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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/06/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 32, Whole Number 1844
Table of Contents
Starting with Varan ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Ever notice that in a Toho science fiction film a quadruped is an animal that crawls on its hands and knees? [-mrl]
SF Film Retrospective (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A nice retrospective of science fiction films showed up at:
(I recognized all but about six.) [-mrl]
Arthur C. Clarke's Predictions for 2010:
Arthur C. Clarke's Predictions for 2010, made in 2001:
[Yes, that is the correct URL.]
A Young Mark Leeper Thinks about Politics (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Back when I was a freshman in high school I was fascinated with different political systems. Perhaps it was inspired by a feeling of powerlessness in my personal life. I guess my family had the usual sorts of sibling disagreements in our house. And I took the lessons I learned and let them influence my political philosophy. [Disclaimer: The people in these stories are not really my family. It is just easier to describe the situations as if they were. It makes them feel more personal to the reader. Any similarity to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. And besides, we buried the hatchet long ago. [And the people involved know who they are.]]
Okay, for an example, on Friday night we could watch the TV show WAY OUT, which had weird stories from the pen of Roald Dahl or in the same time slot we could watch 77 SUNSET STRIP, which featured then-callow heartthrob Ephrem Zimbalist, Jr. You can guess which side of the conflict I was on. Actually, my brother and I both wanted WAY OUT, but my sister argued it was two programs. We should alternate weeks. And somehow that reasoning won out. I could have complained, but it would do no good. In our house you didn't make trouble. It was forbidden, like white shoes after Yom Kippur.
Another disagreement was the towel rack controversy. There were three of us--I won't say who the three were--who each had a towel rack in the bathroom. Two of the towel racks were high and dry outside the shower, but my towel was in the shower where it often would be wet when I wanted to use it. Often I would find my washcloth was used and would be dripping and cold when I wanted to shower. I tried to convince my parents that the towel rack assignments should rotate. I should get the shower towel rack only four months of the year. That seemed to me to be entirely reasonable. But the other two involved were perfectly happy with the status quo. Me being the youngest, they had seniority. After all, their towels and washcloths stayed nice and dry until they were ready to use them. My parents did not want to change how we did things. Needless to say, I lost again. My mother comforted me by saying that when [one of the others] went off to college I could get her towel rack. That did not seem fair to me. It meant I could get a dry towel rack only when there was nobody else who wanted it.
I took these arguments and what I thought then were unjust resolutions and forged the experience into a political theory. Majority rule at first seemed to be the most just. That meant that the system that has the greatest number of people happy with the decisions is a pure democracy. If you have a decision to be made then everybody votes on it. Whatever decision is made is the one that the most people wanted.
I thought that sounded good until I tried applying it to the towel rack issue. In a family of five, 80% chose having Mark shutting up and suffering in silence. No, I did not want a system in which the majority always got their way. (This is very reminiscent of the Ursula K. LeGuin story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Nobody in my family walked away from Omelas. EVER. I can tell you that.)
After a little thought I decided that the ideal political system was one for which if you are part of an interest group that is 25% of the population then you should get your way 25% of the time.
I discussed this with my father who immediately dubbed this political system "Mark's Ism." Ha Ha. However, someone, perhaps it was my father, also told me that the system would never work. First of all the population that agrees with me might change from one vote to the next. You could never administer such a system.
Now at the time I was not really knowledgeable about political systems, but I was already going through my mathematical enlightenment. I figured a way that if an interest group made up P% of the population they would get their way P% of the time. This would still work from one vote to the next. If you want to match wits with my young self, think how you might implement such a system. HOW *WOULD* YOU MANAGE SUCH A SYSTEM?
I WILL GIVE YOU A LITTLE LONGER TO THINK ABOUT IT.
OKAY, TIME IS UP.
The way my system would work would be to pick one citizen totally at random and just accept his decision. In the case of the TV program my brother and I would constitute two thirds of the voters and picking one of the three of us at random would mean that the two times out of three WAY OUT would win. On the other hand I would get the dry towel rack only 20% of the time. But then I am just 20% of the involved public.
I wonder if this was how Karl Marx got started. [-mrl]
Londinium in CMDIV A.C. (convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In 2012 I was scheduled to be on a panel at Philcon titled "Londinium Wins the Worldcon in A.D. 201", but was unable to attend due to Hurricane Sandy. However, I had written up some ideas and hate to see them wasted, so ...
The description read as follows: "This began as a typo for "London in 2014" but we began to wonder what would happen in some alternate universe if there really was a "science fiction" convention in Roman Britain in the 9th year of the reign of Septimius Severus, i.e. A.D. 201. Lucian of Samosata as guest of honor? Tasteful orgies in the con suite? What would you look for in the huckster room? A signed Apuleius? An old copy of MARVELOUS THINGS BEYOND THULE? What good is our erudition if we can't use it frivolously at times like this? So, just imagine an early 3rd Century Worldcon. Complete with useful hints for the time-traveler on such matters as money, clothing, accommodations, and not accidentally changing history."
Londinium in CMDIV A.C. (convention report):
It had been fifty years since Apuleius (THE GOLDEN ASS) died, and someone was suggesting awarding the "Puleii".
