MT VOID 01/16/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 29, Whole Number 1528

MT VOID 01/16/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 29, Whole Number 1528

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/16/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 29, Whole Number 1528

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: 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


The Middletown (NJ) Public Library SF Discussion Group will be discussing STARSHIP TROOPERS b Robert Heinlein on Thursday, February 12. The film will be shown at the Library starting at 5:30PM, and the discussion of the film and book will follow when it is finished.

Life on Mars (Probably) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The question of whether there is life on Mars seems to have moved from a science fiction possibility to being genuinely probable. It may be geological or biological, but either way Mars is a lot more interesting.


Leeper Screws the Pooch (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Okay, I have been caught flat-footed. I had heard about the woman who was thought to have died as a result of believing the story in FARGO and going to the location to look for the lost money. I wanted an article that would inform readers about it. I found a longish article and published a link reading most of the article, but not all the way to the end. It turns out that very article concludes that credulousness was not the cause of her actions. The article only talks about that at the very end, further than I had gotten. People who read the article further than I did probably got the straight scoop. Bob Devney and Pete Rubinstein pointed out my error. [-mrl]

2008 in Review (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

2008 was the year that that showed us how much Americans have a capacity to become greedy, short-sighted, stupid, and--given half a chance--as crooked as a pipe-cleaner caught in a vacuum cleaner. Before "trickle-down" economics was ever proven it was replaced by "hemorrhage-upward" economics. We saw people abandon their SUVs when the price of a tank of gasoline crossed the hundred-dollar mark only to return to buying more SUVs when the price of gas temporarily dipped. When things went wrong in the war, the economy, and everything else, the party in power blamed the party out of power. We saw a Senate seat being sold to the highest bidder and a Congress ostensibly protesting their own pay raises but doing nothing to stop them. We got deeper and deeper in debt to a country that censors what opinions its people can read and cannot stop itself from exporting poison milk. We also elected a black President long before anyone seriously thought it would happen. That was 2008. Welcome to 2009. [-mrl]

Seventy Years Ago (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I have a little project to feel the pace of history and to compare this bad year to a *really* bad year. Every day I Google the date seventy years earlier and see what was happening. I am tracking the coming of World War II and especially the Holocaust. I have been doing this for about three months now. This sounds sort of silly as a project, but I am surprised at how much more effective it is in studying the period.

It is really a little scary how fast things are/were happening. Early last November it was seventy years since Kristalnacht, when the Germans coordinated an attack on Jews and their property. And just a week or so later Jews were being told that their businesses and houses were now other people's property. I used to wonder why Jews did not see the signs and get out of Germany while they could. But human nature says that big changes take a week or two to sink in. Seventy years ago you either acted immediately or it could have been too late. The blows were just coming too fast. [-mrl]

The Mouse and I (part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last week I was talking about protecting my house from various animals, but particularly mice. Where I live mice are a serious problem. And a mouse is an intelligent and clever animal.

My first mouse was many years ago. It taught me a lesson. Mice are *not* magic. They are *not* supernatural. But if you are going to catch a mouse, it is best if you assume they are magical supernatural beings. Because what that mouse is going to do no natural creature can do. I trapped the first one in a closet. There was one exit. I watched that exit very carefully. I got a net to catch it, but it was long gone. While I was not watching the mouse disappeared like smoke in a wind.

A mouse looks like it is about an inch and a half diameter at its widest point. I followed a mouse once as it ran to an outer wall and in plain sight it seemed to disappear. I quickly looked outside on the other side of the wall where the mouse had vanished. The mouse was just squeezing through the wall to the other side. Later I saw the there was a crack in the wood no thicker than the thickness of two stacked quarter coins. Mice have this oddly jointed body. At will they can dislocate their skull and parts of their body and then just happily snap then back into place. It is hard to begrudge the mouse his escape when he does something so magical to get away. The mouse had found a crack in the wood and tunneled under the carpet. Through concrete he tunneled. Compared to this mouse, the Scarlett Pimpernel and Erik the Phantom were rank amateurs. They only used what was already there. This mouse had found a way to enter the house creating a passageway through solid concrete. At least this story has a happy ending. I found his passageways. Now I could have sealed them with putty. But considering that solid concrete didn't stop him, what good would putty do? But a mouse does have his own Kryptonite. There is a substance that terrifies mice. And I don't mean a cat. A mouse does not like ... steel wool. In the war on mice, steel wool acts like razor wire does for us. No mouse wants to risk his eyesight by getting too close to steel wool. He cannot really hold it down with his foot because it is just too springy and chaotically complicated. Mice leave it alone.

