MT VOID 08/07/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 6, Whole Number 1870

MT VOID 08/07/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 6, Whole Number 1870

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 08/07/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 6, Whole Number 1870

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

Star Trek Economics, SF Books You Pretend to Have Read, Worldcons and Art, and Bell Labs in the 1960s (links):

Bloomberg has a short article on the economics in "Star Trek":

io9 has a list by Charlie Jane Anders of "10 [Science Fiction] Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them)":

Bob Eggleton writes about why Worldcon art shows (and art tracks) are not what they used to be:


And for all you Bell Labbers, Brian Kernighan talks about "How It Felt to Work at Bell Labs in the 60s":

MINYANS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Isn't there supposed to be a new film around called MINYANS? I think it I supposed to be about little artificial people who have been around from the beginning of time and who run around in groups of nine looking for a tenth to join their group. [-mrl]

My Little Contribution to the World's Ills (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Many years ago I worked for Bell Laboratories on a project called Net 1000. At various places on the network there were staffed technical offices with computers that managed the network. I did not know much about that end of the business. I was just a software developer. But when the communications workers union went on strike I found myself with strike duty at the Greensboro, North Carolina node. There were only managers (not allowed to strike) left to operate the node so developers were sent to the nodes to backfill.

My first day in the node I went over to the control terminal and to look at what programs they had running. The programs on the screen had a familiar look. The manager came running over with fear in his eyes and said I should be very careful with that program. It controlled the tape backup that they were doing. I told him, yeah, I knew what the program did. I wrote it. That did seem to put a different complexion on things. He told me, "Well, it's a real good program."

I got to be good friends with that manager. One day I told him it would not be difficult to write a front-end program that would save time. Instead of a procedure that took forty minutes each morning I could write a procedure that would take a minute or so to start and then could run independently of the operator. That would free up the operator to do something else.

By the time the strike duty was over I had made the operator's job much less time-intensive. Much less staff effort was required. I pictured my changes would be welcome by staff and management. I guess I pictured the strikers returning to work and discovering that their jobs had gotten easier for them in their absence. I pictured them being pleased.

I now realize that my software was probably exactly what the strikers did not want. It did not occur to me that saving work for the staff might not be seen as an unalloyed good. Here they were going on strike to hold onto their salaries and I was demonstrating the node could be maintained with less work and (dare I say it?) perhaps fewer workers. In my youthful enthusiasm I assumed that the easier to use and faster I made my software the happier would be all concerned. What can I say? It was the early 1980s and we all had more youth, those who were around at all. I just always assumed that the computer might remove non-technical jobs but would replace them with technical jobs. Non-technical staff needed only education to become technical staff and perhaps even be better paid.

The mistake I, and other pundits I had listened to, were making was twofold. First the number of technical jobs being created was not as big as the number of jobs that would be removed. Just by sheer numbers the number of job created are generally not as numerous as the number of jobs replaced. The other was that just like assuming that when the motorcar came along the displaced horses needed only good education for them to learn how to earn their keep as motorcar drivers. Just because a worker knows how to screw a steering wheel in place does not mean that he has the intellectual wherewithal to program a computer. Humans can be inflexible. If my front end to the network node software meant some smaller number of people could be laid off, those people were probably not going to get technical jobs. They were going to have to find new jobs for themselves. At one time some employers had a policy of not having workers laid off, but had them redeployed. I think at the time of my strike duty that policy was a fond memory.

The term that seems popular is that we are headed for a "jobless" future. I cannot see that happening, at least in this century. If you destroy two jobs for every new job you create it will take a very long time to get to "jobless." But if I were in college today, I think that I would be quite anxious about my future job prospects. I think that a safe, stable job will with time become a rare commodity, certainly by the second half of this century.

Sorry I did that to you, strikers. [-mrl]

CIBOLA BURN by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2014, Orbit, $27.00 hardcover, 581pp, ISBN 978-0-316-21762-0) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):

CIBOLA BURN is the fourth book in multi-personality author James S.A. Corey's (actually collaborative authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) long-running space opera known as The Expanse. Book five recently came out; I believe we're currently slated for nine. This is without a doubt my favorite science fiction I've ever read (...excepting ENDER'S GAME, but that's in a different class).

