MT VOID 01/02/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 27, Whole Number 1839

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/02/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 27, Whole Number 1839

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Philcon 2009 and Philcon 2010 Con Reports Available (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In my Philcon catch-up, I have finished the 2009 and 2010 reports:

Also, the 2008 report is now also at>.


Give It Up for Science (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

People are all upset that Pluto lost its status as a planet. I don't hear anyone complaining that dinosaurs like the fierce Tyrannosaurus, the star of many people's most enjoyable nightmares, was probably downy and feathered. [-mrl]

De-Cluttering (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Marie Kondo is known for her "de-cluttering" method, which involves getting rid of everything that "does not give you joy." But what do you do when none of the clothes that give you joy fit, and none of the clothes that fit give you joy? [-ecl]

Mini-Reviews of 2014 Films, Part 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

As promised I have more short reviews of recent and upcoming film releases. These are films I have been asked to consider for awards from the Online Film Critics Society. By their nature most of these films will be unfamiliar to the readers. Anyone wanting help in finding some of these films can contact me for help. I cannot swear I can find the film for you, but I may well have places I can look.

This is a strong argument that the education system is in serious trouble. The cost of education tuition has escalated at a terrible rate. Student loan debt has passed the trillion-dollar point and is higher than credit card debt. Education has become fabulously expensive. There seems to be enough fault to go around to teachers, students, and schools. The situation is presented and then various alternatives to the education system are presented. For example, Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allow free tuition for online courses. However, each alternative seems to have large drawbacks. In the end there is no single solution that the film can get behind. The film is just a heads-up on the seriousness of the problem. Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Jon, a young man who is sort of a non-entity but who loves music gets a chance to join an avant-garde band led by the mysterious Frank, a music genius (it is claimed) who constantly keeps his appearance hidden in a large false head. The group has constant conflicts, generally started by Frank's girl friend Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Not being a fan of this sort of music I could not tell what was good and what wasn't. The film did little for me. Rating: low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

This film is not nearly as thrill-packed as the title suggests it is. Done in a mumble-core style, most scenes do not seem to advance the plot at all. I kept getting to the ends of scenes wondering why that scene was even recorded. I watched only the first half hour and most of that opening is mind numbingly banal. This film is not recommended. Rating: high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

HONEYMOON [spoiler]
A young couple (played by Harry Treadaway and Rose Lsslie) goes on a honeymoon in deep woods on a lake. The wife acts more and more strangely as time goes by. The range of viewers' possible guesses for an explanation of what we see happening get narrower and narrower. First it must be being done to the newlyweds. Then the wife must be part of the conspiracy. Then it must be happening in someone's head and it is perhaps just a dream. Finally we get down to it must be something science-fictional. Then the film goes all incoherent. Enjoy. Rating: 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

The title tells a lot about the film. James McAvoy stars as the ultimate corrupt policeman. Detective Bruce Robertson mostly takes drugs and coerces women to have sex with him. He is competing with his fellow police for a promotion fighting dirty as only he can. At the same time he is investigating a murder by bullying anyone whom he thinks can help him. The film is presented as a comedy but is repetitive and not particularly funny. Rating: 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Seinfeld made it acceptable in comedy to tell a very minimalist plot and to pad the film out with witty dialog. That works but the dialog has to be very, very good. Having quirky characters the audience knows helps a lot. If you cannot make the dialog really compelling, serious or funny, this approach is not recommended. Two very close girlfriends are not interested in romance with boys because their relationship with each other means more to them. Then one gets interested in a nerdy man. Will this destroy the two girls' relationship? The dialog is cute but does not power the film. Rating: 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

This is a very strange and very dark comedy based on a story by Dostoevsky, but it feels more like Kafka or BRAZIL. A young man works for a company determined to de-humanize him. Then the company hires a man who looks like an identical twin and he is treated lovingly by the company. As time goes on, everything only becomes stranger. The film just keeps getting more surreal. BRAZIL may not have had a happy ending, but it was an ending. THE DOUBLE does not really have an ending. It fades off to obscurity. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

A man (Stellan Skarsgard) finds a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who has been badly beaten, and he brings her home to care for her. She claims to have had sex with thousands of men and tells the story of her life to the man who rescued her. The man listens to her story and ties up what she is saying with analogies to fly fishing, James Bond films, Edgar Allan Poe stories, etc. Written and directed by Lars Von Trier, the film features graphic sex in many of its forms as will as S&M. The writer is often pretentious and heavily into metaphoric pronouncements. The film is four hours long and is being released cut in two pieces at the halfway point. Rating: high 1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.


