MT VOID 04/15/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 41, Whole Number 1906

MT VOID 04/15/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 41, Whole Number 1906

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 04/15/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 41, Whole Number 1906

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Back issues at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/back_issues.htm 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 mtvoid-subscribe@yahoogroups.com To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

Is the Future Award-Winning Novelist a Writing Robot?

And speaking of machines that think (see letters of comment below):

http://tinyurl.com/void-ai-author-latimes

"Could a writing robot make novelists obsolete? It might not happen anytime soon, but then again, it might. In Japan, a short novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary contest, the Japan News reports."

Judges for the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award weren't told which novels were written by humans and which were penned by human-computer teams. The award is unique in that it accepts entries from non-humans.

Official Shin'ichi Hoshi website: http://shinichihoshi.com/


Bigger and Bigger Thieves (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Things just keep getting worse and worse. Elsewhere in this issue I observe that several world leaders have been siphoning off national funds and stowing them offshore. This is a real breach of public trust. So I turned to what is happening in science news. I read that Planet X has not been officially even discovered. We just think we know where it is through mathematical deduction. Now what do we hear? There are rumors that Planet X was likely stolen from another star system. We cannot even give it back because we don't know what star system it was taken from. And even if we made a good guess which star system, Planet X is going to be attracted to any star it approaches like it was home already. It doesn't matter that it is breaking up a family. And if I was expecting more responsibility on a galactic level, Milky Way galaxy is stealing pieces of the Andromeda Galaxy. [-mrl]


Penny Box Crimes (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Back when I was in college I created for myself a sort of philosophical toy. Not a physical toy. It was more of a philosophical device to illustrate an idea. I called it the "Penny Box." The idea was there to toy with. You would get the Penny Box and you had to decide if were to use it or not. It was a box about 3"x7"x3" uniformly grey with a button on the top. It looks a lot like a moneybox, which I suppose was what it was. You press the button and one million dollars, tax-free, drops out of the bottom of the box. Meanwhile by some mystical process everybody in the United States is one penny poorer.

Now there are about 320,000,000 people in the United States. So if you press the button there is a loss of about 3.2 million dollars when the money is collected, but you are richer by a cool million. You have basically destroyed 2.2 million dollars, but you have a million to assuage your conscience.

There are several ethical questions that come out of a Penny Box situation. The first and most obvious one is, "Would you press the button?" It seems to me more people answered yes than answered no. I am not sure I believe the people who say no. Of course I myself would not use the box. At least that is what I tell myself at this moment. Fictional corruption is far less of a temptation than the real thing. If I were in desperate need of the money I suppose it is possible I would give in.

Another question: would you push the button more than once? You would have already made a million dollars off of the deal. Would you really want another million? Again I think human nature lets me down. People who would press the button once generally would push it as many times as they could. A 2012 study conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley and reported on CNN indicates that the wealthy and the fortunate have a greater propensity for unethical behavior than those less fortunate. Probably whoever would push the button once would push it as many times as were allowed.

See: http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/27/health/rich-more-unethical/

One more question: if you found out that Penny Boxes were becoming available from disreputable sources would you think the government should move to stop the sale.

I have come to classify a type of antisocial action a "Penny Box" action. That is one that gives benefit to the perpetrator while distributing a small harm to a large number of people. Simple littering is a Penny Box crime. But so is political graft.

At the time I first suggested the Penny Box several decades ago I had heard that organized crime was getting involved with toxic waste dumping. For me it raised philosophical questions. With toxic waste dumping it is hard to prove any great harm was done to anybody by a single action. You just have a lot of people (and animals and plants) whose health is just slightly degraded by each dumping. Eventually those little bits add up and really degrade the environment. You can end up with a very large bunch of people who have each been responsible for a tiny bit of a murder.

The Penny Box is just a way to conceptualize highly-distributed harm done for profit.

Why does this come up now? Well the old Penny Box or something like it is making its presence known. You may have already heard that Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian financial service provider has had a huge security leak of 11.5 million confidential documents covering 214,000 offshore corporations created to be safe-deposit boxes where ill-gotten money can be safely stored. Heads of state, world leaders, and really anyone with wealth who has been enormously enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow countrymen are being revealed. These are leaders setting up low-tax shell companies and secret financial accounts. These are funds that are being siphoned off and hidden abroad to avoid taxes. These seem to indicate that around the world the wealthy are slamming their Penny Box buttons as fast as they can.

