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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 08/12/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 7, Whole Number 1923
Table of Contents
Irony (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In this digital age, isn't having a science fiction magazine named "Analog" sort of like the BBC having its television listings in a magazine called "Radio Times"? [-ecl]
Meet Gjetost (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Like most people I know I am a fan of cheese. There is a remarkably wide range of flavors and textures that can be found in cheese. I know. I have done a study. Back in the 1970s Evelyn and I lived in the Detroit area and they had a huge farmers' market called the Eastern Market. There was one shop that had many obscure kinds of cheese sold in chunks cut from larger chunks and hand-wrapped. We could not pass up this sort of opportunity, so we decided to educate ourselves a little about cheeses. We bought some books on cheese and would explore one sort or another every weekend. (Don't look aghast. This was before cholesterol was invented.)
I suppose my favorite cheese would be an aged cheddar. It used to be called "Vermont Cheddar" and now is called "3-Year Cheddar." I think they are the same cheese or I cannot detect a difference. It is a slightly yellow cheese that comes in a very tight black wrapper. The wrapper used to be black wax, but today it seems to be plastic. These days the cheese is sold in Costco under the brand name Cabot. That in itself is ironic since usually I am used to seeing the brand name Cabot on cheap grocery store cheese that will claim to be a sharp cheddar and will actually be almost a bland cheese that to me is no sharper than a Colby.
However, as I said, we bought ourselves some books on cheeses and would read through to see what cheeses perked our interest. We tried Fontina and Cheshire and Brie and Camembert--the more I read the less I know the difference between the last two. And of course we had Edam (the cheese that is made backwards). But one cheese we puzzled over. There was a cheese called Gjetost from Norway. Some described Gjetost as tasting like butterscotch or chocolate. Some said it was almost like peanut butter. (I am not sure it tastes like peanut butter, but the color is very much like that of peanut butter.) One source says it is the nearest that cheese comes to fudge, and another says it tastes like powered coffee creamer. This is all one cheese remember. Personally I think it tastes differently to anyone who tries to describe it. Anyway, each of those descriptions seems off the mark to me, but I cannot describe it any better. I was only a poor corrupt programmer at the time so I guess it was years before we actually got around to buying some of the stuff. We have been fans ever since.
These days your basic Gjetost package comes in a block about 2" x 2" x 1.5" in the brand name Ski Queen. These days a block that size costs about $7. You pronounce it like you were cheering browned bread. "Yay, Toast." Why is Gjetost pronounced "Yay, Toast?" Ask a Norwegian. Anyway, I can tell you that the name means "Goat Cheese." But this is very different from the product that is sold as "Goat Cheese" and is reminiscent of Cream Cheese."
Anyone who would serve this cheese sliced in a sandwich or in a cube pierced by a toothpick on a hors d'oeuvres tray should be shunned as a barbarian. It would be best served in sheets about one molecule thick. I do not believe in homeopathy, but you plane Gjetost, and the thinner you can slice it the more flavor you can get from the slices. Besides the thinner the slices the more slices you can get from that little block. You put a little bit on your tongue and tell it to melt. It obeys almost immediately. I think it actually changes flavor as it melts. It has a love it or hate it sort of flavor.
Cheeses are characterized by what they are like. A cheese may be Cheddar-like or Swiss-like. But if the cheese you are eating is Gjetost-like, you must be eating Gjetost. There is nothing else much like it. [-mrl]
They Don't Make Movies Like They Used To--Thank Goodness! (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We just watched ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and we each had the same reaction: you could never make this today. One could argue that the "Wild West" shows in it, while obviously negative towards Native Americans, were at least accurate to the time. But the portrayal of Native Americans outside the show, and in particular during the "adoption ceremony" is cringe-worthy.
However, it is more than just the attitude towards Native Americans. The whole romantic plot centers around Frank Butler loving Annie Oakley when she is playing second-fiddle to him as his assistant. But when she demonstrates she is a better shot than he is, he leaves her and the show. And how do they get together? Well, she pretends she's lost her edge and is not as good as he is. So they can live happily ever after. Well, he can anyway.
