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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 12/16/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 25, Whole Number 1941
Table of Contents
Grading Pass/Fail (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Why is someone dying said to be "failing"? When they do die, they say he has "passed." [-mrl]
Indian Savory Snacks (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I used to work for Bell Labs/Lucent/Avaya. That meant that at one time there was a lot of technical engineering that was done in three or four facilities that were not a long distance from my house. So there was a lot of employing of South Asian Engineers done in this area at one time, and though that activity is now just a thin shadow of its former self, there were a lot of South Asian engineers who came to this area to resettle and raise families. That means we have a lot of Indians and Pakistanis living in the area. And that means we have Indian grocery stores. And they are not bad places to get exotic foods at fairly reasonable prices. After all, there is a community of people most of whom eat Indian food every day. By the way, there are also (East) Asian groceries in the area and they are also very good places to get good Asian food and pay just regular grocery prices.
Anyway, that brings me to Indian snack foods. Now when I traveled in India I would occasionally buy snack foods to eat on the train or bus. Most made available to us were like cookies and crackers and at the time I thought they were essentially mostly for the tourist crowd. At one point one of the buses I was riding stopped at a roadside snack food stand. I got a pack of what looked like potato chips. When I bit into them I quickly decided that they neither tasted like potato chips or anything else that was pleasant. They were sort of potato chips made with different cultural assumptions than we have in the United States. I was tired and they just did not bring out the adventurous in me. I would love to try those chips again, but as the package was labeled in Hindi and I would never find and recognize them again. However, I have discovered I am quite fond of Indian snack food.
Indian savory snacks really are made with different cultural assumptions than our snacks are made with. And they are making the assumptions. If they claim to be spicy, they are considerably more piquant than American snacks are. The ones that are spicy are made with red chili powder. It is not intense enough to sting, but it will give a pleasant burning sensation. (I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms if you do not like spicy food.) If the package says "masala" it is saying it is spicy. Good.
As I write this I am eating Chakri or Chakli. It is made from rice flour, different kinds of gram flour, and chili powder and sesame seeds are mixed in. Then it is mixed and extruded in a spiral so that to becomes almost a disk to inches in diameter. Then it is fried until is extremely hard and crispy. Somehow it gets prickly. A variant is called Murukku, but it tastes much the same to me.
Another similar snack is Fulwadi. It is made with mostly the same ingredients as Chakri but it extruded into sticks about the size of AA batteries. (I could suggest something else that the sticks look like but it would not be in good taste.) But Fulwadi is about the consistency of a good piecrust. The flavor is both a little sweet and a little salty. It also has a little chili burn. This one melts in your mouth if you do not crunch it up right away.
Another snack is Sev. This is a sort of a noodle made from chickpea flour. It also is spicy. It comes in various sizes and the small Sev is impossible for a non-Indian to eat without making a mess. The investigation continues.
In any case Indian savory snacks have products like Doritos beat all hollow. [-mrl]
CROSSTALK by Connie Willis (copyright 2016, Del Ray, $28.00, 498pp, ISBN 978-0-345-54067-6) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
I think it can be agreed that Connie Willis has pretty much "been there, done that" in the science fiction field over her long and storied career: 11 Hugos, 7 Nebulas, 4 Locus Awards, a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and a boatload more nominations for works that didn't win. She was named a Damon Knight Grandmaster of the field. Just about everything she's written has turned to gold.
Her previous work, BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR, a novel in two parts that won the Hugo in 2011, was large in scope and even larger in word count. The story was so huge that it was broken into two books, which were both released in the same year. ALL CLEAR picked up right where BLACKOUT left off, with no "the story so far" kind of lead in, letting the world know that "no, this was intended to be one book but it was two big, so we made it into two". CROSSTALK suffers from, in my opinion, needing an editor, and as a result I don't think the book is as good as it could be.
Briddey Flannigan and her boyfriend Trent work for a communications corporation named Commspan. The folks at Commspan are worried about Apple's next iPhone release, which is probably going to revolutionize communication (never mind that Apple hasn't come out with a revolutionizing version of the iPhone since the early days, but I digress). That's not the big news, though. Briddey and Trent are going to get EEDs. An EED is a device which allows two strongly emotionally bonded people to know each other's emotions without even having to talk about them. That is, there will no longer be any doubt as to whether your loved one is really your loved one.
Commspan is a center of gossip, a place where communication has gone wild. People know about things that happen long before they should. As an example, we all know someone who, if we want to spread some salacious gossip, we tell first. The word will spread like wildfire. At Commspan, that would be Suki Parker. But she's not the only one, just the best. All the employees we meet during the novel seem to be one big interconnected information network-- except for C.B. Schwartz. C.B. is the nerd that works in the basement and stays away from everyone. His hair and clothes are a mess, he has no friends, and everyone thinks he's weird and creepy. No one wants to go down to his basement office to talk to him.
Trent and Briddey are able to get their EED operations moved up on the doctor's busy schedule. They are trying to get this done in secret because Briddey has a meddling family and Trent has his reasons (which I will not spoil here). Trent and Briddey are perfect subjects for an EED--their compatibility scores are off the charts. Briddey has her operation first. She wakes up after the surgery, and not long after she begins to not feel Trent's emotions, but to hear someone speaking to her--and it's not Trent.
CROSSTALK is billed as a romantic comedy involving telepathy. It certainly is that--or at least it tries to be that. It's the comedy part that I have a hard time with. Granted, romantic comedies are not my cup of literary tea, and I understand that to qualify as a comedy the reader is not required to laugh out loud for a majority of the book. Yes, there is witty banter; yes, there are awkward situations that arise from circumstances at the time, but this book never grabbed me in that fashion. What did grab me was the inclusion of telepathy and how it was dealt with in the book (and maybe that's just because I'm not a romantic comedy fan-- your mileage may vary).
