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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/10/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 15, Whole Number 1827
Table of Contents
Science Fiction and Fantasy Art Shows:
The Society of Illustrators in New York City will have a display of "The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon from October 21, 2014, through December 20, 2014. See http://tinyurl.com/void-dillon for details. (They are ending their Spectrum exhibit of science fiction and fantasy art on October 18.) There is a $10 admission fee ($5 for seniors and students).
The Women's Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls will have a display of "It's Alive! It's ALIVE!: Women in the Genre of Science Fiction and Horror from Frankenstein to The Hunger Games" from October 4, 2014, through October 31, 2014. See http://tinyurl.com/void-wori for details. There is no charge; however Seneca Falls is about a five-hour drive from central NJ.
Craftsmanship a Thing of the Past (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
True craftsmanship seems to be a thing of the past. People used to take pride in their work. These days people just want to get done and get paid. I thought I was in the minority feeling that way. No, at least there are other people who are bothered. The website RT (you'd think they could design a web page that said who they were) run the following headline:
"Rash of New Jersey suicides blamed on poor bridge design"
Where Did All the Slide Rules Go? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[For the illustrations to work, this article should be viewed with a fixed-width font.]
One of the film-and-book discussion groups I am a member of showed the film DR. STRANGELOVE. That is Stanley Kubrick's apocalyptic comedy about how our nuclear defenses could lead to the end of the world. It is a funny comedy that still stands up after ... jeez, it is fifty years. (Admittedly, if you are in the Air Force maybe it never stood up. For them a slip-up such as is portrayed in the film is impossible. At least that is what they tell us.) The title character is predicting the effects of nuclear warfare with a round thin disk in his hand. In a discussion afterward Evelyn asked one of the guest visitors if she knew what this thing was. It seems that if you are younger than forty or so you have no idea what the circular thing did. At the time the film premiered anyone who knew engineering knew exactly what that disk was for.
For that matter if you see engineers from the early days of the space program, perhaps in documentaries, they often seem to be carrying around white ruler-like slabs. Let us bring younger people up-to-date. The disk and the slab are what are known as slide rules. Prior to the Apollo Space Program, the space administration did not have electronic calculators and did their math with slide rules.
If you are younger than something like forty years old you probably do not know what these slide rule things are. They are actually computers, but not electronic ones. They are analog computers that use length and distance to do simple computations. How do they do that without electronics?
Let's start simple. You can make a small calculator with just a ruler and a measuring tape. Suppose I want to add two plus three. Let us create a small calculator from a ruler and a measuring tape. On the ruler you can find the 3-inch mark. It is just three inches to the right of the 0-mark. Now you take the measuring tape and measure two inches further right. That brings you to the 5-inch mark. So 3 + 2 = 5. It is a very small calculation of course, one you could have done in your head, but the important point is that you have created a device that did the addition for you. It told you that 3 + 2 = 5. You could have put the 0 over the 2 and then the 3 would be over the 5. 2 + 3 = 5. Two inches plus three inches is five inches. My guess is that at this point you are very unimpressed. But you actually do have a small adder that can do simple sums and get the right answers.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Now take some label tape and rewrite the numbers on your ruler and your measuring tape. Replace the 0s with 1s, replace the 1s with 2s, replace the 2s with 4s, replace the 3s with 8s, etc. Each inch further out you go you double the number you write on the label. So the ruler and the measuring tape no longer go 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. Now they go 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. Each inch to the right you go the number doubles. On each to go from the 1 to the 4 you go two inches to the right.
Now on the measuring tape move the 1 (formerly the 0) and put it over the 8 (formerly the 3) on the ruler. Look two inches to the right and the 4 (formerly the 2) on the measuring tape is now over the 32 (formerly the 5). Your little calculator just told you that 8 x 4 = 32. Or you could have put the 1 over the 4 and then the 8 would be over the 32. 4 x 8 = 32.
1 2 4 8 16 32 64 1 2 4 8 16 32 64
The numbers in each of the rows above follow an exponential curve. One inch to the right says you double. The top row slides back and forth over the bottom row so the 1 in the upper row can be over any number you choose in the bottom row. Once one of the numbers of the upper row is over a number eight times as much, EACH of the numbers in the upper row is over a number eight times as big. 8 times 1 is 8; 8 times 2 is 16; 8 times 4 is 32; 8 times 8 is 64. Fill in a lot of lines with vertical lines to show their position and you can get a fairly accurate estimate of the results of a multiplication.
