MT VOID 01/09/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 28, Whole Number 1840

MT VOID 01/09/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 28, Whole Number 1840

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/09/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 28, Whole Number 1840

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 2011 Con Report Available (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In my Philcon catch-up, I have finished the 2011 report:

Also, the 2008 report is now also at .> [-ecl]

Loncon 3 Artist Showcase Available On-Line:

The Loncon 3 Artist Showcase, with art and biographies of the artists in the Loncon 3 art show, is available at:

The Sharking Truth (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was watching a NOVA on preventing shark attacks. There a guy at the University of Kansas who has found a way to totally avoid white shark attacks. It comes down to one simple technique: don't leave Kansas. [-mrl]

My Top Ten Films of 2014 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Admittedly for the year 2014 I have had a harder time than usual picking films that I think are really good. With the year being over, I still have not seen any obvious frontrunners for Best Picture. I have looked at several critics' "Top Ten" lists and not only is there no consensus on what the leading films were, there is actually little overlap on "Top Ten" lists. I cannot think of any film that I expect will be on all or even most reviewers' or critics' "Top Ten" lists. We have no films that I consider are the stature of a 12 YEARS A SLAVE and certainly not a SCHINDLER'S LIST. My film critics' society has not been given as many screeners for consideration for awards than they did previous years. So admittedly there are films I have expected to be very good, like SELMA, that I cannot even find other reviewers who have seen it. That means the field is really wide open for awards Season. Whatever film gets Best Picture will have been a dark horse and a surprise.

Well, so here is what I saw that I liked. As usual, I will list them in the order of best to ... well ... quite good but not up to the best. And after the top ten I will include some honorable mention films.

Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the busiest actors in filmmaking. Here he 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--dealing in large part with using computers to break others' people's security could not have been more timely getting release at the time of the Sony hacking case. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

A film whose plot is nearly as twisted as the people the film is about. We get a thriller liberally salted with I-can't-believe-what-just-happened scenes. It is full of issues of conflict and has a stinging commentary on the current state of America media. For once the ads and publicity for the film tricks the viewer into thinking GONE GIRL is much more prosaic than the film actually is. David Fincher directs. Rosamund Pike (of DIE ANOTHER DAY) makes a stunning impression. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

Wes Anderson brings us a perfect little jewel of a film sending up Middle European culture of the era before and during WWII in a film that is funny and stylish. The film is a picture postcard come to life with incredible attention to scenic detail. Ralph Fiennes is wonderful as an ever-perfect hotel concierge. Wes Anderson, who wrote the screenplay and directed, makes the viewer feel the dialog is heading off into a cliché when he pulls the rug out under the viewer. There is an army of familiar actors in small parts. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

SF story with the depth and complexity of a science fiction novel. Christopher Nolan brings INTERSTELLAR to the screen, based on an original screenplay he wrote with his brother Jonathan. As the last-ditch effort for our dying civilization, a mission is sent through a wormhole to another galaxy in an effort to find an Earth-like planet to be a new home for humanity. No previous science fiction film has ever had the scope and span that this film has. It is surprising it all fits into a very tight 167 minutes. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

Back in the 1960s people could appreciate and enjoy scientific accounts of the space program even if they did not understand all the technicalities. PARTICLE FEVER is a science documentary for our time. The viewer does not need to have a scientific background to appreciate and enjoy this account of scientists trying to uncover the secrets of fundamental particles that could lead to a better understanding of the universe and its origins. The film follows six of the 10,000 scientists working for several years at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. They are trying to capture and find the mass of the Higgs Boson particle. For once we have a rarity, a documentary that is not depressing and not even overly political. Instead it suggests looking at the universe with a real sense of wonder. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

Two Mexican immigrants illegally cross the Mexican border into Arizona and are involved in an incident that leaves the wife of the ex-sheriff dead. The ex-sheriff (played by Ed Harris) begins his own investigation into the incident only to find that his successor is coming to very different conclusions about the evidence of the crime found. The film is reminiscent of LONE STAR. It is co-written and directed by Michael Berry. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

