MT VOID 07/03/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 1, Whole Number 1865

MT VOID 07/03/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 1, Whole Number 1865

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/03/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 1, Whole Number 1865

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

Time Zones (correction by Mark R. Leeper; letters of comment by Jay Carter and Charles S. Harris):

Last week when I was listing my picks of the pix that were to be on TCM in July, I made a flip comment. I was telling how to adjust the times to local time. I said I don't know anyone who reads this column who does not live in the Eastern Time Zone. I did not give it much thought. From time to time we definitely get email from members in other states, not to mention other countries.

To all those who reside outside the Eastern Time Zone, sorry. The club that was originally made up of members from Bell Labs, New Jersey, has grown beyond the Eastern Time Zone and when it was just Eastern seaboard people. Sorry for the people I left out. [-mrl]

Evelyn adds:

I figured it was a sneaky way to find out who was reading the article. :-) [-ecl]

Jay Carter (one responder) had written:

You have at least one reader from the Central Time Zone (me). We like it here in the Midwest. We even have our own theme song: (Pokey LaFarge with band singing "Central Time" on Letterman.)

Subtracting one hour from your TV schedules is second nature. No worries! [-jc]

And Charles Harris asked:

What about Greg Benford? [-csh]

Why Does the Volume Number of the MT VOID Change on July 1 Instead of January 1? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

[This has been published before; the last time was two years ago.]

You may wonder why the volume number of the MT VOID changes on July 1 instead of the more obvious January 1. It all has to do with the history of AT&T.

Way back in 1978, when Mark and I started working at Bell Laboratories, there were a lot of clubs there, but no science fiction club. (I know--sounds impossible for Bell Labs, but there you have it.) So we started one, and the MT VOID began back then as a one-sheet announcing the next meeting. From that it expanded to include reviews, articles, and all the other stuff you see.

As part of what is referred to as "divestiture", AT&T Information Systems (a.k.a. American Bell) was spun off on July 1, 1982. Mark and I went with American Bell, and started a science fiction club there, restarting the numbering of the weekly newsletter at Volume 1, Number 1. In 1986, it was decided that American Bell did not have to be a separate company and it was merged back into AT&T. The two clubs merged as well, but for some reason we kept the American Bell numbering.

So the volume number above is not entirely accurate. We started thirty-six years ago, not thirty-four. (I suppose we could say that we are numbering from 4 B.A.B., or 3 B.A.B., if we want to avoid the "missing-Year-0" problem.) The whole number count is accurate, however. [-ecl]

Numbers with Infinitely Long Tails (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Today most students in high school know that there is a number called pi. But what impresses them the most about this very special number expressed as a decimal expression goes on to an infinite number of decimal places without taking the easy way out of just repeating itself over and over like wallpaper repeating the same pattern over and over. How inventive! That must make it a very special number they think. How many numbers can you say that of? What are the chances you could pick another number totally at random and get that same inventive behavior?

Pi is about 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510....

[P.S. I am showing off here. I know the value of pi to that many decimal places.]

But if that is how they think, they have it backwards. The very special property is a repeating behavior, not a non-repeating. Only numbers that can be expressed as a fraction go to repeating somewhere in the decimals. 3/7 for example repeats. As a decimal it is

       X= . 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571...

(To make it easier to read I have inserted spaces.)

The string 428571 repeats forever. We can recapture the fractional expression by noting

1000000X= 428571. 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571...
       X= 000000. 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571...
Subtracting we get

999999X = 428571, so X = 428571/999999 =(142857*3)/(142857*7) = 3/7

(Now isn't that interesting? The factor we cancelled from the numerator and denominator is 142857. Notice anything familiar about that number?)

Integer fractions (we call them "rational numbers") end up repeating themselves over and over. And in fact the repeated segment of digits is of length no greater than the denominator of the fraction it is expressing. For example, in this case the denominator of 3/7 is 7 and the repeating segment in the decimal is six digits long. Six is less than seven digits as I predicted it would be.