If you can find the holes they have dug to get in you just have to stuff them with steel wool. That hole is now unusable. But for me it has a real advantage. I walked away and the mouse walked away. The mouse did not have me as a victim and the mouse lived. For me, that is winning. So I gave myself one giant Atta-boy. I eliminated the problem without killing the mouse. But as I have said the problem is that I leave behind a thinking animal will that is still dead set on invading my house and finding whatever goodies there are. And to be perfectly honest, there are goodies. And there are goodies that he would like. My taste is not a lot different from the mice.

I am happier to let the mouse try again than to kill the mouse. As I say, I am morally opposed to killing mice. Also most ways to kill mice do not kill instantly. There are poisons that allow the mouse to withdraw to die inside the walls of the house. That is doubly bad. I have killed the mouse and the mouse has left his rotting body to exact revenge. That is why I would never use poison pellets. A very cheap but unconscionable way to kill mice is to leave dry instant whipped potato flakes around. The mouse eats the flakes. When he tries to digest the flakes the moisture in his system goes into the flakes. They then expand to many times their original volume. This is a horrible death and I will not mention it again, because I do not want to think about it. It does have the same problems that poison does. This method rates a giant Mark Leeper "No Thank You."

You can leave sticky paper that will catch mice the way flypaper catches flies. The mouse cannot move and just has to wait for you. It is bonded to the paper and immobilized for life. I do not think there is any way to remove the mouse and set it free. This method does not kill the mouse. You, as the user, kill the mouse. The mouse sits there terrified waiting for you. At least any feces stick to the paper. When you get around to it you kill the mouse with it sitting there watching you do it. And I suspect a lot of people chicken out, which is even worse for the mouse. It dies of dehydration and terror. This method also rates a giant Mark Leeper "No Thank You."

Sadly, though I have tried to find ways to save the life of mice, it has not always been possible. Can I get another week talking about my battles with mice? (Well, that is what I intend to do.) [-mrl]

THE LAST THEOREM by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl (copyright 2008, Ballantine Books, $27.00, 299pp, ISBN 978-0-345-47021-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Those of us who have been reading SF for a long time were probably brought up on Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl. From Clarke, it was CHILDHOOD'S END, THE CITY AND THE STARS, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE, RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, and others. From Pohl, it was JEM, MAN PLUS, GATEWAY, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (with C. M. Kornbluth), his work as an editor, etc. Classics, all of them (mind you, I was never very fond of RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, but I'm in the minority), so it would seem to follow that if you put them together, the resulting story would be terrific. Heck, if Clarke can collaborate with folks like Stephen Baxter and others and come out with great material, and Pohl can collaborate with Kornbluth and Williamson and come out with great material, a pairing of two of SF's Grandmasters should produce what would probably be the last Hugo for both of them. At least, that's what I thought. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

Pohl agreed to write THE LAST THEOREM from Arthur's (not so copious) notes when it became apparent that due to age and failing health Clarke would not be able to write the book. The result, sadly, was a novel that falls well short of the quality that we've come to expect from both of these historically important science fiction writers.

In spite of the title, the book is not really about Fermat's Last Theorem, which starts out with the Pythagorean Theorem as a basis. You know, if you have a right triangle, the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two legs equals the square of the length of the hypotenuse. Fermat's Last Theorem says (and I'm sure the mathematicians out there will correct me if I'm wrong) that the previously stated relationship doesn't work for powers greater than two. [*] What Fermat did was scribble in the margin of a book a note that said he had a proof for it, but the margin was too small to show it. The book really deals very little with Fermat's Last Theorem.

So, what is it about? Well, the life of one Ranjit Sabramaniam, a native of Sri Lanka, who does indeed discover the proof to Fermat's Last Theorem. It's also about the mysterious Grand Galactics, who decide that the humans are a violent race of animals who blow each other up and thus deserve to be exterminated. It's about those two separate story lines come together in the end for what was for me a very unsatisfying conclusion.

Ranjit is a sixteen-year-old boy of way above average intelligence who has an obsession with proving Fermat's last theorem. He is not interested in girls, sports, or anything other than mathematics and finally, his astronomy class. This really makes him no more interesting than a lot of sixteen-year-old boys. He only becomes important once he discovers the proof to Fermat's theorem while he is imprisoned and being tortured for information about the hijacking of a cruise ship by pirate terrorists. He does finally become interested in the opposite sex and marries an AI expert by the name of Myra de Soyza, with whom he has two children, both of which play some part in the development of the story.

