MT VOID 10/22/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 17, Whole Number 1620

MT VOID 10/22/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 17, Whole Number 1620

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/22/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 17, Whole Number 1620

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

Pulp Irony (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the last issue of the MT VOID we had a link to see several hundred pulp magazine covers. It occurs to me that everything in the pulp world is kind of topsy-turvy. In pulps is the only place I know where "spicy" is a synonym for "tasteless". [-mrl]

Some Comments on Origami (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In early July there was a news story that researchers at Harvard and MIT built origami robots that fold and unfold themselves into a simple origami boat or as simple origami plane.


I cannot imagine how this will translate into something practical, but it shows how origami has penetrated the consciousness of people in science and mathematics.

It occurs to me that as much as I like origami and am proud of the many figures I have invented, I never have mentioned it in one of my editorials. Probably the reason for that is that writing about origami is like dancing about architecture, to paraphrase a famous quote. Origami is very visual. An origami figure is only a wad of paper if you cannot see it. So as interested as I am in origami, I do not talk about it much in these editorials.

I have been a fan of the "Japanese" art of origami since I was six years old (or younger). My start on origami was in making paper airplanes. That seems to be fairly common since paper airplanes seems to be the branch of origami that the greatest number of people have experienced. Since I was interested in science fiction, probably I got started making paper airplanes and thinking of them as paper spaceships. Or I would see in the Sears catalog a toy monorail. Okay, that is sort of futuristic so it appealed to me. I decided I could make one of those out of a paper airplane, attach a drinking straw and run a string through that, over the stairway banister that I used as sort of a makeshift pulley, and back to the airplane where I attached it. Pull on the string and the "monorail" would rush to its destruction crashing into the stairway banister. I guess it was heady stuff for the young version of me.

I think it fascinated me that with something as common as paper you can do so much. Today we have friends and relatives who have children. They seem to get rooms-full of store-bought toys. I know two little girls who each have toys enough to fill up a room or two. It seems to me that when I was their age I had a shelf in the closet for toys and games and my brother had another closet shelf. That was pretty much it. My toys were what I could fit on my shelf. Kids just did not have a lot of toys in those days. My parents did not supply us with that many. But we did have paper. You can make a toy or game with paper and then throw it away. And I don't know anybody who does not have a lot of paper in his/her house. If nothing else, everybody gets a lot of junk mail that is fine for origami. So you can get expensive papers from Japan and spend a lot of money on the hobby, but you can also go very cheaply. In fact, as economical hobbies go, it is only one step or two above forming your mouth into an 'O' and making music by flicking your throat.

Incidentally, you might note that I put the attribution "Japanese" in quotes. Origami was probably not invented by the Japanese, even though it has a Japanese name. "Oru" is Japanese for "to fold" and "Kami" is paper. But the Japanese probably did not invent origami. Like "ramen" noodles, origami was probably invented in China. Somehow the Japanese just tacitly have been given the credit since things just sound more impressive with a Japanese name. (Sudoku seems to have been invented in the United States, but it also got a Japanese name.) Depending on your definition, origami may even go back to Biblical times.

In the 20th Century it was realized that origami is very closely related to mathematics. Now, I knew that when I took geometry my background in origami helped me to some extent. Certainly I encountered concepts like parallel, perpendicular, and angle bisector in origami well before they came up for me in geometry. But origami has much more scope than as examples of simple mathematics concepts. When you start applying mathematics and computers to origami suddenly a whole new world opens to the folder. You can start making figures that are not just abstract geometrical versions that sort of look like animals. The figures look very naturalistic and very much like the animals being folded. What is more, one man who folds them (physicist Robert Lang) has also written a computer program that need only a description--a tree diagram--of what the final figure must look like and it will design an origami fold for it.

