MT VOID 09/18/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 12, Whole Number 1876

MT VOID 09/18/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 12, Whole Number 1876

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 09/18/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 12, Whole Number 1876

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

Eat This (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There are a series of popular diet books called "Eat This Not That." If I ever package and sell food of any sort I have a brand name already picked out. I am going to trademark the brand name "This." [-mrl]

FERMAT'S LAST TANGO ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

... is a musical--actually an operetta--by Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum based on the story of the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem and of the study of obscure but beautiful mathematics in general. It is available free on YouTube.


The Retreads of Summer (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last summer I was in a discussion of current films. A correspondent asked what I thought about the big studio output of summertime films. I think the question came to me with a particular point. It was that almost everything coming out to play last summer was a remake, a reboot, or a sequel. Since that discussion I have given some thought as to what makes a remake, reboot or sequel acceptable.

In the warmer months it is rare to see a big film coming to my local theaters that is not intended to bring of fond memories of some previous film in the hopes I will buy a ticket to repeat that experience. At the time of the discussion my favorite neighborhood theater was running the sequels PITCH PERFECT 2, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Somehow these did not excite me. My theater was also running the remakes FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, POLTERGEIST, and what I think were original films TOMORROWLAND, HOT PURSUIT, SAN ANDREAS, and THE AGE OF ADALINE. Even the original films, which I admit I did not actually see, were probably not that original.

Some of these films may be just spectacular variations on films I had already seen. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was enjoyable, but it was not a story film. It essentially relied on what was in THE ROAD WARRIOR and then showed a spectacle which was almost devoid of story. It was amazing what was in that film but it did not include much of a plot. It was impressive as an experience, but not as a cinematic experience. Rare was the moment in the film that was not in an action sequence.

It is getting harder to find original experiences at movie theaters. I have to say, however, that I am not one of those people who really have something against having so many remakes, reboots, and sequels. Yes, it is true that a lot of the films I dislike and/or avoid are in these categories. But let me be clear on this. When I buy a theater ticket I want the film viewing experience to be worth the cost of the ticket. The filmmaker who is making a remake is working at a disadvantage. Seeing a film too much like some previous film I have seen is making his task harder for the filmmaker. If I am investing the price of a ticket I expect a return on that investment. I guess that is the underlying and unifying theory of everything in film reviewing. It seems almost too obvious to state: Give the viewers their money's worth.

Repaying the audience the value of their ticket investment is by no means impossible. It has been done at least occasionally in the past. The Coen Brothers' version of TRUE GRIT in 2010 had a lot of content that had been previously seen in the John Wayne version form 1969. But the Coen Brothers' version had a deeper and darker tone than the Wayne version, which was in the end just another western with John Wayne heroics saving the day. It was one of the darker John Wayne Technicolor westerns, but what it did well the Coen Brothers did better. The ending of the remake was certainly darker with the main character ending up a one-armed spinster who missed by four days seeing a dying Rooster Cogburn one last time. The Wayne version had a forced upbeat ending. It was not only closer to the book, it also felt more authentic. It just overall was a better film. Admittedly I did not have to pay to see either version, but I think the improvements were sufficient enough to justify the price of a film ticket.

Much the same could be said of Philip Kaufman's version of THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978). Yes, it had much of the same plot, but it also has imaginative images of the alien life form and, more than most people realized, subsonic sound on the soundtrack that game it an ominous atmosphere. Mundane images like a telephone cord retracting were turned into ominous alien action. The major change in the remake was transplantation to urban San Francisco. Visual images of the aliens were creatively done and of course did not have computer imaging, coming as it did only one year after the first STAR WARS. Again I knew most of the story, but I got my ticket's worth even having seen the plot done before.

What makes a reboot, remake or sequel work?

A remake or sequel has to have good actors and solid production values. THE FLY (1958) was a very well made film with sympathetic characters and genuine drama. It had well-orchestrated color. THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) was a black-and-white cheapie with the same props and the only innovation was the fly's head was about eight times as big. A film may not have to be as good as the original, but it should be darn close.

A remake, sequel, whatever, better have something to surprise the audience and it should be good enough to make the film better. The 2008 THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was bigger and flashier than the original, but the major change was addition of non-corporeal digital effects as if Gort was no longer a robot, but a weapon we never see. It might have been difficult to match the original Gort in awesomeness, but this certainly was not what was required.

