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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 05/20/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 46, Whole Number 1911
Table of Contents
The Western Tradition (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am taking a course called "The Western Tradition". I always thought the Western Tradition included things like bad guys wear black hats and good guys wear white hats. [-mrl]
Strange Cars (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There was a rare event in my life last month. I (or I should say Evelyn and I) bought ourselves a new car. For the Leepers that is a rare event indeed. For one thing we are not a family that drives a lot. Oh, we do take long driving vacations every few years. But when we are not vacationing we generally stay around our neighborhood. We go to stores and restaurants near our house and then we combine our trips to use as little fossil fuel as we can. And we are usually a one-car family, so that saves. Oh, and our old car was our one car for more than eighteen years. One more fuel-saving approach is that our new car is a Prius, the car optimized for very high mileage. It is going to be a long time between fill-ups.
One disadvantage of the one-car family life is that when we bought the car we used for the last eighteen years what we bought was a car. You know: you stick in a metal key to start it; you see how much gas you have used on a gauge. You also have a speedometer that has a needle telling you what speed you are going at. It was a lot like other cars we used to see. I get into a 2016 Prius and I don't really know what I am looking at. It just does not look like a car. I mean I was aware that there were little data jacks in the last car, but they stayed in the trunk or someplace and I could ignore that the car was minorly a cyborg. The new Prius is not a car. It is a computer with some wheels hanging off of it. One is a steering wheel and four have tires on them. But in the war between the mechanical and the electronic, the mechanical appears to have waved the white flag some years back. All I am seeing in the Prius is computer displays and some wheels.
On top of that a Prius is not actually what one thinks of as a car. More properly speaking a Prius is a stunt. Every gasoline-using feature has been subject to some sort of jiggery-pokery to get the maximum mileage possible from the minimum amount of fuel. The only thing missing is a sail or perhaps a small nuclear reactor. If I am to believe the computer that I had expected would be a car I am getting something like 54 miles per gallon.
But when I bought a real car, I could adjust it a little to make the car what I want it to be. I used to think was that I had bought in the car and it would be mine. There were some adjustments I was not allowed to make. They were minor crimes, mostly involving traffic or air pollution, but whatever I did to soup up the car I could do. And those were mostly mechanical modifications. The new cars are more software than machine and there are new laws coming that say you cannot modify the software on the car. Two state senators from Michigan are declaring that on pain of lifetime imprisonment you cannot modify the software on your car.
You know how it is.
"I got thirty years for rape and murder. How did you get here?"
"I got a life sentence for adjusting my carburetor."
Mike Kowall and Ken Horn, Michigan state senators, are proposing a law that says anyone "intentionally access[ing] or cause access[ing] to be made to an electronic system of a motor vehicle to willfully destroy, damage, impair, alter or gain unauthorized control of the motor vehicle" will be sentenced to *life in prison*.
Of course, the same article tells how we got into this weird situation. A car hacking incident last year caused Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles. The car companies, who by and large do not understand the electronics in their cars are scared that hackers may know more than they do about their own cars. And it probably is no coincidence that these new anti-software hacking laws are being proposed in Michigan which usually sides with the automakers. You make them have a huge recall, you will end up in the slammer.
I guess we are entering a new age in which cars will be strange alien things, and we will be highly dependent on software that few people will understand. That means your car will be a lot like everything else. [-mrl]
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time... (Presidential Visits) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
President Obama spoke at the Rutgers commencement this week, and while I am sure someone thought it a great coup for the school, for the families of the graduates--particularly the engineering graduates--it was an unholy mess.
Our godson was getting his degree in Materials Engineering, and before Obama accepted the invitation, the plan was for his parents, his sister, his grandmother, and the two of us to attend the Rutgers (New Brunswick) commencement in the stadium and then the School of Engineering convocation in the athletic center (Plan A). Most of the schools had their convocations on different days, but the School of Engineering figured it would be convenient for family traveling in if they had theirs the same day. We would need seven tickets and two parking passes, but that would be no problem.
