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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/07/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 15, Whole Number 1931
Table of Contents
Gregory Benford Receives Award:
Frequent MT VOID correspondent Gregory Benford has received this year's Forry Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Science Fiction from the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.
Practical Application (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It has been said that some of the new discoveries in cutting edge theoretical physics and in cosmology have little practical use beyond the theoretical research environment. To the contrary I will point out that the Miss America Beauty Pageant was first celebrated in 1921. To outdo it 1951 was the first year of the Miss World Beauty Pageant. To stay ahead of any new beauty pageant that would the very next year saw the initiation of the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant. That name seemed at the time to offer a sort of permanence as nobody could choose a name more global than Universe. Universe was everything. They were wrong. Whoever initiates such traditions may now organize a Miss Multiverse Beauty Pageant. Whoever wants to had better go in and copyright the name since we may never find anything bigger than the multiverse. But an even better plan would be to have an infinite series of pageants inspired by the short film "Powers of Ten."
[I want it strictly understood that even though I may write about beauty pageants I do not myself advocate for them. I would be willing to be made very rich taking a cut if someone takes one of my ideas and makes a fortune out of it.]
Jules Verne, H. P. Lovecraft and the Russian Space Program:
Q: What do sci fi pioneer Jules Verne, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and the Russian space programme have in common?
A: Their overlapping interest in an inhospitable corner of the South Pacific, only recently identified as the remotest part of the world's oceans--Point Nemo.
Nowhere in the world can you find a place further from dry land than Point Nemo. This oceanic pole of inaccessibility (1) is located at 48deg 52.6'S 123deg 23.6'W.
See BigThink's http://tinyurl.com/void-point-nemo for more details.
Walmart and the English Language (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The following article is sort of a mess as I had two ideas on my mind at the same time.
I heard a radio report on shopping center sorts of stores. These are places like Kmart all have one fear in common. That is competition with Walmart. Walmart is a corporation of 1.4 million employees in the US alone. And Walmart is one of the most successful store chains in the world due to their pricing low and forcing low prices on their suppliers. So if all the retail stores like Kmart fear Walmart, whom does Walmart fear? Well, according to a 2013 article in Fortune (that has stuck with me) Walmart fears Costco. And I can tell you why.
Evelyn and I bought from Walmart two small individual cherry pies for dessert. They were packaged with a brand name "The Bakery." The box bore the motto "Baked with Pride." It also said in fine print that Walmart, Inc. distributed it.
When we served ourselves the pies we found almost no solid fruit material. All of the filling of the pies could be squeezed out of a toothpaste tube. This certainly was a product that did not meet customer expectations. What is more I am sure I am the last of a whole group of people who knew this was an inferior food product. But the people at The Bakery and almost certainly buyers from Walmart knew that this packaging was intended to promise a higher quality product than was actually delivered. It is a small fraud on the consumer. Everyone knew the consumer would be disappointed and probably actually cheated.
Certainly The Bakery knew that they were not putting many real cherries into the pie. Walmart may or may not have checked the quality of the product they were selling. Their commitment to quality was in the form of having a generally liberal return policy. If we wanted to repackage the pie, we could probably get our money back at the cost of another trip to Walmart and probably then a wait in line. I know Walmart generally has a 90-day return policy and they are fairly liberal on what can be returned. I think that is most of Walmart's quality assurance policy. They will put the product out. If you buy it and then do not like it you probably can get your money back. That is Walmart's quality policy: If it is bad you can return it (with some inconvenience, perhaps).
Costco has a liberal return policy also. But somehow I cannot see the same problem that we had with the pies occurring with a purchase from Costco. We have been members of Costco since something like 1985 or so. It was Price Club when we first joined. In all that time we have used our membership frequently. Never have we ever bought a product and then found it was a fraud on the consumer. Somewhere along the line somebody at Costco is weeding out misrepresented products and they do not make it to the shelves. Good on you, Costco.