And the filmmaker should make sure the story still plays well. Even if the filmmakers could do THE GRADUATE more meaningfully and funnier they would still face the problems that Benjamin Braddock was a romantic in 1967, and today he would be a stalker and a predator. [-mrl]

THE 17th ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS (film review(s) by Mark R. Leeper):

After candy and dinosaurs one thing that everybody seems to love is animated films. There is just something about an animated film. We love to see these flat (and more recently three dimensional) images seem to come to life and have lives of their own. There are a number of animation festivals, or feature-length collections of what is chosen as the best animation of the year. These collections tour the country and my wife and I and a legion of other people sometimes travel great distances to see a handful of films brought to life with the magic of animated filmmaking. I have just finished seeing THE 17th ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS.

Most of my readers are used to me rating films on a -4 to +4 scale and for those who want it on a more standard scale I translate that rating to a 1 to 10 scale. But since this film is the work of (at least) eleven different production teams, I will rate each film individually. Each film will be graded on a scale with A for excellent, B for good, C for acceptable and D for poor. Recognize that there will be no films that get a C or D since a C or D film will not have been selected for THE SHOW OF SHOWS. Films will be rated on the basis of quality of narrative and artistic merit. (Take my style rating with a grain of salt--I am no artist.)

"The Story Of Percival Pilts", created by Janette Goodey & John Lewis

This is a clay animation story of a boy who walked on stilts everywhere he went. He kept getting stilts longer and longer and longer so he could see the world from a higher and higher angle. The question is why did he do it. Percival has separated himself from society, but his high life has its rewards. With the final words of the story we find out why he did this odd thing. The story is told in rhyming couplets. Rating: A

"Tant De Forets", created by Geoffrey Godet & Burcu Sankur

This is a short film suggested by a poem by Jacques Prevert. With geometrical images it shows us the beauty of the forest and what of value is gone when the forest is lost to development, in this case a paper factory. The film is narrated in thick French accent, a little hard to understand. The figures are shown as combinations of very simple geometric forms. The short film concludes with a plea to preserve the forests. Rating B

"Snowfall", directed by Conor Whelan

This film is technically proficient but does not build to any obvious point. It appears to be a story of a man who goes to a party during a snowfall. He appears agitated. What happens to him is inscrutable. In an afterward Conor Whelan, the director tells how to understand it, but it should have stood on its own without needing his explanation afterward. Rating: B-

"Ballad Of Holland Island House", created by Lynn Tomlinson

This is primarily a song by Lynn Tomlinson with her own animated illustrations done in a process called clay painting. It is the true story of a house except that it is the house telling the story in the form of a song. The story tells us of the last surviving house in Chesapeake Bay. The house is to be inundated by the waters rising. The house remembers how it gave shelter to animals, though that will soon be no more. Clay painting somehow has a melancholy feel suggesting that nothing is permanent. The clay paint style lends a melancholy tone. Rating B

"Behind The Trees", created by Amanda Palmer and Avi Ofer

"Behind The Trees" is illustrated in pen-and-ink sketches which are reminiscent of the style of Jules Pfeiffer and provided by Avi Ofer illustrate Amanda Palmer stories. When the Palmer's husband, Neil Gaiman, is very tired he mumbles in his sleep. This story is inspired by some of his mumbling. Palmer mumbles herself so it is not always easy to understand her. The art is crude but it is an amusing story. Rating: B+

"We Can't Live Without The Cosmos", created by Konstantin Bronzit

In the days of the old Soviet space program two cosmonauts in training become very close friends, preparing for space together and getting into mischief whenever they can. Both yearn for the stars and are inspired by the same book, "We Can't Live Without The Cosmos". A flight comes up and only one can go on it. The animation is two-dimensional, but the story is poignant. The images are fairly flat, two-dimensional, but the narrative is touching. Rating A

"Messages Dans L'Air", created by Isabel Favez

All the images in Favez's film are made of paper. Some is folded as origami, and some are cut pieces. But they are all montages of paper. Once that is said there is not a lot of story behind the images. The story may be more in service to the visual compositions than the visuals are in service to the story. Rating: B-

"Stripy", Written and directed by Babak Nekooei & Behnoud Nekooei

Two Iranian animators give us a short story that reminds one of ALLEGRO NON TROPO. In an urban metropolis workers are responsible to paint nice parallel black stripes on boxes. They are pretty much just parts of machines themselves. One worker rebels. He paints beautiful red curlicues instead. Can society handle people who refuse to be machines? Who will win the struggle of will and what does winning a conflict like this really mean? The visual images are flat and two-dimensional and the film is done to Hungarian Dances #5 Of Brahms. Rating: A-

