MT VOID 07/08/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 2, Whole Number 1918

MT VOID 07/08/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 2, Whole Number 1918

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/08/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 2, Whole Number 1918

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

Worldcon Plans (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Several people have asked about our Worldcon plans. We are not going this year. As I have said, we used to go every year. But after we broke the string in 2007 (we had already been to Japan, etc.), we were more selective. We went to Denver and Montreal, but we had already gone to Australia once. We went to Reno, Chicago, and San Antonio because they had other attractions for us. We skipped London--we've been there many times. Spokane? Seriously?

We've been to Kansas City once, and (re next year) we've been to Helsinki *twice* (and we're not even Finnish!), so not there either. (Instead, we're looking at a Greek cruise or a return to Thailand after 25 years.)

Now, NASFIC next year is pretty definite. Valley Forge is only a couple of hours away (no plane flights!), and given that I'm half Puerto Rican, San Juan is almost a no-brainer. [-ecl]

Car Touchscreens (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Today's cars seem to have the wrong technology. My car uses touch screen buttons on the dashboard. I must have wide fingers since I so frequently hit the wrong button and have to back it out. It is only a temporary problem however. Soon everybody will have long, narrow fingers. There is a genetic advantage to narrow fingers. We will have removed from the gene pool all those people who have driven distracted with an uncooperative touchscreen and who as a result have been weeded from the gene pool. [-mrl]

Retro Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

As many of you know the Hugo Awards are awarded each year. They are sort of the Academy Awards of science fiction. Each year that there is a World Science Fiction Convention the membership votes on the best science fiction of the previous year. Introduced more recently are the Retro Hugos. There are years in the past when the Hugos were not awarded. If there is a year in the past a multiple of 25 years back and in that year there was no Hugo Awards then a convention can vote and award the Retro Hugo Awards for that year. Seventy-five years ago was 1941 and had there been Hugo Awards that year they would have gone to works released in 1940. So this year the Retro Hugos will be awarded for works from 1940, several years before the real Hugos were first awarded. Today I will write about the awards for the Dramatic Presentation Long Form, longer dramatic works of science fiction and fantasy. Next week I will write about shorter works. The Retro Hugos will vote on what was the best fantasy or science fiction dramatic presentation of the year.

DR. CYCLOPS written by Tom Kilpatrick, directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack (Paramount Pictures)

KING KONG (1933) and THE SON OF KONG (1933) were big hits for RKO. Then it seems that not much was done on the same visually imaginative lines until MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949). That is only partially true. DR. CYCLOPS (1940) used many of the same special effects techniques created for KING KONG. And DR. CYCLOPS was the first color science fiction film (if one classifies DR. X as horror). At least it was the first science fiction film with the vibrant colors of three-strip Technicolor.

Albert Dekker plays the mad Dr. Alexander Thorkel, living in a South American jungle to take the energy from his radium mine and use it to shrink animals and humans to Lilliputian dimensions. The film was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and produced by Merian C. Cooper, the two men who directed KING KONG. In fact KONG, SON OF KONG, DR. CYCLOPS, and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG were all directed by Schoedsack. If the story of DR. CYCLOPS seems a bit pulpish, it could be that it was originally written for a pulp magazine, THRILLING WONDER STORIES. The popular SF writer Henry Kuttner wrote the story and the film was based on it. While it feels a little dated, it remains a nice little sci-fi adventure.

FANTASIA written by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, directed by Samuel Armstrong et al. (Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures)

This is considered to be Disney's classic animated film. The concept is that animators would listen to pieces of classical music and then animate what they see in their mind's eye. The short films were bound together sort of as a portmanteau animated film. realizing that the film has generations of fans I would say FANTASIA as a fraud. There are some sequences of abstract images toward the beginning of the film, but one feels Disney had a heavy hand over the rest. I refuse to believe that at that time when the artist saw Mickey Mouse when he/she heard Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." But now everybody who hears that music sees the mouse.

