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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/21/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 34, Whole Number 2107
Table of Contents
The Bishop of the Moon (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Bishop William D. Borders, who was bishop of the Orlando diocese from 1968 to 1974, claimed that "according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law (in effect at that time) any newly discovered territory was placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese from which the expedition which discovered that territory left. Since Cape Canaveral, launching site for the Apollo moon missions was in Brevard County and part of the Diocese of Orlando, then in addition to being bishop of 13 counties he was also bishop of the moon!" [ https://www.orlandodiocese.org/remembering-the-bishop-of-the-moon-2/].
At over 14,000,000 square miles, that would make the Orlando diocese the largest Catholic diocese ... I was going to say "in the world", but I guess that wouldn't really be accurate. [-ecl]
Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This will conclude the comments on 1944 films eligible for the Retro Hugos this year.
Short Form (Part 2):
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN: Universal made some of the great monster movies starting with DRACULA (1930), but by 1943 the formula was getting tired. It occurred to Universal that a story with two monsters might attract audiences better than one with one, so they made FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Two monsters did indeed help to revive the market. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN did just that. They herded a bunch of monsters in one script. It had Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, and they introduced a new "monster", a pitiable hunchback. And they got Boris Karloff to appear again in a canonical monster film for the first time since SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Dracula almost has his own second (albeit weak) story. Audience members who came expecting to see monsters fight each other will be disappointed. No two monsters are ever in the same scene when both are conscious.
THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE: This was late in Universal's "Invisible Man" series. Jon Hall plays a revenge-minded adventurer who was swindled by his partners and left for dead in the jungle. He stumbles on a scientist re-discovering the invisibility formula. This film was made eleven years after Universal made its first "Invisible Man" film and it used just the same photographic effects. There is very little progress in the visual effects or the story-telling. [Could be Long Form.]
JUNGLE WOMAN: This is unique among Universal's horror series in that it is the only series composed entirely of bombs: CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, JUNGLE CAPTIVE, and JUNGLE WOMAN. In this one, a gorilla has been vivisected to become a very near copy of a human woman.
THE LADY AND THE MONSTER: This was the first of three film adaptations of Curt Siodmak's novel DONOVAN'S BRAIN (THE LADY AND THE MONSTER (1944), DONOVAN'S BRAIN (1953), and THE BRAIN (1962). A powerful but criminal industrialist has his brain kept alive after the rest of him dies. The brain can dominate the scientist who is keeping him alive.
THE LODGER: This is director Edgar G. Ulmer's version of Jack the Ripper. Ulmer specialized in dramas very dark in tone. This is his remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent version. All of London is terrified by the Jack the Ripper murders. Laird Cregar plays the man suspected of being the Ripper Murderer who no doubt has deep psychological problems, Ripper or not. [Could be Long Form.]
RETURN OF THE APE MAN: There was a previous Poverty Row film entitled THE APE MAN. It had nothing to do with RETURN OF THE APE MAN. In RETURN OF THE APE MAN a prehistoric man is thawed out of ice and freed into our world.
THE SOUL OF A MONSTER: In this film a great doctor becomes a national hero for his great feats of healing, but he can only do so with the help of dark forces. This film borrows heavily from Val Lewton's bag of suspense tricks and odd camera angles. It also gives some feel of Universal's horror films.
VOODOO MAN: Mad scientist played by Bela Lugosi rearranges road landmarks to trap passing motorists to make them test subjects. Lugosi uses pseudo-science and voodoo to resurrect his wife. This is wackier than most Lugosi outings, with a lot of different ideas thrown together to make this story. There is even a bit of stop-motion animation thrown into the pot and stirred.
WEIRD WOMAN: None of Universal's "Inner Sanctum" mysteries, of which this is one, rises above low mediocre. This is the best "Inner Sanctum" mystery of the lot. That is at least in part because it is based on Fritz Leiber's horror novel CONJURE WIFE. I recommend instead the 1962 remake, NIGHT OF THE EAGLE, a.k.a. BURN WITCH BURN.