Numbers that can be expressed as fractions are really nice to work with because we can write a really simple expression for them and that's it. You have fully expressed the number. You know where you stand. Pi is not like that. You cannot easily write out the value of pi. All we can do is give it a name. By mutual consent there is this number out there whose behavior we cannot totally know, but we agree to call that number pi.

But how rare are numbers like pi that do not end in a repeating string? Are they hard to find? It is just the opposite. Of all the numbers there are out there if one could be picked totally at ransom with every number in this lottery having an equal chance of being picked. The probability of getting a number nicely enough behaved that you can deal with its decimal expansion is zero. Now probability zero is not the same thing as totally impossible. Probability zero events can happen. But choose any probability greater than zero and you have chosen a probability way, way larger than your probability of picking a number whose decimal expansion ends in a repeating segment. On the number line, non-repeating numbers are almost everywhere.

Even the square root of two has just the same sort of unpredictable decimal expansion that pi has. It cannot be expressed as a fraction. And I can prove it. Suppose that the square root of two could be expressed as a fraction. Suppose sqrt(2) was equal to A/B. And assume A/B is a fraction in lowest terms. That is there is no integer that divides A evenly and also divides B evenly.

So A/B = sqrt(2)

Then (A/B)^2 = 2

And (A^2)/(B^2) = 2

So A^2 = 2 * B^2

That means that A^2 is an even perfect square. When that happens A must be even. A is twice an integer. Let's call C the whole number that is half of the even number A. We have shown

A^2 = 2 * B^2

That means (2*C)^2 = 2 * B^2

So 4 * C^2 = 2 * B^2

So 2 * C^2 = B^2

So B^2 must be even. But that happens only when B is even. So both A and B are even. But we started with A/B being in lowest terms. If A and B are both even we could not have had A/B in lowest terms. So if sqrt(2) is equal to A/B in lowest terms, then both A and B must be even. This is impossible. Sqrt(2) cannot be expressed as a fraction. You might as well say that even a number as common as the square root of 2 has the property that its decimal expression goes on and on forever without ending in a repeating decimal.

[PS: That would have been a whole lot more readable if I did not have to limit myself to the ASCII character set.]


Reading--Point Counterpoint:


Life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them reading valueless books. -John Ruskin


I would rather read something inferior than nothing at all. Sometimes the reader is not interested in being enlightened, uplifted or even entertained. He wants merely to escape for a brief interval from the world which is suddenly too much with him. -Jerome Weidman


If a man wants to read good books, he must make a point of avoiding bad ones; for life is short and time and energy limited. -Arthur Schopenhauer


While civilization remains such that one needs distraction from time to time, "light" literature has its appointed place. -George Orwell

SEVENEVES by Neal Stephenson (book review by Dale Skran):

A long time ago I enjoyed reading two early Stephenson novels-- SNOWCRASH and THE DIAMOND AGE. Stephenson was not the most mature novelist, but both books brimmed with ideas, and SNOWCRASH in particular is often credited with being the first really complete description of how avatars might operate in cyberspace. After Stephenson wrote about it, a lot of smart folks went out and created things like LEAGUE OF LEGENDS, WARCRAFT, and SIM CITY, to name just a few on-line environments that make use of avatars. However, Stephenson started writing longer and to my taste less compelling novels, so I didn't read much of what he wrote.

Recently I noticed he had out a new book, SEVENEVES, which seemed to be about astronauts in an "exit Earth" scenario after the Moon is mysteriously destroyed. Since this sort of post-apocalypse fiction is one of my long-term SF interests, I had to read it in spite of it being 861 pages long. The length is made somewhat more manageable by that fact that this is really two books--one chronicling the time from the actual destruction of the Moon to the low point in human survival in space a few years later, and the other picking up events 5,000 years later as the descendants of the characters in the first novel "terraform" Earth and return to the surface.