After Obama accepted--in large part because this was the 250th anniversary of Rutgers--everything changed. The Camden and Newark campuses, which normally have their own commencement ceremonies, suddenly felt excluded from the very special event with Obama. So now all three campuses and their guests had to fit into the stadium, not to mention that people who might not have come wanted to attend as well. First, our godson could get only three tickets for the commencement. Okay, so his parents and sister would attend the commencement, and we and his grandmother would drive up after for the convocation (Plan B). But then it turned out that he could get only one parking pass. Now our plan mutated again: we would drive his grandmother up for the convocation, but not park, and the five of them would return in one car (Plan C), after which we would all meet for dinner. (Actually, it was not this bad--our godson had his car there, and while he could not drive out to pick anyone up and be able to return to park it, he could leave it there until after the convocation and then drive home.)
Eventually, this mutated into Plan D: his parents and sister would drive up and attend the commencement. His grandmother and the two of us would have a car hire take us up for the convocation, then all seven of us would return in the two cars that were there.
That sorted out, it was still a mess. His immediate family left four hours before the commencement, got there three hours early, and still took an hour to take the shuttle to the stadium and clear security. They were allowed to bring in cameras and cell phones, but no purses, no bags, no food, and no liquids. They then sat in a cold wind for two hours. (At least it wasn't raining.) The concession stand closed almost an hour and a half before the ceremonies started, meaning you could not even get any beverages during that time.
One good point about having the convocation the same day was that the people attending both did not have to contend with the traffic leaving the Rutgers area after the commencement. While the arrivals were probably somewhat spaced out, the departures were pretty much all at the same time.
Someone once said that any Presidential candidate could carry New York City if he or she promised never to visit while President. Now you know why.
(President Obama's speech can be viewed without all this difficulty at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ9jJm_q5Jo.]
"NOT SO MUCH," SAID THE CAT, by Michael Swanwick (copyright 2016, Tachyon Publications, $15.95, 288pp, ISBN-10: 1616962283, ISBN-13: 978-1616962289) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
It was the last day of Sasquan, last year's WorldCon, when I wandered, mostly intentionally, into Michael Swanwick's reading. Swanwick is an author I first read back in 1998 when I read his Hugo nominated novel JACK FAUST. I didn't read him again until 2002's BONES OF THE EARTH. I remember enjoying both books, enough to want to read more. I'd bought STATIONS OF THE TIDE from the Science Fiction Book Club back when they'd offered it, but I never got around to reading it. So the two aforementioned novels were my only experience with Swanwick. I knew he was well-respected in the field, with 5 Hugo awards, a Nebula (for STATIONS OF THE TIDE), a Sturgeon award as well as a World Fantasy award. Again, it being the last day of the convention, I felt the reading would be a rather relaxed and informal affair, and it was. Swanwick read from his then forthcoming Darger and Surplus novel, CHASING THE PHOENIX. It was a pleasant reading, and I enjoyed what I'd heard. And then, for some reason, Swanwick floated out of my awareness.
Until I was presented with an opportunity to read an advance copy of his latest short story collection, "NOT SO MUCH," SAID THE CAT. The book contains short fiction originally published between 2008 and 2014. Every story in this collection is a gem--well written (I think that probably goes without saying), engaging, and enchanting. Most readers will find something they like here, whether it be science fiction, fantasy, or a little bit of both in the same story.
Favorites? There were many. "3 A.M. in the Mesozoic Bar" is a tale of explores who have gone back in time to when the dinosaurs were destroyed, with those explorers having their last drinks because they had no way home. There was a future ahead of them, but it wasn't *for* them, and how they coped with that is the essence of the story. "Tawny Petticoats" is a Darger and Surplus story of how two con men get conned during the con they were trying to pull off. It's a story I'd read previously, and enjoyed even more so the second time around. "The Dala Horse" gives us a tale about a young girl who owns magical toys that talk to her. The real question is whether they're really magical, really toys, and are they really there to protect her? In "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown", a young girl's father is whisked away by strangers in the night. She follows them, and ends up in hell--down at the bottom of the stairs, don't you know--and makes a deal with the devil to try to get both of them out. It's a dark and macabre tale, and teaches a lesson about trying to make that proverbial deal. "The Woman Who Shook the World Tree" is another story that I've read elsewhere, about a plain but brilliant woman who falls in love with her research assistant and the things that can go horribly wrong with a science experiment. "Goblin Lake" is a fairy tale of sorts, wherein we discover what really goes on in the lives of characters in books, and the thought processes that go into making the decision to be in that world by a man who falls into the titular lake and encounters characters who are in books.
