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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/25/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 35, Whole Number 1638
Table of Contents
Answer to Last Week's Puzzle and a New Puzzle (by Tom Russell):
Last week I gave the puzzle:
Our old dictionary has the two-letter word jo meaning "sweetheart". (See also http://www.yourdictionary.com/jo) If you back up one letter in each place the J becomes an I and the O becomes an N (in the same way HAL relates to IBM), so JO becomes IN, another two- letter word. How many other such "ladder" pairs of two-letter words can you find? You should be able to find up to five more such pairs of words.
The answer is ad-be, ax-by, he-if, oh-pi, and to-up.
Arthur T. sent in:
Some people see puzzles like this as a memory challenge. Others see it as a programming challenge.
My program (and my database of words) said:
14 pairs found of 2 letters. 30 pairs found of 3 letters. 12 pairs found of 4 letters. 4 pairs found of 5 letters. 2 pairs found of 6 letters. 0 pairs found of 7 letters.
A zipfile of my program and results is attached. There are quite a few words in there that aren't in my standard dictionary, but are in my anagram dictionary (which is what I search for this kind of puzzle). [-at]
[The answers Arthur found will appear *next* week so that people can try the longer words. -ecl]
This week's puzzle:
Find a set of four, four-letter, words in which three of the letters are the same in all the words and the other letter position forms a four-letter alphabetic sequence. The pattern might look like this: VOID WOID XOID YOID. In this example the second, third and fourth letters are the same and the first letter forms a four- letter alphabetic sequence. Which letter position is used as the sequence is for you to find.
Bonus: There is an underlying pattern to the alphabet which makes the third puzzle difficult. If each of the five vowels is represented by V and each consonant by C, then our alphabet is: V C C C V C C C V C C C C C V C C C C C V C C C C C. English is a living language; it has evolved from grunts to tweets. Did this amazing pattern in our alphabet come about by natural selection or by intelligent design?
The answer will appear next week. [-tlr]
Answer to the Previous Week's Puzzle (by Tom Russell, Tim Bateman, Charles Harris, and Kip Williams):
We had more entries and comments on Tom Russell's puzzle in the 02/11/11 issue of the MT VOID. Just to remind you, Tom said:
The five common vowels are A, E, I, O and U. One set of matching words using all five vowels is ball/bell/bill/boll/bull. (If you don't raise cotton then boll might not be a familiar word.) Find another list of five four-letter words with the same property. The vowel may be in any of the four positions.
Tom's answer was last/lest/list/lost/lust. Mark added pats/pets/pits/pots/puts.
Tim Bateman had sent in Tom's answer to the previous puzzle in the 02/11/11 issue before the solution was published (as noted below), but too late to make the issue. He also sent in pall/pell/pill/poll/pull, saying:
I had to check whether 'pell' was a word or not; it appears that it is a verb meaning 'pelt' or a noun meaning 'pelt'. No such luck with 'tull', which would give us tall, tell, till, toll and tull. I am acting on the criteria that we are not allowed proper nouns, or I'd include the important figures of Jethro and Walter Tull.
I'll pell you with another list if I come up with one.
Halfway through that last sentence, of course, I came across:
which I think is better, if only for including the word 'list' in the list. [-tb]
Charles Harris adds (and Kip Williams also sent in):
And how about bats/bets/bits/bots/buts? This set would seem appropriate for the VOID's science fiction roots. As for objecting that some of these are not words, I won't accept any ifs, ands or buts. [-csh]
Nothing to Sneeze At (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
They say that nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. I know from experience that a sneeze whose time has come is actually more powerful. A sneeze can stop an idea, even if only temporarily. But no idea is powerful enough to stop a sneeze. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for March (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly notice of recommendations on Turner Classic Movies for the upcoming month. I am calling your attention to the slightly more obscure films on TCM that might be easily missed by people who do not recognize the titles. There are two obvious choices to point out as films to look for. Both are shown early in the month.