And as Lang points out, these folds have application in medicine, in science, in space, and many more places. These are applications where making something that has to be large and cumbersome on the job can be made compact for transporting. For example, a stent that may be used to enlarge clogged arteries and veins can be made small and compact until it is in place, and then can be opened out. The applications for things like space telescopes are obvious. Lang did a particularly interesting TED Talk on the uses of origami. It is worth seeing:



WIRELESS by Charles Stross (copyright 2009, Ace Science Fiction, $7.99, 318pp, ISBN 978-0-441-01893-2) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Those of you who read these reviews know that Charles Stross is one of my favorite writers. I've read and reviewed a good number of his books, including SINGULARITY SKY, IRON SUNRISE, SATURN's CHILDREN, and the first few of the "Merchant Princes" series. WIRELESS is the first book of shorter works of Stross's that I have read, and I'll have to say that I'm completely impressed with the collection.

WIRELESS contains stories of all three of the short variations: short story, novelette, and novella, and while not all of them are outstanding, there are no clunkers in the bunch.

I've heard it said that in any collection of shorter works, said collection should start out with a killer and end with a killer. I think this is exceptionally true of WIRELESS.

The book leads off with Missile Gap, a story of the Cold War in the far future where the earth is flat--well, where humanity lives is flat, anyway--and the concerns about the missile gap, the disparity in weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union, is alive and well. That idea in and of itself is a bit out of the ordinary (but since when has anything Stross has ever written been ordinary), but when the truth comes out at the end of the novella, well, I think even the reader is a bit scared. Missile Gap won the Locus Award for Best Novella.

And it should end with a killer, right? Well, it certainly does. PALIMPSEST, awarded the Hugo for Best Novella recently at WorldCon in Australia, is a terrific and complex time travel story that will leave you wondering if the reality we're living in is real. I haven't had a story knock me out like this in years. The idea of the canvas of history being rewritten (hence the title) intentionally in order to hide things is just mind boggling. What comes to mind for me is the concept of software versions--you have to keep digging deeper and deeper to find the original. This, my friends, is a story worthy of a Hugo Award and what I truly mean when I point at it and say "that's science fiction". This is good stuff.

There are all sorts of good stuff in between. There's a story set in the "Laundry" universe (sadly, the only set of books of Stross' that I have yet to read) which are chronicled in THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES, THE JENNIFER MORGUE, and the just-released THE FULLER MEMORANDUM). This is a cool story. The story "A Colder War" is a sort of cross between the Cold War and the Cthulu Mythos, with a nasty twist that is once again of a frightening nature. "Unwirer" was written in collaboration with Cory Doctorow, and chronicles the tale of those folks battling the wired establishment. It was written as a reaction to some of the proposed early Internet laws, and gives the reader a glimpse of what the world could look like if those laws had been passed. "MAXOS" is a hilarious (well, to me, anyway) story of First Contact and what those aliens would say to us. The stories "Rogue Farm", "Trunk and Disorderly", and "Snowball's Chance" were the less stellar stories of the bunch. Of the three, I could have done without "Snowball's Chance", but even that was okay.

This is a nice collection of Stross' shorter works, and I highly recommend it for fans of Stross or even for those folks who may have soured on the short form for one reason or another. This is short SF in the grand tradition, and I believe you'll enjoy it. [-jak]

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A STUDY IN PINK (TV review by Rob Mitchell):

When it comes to matters Sherlockian, I have pretty high standards. It's very rare for me to be favorably disposed to any treatment of Sherlock Holmes outside of Sir Arthur's Canon, especially on either the large or small screen. All too often, such productions invoke the tropes of the original stories whole totally missing the spirit of the Holmes, and his London, that Doyle portrayed. And don't get me started on the numerous efforts to "modernize" Holmes by bringing him into the present day...

Well, on second thought, maybe you could get me started. Thanks to a friend, I've been able to watch a three-part mini-series the BBC broadcast not long. "A Study in Pink" (the first of the three cases in the series) will be broadcast Sunday, October 24, on PBS, and I strongly recommend it.

Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch from ATONEMENT) isn't exactly what I'd expect Holmes to look like, but I quickly got used to it thanks to the masterful way he captures the gamut of the languid ennui of a bored Holmes through the eager glee of chasing down a particularly challenging case. His Watson (Martin Freeman from HOT FUZZ and the British THE OFFICE) is equally well portrayed--clearly not stupid; trying hard to keep with Holmes' thoughts while providing the necessary emotional and morale counterweight to Holmes almost sociopathic fixation on solving crimes.

The series starts with Dr. John Watson in London having been discharged from the British Army after being wounded in Afghanistan. Bored and depressed, he drops in on a former classmate who teaches at St. Barts Hospital, and in the course of the conversation mentions gets introduced to another loner who needs a flatmate--Sherlock, of course. These first few minutes set the precedent for the rest of the series--an updating of certain scenes or concepts from the original stories, brought into the modern world where the internet, cell phone cameras, and GPS exist and are used by the police, the criminals, and of course, our heroes. Inspector Lestrade, Mycroft Holmes, Professor Moriarty, even a modern-day (and plausible!) version of the Baker Street Irregulars--all are brought into stories that are new and creative, not merely retelling of the original stories with a 2010 wrapper.

I started watching this series fully expecting not to finish it-- disappointed like I've so often been. I was wrong, and I hope to see further productions like these from the BBC. [-rm]

[The other two parts--"The Blind Banker" and "The Great Game"--will be broadcast on successive Sundays. -ecl]

Science Fiction Predictions (letter of comment by Frank R. Leisti):

In response to the URL for an article on science fiction predictions in the 10/08/10 issue of the MT VOID, Frank R. Leisti writes:

Your recent MT VOID directed users to a website that described science fiction predictions that have come true. Using this as a wedge, I was wondering about the ideas present in earlier science fiction works that are renewed in more recent science fiction material.

To this end, with the recent movie of AVATAR, I recalled a science fiction story that I had read about a handicapped person using equipment to animate a life form that was created to live on the surface of Jupiter. The story was entitled "Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson and I had read it when I was much younger, from my father's library collection. It was contained in THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES AND NOVELS (NINTH SERIES), edited by T. E. Dikty.

The story dealt with Edward Anglesey and his efforts at setting up a base camp on the surface of Jupiter. When his connection gets terminated, he takes off his helmet from his esprojector in time to see the K-tub oscillating again to failure. The story line gives Edward his motivation as the "man in the electric wheel chair" upset with the current status with his ability to get things done on the surface of Jupiter. We are then introduced to Jan Cornelius who has to check the person and equipment coming from Earth's Psionics Corporation. The pseudojovian is controlled by this device when Edward uses the equipment even though he wasn't a "formally trained esman at all." The story continues with developments both on Jupiter and on Jupiter V coming to its conclusion with the directive of having more pseudojovians sent down to help this first Jovian build a base and start a civilization (females were introduced as well as more males.)

I see the interesting ties with James Cameron's AVATAR and wonder how many science fiction stories are influenced by prior stories, some of which might have been read so long ago that just the nugget of ideas are reused and expanded upon with new stories.

As an aside note, the book also presents "The Science-Fiction Book Index" complied by Earl Kemp. As described in the book, "The Index that follows covers in detail the fiction titles published in the field of imaginative literature, in the English language. There are three lists, Number One: Books published between January 1, 1956, and December 31, 1956; Number Two: Books published between January 1, 1957, and December 31, 1957; Number Three: Related, Associational and Non-fiction Works."

