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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 04/01/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 39, Whole Number 1904
Table of Contents
Thank You, Evelyn. (comment by Mark R. Leeper):
I want to thank Evelyn for helping me out with this issue of the MT VOID. You probably have guessed that usually I do all the editorial tasks and the heavy think work. Evelyn is just happier to be off with a book. I am happy to announce that for *the first time in what must be a decade*, Evelyn is pulling her own weight.
Yes, it is the first time in the decade starting April Fools Day 2016 and going to April Fools Day 2026. [-mrl]
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
April 14: THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (2011) and story by H. P. Lovecraft ( http://hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/wid.aspx or https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Whisperer_in_Darkness), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM April 28: LOST HORIZON by James Hilton ( http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500141.txt), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM May 12: LOST HORIZON (1937) and novel by James Hilton, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM May 26: "E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred and "Earthman, Come Home" by James Blish (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Garden State Spec. Fiction Writers Lectures (subject to change): April 2: Jon McGoran, topic TBA, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N May 7: Hank Quense, topic TBA, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N June 4: Fran Wilde, Worldbuilding in the Air, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N July 9: Michael Swanwick, topic TBA, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N August: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N September 10: Ellen Datlow, The State of Horror, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for April (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Once again I am looking over the listings for TCM for the new month. As I notice things I am making notes and passing my discoveries to you. (Again I have no connection to the Turner organization, but TCM is a major source of my movie watching.) I think that the operative word for the month is "binge." Luckily I have seen all or almost all of what I am recommending. I could never see all the films I am listing. (Full disclosure: I have never binge-watched *anything*.) But here, with times for the East Coast, are what little treasures I have found and can recommend.
One of the great names to conjure with in the horror film is Val Lewton. Lewton made eleven films for RKO from 1942 to 1946, eight of them horror. Lewton understood taste and nuance in film and he deserved to be an A-film director. Sadly, RKO would give him two things: a pittance to make films and a lurid title which RKO thought would sell better. Lewton's approach was to imply as much horror as possible while showing very little explicit on the screen. He knew that the audience had imagination, and that would create the horrific images more effectively than anything he could afford to put on the screen. And to be sure that the direction would be effective he never directed the films he produced. Instead he hired directors who showed more talent than experience. Robert Wise and Jacques Tourneur directed films in the cycle, but Mark Robson was his most frequent director.
Lewton's horror series is generally considered to be nine horror films he produced. THE GHOST SHIP, one of the nine, is very fringy genre and would probably not be classified as a horror film had it not been produced by Lewton in this time period. On Monday, April 18, TCM will offer a binge of all nine of Val Lewton's horror films, one after another.
7:45 AM BEDLAM (1946) 9:15 AM THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) 10:45 AM I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) 12:00 PM THE ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) 1:15 PM THE GHOST SHIP (1943) 2:30 PM THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943) 3:45 PM THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) 5:00 PM THE CAT PEOPLE (1942) 6:15 PM THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)If GHOST SHIP can be considered horror, surely there is more horror in the non-genre suspense film CAPE FEAR (1962). In a story with echoes of HIGH NOON, Gregory Peck is a district attorney who put in prison a dangerous criminal, horrifically played by Robert Mitchum. Now Mitchum is out of jail and is bent on a campaign of fear and violence against Peck and his family. In 1991, the film was remade by Martin Scorsese, who exaggerated the effective elements when he should have left well enough alone. TCM will be showing another binge, this one of Gregory Peck films, one on Tuesday, April 5. CAPE FEAR will play at 8:00 PM. (That same day at 11:00 AM TCM will show Peck and Lauren Bacall in DESIGNING WOMAN (1957), a very funny comedy.)
I do not know how many of you out there are interested in German films from between WWI and WWII. It was a very ugly period in Germany's past, but it also was a glorious bloom of the German film industry. It was a time when many of the great experimental art films being made were horror film. This was the time of the German Expressionist films when visual images were distorted for their emotional effect. The style created was borrowed wholesale by the American film industry for films like the old Universal horror series. The history of the German film industry is documented in a famous cinema book, FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER by Sigfried Kracauer. TCM showed a documentary based on this book last December. They are running it again, but they are also running a treasure trove of films covered in the book. For three consecutive weeks they will be showing films from Wednesday night to Thursday morning.
