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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/16/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 33, Whole Number 2002
Table of Contents
That's the Way to Get Ratings (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I went to a McDonald's and afterward looked at the receipt. It has a message that began "Please Rate us HIGHLY SATISFIED & Receive One FREE Item with Purchase of Another Item Equal or Lesser Value". This makes them sound stupid on so many levels.
-- They have no idea where to capitalize.
-- I think they would insist the other item would be of greater, not lesser value.
-- They are missing an "of" before the word "Equal"
-- It is dishonest to reward only ratings of "HIGHLY SATISFIED".
English, she is a funny language. No? [-mrl]
Fire Birds (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the repeating themes in my column is animal intelligence. I guess that comes from my memories of the behavior of my dachshund when I was growing up as old Sam demonstrated to me that he could think in abstractions in a way that I did not think dogs were supposed to be able to do. I mark that one up to human vanity. Most humans never had much respect for canine intelligence, even claiming that a dog really had no intelligence. He (or she) was just a pile of conditioned reflexes. And more recently when they have studied dogs they have come back with funny expressions on their face claiming, "Wow! Do you know what intelligent things a dog can do?"
As Wikipedia says in their entry on dog intelligence, "Studies have shown that dogs display many behaviors associated with intelligence. They have advanced memory skills. For example, a border collie, 'Chaser', learned the names of over 1,000 objects and retrieved them by verbal command. Dogs can use such memory skill to make inferences, and a border collie named Rico learned the labels of over 200 items and then inferred the names of novel items by exclusion. That is, he identified and retrieved those novel items immediately and also 4 weeks after the initial exposure. " How many humans are there who can perform similar feats? The intelligence criteria has to be humorously and repeatedly revised because there has been some animal found in nature that can perform some mental feat that humans thought was their own private domain or beyond it.
Well, there recently was a new feat of animal intelligence that we had not dreamed any non-human would think of. This one is not exactly nice. We had thought at one time that animals did not forge tools. We now discover that birds may have discovered using fire tens of thousands of years ago. It seems black kites, whistling kites, and brown falcons had given some thought to using fire and had noticed that brushfires could work to their advantage. They will pick up twigs on fire, fly to some non-burning spot, and set it on fire. This will panic small local animals so that they throw caution to the winds (perhaps literally) and run from the fire. Guess what they find when they leave the brush? They are easily picked off by the avian arsonists who set the fire and who now can easily pick up the panicked prey.
This behavior is seen in the wilds of Australia where the Aborigines apparently have known about the behavior for what is probably tens of thousands of years. In fact, it seems that birds may well have been using fire as a tool for longer than humans have. There is no way of knowing whether it was humans or birds who started using fire first. But we still have the edge on birds. They use their twitter for only very limited communication, but we can use ours to start a nuclear war. [-mrl]
PERSEPOLIS RISING by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2017, Orbit, $28.00 hardback, 560pp., ISBN13 9780316521529) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Gwendolyn Karpierz):
One of the reasons I don't write book reviews very frequently is that I if I enjoy a book, I often have little to say about it besides 'I liked it' (and if I didn't like it, I probably didn't get very far into it). PERSEPOLIS RISING, the seventh book of James S.A. Corey's excellent Expanse series, is mostly in this vein. The Expanse books have a tendency to get better and better as the series progresses, and while I don't think I can say for sure that PERSEPOLIS RISING is better than BABYLON'S ASHES, it was at least as good.
There are just a couple of things I want to talk about--like how detailed this book is. Not detailed in the way "A Song of Ice and Fire", for example, is detailed: describing every dress or piece of armor in excruciating depth. Nor detailed in the way "The Wheel of Time" was detailed: building the world until there's barely room left for anything else. Not even detailed in the way most science fiction is detailed: intimately exploring how the science works as if it's a secret language that belongs only to a privileged few.
PERSEPOLIS RISING is detailed in a more human way.
Corey has an incredible affinity for character, and it comes out in the way the book zooms in on every individual and reminds us that they are nothing more or less than *people*. Ursula Le Guin in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS understood something about humanity as a whole; Corey in PERSEPOLIS RISING understands something about the individual and the way they move through life. They remember the little things--the way a spine cracks when you stretch, the need to keep your nails trimmed as some grasp of normalcy in an anxious world. These seem like pointless moments to focus on, they sound unnecessary, but they aren't. Every one of those tiny little reminders was like Corey saying, 'Remember, they're real.' You could know these people. You could live their lives. They may be shaping the course of the galaxy, but they're real.