"Ascension", written and directed by Thomas Bourdis, Martin de Coudenhove, Caroline Domergue, Colin Laubry, Florian Laubry

Fans of the myth of Sisyphus will enjoy this frustrating little tale of two mountain climbers clambering up the steep rock face of a mountain in order to plant a religious statue high so one and all can see their great faith. The story, the rocks, and the climbers are rendered in three dimensional computer graphics. Will man win or will the mountain? And will the religious statue be placed? Rating B

"In The Time Of March Madness", directed by Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano

Rendered in what looks like animated scratchboard images we have Melissa Johnson pour out her heart about the pain of being a six-foot-four-inch tall girl in 8th grade. Her height was extremely useful on the basketball court, but it did not help her face the constant embarrassment of having longer arms and legs than she could manage. Walking with other people she towered over them, but being tall was no advantage. Johnson tells us about her love life and her sports life always being the tallest person in the room. This entry would make a good companion piece to the first film, "The Story of Percival Pilts". Rating B

"World Of Tomorrow", directed by Don Hertzfeldt

"World Of Tomorrow" is a full science fiction story animated with line drawings. A little girl, Emily, meets and is taken on a time traveling trip by her own granddaughter looks aged enough to instead be her grandmother. Most of the art is or appears to be just line drawings. Emily visits her own future. She is told, though she is much too young to understand, that she will have her mind and personality downloaded into a clone. This process will be repeated indefinitely giving her virtually eternal life. And that is just the start of what Emily's grandmother reveals to her. One after another Emily hears about the technological wonders of her future, marvels of dubious value. Rating: A

Let me take this opportunity to thank Ron Diamond, curator of the show, for allowing me to preview the show and review it. The show itself will premier in Los Angeles on September 24, 2015 and following that it will tour to more than 20 cities. See:


Fall SF TV Previews and Mini-Reviews (comments by Dale L. Skran):

It's that time of year again, and the networks are cranking up the new SF TV shows! It's also a good time to look back at the best of summer 2015. I've been on a TV diet this summer as some of the regular summer shows have been moved to the fall, leaving just one that I've been watching--DARK MATTER. The premise behind KILLJOYS (space bounty hunters) didn't grab me, and I've already bailed on DEFIANCE and DOMINION. I also religiously avoid anything where an astronaut becomes mysteriously pregnant while in space (EXTANT).

DARK MATTER is basically Jason Bourne in space multiplied. A crew awakens from cold sleep, their ship adrift. Just one problem--none of them remember who they are, what ship they are on, or what they were doing. But they do remember their skills when confronted with specific situations. They call themselves "One," "Two," and so on based on the order in which they woke up. Thus begins a Bourne-like space opera adventure as the crew attempts to work together (challenging) to find out who they are and what is going on (more challenging). Although the pace can be a bit slow, there is enough here to keep me watching. This is not ORPHAN BLACK or CONTINUUM, but it rises above the general level of SyFy TV shows.

There are a lot of shows I'll be returning to (time, date of premiere, channel), including:

That totals twelve shows, which by any standard is a lot, but we haven't even gotten to the new series!!

I plan to check out MINORITY REPORT (9pm, 9/21, Fox) and BLINDSPOT (10 pm, 9/21, NBC). MINORITY REPORT is, oddly enough, based on the movie of the same name and is ultimately derived from a Phillip K. Dick story. BLINDSPOT opens with a naked tattooed woman suddenly appearing in the center of Times Square. The name of a NYC detective is tattooed on her back. But she does not know who she is! After this things get strange. On Tuesday we have LIMITLESS (10 pm, 9/22, CBS), which, again, is based on the movie LIMITLESS, and is loosely connected with the film as a sequel. Thursday brings us HEROES REBORN (8 pm, 9/24, NBC), a reboot of HEROES, TV's attempt at original superheroes. The new shows are rounded out by SUPERGIRL starting on 11/2/15, which may or may not ultimately connect with the CW DC hero shows ARROW and FLASH.