In the previous book, Our Hero Holden (the only point-of-view character who's persisted all the way from book one) had a hand in opening the gates to countless other stars, planets--worlds for exploration. In this book, we see what happens when humanity settles in to fight over the first one. Yep. Countless new frontiers. Humanity argues over one of them.

It's a little sad that this is a completely believable premise.

The colony who landed first on Ilus/New Terra and the company who had legal rights to land their scientists there first start fighting each other after the colonists sort of accidentally-on purpose kill some scientists and government officials trying to land. Holden is sent in to mediate under the rationale of everybody hates him eually, since he is so hilariously idealistic that he'll step on any number of toes to do the right thing. Holden's POV chapters are always the most fun to read, and thinking about it, I'm pretty sure I could ramble for at least a page about why. I love him as a character. His incredibly optimism and strong moral compass are both adorable and tempered by an equally strong impetus to protect the people he cares about--and I kind of loved seeing these two things go to war with each other in this book. Everything he does is consistent with who he is. If there is one thing I have never doubted about Corey up to this point, it's that they can make you feel exactly how they want you to feel about each of their viewpoint characters. I mean, is there anyone who didn't love Avasarala from the previous books?

CIBOLA BURN diverges a little from the rest of the series in that usually, the viewpoint characters are in several disparate places and situations that eventually converge into one big disaster. This time, there's really only one place and situation--the dispute over Ilus/New Terra--seen through four different people's eyes. While this makes an admirable attempt at showing all the different sides of one argument, it also often results in watching the same event two or three times, and some of them through not-very-interesting eyes. Though I appreciate what Corey was trying to show us with Basia, for example, Basia's POV was ... pretty boring, and sometimes his chapters felt like they happened simply because they /had/ to happen to maintain the structure of the book, not because they actually had anything to contribute. Two or three views of one situation are fascinating; four seems a little excessive, when they're all in the general vicinity of one another. (Perhaps Corey should have given us the views of someone from back on earth who had to deal with the political backwash or something ... and by someone, I mean Avasarala, because we all need a little more of foul-mouthed sassy political old Indian ladies in our lives.)

After watching the planet try to kill everybody on it (after they tried to kill each other for a while first) through several people's eyes, everything culminates in brilliant and emotive action in the last third of the book (not that the first two-thirds were dull, despite the repetitive POVs--just a little longer than necessary), and everything was amazing and I realized again why I love this series so much. It really knows what it's doing, and it does it splendidly. I have book five sitting on my couch already, waiting to be devoured as soon as I finish my Hugo reading. [-gmk]

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: James Bond has S.P.E.C.T.R.E and now the IMF's Ethan Hunt must track down The Syndicate, a secret organization committing terrorist acts to somehow bring about something like a new world order. The latest "Mission Impossible" film is toned down a bit after the last effort, and the villains are more reserved, but even restrained they are trouble for Hunt. Christopher McQuarrie writes and directs the fifth high-octane entry in the "Mission Impossible" series. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In the "James Bond" series Eon made the flamboyant, silly, (and not very good) MOONRAKER and then realized they could not keep doing such comic-book-like stories. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, the next film, was much lower key at least compared to other Bond films with no mad scientists trying to destroy the world. The "Mission Impossible" producers probably made a similar decision after their MISSION IMPOSSIBLE--GHOST PROTOCOL. They dialed the flash down quite a bit to have a slightly more realistic story for their fifth entry, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION. This is not to say the film is anywhere near sedentary. There is limited use of super-spy-gadgets (not stressed or pre-introduced in a sequence as they would be in a Bond film). There are fewer stunts, though 53-year-old Tom Cruise can still put on an exciting show. The first stunt probably outclasses the best that Bond has ever done.

For writer/director Christopher McQuarrie fewer stunts and gadgets mean more time to tell story. Much of the time is spent with an attractive secret agent, Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson), who is on somebody's side; it just takes a while for Ethan Hunt to figure out on whose. The villains are kept non-descript and certainly not as flashy as they would be in a Bond film.

