MT VOID 11/20/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 21, Whole Number 1572

MT VOID 11/20/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 21, Whole Number 1572

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/20/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 21, Whole Number 1572

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

Heinlein Timelines (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

There is a timeline for Robert A. Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" at and another one for "All You Zombies" at Not surprisingly, they contain spoilers. These are complex time travel stories involving someone moving forward and backward in time. It is tough to keep it straight without a timeline. [-ecl]

Wired Magazine's Readers' Favorite Science Fiction Films (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

A list of Wired Magazine's readers' favorite science fiction films can be found (complete with great illustrations) at:

(The first is through the 1950s; the second is for the 1970s and 1980s. I have no idea why the URLs differ that much.)

This list was in response to Wired's own lists, which can be seen at:

(Again, I have no idea why the URLs differ that much.) [-ecl]

Simple Math Problem (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We have a movie coming out with making the inaccurate claim that the Mayans predicted the world will end. Actually the Mayans predicted no such thing. But here is a nice little math problem for you. There have over the years been a lot of predictions that the world coming to an end. Figure out to three decimal places what percentage of these predictions have proven true. [-mrl]

Sad Joke (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

An article in the New York Daily News says that students are getting to college without basic algebra skills. "During their first math class at one of CUNY's four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem, the report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs found." The author declined to say how many students that was.

Note: Yes, I made a joke, but I consider it no less a serious problem.


42! Excellent, Excellent! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Our library discussion group is reading THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. As a whole it is a lot like sitting down and reading JOE MILLER'S JOKE BOOK, page by page. But it turns out that there is something that makes this book important and vital reading for everyone. When characters in the book find the answer to the ultimate question they are apparently correct that it is 42. It now seems mind-numbingly improbably that 42 is not the ultimate number and hence the answer to the ultimate question. The reason is that the constructor fleet that built the entire universe left us signs in pi that

JAI{space} being the real center of what is happening in the universe. The cards unfortunately say "Go directly to JAI{space}. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200." Sadly the cards whenever found have been assumed to be just printing errors on cards from some sort of board game.

But as for the sign of the 42, realize that 4=2^2. And two and four have been given the magical relationship that 2^4=4^2, that now other two integers have. But if you take two twos and two 42s and arrange them as 242422 and go that many places past the decimal point of pi, the universe construction people left a little sign to reward you much like dropping a piece of cheese to a mouse in a maze. There you will find in the decimal expansion of pi the string "42424242". Now you may at this point be unimpressed and say it really was really not worth the journey to find "42424242." And the fact that you are so disappointingly disappointed is the reason why you will probably spend the rest of your life earth-bound on a planet that is slowly exchanging its environment for a different and nastier one and you will tick off the rest of your life in seconds from your digital watch.

If you want confirmation of this sign, and are not particularly quick with numbers, you can find the same observation about pi and 42 made buried in

Like you, the Wikipedia people had no idea what to make of this odd observation.

For those of you who are unimpressed about the super-colossal fact that the universe constructors left the clue about 42 just lying around where anyone with a ginormous super computer to find it, class is dismissed and you may go out to the playground and I ask you to play nicely. But for the rest of you realize that the sum of 4 and 2 is 6. And it happens that 42 is the sixth cake number. Mathematicians are very fond of cake. I know I am. 42 is the maximum number of pieces of cake you could get by taking a cake in one piece and cutting it with six cuts.

If you really want to get technical, 42 is also the smallest number that is abundant and odious and tiresome. What does that mean? The number n is abundant if the sum of all its positive divisors except itself is more than n. 21, 14, and 7, all divisors of 42, sum to 42 all by themselves. And that still leaves 1, 2, 3, and 6. The sum of its divisors is 54. I am sure there is some significance to 54 that will become more apparent with time, assuming there is time before the environment changes.

The number n is odious if it has an odd number of 1's in its binary expansion. The binary expansion of 42 is 101010. There are three zeros and three ones alternating, in perfect balance.

42 is the first abundant number that is odious and the first odious number that is abundant.