In my introduction to this series of articles I promised the reader to reveal which two films I considered to be genuine classics. When I was first becoming a horror film fan I was not quite sure what to make of CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE. There are certainly and its well-rounded commentary on children and imagination. I still am not quite sure what Val Lewton was saying, but it has enough to keep me guessing. Lewton deserves veneration after all the years. And the film most easily appreciated is THE UNINVITED. Those two were the best fantasy films of 1944 in my opinion. [-mrl]
Is Space Settlement/Colonization a Terrible Idea? (comments by Dale Skran):
Usually the best practice among space advocates is to ignore anti-space settlement arguments, which are almost always not new, and focus on positive advocacy for space settlement. But every once in a while, a new anti-space settlement idea comes along with the potential to convince a lot of people that developing and settling space is a really bad idea.
The newest anti-settlement argument comes from philosophers, notably Phil Torres ( https://filling-space.com/2019/06/14/should-humans-stay-on-earth/) and Daniel Deudney (DARK SKIES). There are three components to the argument:
The net result of these three situations will be endless existential warfare with super-weapons on an interstellar scale, creating a significant risk of extinction for many branches of humanity. Torres concludes that perhaps it would be better to avoid space settlement to minimize these risks.
THE XENOPHOBE FACTION
The first point is a neat judo against one of O'Neill's stronger arguments for space settlement, namely that it would allow for "infinite diversity in infinite dimensions." Each political, ethnic, religious, or ideological group would be free to live as they please and to mold their future to their liking, including via genetic engineering. The argument being made is that as the process of differentiation occurs, it will become virtually certain that somewhere a divergent group goes "insane/paranoid" and embarks on a galactic scale preventive attack to avoid being attacked itself.
For this scenario to be a real concern, it has to be possible for a lone divergent group to mount a threatening attack on a galactic scale. There are two main ways this could be implemented:
The main difficulty with both of these approaches is that as the exterminating attack spreads out, divergence will inevitably occur over long periods of time, and due to speed of light limitations, the periods of time will indeed be long. Thus, the "berserkers" or the "attack fleets" will factionate, and in time go to war with each other. The net result will be that the paranoid, xenophobic war of universal extermination will probably not be all that successful at exterminating all divergent views, although vast destruction would surely occur.
Suppose the "xenophobes" focus on more simple weapons--relativistic impact weapons. The notion here is that an attack at high fractions of "c" will be more or less unstoppable, and also will arrive with minimal warning. This kind of thinking seems to suppose divergent branches of humanity living on planets, but a more likely scenario is that many solar systems will be transformed into a vast sphere of variants on O'Neil colonies. With millions of relatively small targets distributed over an enormous volume of space, even large numbers of relativistic kinetic weapons may have little impact on the target civilization. When we add the consideration that divergent branches may develop hard backups for their minds, and distribute them in space, the impact of even a large-scale relativistic attack may be hard to notice.
For an interstellar war of extermination to be more effective, the "xenophobes" would need to develop "sun bombs" that can make stars go Nova ( https://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=34277). But even here we can imagine swarms of space colonies simply moving outward from the sun to safe distance, and then gathering closer around the resulting white dwarf. The fundamental point is that although a single free-space colony is relatively vulnerable, a solar system with millions of free-space colonies is quite robust due to their distribution and ability to move. And they become more robust with "hard backups" of soft lifeforms. Finally, if each divergent branch fully occupies all niches in each solar system, including the local equivalent of the Ort Cloud and the Kepler Belt, it becomes more and more difficult to understand exactly how an exterminating attack could be effective.
One can go on and consider bigger and better interstellar weapons (directed quasar blasts? targeted super-novas?) but with less and less plausibility. Torres and Deudney are really into E. E. "Doc" Smith territory here, something I find ironic. At some point it becomes obvious that Torres and Deudney are using an extreme variation of the precautionary principle--if there is even a one -in-a-billion chance of the construction of cosmic super-weapons, we should stay at home and avoid settling space. At the same time, Torres and Deudney are implicitly being very optimistic about humanities ability to survive a wide range of existential dangers without space settlement. There is no rational basis to be super-pessimistic in one direction and super-optimistic in another.