THE IMITATION GAME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the busiest actors in filmmaking, turns in a bravura performance as computer theoretician and code-breaker Alan J. Turing who broke the Nazi Germany military Enigma code and later was persecuted by the British government for being gay. The film's release could not have been more timely and topical. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

Early in the film A BEAUTIFUL MIND, a claim is made that mathematics won World War II. Sadly, that film did not explain the claim and many viewers probably just assumed the claim was a wild boast. In fact, highly math-charged programs like the Manhattan Project, Linear Optimization, Statistical Methods, and Cryptography all played an important role in winning the war. The lack of any of these would have seriously hampered or crippled the war effort. A major piece of the mathematics of the war effort was contributed by the British (and incidentally the Polish, who went almost unmentioned in THE IMITATION GAME) to the breaking of the Enigma encryption system. This was the system for the encoding and decoding German military communications. A relatively simple device could be reset in seconds and the code changed for encryption/decryption. Once the device was reset it would change to one of 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 other codes.

The man who was most credited with breaking the Enigma code was Alan J. Turing, here played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Turing was one of history's great geniuses and also one of the most tragic. After the war the British government turned on Turing much as the American government turned on Robert J. Oppenheimer. THE IMITATION GAME is a film biography of Alan J. Turing going back and forth among three streams of narrative. One stream follows Turing's boarding school days persecuted by his peers for being strange. One stream is about Turing during the war while he led the team working on breaking the Enigma code and later with the technical issues and the project politics and interpersonal relationships while he worked on breaking the code. Later in the same stream of narrative the issue became when, where, and how often could the knowledge of the code be used without tipping off the enemy that the British could read the Nazi's military communications. In the third narrative stream Turing was persecuted by the post-war British government for being gay.

Keira Knightley co-stars as Joan Clarke, who really existed, but probably was less pivotal in Turing's life than shown in the film. During her first meeting with Turing she improbably proves she can out-think him to a degree he believes impossible. The two become good friends and she is one of the inner circle of the team. (During her association with Turing her wardrobe mysteriously goes from frumpy to stylish.)

THE IMITATION GAME was written by Graham Moore based on the biography of Turing by Andrew Hodges. Morten Tyldurn directs. The music score was composed by Alexandre Desplat who is credited with six musical scores in 2014 including THE MONUMENTS MEN, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, GODZILLA, THE IMITATION GAME, and UNBROKEN. That is quite a line-up.

Cumberbatch says that the script of THE IMITATION GAME appealed to him right away, but he was told he was not right for the part. Warner Brothers wanted to make the film, but only if they could get Leonardo DiCaprio to play Turing. Cumberbatch had been more anxious to play the role of Turing than the producers were to make the film. The character has certain similarities to geniuses that Cumberbatch had performed in the past. For example, he gets on the code-breaking team using Sherlock-like reasoning to deduce that the team had to exist and that it had very high priority. He can manipulate other people to get his way.

The release of this film during the Sony data scandal could not have been planned, of course, and could not have been better planned. The film is all about the losing of privacy of secrets and losing of control of supposedly secure private information. The real Turing may have been the first hacker to use a computer to spy. If even Enigma, with its 159 quintillion ciphers, is not unbreakable security to keep information private--and thank goodness it was not in this case--what is sufficient security? The film itself relates information that was kept an official government secret in Britain decades after the war was over. Turing had a great mind but his career and his life were destroyed by his loss of privacy in his personal life.

THE IMITATION GAME is a thriller that really does thrill and at the same time draws viewers into a mathematical problem. The film is the best picture I have seen this year, and one of the most important. I rate THE IMITATION GAME a high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


BIRDMAN (film comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

My thoughts on the film BIRDMAN and some things the film is saying or doing [POSSIBLE SPOILERS]:


Fall SF TV Reviews (television reviews by Dale L. Skran):

It's official--the number of genre shows on TV at the same time has reached absurd proportions. I've given up trying to follow all the shows I like in real time. Some I'll catch up on DVD and others on the Internet, but I just can't keep up. And this is not counting the shows I don't like enough to watch--GRIMM or ONCE UPON A TIME, for example.


