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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/08/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 45, Whole Number 1857
Table of Contents
A Short SF Film Shot in Bell Labs Holmdel :
The third film in a nine-part series: "Future Relic 03" by Daniel Arsham, starring Juliette Lewis:
LoneStarCon 3 Convention Report Available :
Evelyn's report for LoneStarCon 3 (Worldcon 2013) is available at http://leepers.us/evelyn/conventions/lonestarcon3.htm. It will undoubtedly migrate to fanac.org at some point. [-ecl]
Locus Award Finalists Announced :
McCoy's Racist Outbursts in STAR TREK (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the March 13 issue I asked, "Am I the only one who is irritated by the original STAR TREK's attitude about racism?" It involved McCoy's racial taunts of Spock.
Jim Susky responded, "Taken in isolation, the insults in that episode might be considered "offensive," but taken over 78 episodes and subsequent films it becomes clear that Bones loves Spock as much as any human. "How do you know when men are really close? It's when they casually insult each other. I was reminded of this last week when hanging out with friends at Spring Training in Phoenix. Some of these friendships go back fifty years to grade school. No one tells 'jokes' in the standard sense--all they need do is tell stories--usually insulting, uncomplimentary ones--and the hilarity ensues."
Jim may run with a different crowd than I do, but when my friends get together there are no racial taunts at all. In fact if I exclude dramatic media it has been decades since I have heard a genuine racial taunt. I would go further and say that outside of dramatic media it has been decades since I have heard a man make a negative sexist comment. I will admit that I have heard and read women making negative sexist comments about men. In my area you still see bumper stickers that say things like "Grow your own dope. Plant a man." Some women seem to enjoy an asymmetric privilege.
I agree there is certainly a difference between kidding and bad-natured insults. And there is also intended-good-natured kidding that is taken negatively and seriously.
Most of the public seems to consider the original series of STAR TREK anti-racist and anti-sexist. That is easy to do. The series boasted having Uhura, a continuing black character. And she took part in what is (falsely) claimed to be the first inter-racial kiss on American television. That took place in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren," and was a kiss between Kirk and Uhura. The network claimed that it was not really a kiss since the script called for it to be forced against Kirk's and Uhura's will and hence Kirk and Uhura did not really kiss. But under the two characters were indeed two actors of different race and they actually did physically kiss. At least they did according to Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura; William Shatner claims their lips never actually touched. The story is recounted (rather amusingly) at
They make a case that there was no inter-racial kiss there at all and the first one was really between Sammy Davis Jr. and Nancy Sinatra.
As I said the series takes place in the 23rd century when most racism has been overcome by most of the human race. The message of the episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" was that when inter-racial hatred gets out of hand the society eventually loses everything but the hate. The story makes fun of the aliens for their racism. OK the TV producers' hearts were in the right place. So the series is against all the right things.
But is it? If Captain Kirk is such an enlightened anti-racist fair-mined guy, why does he not object to McCoy's frequent and blatantly racist jibes at Spock. McCoy likes to taunt Spock accusing him of being "pointy eared," "inhuman," and being a "hobgoblin." Kirk never reprimands McCoy nor gives any sign that it might represent inappropriate behavior. Apparently if Spock is not fully human or if McCoy is a close friend, Kirk does not want to step in. This might be acceptable if this was in a context of best buddies sitting together with brewskies. But it was happening in a military context. Kirk should have been maintaining military discipline. And in the series it becomes clear that Spock's human side was bothered by the insults. Spock never reacted to the slurs when he was his normal self, but I believe when he was not in total control it was clear he objected.
I always thought that McCoy's insults were a breach of discipline was odd, but in 1960s TV that was the sort of thing that would have passed for humor. This was about the time of Gomer Pyle. I guess it was because my feelings for the Spock character were positive and I was less fond of Bones. Of course that was somewhat influenced by the fact that at this time of my life I was greatly enthusiastic about mathematics and logic. Spock represented the application of logic and mathematics to the real world. Though he did not do it all that well.
Even at that time I did not think that Spock's pronouncements always made sense as being logical. I did not blame the Spock character as much as the benighted scriptwriter. It pretty much takes a genius to create or portray a genius on TV. When people who are not brilliant write dialog for people expected to come off as geniuses they just don't capture the right feel. Often they say really stupid things for a character supposed to be very smart.
I just don't think in a military context making racial jibes at a ship's officer would result in hilarity ensuing. [-mrl]
THE PERIPHERAL by William Gibson (copyright 2014, Putnam, 486pp; 2014 Penguin Audio, 14 hours 5 minutes; narrated by Lorelei King; ISBN 978-0-698-17070-0), (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
I have a confession to make. I've never read NEUROMANCER. I was one of those who had to be pulled kicking and screaming into the cyberpunk era. I didn't want to read cyberpunk at all. Not only didn't I read NEUROMANCER, but I didn't read the other really big cyberpunk novel of the day, Neal Stephenson's SNOW CRASH. I wanted my space ships, I wanted my aliens, I wanted my galactic space opera. What the heck was this cyberpunk stuff, and why was it getting in my science fiction?
I swore I was never going to like cyberpunk. I read Gibson's COUNT ZERO and VIRTUAL LIGHT. I read Stephenson's THE DIAMOND AGE. I decided I didn't like the style *or* the subject matter. Heck, I even tried to read THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, by both Sterling and Gibson, and I decided that steampunk (yes, that was steampunk, but no one seems to credit it that way these days, at least not that I hear) was a waste of my time too.
That was 30 years ago. Times change. People change. Writers change. Genres change. I don't mind reading steampunk these days--I feel that some of it is really pretty good. I absolutely loved ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson, although I generally don't read his books because they are monstrous doorstops that I don't have time for.
