MT VOID 12/02/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 23, Whole Number 1311

MT VOID 12/02/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 23, Whole Number 1311

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/02/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 23, Whole Number 1311

Table of Contents

  El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

A Martian Oddity (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

"Well, it was all a bit of a cock-up, really. We have these deferred-deployment tripod thingees we were burying just in case we needed them. We were installing on one of those northern islands. We were digging down and all of a sudden this column of light in the shape of the seed race popped up. Scared the screelugs out of me, I'll tell you."

"I mean someone really needs to check these things out. They should tell us where the seed ships are. It's all a case of the third pod not knowing what the first pod is doing. We probably shouldn't have seeded the planet in the first place."

[If you don't get the joke, don't worry about it. -mrl]

Google and the Winds of Change (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last week I was discussing how the Internet was really hurting the newspaper business.

A friend's father was talking to me and asked what newspaper I get. "I don't get a newspaper," I told him. "Well, then where do you get your news?" "I get it off the PC." "Do you think it is a good idea to get all your news from a single source?" He obviously still thought of the PC and the Internet as basically competitive with a local newspaper.

Actually it is not much of a competition. Yes, I get nearly all my news off the PC. In a single day I will get my news from CNN, the BBC, Yahoo news, and a few others. Each week I also stop by the right-wing newspapers, left-wing newspapers, Jerusalem Post, Arabs Against Discrimination, to name just a few. They all want me to know about the news as they see it, and to consider their opinions. No single newspaper can match that global outlook. Not only can I get a global outlook; I can fine-tune it to my interests. And certainly they cannot match the price. That is bad for the newspapers. Actually I used to get my global outlook from a magazine called "World Press Review." It is now defunct and I assume the reason is that it could not compete with the global view most people can get free on a PC.

The fact is that there is little that the newspapers or the newsmagazines can offer that is not available better, faster, and cheaper on-line. Newspapers and the Internet obviously conflict and are going to conflict more in the future. And the smart money is not betting on the newspapers. One advantage newspapers have is that they have editors and fact-checking facilities. That is useful--you want to know the writers you are reading have had their facts checked--but even the New York Times has been racked by scandals in recent years that its reporters were inventing rather than reporting news. Credibility is less of an issue than it used to be because even newspapers are no longer able to provide it. Google and its news search capability is a big part of my choice of PC news rather than a newspaper. I can find what many different newspapers say about a given situation. I have talked to people who work for newspapers and they frequently see themselves as being in a dead-end industry. And it may just be that they are.

There are other people whom you would not think would be worried by Google but who really are. The New York Times reported recently that Wal-Mart fears not so much K-Mart or Target but Google. Why should a store chain that deals only in goods fear a company that does not sell any goods? For the simple reason that Google provided information that allows people to comparison shop. The fact is that in spite of Americans' reputation as Yankee traders, people have traditionally found it inconvenient to do much comparison-shopping. Once again the price information is out there free to anyone who wants it, but it is a lot of work to compare. Most people might like to do more comparison-shopping. But it traditionally has been a big and time-consuming project. Break down the communication barrier and prices will become a lot more competitive.

Even with their famous/notorious low prices, Wal-Mart benefits from communications barriers to comparison shopping. Wal-Mart is worried about the day that Google will be telling people that that new television that is really cheap at Wal-Mart is even cheaper at the electronics store at the other end of town. And Google is definitely getting into the business of providing comparison-shopping data. It has a related service called Froogle, with a link on their query page that allows buyers to comparison shop at the click of a mouse. Right now it is not the leading comparison shopping site--my guess is that it would be MySimon--but it is reasonably good. So Google will have a very big impact on Wal-Mart, America's biggest retail giant. There is a lot of power in that information.

Real estate is another industry that Google could potentially hit hard. Real estate is a giant industry in this country. And how does real estate make its money? In large part because your realtor is the channel of communication between people selling real estate and people buying real estate. If you want to find a property that meets your needs you go to a realtor, or several realtors, and they are the repositories of information of what property is currently available. Realtors collect and supply to their customers information about what property is obtainable. That is not a whole lot different from what Froogle does right now. And Google has GoogleMaps in the bargain to show where each property is listed. There is a natural synergy there. By using electronics rather than people-power, Google has it in their power to be at once the cheapest and most powerful and most profitable realtor in the country.