One country showing up very little in the leaked documents is the United States. Why not? Well, Americans are just more honest and upstanding than the rest of the world.

Just kidding.

Americans just have more options and better ways to hide ill-gotten gains or keeping money out of reach of the taxman.

What is scary is not just that so many countries seem to have been victimized through use of the services of Mossack Fonseca, but that Mossack Fonseca is just one financial services source. This is the one that had the leak. There are probably many more companies like Mossack Fonseca still operating in secret.

Sadly, Penny Box crimes seem to be the wave of the future. Guilt is just so hard to prove. I have no idea what we can do about them, so this is just a lament. It seems to me one science that has advanced the greatest amount in my lifetime is the science of strategies for gaming the system. And we all pay the price. [-mrl]


Passover (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Passover was simpler when people ate only "real food", did not eat in restaurants, and did not store several months' worth of food in their homes. Of course, one could argue that the rest of the year was more work, but at least it was spread out.

[Basic rules of Passover: The Bible prohibits everything made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt unless specially supervised to make sure it doesn't rise. By custom, European Jews avoid all other grains and all legumes as well, though not derivative products (such as peanut oil).(*)]

Now, even if you don't have a huge food supply, you still have to contend with the fact that almost everything you buy other than plain meat or fish, produce, and most dairy products[*] have either corn syrup (usually high fructose), corn starch, some form of soybean, some form of grain, or a combination of these.

[*] Even dairy is not exempt; for example, most shredded cheese has rice flour added to prevent caking.

So the first hurdle for Passover is getting rid of everything that has grains, legumes, etc., as well as anything that has been opened and possibly "contaminated" (e.g., a container of butter which might have had bread crumbs introduced into it).

[At some point, the rabbis realized that many people would not (or could not afford to) throw out good food, so there is this procedure of "selling" your food to a non-Jew and then buying it back after Passover. (Frankly, it might be better for people who could afford it to give all the unopened food to their local food bank, but that's another story.)]

Then there is the buying of food to replace everything you just got rid of. One could use this opportunity to eat only "real food", but most people want at least some prepared food. So you have a shopping list of all sorts of things: matzoh, ketchup, matzoh, Passover cake mixes (with potato flour), matzoh, Israeli chocolate spread, ... oh, and did I mention matzoh?

Matzoh is made from wheat, but its production is specially supervised to guarantee that no leavening takes place. It is the basic staple of Passover (contrary to Mark's claim that honey cake is the basic staple of Passover). In addition to the basic sheets of matzoh, there is matzoh farfel (matzoh crumbled up and used as a stuffing base or instead of granola), and matzoh meal (used in dumplings and other prepared foods). Potato starch and potato flour are also ubiquitous ingredients.

So there is getting rid of all the non-Passover stuff and buying Passover stuff. There is also cleaning the kitchen to eliminate all traces of grains, etc. (I am not convinced that anyone can completely clean a toaster oven, so maybe you're supposed to sell that too.) Even if you don't go to extremes like using a toothbrush to clean between the tiles in your floor, this is yet more work.

Oh, and you are also supposed to have special dishes, flatware, pots and pans, etc. for Passover. My understanding is that sales of paper- and plastic-ware have a sudden jump about this time of year. :-)

After all this, then you start to cook. For people who eat out a lot. Just having to cook three meals a day for eight days is a major life change. The Seder for the first night alone is the equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner, and then you are supposed to do it all again for the second night. Why? Because the new moon in Jerusalem determines when Passover starts and it used to be that people could not predict it nor could they transmit the information about when it was seen in time, so everyone decided to celebrate the two possible days just to be on the safe side. Does this make sense with today's science and technology? No, but it's tradition.

So when you finally sit down to dinner on the first night, you've just spent weeks cleaning, discarding, buying, re-arranging kitchenware, and cooking--and then you hear how this is a festival of freedom and liberation.