There had been a lot of debate about membership classes, but eventually the Committee decided that these would be Citizen, Provincial, and Chattel. In an attempt to get some diversity, Provincials who had to travel more than 400 leagues were given half off their memberships. The concern was not about paying for the convention--that would be covered by all the nobility paying for various events, and naturally they would all try to out-do each other. But there was a real issue of whether there would be some recognition of different levels of citizens. But when a couple of senators said that having their names attached to events they were sponsoring was sufficient, that settled it. The convention did ask that those who came with several slaves to lend them to the convention to do the menial work involved.
(This led people to ask if the coliseum chosen was really ready for such a convention. There was plenty of room for the lectures, panels, and so on by dividing up the seating areas (which could hold to 6000 for events like the opening and closing ceremonies, though the lack of sound barriers was a problem that future conventions in Britannia should be aware of. The interior areas were fine for the Market and Statuary Area, but a lot of the attendees who were on a budget objected to the cheapest accommodations being the underground gladiatorial cells. In fact, some of the last to request rooms ended up in cleaned-out animal cages!)
There were the usual religious ceremonies, invoking the gods, including Mithras, but the few Christians at L-con kept a very low profile due to restrictive laws about conversion.
People were discussing the latest scientific books: Ptolemy's "Almagest and Geography" (CMIV A.C.) and Galen's medical treatments (CMXLIV A.C.). Copies of these, along with Apuleius as well as other classics, were being commissioned in the Market but how long the copying would take was not clear. There were also various types of Greek and Persian armor for the costumers doing historical fiction skits. Darius of the Helvetii was there as always, with his supply of ancient coins of all types. And of course, there were the usual sorts of spoils from the Sack of Byzantium.
Programming ran from mid-morning to sundown, with a long dinner break at mid-day. There was also the usual banquet and Virgil Drinking Game (the rhapsodist recites Virgil's "Aeneid" and whenever he comes to a simile, everyone drinks). As far as regular programming, there was a panel titled "Where Is My Aeolipile?" discussing why some predictions and inventions never seemed to be developed. Another panel speculated on various artifacts of the gods, such as the magical device rumored to have been lost in a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera. The "Other Worlds" panel covered all the usual places: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Thule, and so on.
One of the scriptores suggested that someone should write take inspiration from Gaius Iulius Caesar's "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" and write three stories, one set in the land of the Nelgae, one in the land of the Aquitani, and one in the land of the Gauls. Several people suggested the scriptor was just trying to create more business for himself by suggesting such a "trilogia" and it was a bad idea.
And some Briton named Arthur moderated a panel about the year MMI A.C.
It had been five years since Princips Septimius Severus sacked Byzantium, and two of the legionnaires of that campaign were on a panel about the future of warfare. (They were listed as Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, but someone told me those were just their badge names.)
Someone had suggested Lucian of Samosata as guest of honor, but this was not likely--he died ten years ago.
There was much debate over the location of the next Worldcon in four years, with Carthage and Athens the main contenders. There was also a "Byzantium in CMLIX" bid, but it was pretty much considered an attempt by residents of that city to get their economy going again. Due to the time required to collect the ballots from the various corners of the Empire, the results will not be known for several months. [-ecl]
Ceres, Pluto, and Nuclear Spacecraft Engines (comments by Gregory Frederick):
In March, the NASA Dawn spacecraft will arrive at Ceres (at 600 miles across, it's the largest asteroid in the Asteroid belt). Dawn had previously orbited Vesta another asteroid in the belt and using its Ion Drive engine it has been traveling to Ceres. Ceres is so large that its gravity has caused it to be spherical. No one has really seen its surface in any good detail so this will be really interesting. In July, NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft will fly by Pluto. This will also be very interesting since again no one has ever seen its surface either. Even the space based Hubble telescope cannot acquire a good image of either minor planet. They are too dark and small for the Hubble to image correctly. Pluto is also the farthest away of the original nine planets of our Solar System.
NASA has been re-developing nuclear engines for future spacecraft to use. They were working on nuclear engines in the 1950s-1970s but stopped because funding ended. Here is a quote from an article: "Metallurgical Laboratory and Los Alamos National Lab developed an early nuclear-thermal design that used a fission reactor to super-heat hydrogen gas which would then escape through a small nozzle to generate thrust. Since nuclear fuel is about 107 times more energy dense than their chemical counterparts and similarly powerful rockets would weigh only about half as much, nuclear-thermal rockets (NTRs) can carry load to fuel ratios from 1:1 to as high as 7:1 especially when used as the upper stage." A nuclear engine could cut the travel time to Mars in half. [-gf]
I had always hoped in my lifetime that humans could get far enough out that some of these sights could even be seen first hand. Sadly, the answer is probably not. But we still can send proxies like the Dawn. Somehow the science fiction I read as a kid never communicated to me how big and how sparse our solar system is. But at least we will get some good close ups of Pluto and Ceres.
