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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/15/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 3, Whole Number 1919
Table of Contents
Elongated (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that the gene has been found that gives giraffes long necks. If it transplants it might mean in the next generation everybody will be able to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. [-mrl]
Retro Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I explained what the Retro Hugos were and discussed the nominees for Retro Hugo Dramatic Presentation in the Long Form. They were feature films. Well, two of these below are feature films also, but through anomalies in the Hugo rules they are in the Short Form category. THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS and PINOCCHIO which are nominated in the Short Form category are actually longer than DR. CYCLOPS and ONE MILLION B.C. in the Long Form category, but they did not run in the Long Form category. If you think that makes no sense you should look at the rules applying to super- delegates in the national parties.
Here are the nominees in the short form category and my comments:
The Adventures of Superman: "The Baby from Krypton", written by George Ludlam, produced by Frank Chase (WOR radio)
This radio broadcast, 23 minutes long, is the first episode of the Superman radio series. It is not even a story by itself but the first part of a Superman origin. "The Baby from Krypton" is a "Chapter One" that just does not stand on its own.
On Krypton, a world that shares our orbit but which is on the other side of the sun, humans have achieved near physical and intellectual perfection. They do know that on the other side of the sun from them there is a planet called "Earth." There humans are far from perfect physically, intellectually, and morally. But nobody on Krypton seems particularly curious about this planet Earth. Great scientist Jor-El warns the people of Krypton that their planet is about to break up because of natural forces. The Krypton people laugh at Jor-El's predictions of doom. It is sort of their equivalent of our 2012. Jor-El is planning to build a big spaceship to carry his family to Earth, but he runs out of time and has to send instead his baby in a prototype rocket ship. He shoots off the rocket and we are left on a cliff-hanger will the child survive. (Well, it would be a pretty dumb story if he died.) At this point Superman will not be able to fly but will be really good at jumping. (Later when the Fleischer Brothers had to animate him and all the jumping would have looked silly his jumping turned magically into flying.) Yes, the baby will inherit the physical perfection of his parents making him Superman and incidentally proving the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics.
THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, written by Joe May, Kurt Siodmak, and Lester Cole, directed by Joe May (Universal Pictures)
This is a semi-sequel to James Whale's THE INVISIBLE MAN, and that is somewhat contrived. An innocent man, Geoffrey Radcliff, (played by Vincent Price in his first horror role) has been convicted of murder. He has, however, a friend, Griffin, who is a scientist and the brother of the original invisible man. Griffin has the formula to make people invisible. But the formula also drives the user mad. Without using the formula Radcliff will be dead. If he uses it he will slowly go mad. He chooses life hoping he can be turned visible again and that he can avoid going mad. Now can he use his invisibility to catch the real killer. The film is no great piece of science fiction, but it is entertaining and the special effects do work. Some of the humor falls flat, but the original had a screaming Una O'Connor. This one is more subtle and tells a reasonable story by itself.
Looney Tunes: "You Ought to Be in Pictures", written by Jack Miller, directed by Friz Freleng (Warner Bros.)
This is a cartoon that breaks the wall between live action and animation. When it is lunch hour at Warner Brothers all the animators go rushing out leaving behind an animated Porky Pig and Daffy Duck. A trouble-making Daffy convinces Porky that he is better than the job he has. If he would just quit cartoons he could play opposite top stars like Bette Davis. So Porky has his contract torn up and he goes out into the live-action world to become rich and famous. Of course 28 years later WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT would be doing the same mixing of live action and animation. Warner was quite forward thinking. Also there is no more science fiction than you would find in most cartoons.
Merrie Melodies: "A Wild Hare", written by Rich Hogan, directed by Tex Avery (Warner Bros.)
In the film IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT Clarke Gable at one point leans against a fence eating a carrot. A cartoonist at Warner Brothers' cartoon factory drew a caricature of Gable and his carrot as a rabbit with long ears. They decided to use the image in a cartoon, "A Wild Hare." It had a then unnamed rabbit frustrating hunter Elmer Fudd. The rabbit became a continuing character somewhere getting a slightly different look and getting the name Bugs Bunny. Unless you consider talking, humanoid rabbits as a science fiction concept, this is not the right sort of thing to get a Hugo.