Next week I will look at what Google and the Internet are doing to the automobile industry. [-mr]

[This article was inspired by and drew upon, "Just Googling: It Is Striking Fear Into Companies" by Steve Lohr, New York Times, November 6, 2005]

A. E. Van Vogt and Wile E. Coyote (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris and comment by Mark R. Leeper):

In the 11/25/05 issue of the MT VOID, Evelyn included the quotation, "[A. E. Van Vogt] was the Wile E. Coyote of SF. He ran off the cliff in 1939 and looked down sometime in the 1950s." [John Boston, quoted by Rich Horton]

Charles S. Harris wrote, "Explanation, please (of the Van Vogt part)."

Mark responds:

"Well, it's like this. I provide Evelyn with sets of ten quotes every ten weeks and she puts them in the notice. But she also has the privilege to put in quotes of her own. I try to choose mine as ideas I would want to think about. We rarely get people who do not understand the quotes I pick. Evelyn has her own criteria for choosing quotes. This quote has keywords 'A. E. Van Vogt' and 'Wile E. Coyote.' Both will be familiar to the readers so the quote will have interest value. Certainly the juxtaposition of the two names in a single quote has great interest value.

I too was puzzled by what Boston was saying. I did not feel it was worth pressing the point. After I got your mail I asked Evelyn what she thought it meant. She thought maybe it meant that in 1939 A. E. Van Vogt's writing became less hard science fiction and more speculative and in the 1950s he realized he was not writing hard science fiction. I asked her what novels Boston was referring to and she was not exactly sure, but thought THE WORLD OF NULL A might be one. But it still does mention A. E. Van Vogt and Wile E. Coyote.

Next week (which is this week) I think we will return to my selections and my taste runs more toward meaning-focused quotes.

(Is it possible that he is suggesting that A. E. Van Vogt was the egg man and that Wile E. Coyote was actually the walrus?)" [-mrl]

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Harry Potter's fourth outing has enough stylistic changes to keep the series interesting. There is a new style with less sports, less frivolous humor, and a little more darkness. There is even a little romance as Harry, his friends, and the series matures. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

It is a remarkable thing to watch the maturing process, to see a child become an adult. Cinema has shown many characters go from children to adults, but few have been able to look at the actual maturing process since it is difficult to capture gradual aging over years in a live-action film. Probably the best attempt at this is Michael Apted's 7-UP series. But the Harry Potter series shows us a character who matures before our eyes and whom we see at intervals of a year or two. And as the character matures, so does the style of the series. The Andy Hardy films shows Mickey Rooney at several different ages, but the studio was obviously trying to keep the character very much the same from one film to the next. Harry Potter has no such restriction. Followers of the series will find a more mature Harry and a more mature style, less sugary but not actually drier than the previous films.

Mike Newell dispenses with some of the cuteness of the previous outings. There is no John Cleese playing funny ghosts and no stairways shifting under characters. Paintings still seem to be alive and move. This is one cute touch still there--and time so does a stained glass window--but otherwise the film very much seems to stick with its major characters and the plot, not cute trimmings. For once Quiddich does not sap too much of the screen time. Harry does not even play. Nor do Muggles come into the film much. The film does not start with Harry home with Muggles and Harry is not persecuted and getting revenge on his Muggle family. Also this time the plot is less a detective mystery and more the story of a struggle. Another change is that Harry and friends are taking more interest in the opposite sex, though here the plotting is more mundane and less original. Perhaps the dating adds identification value for the characters, but one does not have to go to a wizard school to find kids with much the same dating woes that Harry and his friends have. Harry may be more like a Muggle than the writers want to admit. Whoever it is who thought that what Harry Potter films needed was a rock band and a rave dance sequence sees the style of Potter films very differently than I do. Also an irritating vocal to the tune of electric guitars is pushed to the last of the end credits where it can do the least harm.

The story revolves around three plots. The Tri-Wizard tournament in which three (sorry, make that four) wizards compete. There is a ball not a whole lot different from a Junior Prom. And there is a plot by the Dark Wizard Voldemort who is becoming more tangible and visible than he had been in the past. The film starts with a blood-and-thunder opening, getting right into the dark style, which is lathered onto the film in gloomy nights and rainy days.

Problems with the story include that Harry is wrongly accused of a faux pas and almost immediately his best friends desert him. One even starts an insult campaign against Potter. This is an overwrought and unconvincing piece of plotting. Harry is still being bullied in spite of the fact that he is a hero and a sports star at Hogwarts and is anything but the sort of student who gets bullied. The so-called "goblet of fire" is very simply misnamed. Anything that size can hardly be called a goblet. Somewhere between J. K. Rowling's choice of the title and the making of the film somebody replaced the goblet with a large goblet-shaped urn.