Most of the rest is kind of cutesy. I am not sure I get much from the result, but at least the sequence with Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" is a much-deserved tribute to the visual imagination of German sketch artist Heinrich Klee. However, I never heard anyone who picked their favorite segment and it was not Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain." The claim is that Bela Lugosi posed for the Devil in this visualization of supernatural evil.

FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE written by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Barry Shipman, directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor (Universal Pictures)

Buster Crabbe thought it was the end of his career when he took the role of Flash Gordon in these hokey Science fiction serial adventures. This was the Last Flash Gordon serial of the three he made. Crabbe had played in cowboy films and had played Tarzan, but Flash Gordon seemed particularly silly and forgettable. Years later Flash Gordon is fondly remembered and still his chief claim to fame. Two took place on Planet Mongo and one on Mars. Still, if you didn't see the first chapter it would be hard to tell the three serials apart. The budget was tiny, but at time the film came close to the flamboyance of Alex Raymond's Sunday comic strips (which were classics of comic strip art in their own right).

ONE MILLION B.C. written by Mickell Novack, George Baker, and Joseph Frickert, directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach, Jr. (United Artists)

This was one of the earliest of the films with prehistoric people as characters fighting each other and fighting off dinosaurs. It created the dinosaur scenes fir the camera using the technique of gluing fins on live lizards--a technique that is now rightfully outlawed as animal cruelty. Of course, the date in the title is way, way too late for dinosaurs and way, way too early for humans, but audiences were not always scientifically discerning. The movie is not taken seriously today, but a lot of people enjoy it for the camp value. Victor Mature stars as Tumak. He is far from being a good actor but never so bad as he self deprecatingly claimed to be. The special effects shot were cannibalized for numerous low-budget films including TWO LOST WORLDS, ROBOT MONSTER, UNTAMED WOMEN, VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS, and TEENAGE CAVE MAN. Hammer Films remade this film as ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., even keeping the character names, and in spite of having Ray Harryhausen special effects it had one poor fin-glued lizard.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD written by Lajos Biro and Miles Malleson, directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan (London Films, United Artists)

Beautiful Technicolor camera work makes this Arabian Nights fantasy a pleasure to watch. Supporting actors give much better performances than John Justin gives as Ahmad, the main character. Sabu who plays his sidekick Abu steals the film from him and has much more personality on the screen. Conrad Veidt as Jaffar makes a great villain as always. Rex Ingram as a huge Djinn is overpowering. The special effects are a little obvious today but were stunning in their time.

So, if I were voting on the Retro Hugos how would I vote? I expect FANTASIA to win, but I would go with DR. CYCLOPS. If I were ranking the long-form dramatic presentations for Hugo I would choose:

4. No Award


Looking for Trouble--Skran v Stross (comments by Dale L. Skran):

I'm holed up trying to recover from bronchitis, and decided that I did not have enough problems, so I would argue with Charlie Stross. This is probably more due to being feverish than anything else, but I ran across Stross's famous/infamous 2010 blog post, "Space Cadets." This is often referred to as being a slap-down on space settlement, but as with much of Stross's output, it is more and less than it seems.

There is definitely a sense in this essay that Stross is tired of debates with white, American Libertarians who are pro-space settlement. He attaches such advocates to "the ideology of westward frontier expansion, the Myth of the West, the westward expansion of the United States between 1804 (the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and 1880 (the closing of the American western frontier)," and then proceeds to blaze away.

Stross starts out saying, "My problem, however, is that there is no equivalence between outer space and the American west." Stross has a relatively subtle and well-thought out argument as to why this might be the case, and I will return to some aspects of it anon. However, there is a straw-mannish character to "Space Cadet." The kind of space cadets Stross eviscerates certainly exist and I know some of them. The question is whether serious advocates of space settlement belong to the same church. I have always thought that a better analogy for space settlement is the human expansion out of Africa using stone tools, wooden canoes, and so on. In other words Stone Age technology is to the African Diaspora what chemical rockets are to space settlement. They do the job, and they enable expansion and settlement, but no one should delude themselves about how easy it is going to be.