PINOCCHIO, written by Ted Sears et al., directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske (Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures)
PINOCCHIO at its best is light-years ahead of PINOCCHIO at its worst. This is Disney's most preachy film showing all sorts of sadistic and ridiculous punishments for those who are not an adult's version of well behaved. As soon as the P does one thing he was told not to do he is pulled into something horrible world. Some of the backgrounds are really nicely detailed. Disney liked to put in some impressively powerful threats in his films. Rather than a dragon or a sorceress here he creates a huge and powerful whale. But does that make up for the saccharine aftertaste of seeing the Blue Fairy? Jiminy Cricket is there to tell children what their consciences should and should not be telling them. Roy Neary's kids would have done better with Goofy Golf.
So how would I vote? Well in my humble opinion I guess I would say that three of these pieces should not be on the ballot at all. There is no horror or science fiction in the two Warner Brothers cartoons. And there is no more fantasy than in Disney's "Steamboat Willie."
In this crowd it is not hard to find the best choice. Only one is really worthy of an award at all. Here's how I would vote.
Michael Swanwick (summary of presentation by Evelyn C. Leeper):
On July 9, Michael Swanwick spoke at the Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library as a guest of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. This was quite an event, since Swanwick is a Hugo-winning, Nebula- winning author who will be the Guest of Honor at Worldcon next month in Kansas City.
Swanwick's prepared talk was about how to analyze why a story is not working and how to fix it. To start with, a story needs more than two characters, otherwise you do not have a story, but a tug- of-war.
Swanwick then showed how to map/graph a story. Mark has used a similar technique to follow a complicated plot (e.g. CHINATOWN or THE GODFATHER), and may have written about it in the MT VOID. Basically, characters are points, and their relationships are lines connecting them. The lines can be one-way or bi-directional: a character might have an opinion about the King of England without the King of England even knowing of his existence, or two characters might be a married couple whose interection is central to the plot. A good story has lots of triangles; a "star" formation (characters all interecting with the protagonist but not with each other) is not good. As an example, he mapped HAMLET and there were lots of triangles.
He then applied this to a story given to him to critique. The problem was basically that of four characters, there was interaction between A and B, and C and D barely show up until the end. The result was that the actions of the characters at the end, not just C and D, but A and B *towards* C and D have seem to have no motivation. The solution was to add more interactions between characters whose relationships have been only barely implied.
Swanwick related this to the Bechtel Test (which asks about named female characters, talking to each other, about something other than men). He said that in fiction, "talking to each other" is often left out.
Swanwick emphasized that this method cannot *generate* ideas; because it is reductive. And while he has been stressing the need for interactions, he once analyzed a story in which there were *no* interactions and it worked, because it was about social isolation. The bottom line, he said, is that "anything you can get away with, you can get away with. Rules don't matter."
The question-and-answer period covered a much wider territory. In answer to what length story is much marketable to (e.g.) "Asimov's", Swanwick answered a slightly different question, saying that in terms of awards competition, the novelette length has the heaviest competition. A "stand-out" short story has more chance of making the various ballots, as does a novella. But a novella takes a lot of work, often almost as much as a novel, and at the end "you don't have a novel."
His favorite novel of his own is JACK FAUST, though he admits it was not all that popular; his most popular was THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER.
Asked about "on-the-spot" research, he said that for "The Edge of the World" he walked up and down the staircases that cover the cliff that is the Roxborough (PA)/Manayunk border and looked at all the detail he could see: graffiti scratched in the paint of the railings, flowers in the rock face, a car door someone had flung over the top, ... In "Foresight" (a story in which suddenly people can remember the future but not the past, he had a character shot in a parking lot, so he went out into a deserted parking lot and lay down on the ground and then asked, "What can i see?" The answer included broken glass, the Styrofoam from a soda bottle, a flattened spark plug, and so on. For a "train to Hell" story he used every train trip he made from Philadelphia to New York for a year to imagine the scenery, envisioning centaurs and demons in the more blighted areas the train passed through. (He said that after he finished the story, the train trip became a lot more boring.)
When researching dinosaurs, Swanwick called Thomas Holtz a couple of times a week, often with questions such as, "How can my characters kill a Tyrannosaurus rex with just a pointed stick?" He said that Kim Stanly Robinson said that when he was writing the "Mars" trilogy, he used "Science News" as a phone directory.
Swanwick noted that if you can produce a page a day, at the end of a year you have a novel.
Asked what current writers he liked, he listed Cixin Liu ("Ideas! I remember these!"), Greer Gilman, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Eileen Gunn (especially "Stable Strategies for Middle Management")
Asked if he knew the ending of a story when he started it, he said that sometimes yes and sometimes no, but he was happiest when he knew or figured out the ending first. In any case, the ending should feel inevitable, but still surprise the reader.
