MT VOID 05/29/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 48, Whole Number 1860

MT VOID 05/29/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 48, Whole Number 1860

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/29/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 48, Whole Number 1860

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

Free TransAtlantic Fan Fund Books:

Several TransAtlantic Fan Fund (TAFF) reports and other works are available as free ebooks at

How to Communicate in Deep Time:

JSTOR asks "Will Art Save Our Descendants from Radioactive Waste?" in:

This covers the same material as Gregory Benford's Guest of Honour Speech at Aussiecon Three, "Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia":

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):

June 11: GALAXY QUEST and GALAXY QUEST by Terry Bisson, Middletown 
	(NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM
June 25: Discover Jan/Feb 2015 ("100 Top Stories of 2014"), stories 
	#1-#10 (links at , 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM 
July 23: "Universe" by Robert A. Heinlein and "Vintage Season" by 
	Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL 
	OF FAME VOLUME 2A), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change):

June 6: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
July 7: Leanna Renee Hieber, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
August: no lecture
September 12: Carlotta Holton, Applying Local Myths & History into 
	Speculative Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
October 3: Ellen Datlow, The State of Horror Fiction, Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 12N
November 7: Jennifer Walkup, Finding Your Voice in YA Speculative 
	Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
December: no lecture

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for June (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Another month has passed, and it is time to look at what can I recommend that TCM has to offer in June. While I cannot say that this is a really standout month there are some fun films to enjoy. I see it has a mini-festival of older science fiction films. After Turner ran a short series of British science fiction last month, this month they seem to be running a series of insect SF.

On Wednesday, June 18, from 8 PM until 6 AM they will run the films:

 8:00 PM THE FLY (1958)
 9:45 PM MOTHRA (1962)
11:45 PM THEM! (1954)
 1:30 AM THE WASP WOMAN (1959)
 2:45 AM THE SWARM (1978)

Of course, starting in the mid-1950s with THEM! and continuing on for about a decade, filmmakers were into making scary fear-of- science films even more scary by shaking some ugly six-legged beasts in the viewers' faces. Misguided science and insects were a potent combination. Filmmakers apparently decided to pair them with films that would take advantage of people's instinctive revulsion for the icky insect kingdom. The idea was the new age of science was going to tip the balance and make us all fall prey to our ancient competitors. I am pleased to see that only one of these films threatens us with anything other than insects. Too many bad films call spiders "insects." There are spiders in COSMIC MONSTERS, but along with the insects.

These days the real threat is in the fear of *not* having the insects around. The bees are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder and are inexplicably disappearing. After years of investigating the bee problem we still do not know the cause of the mysterious disappearance. But at least one of the above films actually does express some positive feeling toward insects. In the closing credits of THE SWARM (after they have scared us to death with the bees) they have the following disclaimer: "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation." I think that is a sentiment we can all get behind.

One can only watch BRAINSTORM (1983) and lament for what this film should have been. It was almost one of the great science fiction films, but at about the two-thirds mark the film just goes silly in the head. The last third of the film is slapstick and strikes the wrong notes. The problems are probably not all the filmmakers' fault. This was the film that Natalie Wood was making when she drowned. I don't think the film was shot in chronological order, but it feels like something torpedoed the production and it could well be the death of the female lead. Of the first two-thirds of the film, I would say we get a very realistic picture of how new technologies come about and how their influence spreads outward. Incidentally, the filmmakers have a very good idea what the research environment was like in a major tech corporation, at least for its time. On the other hand, you can see Cronenberg's THE FLY and Seth Brundle works in an isolated warehouse financing his own experiments. The way research in done in BRAINSTORM is much more realistic. Speaking of which, one character is accused of having been "a hack at Stanford and a hack at Bell [Laboratories]." I had to chuckle. I have been both, I guess.

In BRAINSTORM our main characters are working on an entertainment device that would allow people to record sensory experience on tape and play it back in another person's head. The second person feels all the motion and thinks the thoughts that the first person did. It is like electronic telepathy.

