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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/16/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 16, Whole Number 2141
Table of Contents
Corn Maze Dangers (pointer from Guy Ferraiolo):
Guy Ferraiolo provides the following:
"Festive Corn Maze Misread By Aliens As Declaration Of Intergalactic War
Having spotted from a distance of many light years the elaborate series of twists and turns cut into a field of grain on Earth, an alien civilization reportedly found a message Thursday in a festive corn maze that, in the symbols of its own language, constituted a declaration of intergalactic war. ..."
[Just to re-iterate, it's "The Onion", folks. -ecl]
Lobsters (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Mark Leeper's Journal, August 5, 1988
I saw a rather sad story at my local fishery this evening. Now most people don't expect to find a sad story at a fishery and, to tell you the truth, most fisheries don't have a lot of sad stories lying around. Seafood restaurants do. They often have a tank with a bunch of introspective lobsters, heavy rubber bands around their claws, thinking to themselves, "What the heck have I gotten myself into this time? And how am I going to get back home?" Some try to make the best of the situation. Last time I went to a Red Lobster I saw one amorously inclined lobster climbing on the back of another. Kind of a last fling, whether he realized it or not. It kind of cast a pall on the whole evening. As I remember, I ended up ordering a salad.
Anyway, the local fisheries operate on a lower budget so do not have fancy tanks for their lobsters. When you see the fish, most of their struggles are already over. I generally can look the ice case without seeing anything particularly bothersome. Well, this time it wasn't actually the fish itself that was so sad. It was a sign announcing that today's catch of the day was "Brazilian lobster tail." Now for it to be the catch of the day it must have come from around here. I don't know how far you can get a fish in one day, but if a fishery has it and it was caught today it must be from pretty nearby. If they really are Brazilian lobsters, they must have been caught a long way from home. And if they caught enough to make it the catch of the day, it was a lot more than one stray. It must have been a whole family on a vacation cut short by disaster. Maybe even more than a family. Maybe a whole clan who are not going to see the waters of home again. They died far from home where nobody knew their names. Be warned, little lobsters, get your tails out of this area. [-mrl]
SEVEN OF INFINITIES by Aliette de Bodard (copyright 2020, Subterranean Press, $40, Hardcover, 176pp, ISBN-10: 1596069767, ISBN-13: 978-1596069763) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Aliette de Bodard is one of the more decorated writers of genre fiction today. She has won multiple Nebula and British Science Fiction Association Awards (among others) and has been a finalist for others, including the Hugo Award. The list is quite large. She is expert in both science fiction ("The Universe of Xuya") and fantasy ("The Dominion of the Fallen"). Needless to say, when de Bodard drops a new story--novel or otherwise--into the world, readers are in for a treat.
Her latest novella SEVEN OF INFINITIES, is no exception.
SEVEN OF INFINITIES is a story in the "The Universe of Xuya", which I like quite a bit but of which I have not read nearly enough. The stories in that universe are inspired by Vietnamese culture, and sentient spaceships play a prominent role in the narrative. In this latest story, Van is a member of a poetry society and a tutor. She also has a memory implant that, instead of being one of her ancestors, is a construct made up of several different people--which Van created herself when she was younger--and which is, and I can't find a better word for it, scandalous. Sunless Woods (short for The Wild Orchid in Sunless Woods) is one of the sentient mindships that has come to the Scattered Pearls Belt to retire, but has taken an interest in Van. Sunless Woods comes to tell Van that the poetry society is thinking of expelling her because of her pedestrian background. While this exchange is occurring, a visitor has come to see Van's student Uyen, and no sooner does that visitor arrive and head into Uyen's room than she dies. This death causes both Van and Sunless Woods to become involved, as Van is concerned about Uyen as well as the reaction of Uyen's parents to Van being kicked out of the poetry society, and Sunless Woods has, well, an interest in the whole thing because of the secret that she holds and has hidden from Van.
And thus, a multilayered story is kicked off that looks like a simple detective tale, but is really much more than that. Well, it certainly *is* that, at the surface. But it is also a relationship story, a friendship story. Van and Sunless Woods both have devastating secrets that they are keeping from each other, secrets that once they are revealed could either hinder or help their relationship. Sunless Woods is clearly attracted to Van, as the love scenes indicate (is it really so hard to imagine sex between a sentient spaceship and a human being?), but I claim that her secret is just as devastating as the one that Van holds. And while the main story appears to be between Van and Sunless Woods, there is a side story going on between Van and some old close friends of hers that adds to what is going on here as well.