You couldn't prove it by me. [-ecl]


Space X (comments by Gregory Frederick):

Well, Space X has successfully landed a primary stage booster rocket on a platform floating in the Atlantic Ocean, recently. A few months back they landed one on a pad (a land landing) at the Cape Kennedy center in Florida. Blue Origin successfully launched and landed its New Shepard vehicle and rocket for the third time (April 2). Re-using rockets will greatly reduce the costs of going into space. So we are truly entering an age of less expensive space travel. This means the commercial use of space is more feasible; mining asteroids, and the Moon just got cheaper. [-gf]

Mark replies:

And speaking of space capabilities, today [April 12] marks fifty-five years since the first man went into space. [-mrl]

[At this place the discussion shifted to Breakthrough Starshot. Next week we will have the discussion of Breakthrough Starshot consolidated in one issue. -mrl]


INVADERS: 22 TALES FROM THE OUTER LIMITS OF LITERATURE edited by Jacob Weisman (copyright 2016, Tachyon Publications, $16.95, 384pp, ISBN-10 1616962100, ISBN-13 978-1616962104) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

Science fiction and fantasy have long been considered the ghetto of literature--if they were considered literature at all. SF&F have long been shut out of major non-genre awards, and indeed have not often been considered for such awards. Literary writers and magazines have long looked down their noses at genre fiction. That attitude slowly appears to be changing. To be sure, the attitude is still prevalent, but the dividing line between genre and literature is showing some cracks. Authors like Michael Chabon and Doris Lessing have long professed their love for the genre, while writers such as Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Harlan Ellison are considered to be among America's finest writers, not just America's finest science fiction writers.

It's also very clear that genre stories have taken over entertainment. In addition, we really do live in a science fictional world, a fact that no one denies. So it comes as no surprise that there are many literary writers that dabble in genre, either jumping in with both feet or using science fictional tropes in their stories without making it the centerpiece of the tale. Jacob Weisman of Tachyon Publications has gathered twenty-two stories by writers who are not known to work in the genre in this anthology. And while it's not a book a fan of core science fiction is likely to casually pick up and read, it contains some highly entertaining and definitely well written genre tales that science fiction fans looking to broaden their reading experience are well advised to pick up.

I will admit to have heard of only four of the authors in this book, those being Jonathan Lethem, W. P. Kinsella, George Saunders and Junot Diaz. Kinsella is known for baseball stories, and here he combines science fiction and baseball in a first contact story called "Reports Concerning the Death of the Seattle Albatross are Somewhat Exaggerated", about a baseball mascot who is an alien. Junot Diaz gives us the frightening "Monstro", set in a world that is falling apart at the seams. The story tells of two friends and a mysterious, glamorous woman who all together are trying to figure out what is going on with the weird virus/disease that has broken out. Lethem's "Five F*cks" is a tale which involves many familiar science fiction tropes which make us think a little bit about one night stands and evolution. Saunders give us "Escape from Spiderhead", a story of scientific advancement in the area of pharmaceuticals and the moral dilemma that can arise from those advancements. It's quite a frightening tale, but I suppose that with the advancements in genetics and medicine it may not be all that far-fetched.

While those are good stories, they aren't my favorites in the book. Steven Millhauser's "A Precursor to the Cinema" is a tale of an otherwise unexceptional artist who for a short period of his career has exhibits of his work that are indeed exceptional and particularly haunting. "Portal", by J. Robert Lennon, shows us a family who has bought a house and property that has a portal at the back of the property that can transport people to other places. The problem is the affect this transportation has on the people who use the portal. Brian Evenson's "Fugue State" is a very scary tale of a man who apparently has a malady that is not only contagious but looks like it could bring about the end of mankind (taken to its logical conclusion). "Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss is another first contact story which takes place in a remote location and relates the story of a human woman who meets an alien and the respect they have for each other. "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover" by Robert Olen Butler is a story straight out of the National Enquirer, about a woman in a small country town in Alabama who meets an alien and falls in love with it.

Other terrific stories include Deji Bryce Olukotun's "We are the Olfanauts", which gives us the tale of advancements in Internet technologies. In this case, as you can probably tell by the title, the story deals with aromas that can be transmitted over the Internet, and the consequences for the people that work in the field involved with that technology. "Topics in Advanced Rocketry", by Chris Tarry, takes place in a future when space travel is made available to the common family and the effect it has on the first family it is made available to. Max Apple's "The Yogurt of Vasirin Kefirovsky" shows us a scientist who is obsessed with the idea that the biblical manna was a form of yogurt. "The Inner City", by Karen Heuler, is a story straight out of The Twilight Zone, about a woman who is out of a job and looking for work, and who finds a lead for a job on a very strange street in a very strange part of town.