This new SyFy show appeared as a mini-series of 5-1/2 hours over three nights in December. The basic idea is that in the early 1960s Kennedy secretly launched an Orion-class generation ship, the Ascension, to Alpha Centauri with a mission to preserve the human race. In 2014, the second generation of astronauts has come to power, and the society on the ship has mutated a bit from that of the early 60s. I was a bit worried that this was not enough of a premise to sustain a series, and I also worried when I heard the show described as "Mad Men in Space." Without going into any plot details, I'll simply say that this is one of the better SyFy original movies, and that I'd be happy to keep watching it as a series.

ASCENSION has a bit of cable-TV softcore sex, and hence is suggested for older teens and up.

[SPOILER ALERT] This is a story, that, rather like an A. E. Van Vogt novel, hits you with major new ideas rapidly. It is about a lot more than it appears initially to be about, and a lot of things that initially just seem like cheap SyFy movie touches actually make sense. Nuff said. When my wife and I were done watching we talked about it for almost an hour. There are a lot of moving parts here, but this is real SF. Also, watch for the various references that are targeted to the more serious SF reader.


Not too much to say about this. It's still fun to watch, although always skating on the edge of absurdity. The big reveal turns out to be that the main heroine (Audrie Parker) also (or at least some part of her personality) turns out to be the main villain, Marla. Marla is a ruthless psychopath who can use "Aether" to create and control the "troubles." She appears to hail from another dimension, and to have created Haven as a sort of sadistic experiment, the true purpose of which has yet to be revealed. HAVEN continues to work as a combination super-hero police procedural with elements of the supernatural and super-science thrown in. In the end it may yet be another LOST that leaves its characters--literally--in purgatory, but we can hope not!


This fall I kept up with our intrepid crew as they battle Moloch and the Horsemen of the Apocolypse. Part police procedural, part NATIONAL TREASURE, part Lovecraft pastiche, part Christian mythology, part historical romance, HOLLOW is entertaining if you can get by an occasional scary scene. HOLLOW is also notable for having a large number of black actors in a genre that is often "mighty white." In case you haven't heard, John Noble from FRINGE has migrated to HOLLOW where he plays the adult son of Katrina and Ichabod Crane, and Moloch's main henchman. HOLLOW is not for everyone, but it kept me watching this fall.


A new FOX show staring Ben McKenzie as a young James Gordon, GOTHAM attempts to build up the back story to Batman. We are gradually introduced to young versions of a wide range of major Bat-villains, including Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and more. The young Bruce Wayne, played by David Mazouz, also has a major role, as does Sean Pertwee as Alfred the butler. Perhaps the most interesting character to watch is Penguin, played well by Robin Loid Taylor. The Penguin often is portrayed as a buffoon in Batman comics, but here we get to see how he rose to become a leading Gotham crime boss.

GOTHAM has offended some Bat-fans, but I find it quite watchable. The tales are dark and violent, establishing Gotham as a grim and crazy place long before Batman came on the scene. In fact, it might be accurate to say that Gotham made Batman what he became. There is a lot of plot in most of the episodes, and many characters show more depth than you would expect for a TV show. My major beef is that Selina Kyble (played by Camren Bicondova) just looks too old for the role. According to the wiki page she is 15 but to me she looks mid-twenties or older!!!

Not a show for little kids or those who dislike violent crime stories, GOTHAM remains an interesting entrant in the TV comic book sweepstakes.


This new ABC show stars Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards in THE FANTASTIC FOUR) as Dr. Henry Morgan, a NYC forensic medical examiner with a small secret. Dr. Morgan suffers from an affliction of sorts, namely that since he first died 200 years ago, he simply cannot die. Morgan has a very strong form of magical immortality. He can die, and has died in dozens of different ways. However, after some short interval he always re-appears in a nearby body of water, naked but hale and hearty as he was on the day of his first death. As near as I can tell, no mortal means can permanently kill Morgan--even an A-Bomb would not suffice.

The good Dr. solves crimes for the most part via his vast knowledge of death, much of it gained via personal experience, and via his keen sense of observation, honed for centuries. In the last resort, he has an real ace in the hole--if he is killed, he always comes back, so no killer is a real threat to him. His only fear is exposure as an immortal, or injury to his friends and co-workers. Many of the plots deal with historical events he experienced that relate to modern crimes, but we also see the conventional "I, the Immortal" plot lines. For example, Morgan lives with an elderly man who shares his secret and is his adopted son.