Another piece of poor writing, by no means unique to this series, is that Harry's worst foes capture Harry and then tell him everything he needs to know assuming that he cannot possibly escape them. Of course he does escape. The talkative villain is a time-honored tradition in James Bond films, but it seems more and more ridiculous the more it is used in film. THE INCREDIBLES does a nice riff on "soliloquizing." Also as far as I could tell one of Harry's challenges in the Tri-Wizard Tournament he wins only by luck. (Luck is also a feeble plot device overused in adventures like the Bond films.) Overuse of luck is not really playing fair with the viewer. I am not sure author J. K. Rowling's propensity to invent plot devices on the spot and then say they are a four-hundred-year tradition.

Much of the film is kept dark and rainy and director Mike Newell keeps stoking fire with more and more fantastic images, almost in a Terry Gilliam style. A very nice fight with a dragon seems an homage to the now classic film DRAGONSLAYER. The light, twinkly musical scores by John Williams have given way to a darker, deeper score by Patrick Doyle.

Characters that do not seem to have a payoff include Alan Rickman's Red Herring in Black and Miranda Richardson playing an unpleasant gossip columnist who seems to be from another movie. Voldemort is at last seen corporeal as a demon with no nose. (No nose? How does he smell? Probably awful.) He is played by Ralph Fiennes, who like Gary Oldman was in the film but totally unrecognizable. (Oldman was a face in a fire.) Delightfully recognizable was comic actress Francis de la Tour. Brendan Gleeson plays a new teacher with a roving eye.

The team who make the Harry Potter films know enough to keep varying the style so that they can call on the previous films without exploiting them. Arguably it is the most creative and unified fiction film series ever. If one discounts THE LORD OF THE RINGS, which was not really a series but one very long film, and STAR WARS, which was attempting to be one very long film even if it failed, there is very little competition for a film that shows one character's maturation. After four films, each film in the series has been satisfying and this fourth film rates a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]

DUNE by Frank Herbert (copyright 1965 by Frank Herbert, first Putnam edition 1984, ISBN 0-399-12896-4, 520pp) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

I haven't read DUNE in more than twenty years, but, as you know, with the impending completion of the "Dune" saga by Frank Herbert's son Brian Herbert and prolific SF writer Kevin J. Anderson, I wanted to reread all six original "Dune" novels before the first of two upcoming novels, HUNTERS OF DUNE, arrives in 2006.

You know what? This novel is pretty good. I've been kind of poking around the net over the last few weeks looking for information about Dune and the Dune universe. I've seen several places where DUNE is listed as "the greatest science fiction novel of all time" (see, for example). That's really a tough statement to make--not because it's not a great book, but because there are so many great books out there that can make the same claim. Look at that list and pick out a few and ask yourself if one of those isn't better than DUNE. Of course, that list could spawn a whole topic of discussion all by itself, so I'll leave the topic by saying that DUNE is a tremendous novel, and rates in my top five favorites of all time.

Quick story synopsis for the uninitiated: the time is the far, far future, somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 15,000 years in the future (yeah, I know, that's not exact, but if you figure that the Butlerian Jihad took place more than 10,000 years before DUNE, and then there was the time of the oppression of the Thinking Machines, and the long human empire before that, it's got to be in the neighborhood of 15,000 years). House Atreides, led by Duke Leto and his men, are being put in charge of Arrakis, an arid desert world which is the home of spice production for all the known universe. Spice, or melange, pretty much drives everything, but most important of all it drives space travel. The Spacing Guild Navigators need the spice to "fold space" and allow nearly instantaneous space travel. The spice is the source of wealth in the empire. Anyway, the Atreides are being given Arrakis by the cousin of Leto, Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Arrakis's prior caretaker is the House Harkonnen, bitter enemy of the House Atreides headed by the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

Leto has a son, Paul, by his bound concubine the Lady Jessica of the Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit subscribe to a special school of physical and mental training and are primarily female. The Bene Gesserit, in secret, have had a breeding program going on for thousands of years in an effort to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, the all-powerful male Bene Gesserit who can do things the females can't, and who they want to be able to control to do their bidding. Anyway, Leto, Jessica, Paul, and others arrive on Arrakis and discover that there is a prophecy of anoutworlder coming to Arrakis to lead the Fremen (nomad-like desert folk) out from under the repression of the Galactic Empire.