He talked about writing a very surreal story about a church, which began with his doing a writers' exercise of writing ten opening paragraphs.
Regarding point of view, the consensus now is that having only one point of view is best, and third person past tense is what the reader likes. Do not use first or second person, and do not set it in the present. It may seem as if the present should feel more immediate, but it does not--it is distancing. The past tense sounds more like a story. An omniscient point of view "is real tough, but GRAVITY'S RAINBOW is wonderful." You also need conflict (negative energy), because that is what makes the story.
Swanwick said that he does not read romances (though he said he did not mean to disparage the genre) or mysteries (which he knows he would enjoy, but he would end up spending too much time with them). I asked what book or work he had always wanted to read but had not gotten around to, and he said it would be Marcel Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. He related how his very religious father-in-law, when he found out he did not had long to live, prepared his will, told his wife where all the money was, and then read John Bunyan's PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, because he had always wanted to but never gotten around to.
Reviews (good or bad) have not affected Swanwick's writing, although bad reviews have annoyed him.
Swanwick's closing comment on writing was, "Inspiration is really nice, but the main thing is discipline." [-ecl]
OUTLAWS AND ANGELS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[Warnings: This review contains spoilers. Also, the film has sexual content.]
CAPSULE: A gang of outlaws robs a bank and holes up in an isolated house on the prairie. The family tensions, seemingly small at first, boil over with really unexpected results. Most of the frontier atmosphere feels authentic until it doesn't. And then several things go strange. This is really not a traditional Western. This is a playful film that takes chances, not all of which pay off well. J. T. Mollner writes and directs. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
There is a 1963 Italian horror film entitled "WHAT!". The implication of the title is that there is a plot twist that will leave the viewer truly boggled. Sadly the film did not have that power, and it seemed to me unlikely that any film could deserve that title. With OUTLAWS AND ANGELS it finally happened. I cannot speak for the viewer but OUTLAWS AND ANGELS has some of the most startling plot twists of any film I have ever seen. It takes a long time to get to the surprises--much too long for the film's good--but once you are there the whole film twists in plot, style, and tone. Up to that moment one wondered what exact mind games were the characters playing with each other. But when things change the question is what mind games the director is playing with the viewer.
It is 1887 in Cuchillo, New Mexico. Five desperadoes have robbed the bank in town. One is killed in the getaway, and another dies shortly thereafter as the gang is ready to murder anyone in their way. They ride off with two bounty hunters in what would be called "lukewarm" pursuit--no pun intended by the main bounty hunter is played by a strangely cast Luke Wilson. Out on the trail the robbers see an isolated house, the home of a dysfunctional family of four. The outlaws decide to hole up and rest in the house. The family is recovering alcoholic George (Ben Browder), his wife Ada (Teri Polo) and their two bickering daughters, Charlotte (Madisen Beaty) and fifteen-year-old Flo (Francesca Eastwood, daughter of Clint). Flo takes an immediate interest in wanting to understand them and perhaps learning something useful to save her family. This part of the story drags a bit as writer and director J. T. Mollner lets some sequences over-extend on with little happening. Tensions rise as the story moves to a reckoning.
There are several problems with ANGELS AND OUTLAWS. One problem is just the makeup for the actors. It probably is intended to make them look sweaty, but instead the effect is to make them glossy--so glossy that they seem to reflect the studio lights and the reflections become a distraction. Lines of dialog are lost in indistinct enunciation made harder by accent. Well into the film there is a clothing anachronism that contradicts the plot and characterization. The film is short on film rather than digital and some of cinematographer Matthew Irving's outdoor vistas are beautiful and what you see a Western for. However, most of the story takes place in-doors, most of that in one room. There is little use of the wide-screen.
This film takes some truly unexpected turns and does much unexpected. It is mediocre as a western film, but it is more a game between the filmmakers and the viewers. I rate OUTLAWS AND ANGELS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It goes into a limited release on July 15.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3491962/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/outlaws_and_angels/
UPROOTED by Naomi Novik (copyright 2015, Del Rey, Random House Audio, 17 hours 43 minutes, ASIN B00XQBBRQQ, narrated by Julia Emelin) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
The first (and only other time) I read a Naomi Novik novel was way back in 2007 when HER MAJESTY'S DRAGON was up for the Best Novel Hugo that year. In taking a quick look at my review of that novel, I am reminded that I didn't think that novel belonged on a shortlist for the Hugo Award.
