MT VOID 06/29/01 (Vol. 19, Number 52)

MT VOID 06/29/01 (Vol. 19, Number 52)

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@

Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/29/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 52

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Changes (IMPORTANT):

I have entered people's email addresses into the mailing list for the MT VOID as we had them in our records. If you want to change the address you get the MT VOID at, you can change it by sending a message (any message) to "mtvoid-" from your old address and "mtvoid-" from your new one. If all else fails, you can send email to me ( with your old and new addresses and I can change it. [-ecl]


Last week I committed myself to writing an account of semiotics. (It is time you knew it. I have committed without having done my homework so I am just assuming I can do this feat. If I hit it and have no idea what it is about, I am in real trouble.)

Semiotics is the invention of Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguistic theorist who lived from 1857 to 1913. His theories were expounded in his lectures and edited AFTER HIS DEATH into text form into the 1916 book, COURSE IN GENERAL LINGUISTICS. The book studies how "signs" work.

Semiotics is a branch of "structuralism." Structuralism looks for commonality in structures. For example there are many different stories but each is claimed to be one of four basic stories: romance, comedy, tragedy, or irony. (I am not sure I believe that is true myself. I have a hard time classifying THE LORD OF THE RINGS as one of these.) Elsewhere I have seen science fiction broken into three categories: "what if," "if only," and "if this goes on." Semiology is the study of commonality specifically among signs.

A sign is anything that has meaning outside itself and is used to communicate. A shrug of your shoulders, a slap in the face, a picture of a rock slide on the road, and a billboard showing a product are all signs. There are three kinds of sign: icons, indexes, and symbols.

When you see two doorways near each other. One with a sign showing a stick figure with a dress, the other showing a stick figure in pants, we know what it means. These are icons and they look like the people who should use those doors. (In fact, they look not so much like the real object, but like an abstracted picture of the people who should use each door.) An icon has a physical resemblance to the object.

"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailor's delight." That's an old saying. The sailors are taking something they see and associating it with a weather condition coming. A rattling noise from a snake one associates with danger. Associating two different things and using one to tell you of the other is an "index." An index is a little more abstract than an icon.

A symbol is more abstract still. A symbol is just an agreed upon association. A Star of David is a symbol of Judaism. But that is a symbol, pure and simple. The cross is an icon of a Roman crucifixion cross (or a historically inaccurate visualization of one--Romans, I believe, used a T-shape cross, which is much easier to construct.). But that symbol has become associated with a religion. Flowing water has become associated with the flow of life, especially birth. Words are symbols that have become associated with ideas.

Language has really two components. There is its grammar and rules, which Saussure called "Langue." It is helpful in understanding language, but is limited. The other component is "Parole." That is the language as it is spoken. Langue is an imperfect description of language you might hear. What you hear is Parole, but without a knowledge of Lengue you cannot understand Parole. Langue is a rough description of what one might expect to find in Parole.

I am not sure that all this really adds up to much. It is a set up observations whose veracity I doubt not so much as their profundity. Perhaps all I can really do in so short an article is to introduce the reader to a few of the ideas. So what is this all leading up to? Saussure believes that all signs are arbitrary. They are accepted only as a matter of convention. We accept that "tree" refers to a type of plant, but not everybody has that concept. An Inuit might not associate "tree" with anything. As Shakespeare said, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." If the convention is to call a horse a rose, that is what you call a horse. Fine. I could have told you that. I think something my father used to ask fits here. He would ask, "How many legs would a horse have if you call his tail a leg?" Most people answer five. The correct answer is four. A horse would have four legs no matter what you called the tail. [-mrl]

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE by J.K. Rowling (Copyright 2000, Scholastic Press, 734 pp., $25.95 Hardcover, ISBN 0-439- 13959-7) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE is the latest installment in the wildly popular children's series of Harry Potter novels, and the second of the four novels to be nominated for the Hugo Award. As with last year's installment (HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN), I don't think this novel deserves the nomination, but not for the reason you might expect. Last year I had this inherent bias that said that a children's novel, and for goodness sake, a *fantasy* novel, shouldn't be nominated for a Hugo. But it was a decent novel, and certainly a very good children's novel. In my opinion, GOBLET is just plain old not a good enough novel to merit the nomination.

Why? Well, the story is very uneven and unexciting, up until the last couple of hundred pages or so, if that much. It's slow. And it doesn't deliver on a very promising concept. Furthermore, unlike PRISONER OF AZKABAN, this one actually sets up the next novel in the sense that things have just blown wide open at the end of it. And it's way too long at 734 pages.

It's Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts, and the year opens up with the Quidditch World Cup. The whole leadin to the Cup, as well as the Cup match itself, seems unrelated to the rest of the story. However, and I'll give Rowling this, she does a marvelous job of setting up what is to come in the opening chapters of the novel which detail the events of the Cup and what happens immediately following the match. Which is that the Dark Mark appears, the sign of Voldemort, the big bad guy from previous novels. It's an indication that Voldemort is returning. But let's leave that behind for awhile.

The central storyline concerns the Triwizard tournament, an event which hasn't been held for a very long time. It involves a competition between wizards from different schools, with the winner of the competition receiving a large monetary prize. To conduct this tournament, which is supposed to bring the various schools of wizardry closer together to work in cooperation with each other, two other schools are involved, and the competition is being held at Hogwarts. There are stories of legendary tasks (there are three tasks to every Triwizard tournament) that were filled with danger. Each school will have one representative, and no one under a certain age would be eligible. This restriction leaves Harry ineligible. But somehow, after the three names come out of the Goblet, a fourth name comes out--Harry, of course.

The majority of the rest of the novel deals with the competition, of course, and the surrounding mystery of just how Harry's name got into the Goblet, since there were strong magicks put up to prevent an underage contestant from putting their name in. And herein begins with the list of disappointments. The three tasks, in and of themselves, were not particularly dangerous at all. After the buildup, the tasks were disappointing. There was also a weird little side story with Hermione trying to fight for the rights of house elves that never got finished.

Anyway, the story finally does pick up at the completion of the third task. It is at this point that the pace picks up, the tension increases, and it seems that Rowling truly engages the reader. I certainly didn't know what was going to happen after that. But it's also at that point that Goblet of Fire ceases to be a children's novel, and, in my opinion, turns into an adult novel in terms of some of the intensity and violence of the scenes.

And, do you remember that Quidditch World Cup way back at the beginning of the review? Well, Rowling must also be given credit for setting up most of what was to come in the first few chapters of the novel. If you saw the clues, you could figure it out. It was all there.

But truly, this book could have been better. It's great for the kids, but not so great otherwise. [-jak]

Quote of the Week:

    A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy
    of the puddles in the road.
                                   -- Alexander Smith