There is a weak story arc concerning another immortal that is stalking Morgan, and seems to have taken on a psychopath's lust for death. FOREVER goes through the paces fairly well, but suffers from an implausible back story that seems wholly magical, but lacks any internal logical. By comparison, the weirdly complex plots of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES are air-tight.

FOREVER is not for everyone, and includes routine CSI-type gross- out scenes, but it does work well enough as a police procedural. I'm still watching, but am close to cutting it adrift.


SCORPION attempts to capitalize on the success of shows that glorify genius such as THE MENTALIST and BIG BANG THEORY. It tells the fictional adventures of a real person, one Walter O'Brien, IQ 197. O'Brien apparently hacked NASA as a kid and was arrested, but went on to form a computer security firm targeted toward difficult cases. In the grand tradition of DOC SAVAGE, O'Brien gathers about him a "fabulous five," including Dr. Tobias Curtis, a brilliant behaviorist with a gambling addition, Happy Quinn, a genius mechanical engineer and a Chinese female, and Sylvester Dodd, an overweight genius mathematician with anxiety disorders. These three main "assistants" are rounded out by Agent Cabe Gallo, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security who provides the muscle and government liaison, and Paige Dineen, a single mother of a 9 year old genius, who acts as their interface to normal folks.

Some of the creators of the show worked on FAST AND FURIOUS, and it shows. Most episodes start with some kind of reasonable scientific setup and end with a car chase and absurd action in which Walter O'Brien is way too involved. This is not a good show, but it has some good moments. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show is that the mental differences of the main characters are highlighted in a fairly realistic fashion. There is even some justification for the crazy risks O'Brien takes. Alas, the plots have unbelievable elements with great consistency. SCORPION is too intense for young children but otherwise suited for most audiences.

As for the real Walter O'Brien, there is such a a person, and he did found a company called Scorpion Data Services. He claims to have an IQ over 190, but alas did not keep the paperwork. He appears to be a highly proficient programmer, having participated in various computing competitions, but has only a BS in Computer Science. There is some controversy as to whether some of his claims are true, but I have been unable to discern a clear bottom line. As can be seen from the web page of the real-life Scorpion, perhaps the plan all along was to advertise O'Brien's company: And it should not surprise you that the TV actor is a lot better looking than the real O'Brien.


The second season of AGENTS OF SHIELD takes place in a darker world following the events chronicled in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. It has been discovered that SHIELD was deeply infiltrated by HYDRA, and even Coulson's intrepid team harbored a snake--Agent Ward. Revealed as a ruthless HYDRA killer with complex motives, Ward shows his acting chops to a greater degree as he moves into deep, dark places. The main thrust of the plot revolves around efforts by SHIELD and HYDRA to find an ancient city built by the alien Kree, and for Sky to figure out exactly why she is so special. At times SHIELD's is so plot dense that things are hard to follow, but you can't say it isn't interesting. New characters include various mercs who have joined SHIELD and SHIELD Agent Mockingbird, a character drawn from the pages of the Avengers comic. This season is more intense, and probably too much for little kids, but otherwise SHIELD continues to entertain.


Incredibly, DIARIES is now in its sixth season! This season starts with Damon Slavatore(one of the vampire brothers) and Bonnie Bennett (a witch) trapped in a strange magical dimension that is just like their home dimension, but stuck on a single day in their past, and apparently empty of all humans. The rest of the crew, including Elena Gilbert (now a vampire) and Stefan, Damon's brother (also a vampire), struggle to adjust to the apparent deaths of Damon and Bonnie while being unable to return to Mystic Falls, which is now a null magic zone. It should not surprise you that it turns out the magical dimension does have one other inhabitant, a psychopathic male witch who has no natural magical powers but can steal the magic of others. The dimension was created to be his prison. This gives you just a feeling for the series is like, keeping in mind that this description covers a small part of a couple of episodes. As violent and sexual as ever, DIARIES continues to be watchable. Not for kids, but still fun.


Due to various viewing conflicts, I ended up catching up with THE ORGINALS on-line, which the CW supports well. Now in its second season, THE ORIGINALS follows the first family of vampires, including Klaus, Elijah, and Rebekah as they struggle to re-take New Orleans from a horde of witches and werewolves bent on their destruction. This shouldn't be that hard for two super-powerful original vampires and one vampire-werewolf hybrid(Klaus), but they must also fend off their immortal body jumping mother, the witch who created vampires in the first place, and their vampire father, recently resurrected and dedicated to killing all vampires including Klaus. THE ORIGINALS spun off from the VAMPIRE DIARIES, where Klaus was introduced as a major villain. In a perhaps realistic touch, Klaus proved too powerful to defeat for any length of time, but eventually a sort of truce evolved and the Mikaelsons returned to New Orleans, which they once called home. Klaus functions as an anti-hero of sorts, too cruel and vengeful to be good, but also loyal, tender, and artistic.