Obviously, it is not just ANNIE GET YOUR GUN that is this bad. We also recently watched ROSE MARIE (1936) with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. The Native American festival in that is a mishmash of costumes and paraphernalia of Plains Indians, Mexicans, Aztecs, Northwest Indians, and who knows what else. It's not as blatantly offensive as ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, but it indicates a trivialization of the many cultures. It's as if you had a Chinese festival where everyone wore Korean hats, Indian saris, and Japanese tabi, and danced around a statue of a Thai garuda.
And as I have noted in the past, SOUTH PACIFIC's assumption that everyone watching knows why Nellie Forbush was so upset about Emil de Becque's biracial children doesn't always work these days. [-ecl]
SEVENEVES by Neal Stephenson (copyright 2015, William Morrow, 868pp, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-06-233451-0) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
Neal Stephenson's books and I have a checkered past. Admittedly, I've only read two of his novels to date: DIAMOND AGE and ANATHEM. I didn't much care for DIAMOND AGE all those years ago, and I loved ANATHEM, although it took awhile for me to warm up to it. I've tended to stay away from his books in part because they were so huge and didn't seem to be of a subject matter that I'd be interested in. SEVENEVES comes along, becomes a Hugo finalist, and seems to be about something I'd be interested in. That was enough for me to take the plunge. After all was said and done, SEVENEVES turns out to be a mixed bag full of promise, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired.
The story is probably fairly well known at this point. The event that kicks the novel off is the explosion of the moon into seven distinct pieces. How it happens or why it happens is never explained or explored. The event itself is almost irrelevant to the story, as the story centers around how the human race reacts to the event (caused by the Agent, because they had to name it something) which will eventually render the surface of the earth uninhabitable for several thousand years. Of course, the decision is made to evacuate some 1500 of the best and brightest people to "the Cloud Ark", which has at its roots the International Space Station, or izzy as it comes to be called. The first two-thirds of the book centers around the creation and population of the Cloud Ark and the events that lead up to the Council of the Seven Eves, which determines the future of the human race.
The last third of the book takes place 5000 years after the Council of the Seven Eves. Humanity has grown to a population of a few billion, divided along racial lines that were (maybe not so) unwittingly created at the Council. The seven races are divided into the Red and the Blue which are opposed to each other and which in fact have gone to war a couple of times. 5000 years after the Council, the earth has become habitable again, and the seven races, descendants of the attendees of the Council, have rules in place about the re-colonization of the planet after terraforming has taken place. They end up being in direct conflict with the Diggers, "rootstock" humans who survived underground for several thousand years while waiting for the planet to become habitable again, and the Pingers, who survived under the surface of the ocean for that same period of time by mutating somewhat to live underwater.
An interesting comparison can be made between SEVENEVES and Kim Stanley Robinson's AURORA (a novel which I thought deserved to be a Hugo finalist). Both Robinson and Stephenson revel in providing more detail than anyone would probably want to know about how the universe works--or doesn't. While Robinson spends a great deal of energy telling us why generational starships--and by extension, travel between the stars--will not work, Stephenson shares a tremendous amount of detail about orbital mechanics. While Robinson doesn't necessarily give us gloom and doom what he is really saying, I think, is that we need to take care of our home more than we need to worry about heading off elsewhere. Stephenson is on the other end of the spectrum in that he is attempting to show us that humanity can overcome all odds to survive the worst that nature can throw against it (even if the worst thing thrown against it is left unexplained). However, and this is especially true of the third section of the book that takes place in the far future, the book is bloated and badly in need of editing. Stephenson spends a majority of the third section of the book describing everything about humanity and what it has accomplished, but after a while it gets a bit tedious. The meeting of the "Spacers" with with Diggers and then the Pingers almost seems to be an afterthought, and certainly more effort should have been spent on those encounters instead of telling us how the human race has survived and thrived after 5000 years. Another interesting comparison would between SEVENEVES and THE FIFTH SEASON, but I'm just going to throw that out there without saying any more.
SEVENEVES is really two books. The first book ends with the Council of the Seven Eves, and that book, while a bit overlong, well deserves to be a Hugo finalist. The last third of the novel should not only be a separate book, but it needs to tell more of a story. It really isn't finished. It's almost as if Stephenson got to 860 pages and said "well, that's a good stopping point, the book is too long anyway". I would be interested in reading a second book that starts out with the final third of SEVENEVES and continues to some sort of logical conclusion.