The one letdown about this book was that, for once, this character development centered around not only the familiar crew of the Roci (primarily though not exclusively Holden and Bobbie), but also two mostly uninteresting people. Singh is an agent of the Laconian government, the new governor of Medina station, and though Corey seems to be trying to make him sympathetic by describing his attachment to his wife and child, the attempt falls flat. He is vastly uninteresting. He is the spitting image of every dedicated military man ever seen in a TV show: crew cut, immaculate uniform, unwavering belief in his government. The addition of his close relationship with wife and little girl only really serve to make him feel more stereotypical: Here he is with his clean-cut family to go with his clean-cut posture. I really didn't like reading his sections at all.
The other major viewpoint character is Drummer, president not of a military operation or a country, but a transport organization. She has to deal with the fallout of the Laconian invasion: trying to prevent it, trying to understand it. Her story is emotionally important, her trials genuinely sad to witness, but it was difficult to invest in her. The best part of her chapters was definitely the return of Chrisjen Avasarala, old as hell and still swearing up and down like a particularly vile sailor. She's blunt, she's a little bitter, and she always knows what to do. She is without a doubt the best character Corey--possibly anyone--has ever written, and if she dies in one of the last two books, even if just from old age, I will be completely inconsolable.
There's one more thing I want to address, and it goes along with the humanity of these characters. While the plot of invasion is throwing things into chaos, a smaller and more potent plot is revolving around the crew of the Rocinante. The crew is dividing, and watching every individual member of that crew react to loss... It really resonated with me on a visceral level. I don't like to spoil things in my reviews, so I won't say what's happening or why, though I want to. (Duelist Fish Joe doesn't share this holdup, so if you want to know, see his review.) It's an interesting dance of dealing with change on a personal level while still trying to save the galaxy, and Corey writes it beautifully, painfully well. [-gmk]
PERSEPOLIS RISING by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2017 Orbit, 560pp, ISBN-10: 0316332836, ISBN-13: 978-0316332835, ASIN: B06XKN9G27, copyright 2017 Recorded Books, 20 hours and 34 minutes, ASIN: B074XK7YWT, narrated by Jefferson Mays) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audio book review by Joe Karpierz):
I've been reading science fiction a fairly long time. I can't remember for sure which was the very first sf novel I read, but I can remember vividly reading the novelization of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by Arthur C. Clarke not long after the movie was released. I was nine years old when that movie came out, and I saw it three times in the theaters at that age. And because I've been reading sf a long time, I've read a *lot* of sf. But there was one thing I never understood. I would hear or read from many people that they couldn't wait for the next book in a particular series, that they were in love with characters who jumped off the page at them, and that they couldn't stand the long wait for the next book. I flat out never understood that attitude. A book is a book. The characters aren't real. There is nothing *that* engrossing about a book that a person can't wait for the next one in the series-- assuming there is a next book (ask readers of A Song of Ice and Fire; but I digress). To state for the third time, I never understood it.
Until now. Until The Expanse. Until James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Until Chrisjen Avasarala. Until Fred Johnson. Until. Until. Until.
PERSEPOLIS RISING is the 7th book in the "Expanse" series, and is the first book in the last trilogy of the series. With each book, the series gets better, the characters get deeper, the stories get stronger, the stakes get higher. "The Expanse" is an apt title for the series. It's big and keeps getting bigger all the time.
There's that word. Time. It passes for all of us. But not for our favorite characters. They don't age, or if they do, it's not substantially. Our favorite characters are the same 10 books into a series as they were in the first book of the series. Well yes, Harry Potter grew up, but he was going to school. He aged seven years. Miles Vorkosigan got older too. As did Hari Seldon. But some aging hits us harder than others. And it is that which makes this book the most touching and poignant (to swipe a word from the other half of the Duel Fish Codices) novel in the series to date, even with all the action, political intrigue, and espionage.
You see, PERSEPOLIS RISING takes place 30 years after the events of BABYLON'S ASHES. Things have settled down in the Solar System. We have a semblance of organization, what with the Earth-Mars Coalition and the Transport Union. Humanity has spread out past the Gates into the universe beyond. There are more than 1000 colony worlds out there, gaining their footing. Humanity is reaching for the stars. And James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are essentially hired hands, taking jobs for pay and flying the aging--yes space ships age too--Rocinante all over the place at the behest of the EMC and the Transport Union. There is ... peace and contentment. No, not all is good and right. There are still problems. But for the first time in decades, there are no major calamities or catastrophes that need to be handled. There is no need for ... James "effing" Holden (if you will) to come forward, do some grandstanding, and save the day and the Solar System.