By the way, the same figure above says that 32/4 = 8. A slide rule is just as good for dividing. A limitation of a slide rule is that it does not give answers to many decimal places. But frequently you do not need a whole lot of decimal places in a calculation.
Most slide rules had a straight slide that you moved back and forward. The problem with that is some numbers would be off the end of the scale and you had to reposition the slide to get it over a number. Circular slide rules got around the problem by using circular concentric disks so there was no end to run off of. One of those was what Dr. Strangelove was using to do calculations. The best slide rules were made mostly of bamboo, though plastic was also common.
The Mercury space program's calculations were done on slide rules because calculators were just coming along. Werner von Braun used slide rules not electronic calculators. But when calculators came along and the price dropped, nobody wanted to go through the effort of using a slide rule when you could more directly have a calculator do your calculation for you with a few button presses. Once calculators were available people forgot very quickly what slide rules were and how to use them. Today most people have even forgotten that slide rules ever existed. [-mrl]
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The other evening we had a true "Creature Features" evening, watching THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955), THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), and the documentary "Back to the Black Lagoon". Following are various random thoughts that occurred to me.
THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954):
REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955):
THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956):
THE ROAD (film review by Dale L. Skran):
There are some movies so grim that it takes me a long time to get around to them, yet that I feel I must watch since I'm an apocalypse film completist. One such is THE ROAD, based on a book of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. THE ROAD reminds me a bit of Phillip Wylie's TRIUMPH, which he wrote as a rejoinder to overly optimistic nuclear war movies and books. In TRIUMPH everyone in North America dies except for a small group in a fallout shelter in the hills of New Jersey. The nuclear war is initially devastating, and then the real damage starts.
In THE ROAD, a disaster of unspecified nature has created a state of continuous winter with limited sunshine over apparently all of North America. This disaster may have been a nuclear war, an asteroid impact, a giant volcano explosion, or possibly some kind of geo-engineering experiment gone wrong. The characters you see have no idea, and aren't especially interested in finding out. Of all the apocalypse movies I've seen, this one gets the sheer difficulty of long-term survival right. Most real major disasters end up with the Earth covered in a cloud of black soot and no summer for decades, centuries, or longer. The steps your garden variety survivalist takes are not remotely sufficient to survive this kind of catastrophe. And, as the movie makes extremely clear, the real challenge is fending off the other survivors as food grows short, and then disappears.
Vigo Mortensen stars as an unnamed Man, traveling south on an unnamed road, with his equally unnamed Boy, his son. It seems to be about ten years after the disaster, and many of the small number of remaining survivors have turned to cannibalism. Ammunition has run low--Man is down to first two, and then one bullet in his gun. Such a background could easily seem pointless, but McCarthy has created a fable in which good shines brighter in the face of the overwhelming darkness. The Man lives a simple faith--he and his son are "the good guys" who are "carrying the fire." He admits that on some level he is just another wandering murderer, but his line is that he won't turn cannibal. He knows he is dying, but he is determined to give his son any possible chance of survival. This is a tale as old as time--the love of a father for his son-- written with a giant exclamation point in that the faith required to continue on in such circumstances requires a kind of saintly fanaticism. Mortensen is excellent as this grim survivor, and Kodi Smit-McPhee equally good as the Boy.
Charlize Theron stars as Woman, the Man's wife. I've read most of the book, and Woman has a larger role in the movie than the book, but this in no way detracts from what makes the book compelling. In her own way, Woman is even more dedicated to the Boy's future than the Man, and certainly just as courageous. You'll also see excellent actors like Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce in supporting roles
There is a similarity between THE ROAD and the more recent and much worse THE COLONY (2013). Both deal with survival in the aftermath of a weather related disaster, and both feature mobs of cannibals running after the main characters. Although THE COLONY is poorly acted, features weak special effects, and has a pasted-on happy ending, there is a similar level of realism about the difficulty of surviving a major "Earth disaster" that leads to a long-term world- wide winter. THE COLONY features the sort of approach that might allow a significant sized group to thrive - underground bunkers with sustainable power and the ability to grow food with artificial light.
