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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 05/08/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 45, Whole Number 2118
Table of Contents
Eggs My Way (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is desperately important when you are walking a tightrope that you do not look down. You put one foot in front of the other and you keep walking. You restrict your reality to just you and the tightrope. If your reality includes the ground beneath you, just the knowledge that it is there can defeat you. I had this morning one of those disastrous experiences. I looked at the ground--well, not literally. I am speaking figuratively. Every day I walk various figurative tightropes in which it is imperative that I do not look at the symbolic ground or I might fall on my metaphorical face.
What happened was that I "looked down" both figuratively and literally while I was eating my breakfast. In my younger days I liked to put catsup on my eggs to liven them up. Later, when I discovered the joys of Tabasco sauce, I would put catsup and Tabasco on my eggs. This disgusted my mother, for whom a spicy dish was one that had a little black pepper that had been ground the previous year. And of all the hot spices, black pepper is one of the least interesting and, if it is not freshly ground, you may as well forget it. Spiciness in our house ran the whole range from foods as bland as cream of wheat all the way up to foods as spicy as cream of wheat with a teaspoon of sugar. My mother, I think, confused the concepts of "piquant" and "carcinogenic."
When my mother saw me putting catsup and Tabasco on my morning eggs her reaction was much the same as it would have been if I were putting flea powder on my spaghetti. "Actually there is a Mexican dish that is hot sauce on eggs," I bluffed. "Not for breakfast," she replied with a certainty that came from never having heard of such a dish. My mother bluffs well, too. "Yes, it is! They have it for breakfast," I lied. Years later I first heard of Huevos Rancheros and discovered I had made a lucky guess. In fact, when we went to Mexico (and later Puerto Rico) that was my preferred breakfast for the first half of the trip. Then halfway through the trip I developed virtually simultaneously a taste for cream of wheat and a case of Montezuma's Revenge.
Well, I'm recovered from that now, and I still like a spicy sauce on eggs, but now I am concerned about silly things like cholesterol. Now if you are watching what you eat and are clever about it, you don't have to sacrifice flavor. You just have to look for things of roughly the same flavor. An omelet is loaded with cholesterol and yet it has very little flavor. What it really contributes to a dish is a sort of a patty of a certain chewy texture. I can create a nearly similar flavorless, chewy patty out of oatmeal. I just take three coffee scoops of raw oatmeal, just enough water to dampen thoroughly, and microwave for 90 seconds. Then I douse it in catsup (that has a bit too much sugar perhaps but it otherwise is reasonably virtuous), and throw on the Tabasco (a little too much sodium but not a whole lot either).
So there I was. For a week I was enjoying something pretty close to the great taste of my beloved Huevos Rancheros and at the same time I felt reasonably virtuous. I was proud of my cleverness and of my ability to eat a healthy breakfast that at the same time tasted pretty good. Even if it wasn't Huevos Rancheros, it was virtually the same great flavor I'd learned to love. I was walking my figurative tightrope and impressing the metaphorical crowd. Then today I looked down, realized I'd been eating catsup and Tabasco sauce on oatmeal, and threw up.
(This is a shout-out to friend and former supervisor John Palframan. I have in the past discussed some of this material with him.) [-mrl]
Day of the Animals Redux (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
And in our continuing coverage of the "Day of the Animals" (though it's more like the "Year of the Animals"), we have good news and we have bad news:
The good news:
"Rome's seagulls hunt rats and pigeons as lockdown starves them of scraps"
"Seagulls in Rome are 'returning' to their natural status as predators, hunting down rats, pigeons, and other smaller birds as the lack of humans on the streets mean no food scraps are to be found.
'They are catching mostly pigeons but also swallows and black birds. They're also going after the fish in the Tiber,' [Bruno Cignini, a zoologist from the Rome University Tor Vergata] said. 'Luckily, they are also eating rats. Animals are changing their habits as we change ours.'"
The bad news:
"Asia's 'murder hornet' will arrive on East Coast and is 'here to stay'"
"It's not a matter of if but when the 'murder hornet' will hit the East Coast, experts warned The Post on Sunday.
The deadly meat-eating Asian giant hornet, which has been known to kill up to 50 people a year in Japan, recently surfaced for the first time in the US in Washington state--and New York City beekeepers say there is no way it won't make its way here, too."
ObSF: "The Year of the Jackpot" by Robert A. Heinlein
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Because the "Decameron" podcast is not running as regularly as had been claimed, I will do the finalists for Best Novel for the Retro Hugo Awards this week. (I could read ahead on THE DECAMERON, but I'd rather read in tandem with the podcaster's comments.)