This film recounts the story of the 1864 Civil War battle of New Market. In Virginia this battle is remembered primarily because student-cadets from the nearby VMI were pressed into service to fight the battle with some laying down their lives. Sean McNamara directs a script by Thomas Farrell and Dave Kennedy. Some of the style is reminiscent of Ronald Maxwell's films GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

This is a spy story complicated and confusing but told with a real authenticity--in other words, a lot like any John le Carre spy story. Except this one takes place in the German equivalent of our CIA. This is an intelligent spy film and the last film this good that featured Philip Seymour Hoffman. The title refers to a Chechen/Russian who may be connected with terrorism rooted in the Muslim/Russian community in Hamburg. Hoffman gives an excellent performance as an all but defeated intelligence operative. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

A family all together for the last time gathers in a hospital where the father has requested to be taken off of life support. Writer and director Andrew Levitas examines death and life. The film has a powerhouse cast, perhaps more than was needed to make the drama work. But the drama is engaging with multiple plot lines. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Unexpectedly poignant and entertaining for a political documentary, this is a look at the story behind California Proposition 8 and the Supreme Court decision to overturn it and hence allow same-sex marriage in California. Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White could have looked more comprehensively at the actual law, but we do see the major players. The film is exhilarating and is a surprisingly stirring documentary about California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as being a pairing of a man and a woman, and The Defense of Marriage Act which on a Federal level denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The court struck down Proposition 8 and on the same day said that major portions of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional. A major part of the case made against each of these bills was crafted and presented by Ted Olson. The film opens with a very impressive sample of Olson's very clear reasoning. But the end of the film I found myself getting excited for the decision that I (and probably every viewer) knew was coming. HBO makes some very fine programs for their own broadcasting. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Honorable Mention

Each film rates high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10.

ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE If you have heard about the people who stay year-round at the South Pole, you must have thought they were crazy. This film directed and co-written by New Zealander Anthony Powell will confirm it. Be prepared for some absolutely spectacular photography of what looks like an alien world. Yes, there is penguin photography, but the most interesting creatures captured on film were the people. Powell's specialty is long time-lapse photographic shots. The filmmakers stayed 12 months at McMurdo Station and Scott Base filming what life was like for a full year including six months of the darkest night on earth. If you want to go, you can have any space reserved for me.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING Eddie Redmayne plays physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking in a performance painful to watch. Hawking suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the so-called Lou Gehrig's disease. The film spread itself among his life, his love life, and his science. The film is in large part about how his disease may have been a blessing in disguise, allowing his the time to concentrate and do his work. Sadly while the parts about how he did the research are unique, the story of his relationship with his wife is more prosaic. Anything that takes time away from the story of him and his science is disappointing.

THE SACRAMENT First the bad news. This is another found-footage horror film. But it is not JUST another horror film. It happens to be on a subject I find of special interest. It is written and directed by Ti West who directed HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS. It is no clear this should even be considered a horror film, inspired, as it is, by an actual incident. (I know that claim is made a lot for films like AMITYVILLE HORROR. But this one really did make international headlines.) There is more than a little of THE WICKER MAN in this film. This is a horror film that is more effective because it is not a fantasy. There are scenes that the cameraman would be likely to be able to film. I am not sure how the hand-held camera is able to be where it has to be. Gene Jones as Father is a charismatic and convincing talker.


Smart Thermostats (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

We were one of the first people to have a thermostat that could turn on the air conditioning a half-hour before we got home in the summer, back in 1974. And Mark built it from an alarm clock and a screwdriver.

Actually, what we had was one of those classic round thermostats, with a "slide switch" sticking out on the side. The switch was up for heat, middle for off, and down for air conditioning. So Mark tied one end of a string to the switch and the other to a small but heavy screwdriver. Then he got out old-fashioned travel alarm clock, where you wind it with a key, and when the alarm goes off, it uses the turning of the key to ring the bell. He wound the clock so the key was horizontal, set the alarm for 5:00, and set the screwdriver onto the key. Then we went to work.