Those may be my favorites, but most of the rest aren't far behind. "Pushkin the American" is probably the only story in the book that is not science fiction or fantasy, but it does display Swanwick's writing and story telling ability. Pushkin is a man who finds himself stranded in Russia with no money, no job, and no one to lean on. He finds a way to become successful, but at a cost that many of us would not like to bear. "An Empty House with Many Doors" is a sort of cross-dimensional story of a man whose wife has died, but who quite accidentally ends up in a universe where she is still alive. It's a poignant tale of a man so in love he would give anything to get his wife back. "The Passage of Earth" is a frightening tale that faintly recalls Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS, although this particular version is a lot more scary than Heinlein's, I think. "Steadfast Castle" is a creepy tale of a house AI that was just a little too attached to its owner, although I think house AI is not quite the right term--probably a sentient house would be a better term.
There are more stories in this volume that demonstrate Swanwick's story telling range, his breadth of ideas, and his wonderful writing abilities--much like the stories described above do. Swanwick's writing, while literary, is greatly accessible; the stories make you think, but don't make you work. I suspect he had as much fun writing them as I had reading them. It seems that I have ignored Michael Swanwick far too long, and it's time to add him to the growing list of authors that I need to read, if "NOT SO MUCH," SAID THE CAT is any indication of the rest of his work. I'm betting it is. [-jak]
RUSHLIGHTS (Original and Director's Cut) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[Note: I realized that after I arranged to see this film to review it that it is a film that I saw and wrote about on its original release in 2013. The director is Antoni Stutz and this is his unrated director's cut of RUSHLIGHTS. In the interim the film has been re-edited, the sound has been improved, and in some cases scenes have been added. What I have to say below in my original review still holds true in my opinion. Stutz has taken the original twisty story and left it just as twisty. He took some of the rough edges and roughened them up even more. The new film is a little bloodier and a little stronger and a little more painful to watch, but I will stand by the same rating. Oh, and Wikipedia defines "rushlight" as "a type of candle or miniature torch formed by soaking the dried pith of the rush plant in fat or grease. For several centuries rushlights were a common source of artificial light for poor people throughout the British Isles."]
CAPSULE: RUSHLIGHTS claims to be based on a true story. I am not sure I believe it. Reality is just not that twisty. Billy and Sarah, two young lovers, each a little crooked, go to flyspeck Texas town Tremo so Sarah can impersonate her look-alike roommate. The roommate, recently deceased from an overdose, was to inherit a large sum of money. They stand to be very rich if Sarah can pull off the fraud. But their deception turns out to be just one more thing in Tremo that is not what it seems. With more engaging leads this film might be one that people would want to see a second time-- just to get straight all that happened. Co-written and directed by Antoni Stutz, the RUSHLIGHTS script keeps the viewer guessing. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
RUSHLIGHTS reminded me of early Coen Brothers. When the surprises start they just keep coming. Billy Brody (played by Josh Henderson) and Sarah (Haley Webb) are young and in love, and both have shady pasts. Sarah's roommate, who happens to look a lot like Sarah, dies of a drug overdose. Billy finds a letter to the roommate saying she is about to inherit a large sum of money from an uncle in Tremo, Texas. Billy and Sarah decide that Sarah looks enough like her roommate to impersonate the dead girl long enough collect the money. The two go to Tremo not knowing the rats' nest of complications their attempted deception was about to uncover. There they find themselves between their lawyer Cameron Brogden (Aidan Quinn) and Sheriff Robert Brogden, Jr. (Beau Bridges), two brothers who take opposite views of the young couple.