The African diaspora operated on the level of clan or tribal migration, or perhaps even on smaller groups. Stross raises excellent points that (1) we really don't know how to build an independent biosphere, nor do we (2) know how big it needs to be to sustain a technological civilization. These are real issues, but apply much more to interstellar settlement than solar system expansion. In all probability, there will be enough trade between Martian settlements, "Free spacers," Lunarians, and so on that a rigid standard of total independence need not be applied even absent powerful nanotechnology and genetic engineering.

Stross is correct to point out that early space settlements will be both socially claustrophobic and rigidly organized, rather like the tribes of the African Diaspora. Nobody will be "living the libertarian dream." In fact, space settlements will almost certainly operate on a clan, tribal, or ideological basis, with some kind of strong organizing principle. I'm pretty sure Gerry O'Neil was well aware of these facts. However, O'Neil hoped that settlement by settlement there would be a lot of scope for experimentation. As long as a "right to leave" is preserved the net result could something along the lines of the fulfillment of human dreams Gerry imagined.

Stross does say that "There may be possible technological solutions to both problems that don't require the combined lifelong effort of millions of humans. We don't have (a) strong artificial intelligence, (b) self-replicating machines that can work from raw materials extracted from their natural environment, (c) "magic wand" space propulsion technologies (which may themselves be Fermi paradox solutions insofar as their existence implies either flaws in our current understanding of physics or drastically efficient and thereby destructive energy sources), or (d) the ability to re- engineer ourselves. If any one (or more) of these are achievable, then all bets against space colonization are off."

Although (c) seems as distant as ever, the prospects of (a), (b), and (d) dramatically improved between 2010 and 2016. The progress in "deep learning" has been amazing, even now 3-D printers are operating on the ISS, and with the advent of CRISPR-cas9 we are a giant leap closer to mastery of the genome. And this is just in six years.

So, not to worry. The Libertarian space cadets may start the companies that build the space settlements, but those that live there will be family/tribal/socialist space farmers, well equipped with powerful AIs, near-miraculous 3-D printers, and the ability to create new organisms almost at will. They will trade amongst themselves, and with Earth, creating a thriving economic network first in Cis-lunar space, then the inner solar system, and finally the outer solar system and the Ort Cloud/Kuiper Belt. "Free Spacers" may build O'Neil Cylinders and remain baseline humans, but over time, as Freeman Dyson has long predicted, humanity will adapt genetically to space. This adaptation will initially focus on radiation resistance, but in time will cover many small changes. And these modified settlers will not be able to go back to the ancestral home of Earth. However, Earth will no longer be their home, any more than modern-day Australians or Chinese or North Americans wish to return the African veldt. [-dls]

THE CINDER SPIRES: THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS by Jim Butcher (copyright 2015, ROC, $13.99 Kindle e-book, 631pp, ISBN-10 0451466810, ISBN-13 978-0451466815) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

Jim Butcher made his way into our collective consciousness with the ongoing series of Dresden Files novels. I will have to admit that I have not yet read any of the Dresden files novels. I did, however, immensely enjoy The Dresden Files television show that aired in 2007 on what was then called the Sci Fi Channel. We have most of the novels in various rooms of the house, but I've never gotten around to reading them.

In my annual effort to read and review the Hugo finalist novels, I picked up THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS first (well, that's not quite true, since I reviewed Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY MERCY awhile back). It was billed, in part, as steampunk. I've read some steampunk, some good, some not so good, but enough to know that I'm comfortable reading that particular sub-genre.

The story takes place in a setting that is indeterminate; it could be a far future Earth, or a far in the past on some other planet. The planet has constructs known as "spires"--you can think of them as countries if you like. The spires consist of several "habbles" where people live--think of them as villages or towns. The spires are high-rises, but they are not super-futuristic buildings of glass and steel; other than one of the habbles being made almost entirely of wood (if memory serves), we really don't know what they're made of. We really don't get a detailed description of how they are constructed in terms of material or how tall they are. Hold that thought for now.