Indeed, Novik's writing changed for the better in the last ten years.
UPROOTED is on a roll right now, having won the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Locus Poll Award for Best Fantasy Novel. The rate at which the book is winning awards is reminiscent of Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY JUSTICE a few years ago. Whether it will win the Hugo is still yet to be decided, but I think it has a good chance.
The beginning of the novel is set in a small village not far from the evil Wood. The village is watched over by the wizard simply known as the Dragon. Once every ten years, the Dragon comes down from his tower to select a young woman to serve him in while he performs his job of protecting the land from the powers of the Wood. The once every ten year selection is a frightening prospect for the young women of the village. There are stories of what happens in the tower, and although the women have come back out of the tower unscathed, they have changed and are no longer at one with the village. Agnieszka is one of the young women who will be of the proper age when the wizard comes down to make his next selection. She is, by all accounts, a mess: she is accident prone, can't keep her clothes clean for more than a few minutes at a time (it seems), and just can't do anything right. Her friend, Kasia, is quite the opposite: beautiful, intelligent, and capable. It seems pretty clear that when the Dragon comes down from his tower to make his selection, he will be taking Kasia back with him.
Of course, if he did that, there wouldn't be much of a story, would there? The young women line up, and the Dragon examines each one of them, with Agnieszka and Kasia being the last two in line. The Dragon pauses over Agnieszka, scowls, and moves to Kasia, whom he seems to favor. However, much to everyone's surprise, he turns back to Nieszka (as she is called by Kasia) and selects her--for he can sense her magical abilities, and as we find out later, feels he needs to train her so that she can control her powers and be useful to the country.
Well, that, and he needs help in his battle against the Wood, although the way she begins her training is less than encouraging.
Novik takes a few of the familiar fairy tale tropes and turns them on their collective ears. What seems to start out as a stereotypical Beauty and the Beast tale turns into something different in short order. The evil Wood, yet another trope readers have become familiar with over the years, is something completely different altogether, and for me was a nice surprise. There's almost a sort of Cinderella bent to the story, as Nieszka starts out the story as a mess and becomes over the span of the tale a force to be reckoned with both in the inevitable battle with the Wood and her dealings with the nobility at the King's castle. In one of the most amusing bits of the book, and yet one that shows how much she has grown to power, Agnieszka, in front of a council of wizards who are charged with determining whether she is a true witch or just a pretender (and coming to the conclusion she is the latter), like any other teenager who is irritated at the idiocy of adults, stamps her foot and sends an earthquake through the castle, then asks if the earthquake was enough evidence that she is a witch.
This a terrific story of love, family, friendship, gain, and loss-- and not just with the human beings involved. It's well written, intense, and at times very dark, and other times very uplifting. It's a story of a young woman finding herself and what her purpose is, amongst all the dangers and roadblocks that are thrown in her direction. She finds her true calling in life, and she is very happy with it.
Julia Emelin is the perfect narrator for this story, reading it with a Polish-American accent that fits as this story does take place in a setting that is much like the Polish countryside, with the country Agnieszka lives in being called Polnya. This lent an air of authenticity to the narration that helped settle me into the story and made me feel like I was truly in the characters' heads.
This one's a keeper, folks. [-jak]
5x5: A Review of the First Five Jack Reacher Novels by Lee Child (book reviews by Dale L. Skran):
KILLING FLOOR (1997)
DIE TRYING (1998)
RUNNING BLIND (2000)
ECHO BURNING (2001)
Inspired by a sudden availability of inexpensive Lee Child paperbacks at the annual AAUW book sale, I have become enamored with the idea of reading all the Jack Reacher books in the order they were written. The completion of the first five seemed like a good point to write a summary review before the details all slipped away. I'm not going to focus on the plots or the general character of Jack Reacher, the latest edition of that America staple, the lone vigilante, joining the Lone Ranger, Batman, and the Shadow. Instead, I'm going to make a set of general observations about the first five books.
Child does not much like the FBI. In DIE TRYING there are not one but two bent FBI agents working for a rogue militia group with a bizarre plot to attack the federal government. Even worse, in RUNNING BLIND the serial killer turns out to be the lead FBI profiler tasked to find the serial killer. Child often casts as villains rural hillbillies and rednecks. In KILLING FLOOR the residents of a small town are paid off generously to keep quiet about a local currency-smuggling operation that Joe Reacher, Jack Reacher's brother, is investigating. When they kill Joe, Jack takes things into his own hands to wipe out an especially nasty gang that specializes in using crucifixion to spread fear. More rednecks show up in DIE TRYING as members of a far-right militia hidden up in the hills who imagine themselves to be dangerous and well trained, a notion Reach disabuses them of. Rural Texans are not portrayed favorably in ECHO BURNING as well.