This is not by any means all the upcoming shows. SyFy is bringing out EXPANSE, an adaptation of a well-known space opera by James Corey. Amazon has adapted the Hugo Winner MAN IN A HIGH CASTLE. Nextflix has a series of four super-hero shows--DAREDEVEIL, AKA JESSICA JONES, LUKE CAGE, and IRON FIST in the pipeline. And so it goes... I'm not even bothering to try to count them all!!! Of the various new shows I'll be watching LIMITLESS, HEROS REBORN, and SUPERGIRL the most closely or at least giving them the most rope. BLINDSPOT, which seems like Bourne with a female protagonist, is supposed to have top-grade fight scenes. ARROW may be the best superhero TV show ever. FLASH and AGENTS OF SHIELD are fun to watch if a bit dizzying. IZOMBIE is surprisingly watchable. A Golden Age indeed! [-dls]

Future NASA Mission to Europa (letter of comment by Gregory Frederick):

NASA has budgeted for a space probe to orbit Jupiter and pass by Europa numerous times during the orbits. The time for this mission is 2022. It will have a number of sensors to explore the salt water ocean which is a few miles below the ice layer that covers that Jupiter moon. It may also have a small landing vehicle attached to the main ship. The lander would touch down on the ice surface. The lander has not been confirmed though, at this time. It is possible that an alien form of life could exist in Europa's ocean. So, Europa is a good place to look. [-gf]

Mark replies:

It was a good place to look in EUROPA REPORT. I am curious if that film might have upped people's interest in Europa. [-mrl]

And Greg responds:

Europa and Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) are high on NASA's list of places to look for life besides Mars. Both are moons with salt water oceans under a thinner layer of ice (compared to other moons). And both have that ocean in contact with a rocky mantle. This means deep ocean vents (called smokers on Earth) could be tunneling heat and chemicals into the ocean. Smoker vents on Earth have all kinds of deep ocean life around them. The lowest life forms use chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis at these Earth bound smokers. [-gf]

Edward Gibbon and the Maya (letter of comment by Peter Trei):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Edward Gibbon and the Maya in the 09/11/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

[Gibbon wrote:]

"From the age of Charlemagne to that of the Crusades, the world (for I overlook the remote monarchy of China) was occupied and disputed by the three great empires or nations of the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks." [-eg]

[Evelyn commented:]

"It is not at all clear why Gibbon decided to ignore China, unless he is implying by "remote" that China had no interaction with the other empires. But that is not true; China was interacting with the Saracens. And he completely omits the Maya Empire. (The Aztecs and Incas considerably postdate the Crusades to which Gibbon is referring.)" [-ecl]

[Peter Trei writes:]

The Maya were almost certainly unknown to Gibbon.

Maya culture had pretty well collapsed by the time the Spanish arrived, and though they finished off the dregs, most of the great cities were already abandoned and lying under jungle vegetation. Gibbon finished D&F in 1789, decades before the expeditions of Humboldt, Galindo, and especially John Lloyd Stephens brought notice of Mayan civilization to the West, (outside of sparse Spanish colonial accounts). [-pt]

Favorite Books and Movies, CHILDHOOD'S END, WAR OF THE WORLDS Illustrations, ROCKETSHIP X-M, and Ace Doubles (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to various items in the 09/11/15 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Well, 1875 was a very good year for somebody, I would think. It is also the number of a fine and varied issue of MT VOID. [-jp]

Mark notes:

It was the year Bizet's "Carmen" was first performed. [-mrl] John continues:

I enjoyed that listing of favorite books and movies of scientists. Interestingly, the SyFy Channel will be broadcasting an adaptation of CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke in December. I will watch it, and hope its producers don't mangle the book too much. As usual, I await this with trepidation. Fear? Possibly. Fear that it will be a waste of my time, but we shall see.

Thank you for the link to the Alvim Correa illustrations to the 1906 edition of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Very cool work, and so evocative. I might just have to favorite that Monster Brains website.

Deux ex Machina in "Rocketship XM" and other movies, eh? Definitely. I agree with your closing comment. For me, as hokey as the stories and science were, these movies and stories got me hooked on science fiction and fact. Not necessarily in that order, but the older I got and kept reading, the more scientific accuracy and the plausibility of the stories gained importance for my reading enjoyment.

Over the years I have been slowly acquiring Ace Doubles from used bookstores and conventions. Every so often the "other" used bookstore in this area, BCS Books, has a fresh batch of old SF paperbacks, and two years ago I went in there one day and walked out with a dozen Ace Doubles for less than $20. I really need to get back there again. I remember meeting Don Wollheim at a Minicon back in the mid-1970s. He was quite the cantankerous sort, but so knowledgeable of the genre that I enjoyed listening to him.

Lots of good book reviews herein, for which I thank you.

And with that, I shall sign off. Many thanks for keeping this e-zine running. I enjoy it. [-jp]

THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (Volume VI of VI) (Part 1) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

[continuing my comments from last week]

"The merit of the true cross was somewhat impaired by its frequent division; and a long captivity among the infidels might shed some suspicion on the fragments that were produced in the East and West."