Then there are the Grand Galactics. We've seen them before, haven't we? The Overlords from CHILDHOOD'S END, the monolith makers from 2001, and the Firstborn from the "Time Odyssey" trilogy (yes, at some point hopefully in the near future I will read and review FIRSTBORN, the final book in that series). The Grand Galactics have decided that humanity is to perish for its sins (where have we seen *that* before?), and are sending their servant races to come and deal with the human race problem.

I don't know, maybe I just wasn't in the right mood when I read this book, but everything seems forced and trite. It seems that Ranjit met Myra and got married just to advance the plot along so their daughter Natasha could be born and play her part. And why was it Natasha that the alien visitors chose to speak to the humans of earth instead of someone else? The Grand Galactic angle has been played before, and much better than here. They're supposed to be mysterious, all-powerful, and forbidding. Instead, to me they come off as a little cartoonish - not unlike their servant races the Nine-Limbed, the One Point Fives, and the Machine Stored. The United States comes off as a big bully in this story, although to be fair it's in the person of a megalomaniacal Orion Bledsoe, but even he is a stereotype. Pohl even manages to take a poke at religion, shoehorning in Clarke's feeling that if parents expose their kids to Sunday school and Bible study as children they will become inoculated against adult religions and therefore said religions will die out. It seems to be fashionable these days to bash religions, faith, and the concept of God in SF novels, but if we the SF community are as open minded and tolerant as we like to think we are then it's time to balance the books a bit and start portraying religions and spirituality in a positive light and not superstitions to be dismissed (wow, did I digress, or what?). Let's offend *both* sides of the fence, just to be fair, shall we?

The only really interesting technological item here is Silent Thunder, basically an EMP weapon used to quell uppity countries trying to impose their will on others. Hey, that concept has been done before too.

Amongst the novel's flaws is one of the most damning, as far as I'm concerned. It was uninteresting. I didn't care about Ranjit, I didn't care about the Grand Galactics, and I didn't care if they destroyed humanity.

I just didn't care. [-jak]

[*] What Fermat's Last Theorem says is that while you can find integers x, y, and z such that x-squared plus y-squared equals z- squared, you cannot find integer solutions for higher powers (e.g., there are no integers x, y, and z, such that x-cubed plus y-cubed equals z-cubed. Pythagoras comes into it only because you can have a right triangle with integer-length sides. -ecl]

DEFIANCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is an unusual true story of two Jewish brothers from Belorussia who fought back against the Nazis and offered protection to a community of over a thousand fugitive Jews. Occasionally using thuggish tactics and more often being heroic, they survived in the forest while in constant danger from both the Nazis and the Soviets. The story is made a little idealized, but this is a chapter of history that has rarely been explored before. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

"In August 1943, Hitler sent his most ferocious and lawless troop into this puscha, with the intent to kill every member of the Bielski group... Three men, brothers, saved as many Jews during World War II as Oskar Schindler and organized a military force that killed hundreds of enemy soldiers... Twelve hundred Jews ... walked out of the Belorussian forests in July 1944." [--THE BIELSKI BROTHERS by Peter Duffy]

Two decades ago Edward Zwick made a name for himself with GLORY, the story of a black unit in the Civil War. Against a background of historical fact he told the story of their well-meaning commander who finds how he can be effective in leading his men. Also there is an angry black soldier who finds he can forgive the white man long enough to serve his country. The foreground story was a touch melodramatic, but it made for a good film. DEFIANCE also is a slightly melodramatic story told on a background of historical fact. It is no worse than GLORY. Sadly it is no better either and for much the same reason.

DEFIANCE is the story of the three Bielski Brothers. They were Jewish and were in Belorussia in 1941 at the time the Nazis invaded. In the occupation 50,000 Jews were murdered directly and twenty times that number were deported to be murdered elsewhere.

The two Bielski brothers are Tuvia (Daniel Craig with hair dyed black so that he looks a little more Jewish) and Zus (Liev Schreiber, who does not have to do anything to look more Jewish). When they find that a policeman who was collaborating with the Nazis had murdered their parents the brothers decide to strike back. They can borrow a pistol and four bullets. And with it they kill the policeman. They hide in the local forest that they know well. Soon they offer protection to a few other Jews and before they realize what is happening they have a whole community. As Tuvia says, "This is the one place in all Belorussia where a Jew can be free." But even as brothers the Bielskis are very different. The real Tuvia Bielski said he "would rather rescue one old Jewish woman than kill ten Nazis." Tuvia is for rescuing Jews, but is willing to fight Germans. Zus is for vengeance on the Germans, but is willing to do what he can to rescue Jews. Allied goals, but they will cause schism in the forest fugitive group.