At 5:00, the alarm went off, the key turned, the weight fell off, the string pulled the switch down, and voila! the air conditioning turned on.

Maybe he should have marketed it. [-ecl]

[The screwdriver fit through a hole at the base of the alarm-winding key. When the alarm went off the key turned so the screwdriver was then rotated and then pointed downward and gravity dumped it out over the side of the desk the clock was on. -mrl]

THE RUBY DICE by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2008 Baen, and copyright 2008 Recorded Books, 16 hours 58 minutes, narrated by Suzanne Toren) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):

The books in Catherine Asaro's "Saga of the Skolian Empire" series have been shifting in tone and direction for some time now. I've been listening to these novels in internal chronological order rather than publication order, and thus have been able to watch this story unfold in a way that readers who originally picked up the books may not have. The early novels gave us the background and the beginnings of the Skolian family as we know it, moved on to tell the stories of the children that eventually came to the forefront of the narrative--Soz, Kelric, Eldrinson, Althor, and others--and at the same time introducing us to the evil Eubian empire and the life of Aristos and Traders.

Somewhere in there, while I wasn't actively paying attention, Asaro got sneaky. She started letting us in on the life of the Aristos. We had seen how people in the Skolian Empire lived, but never really knew anything about the Eubian Empire, but that changed. Slowly but surely, we discovered that these evil, despicable folks had lives, concerns, and worries just like the Skolians--or us, for that matter. They were a people worried about their own future in the galaxy and how they would survive constant conflict with what they called the evil Skolian Empire. So maybe, just maybe, we started feeling a bit sympathetic toward them. Just a bit--not very much.

Oh, then Asaro made things get even twistier. She threw Soz and Jabriol II together on a planet and stranded them there for a goodly number of years. They fell in love and had children, for goodness' sake, and now there was the unthinkable. A Ruby psion that was heir to the Carnelian Throne, a man who could probably rightfully lay claim to the top spot in both empires. Yep, Asaro brought the two empires together in a way that was eventually going to get us to THE RUBY DICE.

I think it was inevitable that somewhere along the way in the Saga that Asaro would have the participating parties try to work out a peace agreement. But I jump ahead of myself.

THE RUBY DICE eventually gets to the point that I just mentioned via, of course, two separate but eventually related tales: Kelric, the Imperator of Skolia, and Jabriol III, the Emperor of Eube. Jabriol is the son of Soz and Jabriol II, conceived on the planet Prizm all those years ago, and Kelric is the brother of Soz. So yeah, Kelric is Jabriol's uncle. That just adds another weird twist of sorts that I wish was explored a bit more fully in the book, and maybe it will be in the next book in the series. But these individual tales are much more than about just these two men; they are about the empires those men are a part of, the political games that they and others play to keep their civilizations running and which eventually lead to the attempt to work out a peace agreement, and the women these men love.

Of COURSE this book has romance--it's a Skolian novel, for goodness' sake, although as I type that and look back at it I don't think it's really just a novel about the Skolian empire--and the women play a major part in the machinations that bring these two leaders together. Jabriol is married to the cunning and sneaky Tarquine, the Finance Minister of Eube who actually seems to love her husband and supports him, even though his desire for peace is completely opposite of what the Eubian Empire would want. She can be cold and calculating nearly in the same breath as she is loving and seductive.

Kelric has had many wives throughout the Saga, and two come into play here, the most prominent being Ixpar of Karn, from the planet Coba where Kelric was at first stranded, and then held captive for 18 years. As an aside, Asaro does a terrific job of tying up some loose ends here with Ixpar and another of Kelric's previous wives. It's almost as if Asaro is saying, "okay, let's get on with this, it's time to focus, people and move things forward".

THE RUBY DICE is a typical Skolian Saga story. Full of intrigue, political machinations, romance, and clandestine meetings. The story takes place in the Eubian Empire, the Skolian Empire, on Coba, and on Earth. There's not much action as we've come to see in the previous Skolian novels. Most of the conflict is of the political variety, and most of the action is displayed in the political chess playing that takes place throughout the entire book. It is certainly the longest book in the series to date, and it just might be the most complex and ambitious of the lot. It accomplishes a great deal with respect to the story line, but yet leaves so much more to be told. This is one of the better, if not the best--Nebula winning THE QUANTUM ROSE notwithstanding--in the series. I highly recommend it.