This film falls into the "Southern town with lots hidden under the surface" category. The lighting is distinctly film noir-ish with characters carved out of darkness. The photography is stylish and the film looks better than it feels. Before it is over there will be a lot of shooting, a lot of violence and even more blood.
The film would be intriguing but both of the main characters are plagued by flat acting. Josh Henderson is supposedly familiar from TV's revival of "Dallas", though I cannot say I have seen it. We see very little into their characters, perhaps intentionally from the script. Perhaps for reason top billing goes to Aiden Quinn and Beau Bridges who really are in supporting roles. Perhaps they have more name recognition than the younger actors.
It is not clear that some of the plot twists really contribute much to the story. They may be there for surprise value, but if they were not there it would be essentially the same story. A few are genuine twists. At times the film does not make a lot of sense. The script should have said something about how the discovery of the roommate's corpse back in L.A. is not going upset their plans. Holes in the plans stand there like the elephant in the room that nobody seems to think of.
There is some suspense in this film and I cannot deny there are surprises. With better actors this could have been a solid thriller. But if the main characters cannot make the viewer care what happens to them, the rest of the goings on does not matter much.
I rate RUSHLIGHTS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1536437/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rushlights/
Elon Musk and Iain M. Banks (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Paul Dormer, Peter Trei, and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Elon Musk in the 05/13/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:
Several news articles did mention Iain M. Banks' "Culture" series as the source of [the names of the landing platforms]. Not many but not zero. [-pc]
Paul Dormer adds:
It got a letter in the "Guardian". This was about the time of the Boaty McBoatface affair. [-pd]
I don't recall any Culture ship called Boaty McBoatface? [-pd]
For those who haven't seen the news item in question:
Peter Trei says:
I think you'll find Musk named the ships long before the Boaty McBoatface affair blew up in Britain. Personally, I'd have voted for "Name of Vessel". [-pt]
And Paul replies:
Wasn't arguing he didn't. The letter in question was just pointing out the precedent for such a name.
Fair enough. "Attenborough" was a good name, but not anywhere as fun. [-pt]
And Keith F. Lynch notes:
I'm reminded of what happened when someone got a vanity license plate that read "NO PLATE."
Primary Elections and Delegates (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Keith F. Lynch, Kevin R, Tim Bateman, and David Goldfarb):
In response to Mark's comments on primary elections and delegates in the 05/13/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:
AIUI, the GOP also uses the delegate system. In "normal" years the presumptive nominee is already known so the local/regional GOP party use delegate appointments as rewards to local hard working party activists i.e. they get to go to the national convention and party like mad. [-pc]
Keith F. Lynch replies:
To be fair, both parties are private organizations, not branches of the government. So why shouldn't they have whatever rules they like for selecting their candidates, and for deciding who is allowed to be a member of their party? Why should any random person off the street have a say? What would prevent people from falsely claiming to be Democrats so as to select the worst possible Democratic candidate to ensure that the Republican wins? Or from falsely claiming to be Republican so as to select the worst possible Republican candidate to ensure that the Democrat wins?
That would go a long way toward explaining the current election, in which both parties' presumptive candidates are extremely unpopular. [-kfl]
Elsewhere in this issue I discuss the regulations coming up that say you cannot change the software in your car to be anything you want it to be. It needs to be controlled so you do not do just anything you want with the car. Perhaps political systems should not be manipulated at will where the interests of others are involved. [-mrl]
Kevin R adds:
First, let's not forget that primary elections were forced on the parties by state law. Wisconsin--you'll never find a more wretched hive of sewer socialists and Progressives, at least at the time, in the US--forced the first one on the parties in 1903. Now, since the First Amendment protects freedom of assembly, and so does the WI Constitution:
Section 4. The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.
This annotation is there, too:
The national democratic party [sic] has a protected right of political association and may not be compelled to seat delegates chosen in an open primary in violation of the party's rules. Democratic Party of U.S. v. Wisconsin, 450 U.S. 107, 101 S.Ct. 1010, 67 L.Ed.2d 82 (1981).
So they can make a state party have a primary, but can't make the national party seat the delegates. This effectively turns it into a "beauty contest" primary.