Somehow that got me thinking about the "Baked with Pride" claim. This also is not a guarantee of any value, even if it is the truth. I mean maybe they take pride in finding ways to palm off inferior products on trusting customers. But also we have a sort of low standard of understanding what statements are made. With mathematics background I notice what people literally say may not be what they mean. (Okay, I see that puzzled look on your face. Maybe you can just consider the following a related point.) I heard someone in a movie say "I never want to see her again." I know what he meant. The writer knows what he meant. But the line of dialog is not what he meant. There is an action that is "wanting to see her again." But the speaker is saying he never engages in that activity. What he is saying is the same thing as "I never actually want to see her again. I might not mind seeing her again, but I never find myself wanting for it to happen. It may happen and I may not care one way or another whether it does, but that is in the future. Right now I do not find myself wanting it." The correct statement is "I want to never see her again." We say, "I never want to see her again" when we mean "I want to never see her again."
Another expression that bothers me is "it will be twice as hot today as yesterday." Unless there is a zero point obvious it is not clear what that means.
This is one that gets me. "This product cleans with ten times less effort." But what does that really mean? Cleaning with zero times less effort is cleaning with the same effort. Cleaning with one times less effort is cleaning with zero effort. There is the original effort and from that you take one times the original effort. That means zero effort. Cleaning with two times less effort is cleaning with negative one times the original effort. Cleaning with ten times less effort is cleaning with negative nine times the effort. And you can put that extra effort looking for real fruit in a "The Bakery" pie. [-mrl]
TRANSGALACTIC by James Gunn (copyright 2016, Tor, 220 pp, ISBN 978-1-4668-7612-5 (e-book), 978-0-7653-8092-0 (hardcover)) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
I have a very soft spot in my heart for old school science fiction. You know, the kind with huge scope, alien races, wars between planets, and interstellar if not intergalactic distances. These are the kinds of stories that brought many of us old-timers into the fold--the gateway drug, if you will. These kinds of stories are still being written of course, with modern day takes on the old themes and tropes. It's very rare, however, that one of the old- timers still writing produces a book like this. Most have retired from the field, showing up at conventions now and again. Some are still writing, like Larry Niven (albeit with collaborators), others are not, like Robert Silverberg.
And then there's James Gunn. Gunn isn't writing very much these days, but he is in the middle of a trilogy that started out with 2013's TRANSCENDENTAL, which I reviewed back in March of 2014. I concluded that for the most part, while being old school science fiction of the type I grew up reading, it wasn't a very good novel (in my opinion, of course). The book ended on something of a cliffhanger, which I didn't know at the time was supposed to be a cliffhanger. I was left in an unsatisfied state at the end of that novel, which contributed to my opinion of the book at the time.
2016 brought the second book in what I now know to be a trilogy, TRANSGALACTIC. And while this book ends with many things unresolved which I presume will be resolved in the third volume, I'm still disappointed.
TRANSGALACTIC is still old school, because that's what Gunn knows best how to write. However, the book suffers from "middle book of the trilogy syndrome". There really isn't much going on to advance the plot of the trilogy, and by the time we get to the end we wonder why we spent all that time reading it (although to be fair, the book is only 220 pages long, so not only is it old school in terms of subject matter it's old school in terms of length, which is good because really there isn't much more to write about in this novel).
The novel follows two of the characters from TRANSCENDENTAL, Riley and Asha. At the end of that novel, they entered the Transcendental Machine--which is really just a transportation device that has the added bonus of repairing all of a body and mind's faults--and came out at terminals far apart from each other. They independently determine that they must find each other (for no reason that is explained) and go about doing just that. They also independently determine that the "Pedia", the brain implant that everyone has that contains all knowledge and we find out is an overarching artificial intelligence controlling the galactic population, is out to kill Riley. From my point of view, there is nothing in the novel that would clue the reader in as to how Riley and Asha know that when they first determine it--the reader does eventually get clues as to the Pedia's intentions. What is also unexplained is that they know exactly where the other will be so that they can actually reunite and set about doing what they need to do to save humanity.