And I tried Gibson again.
THE PERIPHERAL was being talked about on podcasts, in blogs, and everywhere else that I pay attention to in the field. It was getting good reviews, and it was being hailed as "Gibson's return to undeniable science fiction". I was dubious of that last statement, as I didn't think anything else he wrote was science fiction, so how can he return to it.
But as I said, things change. And since this was the year I was going to get ahead of the game by reading novels that would assuredly be on the Hugo ballot, I figured I would give it a try (and as far as getting ahead of the game, well, we all know how THAT turned out).
And wouldn't you know, I liked it.
THE PERIPHERAL takes place in a not too distant future. Well, I should rephrase that. It takes place in two futures: one not too distant, and one a century or so further on. The near-ish future, in America, or some form of it, is a bit of a mess. There's the drug trade, an updated version of what the reader presumes is Walmart, and a very bleak economy. The further along future that we see is in London, after an event called The Jackpot had killed off a great portion of the world's population.
We begin in the near future. Flynne lives with her brother Burton and her mother. Burton is a military veteran who suffers from trauma he suffered while serving in the U.S. Military. He is getting aid from the U.S. government because he's not supposed to be able to work. He has, however, found a job beta testing some video game software for a Colombian outfit called Coldiron. One day he goes off to be part of a protest group against a religious organization, and asks Flynne to cover for him on the job for a few days. His job in the game is that of security. He tells Flynne to keep an eye on a particular tower and fend off little nano-paparazzi type devices. However, on the second day of the job she witnesses a murder, and something doesn't seem quite right to her about it. And off we go into the story.
THE PERIPHERAL is a murder mystery, pure and simple. Well, maybe not so pure and simple, since we *are* talking a) science fiction, and b) science fiction by William Gibson. It's probably not too much of a spoiler to say that the murder was in the future, a future life is also stark and bleak--never mind just a bit weird--due to The Jackpot. One of the devices that the future has is some sort of mysterious server, built by the Chinese (but never really visited in detail or explained at all in the book) that allows residents of that future to travel back and interact with various different pasts, which may or may not be their own past (It really is all a bit wonky but kind of cool. I didn't let myself get too distracted by the lack of details or even the not quite understanding of how pasts and that particular future relate. It was better that way.), call "stubs". People who do that are called "continua enthusiasts", and while in the novel we don't much deal with them, the people we deal with do have to go back to the past to try and figure out what they can about the murder that took place.
I'll tell you what--this is a really cool story with some really neat concepts. While the idea of telling a story that takes place in two separate times is not new, the way of the two timelines interacting with each other is new--at least to me. Yeah, it's a bit of "hand-wavium", but hand-wavium is a time-honored tradition in our field, and it is acceptable some times and not in others. I think it works well here. The future is populated with a bunch of interesting--at least to me--characters, including an investigator, Lowbeer, who reminds me a lot of Paula Myo from Peter F. Hamilton's novels.
The novel is not without its faults, minor though they be. The first hundred pages or so (yes, I looked while I was listening to the audiobook) were a bit of a slog to get through. Gibson introduces new terminology that makes readers scratch their heads for awhile until they figure out just what it is he is talking about (although it could be argued that a science fiction reader, especially one who reads Gibson, should not only be used to it by now, but shouldn't need anything spelled out for them anyway), and it does take awhile to figure out that Gibson is switching back and forth between two timelines. However, once all that stuff is squared away and the reader figures out the basics, the story moves along at a pretty good pace, and is a good read. The conclusion was, for me, satisfying. Gibson wraps everything up fairly nicely with a little bow, which is something many writers don't do these days (although it can be argued that this is a standalone novel--for which I am grateful--and he darn well should tie things up nicely).
As far as the narration goes, well, I didn't think anyone was going to top R. C. Bray, the narrator of THE MARTIAN. I was wrong. Lorelei King was magnificent. She handled the voices of the different characters terrifically, in my opinion. The pacing was terrific, and I loved the accent. She didn't intrude upon the story; rather, she enhanced it from the very beginning. I would hope I run across her in other audiobooks I listen to in the future.
NEUROMANCER was one of those novels that comes along once a generation that changes the face of the field of science fiction, at least that's what I'm told. I will have to go back and read it, 30+ years after the fact. THE PERIPHERAL is not that kind of novel, but it doesn't have to be. It just is what it is--a terrific book. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
MAGNIFICENT MISTAKES IN MATHEMATICS by Alfred S. Posamentier (ISBN 978-1-61614-747-1) consists primarily of demonstrating various errors people (mostly students, one suspects) might make in algebra and geometry. But it does have a discussion on pages 222-225 of what I think of as a drafting problem (because that was the context in which I first encountered it). Is there a figure which when viewed from the front is a circle with radius 1 unit, when viewed from the side is an isosceles triangle of radius and height 1 unit, and when viewed from above is a square with a side of 1 unit? The authors claim most people would get this wrong, though frankly, just the asking of the question seems a signal that there is. Take a cylinder of height and diameter 1 unit, draw a diameter on the top, then slice diagonally on each side from the diameter to a single point on the base directly below the midpoint of the semi-circle on each side of the diameter.
Why I particularly like this figure is that it seems to me a mathematical analogy to the Trinity: one figure, but three very different appearances, depending on where you are standing. (Then again, what do I know?)
[If you want to see a figure that has three projections, one "G,"
one "E," and one "B," there are not just one but two of these
figures carved in wood used for the cover of GODEL, ESCHER, BACH.
They may be seen at Go to our home page
Quote of the Week:
The study of mathematics, like the Nile, begins in
minuteness but ends in magnificence.
--Charles Caleb Colton
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