The narrator, Suzanne Toren, leaves me puzzled. She is yet another in a series of narrators for the books in this series, and it is getting to be a bit of an issue. It seems clear that newer narrators have not gone back and listened to prior books in the series, nor is there a sort of "pronunciation bible" for all the terms. The pronunications vary from book to book, and it is getting somewhat annoying. The most jarring one, for example, is the pronunciation of Tarquine. Toren pronounces it Tar-queen, while prior narrators pronounced it Tar-keen. Which is it? [-jak]

ECHOPRAXIA by Peter Watts (copyright 2014, Tor, 352pp Kindle Edition, e-book ISBN 978-1-4299-4806-7, hardcover ISBN 978-0-7653-2802-1) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

Uh, yeah. ECHOPRAXIA. Heck I do NOT even know where to begin here. Well, maybe I do. Crud, then again, maybe I don't. In looking back at my review of BLINDSIGHT, the predecessor to ECHOPRAXIA, while it says many of the same things I feel about the current novel, I can't quite pin down a way to use those words to describe what's going on here.

One thing that is common between the two books is that I went to Wikipedia to look up the meaning of ECHOPRAXIA (much like I did for the meaning of BLINDSIGHt over seven years ago. It tells me this:

Echopraxia (also known as echokinesis) is the involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions.

The definition goes into more detail, of course, but the defintion I quote above can give us quite a nightmare when we think about exactly what it can imply.

Heck, I'm rambling, probably because I don't know quite where to begin. So maybe the logical place, the beginning, will do. The story takes place not long after the events of BLINDSIGHT near the end of the 21st century. The Earth is more than a bit messed up from the things we would expect: scarcity of resources, ravaging of natural resources, etc. Most people have mods implanted in them to help them perform various tasks--the total population of naturals is very small. One of these people is Danial Bruks (and if I could put the umlaut over the u it would be more accurate), a "natural" biologist who is out collecting samples in the desert one evening when he gets caught in the crossfire between an unseen attacker and an alliance of Transhuman Bicamerals and a vampire and her zombie hoard. You may remember the vampires and zombies from BLINDSIGHT. These are certainly not our friendly, neighborhood sparkly vampires, nor are they Dracula like--no they are much much worse. They are creatures who are actually extinct but were brought back to live, much to the dismay of most of the living creatures that come into contact with them. You may remember, also, that the vampires, and our vampire in particular, Valerie, ingest drugs that make it tolerable for them to be in the presence of right angles (yes, BLINDSIGHT gave us a scientific explanation for the Crucifix Effect). Transhuman Bicamerals are severely modified humans who together form a hive mind. These Bicamerals can barely, if at all, function as normal human beings, and certainly can't communicate normally. They need modified humans to understand their gibberish and physical gyrations and who translate that information for the rest of humanity. The Bicamerals are brilliant and hold something like a gazillion patents.

Bruks, the Bicamerals, Valerie and her zombies, and a few other folks head out in a spaceship to visit Icarus, a space station which, among other things, provides a not insignificant portion of humanity with its energy supply. It is there that they discover an entity that effectively changes the course of the novel as well as the life of Dan Bruks.

Like BLINDSIGHT, this is a difficult novel to describe. On one hand, it is yet another Singularity story, although it seems just a tad different than most of the other Singularity stories, in that it is not the technology that changes so fast that we can no longer comprehend it--it is ourselves. It is a wonderful discussion on science versus faith (note that I did not say religion--that is a related but different argument, I think), with not just the usual arguments that go back and forth during our time, but the contention that even science can be relied upon too heavily, and in fact is yet another kind of faith. The followers of the Bicamerals think of them almost as gods, and Bruks is skeptical because after all, how can anyone actually understand what they're saying or communicating? There's no evidence--other than the aforementioned patents, for example--that anything they say is real and accurate. Lianne, a Bicameral follower and the closest person to a love interest that Bruks has in the story, tells Bruks he must take the Bicamerals on faith, while later in the novel Bruks says her only crime was faith.