April 14-15 8:00 PM THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) 9:30 PM FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER: GERMAN CINEMA IN THE AGE OF THE MASSES (2014) 11:30 PM NOSFERATU (1922) 1:15 AM FAUST (1926) 3:15 AM THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1927) 4:30 AM THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) April 21-22 8:00 PM DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (PT. 1), INFERNO (PT. 2) (1922) 12:45 AM DAS TESTAMENT DES DR. MABUSE (1933) 3:00 AM METROPOLIS (1926) 5:45 AM M (1931) April 28-29 8:00 PM PANDORA'S BOX (1928) 10:30 PM DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929) 12:00 AM WESTFRONT 1918 (1930) 1:45 AM THE 3 PENNY OPERA (1931) 3:45 AM KAMERADSCHAFT (1931) 5:30 AM ANNA CHRISTIE (1931)What do I consider the best film of the month? I have to go once again with SPARTACUS (1960) being shown Saturday, April 16, 12:15 PM. If there is any question in your mind why I consider this a great film, see the currently playing TRUMBO. [-mrl]
Identity (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
One of the topics discussed in a couple of the chapters of THE PIG THAT WANTS TO BE EATEN by Julian Baggini (reviewed in the 04/18/2008 and 02/05/2016 issues of the MT VOID) is identity: what makes you you and you not anyone else.
For example, assume that you get in a transporter that scans you, destroying you in the process, then beams the information to the destination where you are (re-)constructed from atoms there. Is the you at the destination the same person as the you at the origin? The you at the destination has all the same memories, all the same feelings, as the you that went into the machine, but is it the same person?
Hold that thought, and consider another case.
You have a ship. It is getting old and so gradually you replace a board here, an oar there, and pretty soon there is no piece of it that was in the original boat. Is it the same boat? If not, when did it stop being the same boat? After the first replacement? After the last? At the halfway point? What if you took the pieces you had removed and built another (admittedly decrepit) boat from them? Is that the original boat?
Now apply this to your body--not at the level of organs, but at the molecular level. All the molecules in your body will be replaced every seven years (or so--the exact figure does not matter). After seven years, are you still the same person?
What about reincarnation? If you are told that in a previous life you were Nefiri, handmaiden to the Queen of Sheba, but you remember nothing of that life, is it meaningful to think/believe that you were Nefiri? But if someone asked you about your life as a three- day-old infant, you would remember nothing of that either. Does that mean that you were not that three-day-old?
So what matters? Physical continuity? The transported you fails that test, but so does the ten-years-from-now you. Mental continuity? Reincarnation does not cut it, but neither does the path back to the infant you. (For that matter, amnesia creates other questions about identity.)
And this does not even consider uploading your consciousness, or getting a brain transplant. (Oddly, I think most people would be in agreement that if you swap two persons' brains, the identity goes with the brain.) [-ecl]
The Annual Hugo Nominations Screed (comments by Dale L. Skran):
It is once again time, dear reader, to nominate for the Hugos. We can only hope and pray that yet another counter-attack against Vox Day and the Sad Puppies does not shut down the Hugos again and effectively deny many fine works an opportunity to win a rocket. The game is rigged, but if you don't play, you can't win. Thus, I press fearlessly onward, fully aware that my feeble efforts will almost certainly be swept away in the larger battles.
What I Am Nominating For The Hugo For Best Novel
As it turns out, I've read a fair number of the most highly regarded books this year, and so will be nominating five books. The thing that I find the hardest to understand is that the Locus reading list does not include THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR. It appears on a lot of fan "best of 2015 lists" and has some impressive jacket blurbs. I thought it was a really impressive first novel. It is possible that it is not eligible for some arcane reason, but I can't find anything on this. Perhaps Scott Hawkins has annoyed someone at Locus, and this is their revenge. In any case, THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR is a great first novel, and very good fantasy by any standard. I re-read it recently, and I hardly ever do that anymore. It is rare to find an SF or fantasy novel that makes you think as much as THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR does. Although dressed up as a thriller/horror/SF/fantasy story, there is a real attempt here to wrestle with some key philosophical issues. Be warned--this is a violent book for adults only. SEVENEVES is a great hard SF--highly recommended. LUNA: NEW MOON is more readable than much of McDonald's output. My only complaint is that as with some of his other novels, it is hard to tell whether to take the story seriously or view it as a parody of libertarian capitalism written by a socialist. If it is a parody, it is at least an entertaining and artfully constructed parody. My wife, Jo, liked A BORROWED MAN, which works well as post- Singularity murder mystery.