Child is skilled at creating disparate yet vivid and believable backgrounds. ECHO BURNING takes place in rural Texas during a sun- blasted summer. TRIPWIRE concerns loan sharking in New Jersey and New York. DIE TRYING concludes in a militia stronghold in the wilds of Montana. The KILLING FLOOR can be found in rural Georgia.
Jack Reacher is often paired with a female investigator, but he does not always end up in bed with them. One curious dissonance is that Reacher is enormously supportive of females in the military and other modern liberal causes, while at the same time exhibiting the primitive vigilante instincts of John Wayne. It is almost like Child makes a bargain with his reader to balance things out.
The mathematical-puzzle-solving, always knowing-the-time Reacher that appears later in the series is present only in embryonic form. Part of the Reacher formula is Sherlock Holmes type activities. Reacher loves to tell someone all about themselves via a series of deductions. He also likes to get folks together for theatrical reveals of what is going on. As a big guy with "a skull like a Neanderthal" and chest muscles so thick a 38 shell barely penetrates them in TRIPWIRE, people often underestimate his intelligence. The reader, of course, knows that, much as is the case with Patrick Jane in THE MENTALIST, Reacher is the smartest guy in pretty much every room he is in even if he is not the best guy for book learning. Reacher's intelligence is focused both narrowly on fighting tactics and tradecraft and broadly on general knowledge of the world and people that allows him to make almost super-human deductions. And of course, Reacher shares with Patrick Jane the fact that as he wanders the country on foot, stoking his general knowledge of the human condition, he is constantly honing his fighting skills and deductive abilities by pitting himself against highly dangerous opponents.
Not every book is equally good. DIE TRYING in particular did not wrap up all the threads to my satisfaction, but hey, it was only his second book. Child likes to have some really enormous mystery drive the story. In RUNNING BLIND the serial killer leaves their victims in bathtubs covered with green paint, but without a mark on the body and without drowning them in the paint. For a while the serial killer seems almost as clever as Red John. However, it you've watched THE MENTALIST, and I have, you will figure out how the crimes were committed.
Child is a genius at putting Reacher in tough situations quickly to drive the story. In KILLING FLOOR he is eating in a diner when some local cops arrest him for a murder he did not commit. In RUNNING BLIND he is held by the FBI on suspicion of being a serial killer. A mysterious woman picks him up in ECHO BURNING as he hitchhikes, and tells him an amazing story. And so on.
The stories often end with a scene that is meant to be filmed. Lee Child has a powerful visual imagination. KILLING FLOOR ends with a battle in a warehouse with giant pile of $1 bills being guarded by two really dangerous men watching over slaves packing the money into boxes. A gun battle with professional assassins in ECHO BURNING occurs during a monstrous thunderstorm during which Reacher can only see his opponents by random flashes of lightning. In DIE TRYING Reacher uses a sniper rifle to detonate a truck loaded with explosives while shooting from a helicopter. DIE TRYING also pits Reacher against the militia chief in a high-stakes target-shooting contest. The outcome of this contest suggests that Reacher is among the best shots with a rifle of anyone in the world, capable of hitting targets accurately at immense distances, in part based on his ability to account for gravity and wind effects.
All in all, the first five Jack Reacher novels are engaging mysteries that keep the pages turning, and they tell a single continuous story of Reacher's life, allowing for a depth of character development not often found in pulp action novels. Each new book picks up more or less immediately after the end of the previous book, which lends an aura of realism to the tales. Child likes to make the villains more villainous by having them crucify folks, which appears in both DIE TRYING and KILLING FLOOR, but mercifully appears to end after the first two books. These books have sex and violence, and the violence is a lot more explicit than the sex, so they are certainly not for kids. However, if you like this sort of thing, you will like Lee Child's Jack Reacher. There are also quite a few similarities between F. Paul Wilson's urban vigilante Repairman Jack and Lee Child's Jack Reacher, but that is a topic for another review. [-dls]
Space Development (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Dale Skran's comments on space development in the 07/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
Dale L. Skran makes good points, to which I add: over $13 billion is now invested in space companies, growing by about $1 billion/year. That's the key fact. Economic drivers for near- Earth and even asteroid mining are here (Planetary Resources etc). Stross's arguments never held a lot of water and they're obviously missing the point now, six years later.