Spire Albion and Spire Aurora (this may be an utter coincidence, but both Albion and Aurora are towns in Illinois, and since Butcher is, as I understand it, originally from Chicago, he may have swiped these names because it was convenient) are in a sort of Cold War. They certainly don't get along and indeed the first chapter starts out with an Auroran warship attacking the Albion merchant airship Predator. Grimm, the captain of the Predator, is a disgraced military officer who nonetheless has the respect of his crew. Predator manages to escape being destroyed, but is severely damaged, probably beyond the ability of Grimm to pay for repair. He finds a benefactor--the Spirearch (yes, you guessed it, the leader of Spire Albion)--to pay for his repairs, but at the cost of serving the Spire once again, although not in the military. Not really unexpectedly, this sets in motion the rest of the events of the book.

Along the way, we meet a varied cast of characters: Gwen (the first character we actually meet), a young noblewoman from the house that produces the crystals that power the airships; Bridget, a young girl from a house that has all but disappeared; Benedict, a sort of super warrior nobleman and cousin to Gwen; the aforementioned Grimm; and the etherealist Ferus and his apprentice Folly. We also get to meet Sycorax Cavendish, another etherealist, and Calliope Ransom, Grimm's ex-wife and captain of the Mistshark.

And have I mentioned the talking cats yet?

So, what we have is a large cast of characters in a somewhat intriguing setting with a conflict that has been ongoing for what appears to be a long time. This is a typical scenario for a traditional epic fantasy/steampunk story. And yet, THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS falls short.

The difficulty here is that, at least in my case, I read a book up for a major award differently than I read any other book. I've commented in at least one other review recently that when reading Hugo finalists I compare those finalists to other books that have won the Hugo to see how they match up. If I were to have just picked up THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS to read on a summer afternoon (although who am I kidding? I haven't read a book in a single afternoon in my entire life--but I digress) I would probably enjoy it as some very light entertainment. But of course, that's not how I read this book.

While I don't read fantasy or steampunk very often--and this really is a combination of the two--what this book does have in common with a lot of other action/adventure stories is a similar set of stock characters. We've seen Gwen, Bridget, Grimm, Benedict and all the rest before, and will so again (to be fair, this happens in science fiction too, lest I get accused of picking on fantasy). The plot itself is not particularly new either.

Also to be fair, there are some very interesting concepts in the novel that deserver more explanation (remember the "hold that thought" from earlier?). There is mention of a race called the Builders, who created the Spires. While the concept of a race like the Builders in and of itself is not new, I found myself curious about them. There is some discussion about how the Ground is not safe, that there are dangerous creatures and monsters down there. Okay, let's go find out about them.

And did I mention the cats?

The cats can talk, yes, but they are anthropomorphized to the point where they are obnoxious humans with fur. Useful, but obnoxious. Bridget can talk to them. I claim they're genetically engineered, probably by the Builders. They certainly wouldn't have evolved that way. So why don't we learn more about them?

The book reads like YA, and while that's perfectly okay, it seemed out of place here. I asked a couple of family members who have read other Butcher novels as well as this novel if this was his normal writing style; the answer was no, so I'm wonder why he chose that here.

While a nice light read on a summer day, this is not Hugo material- -I can think of at least two or three books from 2015 that I've read that would fit that bill that aren't on the Hugo finalist list--Kim Stanley Robinson's AURORA and James S.A. Corey's NEMESIS GAMES, for example. If you like steampunk, fantasy, and talking cats, this one's for you. It's not for me. [-jak]

THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 6) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

The Great Plague and Fire:

There is a foreshadowing of the Great Fire when Pepys describes how a fire can spread very quickly and very widely: "Thence I walked to Cheapside, there to see the effect of a fire there this morning, since four o'clock; which I find in the house of Mr. Bois, that married Dr. Fuller's niece, who are both out of towne, leaving for a mayde and man in towne. It begun in their house, and hath burned much and many houses backward, though none forward; and that in the great uniform pile of buildings in the middle of Cheapside." [August 20, 1664] And when he gets there, he says, "... There found, by God's providence, the fire out; but if there had been any wind it must have burned all our stores, which is a most dreadfull consideration." [August 29, 1664]

And if Pepys (unintentionally) foreshadows the Great Fire, he also anticipates the Great Plague when he writes (several months before the plague reaches England), "We were told to-day of a Dutch ship of 3 or 400 tons, where all the men were dead of the plague, and the ship cast ashore at Gottenburgh." [September 24, 1664]

As noted, Pepys is known primarily for his entries on the Great Plague and the Great Fire. The former was hinted at in entries about the Plague on Dutch ships, but the first mention of it in London is on April 30, 1665, when Pepys writes, "Great fears of the sicknesse here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all!" On May 24, he writes "of the plague growing upon us in this towne; and of remedies against it: some saying one thing, some another."