SEVENEVES is hard SF of the kind not often seen today, with grand but physically realizable technologies and an obvious wealth of calculations and research behind every page. In a review of the book in the June 19 SCIENCE, one of the premier scientific publications of our time, Daniel Tamayo says "Whatever the standard is for hard science fiction, surely Stephenson has blown it out of the water."

Stephenson has matured as a writer, but a lot of the book is expository lumps/travelogues. I've seen complaints that the characters are mere archetypes, which is not strictly true. Many of them seem to be twists on real people, or amalgams of real people. For example, the cantankerous space entrepreneur Sean Probst appears to be some mix of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. This is confirmed when we find in an afterword that Stephenson has actually worked at Blue Origin, Bezo's rocket company. When you read, look for Gwen Shotwell and Hillary Clinton/Bill Clinton/Richard Nixon, among others. One of Stephenson's strengths is set-piece scenes with many characters but a lot of background detail and surprising emotional heft. There are also some truly grand visions of cosmic events that beg to be filmed, and a lot of casual heroism that is perfectly understandable in the context of the story.

The "McGuffin" is a mysterious object called the "Agent" that strikes and destroys the Moon, setting in motion the slow death of the Earth from cosmic bombardment. The Agent is never understood by the characters or the reader, and it seems possible that Stephenson might return to it in a sequel, although SEVENEVES stands well on its own. Once this initial assumption is past, pretty much everything that happens is very realistic, and for all I know derives mainly from the minds of engineers at Blue Origin and other space startups. Governments get together and put a vast effort into a 2-year space program to get a few thousand people off the Earth with enough equipment so that they can survive indefinitely. After a while it becomes clear to some of the main characters that this program is more for show and to reassure the masses on the Earth that someone might survive than a serious effort.

A daring crew of space entrepreneurs cobbles together a nuclear powered spaceship to go out and bring back a water-rich asteroid that will transform the Potemkin village survival plan into a real survival plan. In most books, this effort would be the main focus of events, but here it is mere side-show, a necessary but not sufficient link in a long chain that ends with eight (yes, 8) survivors hiding out in a very much modified version of the International Space Station inside a large chunk of the Moon they call "Cleft." The road to this point is a horrific one, with disaster following disaster, and ending in a vicious battle between two small groups of survivors, one of which has turned to cannibalism.

As it turns out, all eight of the final group are women, but only seven are fertile, and they become the "Seven Eves" of the title from which all future space-dwelling humans descend. SEVENEVES is, in many ways, the story of the "Eves" and their descendants. There are brave men aplenty who build a bridge to survival with their lives, but in the end the Eves sit in a room and determine what the human race will become. Each represents something very different, and several are mortal enemies. They form a compromise, which, rather like counting a slave as 3/5 of a human being, assures war in the future to allow survival in present. This compromise is simple--as there are no men surviving, and as the various stocks of genetic material have all been destroyed, the human race will be restarted artificially. The women can't agree on what the human race ought to become, so each will be allowed to make one enhancement in the genetics of each of her children. The women make radically different choices, leading 5,000 years later to space- borne humanity consisting of seven races, each unlike any currently existing race.

Ivy chooses intelligence, Tekla strength and combat prowess, Camila the ability to cooperate and live together in confined spaces, Julia the skills of leadership, and Dinah aims to create a race of heroes like her beloved Markus who sacrificed himself so that she might survive. They are opposed by Aida, the brilliant, charismatic, and ruthless cannibal queen, who seeks in her children to counter the choices of the others, or to better them, creating a "race of races." But this only totals six Eves, leaving Moira, the genetic engineer, to make her own choice. That choice is one you'll have to read the book to find out, but it is a great idea while being vaguely plausible. However, keep in mind that "Moira" sounds an awful lot like "Moreau."