At first it seems to be just to create a new entertainment medium to compete with motion pictures and everything. But we come to realize that this invention is going to change everything, the whole nature of human relationships. Like the laser did, it would have application in nearly everything people do. They could still be making BRAINSTORM sequels today, and each one could be full of new ideas. For a 1983 film to show the transformative effect of new technology it is fairly close to what we--32 years later--see happening every day. The film (desperately) needed a third act as good as the first two, but sadly it never got one. But it still makes for an intriguing science fiction film. Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, and Natalie Wood star. [Thursday, June 25, 10:00 PM]

My choice for the best film of the month would be THE MAN WHO WOLD BE KING (1975), one of the great screen adventures. [Saturday, June 6, 8:00 PM]


THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS: A NOVEL OF THE COMMONWEALTH ("Chronicle of the Fallers", Book 1), by Peter F. Hamilton (copyright 2014, Del Rey, 640pp, ISBN 978-0-345-54719-4, eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54720-0), (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

Peter F. Hamilton is one member of a group of British science fiction writers who write space opera. The group includes Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds and the late Iain M. Banks (I just realized I wrote a variant on that sentence in my review of Reynolds' SLOW BULLETs. I really need to mix things up a bit more). Anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows that I love big galaxy spanning space operas, and I thoroughly enjoy Hamilton's work. I met Hamilton at Loncon last year while sitting outside a meeting room waiting for a panel to begin. He is very friendly, and we chatted a bit before the panel started (something that was a bit amazing, considering I went all fanboy when I realized who he was.

I haven't read all of Hamilton's works; I've read--well, listened to, actually--all of his Commonwealth novels. While we were talking, he showed me an advanced copy of THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS, and told me (briefly--no spoilers) what it was about. After I metaphorically got done wiping the drool off my chin (fanboy, remember?), I looked forward to getting my own copy.

Like all the Commonwealth novels, THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS is big and complicated, with a lot of moving parts and a lot of characters. Our old buddy Nigel Sheldon, the center of all things Commonwealth, with the possible exception of one of our other old friends Ozzie, is approached by the Raiel--aliens who are keeping an eye on the Void--who convince him to penetrate the Void in what turns out to be an effort to destroy it.

Inside the Void, things are something of a mess. More than a thousand years before the time of our story, the Brandt colony ship penetrates the Void and encounters an alien race called the Fallers. The Fallers absorb humans and any other creature they encounter, mimicing them perfectly as a means of taking over and colonizing planets. The Fallers drop to planets in the form of eggs from a construct called The Forest. The residents of the planet Bienvenido are fighting a constant war, ever vigilant against the threat of Fallers. The Bienvenidan society is militaristic, as they must keep constant guard against the presence of the Fallers. However, this militaristic sociey has become corrupt and amounts to an aristocracy, in which the Captain and his son keep tight rein over the local populace.

And hence we meet Slvasta. Slvasta is a soldier, recruited to fight the war against the Fallers. He is nearly "eggsorbed" by a Faller egg, but he escapes, losing only an arm in the process. Slvasta eventually becomes the leader of a revolution against the military aristocracy, aided in part by--oh come on, you can guess this--Nigel Sheldon (who really isn't Nigel Sheldon, but I'll stop right there).

THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS, at 640 pages, is big, but not as big as some of the other Commonwealth novels, which check in at over 1000 pages. Even with it's smaller size, as I said earlier this is a complex book. As with many of Hamilton's other novels, the story takes place on several fronts involving any number of characters-- it is sometimes difficult to keep them all straight, at least at first, without the Dramatis Personae listing at the front of the book--eventually converging and coalescing so that by the end of it all, every one is together, although typically not a big happy family.

As with any novel--especially one this big--there are some shortcomings. There are spots in the book that read incredibly slowly; in fact, at one point I took a *two month* break from it due to other reading and reviewing obligations, and that came in a spot that I was okay with leaving behind. When I came back to it, it felt as if it was all still in my head--which is strange, considering I can't remember much about books I read a few months ago anyway. The upside is that this is typical Hamilton: a big, sprawling, galactic space opera with menacing aliens and cool technology, including all the Commonwealth technology we've experienced in prior books.