And he's feeling his age. He's tired. He doesn't want to do the Rocinante thing any more. He and the crew will take one last run to the Freehold system to try and deal with that colony's violation of Transport Union's rules and guidelines. And then he and Naomi Nagata will retire somewhere. They arrange to sell their shares of the Rocinante so that when the Freehold run is over, they're done. They can retire and relax.
Oh, come on, you really didn't think it would be *that* easy, did you?
Out beyond the gate, on the colony of Laconia, Winston Duarte has slowly built an empire, an empire he intends on spreading to the rest of humanity. You see, Duarte's vision for humanity is peace and prosperity for all, and it is *his* empire that will provide it for mankind. And he thinks he will win. He has been having his body modified with protomolecule technology, and he's been building ships with protomolecule technology.
You remember the protomolecule, don't you? Yeah, that intelligent alien organism that would essentially trash anything it came in contact with, or transform it into something else. Yeah, *that* protomolecule. We haven't seen much of the protomolecule in the last few books, as Corey was busy setting everything else up for the final showdown that I absolutely, positively guarantee is going to come in book nine. Because, where there's a protomolecule, there's a race trying to destroy the users of it. But never mind that.
Duarte's army invades the colonies and the solar system via a ship that is made of and by protomolecule technology. It's unstoppable. There are other ships in the fleet, and Duarte installs Captain Santiago Singh as governor of Medina Station. Poor Captain Singh is way out of his depth. You see, he has to deal with the crew of the Rocinante and other rebels on Medina Station who are trying to take it back from him. And of course they're good. They're very good.
I don't want to give away much more of the story. I think that's for the reader to discover and savor. But I do want to talk about Holden just a bit. Holden has been our hero for the entirety of the series. Every time something goes wrong, Holden jumps in, does something Holden-esque, and saves the day. This book is not about James Holden. Yes, he plays a part in this book. Yes, he does something Holden-esque to help his friends in their quest to stop Singh and the Laconians. But it's not about him. It's about our heroes aging, and doing things one more time because they can, even if after all those years of doing that thing they know better and that they shouldn't do that thing. They can't help who they are. They just do it. It makes Holden genuine, even as every bone in his body creaks and makes noise. Heck, it makes everyone genuine. Bobbie Draper has a thought early on in the book: you know you're old when you stop doing things to prove that you're not. I don't know, does that mean Holden isn't old, because he does, one more time, something to prove he is not? Oh yeah, speaking of old. Any Avasarala fans out there? Yeah, I can see your hands in the air all the way to the back of the room. And you can squee just as loud as I did when she shows up the first time in PERSEPOLIS RISING. I said it in an earlier Expanse review, and I'll say it again. I will probably miss her more than any other character in the series once it's over.
This book hit me in a different way than I was expecting. Holden wants to retire. So do I. I've got a few years to go yet, but still, it made me think of my life and the things I've done over the nearly 37 years since I joined the adult workforce, and it made me realize that, like Holden, I still want to do things that matter. This book hit home. And I loved every minute of it. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to love the remaining two books in the series as well.
So, my goodness. What more can I say about narrator Jefferson Mays? His reading, tone, inflection, characters, *everything* are all outstanding. I will say that he does the best Avasarala in the world, even better than the actress that plays her on the TV show. And yes, I nearly drove off the road the first time her voice popped up in the reading. Come to think of it, not only will I miss Chrisjen Avasarala, I'm going to miss Jefferson Mays reading her. [-jak]
RAVEN STRATAGEM by Yoon Ha Lee (copyright 2017 Solaris, $9.99, 355pp, ISBN 978-1-78108-537-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
One of the biggest challenges in any genre, including science fiction, is keeping it new and fresh. That's a difficult thing; if one accepts the statement that Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN is the first science fiction novel, we realize that science fiction has now been around for 200 years. I'm not a scholar of the field by any means, but I'd be willing to state that the field really didn't pick up steam until the early 20th century. Even taking that into account, the idea of keeping science fiction fresh, new, and interesting is tough for a genre that has been going strong for well over a 100 years.