The second part of the story has about a novella worth of story combined with two novels worth of travelogue and technology description. It is an impressive achievement but I found some of the technology hard to follow. I kept wishing for footnotes so I could read a paper with diagrams and equations.

There is also one other assumption that I find hard to believe, although it is critical to the plot. Sometime between now and the arrival of the Agent, the asteroid Amalthea has been moved to low Earth orbit and attached to the ISS. I find it very difficult to believe that this would be allowed or done, although it is the only thing that allows the ISS to survive. I guess we are supposed to believe that this was done as part of a plan to make the ISS truly permanent, but, barring sure knowledge of impending disaster, it is almost impossible to imagine this happening in the real world.

Overall, SEVENEVES is Stapledonian in scope and Heinleinesque in realism, but with a more brutal hand than either of those writers. This can be a hard book to read, keeping in mind that virtually every single human being dies, but unlike some books that don't come to grips with the enormity of the events involved, Stephenson's characters make it all real. This is also a book with strong female characters. It is possible that a certain kind of radical feminist may object to this book. The old-fashion Victorian chivalry and just plain heroism that the male characters exhibit is presented in a positive light--a necessary sacrifice so that women--and hence the human race--can survive. The women and especially the "Eves" are the dominant, motivating characters--both for good and for evil. SEVENEVES does not idealize women nor does it remove their agency. In the end, the "Eves" become god-mothers to a new set of human races. In many ways SEVENEVES is a bold and dangerous book, with a depth of social and biological speculation that I am not doing justice to with this review.

SEVENEVES is not the perfect novel, but I'm pretty sure it will be on my Hugo nomination list for 2015. The fact that SCIENCE bothered to review it, and did so very favorably, suggests it may be the most important hard SF novel in many years. [-dls]

INSIDE OUT (letters of comment by Kevin R, Bill Higgins, and Sandra Bond)

In response to Mark's review of INSIDE OUT in the 06/26/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

When I saw the trailer for this, I thought, "Oh, they are /r/i/p/p/i/n/g//o/f/f/ inspired by HERMAN'S HEAD!'s_Head

Turns out Disney did a WWII propaganda short with a similar theme.

Pixar being a subsidiary of Disney, it comes around.

Also, re BIG GAME:

The commercials for TED 2 refers to Samuel L Jackson as "in every movie, ever. The black guy? That's him."

At least they didn't cast Dennis "You're In Good Hands" Haysbert. :-)


Bill Higgins responds:

And in 1958 the Bell System Science Series gave us *Gateways to the Mind: The Story of the Human Senses*, available on

In which a collection of little people within the human body (animated by Chuck Jones and his crew) personify sight, sound, smell, and other senses, flashing messages about the world outside to an operator in the brain's control room. Sensory science is explained by genial live-action host Dr. Frank C. Baxter and *his* crew. [-wh]

Sandra Bond adds:

And then there was The Numskulls--or rather, as I find upon looking it up, there still is The Numskulls (which somewhat astonishes me):


ALPHABETICAL (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Dorothy Heydt, Andy Leighton, Peter Trei, Lowell Gilbert, Kevin R, Keith F. Lynch, and Tim Bateman):

In response to Evelyn's comments on discarded letters in the 06/26/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

[Evelyn writes,] "yogh (looks like '3', is pronounced as a hard, gutteral "ch", the HTML is ȝ, displayed as ȝ)"

How do you pronounce Menzies? (as in Sir Menzies Campbell)

How do you pronounce Dalziel as in "Dalziel and Pascoe--giving grief to criminals and the linguistically challenged"?

Evelyn replies:

I generally don't, and didn't understand the point here, until I looked in Wikipedia and found "'Menzies' is a Scottish name, [with] the 'z' being a graphic approximation of the (Older Scots) yogh, originally found in the name." [-ecl]

But Dorothy Heydt observes:

In the TV version of Sayers's FIVE RED HERRINGS, a sergeant by that name [Dalziel] was pronounced "Deal." [-djh]

Andy Leighton answers:

Ming-iz [and] Dee-ell. [-al]

Peter Trei responds:

Interesting. I vaguely remember 'John Menzies' as a newsagent chain in the UK. I pronounced it 'Men-zees' (American Z), and don't recall ever being corrected.