WI has no registration to vote by party. Any voter can request the primary ballot for any one party on the day of the election, or, nowadays, when voting early. If one party's nomination is locked up already, partisans can "cross over" and cast mischief votes.
Tim Bateman writes:
I have for some time assumed that [the Electoral College] is a device to choose a President for both the individual citizens and the member states. [-tmb]
Keith F. Lynch responds:
Right. It's intended as a compromise between individuals electing a President and the states electing a President. It's also intended as a safety valve to prevent a completely unsuitable person from being elected. Nothing prevents any electoral college member from changing his vote. This is rare, but it sometimes happens. For instance, just because one said he would vote for Donald Trump doesn't mean he is compelled to do so. [-kfl]
David Goldfarb notes:
[Re Mark's desire for "a system so simple and so tied to the will of the people that the Chinese can justifiably envy us"]
The problem with this is that "simple" and "tied to the will of the people" aren't always identical. There's little simpler than first-past-the-post, but you need look no further than the last two Hugo Award shortlists to see how that one can break down. [-dg]
History and the Past (letters of comment by Tim Bateman and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments on history in the 05/13/16 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Mark wrote,] "I saw a documentary on PBS that [a possible archaeological discovery] might actually change history. That is a little scary. If that is true, what is going to happen to causality?" [-mrl]
Nothing. However, if someone ever changes the past... [-tmb]
Keith F. Lynch writes:
I just changed the future. And I'll do it again. Nobody can stop me. Bwa-ha-ha! [-kfl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For all those people who have made visiting Presidential Libraries and birthplaces the focus of their vacations, and have run through the entire list(*), ASSASSINATION VACATION by Sarah Vowell (ISBN 978-0-7432-6004-6) may help fill the next few trips.
(*) On a trip through the South a few years ago, Mark and I visited Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis. My brother is one of these "Presidential tourists" and I told him he should consider adding this, but with an asterisk, sort of like Roger Maris--or this note. Anyway, back to ASSASSINATION VACATION. Vowell covers the locations for each Presidential assassination in detail, along with passing mention of the assassination attempts. The problem with trying to use this as a vacation guide is that the sites for any given assassination are too far-flung. Consider Lincoln's assassination. Besides the obvious sites in Washington DC and Springfield IL, there are many sites scattered around having to do with the Booths (e.g., New York City), with Dr. Mudd (e.g., Dry Tortuga FL), with William Seward (e.g., Ketchikan AK), and so on. One can visit them semi-randomly as one travels to various parts of the country, but putting them all in one "Lincoln Assassination Trip" would require an excessive amount of time and money.
Luckily one can enjoy the book and Vowell's writing without having to follow in her footsteps. She had researched every detail of the assassinations and their casts of characters. Not only does she know that Robert Todd Lincoln was in the Washington train station when Garfield was assassinated there and had just gotten off the train in Buffalo when he received word that McKinley has been assassinated in that city, and also that Edwin Booth saved Robert Todd Lincoln's life in Jersey City in 1863 when the latter slipped under a train, but also that Edwin Booth was at a party in New York and was admiring a cast of a pair of hands. Booth asked the host whose hands these were; when he was told they were a cast of the hands of Abraham Lincoln, Booth "silently put them back upon the shelf."
My one complaint would be that Vowell too often lets her positions vis-a-vis (then-)current politics get away from her, and she will go off on a tangent about the Second Gulf War or the "corporate polluter lobbyists now employed at the EPA." When she connects this to what is going on at the time of an assassination, or how (for example) Theodore Roosevelt's policies led to a century of interventionism, it is okay, but when it is just a snarky aside, it gets a bit annoying. (And I actually agree with much of what she says; it just often seems out of place.)
On the other hand, when I read "Nowadays, the national nominating conventions are foregone conclusions in which party zealots spend a few days and a few million dollars applauding themselves while balloons bounce off their shellacked hairdos on TV. But the 1880 Republican National Convention in summertime Chicago was unpredictable, a hissy fit on the verge of riot," all I can say is, "1880, meet 2016." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I have never been hurt by what I have not said. --Calvin CoolidgeTweet
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