THE ROAD is a hard movie to rate. I guess I'd have to go for at least a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. The movie is rated R, and this is a serious R. It is not so much the graphic violence as the violence of the script that makes this hard to watch. This is a movie about people with a very limited range of choices making desperate decisions. Recommended only for those with a strong tolerance for grim films. Children should not watch this movie. Warning: if you see this movie, it may be the most grim and depressing movie you will ever watch, and all the more so since it is 100% plausible and possible. [-dls]
THE ANDROID'S DREAM by John Scalzi (copyright 2006 Tor; copyright 2010 Audible Studios; 10 hours, 34 minutes; narrated by Wil Wheaton) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
I have been struggling all day with the idea of how I should start this review. I know there are at least a few professional writers who read the MT VOID, and I would guess that they *might* sympathize with me, knowing that at some point during their writing careers they've run up against a brick wall.
I mean, how do you start talking about a book in which a diplomat from the planet Earth plans to disrupt negotiations with an alien species by farting messages to that species' ambassador in the hope of getting him mad enough that he messes up the negotiations to the point that the people of earth get an advantage?
And never mind the fact that not only does the alien ambassador collapse and die in the process, but the Earth ambassador does as well.
I'm still trying to figure out whether John Scalzi, the author of this silliness, was being juvenile on purpose, or maybe that's just the way he was back in 2006 when THE ANDROID'S DREAM was published. I can tell you that my wife was turned off by the whole sequence. Me? Come on. I laughed and kept going, wondering what was coming next. I also sort of figured that Scalzi is completely capable of writing that kind of humor today, but chooses not to simply because he really has grown up, although deep down inside that kind of sense of humor is still running around hoping to get out.
So yeah, the ambassador from Earth causes the death of the Nidu ambassador, but unintentionally dies himself (he certainly wasn't planning on it anyway) and thus sets up a rather amusing tale that refers to one of Philip K. Dick's more famous novels in the process. Mind you, there's only a passing reference to it, but it's there nonetheless, and we'll talk about it shortly.
So somehow, as the result of the death of the Nidu ambassador, there is a void at the top of the Nidu governing hierarchy. Thus, a ceremony will be held to crown a new head, and certain forms must be followed, including the presence of a particular breed of sheep, the Android's Dream. By the way, it's an electric-blue-colored sheep, and at the point where we learn about the requirement for the sheep we also learn about the "old literary reference", or some such. Yep, Scalzi was referring to the famous Philip K. Dick novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
The whole thing would be quite silly if it weren't for the way Scalzi cleverly worked in the concept of the Church of the Evolved Lamb (you have to read it to believe it), and an advanced artificial intelligence that helps our hero, Harry Creek, and the "evolved lamb", Robin Baker--who is part human, part Android's Dream sheep (you have to read it to believe it--yeah, I said it again). Combine that with a dollop of military SF, and you've got yourself quite a story.
Look, I don't think Scalzi wrote this with any major awards in mind, although a few awards were thrown its way, including the Seiun. Still, it was an amusing tale. To top it off, Wil Wheaton was a terrific narrator. I can hear Scalzi's voice while Wheaton is narrating--it's completely uncanny.
Do I recommend it? Certainly. I think you'll enjoy it and have a heck of a time with it. You might even classify it as a Scalzi "juvenile", just not in the traditional sense of that term. [-jak]
Sir Richard Francis Burton (letters of comment by Scott Dorsey, Tim Bateman, Peter Trei, Keith F. Lynch, and Jette Goldie):
In response to Mark's comments on Sir Richard Francis Burton in the 09/26/14 issue of the MT VOID and subsequent letters of comment in the 10/03/14 issue, various people write:
I've never read Riverworld, but when I was twelve I read the Complete Arabian Nights translation (which is probably not appropriate for someone that age), and when I was in college I read A PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF A PILGRIMAGE TO MECCAH which I highly recommend to everyone in the United States today.
I had no idea he was ever mentioned in any science fiction, I thought he was mostly famous as the translator of the Kama Sutra.
Tim Bateman: If you're able to read it, you're old enough to read it. New law I just invented.
I'm not in the U. S., but [PILGRIMAGE will] go in my mental 'to be read' file. [-tmb]
He had money problems, and the translations where sexed-up to sell well and keep the pot boiling. [-pt]
As a twelve-year-old I thought that was just great. [-sd]
Keith F. Lynch:
The sex wasn't in the original?
Is there a more accurate translation? [-kfl]
I don't know [if the sex was in the original], but I will say that an awful lot of it was in the footnotes, many of which are hilarious and all of which are worth the price of the book.