E: This is not exactly a new idea now, and probably was not even then, but Gibbon's ironic understatement does make one smile.

"Aristotle was indeed the oracle of the Western universities, but it was a barbarous Aristotle; and, instead of ascending to the fountain head, his Latin votaries humbly accepted a corrupt and remote version, from the Jews and Moors of Andalusia."

E: Gibbon's complaint (here, anyway) is not that the Jews and Moors were barbarous and corrupt, but rather than Latin speakers were working from a Latin translation of the Arabic (and Hebrew?) translations from the original Greek, rather than translating directly from the original Greek to Latin.

"The principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism; and the most important effects were analogous to the cause. Each pilgrim was ambitious to return to return with his sacred spoils, the relics of Greece and Palestine; and each relic was preceded and followed by a train of miracles and visions."

E: Gibbon, as you might have deduced, was very negative on relics, and the miracles associated with them.

"... in human life, the most important scenes will depend on the character of a single actor."

E: So Gibbon comes down clearly on the side of "The Great Man" rather than "The Tide of History" theory.

"If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind."

E: Of course, Gibbon is comparing a single invention with the entire fields of "reason, science, ad the arts of peace." If one looked at an individual invention in the latter (such as printing press), the speed would be similar (as Gibbon later implies).

"In the last four centuries of the Greek emperors, their friendly or hostile aspect towards the pope and the Latins may be observed as the thermometer of their prosperity or distress."

E: The schism between East and West Rome was not as much as between East (Communism) and West in our own times.

" ... the Greek, who must have confounded a modest salute with a criminal embrace. But his credulity and injustice may teach an important lesson; to distrust the accounts of foreign and remote nations, and to suspend our belief of every tale that deviates from the laws of nature and the character of man."

E: A healthy skepticism is certainly called for, but the lessons of the Holocaust, Pol Pot, and Rwanda, among others, may teach us a contradictory lesson: tales that deviate from the laws of nature and the character of man may, alas, be true.

"But an important distinction has already been noticed: the Greeks were stationary or retrograde, while the Latins were advancing with a rapid and progressive motion. The nations were excited by the spirit of independence and emulation; and even the little world of the Italian states contained more people and industry than the decreasing circle of the Byzantine empire."

E: One may, of course, argue that the decreasing circle of the Byzantine empire was one reason for the stagnation of it. As Gibbon notes, even a small region of the West was more populous (and covered more area) than the entire Eastern "Empire". The East also was surrounded by hostile or at least limiting powers, while large parts of the West had secure borders in the form of the Atlantic Ocean.

"... besides his native tongue it is affirmed that he spoke or understood five languages, the Arabic, the Persian, the Chaldaean or Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek. The Persian might indeed contribute to his amusement, and the Arabic to his edification; and such studies are familiar to the Oriental youth. In the intercourse of the Greeks and Turks, a conqueror might wish to converse with the people over which he was ambitious to reign: his own praises in Latin poetry or prose might find a passage to the royal ear; but what use or merit could recommend to the statesman or the scholar the uncouth dialect of his Hebrew slaves?"

E: Let us just say that Gibbon was not a philo-Semite.

"The Mahometan, and more especially the Turkish casuists, have pronounced that no promise can bind the faithful against the interest and duty of their religion; and that the sultan may abrogate his own treaties and those of his predecessors."

E: As we will see, this is not a trait limited to the Muslim or Turkish casuists. The Christians certainly seem to take the same position, especially the Eastern Christians in the instance noted below).

"Persuasion is the resource of the feeble; and the feeble can seldom persuade..."

E: This sounds a bit oxymoronic; I think the idea is that all the feeble can do is try to persuade, but their efforts are almost always doomed to failure.

"While Mahomet threatened the capital of the East, the Greek emperor implored with fervent prayers the assistance of earth and heaven. But the invisible powers were deaf to his applications; and Christendom beheld with indifference the fall of Constantinople, while she derived at least some promise of supply from the jealous and temporal policy of the sultan of Egypt."

E: So not only did Heaven ignore the pleas of the East, but so long as Egypt was still shipping grain to the West, the West had no interest in the pleas of the East either. One could substitute "oil" (or other natural resource) and specific countries for "East" and "West" and come up with a statement that perfectly describes the situation in the 20th century--or the 21st.