There is a monumental hole in Torres' argument, however. Torres is basing his thinking on the idea that humanity is alone in the universe, or at least the galaxy. Thus, the only danger to humanity comes from within--the possibility that a xenophobe branch of humanity will embark on galactic war of extermination. Although arguments can be made that intelligent life is rare, the ground truth is that we just don't know. In the absence of informative priors, Baysian logic would assign a 50/50 value to this proposition. Viewed this way, there is a 50% chance that the only real long-term danger to humanity is humanity. However, there is a 50% chance that humanity is not alone, and some real chance that a xenophobe alien race has ALREADY embarked on a galactic war of extermination. If this is the case, the only hope humanity has is the most rapid possible development of space settlement on the largest possible scale.
THE LEVIATHAN & INTERSTELLAR DETERRENCE
Now let's consider whether an interstellar "leviathan" or "police force" is in fact impossible. It is certainly hard to imagine how a young race could establish any kind of "law enforcement" on an interstellar scale. Torres suggests that speed of light limits will prevent any kind of organized response to a xenophobic faction. This might be true if one imagines a "space patrol" [more Doc Smith here!] racing to contain the "bad guys." Clearly, any real leviathan will not operate like characters in a Saturday morning TV show.
I would like to suggest a physically realistic approaches to building a leviathan on a galactic scale, but first let's see how the leviathan relates to interstellar deterrence. Torres believes that deterrence will not work on an interstellar basis since you will never know where an attack is coming from, and thus will be unable to retaliate.
As it turns out, my proposal for an interstellar leviathan solves both issues. We would require that each interstellar settlement expedition would agree, in advance, to do certain things:
With such a "leviathan" network in place, mutually assured destruction would be a meaningful policy since the local "leviathan stations" can respond to attacks without direction from the homeworld. This system has the additional advantage of creating a defensive shield on the outskirts of every solar system with a colony that would work together to repel a xenophobe attack. Such defensive actions might not always succeed, but at a minimum, they would give warning via the galactic internet. I submit that the existence of such a system would greatly reduce the probability of a xenophobe faction arising in the first place. Should we encounter alien races, the potential exists of including them in the leviathan system. There may be other, better solutions to the challenges raised by Torres but this approach seems workable.
This system would work very well in the context of space settlers spreading out from Earth since technology levels among all parties would be relatively similar. It would work less well if we encounter alien races much in advance of our own. If we encounter a very old xenophobe race, we are probably doomed. These would be sad events, but are not arguments against settling space.
SETTLEMENT IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM
Torres' last two arguments have less salience when applied to the solar system. Distances are much less, there are only so many places an attack can come from, it is more possible to retaliate against an attack, and so on.
There is at least a possibility that a xenophobe faction might arise on a solar system scale, but they would have more difficulty carrying out massive exterminating attacks. By definition such a faction would be tiny compared to the combined resources of the settled solar system, limiting the scope of potential attacks. And even a sun-destroying attack would have limited impact on a fully settled solar system.
Settling the solar system would protect humanity from a wide range of existential threats, which suggests we first settle the solar system, and then have a discussion about Torres again as we debate where to found the first interstellar colony. In particular, space settlement would protect the human species against the destruction of Earth by a xenophobic faction that arises on Earth, perhaps via genetic engineering as envisioned in HACKING DARWIN by Jamie Metzl.
Concluding Note: I encourage comments/discussion from the readers of the MT VOID, and especially hope that Greg Benford has some thoughts. [-dls]
AGENCY by William Gibson (copyright 2020, Berkley, 413pp, ASIN: B072NXSB14, ISBN-10: 110198693X, ISBN-13: 978-1101986936) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
AGENCY, the latest novel by William Gibson, is being billed, at least by Amazon, as "Book 2 of 2 in the Peripheral Series". I might call this "Book 2 of X in the Peripheral Universe", because how can you call anything a series in which the stories don't necessarily follow one from the other, whether as a prequel or a sequel? Also, given the concept of a stub--a past timeline doesn't exist until it's created--an essentially unlimited number of stories can be written because Gibson can come up with as many stubs as he wants to as long as he wants to keep writing in the universe he created in The Peripheral, which means it's a "universe (multi-verse?)" and not a "series".