We also meet two younger Bielski brothers, one played by Jamie Bell, the young boy in KING KONG. Mark Margolis plays a ghetto elder with some very heavy decisions.

The problem with the writing (the screenplay was co-authored by Clayton Frohman and Zwick) is that it is heartfelt but not deep. We have some humor, some romance, some cute old Jewish scholars, and a little melodrama. This is the style that worked with Zwick's GLORY. But with a more realistic approach, one like there was in Stephen Spielberg's SCHINDLER'S LIST, the story would have felt like it had more authenticity and it served the story better. There is one possibly disturbing scene, but it is filmed in a way that makes it hard to make out detail. Zwick was going for "engrossing", and not "horrific". And he manages to make Liev Schreiber, usually an intellectual actor, into an action hero. Daniel Craig, who might well be right now the world's most popular action hero actor, is nearly as fierce but much more likely to try to avoid trouble.

Not all the parts of the machine work with this film, but it still makes a good film overall. I rate DEFIANCE a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Not sure how to pronounce "Bielski"? Don't worry. You have a choice of about five different ways in the film.

The film tones down the viciousness of the Bielskis quite a bit from history. Some of their punishments for captured Germans were on the sadistic side and were intended to spread fear in the enemy, which they undoubtedly did. We see a little of that in the film, but not to the degree that it happened in real life. The brothers probably felt that Jews should give to Germans a taste of their own brutality. There is some moral ambiguity in the way the brothers are presented but perhaps not enough to accurately portray the events.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Mice (letters of comment by Wendy Sheridan and Robert Bohrer):

In response to Mark's comments on mice in the 01/09/09 issue of the MT VOID, Wendy Sheridan writes:

I read with amusement the first installment of "The Mouse and I" (part 1) this morning, and I wanted to share some of my own adventures with members of the *group rodentia*. Our previous house had easy access for local field mice, and our cat would retrieve most of them for us and bring them to us live. We usually relocated them several miles from the house, and pretended that they didn't have cousins that neither the cat nor us could see.

After being in that house for about 10 years, we finally relocated to a different house. While packing the basement, I discovered a small mountain of mouse droppings behind a book-filled bookcase. The books made quite the absorbent material for mouse urine, and a shelf and a half of books had to be discarded (as well as the offending bookcase). We knew there had been mice in the basement for a long time, but we didn't realize how entrenched they had become, or how they could get into what we thought were sealed-off areas.

The worst discovery along these lines was as I was packing the silverware drawer in the kitchen. I discovered mouse droppings in the back/bottom of that drawer. I now do a much more thorough and frequent cleaning of the kitchen in the new house. I haven't seen a mouse in the new house at all, though. [-ws]

[I am reminded of Sam Gross's cartoon in the New Yorker. A woman holding a mouse she has pulled from a gift-wrapped box. On the floor her cat is saying, "Read the card. Read the card." -mrl]

And Robert Bohrer writes:

I have mice in my home. I trap and release them in the woods near my home.

There is a relatively stupid group living upstairs that was eating soap under the bathroom sink. They are easy to catch.

There were one or more exceptional mice living downstairs that found their way into my bread pantry. These mice were able to eat the peanut butter bait, spring the trap, and avoid capture repeatedly. (I'd like to have an infrared camera record how they managed this trick.)

My dog usually accompanies me with great excitement to release the mice. She chases them in the woods, usually one or two hiding places behind the mouse, to my entertainment. This morning she caught and injured one, which saddened me. I will give the mice greater protection from my dog in the future. [-rb]

One-Book Recommendations (letter of commeny by Rob Mitchell):

In response to Evelyn's comments on what one book to read this year in the 01/09/09 issue of the MT VOID, Rob Mitchell writes:

Rob's choices (at least at this moment:

If you read only one classic book this year, you should read: ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES by Charles Darwin.