Back in 2016 Yoon Ha Lee gave the world RAVEN STRATAGEM, Book One of the Machineries of Empire. Yes, it was military space opera, which certainly wasn't new, but it had a different idea--that of, for the lack of a better term, calendrical mechanics-- which governed the way people lived their lives. As I said in my review of NINEFOX GAMBIT, "It is a way of life, a belief system, a way to hold moral fabric together. And it can be a weapon." With RAVEN STRATAGEM, we see Lee take that idea and ultimately change the way the world operates.
Mad Shuos Jedeo has taken over the body of Kel Cheris, a genius at mathematics who was having difficulties with formation instinct, a way of keeping things in order and focus, a way of getting things done. Think of always doing what you're told, always deferring to someone in authority. Jedeo/Cheris board the ship of Kel General Khiruev, who is about to go into battle to try and defeat the Hafn, who are trying to invade the Hexarchate. Jedeo is of higher rank than Khiruev, so formation instinct kicks in and she defers to him. Jedeo claims he is after the same thing that the rest of the Hexarchate is after: the defeat of the Hafn.
But no one knows if that's really true or not. There are factions within the Kel that are trying to kill Jedeo because he is indeed a rogue operative that they've lost control of and no longer want to deal with. He is a madman who has killed his own troops and they feel he can no longer be trusted. And yet, all signs point to him doing exactly what the Kel want anyway.
So, what's up with all that anyway?
The novel is much more complex than what I've described above. Really, all that is just a starting point for all the political intrigue and espionage that takes place. And yes, there's action, as you would think there should be in a military science fiction novel.
But what's really going on under the covers is much more insidious, and when the big reveal is made the reader almost has to stand up and take notice. The reveal not only involves a character we thought we were following all along, but a shift in the nature of the Hexarchate. I can tell you that I did not see it coming and I do so enjoy when a novel surprises me. Yet, the change is internally consistent and while it wasn't telegraphed by any means, I think that if you put the two novels together and recall what happens back in NINEFOX GAMBIT, you should have been able to see it coming.
So, yeah, keeping the genre fresh and interesting. Yoon Ha Lee has done that in the first two books of Machineries of Empire. I'm betting he can do it in the third as well, REVENANT GUN, which will be released later this year. I'm looking forward to seeing what he surprises me with next. [-jak]
7 Guardians of the Tomb (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In the first Chinese-Australian film co-production an ancient Chinese emperor guards the secret of immortality hidden in an underground cave and the emperor is guarded by an army of spiders bigger than a man's hand. Crawly things that guard a tomb go back at least as far as the 1999 version of THE MUMMY. This telling would be of above- average quality on the SyFy Channel and that is probably where it is heading. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
The film is entitled GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB. (It is also known as 7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB though there are not seven guardians.) Perhaps the title is intended to remind filmgoers of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. The title sounds like it promises a martial arts film, but there are no martial arts. It is not clear how martial arts would work in a giant spider movie. In the film, legend has it that a historic emperor had the secret of living hundreds of years. A young explorer is searching for the secret, but falls into heretofore-undiscovered cavern. Now he is missing, and his sister (played by Li Bingbing) wants to go find him. She is joined by, among others, Mason (Kelsey Grammer), the CEO of a large pharma corporation.
The small band of explorers enters into the extensive underground cave. One of their first discoveries is that the cave is inhabited by spiders as big as Moon Pies. And there are lots of them. Relatively recently there were also rats, but the spiders eliminated them and there are just dead rat carcasses cluttering up the floor. The spiders seem to be in some way connected with the elixir of long life. But if you want spiders, there is still no shortage of them. They are all over the caves. One friend who saw the film says it was "Go someplace. Fight spiders. Go someplace. Fight spiders. Go someplace. Fight spiders." The spiders are done in digital and they look it. The digital imagery has improved since the film was made evidently. It dates the imagery. Still, the effects are clearly newer than the plot of icky arthropods guarding sinister archeology. We saw that in THE MUMMY (1999). The dialog seems to be on the level of dialog in a SyFi Channel movie.
Film production from foreign countries used to put an American or Canadian into a film to give North American film viewers someone to identify with. That appears to be what was done here, but Grammer is an unusual choice. I associate him with comedy, so it is hard to take him seriously in a non-comedy. I doubt that he took much pride in his presence in this film. In addition, the film has been dubbed into English and by somebody with a very different voice. So he speaks English with an unfamiliar voice, and that just does not sound right.