42 is tiresome because I am sick of talking about it. [-mrl]

[See also to search pi for other strings. -ecl]

Belated Happy 50th Birthday, TZ (letter of comment by Pete Brady):

In response to Mark's comments on "Belated Happy 50th Birthday, TZ" in the 11/06/09 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Brady writes, "When I read that, I thought at first you meant the Tappan Zee Bridge! (Which just passed its 50th also.) [-ptb]

The Continental Op (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Alan Winston, and Tim McDaniel):

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE GASLIGHT GRIMOIRE in the 11/13/09 issue of the MT VOID (in which she referred to the Continental Op as a Raymond Chandler character), Kip Williams wrote:

The Continental Op was Hammett, not Chandler. Chandler was the one whose character would say how he was feeling about something. Hammett chose instead to describe the actions of characters in a way that told you how they were feeling. It's a little like mistaking Ravel and Debussy. [-kw]

To which Alan Winston replied:

Hadn't thought about it that way, but you're right.

Other differences: Chandler is self-consciously poetic; Hammett (despite a short story with a detective who actually *is* poet) not so much. Hammett's plots generally make sense (partly because he wrote his novels of a piece, rather than as cut-and-paste jobs, partly because he was more of a craftsman). [-aw]

And then Kip responded:

Hm. I know you aren't setting it up as art versus craft, but sometimes it seems a little like it, with Chandler consciously going for the art side, and Hammett crafting every detail. I have a tough time choosing between them, because Hammett finds the emotional peaks as memorably when he chooses to, as in the ending of "The Gutting of Couffignal" or the blood-simple nightmare of RED HARVEST.

Chandler's plots may sometimes show the stress of having been short stories stitched together, but for me that's only in retrospect and when compared with the original stories. I'm glad he was unable to bury those stories. They're a wonderful body of work, and make a very entertaining and readable apocrypha alongside the canon enshrined in the stories selected for the Library of America collection. The fact that things come out differently in them helps keep things fresh, even in repeated reading. [-kw]

And Tim McDaniel wrote:

YASID [Yet Another Story Identification]: I think it was a Continental Op story where the dick was trying to get to an offshore casino boat, and found a guy named Red to ferry him out surreptitiously. As I remember, Red was one of the few all-around good guys that the C.O. encounters ... but I also thought, when I read it, that the text implied that C.O. was rather attracted to Red. What story was it, and did anyone else get that impression? [-tm]

Kip said:

It was Chandler. I think the situation occurs in "The Man Who Liked Dogs," which was a Carmady story later cannibalized into the Marlowe novel FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. I'm hedging, because all of a sudden, neither one of my precious copies of KILLER IN THE RAIN can be found, so though I have the novel at hand to verify, I can't be 100% on the details of the short story, which I've only read a couple of dozen times.

As far as being attracted to Red, it's one of those manly things, where somebody who is sufficiently noble recognizes someone else of similar nobility. Red seems like someone who would be a lead character in some other book and somehow is only a player in this one. He encounters Anne Riordan in the same book, who's one of the few all-around good women Marlowe ever met, but the chemistry wasn't there, or he was saving himself.

I suppose after I hit send, I'll poke around and try to find the book again. Damn irritating, this. It was always kept in my bedside bookshelf, as befits one of my favorite and most re- readable volumes. [-kw]

And after someone sent him a copy of the story (, Kip added:

This confirms that it was Carmady and that other details I remembered were accurate. This is comforting, in contrast to the fact that I can't find one of my favorite books, of which I have two copies.

The novel is right here, in the Library of America collection, which honors Chandler's wish to suppress the stories he "cannibalized" to construct his novels. With all due respect, I like these stories too much not to keep them around, and wish the L of A had gone ahead and fit them in somehow.