1: A BORROWED MAN, Gene Wolfe (Tor)
2: SEVENEVES, Neal Stephenson (Morrow)
3: POSEIDON'S WAKE, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz; Ace 2016)
4: LUNA: NEW MOON, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
5: THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR, Scott Hawkins (Crown)
What I Am Nominating For The Hugo For Dramatic Presentation Long Form
There were certainly more than five good SF movies in 2015, so the real issue is winnowing down the list. Mileage may vary. I didn't put INSIDE/OUT on the list since it needs no further awards. If you haven't seen it, you should. I liked ANT MAN quite a bit as a kind of retro-SF comic book story, but others may find the humor excessive. THE MARTIAN is great hard SF, with excellent acting and effects. In any normal year, it would be a sure bet to win, but not in 2015 when it is competing with EX MACHINA, a truly wonderfully done meditation on why creating a true artificial intelligence may not be a good idea. I added JUPITER ASCENDING as classic old-time space opera. It's not going to win, but it was a fun effort. I'm rounding out my list with iZOMBIE SEASON 1. iZOMBIE is a very good SF/comic book TV show. Although not exactly hard SF, iZOMBIE is decidedly in the scientific column. Much of the plot revolves around the experiments done by the main characters as they seek to cure zombie-ism. This zombie-ism has the curious effect that although the zombie must consume brains, when they do they take on the personality and abilities (to a degree) of the person whose brain they ate. This makes every episode wildly different as the main character lurches from one personality to the next.
1: ANT MAN, directed by Peyton Reed/Marvel
2: THE MARTIAN, directed by Ridley Scott/20th Century Fox
3: EX MACHINA, directed by Alex Garland/Universal
4: JUPITER ASCENDING, directed by The Wachowskis/Warner Bros
5: iZOMBIE, Season 1, Created by Thomas&Ruggiero-Wright/Warner Bros-The CW
What I Am Nominating For The John W. Campbell Award For Best New SF Writer
I don't usually nominate here, but there seem to me two stand-out candidates:
Scott Hawkins, THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR
Andy Weir, THE MARTIAN
[I will note that Andy Weir is not eligible in this category, since THE MARTIAN was first published in 2012. -ecl]
What I Am Nominating For The Hugo For Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form
The first and most important rule in approaching the short form Hugo is to remember that under no circumstances should you ever nominate or vote for anything related to Dr. Who until the dawn of the 22nd century--at least. In my view, Dr. Who has received enough accolades to last a hundred years, while a lot of great SF on TV has been ignored.
The approach I take to dramatic presentation short form nominations is to survey the Internet to identify whatever episodes seem to be the most popular. I then add my vote to whatever shows I watch and like the best. There is so much good SF on TV, that any method is inevitably unfair. I haven't seen THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. It may be better than anything I am nominating, but what are you going to do? No one seemed to like any LIMITLESS episode enough to nominate it, but LIMITLESS is perhaps the best hard SF show running on TV today.
I would like to call your attention to "4,722 Hours" from AGENTS OF SHIELD. If you aren't watching this show, this might be a good place to start. In it, one of the agents, a female scientist, is marooned on an apparently uninhabited planet far from Earth--in space, time, or dimensions--which exactly is never clear. This episode chronicles what happens to her on that planet.
1: "Matilda" (AGENTS OF SHIELD)
2: "4,722 Hours" (AGENTS OF SHIELD)
3: "Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat" (iZOMBIE)
4: "Leonard Caul" Episode 19 (THE BLACKLIST)
5: "Fast Enough" (THE FLASH)
It seems like it might be a worthwhile exercise to consider what I might nominate if you could vote for just a TV show, and not an episode, as clearly ought to the case for this category. I'd go with:
1: AGENTS OF SHIELD
Looking ahead to 2016, THE MAGICIANS on SyFy is really quite good, and has been renewed for a second season. Think of HARRY POTTER merged with NARNIA but written by Charles Stross. THE MAGICIANS is definitely for adults only (realistic sex and violence), but very engaging and realistic. Learning magic in this universe is hard-- rather like learning mathematics in ours--and quite risky for the practitioner. On one hand, the magicians find themselves possessed of godlike powers, and can easily live lives of ease and decadence. On the other hand, those powers are merely "godlike" and can't do a lot of things like cure cancer, so in the end the magicians die just like the rest of us. And godlike powers can't always protect you from other magicians who also have such powers! [-dls]
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (film review by Dale L. Skran):
At long last DC's major strike against the ever-growing success of the Marvel franchise has arrived, and it is loud and gaudy enough for three films. By now you are no doubt aware that BATMAN V SUPERMAN is hitting about 30% on the Tomatometer, but I am going out on a limb here and saying it is going to be a fan favorite. The near-record opening weekend box office take--about $425M worldwide--suggests I am correct. To explain this, and avoid a simple recapitulation the plot you can find on Wikipedia if you wish, I am just going to list the good and the bad in the movie.
