MT VOID 07/31/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 5, Whole Number 1869

MT VOID 07/31/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 5, Whole Number 1869

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/31/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 5, Whole Number 1869

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

Comic Con Is Coming to Old Bridge!:

Well, sort of. The Old Bridge Library will be holding "Comic Con" on Saturday, August 15, 11AM to 4PM. Guests include Anthony Schiavino (Sergeant Zero, Ghosts with Guns), Neil Vokes (Spider- Man, Superman Adventures), and Tom Smith (artist/colorist for Marvel, DC).

It will be held in conjunction with their "Doctor Who Comics Day" celebration.

See for details and updates.

[Note that this is in no way connected to "Comic-Con", a registered trademark of San Diego Comic-Con International.]

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

	and "Vintage Season" by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, 
	Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM
August 15: Comic Con, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 11AM-4PM
August 21: SIDDHARTHA by Herman Hesse, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
September 10:
September 24: "The Marching Morons" by C. M. Kornbluth, "Baby Is 
	Three" by Theodore Sturgeon, and "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" 
	by Cordwainer Smith (all in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 
	VOLUME 2A), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change):

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 August (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I have been making note of when TCM will run together six or so films that are sort of on the same theme. There had to be a name for such a thing. It seemed to me it was a small series of films on one theme. Last month it was a set of films of aliens invading Earth. I called it a "miniseries." But no, that term implies it is one long story. There had to be a better word. A term was on the tip of my tongue, but I could not bring it to mind. Than someone wrote commenting how he liked the TCM film "marathons." That was it. My mental hiccup was over. Thank you. This month all the great films run in one day in one *marathon*. This month it is a Michael Caine retrospective *marathon* and he has been in some very good films.

You can sample two of Michael Caine's "Harry Palmer" films. It might have been better if they had also run what is in my opinion the best of the Harry Palmer films, FUNERAL IN BERLIN, but two is enough. Back in 1965, about the same time that THUNDERBALL was released, James Bond series producer Harry Saltzman launched what he hoped would be a new series of spy films starring Michael Caine and based on the spy novels of Len Deighton. They were more serious and more realistic than Ian Fleming's "Bond" novels. First problem to overcome: Deighton never names his secret agent. The novels are written in the first person and nobody refers to the agent by name. The film producers chose the bland name Harry Palmer and muted Caine's looks behind heavy glasses. Palmer lacks James Bond's incredible luck and instead thinks his way out of problems. It corrects a lot of what is bad in the Bond series.

The whole idea of his agent is he is a sort of nameless, nondescript character, a victim of the system he defends. Palmer, unlike Bond, is constantly one slip-up away from getting himself killed. When he complains that his boss was callous and extremely reckless with his life, he is infuriatingly told, "That's what you're paid for." Three Deighton novels where adapted into Harry Palmer films, THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966), and BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967). There were two more films made that nominally had Michael Caine playing Harry Palmer: BULLET TO BEIJING (1995) and MIDNIGHT IN SAINT PETERSBURG (1996). They are not based on Deighton novels and are disappointing exploitations of the Palmer series.

There is no consensus on which of the first three Palmer films is the best. As I have said I would pick FUNERAL IN BERLIN, but THE IPCRESS FILE is close. Surrealist Ken Russell directed BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN and took the style in the wrong direction. But all three are very good spy films and compare favorably with the James Bond films.
THE IPCRESS FILE: [Thursday, August 6, 10:00 PM]
BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN: [Thursday, August 6, 9:45 AM]

Speaking of action adventures starring Michael Caine, the surprisingly fun chase film THE WILBY CONSPIRACY is running that same day. Set in South Africa, this film caries a strong anti- apartheid message, but the viewer will never mind that since this film is at the same time a witty and engrossing action film. Jim Keogh (Caine) is extremely disinterested in politics, but much more interested in his antiapartheid activist lawyer girlfriend. He meets his girlfriend at a courthouse where she is defending anti- apartheid Shack Twala (Sidney Poitier). From there events happen faster than Keogh can follow. Before he knows it he is a criminal fugitive running with Twala from the fascist police, led by Major Horn, Nicol Williamson in a *really* creepy role. The story is how Keogh finds commitment, but by the time it is over the viewer cannot wait for someone to kill Horn. [Thursday, August 6, 1:30 PM]