The script creates only superficial characters and has very little to offer other than repetitive spider attacks. The film may be entertaining, but it does little more than that. The 7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB rates a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. Gravitas Ventures will release 7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on Feb. 23rd.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4915672/reference
What others are saying: https://tinyurl.com/asianfilmstrike-7guardians
THE MUSIC OF SILENCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a fictionalized autobiography of one of the most popular singers of all time, Andrea Bocelli. It is based on his semi-autobiographical novel, THE MUSIC OF SILENCE. The film is really a showcase not of characters in his life, but of music that Bocelli has loved. Only secondarily the music is tied together with a story based on Bocelli's life. While the film is telling of the singer's boyhood the film has direction. Once the singer grows up the storytelling becomes muddled. Michael Radford directs, but his effort is more to show off the music than to delve into the souls of his characters with much complexity. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Andrea Bocelli is one of the most popular singers in the world. Born nearly blind with eyesight that would fail entirely at age twelve, he learned to absolutely adore music. He sang as a child but gave up singing and only went back to it as a profession in the 1980s. He sings popular music and opera. He is now considered among the very finest singers in the world. Many people know of him from the popular song "Con Te Partiro" ("Time to Say Goodbye"). There is a link to the song on YouTube below. (It tends to be an earworm.) Curiously while this is Bocelli's signature melody, it is never played in the film until the very end of the end titles. To date, Bocelli has sold over 80 million records worldwide.
THE MUSIC OF SILENCE is a musical biography of Andrea Bocelli, based upon his autobiography. The musical biography is a form that has been with us at least since the 1940s when there were such bios as A SONG TO REMEMBER (1945) about Chopin and NIGHT AND DAY (1946) about Cole Porter. The biographical portion is generally just a frame for pieces of music (often by the supposed subject of the film). The accuracy of the framing story is usually of secondary importance. NIGHT AND Day's version of Cole Porter's life is miles wide of the mark--so much so the film bore almost no resemblance to DE-LOVELY (2004), a second biopic about Porter. THE MUSIC OF SILENCE is a semi-autobiographical story by Andrea Bocelli. The film is filled with music from Bocelli's career and his love of great music. The film has abundant pieces of music, especially from Puccini.
While I do not know specifics, undoubtedly the framing story has some of the rougher edges smoothed down. The film tells the story of Amos Bardi (played in the film as an adult by Toby Sebastian). Amos was born with severe glaucoma. We see the world through his eyes as just some blurry shapes. He cannot see visual beauty but he can hear great music. As a baby he cries almost all the time, but the one thing that will calm him is to hear opera music. His problems multiply when as a teenager he has a football accident and goes entirely blind. But his whole life from a baby to a young man is an on-again, off-again relation with music, singing music and making it. His curse is that he has a very good voice, but not what it would need to be great. Also hurting his career is that he refuses to submit to authority. He is his own man and lives his life that way.
While Amos is a young man the viewer wants to see him succeed. The film has direction. Later the story is not so keenly told. We see disagreements that Amos has with other people and betrayals. But we have lost investment in the character and will go along mostly for the musical pieces that come wrapped in the story. Take away the musical interludes and the film needs more to engage the viewer. The characters are thin and needed to be developed more.
Sadly, the greatness of the music is not enough to pull the viewer into the story. If one does not love the music the film loses all its appeal. I rate The MUSIC OF SILENCE a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3244786/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_music_of_silence
Andrea Bocelli singing "Con Te Partiro": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu8wn_OhvTk
THE MT VOID Issue 2000 and Mashed Potatoes (letter of comment by Bill Higgins):
In response to the MT VOID's 2000th issue (02/02/18), Bill Higgins writes:
Congratulations on reaching your 2000th issue! I took the liberty of notifying Mike Glyer about this milestone, as you know, and he published my letter on the *File 770* site.
Also, belated congratulations on reaching your 1000th issue. I fear I failed to send a note at the time it appeared, but better late than never, eh?
In Whole Number 2000 you write:
"Which I think makes it the second longest running personal zine, and the personal zine with the most issues, in science fiction fandom."
Another example of a long-running fanzine is A. Langley Searles's *Fantasy Commentator*, which ran from 1943 to 2004 (at least) but suffered a long hiatus between 1953 and 1978. One final volume, numbered as Issues 59 and 60, was published after Searles's death by his wife, Mary Alice Becker, in 2011.
So *Fantasy Commentator* was published for 68 years, or 61 years if you count only the years Searles himself was editing it, or 43 years if you're inclined to leave out the long hiatus. or some other number by some other scheme. In any case, it is among the longer-running zines in history.