Might try reading STARSHIP CENTURY, book I coedited 2013, for a more cogent set of views. [-gb]
Samuel Pepys and Houses (letters of comment by Tim Bateman, Peter Trei, Kerr Mudd-John, and Paul Dormer):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Samuel Pepys's DIARY in the 07/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
RAEBNCH, as they say. That is, I've no real comments to make, but I do appreciate your commentary on Pepys's diaries.
[RAEBNCH is "Read And Enjoyed But No Comment Here" -ecl]
Fascinating point about building houses (and other buildings) of brick. [-tb]
Peter Trei responds:
One of the things Europeans often find weird about America is the prevalence of timber framed (and sided) houses. [-pt]
Kerr Mudd-John adds:
We learnt about this at primary school, if not earlier, in a tale of three porcine house-builders. [-kmj]
Paul Dormer says:
I grew up in a new town in the north of England, started 1948. You could date when houses were built by the brick colour. Not an aging thing, it seemed they used different coloured bricks in different years.
The oldest part of the town, the bricks were brownish, but the house we moved into just after it was built in 1957 was deep red. The house we moved to that was build around 1960 was a less deep greyish-red. [-pd]
Peter Trei adds:
... and if it was from the later 60s and through the early 70s at least, pebble dash. [-pt]
Evelyn replies to Kerr:
Yes, but none of the pigs' houses burnt down. [-ecl]
SLAN (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on SLAN in the 07/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
I more-or-less share your thoughts regarding SLAN. I was brought up regarding it as a classic, but on reading it I found it somewhat ... improbable. I was expecting it to be less of an adventure story with a heroic lead who is virtually omnicompetant. [-tb]
Quotes (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to the 07/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
"Finished up with the same quote as last time. Evelyn, you should have changed Mark!" [-kw]
My bad. I clone each issue from the previous issue, and I missed updating that part. (It's even worse--the last volume had two issues numbered 35, and all the issues after them were off by one, though the whole numbers were still correct.) [-ecl]
THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 7) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Comments on Science and Medicine:
An interesting piece of trivia: "One replies that there are many species where the male gives the denomination to both sexes, as swan and woodcock, but not above one where the female do, and that is a goose." [June 15, 1663] But is it true?
Pepys constantly wrote about his ailments, including his earlier kidney stone, and his constant digestive problems, such as "Early in the morning my last night's physic worked and did give me a good stool, and them I rose and had three or four stools, and walked up and down my chamber." TMI--and there is a lot more of this sort of description! [June 28, 1663]
Sir William Petty sett aside money in his will to fund a variety of inventions, including "he that could invent proper characters to express to another the mixture of relishes and tastes." [March 22, 1664] Now that would be useful!
Pepys mentions Gresham College several times [e.g., April 19, 1665] as a place where he goes to see various scientific experiments. While many of them would be considered unnecessarily cruel to animals today, apparently in Pepys's scientific inquiry was of interest even to those who were not in a scientific occupation.
Things we take for granted were great novelties or extravagances then; Pepys gets a pocket watch and says, "But, Lord! to see how much of my folly and childishness hangs upon me that I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand in the coach all this afternoon, and seeing what o'clock it is one hundred times..." [May 13, 1665]
When I read about "a [poor and] debauched man, that the College' have hired for 20s. to have some of the blood of a sheep let into his body," I was sure it would end badly. The experiment, on November 23, 1667, was performed on Arthur Coga. The blood of a sheep was used because "sanguis ovis symbolicam quandam facultatem habet cum sanguine Christi, quia Christus est agnus Dei." ["Sheep's blood has some symbolic power, like the blood of Christ, for Christ is the Lamb of God."] But apparently, though it failed to cure her perceived mental illness, the transfusion apparently did not kill him, making this the first successful human transfusion in England.