As the film opens Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is just preventing terrorists from getting a shipment of nerve gas in artillery shells. His method is to drop the shells by parachute from a plane. (To me this seems a really *bad* idea, but the film moves so fast it goes unnoticed.) He suspects that behind the sale there is a new international crime syndicate called, imaginatively enough, The Syndicate. The Syndicate seems more engaged in what nasty things they can do than they are figuring how to profit from their chicanery. I did not mind that The Syndicate was trying to bring about a new world order, but it a little hard to understand how the terrorist acts would accomplish that. Meanwhile, the United States Government is continuing the process of disbanding and eliminating the Impossible Mission Force. A Senate oversight committee wants to make the IMF a branch of the CIA so that it can be better managed on a shorter leash. At the same time, Hunt is off looking for a man who may be involved in The Syndicate, one with light hair and glasses. "Mission Impossible" stories just do not take the liberties that Bond films take and so are a little more plausible. The action scenes are no less filled with flash, but there is a little more space between them.

One of the major set pieces of the action is a backstage fight during a performance of Puccini's "Turandot" (a personal favorite of mine). This film is a Chinese co-production and the opera "Turandot" is a pseudo-Chinese fairy tale with some traditional Chinese musical themes mixed in. McQuarrie borrows from the climax of Alfred Hitchcock's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (either version) building to a gunshot at a musical crescendo. But here it is at the end of the popular aria "Nessun Dorma". Then through the rest of the film the music score by Joe Kraemer has little snatches of "Turandot" and the "Mission Impossible" theme mixed in.

Cruise stays remarkably young-looking, particularly when he is performing stunts that would kill most men a couple of decades younger. Here Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust nearly matches him physically and perhaps has an edge on him in intelligence. I have liked actor Simon McBurney ever since he played an enigmatic figure in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. He is still playing enigmas, perhaps because he distinctively does not have film star features. He has an out-of-the-ordinary face and gives an out-of-the-ordinary performance.

There is nothing in this film I would call a "rogue nation." North Korea is my idea of a rogue nation. There are rogues in the film, but a distinct shortage of nations. I am not sure what in this film they are even applying the term to.

Everything about a "Mission Impossible" film seems to compete with the "James Bond" series. Even if it bested that series, I am not sure it would be noticed. You cannot beat a myth. I have never been fond of Tom Cruise, but one must admit what he does he does well. I rate MISSION IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


AURORA (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):

In response to Evelyn's comments on AURORA in the 07/24/15 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford sends the following link to his comments on it in CENTAURI DREAMS:


Time Zones, ZIP Codes, Unabridged Editions and Readers Digest Condensed Books, and THE DEATH OF CAESAR and THE LEOPARD (letter of comment by John Hertz):

John Hertz notes:

You have at least one reader a couple of thousand miles away who sends you locs not by E-mail but by real mail.

I wondered whether your ZIP Code was prime but as you probably know it's 61*127. [-jh]

In response to Peter Rubinstein's comment on unabridged editions in the 06/19/15 issue of the MT VOID, John writes:

Mostly I want the unabridged. But I've never forgotten changing my mind--more than once, which recalls Winston Churchill's crossing the aisle (i.e., of U.K. Parliamentary seating, leaving his party for its opposition) and later when [the] occasion seemed to demand it crossing back--about "Reader's Digest Condensed Books".

At first I liked RD. I was mystified why my parents esteemed it so low. I protested to my mother. She said, "Consider that you're eight years old." I said, "Don't pull rank." (She and my father had each served in the Army.) She said, "What?" I said, "I think I'm entitled to an explanation I can understand. 'You'll see when you're older' may be true but how does it help me?" We really did talk to each other like that. Maybe you did too.

I thought the "Condensed Books" version of RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP (E. Beach, 1955) was swell. Later I read the original and got sore. "What a bunch of dolts leaving out all this good stuff!" I thought. Then re-reading the condensed version and the original together I realized what ability had been required to make the condensation.