If I understand correctly, Searles distributed it through FAPA, the Fantasy Amateur Press Association. As an apazine, one might or might not consider it comparable to *MT VOID*. It might be interesting to learn whether other long-running zines were published in FAPA.
Also in this issue, you shared The Illustration, which I admired. If a zine is going to run only a single illustration in the course of forty years, D. Kirby's "Sophists of Fury" seems like a good choice.
As for Mark's editorial--revisiting a topic he dealt with in the 1000th issue--I for one am sick and tired of this constant bickering about mashed potatoes. [-wh]
Exapno Mapcase (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on John Campbell's map in the 02/09/18 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I got a smile at the nom Exapno Mapcase. It clearly identifies the user as one who has read Joe Adamson's GROUCHO, HARPO, CHICO, AND SOMETIMES ZEPPO, a bio of the comedy team that is as much fun a watching one of their better movies. The book shows a poster for a Russian performance, and Harpo's name in Cyrillic is referred to by the author as, yes, Exapno Mapcase.
So whenever I run into someone online using that handle, I have to say, "I read that book too!" because it is one of the great ones, and I need to find a copy that's not falling to pieces. [-kw]
Scientists and Applications (letter of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt):
In response to Dale Skran's comments on immortal naked mole rats in the 02/09/16 issue of the MT VOID, Dorothy J. Heydt writes:
[Dale writes,] "Anyway, in my story Calico is dedicated to discovering the secret of immortality and funded by some of the richest people in the world, so they provide Dr. Bufferstein with all the funding she needs so she can just work and never has to fill out any grant applications. By the way, this is so unlikely you can be sure the story is made up, since as everyone knows, scientists spend 75% of their time filling out grant applications. ... In any case, I have good news. You, yes, YOU, can figure out for yourself how this story is going to end, because [SPOILER ALERT] every fact I have mentioned except one (scientists don't spend 75% of their time filling out grant applications, they just FEEL LIKE THEY DO!) is 100% true." [-dls]
I have some experience in that area. I used to work for a professor of molecular biology whose research was funded by a massive NIH grant. He was doing lots of good, interesting work, but he HATED doing the annual re-application.
He would put it off till the week before it was due, in spite of the woman whose job it was to put the budget part of the application together CONSTANTLY REMINDING him that time was getting short and she NEEDED SOME NUMBERS. Around the beginning of the last week, he would reluctantly provide her with some numbers, and then some more numbers, approaching the entire budget section like Achilles chasing the tortoise.
He would also reluctantly start writing up the text part of the application, which I would type, and then he'd change it, and I would edit it and print it out, and repeat from asterisk ... all week long. (Thank God I had a computer, at least; I had done similar tasks earlier in my career when we had only typewriters.)
On the last day, the VERY DAY of the deadline, the budget wallah and I would frantically make the last changes, and then he would make more changes, and ...
and by the time it was DONE, the FedEx guy who always came by the office at 4 PM would have come and gone, and the professor himself would bundle up the package and drive it down to the main FedEx station in Oakland to get it in under the wire.
He always got his renewal. He was, as I said, a very good scientist; not so much as a human being. I finally quit working for him, and for years afterwards I would have nightmares in which I was still working for him, or was in the building where his lab was and might possibly run into him, and awaken in a cold sweat. He died sometime in the 1990s, and after I found that out I never had the nightmares again. [-djh]
Mashed Potatoes (letter of comment by Robert K. Shull, Joy Beeson, Jay E. Morris, Scott Dorsey, Dorothy J. Heydt. and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Keith F. Lynch's comments on mashed potatoes in the 02/09/18 issue of the MT VOID, Robert K. Shull writes:
Possibly you've assumed that the name of a dish is a complete description of the preparation process and ingredients?
While "mashed potato" does generally contain some potato and involve some mashing, that's about the limit of what can be assumed. Also, the potato is generally cooked, which makes the mashing process easier.
Actually, I'm not so sure about the "mashing" part as I've seen mashed potato that was not so much "mashed" as "whipped". Possibly that counts as "extreme mashing".
I don't think I've ever had mashed potato that didn't contain some potato, although I wouldn't be surprised if there are some non- potato mashed potato dishes out there for people that can't tolerate potato.
