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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 04/14/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 42, Whole Number 1958
Table of ContentsRole Model (comments by Mark R. Leeper) The New Perspective (comments by Mark R. Leeper) THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND (comments by Mark R. Leeper) THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF THE YEAR: VOLUME ELEVEN edited by Jonathan Strahan (book review by Joe Karpierz) Hugo Awards (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan and comments by Evelyn C. Leeper) Confusing Mathematics (letters of comment by Jay, Kevin R, Paul Dormer, Keith F. Lynch, and Radovan Garabik) This Week's Reading (IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE and WAR FILMS) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper) Quote of the Week Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, firstname.lastname@example.org Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, email@example.com Back issues at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/back_issues.htm All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org To unsubscribe, send mail to email@example.com
Role Model (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have seen two or three films in which Mahershala Ali plays a role model father figure for children. I told Evelyn he could be the black Morgan Freeman. [-mrl]
The New Perspective (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The story is told that J. B. S. Haldane was lecturing on zoology and was asked by one of the audience what has his study of animal life taught him about the Creator. Haldane responded that God has "an inordinate fondness for beetles." It seems that the audience always expected a scientist lecturing should put in a word in favor of religion, seemingly to reassure the audience that the scientist had not chosen science over religion.
You also hear it in 1950s science fiction movies. In THIS ISLAND EARTH the alien leader tells the earth people they are puny humans. The hero responds, "Our size is the size of our creator." Good boy.
We do not see that so much any more, but there is a similar phenomenon in science documentaries. The subject is no longer God. It is science fiction. You hear people who say they got interested in science because of science fiction. Or there are comparisons of real science to science fiction. I just saw a documentary on the space elevator. I think a couple of the engineers said that science fiction was their inspiration and they said a great deal about Arthur C Clarke's THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE.
Don't get me wrong. This is not a complaint. It is just sort of an interesting reversal. One of the main motivators of scientific discovery has been science fiction. But was rarely mentioned. It seems it is now getting recognition. [-mrl]
THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am looking forward to reading the new sequel to H. G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. The title is THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND by Stephen Baxter. Baxter is the author of TIME SHIPS, a sequel to THE TIME MACHINE. Somehow this is rather brave of Baxter. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS has had a lot of fans over the ages. Full disclosure: I bought the book from Amazon UK, so I have the book in my hands, but am writing this rather than reading it... for the moment.
There were three waves of people joining the fandom of this particular story. The novel was actually only middling successful as one of Wells' lesser stories. Then Orson Welles dramatized the story for the radio one Sunday evening on October 30, 1938. Side note: Today the opinion of history is that reports of mass hysteria created by the so-called "panic broadcast" have been exaggerated. But the broadcast and the claimed panic still brought a lot of publicity to the story.
See the discussion of this at http://tinyurl.com/mtv-myth.
Another wave of fans were created by George Pal's 1953 film adaptation. People who knew of the story had visualized the futuristic war machines that were brought to bear on World War I weaponry. But this was the first time Martian war machine could be seen in action. Well, they were not the tripods Wells had described, but they were impressive enough looking something like cobra heads mounted on flying manta rays. Pal was not able to make them physical tripods, but paid lip-service to the war machines by having them walk on nearly invisible legs which appear in only one scene.
A third wave of fans found out about THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by reading the Classics Illustrated comic book. Unencumbered by having to show the war machines in actual motion they could be portrayed as Wells' tripods without ever facing the problem of tripod locomotion. This comic book interpretation of a classic novel became a classic in itself.
Now, a sequel to Wells' novel has been written by Stephen Baxter, who previously wrote TIME SHIPS as a sequel to Wells' THE TIME MACHINE. He calls the new novel "THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND." In his previous Wells adaptation the characters had time travel. That is a very open-ended premise. It opened the story to a whole infinite world, past, present, and future. There is no limit to the plotting that that allows an author.