There has been a great deal of terrific science fiction written over the last several decades that details the indomitable will of the human race, demonstrating that we will indeed survive against all odds. SEVENEVES aspires to belong to that portion of the science fiction world, but it takes too long to get there. The human race is constantly trying to find ways to become more efficient at what it does; SEVENEVES needs to take a lesson from the human race. [-jak]
Animal Intelligence and Altruism (letter of comment by Philip Chee):
In response to Evelyn's review of ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? in the 08/05/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee sends pointers to two article on intelligence and altruism in humpback whales:
Pinocchio (letter of comment by Gary McGath):
In response to Mark's comments on Pinocchio in the 08/05/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gary McGath writes:
I've read "Pinocchio" recently. (In English; my Italian isn't up to it, though I've made the attempt.) It's an extremely didactic story, but I think the stress is on dishonesty and gullibility more than on disobedience.
The cricket (which doesn't have a name) shows up again after being squashed. It isn't clear if it's a ghost or exactly what. [-gmg]
Encores and the Proms (letters of comment by Paul Dormer, Keith F. Lynch, Scott Dorsey, and Gary McGath):
In response to Evelyn's comment on Jerry Goldsmith repeating a piece as an encore in the 08/05/16 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:
Not that uncommon. Many's the time I've been at a concert conducted by Oliver Knussen, who'll finish a piece and turn to the audience and say, "That piece was very short, let's do it again." [-pd]
In response to Keith F. Lynch's comments on the Proms in the same issue, Paul writes:
Incidentally, the Last Night of the Proms is something of a cultural institution in the UK. It's carried live on the main BBC TV channel and is something of a party. People wear silly costumes, often involving Union Jacks. There are certain pieces that have to be played, and certain routines the audience go through. For instance, one of the regular pieces is Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, and the big tune in that was later used for the song Land of Hope and Glory, so the audience sing along with that. Another regular is Rule, Britannia, often as part of Sir Henry Woods Fantasia on British Sea Songs (and the audience often get the words wrong in that--the second line is "Britannia rule the waves", nor "rules").
In my day, and I presume it still goes on, people queued out for nights just to get into the concert, even though it's an all ticket event. During the rest of the season, you can queue for standing places in the arena and the gallery, and these are the cheapest tickets for each concert, but this doesn't apply for the Last Night. Still people queue for position as near to the front as possible.
When I first moved to London in the seventies, I lived in Notting Hill, about fifteen minutes walk from the Royal Albert Hall, and I did sleep out a couple of times. Not comfortable, but it's a bit like being at a convention, everybody queuing out know each other after two months of concert going. This means there was a system worked out that you didn't need to stay in place to have your position in the queue honoured. Your position was record on a list and you could attend the concerts still going on whilst queuing, and even go to work during the day. You just had to be in your sleeping bag on the pavement every night. [-pd]
Yes, Stross mentions all that [the Last Night of the Proms] in his novel. Some of it is central to the plot.
Also, I've watched a YouTube video of the last night of the proms.
Why [do people queue out for nights]? Do they sell more tickets than there's room for spectators? (I know airlines sell more tickets than there's room for passengers, and I think that ought to be prosecuted as fraud.)
Some people in the US stand in line for days for certain product releases and sales. New Harry Potter books, new Star Wars movies, "Black Friday" department store sales. In some neighborhoods targeted for voter suppression, people have to wait in line for days if they want to be able to vote.
Members of a comedy group called Improv Everywhere waited in line overnight for an ordinary store to open on an ordinary day. They do lots of weird performance art like that, just to confuse people. They always play it straight, as if the were ordinary people who didn't know each other and nothing unusual was going on. When you have some free time, look up some of their pranks.
Getting back to music, I've been listening to music mostly on YouTube. It's often accompanied by a video of the performance. I mostly ignore the video, as the music is background for my reading or doing math. But I occasionally glance at it. In one performance, a Beethoven symphony conducted by Furtwangler, I noticed there were rather a lot of swastikas. It turned out the performance had been done on Hitler's birthday, and several head Nazis were in the audience. Sigh. Remarkably good audio quality for the time, however. [-kfl]
I think my last sentence answers your question.
Haven't read the Stross, yet, but given what you've said, I guess I'd better. I wonder if he did any research other than just watching the concert on TV.