GOOD: Ben Affleck as Batman: After the fiasco of DAREDEVIL, fans have been terrified of what a Ben Affleck Batman was going to be like. Rest assured, while the results may not come quite up to the Bale level, Affleck fills out the cape well. Playing an older Batman who is more cynical and cruel than his younger self, but clearly near the peak of his physical abilities in spite of some gray hair, Affleck brings a resonance of reality to what could be an over-ripe battle with Superman. In fact, the first 2/3 or so of BATMAN V SUPERMAN ranks among the best superhero movies. The back- story of Batman's motivation to fight superman and the human reaction to superman are very well done.
GOOD: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor: Eisenberg is perhaps the best Lex Luthor to grace the screen yet. At once charming and psychotic, brilliant and terrifying, Eisenberg makes Luthor more a real person than the buffoon he appears to be in the previous Superman movies.
GOOD: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman: I'm not quite with those who say Gadot takes over the film but I am certainly looking forward to her solo movie. The writers deserve a lot of credit for re-spinning her back-story to something more plausible than is often portrayed in the comics. She is now a daughter of Zeus, a half-human/half- god, with powers similar to Hercules. Her very slight Israeli accent seems plausibly exotic, and she captures well the likely character of an immortal warrior.
GOOD: Henry Cavill as Superman: No longer burdened by the plot oddities of THE MAN OF STEEL, Cavill turns in a good effort, and rises to the challenge of a more complex interaction with Batman than is often attempted.
GOOD: Jeremy Irons as Alfred: Irons' version of Alfred draws more from the TV series GOTHAM and the Nolan/Bale Batman than earlier versions. This Alfred is Wayne's full partner in super-heroing, equally capable of mordant advice, fixing the Batmobile, or piloting the Batplane remotely.
GOOD: The Plot: The general theme of the movie is "What do you do about a man with the powers of a god?" Although the details of the plot are drawn from many comic sources, the overall effect is surprisingly powerful and well done.
GOOD: The party scene: At one point, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, all in their alter-egos, are attending a party put on by Lex Luthor, each with various and conflicting goals in mind. It was fun seeing them in action without using any super-powers, and Gal Gadot is an imposing presence who proves more than a match for Affleck's Bruce Wayne.
GOOD: Authentic sacrifice: One problem with most Superman comics is that he is just too powerful to ever get his hair mussed. This makes the stories less than interesting and his "heroism" that of a man fighting a puppy. Director Zack Snyder understands this problem, and provides a Superman story that involves real issues and actual sacrifice.
GOOD: The effects: Needless to say, they are fantastic.
BAD: Overstuffing: BATMAN V SUPERMAN is clearly overstuffed. There are dream sequences that add nothing, and the big fight between Batman and Superman goes on a lot longer and less plausibly than it should. The end drags on as well, but never delivers the spoilers the audience was looking for. Cutting thirty minutes would greatly raise improve BATMAN V SUPERMAN.
BAD: Fight plausibility: Batman just seems too strong and displays way too much ability to survive being thrown through walls. This is unfortunate since for the most part the way Batman takes on Superman makes a lot of sense. Having said this, the fight between the "Big Three" and Doomsday is much better.
Overall, BATMAN V SUPERMAN is *must see* for comic fans, and has a lot to offer to the non-comic fan. Contrary to the views of some critics, the plot actually makes quite a bit of sense, the characters are plausibly motivated, and the movie takes on a touchy subject, which is also a metaphor for America foreign policy. Some critics seem to think all Superman/Batman stories ought to target an audience of five-year old boys, with a lot of "biff-bang-pow" and silly puns. If this is what you are looking for, you are going to be disappointed in BATMAN V SUPERMAN.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN is based on Frank Miller's Batman, and for the most part echoes Miller's dark view of the world. This Batman harkens back to the original Bob Kane Batman in many ways. As a result, BATMAN V SUPERMAN is a "hard" PG-13--too scary and adult for little kids, but fine for the 12 and up crowd. There is one scene of Superman initiating sex with a naked Lois Lane in a bathtub, which although very carefully edited and not very long, certainly gets the message across. Batman brands a criminal off- screen. There are scenes of Batman using guns and hitting criminals with the Batmobile. The Batplane has machine guns and they are used to kill people. You get the idea!