[SPOILERS for Raymond Chandler's "The Man Who Liked Dogs" and FAREWELL MY LOVELY]: On the subject of being manly and butch, Chandler paints dismissive portraits of effeminate men in both the story and the novel. In the story, it's the veterinarian ("pretty little man"), and in the novel, it's Lindsey Marriot. He doesn't like either of them, and neither one has a nice end--the vet gets his throat torn out, and the gigolo gets his brains smashed out. Not every death in fiction is indicative of an author's views toward the victim, of course, but these seem to me the results of something other than impersonal Fate at work. [END SPOILERS] [-kw]

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

THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU (translated by Thomas Merton) (ISBN-13 978-0- 87733-676-9, ISBN-10 0-87733-676-6) is one of those "Shambhala Pocket Classics". (Unlike convention "pocket programs", these truly are pocket-sized. There is something odd about the fact that one can fit the wisdom of Chuang Tzu in a pocket, but not the schedule of a science fiction convention.)

A sample: "To organize is to destroy."

Or: "Of safeguarding property Chuang Tzu wrote: 'For security against robbers that snatch purses and rifle bags, people stow their possessions in trunks and bind them with ropes and bolts and strong locks. This is what the world calls wit. But in reality it is only saving up for the strong thief, who hoists the trunk on his back and runs--fearing only that the ropes and bolts will not hold or that the lock will break. Isn't everything we do to secure ourselves against future loss a little like this? ...
      The invention of weights and measures
      Makes robbery easier.
      Signing contracts, settings seals,
      Makes robbery more sure.
      Teaching love and duty
      Provides a fitting language
      With which to prove that robbery
      Is really for the general good.
      A poor man must swing
      For stealing a belt buckle
      But if a rich man steals a whole state
      He is acclaimed
      As statesman of the year."

The "high concept" description for THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (ISBN-13 978-0- 385-34100-4) would be "84 CHARING CROSS ROAD meets FOYLE'S WAR". It is an epistolary novel between a writer in England and the members of a literary society on Guernsey shortly after World War II, with the Guernesias in the Helene Hanff role, talking about the books they have read and loved (or not), and asking her to send books they have been unable to get, and writer Juliet Ashton in the role of book dealer Frank Doel.

Shaffer and Barrows have combined all this with the Guernesias' stories of the German occupation of Guernsey during the war, as related to Ashton, and later as re-told by Ashton to her publisher and her friends. There is also a romantic sub-plot which I though completely unnecessary--aren't books *and* the German occupation enough?

But more of a problem with the book was that while it was good, I kept hitting spots where I found myself thinking, "This character is writing something that sounds great. In fact, it sounds just like Helene Hanff might write." And then I realized that it was reading too much like a copy of Helene Hanff. It all made me think of Hanff's comment (after reading Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES) about how she prefers non-fiction to fiction: "Wasn't anything else that intrigued me much, it was just stories. I don't like stories. ... I'm a great lover of i-was-there books." (11/09/63) It's not that any of the characters say it--it's how I felt reading this. Unlike Hanff, I do like stories, but when I was reading 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, I felt like 'i-was-there', while with THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY I was reading a character's made-up feelings. I wanted to like this, and I did like parts of it, but I also felt I was being manipulated into it.

For those who like Carl Hiassen's writing but find many of his novels too strong, I recommend his young adult novels. SCAT by Carl Hiassen (ISBN-13 978-0-375-83486-8), for example, has the same themes of preserving the environment against those who would despoil it for commercial gain, and also has a typical Hiassen cast of wacky characters, such as a substitute teacher who always teaches from the same page of whatever textbook the class is using, only depending on what day of the week it is, and a pyromaniac student who ate the teacher's pencil in class.

THE HITCH HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams (ISBN-13 978-0-345-41891-3, ISBN-10 0-345-41891-3) was the choice for the joint meeting of the general book discussion group and the science fiction book discussion group this month. (The science fiction book discussion group normally meets the fourth Thursday of each month, a problem in November.) This time through I noted all the cultural and literary references. For example, Chapter 10 ends with Arthur Dent saying, "Ford! There's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for 'Hamlet' they've worked out." Or in Chapter 5: "He was experiencing the aural equivalent of looking at a picture of two black silhouetted faces and suddenly seeing it as a picture of a white candlestick." [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Common sense is the collection of prejudices 
           acquired by age eighteen. 
                                          -- Albert Einstein

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