Writing a sequel to THE WAR OF THE WORLDS appears to be a lot more difficult. I am wondering what kind of a story can Baxter have written as a sequel. The Martians are technologically superior to the humans and probably win all their battles with humans. You cannot make much of an imaginative plot from "we keep going to war and lose every battle." (At least that is my expectation. Maybe Baxter can still find a way to drag a good story out of that.) The original Wells story worked in part because it made readers visualize 1898 weaponry facing futuristic Martian war machines even if they were not sure how the tripods would walk. Every version is pretty much in its own day a faceoff between the best of the human age against advanced weapons of super-science.
It is going to take a lot to grab the imagination of the modern reader with super-powerful invaders no longer being a fresh, new idea. The reader has movie visions of powerful unstoppable aliens engrained in our memories going back to the 1950s from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, KRONOS, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, and, of course, we have had by now multiple adaptations of the original THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. And I still do not know how a tripod walks.
I look forward to finding out what Baxter does with his sequel. I am even curious if he will handle character names like Wells did. I think that Wells did not want the reader to take much time and effort to identify with his main character. Notice in THE TIME MACHINE Wells names his characters as would be usual, but for people of his present they were known only by their last names. But the main character was called only "the time traveler." He does not give the time traveler a name. When Wells came to write THE WAR OF THE WORLDS he takes that policy to an extreme. He names people "the narrator," "the curate," "the artilleryman," etc. It is like he is looking at these people under a microscope and does not want the reader to get to know them. It puts a wall between the reader and the characters in the action.
(I should note there has already been a short novel that was a sequel to THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. It was a pulp magazine story entitled "Edison's Conquest of Mars" by Garrett Serviss. As you might expect it is not a very good story. This was written during the time when the whole world was impressed with Edison and his accomplishments and most of the dirt about him had not yet gotten out. Edison is no longer the national hero he once was. I do not know if Serviss got Edison's permission to use him as the hero of the story.) [-mrl]
THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF THE YEAR: VOLUME ELEVEN edited by Jonathan Strahan (copyright 2017, Solaris, $19.99, 507pp, ISBN 978-1-781-08562-2) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
It's the beginning of awards season in the science fiction and fantasy field, and there are a ton of them: Hugo, Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, Crawford, Clarke, Campbell. The list goes on and on. Science fiction, fantasy, and all their related sub-genres probably have more awards than any other endeavor. And right on cue, the "Best of the Year" anthologies are starting to pop up all over the place, like flowers in springtime. There is a great number of those anthologies that come out every year, and this year is no exception. The longest running best of the year is put together by Gardner Dozois, which this year will find itself with its 34th edition.
One of the finest best of the year anthologies, however, is edited by Jonathan Strahan. Strahan is one of the most well-respected, talented, and prolific anthology editors in the field today (Never mind that he is the reviews editor for Locus Magazine and is an editor for tor.com, all while holding down a day job. I get tired just thinking about it). Other than this year's best of collection, he is also the editor of the Infinity project, an annual anthology of hard sf stories that will see its seventh volume published later this year. This year's best of collection does not disappoint.
This year's volume contains four of this year's Hugo nominees-- three novelettes and a short story--but the rest of the stories are outstanding as well. Alyssa Wong's "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay" is the story of an orphan boy living in a brothel in the Old West who has magical powers that make him a marked child for mysterious men coming to the town. It's quite an outstanding story, and well deserving of its Hugo nomination. The same can be said of "Touring with the Alien" by Carolyn Ives Gilman (in fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that all the stories in this book could be on awards lists somewhere, not just the ones that already are). Avery is a young woman who is asked to take a mysterious alien on a tour of the U.S.A. It seems reasonable enough, until the reader realizes what that one line about what happens to the alien's body after it dies is really not just a description of how an alien dies. The alien is looking to experience consciousness through humans, but humanity gets more than it bargained for. It's one of my favorite stories in the book. Amal El-Mohtar's "Seasons of Glass and Iron" is the story of two women, one cursed to wearing seven pairs of iron shoes, the other cursed to sit atop a glass mountain while suitors try to gain the summit to win her affections. It's a story of friendship and female empowerment coming together to server a common goal. Nina Allan's "The Art of Space Travel" is a terrifically written piece about the head of housekeeping at a hotel where two astronauts are going to give a press conference about an upcoming mission to Mars. Of course, the story isn't about the mission, it's about Emily, her relationship with her mother--a metallurgist assigned to determine the cause of a failed Mars mission prior, and her desire to find her father. It's a really nice piece.