It is not surprising they could not cure the plague, when their "knowledge" of medicine was such that Pepys could write, "Waked in the morning ... with great pain to piss, and great pain in pissing by having, I think, drank too great a draught of cold drink before going to bed." [June 6, 1665]

On June 7, 1665, Pepys reports seeing houses marked with crosses and "Lord have mercy upon us" written on them, the first plague houses he had personally seen. Apparently most of these were marked by officials when the plague was discovered, because "Dr. Burnett ... hath ... gained great goodwill among his neighbors; for he discovered it himself first, and caused himself to be shut up of his own accord; which was very handsome." By June 10, Pepys's head "is filled also with other business enough, and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away, which dispose of to his glory!"

On June 15, the death toll from plague for the week was 112, up from 43 the preceding week. By June 21, he goes to Cripplegate and finds "all the towne almost going out of towne, the coaches and waggons being all full of people going into the country." However, anyone who wanted to come *into* the City had no problem finding a seat.

By July 18, they are burying the dead in "the open Tuttlefields ... but such as are able to pay dear for it, can be buried [in the New Chappel churchyard]." The death toll from plague this week was 1089; Pepys writes of yet more streets and neighborhoods affected. By August 3, the death toll was 2020 from plague, and 3000 total. One suspects some of the "non-plague" deaths may have been plague deaths that were concealed by families not wanting to be locked up in their houses.

However, there were also "pest-houses" and apparently sometimes those with the plague would be put in "pest coaches" and taken to them.

By August 8, more of Pepys's acquaintances are dying: "And poor Will, that used to sell us ale at the Hall-door, his wife and three children died, all, I think, in a day."

Apparently at the beginning of the plague, they carried the dead to be buried at night, but by August 12, "the people die so, that now it seems they are fain to carry the dead to be buried by day-light, the nights not sufficing to do it in." There is a 9 PM curfew, so that "the sick may have liberty to go abroad for ayre."

On August 22, Pepys sees a coffin with a dead body that is just sitting in a close because no one has been sent by the parish to bury it (though someone is set to watch over it that no one comes close). Pepys writes that this "is a most cruel thing: this disease making us more cruel to one another than if we are doggs."

August 31 had a weekly toll of 6102 dead from plague, 7496 total, though Pepys think the number closer to 10,000, because the poor that "cannot be taken notice of, through the greatness of the number," and "the Quakers and others that will not have any bell ring for them."

But he also tells more affecting stories, such as the one of a child of "a saddler, who had buried all the rest of his children of the plague, and himself and wife now being shut up and in despair of escaping, did desire only to save the life of this little child; and so prevailed to have it received stark-naked into the arms of a friend, who brought it (having out it into new fresh clothes to Greenwich; where upon hearing the story we did agree it should be permitted to be received and kept in the towne." [September 3, 1665]

One must remember that there seemed to be a different attitude towards death, or at least towards dead bodies, or at least towards the dead bodies of the lower classes. Pepys writes at one point, "[Mr, Povy] showed me a ... boy that he had, that died of a consumption, and being dead, he caused him to be dried in an oven, and lies there entire in a box." [September 7, 1665]

Apparently at some point quarantine grew lax--the death toll would drop for a week or two, and then rise again, but people were eager for any sign of the end of the plague. At any rate, Pepys writes of avoiding people in public as much as possible, "there being now no observation of shutting up of houses infected." [September 14, 1665] This completely understandable grasping at any possible end to the plague is seen in Pepys' comment on November 24, 1665, "It continuing to be a great frost, which gives us hope for a perfect cure of the plague."