Rarely seen these days is Brian De Palma's OBSESSION (1976). 1976 was the year that Alfred Hitchcock released his final film, FAMILY PLOT. It was people's last chance to see the master's work. It also was the year that Brian De Palma released his OBSESSION. If you really wanted to see what made Hitchcock great you could do it that year, but not by seeing a Hitchcock film. Brian De Palma's Hitchcock-style thriller better represented the best of Hitchcock than a slowing Hitchcock himself could manage at the time. De Palma had a one-word title like Hitchcock often did to point to the strongest emotion in the film. (In fact, OBSESSION might have even been a better title for VERTIGO than VERTIGO was.) De Palma employs a disquieting Hitchcock-style score by Bernard Herrmann, who had been the composer in the 50s and 60s. De Palma tried other times to imitate Hitchcock's style, but this film he really manages to get the feel. The one difference critics have noted is that Hitchcock usually has a little humor and in this film De Palma is fairly humorless.
Cliff Robertson plays a very successful New Orleans real estate developer, deeply in love with his wife and his young daughter. Then the wife and daughter are kidnapped. Robertson makes arrangements to pay the ransom but the police botch the rescue and the two victims are killed. Robertson never forgives himself. Years later Robertson returns to the same little church in Italy where he first met his wife. Unbelievably there is a woman there who could be a double for his dead wife. Robertson decides to try to recreate the life he has lost. Also starring are Genevieve Bujold and John Lithgow. De Palma tried several times to make films borrowing touches of Hitchcock's style including SISTERS, DRESSED TO KILL, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE. This one was his most artistically successful attempt. (Thursday March 3, 4:00AM-5:45AM)
THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953) is one of the greatest edge-of-the-seat suspense films ever made. An ugly, dirty Central American village is the dead-end for expatriates from all over Europe. People wind up in the village without the money to leave and are stuck forever in what has to be the most boring and hot village in the world. Finally there is an opportunity to get out. There is an oil well explosion somewhere over the mountains at an American oil company. The Americans will pay good money if they can get four drivers to truck nitroglycerine to the fire. The only problem is that the cargo is in volatile, leaky old dynamite sticks. And the dirt roads over the mountain are barely drivable even without explosives. Hitting any little rock in the road could be deadly to the trucks. THE WAGES OF FEAR is directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot who also directed DIABOLIQUE. It made a star our of Yves Montand and featured silent film actor Charles Vanel and German Peter Van Eyck (of THE SNORKEL). The film is in French with English subtitles. It has been imitated many times and remade three times, most notably by William Friedkin as SORCEROR. The film takes about a half hour get going, but once it does this is a solid white- knuckle film. (Saturday March 5, 3:45AM-6:00AM)
Also worth noting is a Ray Harryhausen triple feature early Tuesday morning March 29. TCM will be showing JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973), and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977). The last of these was released the same weekend as STAR WARS (1977). That weekend epitomized the end of one era of special effects in film and beginning of another. Another very good French film RIFIFI (1954) will be run Thursday, March 17, 9:15-11:20. It is scheduled to run again in May and I may talk about it when I discuss the films of May. [-mrl]
Musical Instrument Museum (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix recently, and (naturally) I have a few comments.
They seem to try to have instruments from every country of the world. However, for a few they "cheat," such as combining Eritrea and Ethiopia, or having "the Levant" rather than Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. (The last means they do not have to deal with whether to treat the Palestinian territories as a separate country, or two separate countries, or not a separate country.) Israel had its own display, but seemed to be characterized primarily by European classical music. Klezmer music was in the North American section, localized in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Montreal. And is Kosovo a separate country?
South Korea was represented but not North Korea. It would seem to me that these could be combined as one region a la the Levant. In addition to North Korea, they are also missing Yemen, Libya, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Slovakia. (It's possible the last three were there somewhere, but I looked twice for them and could not find them.) Their FAQ said they were missing a few countries from which collecting instruments was difficult, and named North Korea, Yemen, and Libya. Admittedly, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Monaco are very small, but so are Luxembourg, Singapore, and Vatican City, all of which got a section.