Some time after that I re-read TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (J. Verne, 1870). Instead of getting sore about all the lists of fish, I thought, "What if Verne is a good writer and has put them in here for some reason?" It came to me what that was. Since many MT VOID readers are electronic I'll point out my book note, which you can find via , right-hand column below "Meta". [-jh]

Evelyn notes:

For those who just want to click, it's at:

Also, coincidentally, I am starting my eight-column series of comments on THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE in this issue. [-ecl]

And in response to Evelyn's comments on THE DEATH OF CAESAR in the same issue, John writes:

THE LEOPARD (G. Di Lampedusa, 1958) is quite wonderful, as was the author. I don't necessarily mean agreeable. Nor, as you probably know, is a "gattopardo" a leopard, but that's a long story. Tancredi's "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change" (ch. 1; pg. 41 in my 1991 Everyman's Lib'y ed'n) is a character speaking, not necessarily the author; it's much loved by people hot for change who feeling unable to persuade others deem them obstinate and decide to cow them instead; but it isn't true, just as "Change is good" is no truer than "Change is bad." [-jh]

Evelyn adds:

Apparently a "gattopardo" is an ocelot rather than a leopard. For what it's worth, this is a confusion in translation, rather than a confusion in nomenclature. I have talked about both in Latin American literature. For an example of a confusion in translation, Gilbert Alter-Gilbert's translation of Leopoldo Lugones's "Yzur" goes back and forth between "ape" and "monkey" for the all-inclusive Spanish word "mono" when clearly Lugones means what in English we call "ape" (and specifically "chimpanzee") and not "monkey" throughout. He does translate "chimpance" as "chimpanzee", though.

Of a confusion in nomenclature, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria in THE OXFORD BOOK OF LATIN AMERICAN SHORT STORIES says, "The South American 'tigre', of course, is not a tiger at all, but a jaguar, erroneously named by the Spanish conquerors." Apparently the conquistadors also miscalled the puma a "leon" or lion, which may be where we get the alternative name "mountain lion". [-ecl]

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and Jonathan Strange (letter of comment by Kevin R):

In response to Mark's comments on THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING in the 07/31/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

Thank you for highlighting that. I'm going to be sure to record it. It's been years since I watched it all the way through, and I keep meaning to.... [-kr]

Mark responds:

I hope you got it. It is one of the great adventure films. [-mrl]

In response to Gwen Karpierz's review of THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM in the same issue, Kevin writes:

[Gwen writes,] "I did NOT have same eagerness while I was reading JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORELL."

Is it just me, or are authors lazy about picking names for their characters? Re: Jonathan Strange, there were already

2 Adams Strange:

1 Doctor Steven Strange:

An Allen Strange:

and a John Strange:

And that's just off the top of my head.

Also, historical Johns Strange:

I'm a little tired of it. [-kr]

UNIVERSE (letters of comment by Kevin R and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Taras Wolansky's comments on UNIVERSE in the 07/31/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

Since Heinlein's generation ship has enough of a radiation problem to produce mutants, couldn't that make it a breeding ground for mutated disease organisms the way an isolated village or a sailing vessel wouldn't be? [-kr]

Keith F. Lynch replies:

Bacteria are enormously less sensitive to radiation than people are. [-kfl]

Kevin answers:

Okay, turning the microscope around.....

Radiation is bad for human immune systems, so could bacteria, viruses that are the result of normal rates of mutation of bugs the passengers are already carrying be more likely to survive and be transmitted? [-kr]

ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (letters of comment by Kevin R and Philip Chee):

In response to Evelyn's comments on ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME in the 07/31/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

[Bergoglio writes,] "Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation."

Sounds like warmed over Fritjof Capra, who was very popular among the New Agers:



Mark says:

Any similarity between Tao and physics discovered later is, in my opinion strictly coincidental. [-mrl]

And Philip Chee says of the comments as a whole:

Hmm. Sounds like one of them pinko commie bleeding heart liberals. [-pc]

Evelyn writes:

As noted in my column below, ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME is probably better known as LAUDATO SI' and Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. [-ecl]

THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (Introduction) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I will not attempt to review THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Edward Gibbon (ISBN 978-0-307-70076-6). Instead I will make a few observations, and then comment on various passages I found memorable or significant. Because of the length, I will make my general comments this week, and then do one of each of the volumes in the six-volume edition for each of the next seven weeks (because I need to split the comments on the sixth volume).