The sermon he heard on October 5, 1665, has the chaplain "reproaching the imperfection of humane learning, [crying], 'All our physicians cannot tell us what an ague is, and all our arithmetique is not able to number the days of a man;' which, God Knows, is not the fault of arithmetique..."

But the plague dragged on for more than another year until September 2, 1666, when Pepys writes, "Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City." As they say, it's one damn thing after another, but in this case, it is usually said that at least the Great Fire burned out the rats and other carriers of the Great Plague. However, this appears not to be entirely true. It was not until November 20, 1666, that a "thanksgiving-day for the cessation of the plague; but, Lord! how the towne do say it is hastened before the plague is quite over, there dying some people still."

While during the Plague, people left their homes to flee to the country, during the Fire they were more concerned with removing their belongings: "... we were forced to begin to pack up our owne goods; and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry, and moon:shine, and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr. Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place. And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also these, and my tallys into a box by themselves." [September 2, 1666]

Later, he writes, "Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of." [September 4, 1666]

By September 9, 1666, the Fire has died down, and Dean Harding said in his sermon that "the City is reduced from a large folio to a decimotertio." Pepys seemed to think this ill-spoken, though he was definitely a bibliophile, reporting on October 5, 1666, "[His bookseller] do believe there is above; L50,000 of books burned [in the churchyard where they were sold]; all the great booksellers almost undone: not only these, but their warehouses at their Hall, and under Christchurch, and elsewhere being all burned. A great want thereof there will be of books, especially Latin books and foreign books; and, among others, the Polyglottes and new Bible, which he believes will be presently worth L40 a-piece."

And his predictions came true when he went to the Temple on March 21, 1667, and wrote later, "[It] is strange how 'Rycaut's Discourse of Turky,' which before the fire I was asked but 8s. for, there being all but twenty-two or thereabouts burned, I did now offer 20s., and he demands 50s, and I think I shall give it him, though it be only as a monument of the fire."

The Fire had a long-lived (if not lasting) effect on Pepys; he writes on September 15, 1666, "But much terrified in the nights now-a-days with dreams if fire, and falling down of houses." This is not surprising, since he writes as late as March 16, 1667, that "it is observable that within these eight days I did see smoke remaining, coming out of some cellars, from the late great fire, now above six months since." And he was still having nightmares and sleepless nights in February 1667.

On October 24, 1666, he again expressed what was probably a common fear of the time, "the danger of my having [his money] all in the house at once, in case of any disorder or troubles in the State, and therefore resolved to remove part of it to Brampton, and part some whither else, and part in my owne house, which is very necessary, and will tend to our safety, though I shall not think it safe out of my owne sight." When there were no trustworthy and stable banks where one could deposit money, how to protect it from thieves and other disorders was a major problem. It is not surprising when he writes on February 13, 1667, that he "mightily troubled to get a coach home; and, which is now [his] common practice, going over the ruins in the night, [he] rid with [his] sword drawn in the coach."

By October 10, 1667, fear of the Plague and Fire recurring, and of civil disorder, had died down enough that Pepys decided to dig up the gold he had buried at his father's house. "But, Lord! what a tosse I was for some time in, that they could not justly tell where it was; that I begun heartily to sweat, and be angry, that they should not agree better upon the place, and at last to fear that it was gone but by and by poking with a spit, we found it." And then it turns out that his father had buried it only six inches down, and in a spot completely visible from the road and the neighboring house (though his father does say he waited until all in the neighbor's house had gone to church). But wait--in addition to all this, the bags that the coins had been in had rotted, and the coins were loose. (Also, the "notes", by which I assume is meant banknotes, also rotted, so unless they were complete enough to redeem, they would have been a total loss.) When they counted the coins, Pepys was still short a hundred pieces; later at midnight he went out and found another forty-five. The next day they dug up more earth into pails and sifted them out of sight of the neighbor and found another thirty-four. The remaining twenty or so he concluded might have gone astray in the burying. [The notes say that in 1842, excavations at that house discovered an iron pot full of silver coins, all of which pre-dated the Restoration. While one cannot prove it, it is suspected that Pepys forgot he had also buried silver coins with the gold.]