Both Riley and Asha exit the Transcendental Network on planets into situations with the natives which they must successfully negotiate in order to leave that planet and begin their journeys to find each other. The tale is told in chapters that alternate between Riley and Asha (a time honored and well worn tradition) with the exception of a couple of chapters devoted to the aliens they are traveling with during their adventure. The readers discover that they simultaneously come to the same conclusions: they must find each other, where they will find each other, and that the Pedia is out to get Riley.
I wrote in that earlier review that I enjoy novels that leave a bit of mystery for the reader, that the novel lets the reader figure things out on his or her own. It seems that Gunn goes a little too far here, having his characters make intuitive leaps without any clues to the reader regarding how they made those leaps. I also wrote in that earlier review that TRANSCENDENTAL was a novel about journeys. This one is too, but it's nowhere near as effective as the first one (although that one wasn't very effective either) as it's basically "step out of machine, encounter local population, travel through the galaxy to meet the other one, the end". There just isn't much to this book.
At Midamericon 2 in Kansas City in August this year there was a Grandmaster panel. The writers on that panel were indeed among the living greats of the field: Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg, Larry Niven, Joe Haldeman, and yes, James Gunn. (As a side note, I look around at today's crop of writers and wonder who could actually fill the shoes of these five people.) They discussed what they were working on today, and Gunn mentioned that he was working on the third book of the trilogy. While I've been disappointed in the first two, I am curious enough to see what he had in mind for the whole thing. Gunn's best days are behind him, and it just might be he rides off into the sunset after the final book in the trilogy. We'll see. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE BIG BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (ISBN 978-1-101-91009-2) is another one of the big "floppy books" that are impossible to read holding in your lap. Unlike THE WEIRD (edited by the same editors), most of the stories in this volume-- at least in the center, from 1940 to 1990 or so--were familiar to me, and indeed could be found in various anthologies and collections we already have. I suspect this would be true for most "serious" science fiction fans. On the other hand, the first section (pre-John-W-Campbell period), the last section (most recent), and the various works in the middle that have just been translated into English, would make a fairly respectable-sized volume on their own. (I speak of "sections", but these are not delineated in the book itself; they are merely "virtual sections" whose boundaries may vary from reader to reader.)
This book would be good for the younger science fiction fan-- someone in their twenties or so who likes the current science fiction and is curious to see more of the history of the field. We old fogeys got it by reading science fiction for decades and consuming short fiction in the hundreds of anthologies available to us over that time, but such an extensive reading program is not viable except over a lifetime. (And to be honest, we also got a condensed selection, particularly of that pre-Campbell stuff I mentioned.) So with the holiday season coming up, keep this volume in mind.
THE PAPER MENAGERIE by Ken Liu (ISBN 978-1-4814-4254-6) is a collection of fifteen stories, one of them new to this volume. Often one reason a new story is included in a collection is to provide something people have not seen before. In this case, it may also be to counterbalance the fact that almost all the stories are available free on-line, and (so far as I can tell) authorized by Liu.
Though both are Asian-American authors who have excelled in the short-story arena, Liu is not Ted Chiang, and unlike Chiang's first collection, this book does not contain his entire oeuvre up to this point. As such, it is possible that your favorite stories may not have been included. But the selection is of uniformly high- quality, so one cannot complain about the contents. Perhaps at some point there will be a "Complete Short Fiction of Ken Liu", though it will have to run into several volumes.
One complaint I do have is not directed at Liu at all, but at the publisher. Most collections and anthologies have the current story title as the right page header, making it a bit easier to find a story by flipping through the book. Saga Press instead uses "The Paper Menagerie" as the right page header throughout. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. --VoltaireTweet
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