A lot of the fun of both DIARIES and THE ORIGINALS lies in the balance of power plotting between the vampires, the werewolves, the witches, and the humans in each location. Dark and violent, THE ORIGINALS is surprisingly compelling, in large part due to the performance of Joseph Morgan as the tortured hybrid Klaus, Daniel Gillies as the shining knight of vampires, Elijah, and Claire Holt as the conflicted Rebekah. Another interesting aspect of the series is an attempt to portray really old immortals, as the Mikaelsons go back many centuries and perhaps many thousands of years. Definitely not for kids but worth checking out if you like tales of the supernatural crossed with GAME OF THRONES.


Also due to viewing conflicts, I've been catching up on SUPERNATURAL on-line. Since the CW only allows you to look back 6 episodes, I've missed about half of this season's tales. The ones I've seen continue to show why SF is such a versatile genre. One dealt with fans of SUPERNATURAL creating a fannish homage play that attracts an ancient Greek goddess hungry to consume the author of the play. This gives the writers opportunities for meta-writing galore, creating something with a bit of the flavor of BIRDMAN. Another focused on how angels possessing human bodies have destroyed the lives of their hosts, and how the angels attempt to balance the good they do vs. the harm involved in the possession. In short, not great stuff but the solid story telling we've come to expect from this show. SUPERNATURAL is a dark, violent show that is only for older teens and up.


This new CW show has been well received. A spin-off from the successful ARROW, FLASH brings to life another popular DC superhero, Barry Allen, played by Grant Gustin. FLASH does a decent job of bringing to life the scarlet speedster of Central City. The Flash is portrayed as light-hearted, optimistic, and perhaps a bit on the naive side, as befits the hero of a brighter, more future oriented city. Unlike ARROW, which has stuck for the most part to non-super powered villains, FLASH brings the hammer with Captain Cold, Plastique, and the Reverse Flash, among others.

In a fashion similar to ARROW, FLASH portrays The Flash as being supported by a team of STAR Labs scientists eager to undo the wrong they did in unleashing super-powers on the world. This team is especially interesting. Their leader, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) was created for the TV show, and appears to be a time traveler from the future, and perhaps a super-villain or super-hero as well. Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabraker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) are (SPOILER) better known in the comics as Killer Frost and Vibe. Whether they become these characters in the TV show remains to be seen. Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin, playing a role similar to the one he held in LAW AND ORDER) also knows the secret identity of the Flash, and assists him on various cases.

Overall, the FLASH is a fun show that can be enjoyed by the whole family


Now in its third season, ARROW, starring the muscular and grim Stephen Arnell as the title character, has provided some startling twists. Having defeated Deathstroke/Slade Wilson in season two, the Arrow finds himself caught up in a complex battle between Ra's al Ghul, the leader of the League of Assassins, and Malcom Merlyn, a renegade member of the League played by John Barrowman from TORCHWOOD. The strength of ARROW lies in three things. First, ARROW tell the origin of the Green Arrow better than it was ever done in the comics. Oliver Queen was transformed from a decadent playboy to a deadly fighting machine by five years of events told in flashbacks. I assume that if the show continues the flashbacks will conclude in the fifth season. The second is a decision to make ARROW a realistic telling of events that focused mainly on characters without super powers, or, in the case of Deathstroke, super-powers that are just one step removed from the real world. Finally, it was decided to make Green Arrow the leader of a team, which includes John Diggle, Oliver's former bodyguard and driver and an ex-special forces member, Felicity Smoak, a smoking-hot hacker and all-around computer genius, and Roy Harper, a petty thief who the Arrow is training as his sidekick. They are supported by their man inside the police force, Detective Quentin Lance, and sometimes by Diggle's ex-wife/future-wife who is 2nd in command of the Suicide Squad.

The rest of the season looks interesting. All the ground work has been laid to introduce Black Canary, Wildcat, and the Atom as continuing characters. Victor Gerber (from ALIAS and many other shows) will appear as the older half of Firestorm. At this point between ARROW and FLASH a very good approximation of the Justice League could be put together, one that without Superman would be much less powerful and hence more fun to watch.