Runner-up: DISCOURS DE LA METHODE (Discourse on the Method) by Rene Descartes

If you read only one 20th century book this year, you should read: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH: A HISTORY OF NAZI GERMANY by William Shirer

Runner-up: THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J. R. R. Tolkien

If you read only one 21st century book this year, you should read: THE EARTH IS FLAT 3.0: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY by Thomas L. Friedman

Runner-up: THE ALGEBRAIST by Iain M. Banks

If you read only one 2008 book this year, you should read: THE NEW YORK TIMES: THE COMPLETE FRONT PAGES: 1851-2008 by The New York Times

Obviously, several of my choices are famous books, but many more people know of these books than have actually read them. Also, I'm sure my choices reflect my biases toward history (including the history of science) and speculative fiction. [-rm]

Mice, Faux-Reality, and FARGO (letter of comment by Bob Devney):

In response to the 01/09/09 issue of the MT VOID, Bob Devney writes:

Enjoyed the latest ish of MT VOID, entirely as usual. To be honest, though, what finally moves me to write an LOC is probably not its expected excellence. It's that I'm supposed to be writing 30 or 40 more precis for the Boskone program, and this makes an attractive way to procrastinate.

Anyway, several points:

Enjoyed the defense of TWILGHT-as-harmless-escape from your contributor Raven Stern. Incidentally, with a name like that, how long can she avoid committing a fantasy trilogy?

I'll add another log to the controversy by recalling an argument that an reviewer whose name I unfortunately don't recall made about TWILIGHT. Essentially that these books hand teenage girls the following life lesson: "Love means staying with your guy forever, even though he may well injure or kill you at any minute."

Mark, loved Mouse Pt. 1. They should put your discursive circle- and-return style in a book on good essay writing. So often with the offbeat colloquial concluder: "I kill ants with my conscience giving me dirty looks." Color you Jain Austen.

Evelyn, nice piece on the Christopher book. Beautifully expressed thought on why it's bad medicine for hacks like Dan Brown or it seems Paul Christopher to impose a faux-reality apparatus on their supposed nonfiction. They "seem to think that doing so makes their books better, but it just serves to degrade the public's intelligence." Yes! That's it exactly.

My back went up, though, when you brought in that sublime flick FARGO. You say, "It could be that the Coen Brothers need to take some blame here, for saying at the beginning of their 1996 film FARGO as 'This is a true story.'"

1) With that title card in the film, the Coen Brothers were explicitly satirizing the cheap attention-whoring falsity of such claims to truthiness.

2) Given any large audience, some people won't be hip to the irony of a particular satirical element. If that meant that the satirist should avoid any such irony, by Saturday night there wouldn't BE any more satire.

3) Was Orson Welles to blame when people panicked at his WAR OF THE WORLDS radio broadcast? Was Heinlein to blame because Charles Manson says he was inspired by STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND?

And Mark, your footnote made it worse: "[This is more serious than it sounds. One woman died as a result. See . -mrl]"

I read the attached GUARDIAN article with interest, about a Japanese woman who wandered around the Fargo area in winter and was eventually found dead in the snow, and a policeman speculating that she was looking for the treasure briefcase from the FARGO movie. But [SPOILER ALERT] the article explicitly concludes that she came to the area stalking a former lover, a married American. That she mailed a suicide note to her parents in Japan giving that unhappy affair as the reason she was in despair. And that the whole FARGO flick connection was just wrongheaded speculation by a Bismarck cop. To quote the article: "Yes, she had come to the upper midwest to kill herself. But not because of FARGO. It seemed the whole treasure story was nothing more than a Coen brothers-style series of tragic misunderstandings. Nothing more than the figment of an earnest policeman's imagination."

To sum up, you two: I call take-it-backsies!


[Writing praise from Bob Devney is high praise indeed. I would just request that he stop making good writing look so easy.

I admitted to my FARGO error up above.

Orson Welles admitted right in the Mercury Theatre Broadcast that he intentionally pulled a practical joke with the broadcast, a bit of Halloween mischief. He most likely wanted to show the power of radio drama, his field of expertise. Unfortunately, the joke got out of hand. He was filmed the next day saying how shocked he was that his broadcast was taken so seriously. Somewhere I heard that during that filming he was intentionally mimicking with his face paintings he had seen of Christian martyrs. He enjoyed being irritating to people in a way we usually attribute to Harlan Ellison. But in my opinion Welles had more talent. -mrl]

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

I mentioned THE BLACK STAR PASSES by John W. Campbell (ISBN-13 978-1-557-42931-5, ISBN-10 1-557-42931-6) a few weeks ago as an example of early 1930s techno-babble. I read this (and its two sequels) when I was in high school--I'm not sure which year, but I can even remember where I bought the books. Arcot, Wade, and Morey were the quintessential nerds, who kept discovering new elements that somehow fit into previously unknown holes un the periodic chart, and could whip up invisibility devices or destruction rays overnight.