It was interesting to note the prices of these books ranging from 35 cents to $4.95. There were other prices in the old British format shown as 12s6d. [-frl]

Mark replies:

You are probably right that AVATAR to some extent used ideas from "Call Me Joe". That is sort of allowed in science fiction (unless Harlan Ellison is involved). Stories comment on other stories and ideas shift around. If you take a look at you will see that a lot of people noticed the similarity. Interesting that "Call Me Joe" has much of its plot on the surface of Jupiter. There is no surface of Jupiter, but I wonder if that was known when Anderson was writing. [-mrl]

Spiderman and Spinnerets (letter of comment by Bill Higgins):

In response to Mark's review of SPIDERMAN in the 05/10/02 issue of the MT VOID, Bill Higgins writes:

In your review of *Spiderman* (*THE MT VOID* 05/10/02--Vol. 20, No. 45) you wrote words that have stayed with me:

"Parker is very sick for a few hours, but when he recovers he gets considerably better than just well. He finds he has the power to shoot webs from his wrists. (Why would he develop this at his wrists? I suppose it would be a very different film if he had inherited spinnerets in the same anatomical location where a spider has them.)"

I feel I must report that on last week's episode of "The Venture Brothers"-- an animated show that, like many another these days, is darn funny if one can put up with its vulgarity-- featured a web-swinging Manhattan superhero, who got his powers from experiments with radioactive spiders, whose spinnerets match your description. He is unnamed in the dialogue, but without rewinding to check the credits, I think he is referred to as The Brown Recluse.

This series is unafraid to explore such logical possibilities.

For reference, the episode was "Bright Lights, Dean City", [and] aired 10 October 2010.

Mark responds, "Score one for realism in television. This is the real reality TV." [-mrl]

Quotation Attribution (letter of comment from Peter Rubinstein):

In response to the quotation at the end of the 10/15/10 issue of the MT VOID ("That I could clamber to the frozen moon and draw the ladder after me."), Peter Rubinstein writes that this should be attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer, rather than "author unknown".

Optical Illusions (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch):

In response to comments on optical illusions in the 10/08/10 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes, "What's really disturbing is the aftereffects of staring at a smooth-scrolling terminal for hours. It will feel like the building you're in is sinking. And it's a very powerful sensation. I wasn't the only one who had to take breaks staring out a window to see that the building isn't really sinking." [-kfl]

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

THE BODY SNATCHERS (a.k.a. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) by Jack Finney (ISBN 978-0-684-85258-4) was the book chosen for the SF- book-and-movie group this month, with the 1956 movie INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. There are actually four film versions of the book: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), BODY SNATCHERS (1993), and THE INVASION (2007). The first is the most accurate to the book--more accurate than most film versions of books. What is missing from the film, however, are most of the sections that give you a sense of the internal thoughts and emotions of the main character (Miles Bennell), and also some of the descriptive passages. For example, there is a long section where Miles is walking through the town and notices that stores are closed, that no one is painting their house, and so on. There is a bit of this in the movie, but not as much. (Actually, the description sounds like a lot of the "Rust Belt" towns hard hit by the recession.)

I also read GAMING THE VOTE: WHY ELECTIONS AREN'T FAIR (AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT) by William Poundstone (ISBN 978-0-809-04892-2). Many people know about Arrow's Theorem, which proves that given a set of "self-evident" rules, it is impossible to devise a ranked voting system (a.k.a. preferential voting system) that follows all the rules. Briefly, it states:

General Possibility Theorem: It is impossible to formulate a social preference ordering that satisfies all of the following conditions:

  1. Nondictatorship: The preferences of an individual should not become the group ranking without considering the preferences of others.
  2. Individual Sovereignty: each individual should be able to order the choices in any way and indicate ties
  3. Unanimity: If every individual prefers one choice to another, then the group ranking should do the same
  4. Freedom From Irrelevant Alternatives: If a choice is removed, then the others order should not change
  5. Uniqueness of Group Rank: The method should yield the same result whenever applied to a set of preferences. The group ranking should be transitive.

    In GAMING THE VOTE, Poundstone details all of the major variants of ranked voting, and gives examples in each one of how this is true. He also proposes a solution that does not have any of these flaws-- and not a brand-new one, but one that has been used on the Internet in many applications for years now--range voting. (It does not violate Arrow's Theorem, because it is not ranked voting.) [-ecl]

                                              Mark Leeper
    Quote of the Week:
              The dignity of man lies in his ability to face 
              reality in all its meaninglessness.
                                              -- Martin Esslin

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