On June 19, 1668, someone cried out there was a fire in Markelane, and Pepys writes, "I found [the fire] in a new-built house that stood alone in Minchin-lane, over against the Cloth-workers'-hall, which burned furiously: the house not yet quite finished; and the benefit of brick was well seen, for it burnt all inward, and fell down within itself; so no fear of doing more hurt." If nothing else, the Great Fire led to more buildings being built of brick. [-ecl]

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

Once again, there are Retro Hugo finalists, and once again I will review them. (They used to be called "Hugo nominees", but this led to an abuse of the term by people who claimed to be "nominees" because their name appeared on as few as one nominating ballot.)

There were 481 nominating ballots, considerably less than the 4000 for the current Hugos. In truth, only long-time and/or hard-core fans have any interest in or knowledge for nominating seventy-five- year-old works. The good news is that this means the Retro Hugos tend to be unsullied by slate voting, though not by interest groups, as I will note. They also seem to be a fairly fixed list when they come out, as opposed to the current list, which still has people withdrawing and new entries being added even after it is announced.

I will start with the novels.

GRAY LENSMAN by E. E. "Doc" Smith (Astounding Science-Fiction, Jan 1940): It was a sign of the times that a science fiction author would use his Ph.D. to gain status among his readers, and also to give science fiction an air of respectability. Nowadays, lots of science fiction authors have Ph.D.s and do not advertise that fact on their covers.

I tried to read GRAY LENSMAN, just as I had tried to read FIRST LENSMAN in 2001 when *it* was nominated. Sorry, but they are both unreadable. And not just unreadable on a sentence-by-sentence level, but annoying--apparently everyone of any consequence in Earth's history has a western European name and background. All the important women are distinguished by their appearance ("a peculiarly spectacular shade of red-bronze-auburn hair and equally striking gold-flecked Tawny eyes"). There was no physical description of Kimball Kinnison I could find, so for all we can tell he could be five foot ten, weigh 300 pounds, and have pimples. (I had a similar complaint about ROGUE MOON by Algis Budrys, written twenty years later.)

THE ILL-MADE KNIGHT by T. H. White (Collins): This is the third part of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. The first part, THE SWORD IN THE STONE, was about the young Arthur and was a finalist two years ago. This part is about Lancelot and Guinevere (and Elaine and Arthur). Although the cover of my copy is a movie tie-in to CAMELOT, there is very little other than a bare-bones plot summary in common.

White has an unusual style for historical fantasy. Later on, I will comment on how Jack Williamson "slips" a couple times and has an anachronistic tone or word choice. But Williamson has this *in* the ancient world, while White's style is to be writing specifically for a modern (well, then-modern) audience. So in writing about Arthur, he says, "We civilized people, who would immediately fly to divorce courts and alimony and other forms of attrition in such circumstances, can afford to look with proper contempt upon the spineless cuckold." It is true that at times he also carries this into the dialogue ("That was Bruce all over"), but it is less jarring given the modern narration.

But in contrast to the addressing of a modern audience, White seems determined to see every obsolete chivalric term he can find: bannerette, pennocel, habergeon, morion, brigandine nails, gambeson, quintain, jupon, vambrace, and fforbeshynge. And that's all in one paragraph. Maybe he thought the reader would look all these terms up, but I doubt it. (Actually, these days, is a big help.)

In spite of the vocabulary, this has survived the best of all the finalists, and still seems fresh and modern.

KALLOCAIN by Karin Boye (Bonnier): This is a Swedish novel, not translated into English until 1956, so technically the form that is the finalist is the Swedish-language version. Most votes, though, will be reading the English translation. How did such an odd choice make the final ballot? Well, the nominating pool consists of the members of the previous, current, and next Worldcons. The next Worldcon is being held in Finland, right next door to Sweden, and many Finns are fluent in Swedish, so this work is probably well-known to the Finnish members, who may have thought it would be nice to have something of the literature of their region represented. However, since only members of this year's Worldcon can vote on the final ballot, I suspect this will not do very well. (It is available free, in English, online, so diligent voters can at least give it a fair chance--although I feel obliged to note that it is Swedish version that was nominated, not the translation.)

