MT VOID 09/07/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 10, Whole Number 1457

MT VOID 09/07/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 10, Whole Number 1457

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/07/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 10, Whole Number 1457

Table of Contents

     Hugo Awards      Unwelcome Company (comments by Mark R. Leeper)      Oscar Senses Death Coming (comments by Mark R. Leeper)      C. S. Lewis (letter of comment by Gerald S. Ryan)      This Week's Reading (correction, THE TANGO SINGER,           THE AVRAM DAVIDSON TREASURY, and THE LOG FROM           THE SEA OF CORTEZ) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)      Quote of the Week       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

Hugo Awards:

The Hugo Awards were announced September 2 in Yokohama, Japan. The winners are:

Unwelcome Company (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Well, we just had a holiday weekend. Our trash bin was ready to go out, but they were not going to be around on Monday to do it. Evelyn told me that if it smelled bad I should put it around the side of the house. I explained to her that first, it did not smell and second, it was a bad idea to put a trash bin that smells bad outside the house. It might attract a racoon or some other animal with a different aesthetic. That is one thing you don't want is hanging around some animal with a different aesthetic. [-mrl]

Oscar Senses Death Coming (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A number of sources including SCIENCE NEWS and the BBC NEWS have been reporting about Oscar, the Providence, Rhode Island nursing home cat who can sense the coming of death. It seems that Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center adopted Oscar. The idea is that animals around a nursing home tend to cheer up their patients. Well, that is true in theory, anyway. Oscar it appears is not the most social of cats. He is usually very much a loner. However, he becomes much more social and seems to want to be fondled and to comfort those who are soon to die. He purrs, cuddles, and nuzzles people who are otherwise engaged in the sad business of dying. Humans may not be sure that the person is dying, but Oscar has an infallible sense. There will be weeks when three people die, and Oscar is there nuzzling up to each. Then next three weeks nobody will die and Oscar will spend the week by himself.

How does Oscar know who will live and who are about to die? As some have quipped, it may be that seeing Oscar the death-seeking cat coming for a patient is enough to put that patient over. Probably more likely is that there may be an aroma, undetectable to humans associated with death. A cat has a better sense of smell than a human does by quite a bit. So why do we allow packaged cat food to be so malodorous?

Dogs have a better sense of smell than do cats, leading one to wonder why dogs do not appear to smell human death when some cats do. Perhaps it is something different in dog psychology that they do not acknowledge death in humans the way cats do. Maybe dogs have more tact or may easily go into denial.

This whole issue of heightened animal knowledge is a fascinating one. One wonders what animals sense that we do not. We know that there are dogs who can be trained to sniff out narcotics. More recently they also have been used to successfully sniff out which patients have cancer. What is probably true is that most species of animals get a mix of senses at varying degrees of sensitivity and their worldview is made up of these senses.

There's an old saying: "A leaf fell in the forest. An eagle saw it. A deer heard it. A bear smelled it." Well, this tells us two things. First it tells us that each of these animals has some sense that is much more powerful than the corresponding sense in humans. Eagles (well, all birds) have amazing vision. I had never heard before that deer have really super-hearing, but it would make sense. They can direct their ears and they live by their hearing. When it comes to the sense of smell bears are even better than dogs are who are better than cats are who are far better than humans are.

The saying also tells us that these senses overlap to a very great extent. What seeing tells the eagle, hearing tells the deer, and smell tells the bear. This strongly determines how an animal envisions the world. Most humans get the majoritiy of their information from sight. We even have the word "vision" within "envision". If I told you to memorize the room you are in, most likely you would mentally photograph it. You would memorize where light was coming from and what objects you saw. What does the window smell like? You probably would have no idea. A dog would probably map the room in a very different way. Well yes there are probably some tables and some other things. But it would be something like, "Over here somebody has stood who has just come in from the garage. Last week somebody spilled some sweet liquid on the floor just over there. Somebody a few rooms away has opened a window." Well, you get the idea of the odor-map.

I guess in theory there are four kinds of heightened sensitivity of senses, not all of which may be real, but we do not know.