I wouldn't call THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS the best Hamilton novel I've ever read, but it definitely is vintage Hamilton. It's got romance, politics, adventure, and a revolution thrown in to the mix, and the ending is quite a surprising one. I'm interested in reading the follow-up book, currently titled NIGHT WITHOUT STARS, when it gets published. I did nominate it for the Hugo for Best Novel without much expectation it would make the shortlist, but that's okay. I enjoyed it. If NIGHT WITHOUT STARS is like other novels that finished prior Commonweath stories, it should be a good one. [-jak]

DAYS OF GRACE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a smart action/crime film from a first-time writer-director from Mexico. It is really three different stories, based on three real kidnap incidents, each taking place against the background of a different Soccer World Cup. Each is filmed with a different style and then they are interwoven so they are told in parallel. Keeping straight the action of three different stories would be difficult for a Spanish-speaker and is more difficult still for subtitle-readers. Deep inside this film will be a bleak revelation of crime and police corruption. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

At one time most of the crime films being made were made in the United States, and more often than not they came from the studios of Warner Brothers. With a huge infusion of action and gunfights, the crime films these days are a worldwide phenomenon and some of the most creative, or at least hyper-violent, are coming from the Far East, usually from Hong Kong and South Korea. One country that one does not usually associate with high-octane crime films is Mexico. Nevertheless, first-time director Everado Gout's DAYS OF GRACE is a Mexican film and is getting attention for its suspense and for its unusual structure.

The film sets the stage for what is to come by telling the viewer that at the time the film was made there had been 100,000 Mexicans murdered in their own country in the previous dozen years. That includes murders by the military and the police. But during the World Cup competition the crime rate drops by 30%, making these days "days of grace." Nonetheless, this film interweaves three kidnapping case stories, each set during a World Cup competition. One takes place in 2002, one in 2006, and one in 2010. The stories are not told in sequence but interwoven in parallel, as D. W. Griffith's did it in his INTOLERANCE. But in INTOLERANCE the stories took place in different eras that looked very different. In Mexico the culture did not change that much from 2002 to 2010. That makes keeping the story lines straight hard work. The plots are familiar. For example we see how an idealistic rookie in the system has to fight massive corruption. We see struggles for power rather than for justice. The film is really a long howl of rage. It is the style that is unfamiliar, not the story lines.

The stories are about the police, told against the background of the 2002 World Cup; about the hostage, with the story told against the background of the 2006 competition; and about the hostage's wife, told during the 2010 World Cup competition. As a hint for prospective viewers here is Gout's description of the style differences:

"In 2002 the style is more on edge, the music is more brutal, and the light is harsher, expressing heat, tension and violence. In 2006 the light is very dim, tension is in the air, not so much in the camera movement. It's a war of nerves. The atmosphere is more raw, more realistic. In 2010 Susana is filmed in fragments, with reflections. It's the most stylized. We only filmed her face, simply, towards the end, when she finally takes control of her life. The music is softer, wider; it expresses expectations."

Does the similarity of settings lead the viewer to confusion? The answer is "most definitely." That is particularly true if the viewer is unaware at the beginning that there are three storylines, each with its own set of characters. It would have helped immensely to have a screen explaining that these are three different stories that would be told with different music composers and with three different visual styles. That would probably not be sufficiently subtle for the director's esthetic, but it would be very helpful especially for non-Spanish speakers. The latter will find DAYS OF GRACE a hard nut to crack. It does have enough action to be entertaining and it will give a lot more to the viewer who can work out the style intricacies.

This is a good crime film with just too much style for its own good. Gout would have made a better film if he did not keep getting in the way of his own story telling. I rate DAYS OF GRACE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Deux Chevaux (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein, Sam Long, Paul Dormer, and Peter Trei):

Several people pointed out Evelyn's typo/bad transcription of "chevaux" from Jose Saramago's THE STONE RAFT in the 05/15/15 issue of the MT VOID (and perpetuated in the 05/22/15 issue).

Peter Rubinstein writes:

I believe the correct spelling is chevaux. (Sigh, high school French was a long time ago.) [-pr]

Sam Long writes:

I feel sure that it's been pointed out that the little Citroen car called the 2CV had the nickname "Deux Chevaux" ("two horses". i.e., 2 horsepower) not "Deux Chavaux"; but if it hasn't, I hereby do so.

PS: "Chavaux" or "Chaval" (singular), if there is such a word in French, could have something to do with overturning: "chavirer" means "to capsize: but "chauve" means "bald".