AROOW is too dark and violent for young children, but many will find it entertaining. It is possibly the best TV super-hero series ever made.


CONSTANTINE brings to life the DC supernatural hero John Constantine (Matt Ryan), a hard-drinking, chain-smoking low-life who has seen too much and done too many bad things. Unfortunately, he cannot turn away from the battle against daemonic evil. Joined by Zed Martin (Angelica Celaya), a psychic artist, and Chas Chandler (Charles Halford), who appears to be invulnerable, he uses his vast magical knowledge and a host of artifacts to battle "the rising dark." It should not surprise you to find that as a 10 pm show, CONSTANTINE is dark and violent, with a large number of disturbing images. I'm not going to say that I love it, but it is pretty consistent and reasonably interesting. It has also started to introduce some of the many DC supernatural characters. Zed Martin is an interesting supporting character, but Chandler seems little more than a Stretch Armstrong dummy who can be fed to the monsters now and then. I also like Constantines' Dr. Stange-like magical bunker, which is much larger on the inside than the outside, and has some doors that should not be opened.

CONSTANTINE is only for older teens and up. Recommended for those who like this sort of thing.


THE MENTALIST has returned for a 13 episode final seventh season, which started on November 30th, 2014. The sixth season concluded with Patrick Jane finally declaring his love for Teresa Lisbon. In the seventh season, they are spending a lot of time together, but concealing their relationship from their team. This leads to a certain amount of hilarity along the way. This season drops agent Kim Fischer, who the show could never quite figure out how to handle, and replaces her with eager-beaver ex-military newbie Agent Michelle Vega.

With Red John finally dead, the sixth season struggled to find a new balance, and brought forth some of the worst episodes in the series. So far the seventh season seems to be under a more balanced hand, and if it lacks the dramatic energy of the first five seasons, I find it a long cool drink with an old friend. I expect that the series will wind to a close with Jane and Lisbon leaving the FBI in the final episode. Their team leader, Abbot, is a well-conceived character. I like the fact that Abbot is usually on to what Jane is up to, and in fact loves the play-acting and intrigue that abounds when Jane is fully engaged. The idea of Patrick Jane working for the FBI is only marginally beyond the headlines of the real world--check out AMERICAN HUSTLE or CATCH ME IF YOU CAN to learn more about how the FBI makes a practice of catching and then hiring the right kind of criminal mastermind.

This season of THE MENTALIST is less dark than earlier ones, and I'd recommend it to a general audience.


I had this on list to watch, but after about 15 minutes of this low-budget zombie show, I decided I had better things to do with my time. Really really not recommended.

THE 100 (CW)

Due to various scheduling conflicts, I have yet to watch a single episode. At this point I'm planning to catch up on DVD. I have nothing bad to say about the second season of THE 100--I just got overwhelmed by the sheer number of SF shows running in conflicting time slots. [-dls]

THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES and Evolution (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES in the 12/26/14 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

The "Sir W. Thompson" who gave such a short age of the Earth was presumably physicist William Thomson, Lord Kelvin. The reason was that the only then-known mechanism for producing the heat of the Sun and the Earth was gravitational collapse; a warning for all scientists who forget that a currently dominant theory is merely the "fastest gun in town", and a "faster gun" may arrive at any moment. (I call this the Don Knotts Rule.)

This short age, of course, made Darwin's theory seem implausible even to him; thus, the Lamarckian elements he introduced in later editions of Origin.

I enjoyed INHERIT THE WIND (1960) when I first saw it, years ago, but since then I've learned just how dishonest and tendentious it is, so I've lost much of my respect for it. I now know that the whole "trial" was a publicity stunt for the town; the prosecution and defense went out to dinner together constantly; the defendant wasn't even sure he had ever taught Darwinism, but they needed somebody to play the role.