In the end, there are a ton of ideas in this book, and Watts writing and storytelling style are marvelous in engaging the reader to want to know more about what's going on with all this stuff. And, as with BLINDSIGHT, Watts provides an in depth and detailed Notes and References section, which includes *140* footnotes to support his statements. Most, if not all, of these footnotes are hyperlinked in the e-book edition so if you're really curious about his research for the book, you can follow along and read up on it yourself if you like.

Another thing I find refreshing about Watts' writing, both here and in the short story collection I reviewed earlier this year, "Beyond the Rift", is that Watts doesn't assume his readers are idiots. Rather, he assumes they are intelligent and can understand and make intuitive and logical leaps without being spoonfed everything. He challenges the reader to put on a thinking cap and work through the clues he's put into the narrative. All of which says that this is not your typical beach reading (I think I said that about "Beyond the Rift", too). You'll be challenged by ECHOPRAXIA, and you'll be the better for it.

I think it's just as well that I didn't go into too much detail about the plot of the novel. I think it's best that you read for yourself and make discoveries along the way. And just how does the title relate to the book? Look in the mirror. [-jak]

NASA and TIME FOR THE STARS (comments by Dale L. Skran):

The latest TIME cover (Dec. 29, 2014 issue) features a picture of Astronaut Scott Kelly to illustrate a story titled "Mission Twinpossible." The Kelly brothers are both astronauts. One, Mark, is retired, but Scott will be spending a year on the International Space Station to allow for a comparison study of the human body--one in Earth and one in Space. The data gathered will support future deep space missions, including trips to Mars.

Well-informed SF fans will immediately spot a parallel with the plot of Heinlein's TIME FOR THE STARS which featured another pair of space-separated twins. Their telepathy is used to maintain communications between an interstellar "torchship" and Earth. NASA has not yet mastered telepathy, but this is certainly a case of life imitating art, and another notch in the belt of RAH. [-dls]

Orion, Pluto Flyby, Ceres Probe, Rosetta Probe (letter of comment by Jim Susky):

In response to Greg Frederick's comments on various spacecraft in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

Thanks go to Gregory Frederick in the 12/19/14 MT VOID about the upcoming Ceres and Pluto probes and the Orion test flight, which is scheduled to be followed by another test in 2018. I'd heard of a plurality of Plutonian satellites (apparently Charon is not alone) but not that the current count is five.

(BTW when did Pluto get re-designated from Plutoid to Dwarf Planet?)

The Wikipedia entry for Ceres:

indicates that the Dawn probe will orbit that Dwarf Planet (promoted from "asteroid") in three successively closer orbits with instruments blazing.

I remain underwhelmed by current nationalized efforts at manned space travel. No doubt this is a consequence of being a "space kid" during the unprecedentedly successful (yet truncated) Apollo Program. I have long held that if the Soviets had been first or a close second in the Moon Race, we would soon (by 1980) have had something like an actual space infra-structure.

This contrasts, of course, with current private Virgin/Branson and SpaceX/Musk developments on relatively modest budgets.

I think it was on a recent NPR Science Friday that a guest noted that the time between the first Apollo test and the moon landing was about two years. Heady times in the late 1960s.

Bottom line--I pay little attention to manned space flight.

Unmanned space exploration is another matter altogether.

When I heard this fall of Rosetta, the European mission to "land" on a comet, I was struck by the degree of difficulty involved with making a lander "stick" to such a low mass object as a comet. A little searching uncovered that the probe had taken more than ten years and several fly-by's to get a close velocity match at close proximity (30km) to that chunk of "dirt and ice". This seemed like the mother of all minimum-energy trajectories.