In the case of the 1001 NIGHTS there is the Madras and Mathers translation, which is somewhat dry and academic in comparison. [-sd]
Jette Goldie adds:
There is far more in the book of advice to a newly married couple than just sex. There's a lot of advice on manners and how to run a household. [-jg]
Of the KAMA SUTRA, Wikipedia says, "Contrary to popular perception, especially in the western world, Kama sutra is not just an exclusive sex manual; it presents itself as a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life." [-ecl]
Antibiotics (letters of comment by Scott Dorsey and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Keith Lynch's comments on antibiotics in the 10/03/14 issue of the MT VOID, Scott Dorsey writes:
[Keith F. Lynch wrote, "People saved by antibiotics tend to be older, on average, than victims of wars, the Holocaust, and the gulags. So it's a reduction in the number of years of life lost."]
Depends on the situation. Antibiotics save lives in wars. [-sd]
I said "on average." Do you disagree? [-kfl]
I don't know enough to disagree or not. More information needed. [-sd]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
CAT PEOPLE by Kim Newman (ISBN 0-85170-741-6) is a seventy-page essay on the making, content, and effect of the 1943 film CAT PEOPLE. Though directed by Jacques Tourneur and written by DeWitt Bodeen, it is always referred to as "Val Lewton's CAT PEOPLE," and part of what Newman examines--as indeed does anyone talking about the film--is exactly how much creative input Lewton had.
The majority of the book (46 pages) is devoted to a shot-by-shot analysis of the film--basically a commentary of the sort Criterion or other high-class company would include on a DVD release. I'm a commentary junkie--at least of those commentaries that add to one's appreciation or understanding of a film. I have little use for the director commentary consisting of "He was great. She was great. The dog was great. The tree was great." Rather, I lean to commentaries by film critics (e.g., Roger Ebert), or historians or the actual people in historical or based-on-fact films (e.g. James McPherson for GETTYSBURG, Homer Hickam for OCTOBER SKY, James Lovell for APOLLO 13 and--in the best of both worlds--Sergei Khrushchev for THIRTEEN DAYS). Kim Newman's "commentary" ranks among the best.
(I found it odd that Newman describes Irena as "lightly teasing" Oliver when she says, "Perhaps you have a picture in your room of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln." This would no doubt strike most people today as a bizarre idea, though it may have been more common seventy years ago. What it reminded me of, though, was a documentary about Gertrude Berg in which the documentarian comments on how the television show "The Goldbergs" really emphasized the "American-ness" of the Goldbergs: the wallpaper in their apartment had a motif of red, white, and blue bunting, there was a portrait of George Washington hanging on the wall, on so on. Molly Goldberg may have had a portrait of Washington on her wall, but most people did not.)
(The BFI has published similar books about several other films that I would love to read: Alberto Manguel on BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Christopher Frayling on THINGS TO COME, and Salman Rushdie on THE WIZARD OF OZ. Whether they are available in the United States for reasonable prices is the question. (I found this volume in my favorite used book store in Northampton, Massachusetts--The Old Book Store, which we have been going to for forty-five years.)
Six years ago in Tucson I bought HOMENAJE A AGATHA CHRISTIE: EL CASE DEL COLLAR by Francisco Cuevas Cancino (ISBN-10 970-651-300- 0). I knew nothing about it other than it was a novel about Hercule Poirot. A few weeks ago Mike Duncan started discussing the French Revolution on his "Revolutions" podcast and covered "The Affair of the Necklace"; when finally I picked this book up to read it, it was quite the touch of synchronicity to discover that "El Caso del Collar" was the very same "Affair of the Necklace"!
Poirot's doctor tells him he needs a vacation, and when he goes to a travel agent, he ends up on a package tour to France. There he gets hit by a taxi and ends up in the hospital. At this point I'm thinking, "Oh, it will be like Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME." But instead, he gets discharged and then taken in a black limousine to Versailles--but the Versailles of the Eighteenth Century. Now it was starting to look like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. At Versailles, Marie Antoinette asks Poirot to investigate the affair and clear her name.
As if this were not artificial enough, each chapter has a "prologue" from the author's point of view in which he addresses things the reader may find "peculiar": traveling by car to the Eighteenth Century. Poirot changing hotels, and so on. (The changing of hotels seems to echo Richard Matheson's time travel approach in BID TIME RETURN.)
As if all this were not enough, Cuevas Cancino throws into the story Oscar Wilde, Richard Attenborough, and Sylvia Sim, for no good reason I could see. (Maybe I missed it in my reading of the Spanish.)
It is unlikely that anyone reading this is going to run out and read HOMENAJE A AGATHA CHRISTIE: EL CASE DEL COLLAR. Rather, these comments are more to demonstrate the worldwide popularity of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot, and of the merging of fictional detective and real-life mystery. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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