Ben Aaronovich's RIVERS OF LONDON (US title MIDNIGHT RIOT, I believe), has a scene set in the Royal Opera House. As luck would have it, I was reading that scene in the Royal Opera House during a long interval in a Wagner Ring cycle. The protagonist has to climb over the orchestra pit to get to the stage, but from where I was sitting I could see there were catwalks either side of the orchestra pit that would allow one to get on stage from the stalls without going through the pit.
And then there's the matter of what opera was being performed. There's an on-stage hanging, and I wondered if it was Billy Budd, but all stagings of that I've seen have had the hanging off-stage. But in the second book in the series, it disturbances during a performance of Billy Budd are referred to. [-pd]
To be clear, you have to "stand in line" for hundreds of pages before you get to the proms. :-)
I'd be surprised if [Stross] didn't thoroughly research it. He came all the way to DC, which is a lot further from his home than London is, just to figure out how to nuke DC.
[Re Ben Aaronovich's Rivers of London] Cool, especially if it was by chance. I've sometimes deliberately read an SF story on the date or dates when it was set, and I watched THE SIMPSONS MOVIE at Springfield Mall, but the closest I've come to an accidental coincidence while reading is I once read a syndicated newspaper cartoon which showed the Washington Monument when I happened to be within sight of the Washington Monument.
Hotel rooms in which part of a movie was set are sometimes marketed as such. For instance you can watch a video of the movie AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN in the hotel room in which part of it was filmed.
Of course documentaries played in museums are often filmed in those same museums.
Maybe that book was set in the past before the catwalks were built, or in the future after they're taken down. Or maybe "climbing over" is an accurate description of using the catwalks. Or maybe it was dark and the protagonist didn't see the catwalks. [-kfl]
The book is very definitely set in the here and now. I met Aaronovich a few months after reading that. He said he'd been unable to get into the ROH to check that out.
He did describe how just outside the opera house there was a Build- a-Bear shop and a branch of Paperchase. However, they are rebuilding there now, and both shops have closed.
A bit of a spoiler here:
The other side of Covent Garden market from the opera house, at the opening of the book the protagonist sees a ghost. Now, it turns out that the ghost is connected to Punch of Punch and Judy. At the spot in question, on the wall of St. Paul's church (the actors' church) is carved a description that the first Punch and Judy show known to have been performed in England was described occurring at that spot in Pepys's diary. Opposite this spot is the Punch and Judy pub.
Neither is mentioned in the book, but I guessed the Punch and Judy connection very quickly, and in another interval I happened to spot the description. [-pd]
What does [set in the here and now] mean? It's set on the date it was written? The date it was published? Whatever date you happen to read it? [-kfl]
I think it's obvious I mean when it was written.
For the record, RIVERS OF LONDON and its first sequel, MOON OVER SOHO, have 2011 copyright dates, so I'm guessing they were written in about the previous couple of years. As it happened, I read the first in 2012, so it was still fairly contemporary. [-pd]
Regarding Keith's comment on music and Hitler, Scott Dorsey notes:
Hitler hired the best, and a lot of the development of modern tape recording came from the desire for Hitler to give different speeches on different regional broadcasters at the same time.
There are modern magnetic recordings of Furtwangler and Gieseking during the war, including a stereo recording of Gieseking playing a Beethoven piano concerto with 88s firing in the background.
Sadly these sound better than a lot of the stuff Deutsche Grammophon was recording in the 1980s. [-sd]
Just as Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" is better with cannons firing, maybe Beethoven piano concertos are better with 88s firing? :-) [-kfl]
And Paul adds:
There is a recording of the pioneering harpsichordist Wanda Landowska performing during the Fall of Paris in 1940. You can hear shelling in the background. [-pd]
Gary McGath adds:
Beethoven wrote a piece called "Wellington's Victory" or "The Battle of Vittoria," which includes parts for cannon and muskets. He never expected actual firearms to be used in performance, though modern recordings have done that.