(My personal recipe for mashed potato only requires mashing half the potato, adding the rest as chunks at the end, and gets milk, butter, salt and pepper involved in the middle stages of the game. My mother-in-law's version involved potato being used primarily as a delivery mechanism for fat in the form of butter, half-and-half and cream cheese.) [-rks]
Joy Beeson responds:
I once read a post by someone who got all excited and offended at the pretension of writing "whipped potatoes" on a menu.
That wasn't pretension, it was truth in advertising: mashed potatoes and whipped potatoes are very little alike, and for a restaurant, mashing is much more expensive.
Reconstituted dried potato ought to be called "potato puree", but we've settled on "mashed potatoes" for all three dishes.
But if you beat an egg in and bake it, it's "Potatoes Duchesse". [-jb]
Jay Morris also responds:
My mother had two recipes. Mashed done with a potato masher, which had chunks, and would usually contain bacon bits, chives, and cheese. And whipped, which was done with a mixer until smooth and contained cream or milk, and butter. [-jem]
Scott Dorsey replies:
Remember: One part potato, two parts garlic! [-sed]
To which Dorothy J. Heydt says:
Do it the other way around, and I would want to eat it. Can't, because carbohydrates, but it's the principle of the thing. [-djh]
If you have a problem with carbohydrate, use cauliflower instead of potato. It works out very nicely. Add nigella and a little garam masala if desired. [-sd]
We do eat cauliflower occasionally, but I've never tried mashing it. I don't own a blender at this time. My daughter does, but since it is a gigantic Vitamix that takes a lot of cleaning after use, I only use it once a year, to make almond milk. [-djh]
Keith Lynch asks:
You make a year's supply? :-) [-kfl]
I hardly ever use my stick blender, and it's comparatively easy to clean: just stick the business end into soapy water and turn it on. I plan to use it a lot come summer to puree raw ginger for switchel, assuming the store that sells raw ginger hasn't gone broke by then. They have fewer choices and smaller quantities in the fresh-producedisplay every time I visit.
A blender would puree cauliflower instead of mashing it. If I wanted that dish, I'd use my ulu and chopping bowl.
(It's actually a kraut cutter, but it's curved and has one handle spanning both ends; looks like an ulu to me.) [-jb]
My daughter has a mezzaluna and a chopping bowl, but I don't have the musculature to get much done with that. [-djh]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Given how wildly successful his book THE MARTIAN has been, ARTEMIS by Andy Weir (ISBN 978-0-553-44812-2) has been eagerly awaited. However, as is common with most authors whose first book was a smash, this second book is disappointing. But even if it were not being compared to THE MARTIAN, it would still be disappointing.
The main problem, as I see it, is that while Andy Weir can write a character who is a white male science nerd (actually, in THE MARTIAN almost all the main characters are science nerds), he does not do a very good job of writing a Muslim woman smuggler. (And for that matter, Rosario Dawson does not do a very convincing job of portraying one on the audiobook.) Because ARTEMIS is told entirely in the first person, this is a major problem, making everything sound false.
Another problem with second novels (other than unreasonably high expectations) is that quirks of language or attitude that you attribute to individual characters in the first novel can turn out to be representative of the author. If this is the case, one starts looking at them with a different eye.
For example, in THE MARTIAN Mark Watney says, "So far the rover and my ghetto life support are working admirably." His use of the word "ghetto" as an adjective in this sense seems to tell the reader something about Watney, but when Jazz Bashara refers to "a ghetto airlock," the reader realizes that it is not saying anything about Wayney or Bashara, but about Weir. (This is re-affirmed when one reads an interview with Weir in which he says of his website, "It's a very ghetto website.")
And I had some quibbles with the science.
And what's with "little girl" stuff? In THE MARTIAN, when he was pulled into the airlock with two broken ribs, Watney says, "I muted my mic and screamed like a little girl." In ARTEMIS, Jazz says at one point, "I giggled like a little girl." (She then notes that she *is* a girl, but even if we accept that she thinks of herself as a girl rather than a woman, she is not a *little* girl.
And a science quibble: Weir writes, "Before the temperature could get up to the patch's melting point of 1530 C, everything that could melt at a lower temperature had to melt first. And the melting point of the smelter walls was 1450 C. So, even though the patch was thin and the smelter was thick, the bottom of the smelter would give out before the patch got anywhere near its melting point. Don't believe me? Put ice water in a saucepan and cook it. The water temperature will stay at 0 C until the last ice cube melts."