Best film of the Month? If this is a Michael Caine retrospective and you have read this column in the past you probably know what I am going to pick. Caine joins Sean Connery in the great THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975) [Thursday, August 6, 3:30 PM] [-mrl]

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu) (copyright 2014 Tor (U.S. Edition), e-book, 399 pp, hardcover ISBN 978-0-7653-7706-7, e-book ISBN 978-1-4668-5344-7) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

I'm told there is a lot of great science fiction being produced in non-English speaking countries. Like most readers my age, I grew up on stuff that was written in the United States, and occasionally Great Britain, by white males. That's just the way it was back in those days. I'm guessing that most readers in the U.S. today still default to reading English language novels written by English speaking writers. We are typically not exposed to fiction from other countries and cultures, and even if a book is translated into English, we need to be made aware of that book before we'll pick it up and read it. I honestly can't tell you how many translated science fiction and fantasy books are sitting on bookstore shelves waiting to be purchased and read. Short of looking at every last one of them--and I'm not going to do that--I don't know how I would find out.

But in 2014, a book from whom I understand is arguably China's most beloved science fiction author, Cixin Liu, received the translation treatment by Ken Liu (no relation), and was published by Tor. Before the book started getting some advance notice from folks in the field (I heard about it for the first time on The Coode Street Podcast last year), I'd never heard of Cixin Liu. I *had* heard of Ken Liu. Ken Liu is one of the most talented short fiction writers in the field today, with multiple Hugo awards already under his belt, as well as a Nebula, among others. However, I know absolutely nothing about the book translation process and how well the resulting work represents the original. Thus, I'll talk about what I do know, which is the story.

And what a story it is. It's a throwback to 70s science fiction, a first encounter and alien invasion story all rolled into one (and that's not even true, since it's the first book of a trilogy, the second of which, THE DARK FOREST, hits our shores this year, translated by Joel Martinsen). It's got science--lots of science-- and a bit of what looks like hand wavium going on at one point (until I started reading some articles in a magazine that were discussing something similar to what the hand waving was about--I think). It's grand in scope, has some terrific ideas, and really can make us stop and think about whether we're all alone out here.

The story begins during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and uses it as a launching pad for all that goes forward. A young woman, who sees her father killed during the revolution, is assigned to a military base in a remote part of China. The more time she spends there, the more she becomes trusted, and eventually she learns the true nature of the project--to send signals into space to contact alien life. The young woman, Ye Wenjie (thank goodness for the list of characters at the beginning of the book), learns of a way to amplify the signals that are being sent. She sends a signal into deep space--and hence the trouble begins.

Over the course of the book we learn about the Trisolarans, an alien race that lives in a planetary system that has three suns. Trisolaran society is dying because of those three suns. Cixin Liu comes up with the clever idea of the Three Body game, wherein players are challenged to find solutions to the Three Body Problem (hence the name of the book) by interacting with characters from history in societies that keep dying off because of the unpredictability of the cycles of the three suns. (I should note that there really is something called the Three Body Problem; from wikipedia: In its traditional sense, the three-body problem is the problem of taking an initial set of data that specifies the positions, masses and velocities of three bodies for some particular point in time and then determining the motions of the three bodies, in accordance with the laws of classical mechanics (Newton's laws of motion and of universal gravitation).). The Three Body game is more than just a game--it is a gateway into a group of people who are working together to plan for the coming of the Trisolarans.

I don't want to give too many more details, as I could start getting into spoiler territory, and I think the rest needs to be discovered by the reader. What I can say, however, is that book not only chronicles how and why this group of individuals came together, but it also explores how the Trisolarans plan to come to earth to take over. Yes, it's a hostile takeover, and there are no financial personnel involved, although this is where the hand- waving comes in and, in reality, I don't mind it in the least. Whether a super-intelligent computer can be made by unfolding a proton into two dimensions is not the point. Just thinking about the possibilities of being able to do that is the point, and indeed in a larger sense has been how science fiction has gone about its business since the field began. You know, "wow, wouldn't it be neat if we could do THAT?"