A little more searching uncovered the gravitational constant, the estimated comet mass (3-billion metric tons) and the suitable circular orbit formula. A circular orbit is not really suitable since I doubt that there was any reason to go for a circle (though Dr. Benford may wish to comment). It's main advantage is that it's readily computed to get an idea how "fast" the orbit would have to be--or how slow, relative to a post-operative, convalescent stroll using a walker--or the fabled snail (without butter and/or garlic).

I came up with an orbital velocity = 7200 meters/day.

Speed of a Snail:

Excluding "a large banana slug" it appears that snails display a wide range of speeds ranging from a lethargic 75 meters/day to a downright vigorous 1100 meters/day.

So the orbiter would settle in at something like 6.5 to 100 times a "snails pace"--an impressive accomplishment, especially given that "real time" corrections are not available at greater than one light-hour away from Earth.

I imagine similarly small values attach to the comet's escape velocity, so it was no surprise to hear that the lander "bounced" a few times before resting in the shadow it ended up in--and not on its feet.

I suppose if asked "do I support unmanned or manned space missions?" I would say "YES!". Then I wake up, find that no one is asking, mutter that unmanned missions offer much more bang for the buck, and go back to sleep.

Best Regards (and Happy New Year)

Thanks Again for Frederick's update. [-js]

And later Jim writes:

An update for the Rosetta mission may be found here:

It seems that the exact position of the lander is unknown. Doubt remains about whether it will revive in upcoming months. Meanwhile the orbiter will approach to within 6 km on Valentine's Day--permitting better images and spectroscopy. Further fly-bys will ensue, details for which will be "determined by the activity of the comet".

A detailed comment indicates that that surface is not sublimating and that no ice has been discovered. However, some vapor has been detected: "Ptolomy [sic] indicates that h2o is in the atmosphere just above the ground" and: "Comet activity Flared up briefly while still very far from the sun, and before Rosetta had caught up with it". [-js]

Bess Myerson and Kitty Carlisle (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Evelyn's comments on BIRDMAN in the 01/02/15 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

You may not know who Bess Myerson and Kitty Carlisle were ("famous for being famous") but Myerson was the first Jewish Miss America and Carlisle was a nightclub singer and actress who did a few movies including, notably, "A Night at the Opera." Viewers of '60s eras shows they were on would have been familiar with that. [-dmk]

Evelyn responds:

I know who Bess Myerson and Kitty Carlisle were, but being a Miss America is (IMHO) being famous for being famous. And Kitty Carlisle's acting career was fairly limited--I was a viewer of the 1960s television shows, and I was not familiar with it.

And synchronistically, Bess Myerson's death on December 14, 2014, was just announced this week. [-ecl]

FOREVER (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Paul Dormer, Kevin R, and Jette Goldie):

In response to Dale Skran's television review of FOREVER in the 01/02/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

[Re the immortality of Morgan in FOREVER] There can only be one! Sorry but someone had to say this. [-pc]

Paul Dormer replies:

Indeed, there was a reference to HIGHLANDER in the last episode shown over here. (I know someone who won't watch FOREVER because he thinks of it as a HIGHLANDER rip-off. Never saw HIGHLANDER myself and am enjoying FOREVER.) [-pd]

Kevin R adds:

When FOREVER was announced, the squawk was that it was too similar to the novel [ObSF] of the same name by Pete Hamill.*

All owe something to The Wandering Jew and The Flying Dutchman and other such myths, I'm thinking. [-kr]

Paul Dormer replies:

Reminds me that back in 2013, the Doctor Who serial The Enemy of the World was re-discovered after having been missing. I remember seeing this when it was first broadcast, starting just before Christmas 1967.

Shortly after this, I got out of our local library THE PENULTIMATE TRUTH by Philip K. Dick and was struck by similarities in the plot. Both involve a world dictator who keeps a group of people living in underground bunkers by telling them that the surface has been ravaged by atomic war and is uninhabitable, even though things are now normal.

The book was published in 1963, so it's possible that the "Who" writer David Whitaker could have read it, but Dick was not well known then. [-pd]

Jette Goldie writes:

HIGHLANDER was ...deeper. FOREVER--so far--has been mostly 'fluff', though there is room for more development. If it gets the chance.