We are reminded of the realities of Pepys's time when we read, "... she is pretty well, but mighty full of the smallpox, by which all do conclude she will be wholly spoiled, which is the greatest instance of the uncertainty of beauty that could be in this age." [March 26, 1668] Sometime in the middle of 1668, Pepys started having problems with his eyes. He was convinced he was going blind and that all the writing in his diary was one of the causes. So at this point, his diary becomes much briefer, with some days represented by a single paragraph. He eventually gave it up altogether on May 31, 1669, but the last year of so are covered much less thoroughly. However, the good news for posterity is that he maintained his level of detail through the restoration of Charles II, the Second Dutch- Anglo War, the Great Plague, the Great Fire, and the beginning of the rebuilding of London. He should be happy that he did not go blind, especially since his attempts at treatment were unlikely to be effective, e.g., "This morning I was let blood, and did bleed about fourteen ounces towards curing my eyes." [July 13, 1668]
And there you have it. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week I covered the novels nominated for the Retro Hugo for works from 1940. This week I will discuss the novellas and novelettes.
I don't know if hardly anyone was writing novellas in 1940, but with three Heinleins and two de Camp/Pratts this is the most lopsided category I have seen since "Doctor Who" dominated the Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category. And what is worse, three of the works are not really available in their original forms. (One hopes the Packet will correct this difficulty.)
"Coventry" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1940): This is the fourth published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the last in internal chronology.
It is difficult to pin down Heinlein's political views, particularly as they changed over his lifetime. In "Coventry" he has a character unhappy with the way the state controls his emotions. He wants to be more independent. In effect, he is objecting to the "nanny state." So he is sent off to Coventry, which he thinks of as a place where people can live free and self- reliant, without interference from the government. Well, it is clear he is not at all self-reliant, but more a "wannabe rugged individualist." And he soon discovers that in a place where the government has sent a bunch of people who want to be free of the government, they soon start forming their own government(s) which may be even worse. The problem is that it is not clear what Heinlein is trying to say. Is it that over-protective governments are bad? Or that they just seem bad except when presented with the alternatives: corrupt oligarchy, absolute dictatorship, or religious theocracy?
The one thing he touches on briefly but never explores is the validity of the Covenant itself. The judge says, "The Covenant is ... a simple temporal contract entered into by [our grandfathers] for pragmatic reasons. They wished to insure the maximum possible liberty for every person." But it was a contract entered into by their grandfathers. Did they have the right, or authority, to enter their children and other descendents into a contract? Can you sign your two-year-old son to a ten-year contract to work for General Mining when he is twenty-one? Can you and your best friend sign a marriage contract between your daughter and his son? So why do we assume that one generation can make a "social contract"--that is, form a government--that binds future generations to it conditions? These are issues brought up by Thomas Paine (*) but rarely addressed.
Unfortunately, Heinlein does not address the interesting issues, and what he has written seems unfocused and confusing.
(*) "There never did, there never will, there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the 'end of time,' or commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it...." [Rights of Man, Part 1]
"If This Goes On..." by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science- Fiction, Feb 1940): This is the second published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the fourth in internal chronology. But why is "If This Goes On--" classified as a novella when it is 57,000 words long? Even minus 20%, that's 45,600 words--well over the cut-off. (The argument that only the first half of the serialization was nominated cuts no mustard with me, because it was never intended as a stand-alone. At least the T. H. White was initially published separately.)
[Actually checking around seems to indicate that the original version--which is pretty much unavailable unless the Packet includes it specifically--was 33,000 words. My guess is that most people will end up voting on the extended version. There are similar problems with the two de Camp/Pratt novellas and the Williamson novelette, but those at least have their original forms available on-line.]
(Two years ago, the Jack Williamson was only about 35,000 words, hence within that 20% margin, and counted as a novel rather than a novella. See below for comments on relocating Dramatic Presentations. I really think the 20% margin is too big, and invoked too frequently, especially for Retro Hugo works. For current works, the author can protest the relocation of a story, but for the Retro Hugos, a Ouija board would be needed. As for availability, that same year an unavailable Clifford Simak not only got nominated, but won a Retro Hugo.)
"Magic, Inc." by Robert A. Heinlein (Unknown, Sept 1940): One problem is that this is full of stereotypes: the Sicilian gangster, the Jewish agent, even the magical Negro. Another is that while there is a lot about magic couched in terms of rules and such--that is, magic as science--this is still basically a story about special interests, lobbying, politicians, and so on. And, as with so many of the stories, I do not think the versions commonly available are the original texts. The version in Damon Knight's THE GOLDEN ROAD refers to "fifty states", but looking back at the original magazine publication, it says, "forty-eight states." Who knows what else has been changed? Still, it's enjoyable enough, I suppose.