SEVEN OF INFINITIES starts out slow, but eventually becomes a story that proceeds at a breakneck pace, a story that brings the reader back to the detective story while at the same time not letting that reader forget about all the side issues that make the narrative both complete and satisfying. SEVEN OF INFINITIES is highly recommended, and is a terrific addition to "The Universe of Xuya" stories. [-jak]
NOSFERATU (letters of comment by Scott Dorsey and Gary McGath):
In response to Mark's comments on NOSFERATU in the 10/09/20 issue of the MT VOID, Scott Dorsey writes:
With a silent film, the movie itself is only half of the presentation. The musical score has a whole lot to do with how the movie comes across, for one thing. Additionally, when these films were first presented they were usually projected at varying speeds depending on the projectionist. By the time NOSFERATU was made, constant speed changes during the presentation no longer existed, but there is still a great argument today over how the film should be run.
If you run the film at 24 fps (modern sound speed) it is clearly much too fast. If you run it at 16 fps, the action speeds look realistic, but the pacing is all wrong. The film is much better-paced at 20 fps in spite of the slight speedup of motion.
I have never seen NOSFERATU with the original orchestral score, although that score was unearthed around 2015 and there is now an available recording of it. The vast majority of performances of the film have been done with improvised scores, and as is the nature of improvisations some of them have been excellent and amazing and some have not. The difference in effect is staggering.
I have run NOSFERATU at Arisia a couple of times and it went over well with the children, I think. A couple of things don't work anymore, for example the overcranked scene of the coach rushing down to the village. Overcranking today has become a signal to the audience of humor (thanks mostly to Mack Sennett) and its use as any other effect has to be done very subtly or comedy is invoked.
At Arisia we always ran the film too fast, because we didn't have the correct belt and pulleys to run at 20 fps. I think we ran at 22 fps which is noticeably a touch fast but not offensive.
Note also that the original prints were tinted; some scenes were subtly green, others subtly red. Since none of the original prints that remained after the legally-mandated destruction of the film are tinted, and we don't have timing sheets for the film, nobody really knows what the tinting was like. So that is another bit of the original presentation that is lost today.
And of course every version of NOSFERATU today is kind of contrasty and dirty, owing to being so many generations down from the original. The original negative was burned and so what you're seeing today is much less sharp with much poorer mid-tone greys than the original would have been, although recent digital processing has improved that quite a bit.
I think a modern audience does very well with silent films if they are well-presented, but they very seldom are. Often owing to the condition of the original elements, they can't be. [-sd]
Gary McGath responds:
The Kino restorations are good, but they can be expensive to show. Kino can charge license fees because their restorations are copyrightable.
On one occasion Boskone showed a Kino version of a silent movie (I think it was THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, but I'm not sure) with my live accompaniment. The fee amounted to more than $4 per person viewing, and we all agreed that was too expensive to do again. [-gmg]
I can remember when Noreascon Two presented THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with live organ accompaniment by John Kiley (who played the organ at Fenway Park). A problem with the live organ not mentioned is that it is neither easy nor cheap to move a decent-sized organ into the convention space. Boskone 29 showed AELITA, and Boskone 30 showed NOSFERATU, both with live accompaniment by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra. [-ecl]
Plastic-Eating Bugs (letters of comment by Keith F. Lynch, Scott Dorsey, Paul Dormer, Dorothy J. Heydt, Joy Beeson, and Kevin R):
In response to Tom Russell's comments on plastic-eating bugs in the 10/09/20 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:
[Re MUTANT 59: THE PLASTIC EATERS by Kit Pedlar] And of the far better novel, DIRECTIVE 51 by John Barnes, and its two sequels. Radical Greens release nanotech that destroys all plastics and everything electrical. They also resort to nuclear weapons, which don't sound especially green to me, but it turns out something very different is going on.
It's a timely novel, since it involves a Presidential succession crisis.
I'm skeptical of plastic eaters, or their close relatives, gasoline eaters. Neither most plastics nor gasoline contain nitrogen, which is essential to life. [-kfl]
Scott Dorsey responds:
Note that by the end of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, the organism had mutated into one that broke down plastics and no longer affected humans.
Note also that you can sing "Mutant 59, Mutant... 59" to the tune of Rocket 88.