The first observation is that, like Adam Smith's magnum opus, AN INQUIRY INTO THE CAUSES AND NATURE OF THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, Gibbon's masterpiece is so often referred to by a title abbreviated by trimming off the *beginning* that it is had to find when works are alphabetized by title. At least with Gibbon it is under either "H" or "D", though, while with Smith it could be "I", "C", or "W".

A related observation is that Gibbon's names for places and people are not necessarily the ones we commonly use these days. The constant references to the "Euxine Sea" are to what we know of as the "Black Sea", for example. And the much-vaunted search capabilities of e-books are substantially impaired by the variations in naming. I was completely unsuccessful in finding "Maximinus Thrax", for example, or "Maximinus" or "Thrax". It turns out that Gibbon calls him "Maximin". (I only found him when I googled for him and found alternate names.)

Oh, and one must remember if one's ebook uses British or American spelling. (I have tried to retain Gibbon's original British spelling throughout this.)

Connected to this is Gibbon's structure. Unlike most history books, which are basically chronological, Gibbon is arranged more topically. So for example, the first chapter in Gibbon's fifth volume is about icons and iconoclasty, the power of the popes, and the Holy Roman Empire, and covers 726 through 1378. The next chapter covers Arabia 569 through 680. Then we get conquests by the Saracens and other Muslims, 632 through 718, and so on. (For reasons passing understanding, the entirety of the Modern Library edition of Volumes Five and Six is labeled "1185-1453 A.D.") So one finds oneself bouncing around a lot in time, made even more difficult to follow by the fact that Gibbon puts almost no dates in his text! (And what he does put he spells out rather than using digits.) If I recall correctly, one edition puts dates and sometimes emperors' names in the margins, which might help.

If you wonder why Roman history is fascinating, just consider the death of Valentinian: When he met with the Quadi, expecting them to surrender abjectly, they instead complained about how he had invaded them and then treacherously killed their chief (after inviting him to dinner!), notwithstanding which the recent attacks on Romans were not by them, but by some "freelance" robbers. Then, Gibbon writes:

"The answer of the emperor left them but little to hope from his clemency or compassion. He reviled, in the most intemperate language, their baseness, their ingratitude, their insolence. His eyes, his voice, his color, his gestures, expressed the violence of his ungoverned fury; and while his whole frame was agitated with convulsive passion, a large blood vessel suddenly burst in his body; and Valentinian fell speechless into the arms of his attendants."

He was not just speechless--within a few minutes he was dead. Now that's dramatic!

Plus you have such great designations, such as "The Year of Four Emperors" (69 C.E.)--a period of chaos. But then later (193 C.E.) you have "The Year of Five Emperors", when things are even worse. But wait--it doesn't end there; no, you get "The Year of Six Emperors" (238 C.E.).

Next week, the quotations.

[to be continued next week]


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

In last week's column, I talked about ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME by Jorge Mario Bergoglio. I just thought that this week I would mention that the work is probably better known as LAUDATO SI' and Bergoglio as Pope Francis.

THOMAS WORLD by Richard Cox (ISBN 978-1-59780-308-3) is a novel that one would think should have gotten more attention from the science fiction community. The first-person protagonist, Thomas Phillips, has a strange experience with a shining blue orb that seems to enter his head during a church service, after which he starts seeing strange reactions (or lack of reactions) from people he interacts with, as well as having the feeling that he is being watched and followed by mysterious men. And in addition, he hears voices reciting numbers and even random strangers suddenly turning to him and telling him things such as that everything is an illusion. All this somehow seems to be tied up with a game called "Ant 2.0" and the novels of Philip K. Dick.

The main problem is that this seems a bit too much like THE TRUMAN SHOW, though even that comparison raises questions. The basic one is whether Thomas's solipsism is purely mental, or has a physical basis. With Truman, we see the physical limits, but with Thomas, his travels seem to cover too large an area to be within a physical world.

Oddly enough, THOMAS WORLD seems to have made no impression on the usual science fiction reviewers, and all the reviews I can find are in mainstream media. (Maybe Google just doesn't find those in genre publications.) In any case, if you are a fan of Dick, you definitely should seek this out. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          The definition of a good mathematical problem is 
          the mathematics it generates rather than the 
          problem itself. 
                                          --Andrew Wiles 

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