I think you can see where this just might be leading.

Herbert tells a masterful tale of intrigue and suspense, one where the coming of a messiah is foretold and that prophecy comes true in the form of Paul "Muad'Dib" Atreides. This story is wonderfully complex without making your head hurt too much. There are "plots within plots", "plans within plans", and nothing is as it seems. Herbert has also done a terrific job of world building, creating a rich and complex social system that rivals the best of them.

While I was reading DUNE, I was interested in seeing the novel held up over time, which is one of the marks of a great SF novel. It was written forty years ago, so the potential for it to fall apart was there--but it didn't. It holds up extremely well, although there are some points which might be updated based on recent scientific discovery (on another discussion group I'm involved with, there was a thread about just what one would have to do internally to produce a boy or girl at will, but I find that a small point). The reason it holds up is that the technology is not the point. All the trappings of SF are there, but they are a background to the true story. That's why it holds up as well as it does.

If you've never read DUNE, I encourage you to do so. If you haven't read it in a while, I encourage you to go back and read it again. You will not have wasted your time. [-jak]

MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Dan Ireland gives us a bittersweet story of a May-December platonic relationship. An aging and lonely woman takes up residence in the sort of London hotel where all the residents see each other every night at dinner. After telling the others that her grandson will visit her, and the grandson ignores her, she meets a young writer who is willing to play the charade that he is the grandson. Joan Plowright stars in what might be the best role of her career. Rupert Friend (Mr. Wickham in the current PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) plays the ersatz grandson. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Based on novel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not *that* Elizabeth Taylor!) and adapted by Ruth Sacks, MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT is the story of an unlikely friendship. Joan Plowright was married to Laurence Olivier, and is an excellent actress, though not really known for lead roles in motion pictures. Here she is a study of loneliness and British pluck. She plays Mrs. Palfrey, an elderly and lonely woman who comes to London and moves into a dilapidated residence hotel. She wishes to be near a grandson who is too busy even to return her calls. Her room is tiny and there is no elevator, but what really drags her spirits down are the looks she gets from the other tenants over dinner as her grandson ignores her. She wants to be part of life, but life seems not to be taking much of an interest in her.

One day while shopping she falls on the street in front of a basement apartment. Out bounds Ludovic Meyer (Rupert Friend), who as a gentleman invites her into his apartment to dress her injury and to offer her a cup of tea. In spite of the large age difference, they find that they like each other. Ludo is a busker by day, playing music on the street, but also an aspiring writer and he finds much to write about in his friendship. Mrs. Palfrey enjoys the attention and friendship she is getting. But can she ask this new friend to participate in a charade and pretend to be the grandson that the other Claremont residents are expecting to see?

The film gives the feel of taking place in the 1950s and when there are some artifacts of the 21st century in the film they are a little jarring. In fact, the novel was set in the 1950s, but the story loses little with a contemporary setting and it saved on production budget. The background characters are well developed, and it is always a pleasure to see actors like Anna Massey. Director Dan Ireland, who directed THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, gives us some nice warm characters and gives us the feel we are in a novel, perhaps the very novel that Ludo is writing. The first thing we hear as the film begins are his taps at a typewriter--perhaps unusual for the contemporary setting. Ireland has a good eye for observing people and catching facial expression. He uses it whenever possible to tell his story.

The timing of the release of this film is perhaps fortuitous. We do not often get film portraits of aging widows and their efforts to put together lives of their own. In fact, this film makes a very nice companion piece to MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, which is being released within weeks of the release of this film. Both are women worth getting to know. I rate MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale and a 7/10. [-mrl]

GRIZZLY MAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Timothy Treadwell was a self-styled nature expert and defender of grizzly bears who, together with his girlfriend, was eventually violently killed by bears. Werner Herzog takes Treadwell's own video footage and makes a documentary about a disturbed man and the disaster he brought on himself. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

I saw a thriller film in which people were stalked by a live cobra loose with in their house. Afterward a friend said the film was absurd. Why was it absurd? "Well, why would a cobra bite someone who was not attacking it? Snakes just don't do that." It seemed like a logical argument. Snakebites are, after all, a defense mechanism. A cobra who is not threatened does not need to defend itself. Therefore, cobras are not a threat, right? My friend lives nowhere near rattlesnake country or she would never have doubted that a rattlesnake or a cobra in the house is a very real and dangerous threat. I think my friend made much the same mistake that Timothy Treadwell did. Treadwell styled himself a defender of bears and as an expert on their behavior. He knew the bears were dangerous but assumed he could handle that danger if he were a friend to the bears.