Forever is sort of "Highlander meets Sherlock meets Bones".

Others said it is a rip off of "New Amsterdam"--perhaps because it's set in NYC. [-jg]

Paul Dormer replies:

I heard that, although I don't recall ever seeing that. Did it get shown over here? [-pd]

Kevin R replies:


FOREVER by Hamill: 2003
FOREVER by ABC on TV: 2014

Hamill's protagonist can't leave the island of Manhattan, so that is one distinguishing feature. [-kr]

THE MENTALIST (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Paul Dormer, Kevin R, Jette Goldie, Tim Bateman, and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Dale Skran's television review of THE MENTALIST in the 01/02/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

As far as I know, there are no science-fictional nor supernatural elements in THE MENTALIST. Please enlighten me. [-pc]

Paul Dormer replies:

Reminds me that when this started, someone pointed out the similarities to PSYCH, and PSYCH now often mentions THE MENTALIST.

For some reason, the Scifi/Syfy channel over here did show the first couple of seasons of PSYCH in re-runs, presumably because they though he was a real psychic. [-pd]

Kevin R adds:

See The New York Daily News, for whom Hamill wrote:

Loved the book, BTW. [-kr]

Jette Goldie writes:

The character in THE MENTALIST has a history of making his living as a "psychic" and now that he admits that this was all a con, sometimes his insights seem almost too good--even his colleagues sometimes wonder. [-jg]

Kevin R responds:

Patrick has been teaching cold reading tricks to Teresa.

BTW, I don't know if this is a guilty pleasure, but a young Robin Tunney was in "Empire Records," (1995) along with a young Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, etc. Perhaps as late as you can get where working in a record store was the "cool job." At the time, I was working in bookstores, another "cool job." Digital distribution was still on the horizon: we were trying to fight Barnes & Noble and Borders, with Amazon just starting to be noticed. Quite a few similarities (author/artist appearances, family business v chains) in the plot resonated with my real life experiences. [-kr]

Tim Bateman adds:

It did occur to me a couple of years ago that Jane's abilities are practically a super-power, the equivalent of Batman's abilities as a detective, athlete and anything else he does, or Green Arrow's archery skills. [-tb]

Kevin R answers:

Patrick is in a long line of non-supers whose human abilities are so refined that they seem like superpowers. I'd put Sherlock Holmes at the head of that list, of course based on the real life physician Joseph Bell. If his talents were in hand-to-hand combat rather than "mentalism," I'd rate him as a "bad-ass normal." [-kr]

Keith F. Lynch notes:

ObSF: How fake psychics can fool people is well shown in James Hogan's CODE OF THE LIFEMAKER and its sequel THE IMMORTALITY OPTION. Hogan had some bizarre beliefs, but at least he never fell for psychic powers. [-kfl]

FILTH (letters of comments by Paul Dormer and Steve Coltrin):

In response to Mark Leeper's review of FILTH in the 01/02/15 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

Are you aware that "the filth" is a slang term for the police? [-pd]

Mark replies:

No, but it makes sense. [-mrl]

Steve Coltrin adds:

Having enjoyed the film, I can say that its title works on both levels. [-sc]

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

I finished WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Aylmer and Rose Maude) (ISBN 1978-1-853-26062-9) and have a few more comments to add to those of last week.

On Russian names: One needs to remember that Prince Andrew, Andrew Nikolayevich, Andrew, Andrusha, and Bolkonski are all the same person. Yes, it's true in English we could have Philip Jose Farmer referred to as "Phil" or as "Mr. Farmer", but it is unlikely that he would also be called "Philip" and "Philip Jose".

One also needs to remember that Andrew Nikolayevich Bolkonski's sister is Mary Nikolayevna Bolkonskaya.

The Maude translation (1923) is highly regarded, but uses Westernized versions of all the names: Andrew instead of Andrey, Mary instead of Maria, Sonia instead of Sofia, Helene instead of Elena, and so on. Since the modern convention is to leave the names as Tolstoy wrote them (transliterated, of course) this makes it even more complicated. For example, if one is using a plot summary or study guide, one needs to recognize that the person it calls "Prince Andrey Bolkonsky" is "Prince Andrew Bolkonski" in the Maude translation.