PPS: Further to "chaval, chavaux" ... I did some further checking. Chaval is name under which Yvan Le Louarn (1915-1968), the French cartoonist, a native of Bordeaux, plied his trade. I might add that "chaval, chavaux" seems to be French dialect versions of "cheval, chevaux", and I saw a photo of a 2CV labeled "2 Chavaux" on the Web. The engines in the first 2CVs were actually 9 horsepower. (See the Wikipedia article on the 2CV.) That's what I get for speaking before I check my facts. [-sl]

Paul Dormer says:

Now, I failed O-level French back in 1968, but isn't the French for horses "chevaux"? [-pd]

Peter Trei responds:

Yes. For tax purposes, it was rated at 2 horsepower (though it actually produced 9 HP). Aside from that, note the logo--2 chevrons, which I think was intended as a pun on the name.

They were France's postwar answer to the VW Beetle; cheap, durable, easy to repair, and nearly 9 million were built from 1948 through 1990. They were everywhere when I lived in Belgium, though we called them 'Dueches'. [-pt]

And Paul Dormer replies:

Plenty of them in the UK, although you don't see so many now. And I recall there was a character in Pratchett and Gaiman's GOOD OMENS who was a Voodoo priest called Deux Chevaux. [-pd]

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (letter of comment by William December Starr):

In response to Mark's review of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD in the 05/22/15 issue of the MT VOID, William December Starr writes:

You said, "One wonders how this film with its complex and dangerous stunts ever could have been made without killing multiple stunt people."

If you're interested, a partial answer may be found in (SXSW 2015: George Miller on the Evolution of 'Mad Max', by Mekado Murphy, March 18, 2015 5:49 pm) which includes:

Q. Could you tell me about some of the technological changes that allowed for a different way of shooting on this film?

A. Our biggest thing was safety. We could wire or harness our cast safely in the most dangerous positions. There was no way we could do that in the past, because we had no way of digitally erasing the wires. Second thing, we could put a camera anywhere. And then we had this incredible thing called the edge arm, a car with a crane on it. Three guys with toggle switches could literally go in amongst these big car battles and film anywhere. They could put the camera inches off the ground or high up over the big trucks.


Mark responds:

This is quite interesting. I think that George Miller always wanted organic special effects, not resorting to digital work. Now it sounds like he will use some digital, at least, to remove wires. [-mrl]

William replies:

It's hard to say (for me anyway) how much of that was moviemaking philosophy and how much was simply necessity given the earlier "Mad Max"s' era and budgets.

By the way, I don't know if you noticed it but among the seeming thousands of people and positions listed in the closing credits there were a few in categories like "Dummy Construction," "Dummy Dressing," etc., which is another hint as to how some of the "How did they not kill a stuntman doing that?" tricks were pulled off. (I didn't spot any Dummy Wrangler, alas.) [-wds]

Nobody There (letters of comment by Steve Milton, Paul Dormer, and Jette Goldie):

In response to Mark's comments on "Nobody there" in the 05/22/15 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:

Most telemarketers use a system that waits for a person to say hello before attaching an agent to the call. [-smm]

Paul Dormer writes:

In the UK, there was a bit about this in the news a few years ago. Telemarketers have machines that make the calls and as soon as a call is answered, it's passed to a human to make the sales pitch. But often, there are more calls answered than there are humans to take them, and these are the silent calls. [-pd]

Jette Goldie (also in the UK)writes:

We get those. What's usually happening is that a computer dials at random, and if it gets a 'live one' (when someone answers) the computer shunts the call to one of the call centre staff. If you stay silent when you pick up the phone, wait for the caller to speak first, rather than saying "hello?" or reciting your number, the computer gets confused and hangs up. [-jg]

And Mark responds:

That would explain it. [-mrl]

The Jaws of Death (letters of comment by Lee Beaumont and Peter Rubinstein):

In response to Mark's comments on shredders in the 05/22/15 issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I am in awe of your courage in coming face to face with a shredder!

We cowards walk across the street to Staples and pay them $0.79 per pound to shred the stuff.