Man does not live on plastics alone. [-sd]
Regarding "Rocket 88", Paul Dormer asks:
Why would you want to? [-pd]
And Scott replies:
Because it is stuck in your head and won't go away no matter how hard you try. [-sd]
Returning to the main topic, Dorothy J. Heydt adds:
And, I believe you're trying to tell us, nor do bacteria. [-djh]
Joy Beeson suggests:
When you design your plastic-eating bug, you splice in a gene from a nitrogen-fixing bacterium. [-jb]
But Kevin R warns:
Keep that away from plastic-choked waterways, or you'll get a nasty bloom of algae like "red tide." [-kr]
Paul Dormer also adds:
It was also the plot of the first episode of the seventies TV series "Doomwatch", co-written by ... Kit Pedler. [-pd]
Cruel and Unusual (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments on cruel and unusual punishment in the 10/09/20 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:
The context [of Mark's article] is unclear. Is this from 1982, or from the present? The only alleged peace dividend I ever heard of was at the end of the Cold War, about a decade after 1982. And it was supposedly going to be in the trillions of dollars, not about three dollars. Of course it ended up not happening.
[Arggh! This should have been "1992", not 1982". Not sure which of us typo'ed it. -ecl]
[I will take the blame and pass it to my Parkinson's. -mrl]
There was no television, cable or otherwise, at the rural prison farm I was held at in the 1970s. Unfortunately, many prisoners never learned to read. Some are wiling to learn, but most are either unwilling or unable.
I wish I had time for reading there, but it was a plantation system, and we were kept busy non-stop. Also, I had little access to books.
Prisons are not country clubs or resorts. They have to be kept even more unpleasant than living on the street in the winter and eating out of garbage cans, otherwise cold and hungry people would commit crimes to get sent to prison.
[Mark writes, "Parole hearings can change from asking stupid questions such as "Have you rehabilitated yourself?"--and what criminal ever says 'No' to that one?"]
I said "no" to that one. But then I wasn't a criminal, I was wrongfully convicted. And I got parole. (Parole has since been abolished in most states including mine, and in the federal system.)
That was 43 years ago (5 years ago as of 1982), and my record is otherwise perfectly clean before and since. It was closer to the time of John Dillinger than to the present. [-kfl]
Deep Time and Radioactivity (letters of comment by Keith F. Lynch, Gary McGath, and Scott Dorsey):
In response to Evelyn's comments on deep time and radioactivity in the 10/09/20 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:
I've heard the claim that even the hottest radioactive waste will be less radioactive than the original uranium ore within about 600 years. If so, what's the point? Nobody is proposing long-term warning signs on uranium mines. Or on lead or mercury mines. Lead and mercury aren't radioactive, but they remain toxic *forever*. [-kfl]
Gary McGath asks:
Mercury mines? I thought they were called Hg wells. [-gmg]
[This received several "like"s.]
Mike Van Pelt responds to Keith:
The claim as I recall is that if you reprocess, the actual wastes (fission products) contain less total radioactivity than the original ores in a few hundred years, though in a more concentrated form.
Waste the plutonium and other transuranics that you should be putting into new fuel rods, and this isn't the case. [-mvp]
Scott Dorsey replies:
No need to wait for that. As soon as you take it out of the reactor, it is less radioactive than when it went in. That's why it gets taken out, because it's no longer radioactive enough. [-sd]
But Keith says:
That's definitely wrong. A reactor isn't strongly radioactive before it's first turned on. Once it's turned on, it becomes a very strong source of radiation, and once it's been running for a while, it remains so for decades, perhaps centuries, after it's turned off. But not for thousands of years, much less tens of thousands.
Potential energy isn't the same as radioactivity any more than it's the same as heat. Coal in a furnace isn't at a high temperature until the furnace is lit. The resulting ashes remain at a high temperature until they've had time to cool off. [-kfl]
According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/radwaste.html:
"High-level radioactive waste primarily is uranium fuel that has been used in a nuclear power reactor and is 'spent,' or no longer efficient in producing electricity. Spent fuel is thermally hot as well as highly radioactive and requires remote handling and shielding. Nuclear reactor fuel contains ceramic pellets of uranium-235 inside of metal rods. Before these fuel rods are used, they are only slightly radioactive and may be handled without special shielding.