--Better knowledge processing: One might make better use of senses we have in common. I am reading a story with a superb native tracker. He sees things other people miss. Sherlock Holmes looking at a room supposedly might observe what we only see. He just looks at what we could perceive with more intelligence and is able to draw better conclusions. At least it makes for good stories.

--More acute senses: An animal may have senses we have but in more intense forms. A bloodhound can track a fugitive by the smell of the ground he has walked on.

--Additional senses: We can certainly find animals that lack some of the senses we have. A cave lizard is blind. There is no reason to believe we have all the senses that there are. It is just hard to imagine what those senses are and how they would be perceived. It is like trying to describe color to a blind man. Birds supposedly can feel the magnetic lines of force of the Earth and use them to navigate. It has been suggested that dogs have something someone dubbed "air tasting" that gives them some knowledge that we are not privy to. It is very hard to decide if this is really another sense or a sensitive use of one of the five senses we share in common.

--Psychic knowledge: There may be ways of knowing things that go beyond perceiving by senses. Nobody knows much of what that might be. What makes this hard to study is that fact that the world is full of proven charlatans who claim to have psychic powers. Some can be very convincing.

(Aside: I cringe to see my town school system sending around a brochure of evening courses they including one that is "HAVE A PSYCHIC READING: DISCOVER SECRETS OF YOUR PERSONALITY AND FUTURE" an another "SPIRIT ENCOUTERS: HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH LOVED ONES THAT HAVE CROSSED OVER". They are not so hot on teaching some of their sixteen-year-olds the multiplication tables, but they are right at the forefront of teaching locals how to get psychic readings.)

I tend to be very skeptical about psychic phenomenon. A local psychic had to shut down her reading business when an unexpected windstorm destroyed her illuminated glass store sign. A cheap piece of plywood on each side would have protected it, but who knew? I suppose she might have just shut down rather than go to the expense to repair the sign, but I prefer to think her business was destroyed by irony.

I hold these skeptical attitudes in spite of having some "psychic blood" in my veins. Family legend says my father's mother could see death in people's faces. Supposedly on November 21, 1963, she saw John Kennedy on the news and said, "My God, there's death in his eyes." She never taught me how to recognize it. But Oscar has the knack. [-mrl]

C. S. Lewis (letter of comment by Gerald S. Ryan):

In response to Evelyn's comments on REVISITING NARNIA in the 08/17/07 issue of the MT VOID, and Fred Lerner's response in the 08/31/07 issue, Jerry Williams adds:

I was too busy to write earlier, although I think it is more relevant that C. S. Lewis declared himself an atheist at 13 (though such "angry atheists" are usually really agnostics), returning to Christianity 20 years later as an Anglican, despite his good friend Tolkein's wish that he would choose Catholicism. In any event, one might expect him to have some views that are perhaps not typical for either Catholics or Anglicans.

Also, it's beside the point, although I don't believe that requiring a priest to intercede is quite as traditional a Catholic view as you imply. Priests are not required for prayer. In fact, non-priests can be Eucharistic ministers, perform Last Rites, etc. And straying even farther from the point, the current degree of priestly involvement in Catholic rites probably only dates back to the Council of Nicea anyway, so they're not *that* traditional. :-)

Back to the point, Lewis could have been making reference to the Pope, or perhaps the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, in which case it shouldn't be that surprising. However, while he was alive, Lewis insisted that the messages in Narnia weren't allegorical--he was rather speculating how Jesus Christ might have appeared in his imagined world--so you have to be careful about reading too much into the ape's misdeeds. [-gsw]

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

Correction: Last week's review of THE SFWA EUROPEAN HALL OF FAME should have listed both James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow as editors.