There are no bad stories in the book, and while I haven't summarized all of them, the stories by Eric Puchner, Ben Loory, Julia Elliot, Rivka Galchen, Jami Attenberg, Amiri Baraka, Kelly Luce and Katherine Dunn are just as engaging as the others I've mentioned above. This collection is, in my opinion, well worth picking up and shows that you don't need to be a genre writer to write good genre fiction. If only the rest of the literary world would understand that "good genre fiction" is not any oxymoronic term and recognize there is some really good stuff to be discovered in genre literature. [-jak]


The Loneliness of Numbers (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Charles S. Harris, Kerr Mudd-John, and Kevin R):

In response to Mark's comments on the loneliness of numbers in the 04/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I think the problem is not mathematical, but semantic. One, we are told is "the loneliest number." Two, "can be as bad as one." I suggest, therefore, that a switch has been made, from "lonely" to "bad," and thus there is no conflict.

Badness is not fully equivalent to loneliness, though loneliness is a subset of badness in general. There must be other bad things about two, which the song is unable to detail, perhaps because of a lack of space in the three-minute popular song format.

Perhaps there are clues in the song as to why this is so. The line, "It's just no good any more since you've gone away" (with the attendant danger that now he spends his time making rhymes, which can be bad for the listener) hints that two is bad, partly because it consists of a pair of ones, which are the loneliest number. Twice as lonely? It is hard to say. At any rate, the number two is only one away from being one, so the departure of either one leaves not just one, but two ones being lonely.

Poor, sad little numbers. [-kw]

Mark replies:

That badness is not fully equivalent to loneliness would be an explanation, I suppose. Two might have some aspect other than loneliness making it bad. Two may not be as lonely as one, but it also may have some other unstated aspect making it an object of fear. There are people who are diaphobic and have an unreasoning dislike of the number two. So then two may not be as lonely, but it may be emblematic of some personal pain deeply repressed in the songwriter's subconscious.

There is a love poem for lonely prime number by Harry Baker on TED Talks.

http://tinyurl.com/void-prime-poem-ted

[-mrl]

Charles Harris was confused by the wording:

[Mark writes,] "if the domain is the natural numbers 2 would be the *only* number since the number 1."

?? [-csh]

Mark explains:

It is assuming you are counting 1, 2, 3... There is no number between 1 and 2. [-mrl]

Charles replies:

Hmm, all of the dictionary definitions and examples of "since" involve a time, and don't seem to be applicable to a number, as in "It's the loneliest number since the number one." Also none of the definitions imply "the next one"; was Andrew Johnson the tallest President since Lincoln?

Is there a technical term "since" used in mathematics? [-csh]

Mark answers:

Well, I did not write nor do I endorse the song lyric. "Since" does seem to refer to time, but it can refer to a place if the place is associated with a time. As in "We are driving across country, but I have been driving since Pittsburgh."

The same could apply to numbers. "I am slowly counting '1, 2, 3, 4, ...' and at the moment each number since the number 1 seems to have been a divisor of 420. [-mrl]

Kerr Mudd-John sends this (Lene Lovich, "Lucky Number"):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGoEmhQP774

[-kmj]

Kevin R responds:

LL! (How did she never date Superman?)

By the way, "One" comes to you by the author of "The Point," (a.k.a. Oblio).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_(Harry_Nilsson_song)

TV chefs may know one way to slice an onion. I know one, also:

1.) Don Hazmat suit
B.) Load onion into nuclear-powered, sub orbital trebuchet.
III.) Aim NPSOT at knife, propped up at the antipodes relative to
      the ol' one-armed chucker.
iv.) Fire onion.