The other thing I enjoyed about this book is the peek it gives to the reader into Chinese civilization around the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution going forward. Granted, it is just a peek, but I'd never given much thought to political, military, and academic life as well as the social status one acquires depending on who and where one was at any given time during that period of Chinese history.

With regard to the translation, as I stated earlier, there's not much I can say about it. It's hard to be able to judge how well a book is translated when you don't know the original. I *can* tell you that I've enjoyed Ken Liu's writing style when I have read his short fiction, and I think that style comes through here. I can tell it was a good, fast paced, and interesting read. I was never bored, and actually looked forward to reading the footnotes as I was reading the main text. I did NOT have same eagerness while I was reading JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORELL.

If foreign language science fiction is like this, I need to read more. Even if it's not, I do look forward to the remaining two books in the trilogy, and hopefully there will be more translations of Cixin Liu's work coming our way in the future. [-jak]

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu) (copyright 2006, English translation 2014, Tor, $25.99 hardcover, 399pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-7706-7) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):

Knowing that a book is translated from another language always gives me pause when it comes time to judge it. Are hiccups in the writing style the fault of the author or the translator? Would misunderstandings or stilted dialogue be eliminated in the original? Yet none of those really mattered here--the one thing I can say for sure is that Ken Liu's translation of THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM was smooth and elegant; his footnotes were well-placed, helpful, and unobtrusive; and I am convinced through this reading that Cixin Liu is a great writer.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM begins in the Chinese Cultural Revolution and subsequently follows a couple different characters: Ye Wenjie, who watched her father be murdered during the Revolution for refusing to renounce science; and Wang Miao, a scientist who works with nanotechnology. (A couple others have their stories told, but these two are the primary foci.) Ye Wenjie worked on a secret base sending signals out into space; Wang Miao is contacted when some prominent physicists commit suicide, begins discovering some very odd things going on with the universe, and gets involved with a video game called Three Body in which the players try to solve the problem of three unpredictable suns destroying all civilization with alarming frequency. This game turns out to be modeled on an actual alien planet suffering this very conundrum, but instead of putting any hope in the players solving it (the three-body problem is, after all, unsolvable), the aliens (Trisolarans) are coming to take over a planet that doesn't have this issue with the suns... i.e., Earth.

They don't intend to assimilate peacefully. And unfortunately, some people on Earth are disillusioned enough to be welcoming the destruction of the human race.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM is an examination of where society splits on whether or not humanity should be destroyed. It's intriguing, to be sure, and well-written. I have some trouble accepting the way people react to certain things: for example, the previously- mentioned physicists supposedly commit suicide because they discover that "physics does not exist" (or rather, that "the laws of physics are not invariant across time and space"); and while I am not a physicist, that seems like something of an overreaction. A lot of the side characters in this novel were really unbelievable, or somehow caricatures; I honestly had a lot of trouble believing anybody would /want/ to play the Three Body game, or that after playing it, they would instantly want to adopt Trisolaran society. Their 'motivations' were so flat and unrealistic that I couldn't take them seriously--and consequently couldn't really take any of the antagonists (who also wanted Trisolaran society to subsume Earth) seriously either.

I guess I was never really /attached/ to the story told here--but it was a good, well-told story, and I certainly enjoyed reading it. [-gmk]

THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS by Kevin J. Anderson (copyright 2014, Tor, $27.99 hardcover, 656pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-3299-8) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):

Before I go any farther, I have to admit that I didn't finish this book. In fact, if I'm being entirely honest, I didn't even get to page fifty. Page forty-two is where I abandoned ship. Page forty- two of six hundred and seventy-two. Maybe that means you don't want to take this review seriously, but I just couldn't make it any farther.

I heard a lot of disdain directed toward THE DARK BETWEEN STARS before I ever picked it up. Everyone kept saying the writing style was just atrocious. Now, I am admittedly very picky about writing style, but I was absolutely determined to give this book a fair chance. At least a hundred pages, I told myself. That's enough to see if there's anything salvageable beneath the poor writing. An intriguing plot, interesting characters--any reason to keep going.