Of course, re-reading it I notice all sorts of negative aspects I had missed when I was younger. For example, they go to Venus (a Venus of oceans and only about 150 degrees) and find a giant airship attacking a city. Now they don't know anything about the two sides fighting or what the issues are, but because the city is so pretty, they decide to attack the airship and save the city. I guess I'm glad they didn't decide to show up while we were bombing Tokyo.

And do I need to mention that there are no women in the book-- anywhere?

I can't really recommend this book except for those who already know they like 1930s techno-babble hard science fiction. (If you're really into this stuff, the sequels are ISLANDS OF SPACE and INVADERS FROM THE INFINITE.)

PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: THE HIDDEN FORCES THAT SHAPE OUR DECISIONS by Dan Ariely (ISBN-13 978-0-06-153544-4, ISBN-10 0-06-153544-0) addresses questions such as "Why are we happier to do things when we are not paid for doing them?" and "Why are free things frequently more expensive than things we pay for?" I don't necessarily always agree with Ariely's conclusions, though. For example, Ariely claims that more people will choose a free $10 gift certificate than a $20 gift certificate that costs $7, but that the latter is a better deal because one gets $13 of profit rather than $10. Well, he uses as an the vendor and they are probably reasonably priced, but consider a more extreme case: you have the choice between a free $100 gift certificate for Tiffany's or a $200 gift certificate for $70. Unless you are the sort who buys in Tiffany's, most of what they have will appear over-priced (and unnecessary). You may very well prefer something that requires no expense on your part than a "better" deal that puts you out of pocket for $70. Or, put another way, if you think everything at Tiffany's costs four times what you are willing to pay (i.e., what it is worth to you), a free $100 gift certificate gets you $25 worth of goods for nothing, while a $200 gift certificate that costs $70 gets you only $50 worth of goods for that $70--hardly a good deal.

The newly formed science fiction discussion group in Middletown (NJ) chose ANDROMEDA STRAIN by Michael Crichton for the January meeting. (Each month we choose a book and the movie made from it-- we read the book ahead of time, then watch the movie for the first half of the meeting, then discuss the two for the second half.)

A few observations about the book: It is a massive expository lump (or as Mark said, "an expository lump with trimmings"). [As opposed to THE BLACK STAR PASSES, which is expository lump with plot-like trimmings. -mrl]

A couple of weeks ago I talked about novels that blurred the line between fiction and fact. Crichton did that forty years ago--the "Acknowledgements" at the beginning and the "References" at the end are both made-up. Even the opening quotes after the title page are made up, attributed to characters in the book.

Crichton cites Lewis Bornheim's definition of a crisis: "a situation in which a previously tolerable set of circumstances is suddenly, by the addition of another factor, rendered wholly intolerable." Then he says, "At the time of Andromeda, there had never been a crisis of biological science...." What about the bubonic plague, the introduction of European diseases to New World, or the 1918 Influenza Pandemic?

He also claims that "1-101-1110" is "a perfectly reasonable telephone number". No, it wasn't at the time (1969) and probably not even now. Exchanges (the "101" part) could not start with a "1", because that signaled long distance.

On page 201 he has the characters discussing "what is life?" One definition they give is, "All living organisms in some way took in energy--as food, or sunlight--and converted it to another form of energy, and put it to use. (Viruses were the exception to this rule, but the group was prepared to define viruses as nonliving.)" Then someone claims three items stretch this too far: a black cloth (in sunlight, it converts radiant energy to heat), a watch with a radium dial (radioactive decay produces light), and a piece of granite ("It is living, breathing, walking, and talking. Only we cannot see it because it is happening too slowly.") While one may agree with the first two, I have no idea what he means by the last. But the classic test case that is usually given is fire--it consumes fuel, outputs waste, etc.

The "Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" series has been discontinued by St. Martin's Press. It had appeared for twenty-one years, with Ellen Datlow editing the horror aspect the entire time. Terri Windling edited the fantasy part through 2003, when Gavin Grant and Kelly Link assumed that role. While I am sorry to see it go, I have to say that I read it only for the fantasy and after Windling left it was never the same. (Night Shade Press will be doing a "Year's Best Horror" anthology for at least a couple of years.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Debt is the slavery of the free.
                                          --Publilius Syrus

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