It is clear that once again, Willis has done her research with regard to her subject matter, in this case reported cases of telepathy (and some that weren't reported as such, but in terms of convenience Willis uses them as such--Joan of Arc is the major example here). But much like in BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR, not too much happens for a long period of time, and when it does happen here, it comes on so fast that the reader's head is spinning. The other half of the Duel Fish Codices and I were discussing one night the subject of writers that need an editor. The feeling was that some writers eventually get so big that editors let them have their way without much restraint. It seems that Willis, with her last two novels, has entered that category.
CROSSTALK, for all its faults, is a wonderful look at how our society is *over*connected. There are too many ways for people to be in touch, to share thoughts, to communicate. Willis is telling us that we are too connected, that people need a break, that the voices can be overwhelming and come at us like a torrential flood, and that maybe we just need to cut ourselves off from the world now and again. In that regard, Willis' message succeeds, and it ultimately makes this a better book. It's not a great book, it's not a good book. But it's okay, and sometimes that's good enough. [-jak]
[Interestingly, on the latest "Coode Street Podcast", both Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan listed CROSSTALK as [one of] the most disappointing book[s] of 2016. -ecl]
[And by the way, science fiction critic Gary K. Wolfe is not to be confused with science-fiction writer and Roger Rabbit creator Gary K. Wolf. -ecl]
Roman Names (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Cato in her MOBY DICK annotations in the 12/09/16 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
"Marcus" was Cato's praenomen, his "first name", as we might say. "Porcius" was his nomen, the name of his clan, more or less equivalent to his surname. "Cato" was his cognomen, and was the name he was known by, more like our family name. Cato also had a second cognomen, Uticensis ("of Utica", from a place he was associated with.) He would have been referred to formally as Marcus Porcius Cato, not Cato Marcus Porcius. Usually he would be addressed as or spoken of as Cato, to distinguish him from other Marcuses in the Porcius clan. Only family and close friends would have addressed him as Marcus. The same can be said of Marcus of the Junius clan, cognominated Brutus, and Gaius of the Julian clan, cognominated Caesar. But there were some exceptions: Caius Cassius Longinus was known as Cassius (at least in Plutarch and other contemporary sources). Women were usually known by the feminine of their clan name: thus Brutus's wife, daughter of Cato, was known as Porcia [Catonis]; and Caesar's 3rd wife was Calpurnia, daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesonius. [-sl]
[There will be a quiz on this next week. :-) -ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
TEXTOS CAUTIVOS/BORGES EN "EL HOGAR" by Jorge Luis Borges (in MISCELANEA, ISBN 978-84-9989-204-7) is the final section of the omnibus volume MISCELANEA.
Between 1935 and 1939, Jorge Luis Borges wrote a literary column for the magazine EL HOGAR. This included essays, mini-biographies, reviews, and snippets under the section heading "Of the Literary Life". In 1986, a selection of these columns was published by Tusquets as TEXTOS CAUTIVOS. In 2000, the *remaining* columns were published by Emece as BORGES EN EL HOGAR. In 2011, Debolsillo re- united the two, along with PROLOGOS; BORGES, ORAL; BIBLIOTECA PERSONAL. PROLOGOS; and BORGES EN EL SUR, in MISCELANEA. One wonders why the Emece edition did not include all the columns.
With these, as with the collections of his other non-fiction writings, one can see the breadth of his interests, and in particular, his willingness to include science fiction and fantasy as topics worthy of discussion. Among the authors whose books he covers are H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Franz Kafka, Ernest Bramah, Arthur Machen, and Lord Dunsany. We learn that Lord Dunsany was six feet, four inches tall, and the trenches from which he fought in World War I had all been dug to a depth of six feet. And we can also marvel at Borges's criticism of Stapledon as not having real characters (He says, "The purely novelesque of [LAST AND FIRST MEN]--dialogue, characters, personalizations--is less than mediocre."). We marvel at this, because Borges's fiction also tends to avoid fully-formed characters, or (often) characters at all.
But in addition to the authors familiar to American readers, Borges also reviews books less familiar (mostly because they were written in Spanish, or French, or German). For example, there is L'HOMME ELASTIQUE by Jacques Spitz, about a scientist who discovers how to shrink or expand human beings. Spitz also wrote LA AGONIA DEL GLOBO, in which the United States breaks off from the earth and forms its own planet.
Borges also has a long column on the "thinking machine" ("Ars magna", or in a simplified form, a "Llullian Circle") of Ramon Llull, and some of its descendents. Borges did not know of all of Llull's discoveries that pre-dated what we had thought were their first appearance; in 2001 manuscripts of Llull were found that revealed he had discovered the Borda count and the Condorcet criterion for elections (1299) long before Borda (1770) and Condorcet (18th century).
Borges talks about non-fiction books as well: books about relativity, the fourth dimension, and time. And to show that there is indeed nothing new under the sun, Borges describes how H. G. Wells disparaged the Koran (and 2 billion Muslims who respect it) in his SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD. In response, the Muslims of London gathered in their mosque, where the imam hurled a copy of A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD into the flames.
(I have to note here that the word for "flame" is "llama", but when I first read "ha arrojado a las llamas" I found myself why the imam was throwing it to a bunch of pack animals! However, it does make Monty Python"s "Cuidado! Llamas!" a lot less silly, since it can be interpreted as "Careful! Flames!") [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education. -- Bertrand RussellTweet
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