I just... I couldn't.

I can't really tell you what THE DARK BETWEEN STARS is actually about, because I just didn't get far enough. One could argue that if you don't know what the book is about after forty pages then you have a problem anyway, but since it's almost seven hundred pages total, I suppose it has a little more leeway. I do know that this is a series set in the same universe as another of Anderson's space epics, involving some but not all of the same characters. To give Anderson his due, I /can/ see why someone would enjoy this book. He does a good job of conveying information from the previously- told tales; I didn't feel like I was lost or missing something because I hadn't read the other series. There was probably too much exposition because of the need to do this, but that wasn't really what got to me.

What got to me was the dialogue.

Every single piece of dialogue was so. Incredibly. Bad. It was stilted. It was unrealistic. A character would say something and the other person would respond with something that didn't actually match up to what had just been said. "As-you-know-Bob," which is a technique where characters tell each other things they already know in order to pass the info along to the reader, happens /all over the place/. It made me so angry that eventually, as I tried to forge on through at least /fifty/ pages (since I wasn't going to manage a hundred), I started zoning out any time anyone was talking. I just had to hope none of them said anything useful because I couldn't bear to listen to them. It was riddled with pointless, redundant, or equally-unrealistic internal monologue. It was just... bad.

Honestly, there were a lot of other things wrong with this book in the first forty-two pages. For one thing, I have no clue what the main conflict was--and really, you should know that in the first /two/ pages of a novel. The point-of-view shifted every three pages, which is just excessive. People just /did/ things that didn't make a whole lot of sense. ('Wow, these guards who are /on our side/ are standing here /doing their job really well/. Too bad we don't like the job they're doing. We'll just attack them. It's fine. Clearly the best path to our goal.' NO. STOP. PLEASE JUST STOP.) By the time I was thirty pages in, I dreaded picking up this book, and in the end, I decided that life is really just too short to spend seven hundred pages--or even a hundred--or even, as it turns out, fifty--hating your favorite hobby. [-gmk]

AURORA and ORPHANS OF THE SKY (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Evelyn's comments on AURORA and ORPHANS OF THE SKY in the 07/24/15 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

A couple of comments on the joint review of Kim Stanley Robinson's AURORA and Robert Heinlein's ORPHANS OF THE SKY:

"For example, one factor that Robinson addresses that no one seems to have thought of before is that (because of their life spans) bacteria and viruses evolve faster than humans. In a limited ecosystem, this means that a deadly disease is much more likely to develop than in a wider and more robust environment."

My first thought was, that can't be right: it flies in the face of all experience. Remember how sailors on long voyages would get healthier the longer they were isolated. In general, isolated populations would start dying like flies only when strangers arrived. But it took me a while to figure out why it's wrong. Under normal circumstances, our immune systems keep pathogens at such low levels that they can't do much evolving. That's why epidemics arise in "reservoirs" of pathogens.

"In UNIVERSE, illiteracy is standard, and a lot of knowledge seems to have been lost for some reason. (Given that pre-literate peoples manage to transmit knowledge over many generations, the reason for this is now [read: not?] clear.)" In a pre-literate society, everything more than a few generations old is part of the mythic past. Consider how the Plains Indians believed that the Great Spirit gave them horses at the creation of the world. They simply forgot what we know actually happened.

There are Native American creationists who insist that they did not come from Asia but were created in North America by their deity-- complete with horses, of course! It's a bit of a dilemma for modern anthropologies, who are required by the rules of political correctness to at least pretend to take such oral "histories" seriously. [-tw]

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

I recently read a book on the current environmental crisis, ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME by Jorge Mario Bergoglio (ISBN 978-1-612-78386- 4) which actually has a lot of connections with AURORA by Kim Stanley Robinson (which I reviewed last week).

I'll first note that this is written from a religious perspective and for a primarily Christian audience, as Bergoglio says: "Furthermore, although this [volume] welcomes dialogue with everyone so that together we can seek paths of liberation, I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters."

He also starts out by disavowing the "Earth has been given unconditionally to mankind" attitude one often hears: "... nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. ... Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures. ... Instead, our 'dominion' over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship." And later, he again criticizes absolutism: "The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property."