As the late night infomercial guy would say "but wait, there's more". Lavie Tidhar's "Terminal" is an emotional story about folks who have nothing lose who make a one way journey to Mars in one person ships called jalopies, what they share with each other, and what fate is likely to meet them when they get there. Rich Larson gives us "You Make Pattaya", a story about a near future con man looking to make enough to retire, just to see his scheme fall short; "Things with Beards", by Sam J. Miller, is what may be another take on "Who Goes There" or the "Thing", but it's a bit more sinister; Delia Sherman's "The Great Detective" is a riff on Sherlock Holmes complete with AIs; Genevieve Valentine's "Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home" gives us a story about a virtual world that is not all what it seems, told via letters. For the life of me, I have no idea how this didn't make the Hugo ballot.
N.K. Jemisin's "Red Dirt Witch" is a tale about the woman trying to protect her family as segregation is nearing an end. It's a powerful story about what a woman will give up to protect her family. "Whisper Road (Murder Ballad No. 9) is just another outright creepy, disturbing, and well-written story by Caitlin R. Kiernan. It frightens me to think that I liked this story as much as I did. Ken Liu, a terrific writer and translator (see THE THREE BODY PROBLEM and this year's nominee DEATH'S END), gives us "Seven Birthdays", a brilliant tale that spans from the near future to the far future as it tells the story of digitization of the human race as it tries to save the planet. Yep, the Singularity was mentioned here, and it wasn't a bad thing, not unlike other stories we've read. "The Visitor from Taured", by Ian R. MacLeod describes the relationship of two people who study things that no one else is interested in, how one succeeds, how one fails, and how that failure affected both people and relationship between them. Charles Yu's "Fable" may or may not be a genre story. It has the trappings of a genre story, but I think those trappings are irrelevant to what Yu is trying to do here, which is basically tell us that we all have our crosses to bear and difficulties to live with, and it's what we do with our resulting lives is what matters.
I could go on like this for a long time. There are fantastic fantasies by Theodora Goss ("Red as Blood and White as Bone"), E. Lily Yu ("The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight"), Naomi Novik ("Spinning Silver"), Seth Dickinson ("Laws of Night and Silk"), and Joe Abercrombie ("Two's Company"). There's great science fiction by Daryl Gregory ("Even the Crumbs Were Delicious"), Catherynne M. Valente ("The Future is Blue"), Alex Irvine ("Number Nine Moon"), Paolo Bacigalupi ("Mika Model"), Aliette de Bodard ("A Salvaging of Ghosts"), and Geoff Ryman ("Those Shadows Laugh"). There's even a little bit of both in Yoon Ha Lee's "Foxfire, Foxfire" and Paul McAuley's "Elves of Antarctiva", but to be fair it only flirts with fantasy. With a title like that, it sort of has to.
As usual with one of Strahan's anthologies, there's not a bad story to be found. There's not even a mediocre story to be found. Surely, some of these stories are not for everyone, but I think that everyone should be able to find something to like, even just a little bit, in every story that is here. It seems that 2016 was a really good year for short fiction, if this anthology is any indication. If Strahan continues to compile books of this high quality, we'll have great books of short fiction to read for years to come. [-jak]
Hugo Awards (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan and comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In response to the Hugo finalists in the 04/07/17 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:
Re: Best Dramatic Presentation nominees, below ... what is Science Fictional about HIDDEN FIGURES?
Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but why was it nominated for an SF award? Do you know?
ARRIVAL seems to me to be the best of this bunch, in my opinion ... though DEADPOOL is far and away the funniest! [-gwr]
The rules were changed (after APOLLO 13, if I recall correctly) to allow works "of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects...", and space exploration is considered a related subject.
Mark notes that there was a precedent set back in 1984 when THE RIGHT STUFF was a finalist for the Dramatic Presentation Hugo. Basically, the Hugo Administrator does not want to go against "the voice of the people." So after APOLLO 13, it was decided by the members at the Business Meeting that this allowing of "related topics" should be formalized.
And while I'm at it, a few more comments.
First, the new term is "Hugo Finalists", not "Hugo Nominees". Apparently, people were billing themselves as "Hugo Nominees" if they got even just one or two nominations.
Second, the new Hugo rules result in six finalists in each category, rather than five. (Since each nominator gets to nominate only five works, this makes it more difficult for an organized minority to fill the entire ballot.
I do not know if this could be called the most diverse ballot ever.
As Patrick Nielsen Hayden pointed out:
- 3/4 of the fiction finalists are works by women.
- 1/3 of the fiction finalists are works by non-white people.
- None of the novel finalists are by white men.
- 2/3 of the related works are by women.
- 8/13 of the professional editor finalists are women.
- 5/6 of the Campbell finalists are women.
A friend said that he looked at the list and said he didn't recognize 75% of the names. I did better, but I listen to the Coode Street Podcast and they talk about newer writers. The friend also hadn't noticed (and was gobsmacked by) the fact that ANALOG, ASIMOV'S, and F&SF were entirely missing from the ballot. Indeed, all the novelettes and short stories were e-published, rather than in print venues. (Okay, one was in a print anthology, but the next month appeared in an on-line zine.)
Several people declined nominations or were deemed ineligible:
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Game of Thrones: "The Winds of Winter" (No more than two episodes of any one show may be finalists in this category) Best Professional Artist: Tomek Radziewicz (No qualifying publications in 2016) Best Professional Artist: JiHun Lee (No qualifying publications in 2016) Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine (Not eligible) Best Fanzine: File 770 (Declined nomination)
Glyer declined for FILE 770 because it was listed on the Rapid Puppies slate.
Confusing Mathematics (letters of comment by Jay, Kevin R, Paul Dormer, Keith F. Lynch, and Radovan Garabik):
In response to Mark's comments on confusing headlines in the 04/07/17 issue of the MT VOID, Jay writes:
If you've been trying to make sense of news headlines (print or TV) how is it that you've maintained your sanity? [-jay]
Kevin R adds:
Is anyone else annoyed by advertising in which the copywriters REFUSE to use the perfectly good English word, "twice"? "The competition costs two times as much!" or words to that effect come to mind.
Do they think the viewers'/listeners' vocabularies have atrophied that much? I'm the sort of fellow who uses "thrice", so I may not be in the target demographic. Is "two times" supposed to sound more scientific? "Twice" is more succinct, and I always thought brevity a virtue in writing for TV and radio. "Twice" hasn't come to seem affected, has it?
Webster help us, when they decide "half as much" is too much for our widdle bwains to handle! [-kr]
Two times as less? [-jay]
And Paul Dormer responds to Kevin:
Reminds me of the story of someone walking through Oxford (or was it Cambridge) and overhearing two dons talking. The first word they heard was, "Ninthly". [-pd]
Keith Lynch responds:
[Re: If you've been trying to make sense of news headlines (print or TV) how is it that you've maintained your sanity?] Speaking only for myself, who says I have? I'm still gibbering over "Arpanet Accused of Transmitting Files," a bizarre headline from maybe 35 years ago.
