last work day before Christmas. My father was visiting. He was astounded to see all the offices open with work papers laying out on desks, and unsecured labs with all the lab equipment on display--anyone visiting could go in and look at anything.
But what really got to him was what he saw as we were walking down the stairs to go to the cafeteria for cookies: Hidden behind the stairwell was a locked caged room. The snow shovels were locked up. [-tr]
Well, at first that seems ridiculous. The snow shovels are worth a lot less than what was out there in the open. But I have to say that there was never in my life a time that I would have wanted the work papers and never in my life that I had any need of that lab equipment. There have been occasions when I have felt myself in need of a good snow shovel. The important question is not how valuable a given item is to you but how valuable it would be to a potential thief. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
One more (Retro) Hugo observation: I noted that THE LEGION OF TIME by Jack Williamson was categorized as a novel, but it was actually 34,668 words (as counted in the original serial). 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--and perhaps only--person to point this out.) Had the Williamson been properly placed in the Novella category, H. L. Gold's "A Matter of Form" would have been dropped from that category, but nothing would have been added in the Novel category due to the 5% rule.
SIEGE OF KHARTOUM by John Wilcox (ISBN 978-0-7553-4560-1) is the sixth in the "Simon Fonthill" series. And that is a bit of a problem, because when you start it you can be pretty sure that Fonthill will survive--and absolutely sure that Gordon will not. (If he did, this would be alternate history, and there would be some indication of this on the cover.) So no matter how dire the straits, it is hard to worry about Fonthill too much. This is true of many novels, of course, but they are if not in a series, there is at least a chance the hero will suffer some irreversible set-up, and in any case, you usually cannot be sure of how his mission will turn out.
Yes, the latter is also true of films such as KHARTOUM, but the goal there is to illuminate the events. Here, Fonthill spends hardly any time in Khartoum, and his time among the Mahdists is distant from any sort of strategy or philosophy.
With all that, it is a reasonable adventure novel, but of the pulp magazine variety, with a set of stock characters: the wise- cracking, hot-tempered Welsh batman, the loyal Arab servant, the spunky kid adopted along the way, the liberated fiancee who follows her beloved through his adventures. It also had a superfluous villain in the form of a British officer who wants to get revenge on the hero. (You would think with the Mahdi and his forty thousand troops, one would not need to add one more villain.) In short, this is fine for escapist reading, but not much more.
In "The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse", John R. Searle claims, "[We] all have no difficulty in recognizing and understanding works of fiction." In some sense this is true. For most novels, for example, we can pick up the book, read a bit, and know (somehow) that it is fiction. And we understand it in the sense that we realize that the main characters do not exist in reality, but places such as New York and people such as President Nixon *do* exist in reality.
But there is even more to it than that. Barring fantasy or alternate history, the New York of a novel will mostly, but not entirely, match the New York of reality. We expect St. Patrick's Cathedral, for example, to be a Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets. But if the author mentions the West Lake Chinese Restaurant on 4th Street, we do not expect to go to 4th Street and actually find the West Lake Chinese Restaurant. The protagonist's apartment is another fictional location within a real setting. And we understand this.
This relates to the idea behind China Mieville's THE CITY & THE CITY, but with one city being the real New York, and the other being the fictional elements of the story. The big difference is that the inhabitants of the story (and hence the fictional New York) are aware of both the fiction and the real New York, but the inhabitants of the real New York are *not* aware of the fictional New York.
Except sometimes they are. Why else would hordes of tourists visit 221B Baker Street in London every year? Searle postulates another level of truth/falsity: if one says that Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street, that is not true in reality, but is true in the fictional world in which Sherlock Holmes "exists." If one says, however, that Sherlock Holmes was an American, this is false. To a great extent, the idea that statements about fictional characters, locations, etc., can have a truth value is only meaningful if one specifies the fictional universe. For Sherlock Holmes it is relatively straightforward--there is a recognized canon. But if one says, "Cinderella wore a glass slipper," that is true in English-speaking countries, but not in France, because the French original talks about a fur slipper. And if one says something about "John Watson", its truth value may depend on whether one is talking about the character in the Sherlock Holmes stories, or in SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH by Douglas Adams.
But I said that for most novels, we can pick up the book, read a bit, and know (somehow) that it is fiction. Of course, one need only look at the Howard Hughes "autobiography", FORBIDDEN LOVE (HONOUR LOST), or any number of columns by Stephen Glass to realize that we can often pick up fiction and *not* recognize it as fiction. And even when we recognize fiction it is not necessarily because of the "illocutionary acts" in it. Some of the clues to recognizing fiction are external, for example, a certain type of book cover illustration. Others are internal, but traditional, for example, a lot of dialogue probably indicates fiction, since non- fiction cannot normally accurately recount large amounts of dialogue. One would be hard-pressed to read an individual sentence and decide whether it was in a fiction or a non-fiction work.
Searle also dismisses the notion of it being wrong to try to judge the author's intent in writing something (the intentional fallacy) by observing that the writing of fiction requires the intent to write fiction, and someone who writes something that they believe to be true, which in fact isn't, has not produced fiction. (As far as defining alternate history, there is a definite requirement that the author intended to write alternate history, not just that he gets things wrong, or that he writes a story set in his future, which future does not come to pass.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. --Groucho MarxTweet
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