"During the fission process, two things happen to the uranium in the fuel. First, uranium atoms split, creating energy that is used to produce electricity. The fission creates radioactive isotopes of lighter elements such as cesium-137 and strontium-90. These isotopes, called 'fission products,' account for most of the heat and penetrating radiation in high-level waste. Second, some uranium atoms capture neutrons produced during fission. These atoms form heavier elements such as plutonium. These heavier-than-uranium, or 'transuranic,' elements do not produce nearly the amount of heat or penetrating radiation that fission products do, but they take much longer to decay. Transuranic wastes, sometimes called TRU, account for most of the radioactive hazard remaining in high-level waste after 1,000 years.
"Radioactive isotopes eventually decay, or disintegrate, to harmless materials. Some isotopes decay in hours or even minutes, but others decay very slowly. Strontium-90 and cesium-137 have half-lives of about 30 years (half the radioactivity will decay in 30 years). Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years.
"High-level wastes are hazardous because they produce fatal radiation doses during short periods of direct exposure. For example, 10 years after removal from a reactor, the surface dose rate for a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 10,000 rem/hour--far greater than the fatal whole-body dose for humans of about 500 rem received all at once. If isotopes from these high-level wastes get into groundwater or rivers, they may enter food chains. The dose produced through this indirect exposure would be much smaller than a direct-exposure dose, but a much larger population could be exposed." [-nrc]
Translation (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to various comments on translation in the 10/09/20 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
I was just reading last week's MT VOID again. I thought I had sent you a LoC (or should I call it an EMoC?) about it, specifically commenting on the British tourist and the fields of corn (as we call the crop in the US; in Britain, it's maize or sweet corn)--but apparently I didn't ... so here you are. I was reminded of a silly limerick which goes like this:
A canner exceedingly canny One evening remarked to his granny, "A canner can can Anything he can can, But a canner can't can a can, can he?"
What we call a "can" on the shelf of a grocery store in the United States is usually called a "tin" in Britain; but I don't think that changing the limerick to "A tinner exceedingly tinny etc" makes much sense. Meanwhile, it's harvest time here in central Illinois; the farmers are out with their reapers and harvesters at all hours (harvesting wheat and soybeans and other crops as well as corn). [-sl]
Erie Canal (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch)
In response to Gregory Frederick's review of THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES in the 10/09/20/20 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:
[Gregory Frederick writes,] "The Erie Canal is one of the most famous and most successful canals; it sent goods from the Midwest down to New York city and made New York a wealthy port city." [-gf]
It didn't just do that; it linked the Atlantic to the Great Lakes, both above and below Niagara Falls, and their tributaries, which included most of the populated parts of Canada. Two decades later, a short additional canal in Chicago also connected the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri rivers and *their* tributaries. That's why New York and Chicago became such important cities.
So the Erie Canal is in the same category as the Panama and Suez canals. [-kfl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
It's not just the suck fairy.
Or maybe it's a new aspect of the suck fairy.
The suck fairy, for those who don't know, is that magical being that visits books you loved when you first read them years ago and sucks all the magic out of them so that when you re-read them now, you cannot understand what you saw in them. (I believe the term was invented by Jo Walton.)
What I am talking about, though, is not the total desiccation of a book, but rather the realization that books you loved (and maybe still love) have flaws.
For example, Sherlock Holmes is much loved by millions. But when you read the stories, you find Steve Dixie (a stereotypical Black man), scattered references to "the Jews" as moneylenders, and various villainous foreigners. The same shows up in Agatha Christie. And now in re-reading LAST AND FIRST MEN I find it in Olaf Stapledon.
Everyone pretty much agrees that the first part of LAST AND FIRST MEN is unreadable, because it is near-future prediction from the 1930s, and a pretty poor job it is. But even after that one finds Black and Jewish stereotypes that probably seemed quite in line with English attitudes of the time. Now, of course, reading it makes one cringe.
(The story goes that Christie was talking to a German in the 1930s and was totally astonished when he said that the Jews in Germany were different from those in England--they were a danger and needed to be exterminated. From that point on, supposedly, Christie never wrote anything anti-Semitic again.)
And a separate note on LAST AND FIRST MEN: Stapledon writes about future generations of men using wind power, tidal power, and geothermal power when oil runs out, but not solar power. This seemed like a strange oversight until I realized that solar power requires much more technology than these other types of power, and in a resource-poor world would be difficult if not impossible to use. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: My husband gave me a necklace. It's fake. I requested fake. Maybe I'm paranoid, but in this day and age, I don't want something around my neck that's worth more than my head. --Rita RudnerTweet
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