It's well known that ads with grammatical or spelling errors, or other infelicities, are better remembered. Anecdotally, Powers Flowers doubled their business when they changed their name to Powers Florists. Then there was the cigarette that "tastes good like a cigarette should." If they'd used the proper word, "as," instead of "like," probably nobody would remember it. But I'd bet that half the people here can still name which brand that was, even though that ad hasn't been broadcast in at least 46 years.
Not an ad, but the parody of the East German national anthem has stuck in my head. "Do not think that I'm a Nazi, actually we're Communists..." because of the mid-sentence change of voice from singular to plural.
[Re: "half as much"] I've hear that most people can't correctly answer, "What is ten divided by one half?" [-kfl]
Radovan Garabik replies:
In Hungarian, sometimes 1/2=1. In Slovak (and Czech), sometimes 1=2. Yes, really.
And there is a noticeable confusion in English between 10^(6*x) and 10^(3+3*x), but we all know that...
ObSF: "Luminous" by Greg Egan
But Paul Dormer answers:
Well, maybe [there is confusion] in English, but not in maths. Multiplication takes precedence.
Now, I did once see a long correspondence in a magazine letter column where there was confusion over whether 9^9^9 meant (9^9)^9 or 9^(9^9). Somebody had said was the largest number that could be written with just three digits, but someone else said that was just 9^81, and 9^99 was larger. [-pd]
Mark responds to Keith:
I have to disagree with Keith Lynch (rarely a smart thing to do), when he says, "Not an ad, but the parody of the East German national anthem has stuck in my head. "Do not think that I'm a Nazi, actually we're Communists..." because of the mid-sentence change of voice from singular to plural."
Suppose you have four Communists in a room and one gets called a Nazi. Would it be a grammatical error to point out that the four people in the room are all Communists? He would not be going from talking for one person to talking as four people. Certainly one person can report that all the people in his room are Communists. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In 1933 Rezso Seress wrote a song titled "Vege a vilagnak" (in English, it was titled "Gloomy Sunday"). It was reportedly so depressing as to drive listeners to suicide and so was reportedly banned from radio stations. While this may be apocryphal, it was actually banned on the BBC during World War II because it was detrimental to morale, and the ban was not lifted until decades later.
Assuming that people did commit suicide because of its depressing nature, I can only say that reading IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis (ISBN 978-0-451-46564-1), I know exactly how they felt. Written as a near-future story of a fascist take-over of the United States by a populist candidate, it was undoubtedly patterned somewhat after Huey Long, but has some frighteningly similar (and in some cases, identical) examples of claims, promises, etc., by current candidates as well. When I tell you that when the book got to a point several months after the election and things are getting really bad, it was actually *less* depressing because it was not so much of a mirror of current events (although it could be a look into the future).
WAR FILMS by James Clarke (ISBN 978-0-7535-1094-0) covers a set of specific films, examining their themes as well as a lot of detail about their conception and production, rather than providing an overview of all war films. It also covers science fiction "war films", such as ALIENS. which makes sense from a thematic point of view, if not from a historical one.
Clarke introduces the first section by saying, "It is often considered inaccurate to refer to the 1914-1918 war as World War One, as it is felt that other wars preceding it had a claim to be the first global conflict. It is often referred to, more appropriately, especially by those who fought in it, as the Great War." This does not stop him, however, from referring to the war of 1939-1945 as "World War Two", which means either the 1914-1918 war was not a "World War" worth numbering (clearly wrong), or someone cannot count.
(One can also claim it is inaccurate to refer to World War Two as running from 1939 to 1945, since the start of it could arguably be as early as 1931 (Japan's seizure of Manchuria from China). The most commonly cited date is of course 1 September 1939; the second most commonly cited is 7 July 1937, when Japan's aggression towards China turned into an all-out continuous war rather than a series of unconnected incidents.)
[Clarke's use of the present tense in reference to "those who fought in it" was still grammatical when he wrote this in 2006. By now , however, all soldiers who served in that war have died.] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Friendship is like money, easier made than kept. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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