This assumes perfect heat conductivity. In fact if you put ice water in a saucepan and cook it (presumably on a stove burner), the water in the bottom will get hot while the top still stays cool. For that matter, when a pond freezes the top freezes while the water below is warm enough to stay liquid and support life.
It seems as though every time I read or listen to THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir (ISBN 978-0-553-41802-6), I find more things to question.
"I have about 1500 hours worth of CO2 filters." At the expected 4 hours per person-day, they would have needed 4*30*6, or 720 hours worth, so they have a 100% margin, and Watney has enough for 4 hours a day for 375 days. (Watney uses "days", so I will also, even though they are technically sols.) He stays for 549 days, and does not seem to run out, so he must have averaged about 3 hours a day. Actually, if the first six days of the mission had them using filters at the expected rate, Watney actually had only an average of 2-1/3 hours a day for the remainder of his stay. Given the amount of time for EVAs to search for the array, dig up dirt, repair the Hab, modify the rovers, send messages, and clean the solar cells, this sounds low.
It apparently sounded low to Weir as well, since by Sol 69, he has Watney modify his statement, saying "I started this great adventure with 1500 hours of CO2 filters, plus another 720 for emergency use." This is an increase of almost 50%, and would have given the original crew enough for 12 hours a day each! Watney claims to have used 131 hours, leaving 2089, or enough 87 days' worth, which is says is plenty. Clearly the arithmetic indicates that he means that the original team and he have used 131 hours (else the 2089 figure is wrong). But it must be wrong, because if a team of 6 for 6 days and an individual for 63 days used only 131 hours, then each person would average only about 1-1/3 hours a day, and Watney has certainly been doing more than this. Even if he means he has used 131 hours in 63 days, that's still only a couple of hours a day.
In any case, the 87 days' worth (or whatever the number would be) does not mean enough to last him 87 days at his current rate, but is simply the conversion of 2089 hours to days.
If the team used 144 hours in 6 days, then Watney started day 7 with 2076 hours. If he used 131 hours in 63 days, then he is using roughly 2 hours a day and should have enough filters to last him about 1000 days. As noted above, this sounds like a low usage rate, but there is enough for him to last the 549 days even at twice that rate.
One thing I think I noticed before but have not commented on is how at some point Weir seems to have decided that he did not want to continue with the same level of detail he had been maintaining, so Watney's log jumps first from Sol 211 to Sol 376, and then from Sol 389 to Sol 431. That's basically six months the first time and a month and a half the second. For those following all the minutiae of Watney's converting the rovers, this is rather disappointing.
The geometry of Watney's avoidance of the storm is wrong. He finds himself at the western edge of what he assumes is a circular storm that is traveling west. He determines that the storm is weaker to the south, so heads south with the plan of going around it. When he gets to a point where he is out of the storm (based on solar cell efficiency), he says, "With the storm moving perpendicular to my direction of travel, it means I'm south of the southernmost point of the cloud (presuming it's a circular storm...). I can go directly toward Schiaparelli, [which] is almost due east" But that is not necessarily true. If the *center* of the storm was now directly north of him, yes, but assume it isn't, and also assume it has not moved so fast as to be completely past him. On a Cartesian plane with the current center of the storm at (0,0) and a radius of 1, Watney could be at (-.8, -.8), be completely out of the storm, and yet re-enter the storm by going due east.
Where is Watney going to sleep on Hermes? Martinez has already abandoned his room because of the heat leak, and says Watney's is no better. He was sleeping in an airlock because that was the only place left until Lewis had Beck and Johanssen double up. But that only worked because they were a couple and Johanssen was very small. I'm sure after the rover and the pop tent, Watney won't mind sleeping in a small space, but it seems like the problem was that there was no place not in everyone's way. (Although I would think "the Rec" would be out of people's way at night, which is when he would be sleeping.)
To summarize what I have commented on before:
05/27/2016: How were the laptops transported to the Hab without having the LCD display "either freeze or boil off," and how did they survive the Hab decompression? Similarly, what about the potatoes?
05/27/2016: How does he put his helmet on (and later take it off) in his one-armed suit?
05/27/2016: The geometry of the roll-over seems wrong; doesn't the trailer end up pointing in the wrong direction?
06/02/2017: Watney first says there's no air conditioning in the Hab," but later says, "I can lower the Hab temperature to 1-degree C..."
06/02/2017: Watney says nothing in the Hab can burn, but later talks about the paper that he has, which he uses for messages, a funnel, and a model. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to. --Joe GoresTweet
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