Peter Trei also responds:

I feel your pain. However, since I found that the folks at Staples will dump my stuff into an industrial shredder while I watch, for a very modest price, I've ditched home shredding. [-pt]

And Mark responds:

I might give that a try. [-mrl]

Peter Rubinstein writes:

I must own a relative of your shredder. It behaves in exactly the same way. I plug it into a switch that then plugs into the wall socket, as I have grown tired of plugging and unplugging it. [-pir]

Mathematical Illiteracy (letter of comment by Don Blosser):

In response to the Roger Bacon quote in the 05/22/15 issue of the MT VOID, Don Blosser writes:

In regards to the Roger Bacon quote in today's MTVOID ["All science requires mathematics. The knowledge of mathematical things is almost innate in us. This is the easiest of sciences, a fact which is obvious in that no one's brain rejects it; for laymen and people who are utterly illiterate know how to count and reckon."]:

Sadly, I would say the utterly illiterate are with us and barely know how to count or reckon.

How many times have you been in store or fast food franchise when the computers/cash registers were down or out of order?

Could the "clerks" or order takers compute your total and figure taxes due?

Heck they can't even count change, they don't have to because the change is automatically dispensed without human intervention.

They take whatever the register rings up without question, even if you prove to them the amount is wrong. It takes a "supervisor" to correct things, if there is a supervisor around.

Have you seen a lot of change on the ground at fast food vendors, convenience stores (WaWa, 7-11, etc)?

The kids don't know what to do with their change, "it weighs too much" or "you can't buy anything with it" so they toss their change on the ground.

My wife saw this happen several times at Brookdale Campus no less. When she asked why they were tossing their change on the ground, those were their responses. (I said she should have told them to give her their change, that she would be happy to "unburden" them of the weight.)

The mathematically illiterate are already with us and growing in numbers. [-db]

Evelyn responds:

If they do this with their change when they go to Europe or Canada, they're going to discover that's an expensive habit. [-ecl]

The War of the Worlds (letters of comment by Peter Trei, Tim Bateman, Paul Dormer, and David Goldfarb):

In response to Charles Harris's comments on "The War of the Worlds" in the 05/22/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

In America, in 1938, there wasn't the panic that was later reported, but eleven years later, a locally adapted version broadcast in Quito, Ecuador did lead to mass panic, military mobilization, and when the mob realized they'd been duped, the burning of the radio station with at least six deaths: . [-pt]

Tim Bateman writes:

[You say,] "Meteorites impact Woking, England, and Linda Rosa, California, and right nearby in Grovers Mill, NJ."

Is NJ 'right nearby' Woking, Kent or Linda Rose, California?

I would not hazard a guess as to which one NJ is nearer to without a map and a measuring device. [-tb]

Paul Dormer responds to Tim:

The Woking that the Martians landed at in Wells was the one in Surrey. (Is there one in Kent?) I go through Woking on the train every time I go up into London. They have a statue of a Martian war machine in the town centre. [-pd]

And Tim Bateman replies:

This was simply an error on my part.

A brief bout of research on the wibbly-wobbly web suggests that there is no Woking in Kent, although there is a Kent Road in Woking, Surrey. [-tb]

David Goldfarb has the correct answer:

I guess Grovers Mill was "right nearby" to the site of the meeting. [-dg]

And Evelyn also responds:

The "nearby" is our fault. The item was initially written for a book discussion group in Middletown, NJ, so "nearby" meant nearby to Middletown, NJ. When we re-printed it the context was lost. [-ecl]

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

The science fiction discussion group will be discussing two novellas from the "Science Fiction Hall of Fame" anthologies. The first was "...And Then There Were None" by Eric Frank Russell, but I decided to read the fix-up novel of which this was a part, THE GREAT EXPLOSION (ISBN 978-0-380-00316-7).

After you have read this, you will know where "Star Trek" (the original series) got many of its ideas. Oh, they did not lift them exactly from Russell, but the idea of a sub-culture on Earth going off and settling a colony to put their beliefs into practice (e.g., "A Piece of the Action") seems to have originated with Russell. In THE GREAT EXPLOSION we have the criminal planet, the naturist planet, and so on. (As a side note--the criminal planet seems to have been populated in much the same way as Australia, but with very different results. I suppose the fact that Australia had *some* oversight from Britain made a difference.)