Standing in front of the Macedonia display, I overheard another couple: "I didn't think Macedonia still existed. Oh, wait, I'm thinking of the island off Africa." "Madagascar?" "Yes, I didn't think it still existed." I have no idea whether she thought that Macedonia no longer existed, or that Madagascar didn't.
The Kurds and the Roma also have separate sections, as well as various groups within large countries, such as the Tuvans or the Uighurs in China. The Tuvans are known for "throat singing," which can produce two or more tones simultaneously, and I was glad the videos included an example, since I wasn't sure they would consider the human body an instrument. But they did, and also later included an example of Samoan music which included body-slapping and finger-snapping.
I should describe the video sections. Each section has a video (with audio) of music and dance from that country or region. Normally this would create a cacophony, but what the MIM does is give everyone a headset and receiver that will pick up the closest transmitter. It is also designed to gradually fade one station out and then the next one in as you move, making it a much smoother transition than just cutting one out and starting the next.
All the instruments listed what materials were used in making them. The Tuvans seem to be unique in using bull scrotums (scrota?) in their instruments.
The United States section had some regional musical traditions, such as Klezmer, Polka, Norte¤a, Conjunto, and Taiko, but also sections on Fender and other manufacturers. Taiko (Japanese drumming) has really become a different sort of music in the United States, and (like the Samoan body-slapping dances) are as much a visual art form as an audio one.
All in all, this is a very well-designed machine and worth seeing. [-ecl]
[Evelyn and I both wrote of descriptions of this museum not knowing the other was writing one. Mine will appear in an upcoming issue. -mrl]
Hugo Recommendations 2011 (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
It is that time of year again, and the deadline for Hugo nominations--March 26, is not far off. I decided to get it done early this year, and then blast off this little missive shamelessly promoting my favorites.
In the novel category, I am promoting TERMINAL WORLD by Alastair Reynolds, available in hardcover from Gollancz/Ace. Reynolds is a British writer of space opera that has not received the recognition he deserves. Often his books come out in England/Europe first and American fans are not aware of what he has written until it is too late for nominations. TERMINAL WORLD is not his best work, but it is the book that came out in 2010 and is Hugo-eligible, and it is pretty good, although a bit of departure for Reynolds. You can find out more about Reynolds at http://www.alastairreynolds.com/. His books are all good, but I especially recommend CENTURY RAIN and HOUSE OF SUNS. His stories are often dark, but the science is pretty hard, as befits a writer with a Ph.D. in astronomy, and the sense of wonder is blazing bright.
In the Dramatic Presentation Long Form, I especially recommend HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON from Dreamworks. This animated film is original and fun. Although it skirts being a politically correct paean along the lines of "why can't we just all get along?" it redeems itself in the end. I also recommend "SALT", which, although billed as a thriller or spy story, is actually rather close in some parts to the Algis Budrys classic WHO? It also gets some credit for accurately predicting the usage of sleeper agents by the Russians against the United States, a large ring of which was rounded up about the time the movie came out. SALT is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I recommend it for your consideration.
I also realize we are all tired of Harry Potter at this point, but HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I was the best Harry Potter movie in years, and feels much less herky-jerky than the last two efforts, with plenty of time to fully detail the plot and let the audience figure out what is going on. Similarly, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE is probably the best of the three movies so far, with smarter dialog and more believable characterization, plus hunky shirtless werewolf guys if you are into that!
I continue to be unhappy with the Hugo process for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. This has been a chestnut for the longest time, but it was, in my view, intended to be an award for the best SF television program of the preceding year. Sadly, this has been interpreted as meaning that the award is given for a particular episode of a series, and not for the series itself. This has any number of deleterious effects. One is surely the sheer difficulty with which any particular episode getting on the Hugo ballot. There is a huge and unfair barrier requiring fans to select "favorite" episodes and systematically advocate for those episodes. In practice, large, well organized fannish groups, i.e., "Dr. Who" fan clubs, get their way year after year, overpowering fans of other programs which are more ephemeral and have less organized support groups. I say this without any prejudice toward "Dr. Who" fan clubs, especially as I happen to be a dues-paying member of one of them! For example, in 2010 Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" was #1 on all ballot rounds but the final one, when a "Dr. Who" episode pulled ahead.