(Given the retention of patronymic and family names, the use of Westernized given names seems a bit peculiar. "Nikolayevich" means "son of Nikolai"--why then give the father's name as "Nicholas"?)

One does not think of WAR AND PEACE as containing humor, but there are definitely humorous sections. For example, in Book XIII, Chapter IX, Tolstoy describes all the "wonderful" things Napoleon did:

"With the object of raising the spirits of the troops and of the people, reviews were constantly held and rewards distributed. The Emperor rode through the streets to comfort the inhabitants, and, despite his preoccupation with state affairs, himself visited the theaters that were established by his order.

In regard to philanthropy, the greatest virtue of crowned heads, Napoleon also did all in his power. He caused the words Maison de ma Mere to be inscribed on the charitable institutions, thereby combining tender filial affection with the majestic benevolence of a monarch. He visited the Foundling Hospital and, allowing the orphans saved by him to kiss his white hands, graciously conversed with Tutolmin. Then, as Thiers eloquently recounts, he ordered his soldiers to be paid in forged Russian money which he had prepared: 'Raising the use of these means by an act worthy of himself and of the French army, he let relief be distributed to those who had been burned out. But as food was too precious to be given to foreigners, who were for the most part enemies, Napoleon preferred to supply them with money with which to purchase food from outside, and had paper rubles distributed to them.'"

And in Second Epilogue, Chapter I, he writes:

"Instead of men endowed with divine authority and directly guided by the will of God, modern history has given us either heroes endowed with extraordinary, superhuman capacities, or simply men of very various kinds, from monarchs to journalists, who lead the masses. Instead of the former divinely appointed aims of the Jewish, Greek, or Roman nations, which ancient historians regarded as representing the progress of humanity, modern history has postulated its own aims--the welfare of the French, German, or English people, or, in its highest abstraction, the welfare and civilization of humanity in general, by which is usually meant that of the peoples occupying a small northwesterly portion of a large continent."

Sarcasm is not dead.

Many years after the end of the Vietnam War, General Frederick C. Weyand wrote, "But America's fighting forces did not fail us. 'You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,' I told my North Vietnamese counterpart during negotiations in Hanoi a week before the fall of Saigon. He pondered that remark a moment and then replied, 'That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.'"

But in Book XIV, Chapter XIX, Tolstoy writes:

"If the aim of the Russians consisted in cutting off and capturing Napoleon and his marshals--and that aim was not merely frustrated but all attempts to attain it were most shamefully baffled--then this last period of the campaign is quite rightly considered by the French to be a series of victories, and quite wrongly considered victorious by Russian historians.

The Russian military historians in so far as they submit to claims of logic must admit that conclusion, and in spite of their lyrical rhapsodies about valor, devotion, and so forth, must reluctantly admit that the French retreat from Moscow was a series of victories for Napoleon and defeats for Kutuzov.

But putting national vanity entirely aside one feels that such a conclusion involves a contradiction, since the series of French victories brought the French complete destruction, while the series of Russian defeats led to the total destruction of their enemy and the liberation of their country."

(For that matter, I think it is argued that Hannibal never lost a battle in Italy, nor Spain in the Netherlands, but ultimately both lost their wars.)

The Second Epilogue, Chapters IX-XII, is an excellent discussion of freedom (The Great Man Theory) and necessity (determinism, the Tide of History Theory). One observation Tolstoy makes that I have not seen before is that something what seems like the doings of a single individual at the time or even a few years later will, after centuries, seem as inevitable in the tide of history. At the time of the Crusades, the actions that occurred seemed the result of the decisions of a few Popes and kings; now we see them as the result of factors such as primogeniture driving younger sons to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. Ancient migrations may have seemed to depend on the tribal leader, but we no longer even remember his name and attribute them to weather, or a famine, or the encroachment of other tribes. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, 
          and to turn around three times before lying down.
                                          --Robert Benchley

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