Treadwell allowed his fervent love for the bears to overcome his common sense and to convince himself that his impressions of bears were true. He saw himself as a sort of cross between Jane Goodall and the Crocodile Hunter. Werner Herzog has made GRIZZLY MAN, a documentary about the life and death of Treadwell. A great deal of the film is composed of Treadwell's own video footage of him in nature and frequently illegally close to the bears. Herzog looks at who the man was and at what led to his death.

So who was this Timothy Treadwell, this funky naturalist in long blond hair and perpetual sunglasses? His real name was Timothy Dexter, though he preferred the less bland Treadwell, which had been a family name. He was a recovered alcoholic, subject to extreme mood swings, who used his love of animals to salvage his life temporarily until that also consumed him. He knew a great deal about the bears from his thirteen summers visiting an Alaskan wildlife preserve and videotaping himself. He was reasonably certain he could handle any situation that arises and did not worry about the danger because he felt that even if he were killed he would have died a martyr to the bears. He called himself the "kind warrior" who if endangered becomes a Samurai.

The kind warrior made himself famous taking the material he collected and showing it without charge at schools and public gatherings. He appeared on the David Letterman show and enjoyed his moment of fame. The Turner and Disney corporations each also apparently considered using this frequently likable and goofy nature expert for nature programs, but they found he was impossible to work with. Most of the video footage he took is laced with language inappropriate for schools and broadcast. It obvious from the beginning of GRIZZLY MAN that the film is in large part about Treadwell's death. Herzog tells us almost immediately that Treadwell died at the very "claws and paws" that at times Treadwell claims will never kill him.

Treadwell believed himself to be an expert, but his supposed knowledge of the bears and their situation may have been heavily laced with wishful thinking. One fairly basic misconception was that the bears he was protecting actually need guarding. He was in an area not known for bear poachers and in a preserve where the bears are legally protected and rarely harassed. And actually there are no grizzlies in that area. His were coastal brown bears. Grizzlies are another subset of brown bear and are found further inland. But "grizzly" sounds more dramatic than "brown bear." So his so-called "endangered grizzlies" were neither endangered nor grizzlies. But he apparently met with fiery hostility any attempts to correct his misimpressions.

Herzog unfolds the story of Treadwell saying he was nearly banned from the park for getting too close to the bears and for using food containers that were not bear-resistant. In general Treadwell's presence habituated the bears to humans, which made them more not less vulnerable to poachers. He believed with unshakable faith in himself that he was doing the right thing for what he considered his bears whom he loved. He had an emotional need for the bears to need him, but in the film we know of only one bear that ever benefited from his presence and that was by Treadwell's death. Treadwell was fulfilling his own need with the bears. He needed to be a crusader for their cause whether they had one or not.

In most years this film would be a strong contender for Best Documentary. However, this year a nature film about penguins that risk death for the best of reasons will probably outshine this film about a man whose death was so senseless, though both films have moving tragedy. I would rate GRIZZLY MAN a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. (Much of the same material is covered in more depth in the book THE GRIZZLY MAZE by Nick Jans.) [-mrl]

TRANSAMERICA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A transsexual discovers he has a son he never knew he had. He bails his son out of jail and lets him come on a road trip across country without telling the son that this woman is his father. This is a very human story and not nearly as pat as it might have been. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The film stars Felicity Huffman of TV's "Desperate Housewives." (Ah, that was why there was a crowd around her at the screening. I have never seen the show. Apparently this is a different role from the suburban housewife she plays in that program.) She plays Stanley "Bree" Osbourne, a man who has had problems with his sexual identity all his life. He sees himself as feminine; nature sees him as masculine. He has experimented with the male sexual role but was never comfortable with it. In a week things are going to get better. An operation is going to render Bree a woman. He is already dressing and identifying as a woman and is looking forward to changing gender. But just when things seem to be getting better Bree gets a phone call from the police. Toby, a seventeen-year-old (played by Kevin Zegers), has been arrested for prostitution and claims to have a father he has never met. That father is Bree. He is just as happy to have Toby think he is a female church social worker, but plans to bail his son out and take the boy to his stepfather. Bree tells this to his therapist (Elizabeth Pena) and she refuses to sign the form to allow Bree to have the operation until he deals with his past. That means telling the boy that the woman he sees in front of him is his real father. Thus begins a tension-filled cross-country road trip. Toby just wants to run away and get his freedom back so he can return to the life he has been leading.