Another difficulty is that the fans of a particular series are sometimes split into two or more groups, each favoring a different episode, with the result that although the total support for that series is the largest, it does not win the award. Yet another issue is that short works of a very modest nature that are not in any way comparable to a regular TV series frequently win the Hugo since they are familiar to a group of organized Worldcon fans. My argument is simply this--we need a Hugo for the best SF TV/Web series under 90 minutes. This puts mini-series into the long form where they belong, while excluding plays, speeches, and other oddments. If we really want a Hugo award for plays, speeches, and so on, either a new category should be added, or they could receive a special award given by the Worldcon committee.
With my diatribe out of the way, I'll get on to "playing the game" and promoting particular episodes of particular series. In some cases I am adding my voice to those I have seen on the web, as I think the best results will come if all fans of a particular series line up behind the best known episode rather than wrangling over which is best. In my mind, each of these episodes represents the entire series, and is a proxy for that series.
I consider FRINGE to be the best SF on TV, and suggest nominating "Over There Part I & II". This is the final episode of the last season, and deals with the Fringe team's crossing over to an alternative dimension to recover one of their members. They find that the enemies who oppose them, are, in fact, themselves. Leonard Nimoy has a supporting role as William Bell, a brilliant scientist who once worked with Walter Bishop [played by John Nobel] but missing for a long time in the other dimension. This is grand SF at its best, with a complex, mature plot and wonderful acting. There is web support for this nomination.
SMALLVILLE is a guilty pleasure, and I suggest nominating "Absolute Justice", which also has web support. This episode is one of the best in the series in terms of bringing classic DC characters to life, in this case the Justice Society. Comic book fans will love the episode; others may find it hard to follow all the characters and plot twists.
"Swan Song" is the concluding episode of the fifth season of SUPERNATURAL, and, I have just learned, was intended to be the final episode of the series. It wraps up the major storyline that has been growing for five years, leading to the ultimate throw-down of our heroes with Lucifer and Michael. This nomination has web support. I've liked this series from the beginning and reviewed it elsewhere--I wish it well in at least getting a Hugo nomination.
"No Ordinary Pilot" is the opening episode of a new TV show, NO ORDINARY FAMILY. This is pure proxy for the entire series--it is certainly possible some of the later episodes were better, but it seems like the best one to gather support around. This series is mainly interesting in its portrayal of a family trying to deal with their super powers, and has the virtue that as it covers what appears to be well-trodden ground, it is fresh and original, with engaging characters that grow on you. I especially like the various misadventures of the son and daughter, who acquire the powers of hyper-intelligence and telepathy respectively.
Finally, I recommend "Founders Day"--the season opener for EUREKA. This really is one of the best episodes of the year, if not the best. In the episode, the main characters travel back to the birth of Eureka, and on their return, discover the butterfly effect has changed their lives forever. In some ways, this is best and most realistic alternative history SF show ever done. So many alternative histories diverge in a bizarre fashion--here the changes are subtle--a statue is marble rather than bronze, A never met his current girlfriend in the new timeline, B married someone B barely knew in the original timeline, and so on. The episode also introduces a great new character--one of the founders of Eureka, and works well as a historical drama. [-dls]
Nebula Award Nominations:
(Publication information may be found at http://www.sfwa.org/2011/02/2010-nebula-nominees/.)
Untold Stories (letters of comment by Tim Bateman and Lax Madapaty):
In response to Mark's comments on "untold stories" in the 02/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
And the moment that anyone makes up the story and tells it to someone else--for example, by showing the script to a film producer or an agent--the story is no longer untold.