"Dalziel" sounds like a name for a Biblican angel or demon, and I'd have said it 'Dal-zi-el'.

But British surnames frequently depart from the obvious pronunciation, as "Raymond Luxury-Yacht"/"Throat-Wobbler Mangrove" demonstrates. [-pc]

Andy responds:

Well that is because nearly all English people called it Men-zees too. It is supposed to be Ming-iz according to the company.

Wikipedia has this helpful limerick:

A lively young damsel named Menzies Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?" Her aunt, with a gasp, Replied: "It's a wasp, And you're holding the end where the stenzies."


Lowell Gilbert writes:

Here I sit in Woostah County.

Yes, it's spelled "Worcester". -[-lg]

Kevin R asks:

And do you pronounce your surname to rhyme with Rod Gilbert ? [-kr]

Lowell replies:

He originally came from Montreal, so I assume he pronounces his name the French way. I have no French background at all, but I did grow up in a French-Canadian mill town in New England--so I was used to being "jill-bear" when I was a kid.

I do remember eating at Rod's restaurant once back when I walked past Madison Square Garden on my way to and from work every day. [-lg]

Peter Trei writes:

Not there now, but that's where my house is, in the town of Westminster, which the locals pronounce "Westminister".

Sometimes, there's good historical reasons for 'oddness'. The street at the southern end of Manhattan's grid system is posted as 'Houston Street", and out-of-towners pronounce it as if it were named after Sam Houston, the fighter and politician instrumental in transferring Texas from Mexico to the Union. There's lots of stuff named after him, and all called 'H-yews-ton'.

The NYC street was named when SH an unknown 15 year old, after William Houstoun, a NY landowner and politician. As a result, New Yorkers have always called the street 'House-ton'

A useful shibboleth for determining is someone is actually a New Yorker or not. [-pt]

To which Kevin replies:

..and, if you are south of Hous(e)ton, you are in SoHo, which should be pronounced "Sow-How," but instead borrows the original Westminster version's pronunciation.

Lowell adds:

For more entertaining confusion, he wasn't the only William Houston in the Continental Congress, although they didn't serve at the same time. And as far as I know, the multiple spellings of the surname were actually his fault.

It doesn't take long to pick up if you're in the area. There was a standing joke at NYU that the mean time for a new student to pick up the correct pronunciation was under a week.

[I didn't study at NYU; I just went to the graduate student union to play duplicate bridge.] [-lg]

And Peter writes:

Actually, going east, Houston Street is also north of NoLita, Bowery, and the Lower East Side. [-pt]

But Evelyn nit-picks:

*The* Bowery. [-ecl]

Keith Lynch writes:

Bear County in Texas is spelled "Bexar."

Agassiz is pronounced Agassee. [-kfl]

But Kevin responds:

That's anglophone tongues trying to handle the Spanish "Bejar" [with an accent over the 'e'].

[Re: Agassiz is pronounced Agassee.]

Which one?

Swiss French origin, it would seem. [-kr]

Andy returns with:

One of the local breweries (Peterborough, UK) is called Bexar County. It was setup and is run by a Texan. [-al]

And Tim Bateman covers another topic with:

I'm not convinced that ligatures are really letters, with the possible exception of the German ligature for the lower-case 'sz,' the esszet (or however it's spelled), which ends up looking like a lower-case beta in Greek to me.

The 'insular g' is what people downthread are referring to when they mention Menzies Campbell. The letter looks like a figure three in the form in which it has two straight lines and a curved one underneath it. As some people draw a lower-case 'z' like that, this led to confusion among English-writers when encountering this Cornish, nee British, letter, leading them to pronounce it as though it were a 'z.'