There are a couple of jarring anachronisms. Although the discovery that made the "Great Explosion" of settlement possible took place a thousand years after rockets were common, and the standard work- week was sixteen hours, that time was still spent in an office behind a desk. While sixteen-hour work-weeks are in some sense happening now (more and more jobs seem to be part-time jobs), they do not happen in an office behind a desk. Anything that can be done in an office behind a desk is outsourced or done from home (or one's local WiFi hot spot). Part-time jobs tend to be retail and service jobs, which pretty much require a presence somewhere other than an office.

And, not surprisingly for a novel written in 1962, Russell completely missed the "women's liberation" movement, so as a result his military, his spaceship crews, and his diplomatic corps are entirely male, and on planet-falls largely focused on finding local women. (He also missed that referring to people as "Asiatics" is rude--or maybe not; maybe his goal is to show the Ambassador as a bigot. One problem with reading older books is that you have a hard time interpreting linguistic clues like this.)

Oh, and everyone is fixated on smoking.

It also seems to have been poorly copy-edited: at the beginning of the book rockets have been around for a thousand years, but then four hundred years later, someone refers to Gandhi being six hundred years in their past.

This book is great fun, and a true classic. (In 1985, it won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for libertarian science fiction.) One suspects this is the sort of science fiction the "Sad Puppies" yearn for, and one cannot argue against its appeal. (One can argue that it is in its own way as didactic and preachy as the science fiction the Sad Puppies decry, but when a story is entertaining, much is forgiven.) The other novella was "Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson, and as soon as I hit the word "esprojector" I knew this had been published in ANALOG when John W. Campbell, Jr., was the editor. And of course the whole story turns out to be about "psionics".

I found that Joe's development reminded me of Arkady Darell's in SECOND FOUNDATION: the problem of trying to direct an adult brain without having any problems or leaving any evidence is avoided by starting with the newborn brain instead.

Again, there is a certain quaintness at times. Putting Joe down on the surface of Jupiter was incredibly expensive--five million dollars! (I am reminded of Dr. Evil in AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME in 1999 thinking in 1969 terms and trying to blackmail the world for a million dollars.)

THE MATHEMATICIAN'S SHIVA by Stuart Rojstaczer (ISBN 978-0-14- 312631-7) seems aimed at the same audience as David Auburn' PROOF. Both deal with brilliant mathematicians who die, possibly leaving a brilliant proof behind them--or possibly not. Both are filled with mathematicians, and non-mathematicians. THE MATHEMATICIAN'S SHIVA cranks it up a notch by adding the fact that the main characters (and most of the supporting characters) are Russian or Polish, and Jewish, and so all have back stories of oppression either during the Holocaust, or under Stalin.

In PROOF, the father's locked-up notebooks are the key. In THE MATHEMATICIAN'S SHIVA, the shiva is disrupted by people wanting to lift up floorboards to look for Rachela Karnokovitch's hidden papers, and some go so far as to try to analyze the squawks of her parrot. (Rachela spoke to it in Polish, and the mathematicians are hoping that what it learned to repat might contain clues to the proof of the Navier-Stokes Problem.)

In addition to mathematics (and meteorology), Rojstaczer covers family, academia, Stalinism, food, and even politics. For the latter, he notes, "In a country as profoundly anti-intellectual as ours [the United States] it is predictable that our leaders will do whatever they can in order not to appear smart in public. If they graduated summa cum laude from the finest university in they land, they will barely mention this achievement, give an "aw-shucks, I just drank a ton of beer and got lucky" response if asked about it, and even make a concerted effort to drop their ending g's and add a few "ain't"s into their speech as an antidote to their erudition and education." And when one politician makes a reference to a Jewish paternal grandfather, Rojstaczer writes, "Being a governor requires a myriad of skills. While great hair and teeth are a good start to a political career, an ability to pretend at least half convincingly that you have an affinity to all key ethnic groups in your state is a definite plus." (The key is "at least half convincingly"; when Hillary Cliinton claimed all four of her grandparents were immigrants, it was not very long before it was discovered that in fact only one was. Similarly, various candidates' claims to Native American heritage turn out to be considerably less than half convincing.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Mathematics allows for no hypocrisy and no vagueness.

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