Authors often find themselves the center of other people's novels--or they would find themselves if they were still alive, because, generally, dead authors are chosen (for obvious reasons). So one can have a series of mysteries centering around the works of various classic authors (e.g., Edith Skom's) or a series with a famous author as the detective (e.g., Peter Heck with Mark Twain), or a book in which the main character is a graduate student working on a thesis centering around a particular author. The latter is the case with THE TANGO SINGER by Tomas Eloy Martinez (translated by Anne McLean) (ISBN-13 978-1-58234-601-4, ISBN-10 1-58234-601-1). The protagonist, Bruce Cadogan, is a graduate student in New York writing his dissertation on Jorge Luis Borges's essays on the origins of the tango. (See, you knew I would end up writing about Borges in late summer--it's tradition!) Cadogan goes to Buenos Aires in June 2001 for six months (this lets the author have an American protagonist while at the same time getting him thousands of miles from New York for 9/11 and three months after). Though a completely random set of events, Cadogan finds himself living in the rooming house that is also the home of Borges's "Aleph": that point from which the entire universe is visible. Cadogan, however, is more concerned with trying to find Julio Martel, a legendary but elusive tango singer.

THE AVRAM DAVIDSON TREASURY by Avram Davidson (edited by Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis) (ISBN-13 978-0-312-86731-7, ISBN-10 0-312-86731-X) is a collection of some of Davidson's best work, arranged chronologically with introductions by Silverberg and Davis. I would *swear* that Davidson's story "Or the Grasses Grow" had been made into a "Twilight Zone" episode, but thorough checking tells me I would be wrong. And in his introduction to the story, Gardner Dozois acknowledges that "Full Chicken Richness" is one of only two stories on its particular topic. Since the other came out just three years earlier and was even nominated for a Hugo, I suspect that Davidson may have been influenced by it.

THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ by John Steinbeck (ISBN-13 978-0-140-18744-1, ISBN-10 0-140-18744-8) is Steinbeck's journal of a biological collecting trip (on a shoestring) through the Sea of Cortez, a.k.a. the Gulf of California. Steinbeck explains that he calls it by its older name because "that is a better- sounding and a more exciting name." As you might guess from that, there is more here than just a description of all the specimens they found.

There is travelogue: "One fine thing about Mexican officials is that they greet a fishing boat with the same serious ceremony they would afford the Queen Mary, and the Queen Mary would have to wait just as long. This made us feel very good and not rebellious about the port fees--absent in this case! We came to them and they made us feel, not like stodgy people in a purse- seiner but like ambassadors from Ultra-Marina bringing letters of greeting out of the distances. It is no wonder that we too scurried for clean shirts, that Tony put on his master's cap, and Tiny polished the naval insignia on his, which he had come by no doubt honestly in a washroom in San Diego. We were not smart, not very alert, but we were clean and we smelled rather delicious. Sparky sprinkled us with shaving lotion and we filled the air with the odor of flowers. If the brazo, the double embrace, should be indicated by any feeling of uncontrollable good-will, we were ready." (page 205)

There is philosophy: "There is a strange duality in the human that makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and bad. Of the good we always think of wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of our society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstone of success. A man--a viewing point man--while he will love the abstract good qualities, and detest the abstract bad, will nevertheless admire the person who through exercising the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, and will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. When such a man thinks of Jesus, or St. Augustine, or Socrates he regards them with love because they are symbols of the good he admires, and he hates the symbols of the bad. But actually he himself would rather be successful, than good." (page 112)

And there is even poetry (or perhaps incoherence--take your pick): "For in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the trait of hope still controls the future, and man. not a species, but a triumphant race, will approach perfection, and, finally, tearing himself free, will march up the stars and take his place where, because of his power and virtue, he belongs: on the right hand of [the pi-th root of -1]." (page 103)

It is, however, marred by more typos than I would have expected of a Penguin edition: "whether" for "weather", "wtih" for "with", "string" for "sting", and so on. Not all the errors are Penguin's, though; I suspect the triple occurrence of "octopi" for "octopuses" is Steinbeck's own. There is a glossary and an index for people, places, and animals, but with as much philosophy as Steinbeck included, the index should have included ideas as well. (I have no idea if the typos have been corrected in later editions.)

While not a classic in the same sense as Charles Darwin's THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE, Steinbeck's LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ is must-reading for anyone interested in how field work was carried out in the 1930s by those not endowed with large grants. [-ecl]

[What is the pi-th root of -1? Actually there is more than one. Next week I will publish the answer and the names of everybody who sends me by Tuesday 9/11 a correct characterization of all the pi-th roots of -1. Take that, John Steinbeck. -mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.
                                          -- Colette

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