It becomes even more untold once the film is released into cinemas and millions of people see it unfold. [-tb]
Lax Madapaty writes:
"Untold as in "on the big screen". I saw it recently on DVD after skipping it due to mixed reviews. I loved it. Very good film. I should have seen it on the big screen but got to see the director's cut on DVD. [-lm]
We have discussed remakes recently. I knew that it had become a common practice, but still the vast majority of fiction films could get the tag "the untold story." Why wasn't CASABLANCA called CASABLANCA: THE UNTOLD STORY? Somehow you should only call something "the untold story" using that label is, in fact, a lie. I guess the implication is that the writers have had access to information that the general public has not. But the implication is that the writers somehow have come upon some little-known truth about Robin Hood that has never been done on the screen before. I find that unlikely. I think the title goes in the same category of stunt as the Coen Brothers claiming that FARGO is based on a true story, but in this case it is right in the title.
I have not seen ROBIN HOOD yet, but I still intend to. I will take that as a recommendation. [-mrl]
Girl Scout Cookies (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Girl Scout cookies in the 02/18/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I was in a family with three Girl Scouts and a Girl Scout/Brownie leader, so I remember those cookies. In the 1960s, Sunshine made them, then the bakery was switched to Burry's, which we didn't like as much. If I could, I'd order Trefoils now, the way they used to make them, with a crust of sugar on the top. (I also like Lorna Doones.)
Trivia: Girl Scouts used to make the cookies themselves, using recipes sent down by the organization. They sold for something like a dime or a quarter per batch. I'm guessing something awful happened, along the lines of what would happen if Lucille Ball was a Girl Scout ("Gee, this powdered sugar sure looks like my dish soap!").
More trivia: I have a cook book from the 1970s that purports to reconstruct recipes for a lot of junk food items. To get the chocolatey coating of faux Thin Mints just right, they suggest using some wax. Without rifling my shelves for the book, I think they referred to some brand of confectioner's wax. Either that or use a brown crayon (and be sure to take the paper off). [-kw]
EARTH ABIDES (letter of comment by Dan Goodman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on EARTH ABIDES in the 02/18/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Goodman writes:
Another instance of racist thinking in EARTH ABIDES: Earlier in the book, while Ish is a lone wanderer, he finds a Negro community in the South. He leaves because he's uncomfortable about the way they immediately see him as their leader.
Note that George R. Stewart was either at the left edge of liberalism, or a bit left of liberal. Times and attitudes change. [-dg]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters (ISBN 978-1-59474-442-6) is a cute idea for about two pages. After that comes an overwhelming desire to read Jane Austen's prose before Ben H. Winters started modifying it.
As an example, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY begins:
"The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old Gentleman's days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.
By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large, and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his own marriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth. To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was not so really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father's inheriting that property, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and their father only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for the remaining moiety of his first wife's fortune was also secured to her child, and he had only a life- interest in it."
Winters changes this to:
"The family of Dashwood had been settled in Sussex since before the Alteration, when the waters of the world grew cold and hateful to the sons of man, and darkness moved on the face of the deep.
The Dashwood estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the dead centre of their property, set back from the shoreline several hundred yards and ringed by torches.
The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. Her death came as a surprise, ten years before his own; she was beating laundry upon a rock that revealed itself to be the camouflaged exoskeleton of an overgrown crustacean, a striated hermit crab the size of a German shepherd. The enraged creature affixed itself to her face with a predictably unfortunate effect. As she rolled helplessly in the mud and sand, the crab mauled her most thoroughly, suffocating her mouth and nasal passages with its mucocutaneous undercarriage. Her death caused a great change in the elderly Mr. Dashwood's home. To supply her loss, the old man invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it.
By a former marriage, Henry had one son, John; by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady, respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother. The succession to the Norland estate, therefore, was not so really important to John as to his half sisters; for their mother had nothing, and their fortune would thus depend upon their father's inheriting the old gentleman's property, so it could one day come to them."
The new version is 12% shorter (at least for the opening paragraphs), but to achieve that *and* add the sea monster parts, a lot of the original prose has been omitted.
Now, I know that this "mash-up" sub-genre is popular now (or has it already passé?), so there must be some appeal. And if I had chosen something like QUEEN VICTORIA, DEMON HUNTER, then I would not be "distracted" by the original prose. But this particular type of book just does not work for me. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God. --Euclid
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