Two issues which you do not mention occur to me. Does Rosen deal with the complicated evolution on the separation of 'v' into vowel and consonant forms? Does he mention the medial or long 's'?

I sort of see where you're coming from when you write that Thorn looks like a lower-case 'p,' but I have always thought it rather more resembles a lower-case 'p' and a lower-case 'b' superimposed upon each other.

Thorn and eth have different pronunciations, both of which are represented by the 'th' digraph in current English. I forget which is the 'th' of 'that' and which is the 'th' of 'thin.' [-tb]

Philip responds:

Actually the yogh is what people downthread are referring to when they mention Menzies Campbell. The 'insular g' is something else entirely.

Evelyn replies:

Rosen claimed the ligatures were real letters, and given that in Spanish 'ch' and 'll' were until the mid-1990s, it is not so unreasonable. Rosen covers 'u'/'v' (and 'w'), as well as the long 's'. (I find the long 's' weird, because it is a medial 's', used only at the beginnings and middles of words, while in Greek, the long 's' is used only at the *ends* of words!)

In modern Icelandic, the thorn is the 'th' of "thin" and the eth is the 'th' of "that", at least according to Wikipedia. [-ecl]

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

ALL THE NAMES by Jose Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN 978-0-15-601059-7) is reminiscent of Saramago's THE DOUBLE-- or rather, I suppose, the other way around, since ALL THE NAMES was written first. In both, the main character is looking for someone for reasons which are more metaphysical than practical. In THE DOUBLE, the protagonist sees someone who seems to be his double and goes searching for him; in ALL THE NAMES the protagonist accidentally picks up the record of someone in the Central Registry and feels compelled to find her.

This compulsion, by the way, leads to a philosophical digression about how one reaches a decision. Saramago writes, "Senhor Jose's decision appeared two days later." While we desire to believe we are in control and make our own decisions, he says, there is really no way to explain just how we would go about doing that. (This is an aspect of the "mind-body problem" in philosophy.) "Strictly speaking," he says, "we do not make decisions, decisions make us." As in many of Saramago's novels (including THE DOUBLE and BLINDNESS), the events take place in an unnamed city in an unnamed country. As in BLINDNESS we never find out the characters' names, although here we are at least told that his first name is Jose. (The translation calls him "Senhor Jose" though in an interview Saramago refers to him as "Don Jose". Since "Don Jose" is a quite normal form of address, I suspect Saramago used "Senhor Jose" in the novel to emphasize the missing family names.)

Saramago begins with a description of the Central Registry where Senhor Jose works. Inspired strongly by Jorge Luis Borges's Library of Babel and Franz Kafka's architectural creations, the Registry is unforgettable. The phrase used to describe the major part of it ("labirínticas catacumbas do arquivo dos mortos"--"the labyrinthine catacombs of the archives of the dead") is truly striking, even if illogical. They are not underground, and the method of their construction would seem to prelude any sort of "labyrinthine" layout, but this merely makes them seem almost a living thing, which grows and changes over time.

Senhor Jose's job--a clerk in an office, a metaphorical cog in a machine--is also reminiscent of Kafka's protagonists. And his statement that "the Central Registry's regulations permit of neither precipitate actions nor improvisation, the worst thing being that we don't even know what all the regulations are" is pure Kafka.

And towards the end, when Senhor Jose goes to the General Cemetery, he is confronted with another labyrinth, this one perhaps reminiscent as well of the cemetery in Saramago's "Reflux".

"... a bishop never excites curiosity, however pious his reputation, not like a cyclist or a Formula One racing driver." Lance Armstrong has about three-and-a-half million Twitter followers, but other than him, I suspect there are bishops who would far exceed the numbers for the cyclists and drivers. (And I will not even count the Bishop of Rome.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Fashions have done more harm than revolutions. 
                                          --Victor Hugo 

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