SHADOW OVER MARS (a.k.a. NEMESIS FROM TERRA), Leigh Brackett: The finalists seem divided into two groups: the pulp stories and the "literary" stories. Graves and Stapledon were writing for a more general audience who expected style and characterization aimed at an older audience, while Brackett, Burroughs, and Mayne and Van Vogt were writing for a younger one. This shows in sentence structure and length, word choice, and so on. (If one were to assign reading levels to these, the Brackett et al stories might be 10-14 years old, while the Graves and Stapledon would be more like 14-adult.) This is not to say that the pulp stories cannot be exciting or enjoyable, but the others offer a deeper experience, and are (in my opinion) more Hugo material.
LAND OF TERROR, Edgar Rice Burroughs: In Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, Detective Grant talks about reading a detective novel and finding three errors of procedure in the first two pages. I felt that way reading LAND OF TERROR (although it took eleven pages). First we find out that because there is no sun or moon in Pellucidar, time doesn't work the same, and what can seem like a few "hours" to one person can seem to be several "sleeps" to another, and apparently no one ever ages. (Or maybe it's no one from the upper world, because it's hard to see how the natives could have children if the babies they have do not age.) If any of this made any sense, we would all go live in caves. Then Burroughs describes the fauna, which includes dinosaurs, Pleistocene mammals, and modern mammals. The problem is that the dinosaurs need either to die off or to evolve in order to make room for the early mammals, and similarly the early ones need to make room for the later ones. (Apparently, the "explanation" is that for a long time there was a hole in the Arctic that let creatures from our world migrate to Pellucidar. The theory itself is full of holes.) And finally, all the tribes in Pellucidar speak exactly the same language. That is not how language works.
It might not be so bad if so much did not depend on coincidence. Just one example: at one point our hero is imprisoned in a corridor which happens to lead to the only unguarded exit from the palace. And he learns this because he just happens to overhear the king's nephew telling this to a woman the nephew is trying to get to escape with him, and she just happens to be the long-lost sweetheart of our hero.
THE GOLDEN FLEECE (a.k.a. HERCULES, MY SHIPMATE), Robert Graves: This is Robert Graves's re-telling of the myths of Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece (with a lot of other myths thrown in for good measure). At 464 pages, it is more than twice as long as any of the other finalists and so full of names and places that I don't think one can keep them straight unless one is already very knowledgeable about Greek myth. I was halfway through this as an ebook through Hoopla when the system logged me out and stopped recognizing me. Still I read enough to recognize the quality of the writing; as has been common in past years' Retro Hugo ballots, works published outside the genre are often of a higher quality writing style.
THE WINGED MAN, E. Mayne Hull & A. E. Van Vogt: This was reprinted in book form in 1966 and apparently re-edited: there is a reference to the Korean War on the second page. I hate when they do that, because it makes voting for the 1945 Retro Hugo based on this version a bit problematic. How many other changes have they made? In any case, the story seems to reflect Van Vogt's stated method of introducing a new plot element every 600 words. We have a submarine in the then-present. Suddenly a winger man shows up and attaches something to it. Then it is transported into the far future. Then there are other groups from other time periods. Then there is another undersea race. And so on. As with the Brackett, enjoyable enough as a diversion, but not (to my mind) Hugo material.
THE WIND IN THE MOON, Eric Linklater: As noted earlier, I was unable to find a copy in my library system and did not feel like buying it just for this column.
SIRIUS, Olaf Stapledon: This is probably the most accessible of Stapledon's four major novels (the others being LAST AND FIRST MEN, STAR MAKER, and ODD JOHN). As a story of a "super-dog", it has its roots in FRANKENSTEIN and THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, but the scientist avoids Victor Frankenstein's to care for his creation and Moreau's failure to treat his creations as more than mere experiments. The acceptance of Sirius by ordinary people in Wales seems highly unlikely, but his plight, not entirely fitting into either the human or the canine world, is conveyed very well. This is definitely written at a higher level than most of the other finalists, with long stretches of philosophy that one doesn't find in, say, SHADOW OVER MARS.
Ranking: SIRIUS, THE GOLDEN FLEECE, no award, SHADOW OVER MARS, THE WINGED MAN, LAND OF TERROR
Not ranked: THE WIND IN THE MOON
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A neutron walks into a bar and asks how much for a beer. Bartender replies, "For you, no charge."Tweet
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