I'm not quite sure whether I'm correct, but near as I can remember AGENCY was delayed for quite a while, and I believe Gibson alludes to this in the Acknowledgements section of the book. While the reasons are never stated, it wouldn't surprise me that the delay was due to his reworking of the stub that is the one of the timelines of this book. AGENCY deals with a stub from the year 2017, a stub in which Donald Trump was not elected president, but that a woman was (not named Hillary Clinton, by the way). The stub is on the brink of a nuclear war, and our protagonists (at least one of which was part of THE PERIPHERAL) are keeping an eye on it.
In 2017, Verity Jane, an "app whisperer", is hired to beta test a new product which turns out to be an AI that can only be accessed through a pair of glasses. The AI is named Eunice--although its real name is an acronym that just *sounds* like Eunice--and she is smarter and more powerful than Verity's employers know. Meanwhile, in Verity's future--well, not her future exactly, but later up the timeline from her, Wilf Netherton and his boss Lowbeer (especially Lowbeer, and really only Lowbeer--it's complicated) are nudging Verity's stub in a direction away from the nuclear devastation that is her stub's own Jackpot--the apocalyptic event that devastated Lowbeer's and Netherton's timeline. It is clear that Eunice has something to do with the whole thing, but she has disappeared. So just what is going on?
So, what does the title of the book have to do with anything? A little Googling found this: "In social science, agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices."
Ah hah. So, agency here *might* refer to Eunice's ability to make her own decisions and her own choices. It also *might* refer to the 2017 stub being able to work its way out of the mess its in, with--or without--Eunice's help. It also *might* refer to the 2017 stub being nudged about by Lowbeer, and thus *not* having agency. It's really quite complicated.
As I mentioned in my review of The Peripheral, I've not read a lot of Gibson, and in fact I have yet to read NEUROMANCER. What I can tell you is that Gibson is consistent in his writings about wealth and power not necessarily being a good thing. As with THE PERIPHERAL, and his other novels that I have read, he is not afraid to delve into politics and the messages he can send about politics and power. AGENCY is no exception.
Make no mistake, AGENCY is a pretty good book. I just don't think it's as good as THE PERIPHERAL. That novel introduced a bunch of new concepts that made the story fascinating and fresh. AGENCY introduces a powerful AI--as depicted on the cover of the book--but I don't think uses her to her full capacity. She disappears for a large part of the novel. Maybe that's because Gibson is trying to give agency to the rest of his characters to do their thing in the book without an all-powerful AI exerting its influence. That's okay, but the reader gets the impression that the story is about the AI gaining and using its agency. And maybe it is, but instead of being a central character in the novel she turns into just another piece of the puzzle.
And maybe AGENCY is the dreaded middle book of a trilogy. But, going back to an earlier point, is it a series, or is it a universe. If it's a series, it's difficult to see a beginning and end to an overall arc. If it's a universe, I'm not sure it should go on indefinitely. That's not Gibson's style. Nor should it be. Still, AGENCY is worth your time. It's still Gibson, and who knows how many more books we'll get from him?
Now I really need to go and find NEUROMANCER and get on that. [-jak]
Temperature Puzzle Answer (sent by Tom Russell; letters of comment by John Sloan and Keith F. Lynch):
Last week, Tom Russell wrote:
There is a certain weather-reporting system which includes temperature-sensing devices and temperature-displaying devices. The display devices show the temperature as an integer number of degrees Fahrenheit. The sensors are much more precise; the display devices round off the input from the sensors.