Duncan Tucker on his premier outing directs his own screenplay with the expected pain and humor. There really is not much in this film that is surprising. Bree tries to reform the son, while being something of an outsider herself. As one would expect Toby is more than a handful for Bree. We meet people along the way on the road trip including an easy-going native rancher (Graham Greene) and some hippies who are anything but easy-going. Bree and Toby come to understand each other through long conversations, as one would expect on a road trip. There are a few surprises, particularly toward the end. The script includes a whimsical analysis as to why THE LORD OF THE RINGS is actually a gay story (which would come as something of a surprise to J. R. R. Tolkien). Actually, I was expecting some film allusion to the revelation in the film THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but that never materialized. Huffman and Tucker, both veterans, give strong performances as two different kinds of lonely people.

A Latin American music motif seems an odd style choice. It is a low-budget independent film. Even the film stock seems a little faded. William H. Macy, real-life husband to Felicity Huffman, gets an executive producer credit. I rate the film a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In INTRODUCING MIND & BRAIN by Angus Gallaty and Oscar Zarate (ISBN 1-840-46084-9), Gallaty makes the same mistake that so many others do. He talks about experiments in electrotherapy or galvanism, and then says that this research "was given expression by Mary Shelley . . . in her novel FRANKENSTEIN in 1818." More accurately, it was given expression by Kenneth Strickfadden in his set design for the 1931 Universal film FRANKENSTEIN, a still of which serves as the illustration for this page. Shelley barely mentioned electricity, and never connected it with giving the monster life.

BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore (ISBN 0-345-40502-1, but more readily available in THE BEST ALTERNATE HISTORY STORIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY, edited by Harry Turtledove, ISBN 0-345-43990-2) is a classic alternate history story, and one of the first. Yes, there were quite a few before it, but considering that the field took off only in the last fifteen years, something from fifty years ago qualifies as a seminal story. Unfortunately, the alternate history aspect does not seem to be the main focus of the story; Moore seemed to be more interested in the utopian society that was set up, and in Barbara's personality (which none of us in the discussion group could quite understand).

I re-read BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley (ISBN 0-060-92987-1) because I was sure that a line from the film STUNT MAN ("a stick of gum will make you hum") was from it. It wasn't, though lines with similar rhythms do show up, and there is "sex gum" in the book as well. What struck me was that if you look at this and the only other science fiction considered respectable enough for school book reports when I was growing up, George Orwell's 1984, 1984 has overshadowed BRAVE NEW WORLD, but BRAVE NEW WORLD is the more topical, with its subliminal teaching and advertising, class structure, reproductive technology, and emphasis on sex as separate from love. People seem to re-read 1984 every once in a while, but BRAVE NEW WORLD is ignored. So next time, re-read that one.

Mark got for me the three-volume THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES by Arthur Conan Doyle with annotations by Leslie S. Klinger (ISBNs 0-393-05916-2 and 0-393-05800-X), so I'll be tied up reading that for quite a while (interspersed with other books, of course). It is published by the same publisher as THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN, which I reviewed in the 09/23/05 issue, but has avoided what I considered the major problem with that: the placement of the annotations. In THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN, when the text itself gets ahead of the annotations, the annotations do not "catch up" until the end of the chapter. In THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES, when the text gets ahead of the annotations, there will be a page (or two) where both columns are annotations, just so they can get into sync again. Klinger's notes are very informative, certainly more interesting than those of the Oxford annotated version, but not as quirky or charming as William Baring-Gould's. Still, if you have re-read Baring-Gould's a half dozen times, this is certainly worth switching to for a different view. It is, however pricey: list price for the three volumes is $145. (Luckily, it is often discounted.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           The most dangerous man, to any government, 
           is the man who is able to think things out 
           for himself, without regard to the prevailing 
           superstitions and taboos.  Almost invariably 
           he comes to the conclusion that the government 
           he lives under is dishonest, insane and 
           intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he 
           tries to change it.  And if he is not romantic 
           personally, he is apt to spread discontent 
           among those who are.
                                          -- H.L. Mencken

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