I seem to remember some talk about nuclear engines a long time ago, but thought that at the time they had decided they would subject the crew to too much radiation. I assume they have found a way to lick that problem. [-mrl]
OF MICE AND MEN (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on OF MICE AND MEN in the 01/30/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Here's Burgess Meredith and Anthony Quinn in a touching 1950s radio adaptation of OF MICE AND MEN (from "Best Plays"). It's in an hour-long slot. One of the presenters, a Mr. Chapman, sounds rather like Pat Paulsen.
I link to the page it's on instead of right to the file. This gives anyone who clicks over a choice of formats, as well as a list of other shows that should tempt someone. (They have ARSENIC AND OLD LACE with Boris Karloff and Donald Cook, plus Jean Adair and Edgar Staley from the original cast.) I don't see any SF on this particular page. BLITHE SPIRIT is fantasy, though. [-kw]
OF MICE AND MEN is something of a find for me. I do a lot of exploring of audio stuff in archive.org, but I had not seen the Best Plays. Lux Radio Theater has a bunch of film adaptations including some like WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
I may give a listen to ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, but there are at least three adaptation of that around on archive from different radio programs. Best Plays has several plays I might like to try. MR ROBERTS is pretty good. They also have an adaptation of ANGEL STREET, probably better known as GASLIGHT.
Thanks. I really appreciate the heads-up. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE TALE OF THE UNKNOWN ISLAND by Jose Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN 978-0-15-100595-6) is not a novel, or even a novella or novelette. At slightly over 7000 words, it is a short story, padded out with some minimalist drawings by Peter Sis, and made thick enough by having the book's dimensions smaller than usual. I have nothing against publishing short works stand-alone--I just want to make sure you know what it is.
This was a 1978 work that was not translated into English until 1999, the year after Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature, and one suspects it was published to capitalize on that, since Saramago's next novel was not published in Portuguese until 2000, and in translation until 2002. Certainly it is a very lightweight piece.
THE LIVES OF THINGS by Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero) (ISBN 978-1-84467-878-5) was first published in 1978, but not translated until 1994. Part of the reason may be the difficulties in getting a non-Portuguese audience to appreciate the stories, in particular "The Chair".
"The Chair" tells the story of a chair, its substance eaten away by beetles (referred to only by their order, Coleoptera). The occupant of the chair is killed by the collapse, when his head hits the floor and that causes a brain hemorrhage. As with the beetles, Saramago is very circuitous about describing the person, and only if you know that Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was the dictator of Portugal from 1932 to 1968, when he was reported to have suffered a brain hemorrhage when his chair collapsed, do you know who and what Saramago is writing about. In reality, Salazar was not killed by the fall. However, he was not expected to survive and so was replaced as head of state. When he did recover consciousness, his aides could not bring themselves to tell him he had been replaced, so they let him "rule" in private until his death two years later.
(I say "reported" because recent testimony indicates Salazar might have fallen in his bath instead of having a chair collapse--apparently falling in one's bath was considered too undignified for a way for the country's leader to have died.)
"Embargo" is a nifty little horror story centering around the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, which targeted the Netherlands, South Africa, and Portugal, as well as the United States. Here, at least, the long queues at petrol stations and signs indicating no petrol will be comprehensible to American readers, even if their presence in Portugal may come as a surprise. Something about this reminds me of the atmosphere of Thomas M. Disch's "Descending", with its feeling of the inevitability of events and the control of machinery over us.
"Reflux" is almost a companion piece to Saramago's later work, DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS. Both deal with death: "Reflux" is about the attempt to avoid any reminder of death, while DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS is what would happen if there actually were no death. In addition, in "Reflux" there is an economic boom as all industries are conscripted into the effort to "hide" death, while in DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS several sectors suffer an economic collapse because of what has happened.
"Things" is another story about the treacherousness of inanimate objects, though in a very different way. "Embargo" and "Things" are very early examples of the "fantastika" (to use John Clute's term) of Saramago. Neither "Embargo" nor "Things" would seem at all out of place in a magazine such as THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. But as I have often said (possibly to the level of tediousness), Saramago is an author whose works are almost all science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and who has won a Nobel Prize to boot, yet is almost entirely unknown to genre science fiction readers.
"The Centaur" was a elegiac tale of the last centaur, but in my opinion it suffered because of the title. It begins with passages such as, "The horse was thirsty. He approached the stream which seemed quite still beneath the night sky, and as his front hooves met the cool water, he lay down sideways on the ground. Resting one shoulder on the rough sand, the man drank at his leisure despite feeling no thirst." It is not until six pages in that Saramago's prose finally reveals that the man and the horse are one ("two persons, one substance"?--shades of Tertullian/Tertuliano), but the title gives it away from the start. (And, yes, the title was the same in Portuguese.)
I cannot think of anything to say about the last story, "Revenge", because it seemed to have no purpose, but I felt I should mention it just for completeness' sake.
So six stories, four of which are horror or fantasy--and noticed by no one in the field. We complain that people in the mainstream do not recognize us, but we are not exactly perfect in this regard either. [-ecl]
[Mark notes: I see that Tor Books wrote about Saramago at their web site a few years back. See http://tinyurl.com/tor-saramago. --mrl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. --Bertrand RussellTweet
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