When I checked the temperature yesterday for a place we had visited this past September, I thought, "Aha, interesting: the actual temperature must be just slightly below what is displayed." What was displayed? [-tr]
The answer is "-0". [-tr]
In response to Tom's puzzle, John Sloan wrotes:
Temperature puzzle: -0 was displayed.
I saw something similar with the GPS app on my iPhone while standing on the GPS Meridian (which is about a hundred yards from the Prime Meridian near London). By walking just a few steps east or west I could change the displayed longitude back and forth between zero degrees "East" and zero degrees "West", the fractional seconds having been truncated. [-js]
[Keith F. Lynch also sent in the correct answer. -ecl]
Rude Words and Euphemisms (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to comments on "arse" by Paul Dormer and Dorothy J. Heydt in the 02/07/20 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
Actually, "arse" is from the Old English (and ultimately Indo-European) word for "buttocks", and is related to the old Greek "orrhos" or "orros", which meant the same thing (cf. "ouros", Gk. for "tail"). The use of "ass" (which is from some non-Indo-European language via Latin) for "arse" is partly a euphemism, and partly due to the fact that, particularly in British English, the /r/-sound tends to disappear (cf. "horse" and "hoss", for example, or "parcel" and "passel"). But the word "ass" for the animal has been so affected by the "backside" meaning that it has been pretty much replaced by "donkey" or "burro". In the same way, "cock" has been replaced by "rooster", and "coney" has been replaced by "rabbit". On the other hand, in certain varieties of Pidgin English, the word for a building's foundation is "as bilong haus" (arse belong house). So euphemism sometimes works both ways. [-sl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
On the Coode Street Podcast recently, Gary K. Wolfe said, "I'm actually old enough to have been excited about new Ray Bradbury books coming out before the new Ray Bradbury books that were coming out weren't the ones that you got excited about, which happened after a while." Later Wolfe talked about reading five Jim Butcher "Dresden" novels and then deciding that while he enjoyed them, he did not need to continue (he could see where they were going, he got the point, whatever). This, and similar comments about other long series (yes, I mean you, Robert Jordan), led me to the realization that much as I like Terry Pratchett, I do not have to read all the Discworld novels. (Pratchett was another example Wolfe gave, though more about his non-Discworld books.)
THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood (Anchor, ISBN 978-0-385-49081-8) was chosen for both my local science fiction discussion group and the film-and-book group in a nearby town. I had read the book when it came out in 1985 and seen the movie when it came out in 1990, but had not read or watched them since, nor seen the television series at all.
There were a couple of details about the movie worth noting. One, the budget was so low that the costume department had only about $60 per costume, which is not much at all. So the majority of the women's costumes were simple shifts in the named colors, and the handmaids had plain veils rather than elaborate headdresses with wings. The other is that the movie was very careful to avoid offending Christians. The society was based explicitly on "the Old Testament" (I guess they didn't care about offending Jews), the symbology contained no crosses, and one of the guerilla groups opposed to them was a Baptist group. (The last is also true in the book.) Apparently the series is less worried, and hence more explicit, about Gilead being a *Christian* society. At one point, the narrator cites a modification of Marx's famous slogan, "From each according to her ability; to each according to his needs," and attributes it to St. Paul, in the Book of Acts, a New Testament book. (Note the subtle modification: the women have to contribute, but the men are those who reap the benefits.)
The book is also much more explicit about why Serena Joy may be more resentful of her situation than others. She used to be a television preacher of sorts: "Her speeches were of the home, about how women should stay home. Serena Joy didn't do this herself, she made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all." But after the creation of Gilead "she doesn't make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she's been taken at her word."
And one thing Atwood says that often gets overlooked in real life is, "Better never means better for everyone; it always means worse for some." People trying to design utopias, or even just pass laws to "improve things" need to keep this in mind. Prohibiting murder makes things worse for would-be murderers, but this is probably a good thing. A flat income tax, on the other hand, makes things worse for low-income families, and this is probably not a good thing. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There is no faith which has never yet been broken except that of a truly faithful dog. --Konrad LorenzTweet
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