Remove Hazmat suit, decontaminate, then chop celery or something else edible to replace onion. (Green peppers are nice.) [-kr]

[I would like to apologize to any reader confused by the above. Somewhere this discussion seems to have gone off the rails and I don't follow it either. Onions??? -mrl]


WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK (letters of comment by Gregory Benford and Judy Harris):

In response to Evelyn's comments on WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK in the 04/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:

[Evelyn writes,] "And while Gregory Benford's piece is not science fiction, he has been known to write science fiction in the past while still remaining a grown-up."

Thing is, Brockman forces answers into a formula of sorts. He knows nothing of SF and dismisses it because the NYC litbiz still thinks genre is for losers. This instead makes them losers, as we've seen. SF gets welcomes in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in California." [-gb]

And Judy Harris writes:

Evelyn, this is in response to your review of John Brockman's latest compilation, WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK.

You said, "It is apparently part of a series in which each volume is just such a collection on a topic chosen by the editors of Edge.org."

The topic is chosen by John Brockman himself. Brockman is the founder and head of a literary agency, Brockman, Inc., which specializes in scientific literature. Every December, Brockman poses an "Annual Question" to his stable of scientist-authors. Their job is to write a short essay inspired by the question. The essays are posted on Brockman's website, Edge.org, on January 1st. Then he puts them together and turns them into a book. See: https://www.edge.org/annual-questions.

The Annual Question for 2015 was "What do you think about machines that think?" Brockman received 192 responses, which were posted on Edge.org on Jan. 1, 2015. They're still there:

http://tinyurl.com/void-ai-edge

You noted, "Not surprisingly, there is a wide variety of opinions." Right, that's what Brockman wants. His questions are open-ended and he generally doesn't give his scientist-authors much guidance. And most of them probably don't bother to read more than a few of the other essays before getting to work on their own contribution.

In fact, Brockman himself may have reached the point where he finds it too tedious to read almost two hundred essays on the same topic. He's the editor of the book only in the sense that he asked the initial question, put together the responses, found a publisher, and wrote a brief introduction. He doesn't do editing in the sense of correcting typos or fixing up the prose. (He hires someone else to do those jobs.) Nor did he exercise any selectivity in deciding which essays to include: in this case, at least, he included all of them.

Thus, there was no real need for him to read all 192 essays. He might not have noticed that some of them do make reference to "all that science fiction."

As for his "implication that science fiction is not something 'grown-ups' bother themselves with," I suspect that was meant tongue-in cheek. The authors Brockman represents are scientists. Most of them probably grew up reading science fiction. No doubt many of them still do. [-jh]


Valerie Hobson (letter of comment by Paul Dormer):

In response to Mark's review of Q-PLANES in the 04/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

I had not known she was in either of [THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON or THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN]. I know her more from being Edith in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, one of the finest of the Ealing comedies. I see she was also Estella in the David Lean version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

I was about 10 when the Profumo scandal broke which meant I knew something was going on, but no-one would explain it to me. [-pd]

Mark responds:

I certainly agree that KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS and GREAT EXPECTATIONS are fine films. I suspect that THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN have better recognition value today. Universal horror films have an undying popularity. [-mrl]


Creativity (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Mark's comments on creativity in the 04/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:

Both [creativity and simplifying tools] are good. You can waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

When teaching algebra, the first few problems given are ones that can easily be solved without algebra, but that would defeat the whole purpose of learning, since in that case the goal is to learn algebraic techniques, not to find the solution to one specific problem. Similarly, someone who, instead of learning to swim, reaches the far side of the swimming pool by walking around it will not be well served when he finds himself in the middle of the Pacific with his ship on the bottom of the ocean and no land in sight.

["Knowing the turn-the-crank way of getting the answer will get you only so far. You do better with simple tools and with approaches nobody taught you." -mrl]

The ideal is to *reinvent* algebra, calculus, etc. Not very time-efficient, but if you invent it you're much less likely to ever forget it.

The best thing about math is the proofs, and the fact that they mostly only require pen and paper, rather than billion-dollar instruments such as LIGO, the LHC, or Hubble. Being badly burned by trusting untrustworthy authorities has made me a fairly extreme skeptic. I want to be able to prove things for myself.