After making his own summation, Darrow pled his defendant guilty, cheating Bryan of his opportunity to speak. That never-delivered summation was published in Skeptic magazine: I was impressed by Bryan's prescience in seeing how Darwinist beliefs could lead to something like a Holocaust. The Darwin-inspired eugenics movement was very strong at the time, of course. [-tw]

Mark replies:

You are right about scientific theory just being just the fastest gun in town, or more accurately the theory that best stands up to critical evaluation. That is precisely why the scientific method gives such VERY reliable results. People who take a scientific position with religious or political (or any) motivations almost never come up with anything nearly as ironclad. In scientific methodology everybody is looking for and encouraged to be a faster gun. INHERIT THE WIND was, of course, inspired by the Scopes trial, even taking some discussion directly from testimony, but the play/film was about morality and mob rule and is no more accurate to real history than the John Wayne version of THE ALAMO. What you want to find is the play THE GREAT TENNESSEE MONKEY TRIAL by Peter Goodchild. That is quite accurate to history and is very accurate to the accounts of the trial we got at the Dayton Tennessee Courthouse. [-mrl]

Spacecraft News (letter of comment by Dan Cox):

In response to Greg Frederick's comments on spacecraft news in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Cox writes:

The attempt to land a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage on a barge will be interesting. They have shown that they can reach (close to) zero velocity at zero altitude with the first stage after a launch. They have shown in short-range tests that a first stage can land precisely enough to land on something the size of their barge. What has not been shown (at least publically) is that when returning from a launch, can they get the stage from its launch velocity and altitude to a neighborhood close enough to the barge that its precise control will have a chance to land it on a barge. But if they don't this time, it is likely they will improve and be able to do this soon.

Then comes the hard (but less exciting) part. What condition will the stage be in? Can they refurbish it cheaply enough to significantly reduce launch prices? A Falcon 9 launch is priced around $65 million. Preparations for launch, including the integration of the spacecraft with the rocket, can run something like $25 million (based on a recent NASA deal, which was about that much more than the cost of the rocket alone). Since that was a NASA deal, there are probably some additional government requirements. The government self-insures its satellites, but has launch providers take extra precautions. It may be that payload integration and launch operations are the next area that SpaceX (or someone) needs to reduce costs in, if we're ever going to have our space colonies.

Like most progress, it takes a lot of work to turn the ideas into reality. [-dtc]

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

Looking over my 2014 reading, I find I read 170 books (assuming that one can decide what is long enough to be called a "book"). Of these, non-fiction was 44%, science fiction was 32%, and alternate history, mysteries, and general fiction were about 8% each.

I am reading WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Aylmer and Rose Maude) (ISBN 978-1-853-26062-9). It has some footnotes explaining Russian customs, puns, etc. Among these is: "It is not strictly accurate to use the word biretta for the headgear used in the Russo-Greek church, but it is the nearest word available in English." My question is, why use any word other than the original (probably "klobuk")? After all, it isn't as though the word "biretta" has a long history in the English language.

For fans of alternate history (or for that matter, ordinary history), Book XI, Chapter I will be of particular interest. This is a Tolstoyan infodump, starting with a discussion of continuous versus discontinuous events, then onto calculus (!) and finally sequeing into a discussion of "The Tide of History Theory Versus The Great Man Theory."

Tolstoy writes, "Absolute continuity of motion is not comprehensible to the human mind. Laws of motion of any kind become comprehensible to man only when he examines arbitrarily selected elements of that motion; but at the same time, a large proportion of human error comes from the arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous elements." A description of Zeno's Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise follows.

Tolstoy then moves on to history: "In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable arbitrary human wills, is continuous." But historians make a couple of errors in looking at history. They look at only a few selected events, rather than look at all events--but of course, there is no way one can look at all events from the beginning of time. The other is to look at the actions of a single man (a king or general) as being "equivalent to the sum of many individual wills." This, Tolstoy says, is never the case. "Only by taking infinitesimally small units for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of men) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history."

So attributing the French Revolution to a few men in Paris is a mistake. "'But every time there have been conquests there have been conquerors; every time there has been a revolution in any state there have been great men,' says history." True, but correlation does not imply causation.

So, Tolstoy concludes, "To study the laws of history we must completely change the subject of our observation, must leave aside kings, ministers, and generals, and study the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are moved."

The next chapter goes on to explain that it may seem as though generals make decisions, but in fact they are pawns of the forces of history. A general is asked whether the troops should take a different road, but by the time the messenger gets to him with the question, and all the other distractions preying on him are dispensed with, the troops have passed the point where they could change roads and the decision is out of his hands. Similarly, by the time people starting asking whether Moscow should be abandoned to the French, it was already to late to say no.

(Book IX, Chapter I has a similar discussion, but centered on determinism (fatalism) and free will.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.
                                          --W. Somerset Maugham

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