"The Roaring Trumpet" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, May 1940), and "The Mathematics of Magic" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, Aug 1940): These two novellas were edited together to form the "fix-up novel" THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER. Naturally, this means that the two original novellas would be unavailable without getting a copy of the original magazines, were it not for the fact that there are PDFs of the original magazines in archive.org. This is also a problem with the novelette "Darker Than You Think"--and with the same solution. In the case of the de Camp/Pratt stories, I decided to read the fix-up novel. I am not a member of MidAmericon II, so I am not actually voting, and there is a limit to how much effort I want to put in to sitting at a computer reading PDFs.
In any case it is at least easy to see where one novella ends and the other begins: the first is an adventure in the universe of Norse mythology, and the second is one in the land of Edmund Spenser's "Fairie Queen". I am far more familiar with the first than with the second (as I suspect most people are these days), and that made a difference in my enjoyment and understanding the two novellas. So I would rate "The Roaring Trumpet" considerably higher than "The Mathematics of Magic".
My ranking: "The Roaring Trumpet", "Magic, Inc.", no award, "Coventry", "The Mathematics of Magic". "If This Goes On..."
"Blowups Happen" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, Sept 1940): This is the last published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the second in internal chronology. Unfortunately, Heinlein "updated" it in 1946 (e.g., he added a reference to "a thousand Hiroshimas") for its inclusion in Groff Conklin's THE BEST OF SCIENCE FICTION and that updated version was also used in THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW. Not until the publication of EXPANDED UNIVERSE in 1980 was the original version restored, and my guess is most people will be reading it from either the Conklin or THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW.
One of the things updated was the idea that you would need a large mass of uranium to generate power by fission. (In the updated version, Heinlein changes the large mass of uranium to "a large power plant.") This is the same mistake Heisenberg made in his atomic research for the Germans during the war, and which is discussed in detail in Michael Frayn's play COPENHAGEN.
After a while all these Heinlein stories start to wear on one. This one also has an African-American speaking in either dialect or every thick accent, which doesn't help.
"Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates (Astounding Science- Fiction, Oct 1940): The introductory note to it in Healy & McComas's ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE says that this is the only story in which they were in perfect agreement. In my opinion, though, this is a classic more because of the film based on it (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL--the 1951 version [the less said about the 2008 version, the better]), or perhaps "inspired by it" is a better term, given how little of the one is in the other.
"It!" by Theodore Sturgeon (Unknown, Aug 1940): This is a nice little atmospheric horror story, and a welcome change from the preponderance of nitty-gritty science fiction from "Astounding".
"The Roads Must Roll" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science- Fiction, June 1940): This is the third published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the first in internal chronology. It is fairly prescient in some things. "In 1955 Federal Highway #66 from Los Angeles to Chicago ... was transformed into a superhighway for motor vehicles with an underspeed limit of sixty miles per hour." That pretty well describes the interstate highway system, begun in 1956, and did in fact incorporate some stretches of the old Route 66. And oil (and gasoline) rationing during World War II was mentioned, as well as the implied entrance of the United States into that war. (The term "World War II" was used in Time Magazine in September 1939, so no prescience was needed here.)
But prescient or not, what it boils down to is a story about a strike in a critical sector of the economy. The rolling roads are just calling a six-gun a blaster and a rustler a space pirate. [The reference is to the back covers of Galaxy Magazine in 1950.] (And does it even make sense to put a restaurant on a moving belt? Trying to go to dinner there would involve some mighty tricky calculations, and a long trip at either the beginning, the end, or both.
"Vault of the Beast" by A. E. Van Vogt (Astounding, Aug 1940): This was added well into the voting, replacing Jack Williamson's "Darker Than You Think", which was discovered (somewhat belatedly) to be a novella rather than a novelette. Aspects of it bear a strong resemblance to TERMINATOR 2, even to the shape-shifting alien imitating the floor. But the mathematics are fingernails-on-a- blackboard to anyone with basic math knowledge. I will say that the numbers Van Vogt gives as examples of prime numbers do appear to be prime numbers, but that is small comfort when he claims there is an "ultimate" (i.e., largest) prime number. Quick proof: Assume N is the largest prime. Take the product of all numbers up to and including N (expressed as N!). Now consider N!+1. If is not divisible by any prime up to and including N--there is always a remainder of 1. So either it is itself prime, or it is divisible by a prime larger than N. Q.E.D.
My ranking: "It!", "Farewell to the Master", no award, "Vault of the Beast", "Blowups Happen", "The Roads Must Roll"
Next week I wrap up my coverage with the short story and dramatic presentation categories. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The reason there are two senators for each state is so that one can be the designated driver. --Jay LenoTweet
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