Bergoglio does not take the stereotypical anti-evolution position, but rather says, "Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution."

(He does not endorse evolution exclusively, though, as he also writes, "Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems.")

While many authors try to separate environmental issues from other issues, Bergoglio ties them together, noting, "There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees..."

The bottom line, for Bergoglio anyway, seems to be, "We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. ... We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental." So ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME spends a fair amount of time on economics and on the problems of the poor. Some of these are very basic, such as access to safe drinking water. But even these do not get the attention they deserve. "These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. ... This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems."

Bergoglio sees our attitudes as a continuum, saying, "It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings." As a result of our indifference, he continues, "... we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights."

But he is saying that we institute a welfare state to solve the problems of poverty, but rather that we should aspire to Maimonides's highest level of charity, namely, providing the means for someone to avoid the need for charity: "Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work."

However, he does want some basic changes in our socio-economic system. As he notes, "To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute." Later he is even more specific, saying, "Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery."

In some respects, alas, the "obvious" science expressed may be wrong, or at least questionable. For example, Bergoglio says, "Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water." This is true of some cities, I suppose, but in fact cities are *efficient* structures which use much less energy and water per person than other living arrangements. For example, an apartment building provides more insulation per apartment (through internal walls) to retain heat in the winter. The very fact that people tend to occupy much smaller residences in cities than in suburbs saves energy as well as water (few city dwellers have large lawns or private swimming pools). Transit in cities also tends to emphasize public transit more and private vehicles less. Not only does this provide economies of scale, but public transit is more likely to be powered through electricity or other alternatives rather than gasoline.

Bergoglio may be thinking less of cities such as Boston and San Francisco, though, and more of places such as Mexico City and Mumbai when he writes, "In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega- cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence."

One of the things that some readers may find disconcerting is that Bergoglio does not attempt to present reams of data supporting his contentions on global climate change, but simply states, "Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth."

Unlike many people trying to deal with global climate change, Bergoglio is not anti-science or anti-technology. He says straight out, "It is right to rejoice in these advances [of science] and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for 'science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity'."

Of course, his application of science often tends toward the philosophical, or even New Age, as when he seems to derive his belief in the interconnectedness of everything from physics, specifically observing, "Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation."

However, he also recognizes the negative aspects of science, when he observes, "Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational."

In part, he attributes this to too much knowledge and technology, so that "the fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant."

However, science (in his opinion) has its limits. For example, he says, "... experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only 'if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives'."

And sometimes he verges into almost a sort of relativism, as when he says, "It is difficult to make a general judgment about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application."

As for solutions to the problems he has listed, Bergoglio is less specific. He seems determined to avoid saying that we have exceeded Earth's "carrying capacity," instead claiming, "To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues." But he does concede that "attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels." (For an illustration of the population density imbalance, see

Rather than absolute population, he sees "consumerism" as the true problem, and says, "That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth. [It has been said that] 'technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency'." However, this is not just decreased growth, but actually shrinkage; he does not want to change the sign of just the second derivative, but also of the first derivative.

Of course, Neal Stephenson (in SNOWCRASH) has his own description of this which is a bit starker: "Once we've brain-drained out technology into other countries--once things have evened out ... once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel--once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brick maker would consider to be prosperity..." (Of course, none of the main characters seem to be living in the Pakistani bricklayer style, which somewhat undercuts Stephenson's message.)

And if climate change does not get us, he warns, social revolution and chaos will: "Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction."

He also agrees that we need long-term, considered, global solutions, saying, "Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. ... A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries."

He states flatly, "We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels--especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas--needs to be progressively replaced without delay."

For other problems, he is more vague (and less re-assuring): "With regard to climate change, the advances have been regrettably few. Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most."

He does disparage some current "solutions": "The strategy of buying and selling 'carbon credits' can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide."

And he recognizes that this will be difficult, saying, "This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen. [They say,] 'Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage'." He adds, "To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics. [But] the environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces." [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Statistics: the mathematical theory of ignorance. 
                                          --Morris Kline 

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