I'm rating BATMAN V SUPERMAN a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale, but if it were re-edited it would be a +2 movie. [-dls]
Planets (letters of comment by Steve Lelchuk, Keith F. Lynch, and Philip Chee):
In response to Mark's comments on planets in the 03/25/16 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Lelchuk writes:
"Most planets in the Universe are homeless", from the blog "Starts With a Bang":
Keith F. Lynch writes:
[Objecting to Pluto's demotion] was silly, as it didn't harm Pluto in any way. It's not as if the "demotion" made it more likely that a garbage dump would be established on Pluto.
Was anyone upset when the muon was demoted from being a meson to being a mere lepton?
Is anyone upset that that would mean that it's no longer the case that probes have been sent to every planet in our solar system?
[Mark wrote, "It may have been there all along but it has never been seen." -mrl]
If it exists, then it's certainly been there all along. Or for as long as any of the other planets.
[Mark wrote that "the sun would 'shine' ... only 1/40,000th as strongly as it does where we are. Out there the sun would probably just be a rumor. -mrl]
That's still ten times brighter than the full moon, i.e. is bright enough to comfortably read by. And the planet should be more than bright enough to be seen by Hubble. And by JWST. (Granted, JWST won't be in orbit around Earth, unlike Hubble. But it will be much closer to Earth than to any other planet.)
Arecibo might be able to get a radar reflection off it. It can do so, not just for Saturn, but for some of its moons. It could do so for Uranus and Neptune and their moons also, except that they will have set by the time the echo returns. But the round trip time to Planet X would be about two days, so if it was high in the sky when the radar impulse was sent, it would be high in the sky again when the radar impulse returns.
Perhaps a very large phased-array space-based radio telescope could be placed opposite the sun from Earth (for radio quiet), and used to make a *complete* inventory of the solar system.
[Mark wrote that Planet X could not be seen directly by telescope.]
Neptune, 30 AU away, is magnitude 8, which means it can be seen with an average pair of binoculars. An identical planet seven times further away (210 AU) would be about 2400 times dimmer. (Seven to the fourth power, due to the inverse square law being applied twice, one for light from the sun to the planet, once for the light from the planet to Earth). That would make it magnitude 16.5. (Celestial magnitudes are a logarithmic unit, with a ratio of 10^0.4 (about 2.5).) That should be visible to a really good amateur telescope. For comparison, Hubble can see 31.5. The Palomar sky survey in the 1950s could see 22.
So if that planet exists, not only can it be seen, but we've had photos of it for the greater part of a century! (Granted, they'd only show it as a point of light, indistinguishable from millions of stars.)
There's is no substitute for doing the math. [-kfl]
And Philip Chee writes:
[Mark wrote that "four of the big icy objects the long axes are in a small bundle like arrows in a quiver." -mrl]
I thought it was six out of six?
[I was going by the statement "In the last three years, observers have identified four objects tracing orbits roughly along one perpendicular line from Neptune." -mrl]
[Regarding lining things up] You forgot to mention the perpendicular Centaurs, and Drac.
Apparently the most common type of planet found by Kepler are the mini-Neptunes. The fact that our Solar System doesn't have any of those makes us the odd one out. Now if Planet X does exist it's the size/mass of a mini-Neptune. So we aren't such an outlier after all.
Who knows what else is out there in the scattered disc? [-pc]
Kepler has a very strong selection bias. The larger a planet is, and the closer to its sun, the more likely Kepler can see it. Similarly with all other current methods of detecting exoplanets. So we have no idea whether our solar system is atypical.
Kepler would be very unlikely to see a planet 200 AU from its star, unless its star is enormous. Remember, it can only see planets that pass directly between the star and us, and the further out that planet is, the less likely that is.
["Who knows what else is out there in the scattered disc?"]
Indeed. There could be a hundred Earth-size planets lurking a few hundred AU away, and maybe some miniature black holes. Probably no neutron stars, however, unless we're in a Robert Forward novel. [-kfl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We are into spring book sale season, and the Bryn Mawr book sale celebrated its 85th year. Unfortunately, the size of the sale is starting to drop off, from 100,000 books a couple of years ago, down to 90,000, and now 80,000. It does not seem to be just the newer books in smaller numbers, but the quantities across all categories and ages. (I notice that the East Brunswick Friends of the Library now calls their sale a "Books & Media Sale"--obviously an attempt to get people who are not interested in books, so there seems to be a drop-off on both sides of the counter.)