["We tend to partition off math problems into geometry problems, algebra problems, calculus problems, etc. The truth is that for the most part there are only math problems and recommended tools." -mrl]

Indeed. Often the solutions to long-standing math problems came from unexpected branches of math. For instance Dirichlet proving there are infinitely many primes congruent to A mod B whenever A and B have no factors in common, not by using number theory, but by using analysis, i.e. by proving that certain sums of complex numbers don't converge.

["Descartes, who pioneered graphing of formulae, showed that so-called geometry problems could be solved purely with algebra." -mrl]

Yes. I tend to do it that way, since I'm not a visual thinker. It serves me well when solving "geometry" problems in higher dimensions. Quick, how many regular solids are there in four dimensions? Good luck trying to solve that through visualization.

["In mathematics it is better to see a creative solution than to know the proscribed way to solve a problem." -mrl]

I assume you mean "prescribed"?

Again, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. If the astronaut will die if you don't quickly tell him how much thrust to apply in which direction, that's not the time to nurture your creativity. [-kfl]


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

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA: THE TRAGEDY OF THE WHALESHIP ESSEX by Nathaniel Philbrick (ISBN 978-0-14-100182-8) and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (film by Ron Howard) are an example of how a movie supposedly based on a book may vary considerably from it. I have already reviewed the book, but I just saw the film and thought I would compare the two.

The differences start with the framing story. Herman Melville never met with Thomas Nickerson. He did meet George Pollard, but only after he had written MOBY-DICK.

The crewing of the ship is also not accurate. In the film, Owen Chase has been promised a captaincy, but instead he finds himself as First Mate under an inexperienced relative of the owners of the Essex, and he and Captain Pollard take an instant dislike to each other. In actual fact, Chase and Pollard had sailed together before (with Pollard as First Mate and Chase as harpooner), and Pollard had been on the Essex almost all of the previous four years.

The squall is accurate, including the loss of two whaleboats. The whaling scenes that follow are taken as much (or more) from MOBY-DICK as from Philbrick's book. One can suppose that similar scenes happened on the Essex, but it is clear that Howard is trying to film MOBY-DICK without admitting it.

(Note: It is true that Howard did not write the screenplay. Writing credits go to Charles Leavitt for the screenplay; Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffe, and Amanda Silver for the story; and Nathaniel Philbrick for the book. But I assume that as director Howard also had some input--the final input--and will use his name as a shorthand.)

As an example of how MOBY-DICK has crept into the story of the Essex. the whale that destroyed the Essex was not a white whale, but the whale in the movie is. The whale in the movie also follows the survivors as they drift around the Pacific, which is inaccurate to both the Essex and to MOBY-DICK. (One of the survivors' whaleboats, amazingly, was in fact attacked by a whale, but it was a different whale.)

Another example is that there is a character on the pier in Nantucket who looks (to me, anyway) like Melville's description of Tashtego.

Because he is trying to sandwich MOBY-DICK in, Howard leaves out a lot of dramatic events, such as when one of the Essex crewmen sets a fire on Charles Island (now Floreana Island) as a prank, except that it spreads and burns the entire island, contributing to the extinction of the local tortoise. He also omits scenes of the survivors repairing underwater leaks in the old and damaged whaleboats even as they are drifting in them.

Indeed, Howard omits the ultimate irony of the story of the Essex. When the Essex is wrecked, the twenty survivors got into the three remaining whaleboats and then made a critical mistake: instead of heading for the nearest land (the Marquesas, about 1500 miles away and in the direction in which the prevailing winds would blow then), they decided to try for South America on a route covering almost 4000 miles because they would have to sail a long ways south to catch trade winds blowing in the right direction. They apparently were terrified by reports of cannibals in the Marquesas. And because of this, they ended up cannibals themselves.

On the other hand, Howard adds a very dramatic series of explosions and the sinking of the Essex. In fact, there was no explosion, and the Essex did not sink until after the survivors rowed out of sight of it. The island they land on is not Ducie, but Henderson, and while they thought it was Ducie, by the time Melville is getting the tale from Nickerson, the latter would have known the truth. And while indeed Henderson Island had a cave with skeletons in it, it was not the reason most of the Essex survivors left the island--it was discovered by the three who had remained many days after the rest of the survivors had departed. [-ecl]


                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net
Quote of the Week:
          Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, 
          never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--
          never give in except to convictions of honour and 
          good sense.
                                           --Winston Churchill
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