The book itself is about a dystopia--common enough now, but people often think it started in 1948 with George Orwell and 1984. Of course, Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD dates back to 1932, but even that was not the first--Yevgeny Zamyatin's WE (1921) is often cited as the ur-dystopia, and given that Boye visited the Soviet Union in 1928, it is possible that she was familiar with Zamyatin's work, or perhaps she drew her ideas from the society itself. "Kallocain" is a truth drug developed by the narrator that will let the authoritarian state control its citizens even more closely. While Boye does not achieve the level of realism in characterization that Orwell does, KALLOCAIN is certainly a worthy addition to the dystopian genre. If I rank it a smidge below THE ILL-MADE KNIGHT, it's that White has a very poetic style that adds to the enjoyment of the work, while Boye's work (or at least the English translation) is flatter. One might argue that is in part the nature of the subject, but there it is.

THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY by Jack Williamson (Unknown, Mar 1940): The introduction to the Lancer edition was written in 1968 and makes the same mistake that all discussions of the deciphering of Linear B made at that time: it gives sole credit to Michael Ventris. In fact, as I wrote in my review of THE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: THE QUEST TO CRACK AN ANCIENT CODE by Margalit Fox (ISBN 978-0-062- 22883-3) (MT VOID, 03/21/2014), there were three main characters: Arthur Evans, Alice Kober, and Michael Ventris. Evans discovered the tablets, Kober made the majority of the breakthroughs in deciphering them, and Ventris used Kober's work to finish the job. There are parallels to the Rosalyn Franklin story: just as Franklyn did a lot of the work on discovering DNA but James Watson and Francis Crick got all the credit, so Kober made giant strides in deciphering Linear B but Ventris got all the credit. In both cases, the omission was in part due to the gender of the person but also in part because both Franklyn and Kober died before they could finish the job. And in both cases, there is now a belated attempt to correct the oversight.

This of course has little if anything to do with the novel, historical fiction that assumes magic works (or worked in ancient Crete, anyway). Williamson does a reasonably good job (he seems to be as much at home in historical fantasy as in space opera). I did notice that the names follow the usual "rules"--for example, the hero is Theseus and the sniveling toady is Snish. One finds it difficult to imagine the names being applied the other way around. On the other hand, the use of "thanks" instead of "thank you" does tend to jerk one out of the ancient-world feel. The Lancer edition also has a lot of typos (though "the rising sun was thankful to their long-chilled bodies" is probably not Lancer's fault).

"And Talos abruptly became totally motionless..." This brings to mind the scene at the end of the film WAR OF THE WORLDS when the spaceship crashes to the ground and just stops, without a bounce, a vibration, or even a shiver. As a special effect, it looks wrong, but as an expression of the magic of Talos, it is perfect.

SLAN by A. E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science-Fiction, Dec 1940): When I was about thirteen years old, I discovered in our library John W. Campbell's "Black Star" series (THE BLACK STAR PASSES, ISLANDS OF SPACE, and INVADERS FROM THE INFINITE). I really enjoyed them at that age, and when I saw them a couple of years later or so for 45 cents each (new--it *was* a long time ago), I bought them, as some of the first books I ever bought. I suspect I might still enjoy them today ... but primarily for their sentimental value. The writing was very "whiz-bang", but fantastic invention piled on fantastic discovery. SLAN is like that (though with more attempt at social commentary), but without the sentimental value (for me, anyway). Yes, it's a classic, but there is a question whether that should get it a Retro Hugo. Are we voting for what was popular then, what was influential in the interim, or what reads like a Hugo nominee today? In some sense, only the latter makes sense--the non-Retro Hugos do not have the benefit of seventy-five years of hindsight, and it is impossible to judge the works of 1940 with 1940 eyes. If the Hugos (both current and Retro) are to be a recommendation list of sorts, then one must apply at least some level of current judgment, and in this it seems to be that SLAN does not measure up as well as some of the other works.


Next week: the novellas and novelettes. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man 
          is when he is a baby. 
                                          --Natalie Wood

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