There were several good books at Bryn Mawr that we did not get because we already had, such as three different books on Hollywood's view of history (Carnes, Fraser, and Roquemore). And we also bought a lot of media: seven Great Courses/Teaching Company courses and six DVDs. This now puts us way behind on watching/listening to Teaching Company courses, but at $2 each for the audiocassette ones ("Comedy Through the Ages", "The Live Drama and Vital Truth of William Shakespeare", "The Roots of Human Behavior", and "God and Mankind"), and $4 for the ones on CD (Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Robert & Clara Schumann), who could pass them up?
Apparently audiocassette versions of Teaching Company courses are not in as much demand as CDs (or DVDs), since they were half the price, even though in some cases they are twice as long. Indeed, the comedy and Shakespeare courses are not even in print anymore, so one would think them more valuable, not less.
The DVDs included a three-hour miniseries "A Poet's Guide to Britain", and two "Nature" episodes about birds. There was also a book analyzing the television show CSI.
We did get some books. Mark got a few mathematics books, and I got my usual assortment of "litcrit": a book on MOBY-DICK, a John Sutherland book on curiosities of literature, a Steven Pinker book on linguistics and grammar, and a collection of Edmond Wilson essays. A couple of travel books (not travel guides) and a collection of Bertrand Russell's short stories (who knew he wrote fiction?) pretty much filled out the lot.
The good news is that the volume of books is not too much (the Teaching Company courses are bulky, because for some reason they packed their audiocassette courses in giant clamshell cases), and I even have exit strategies for a couple of the books.
This is important now. When I was young(er), it was no problem-- books in the attic, stacks of boxes, etc., did not phase me. But now, hauling books up to (or down from) the attic is not so great (and when it's a ten-pound reference book, even less so). And I may never read my archaeology books again until we move because to get to them, I would have to shift six boxes of books, each weighing approximately forty pounds.
And if/when we decide to move to a smaller place (because taking care of a four-bedroom house is work), we will be faced with the problem of winnowing down what we have.
I love physical books, but they have definite limitations worth considering. So I buy a lot fewer books at these book sales, and I do not necessarily keep all the books I buy.
I will mention a couple of books I did read this week. ROME'S REVOLUTION: DEATH OF THE REPUBLIC & BIRTH OF THE EMPIRE by Richard Alston (ISBN 978-0-19-973976-9) shows the reader a depressing number of parallels to today's political situations (the trading of liberty for security, the establishment of political dynastic families, the economic disparities, the labeling of opposition as treason, and so on). This is not surprising, since the closing lines indicate that this is probably Alston's purpose:
"Historians and politicians have too often allowed themselves to be awed by Rome's empire, and by the Augustan age in particular. Before we praise the Caesars and their civilization, we should consider what was taken from the Roman people in exchange for those imperial benefits. We should remember that dissident voices, such as those of the Christians, were often silenced. We might think of the numerous aristocratic victims of the emperors who found themselves on the losing side in the vicious politics of the imperial court. We should reflect on the vast and increasing inequalities of imperial society which divided aristocrat from slave, rich from poor. In sum, we should consider the value of the liberty lost in exchange for the supposed peace of an imperial age."
So clearly Alston has an agenda for his book. The thing is, I noticed the same similarities to current politics in Edward Gibbon's THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, which covers a much later (and longer) period of the Roman Empire. But all the same parallels seem to be present. It could be that these are permanent parts of the human condition, and we are unable to escape them.
THE BORROWED MAN by Gene Wolfe (ISBN 978-0-765-38114-9) is a rare bird these days: a standalone science fiction novel under 300 pages long. In the future, instead of books, libraries are filled with "reclones" of authors, of which the narrator is one. He had been a hard-boiled mystery writer, and gets involved in a hard-boiled murder mystery. It is well-written, with some interesting ideas, but I am getting tired of the idea that when we have clones, they will not be considered human, or people, or whatever term you prefer to encompass intelligent beings with all the same right as the next person. Bullfights are illegal in the United States, and cloning a bull and using *it* in a bullfight is not likely to help you in court when you are arrested. Similarly, I find it impossible to believe that a cloned human would not be considered to have basic human rights. One might conceivably argue that he could not run for President, not being a "natural-born" citizen (and, yes, pun intended), but the notion that one could buy or sell him, and murder him with impunity, seems beyond belief. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I was the kid next door's imaginary friend. --Emo PhilipsTweet
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