It's not one of his great pieces, but it's entertaining. English- speaking audiences may have an especially hard time taking it seriously since it makes heavy use of the song "Marlbrough s'en va- t-en guerre," whose tune is better known to us as "For he's a jolly good fellow" or "The bear went over the mountain." The lively fugue on "God Save the King/Queen" probably doesn't help either. [-gmg]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THERE ARE TWO ERRORS IN THE THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK by Robert M. Martin (ISBN 978-0-921149-98-0) was sabotaged on the front cover. The claim is that there is one error (the double "the") and so the title is self-contradictory: there is only one error, so the title is wrong. But then the title is right, because its misstatement is the second error. But then it is wrong, and so on.
The problem is that the title is not rendered in all upper case, but rather as "There Are Two Errors In The The Title of this Book". So in addition to the doubled "The", there are *four* errors of capitalization ("in" and the two "the"s should not be capitalized, and "this" should be), so there are five errors in the title, making the overall statement true (if there are five errors, there are two errors).
Martin proves that Walt Whitman was on the right track when he said "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" (Or Ralph Waldo Emerson's "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.") Consider a list of all your beliefs. Most people will agree that quite probably they are mistaken in one of their beliefs. So at the end of this list add, "At least one of the other statements on this list is false." Then the list of your beliefs, including this one, is inconsistent.
But it's even worse. A set of inconsistent statement implies any statement. (That is, "today is Monday" and "today is not Monday" logically implies "there is a unicorn in my backyard.") So given your belief in a set of inconsistent, if you believe everything implied by your beliefs, you believe anything.
Also, his rules for shadows seem to be paradoxical, but are really based on a misunderstanding/misinterpretation of what a shadow is. Rule 1 is that shadows do not pass through opaque objects; rule 2 is that if light does not fall on something, it does not cast a shadow. But what of the situation in which you stand in front of a light facing the opposite wall and holding in front of you a coffee mug. Your body casts most of the shadow on the wall, but what casts the shadow where lines from the light through the coffee mug fall? It cannot be you; your shadow cannot pass through the mug. It cannot be the mug; the light does not fall on it.
The answer--my answer, anyway--is that a shadow is not a *thing* of these sort these rules, or even the term "cast a shadow," imply. A shadow is the absence of light caused by the interruption of a light source. Whether or not there is a coffee mug, there will be an absence of light on the wall where your body blocks it. The shadow is not something that "passes" through anything (including the air); it is the state of not receiving light that is being received in its near vicinity.
Martin goes through an argument explaining why (he believes that) dogs cannot lie. It might be convincing were it not for the fact that in ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? (which I reviewed in last week's issue of the MT VOID) Frans de Waal gives several examples of animals apparently doing what Martin would consider lying, or at least engaging in deceptive behavior. As with so many things, everyone thinks it impossible until they see it, and then suddenly it seems perfectly normal.
THE CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote (3 volumes) (978-0-394-74913-6) was something I had had on my "to-read" list for a long time, yet the reading of it has been somewhat of a disappointment. In part this is a case of false expectations: having watched Ken Burns's THE CIVIL WAR, I saw Foote as a master of the anecdote, someone who made history come alive by talking about individuals' comments, little-known facts, and so on. What I found was a little bit of that and a *lot* of descriptions of troop movements, military hierarchies, and so on. As if I did not find this confusing enough, he also refers to various generals by their nicknames ("the Creole", "Little Napoleon", and so on). Given time, I might recall who is who, but it definitely catches me up.
In my review of WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS by Jonathan D. Sarna, I wrote about Grant's General Orders No. 11 (issued December 17, 1862) expelling the Jews from parts of Tennessee.. Grant later claimed that it was written by a subordinate and his signed it without reading it.
However, apparently Grant's prejudice was more deep-seated than Sarna described. According to Foote, "[In the fall of 1862], in fact his aggressive instincts seemed mostly reserved for the Jews in his department. 'Refuse to all permits to come south of Jackson for the present,' he wired Hurlbut at that place, adding: 'The Israelites especially should be kept out.' He instructed his railroad superintendent to 'give orders to all conductors on the road that no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward from any point. They may go north and be encouraged in it; but they are such an intolerable nuisance that the department must be purged of them.'" (Wikipedia gives the date of this order as November 9, 1862.) As Foote notes, "In time [that this would prevent Jewish fathers or mothers from visiting their sons in the Union Army] would be called to his attention," which implies that there was a long gap before this happened. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Television has brought back murder into the home--where it belongs. --Alfred HitchcockTweet
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