[to be continued--and concluded!--next week]


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

THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton (ISBN 978-0-7653-3266-0) has a very basic, and fascinating, premise: A group of people attempt to establish "The Just City" that Plato described in his REPUBLIC. Now admittedly there is a lot of willing suspension of disbelief required of the reader at the outset. The reader has to accept that the Greek gods are real, and that they have the ability not only to travel through time and space, but to carry ordinary humans through time and space as well.

"The Just City" is Athena's project, and she collects "masters" and "children" to bootstrap it. The masters are those people throughout time who have prayed to her to live in Plato's "Just City". (One has to accept that there really would be enough who explicitly prayed to her for this, but the requirement also prejudices the choice towards Europeans and others who are familiar with Athena and Plato--for example, Confucius does not have a chance.) The children are ten-year-olds collected from slave markets around the world, and familiarity with Plato is not required.

Okay, so the city (set up on Thera in far distant prehistory) is populated. Now what? Well, conveniently, there are "workers" (robots) brought from our future to do all the hard and menial work, so the masters think they have avoided the problem of slavery. When they begin to realize that the workers may be more than mere machines, however, this forms one conflict in the novel.

Another conflict comes from Plato's ideas of family, marriage, sex, and child-rearing. As Apollo says in the novel after countless examples of citizens subverting the rules about inter-personal relationships, "We've established, I think, that what Plato knew about love and real people could have been written on a fingernail paring." In other words, Plato's notions of the perfect society run up again human psychology. This should not surprise us, since we have seen this happen in so many "engineered" societies (over family, or over private property, or over something else), but it should not surprise most of the masters either--they lived centuries or millennia after Plato and have seen all these societies fail also.

And a third conflict comes over what the masters call Plato's "Noble Lie". To make Plato's numbers work out for the division of the classes, for example, the masters have to "cheat." When assigning children to gold, silver, bronze, or iron, the masters need to have perfect gender balance in each. Therefore, they actually have to do some form of affirmative action if, for example, more girls than boys are in the objectively top 252. (And for that matter, the assignment is supposed to be based on absolute--not relative--criteria, which would mean that the chances of ending up with groups in very convenient and balanced percentages of the total is very unlikely.) As the children discover this "cheating," what will they make of it?

Ultimately, these are part of a larger issue, which by the end of the novel both the masters and the children (now grown) come to understand. That is, it is easy to propose a new sort of society and write about it in such a way that it works just as one intends. However, this proves nothing, because when you are writing about it, it is working properly by diktat, not because it would in real life. Heinlein does this in STARSHIP TROOPERS, for example, with characters lecturing, for example, "Of course, flogging people for traffic violations is right; you can see how it has made our society better," or "Of course, giving only veterans the vote is right; you can see how it has made our society better." That one could write the exact reverse equally convincingly would seem to demonstrate the flaw in the author's logic.

So when the masters attempt to implement Plato's "perfect society," they discover all the flaws, omissions, and hand-waving that Plato glossed over. The exact organization of the mating festival: how often it is held, who is paired with whom, how to handle subsequent festivals when part of the female population is pregnant--all these "details" Plato avoids but the masters have to deal with. It is as if someone watched "Star Trek" and then attempted to build a spaceship from it (GALAXY QUEST notwithstanding).

The Just City also ran into a common problem when someone they think of as practically a god starts disagreeing with them, and not following the rules and customs laid down. "Only golds were supposed to study philosophy and rhetoric. But the masters couldn't very well stop Sokrates from going up to people and asking them about their work. They couldn't stop him from inviting whomever he chose to come back to [his house] for conversation. Sokrates was famous. The masters revered him practically be definition--they were here specifically because they revered Sokrates, after all. They didn't want to stop him behaving the way he had always behaved. They had loved to read in the 'Apology' about how he was a gadfly sent by the gods to Athens. Now he was their gadfly, and they weren't as happy about that. He was upsetting their neat system, and he knew it."

And as I noted, this had a trickle-down effect: the masters also find themselves changing Plato's rules when the rules make no sense to them. For example, they thought the rule of everyone having to eat together was too restrictive, so they decided that what Plato really meant was that you could take food from the dining commons *if* you shared it with someone else. This, of course, is not really so different from deciding that when the Bible says X it really means Y.

In short, there is a lot to chew on in this book, even read on its own, but clearly the thing to do to get the most out of it is to read THE REPUBLIC first. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          There is nothing so horrible in nature as to see 
          a beautiful theory murdered by an ugly gang of facts.
                                          --Benjamin Franklin

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