MT VOID 04/06/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 41, Whole Number 1696

MT VOID 04/06/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 41, Whole Number 1696

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/06/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 41, Whole Number 1696

Table of Contents

      Ollie: Mark Leeper, Stan: 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

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ)

April 12: THE POSTMAN by David Brin, Middletown (NJ) Public 
	Library, film at 5PM, discussion after
April 19: WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM by Steven Johnson, Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 7PM
May 24: OF MEN AND MONSTERS by William Tenn, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
June 21: THE SWEET HEREAFTER by Russell Banks, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
July 19: SCHILD'S LADDER by Greg Egan, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
August 16: THE ASTONISHING HYPOTHESIS by Francis Crick, Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 7PM
September 27: CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
October 18: THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN by Alexander McCall 
	Smith, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
November 15: TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (tentative), Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 7PM
December 20: DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

Global Warming (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Someone on a mailing list I am on forwarded this link to a 26- second video from NASA showing the change in average temperatures over the last 131 years:

Not Even Fair Weather Friends (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I tell you things are so bad in New Jersey even the trees seem to be getting ready to leave. [-mrl]

Movies and Quicksand (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A podcast I listen to was discussing that classic of the horror film, CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE. Toward the end a (bad) man standing in a swamp up to his waist realizes that under his feet is quicksand. He slowly sinks into the water. But I thought quicksand had to be mostly dry to work. Time to do some digging about quicksand and let them sink in.

One of the standard and time tested ways of dispatching villains and monsters in horror films is to have them stumble into quicksand. We see the Frankenstein monster and his current mad scientist go down in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. We see mummies swallowed up in THE MUMMY'S GHOST and Hammer Films' THE MUMMY (1959). That same year quicksand gets another Hammer reference in HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. A Tyrannosaurus is engulfed by it in THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN. We see quicksand sucking someone down from the bottom of a pond or lake swallow up a man in CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE. An Arab boy sinks into dry sands in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). What is this dangerous natural substance and how threatening is it really?

Well, to start off, there was some of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA that was close to history and some was just a load of duck tires. The incident in which the boy Daud gets sucked into a pit of sand falls into the load of duck tires category. I am reliably informed that that incident appears nowhere in Lawrence's memoirs. Independently of whether it could physically happen or not, the fact is that it was an invented incident for the screen.

Before I go any further I have to distinguish. There is "bog", there is "quicksand", and there is "dry quicksand". They have similar purported effects, but you have a different physical phenomena going on in each. Most of what you see depicted in films as quicksand is really just bogs, also called "mire" or "quagmire". Why do films misidentify mire as "quicksand"? Well, how would it sound to have Boris Karloff being carried by the Frankenstein monster yelling, "Don't go that way... Quagmire!" or "Not that way... Bog!" We are talking about a horror film here. Nobody gets a chill from the word "quagmire" unless they mean it in terms of foreign wars. Yes, quicksand is scary, but I am not sure why. It would be quite a task, probably impossible, to find someone who was killed by quicksand in the last ten years. Far more people are killed in bathtubs. We have images that if we fall into mire we will get muddy and have a cleaning job to do, but we do not get particularly frightened by the concept. Quicksand conjures up images of being sucked down in dark suffocating sands.

I will assume the reader already understands the concept of mud. There is no room here for a great deal of Mud Theory. Mud deep enough can under the right circumstances be dangerous. But those circumstances rarely happen.

There is quicksand and dry quicksand. If quicksand is not dry, it is wet, even if it is called just "quicksand" rather than "wet quicksand". "Normally, sand that is dry just piles up. It is like a pile of tiny rocks that come in contact with each other and friction does not allow much slippage between them. If you walk on a beach then your foot slips a little into sand, but there is not much movement or slippage because the fiction stops particles of sand from slipping past each other. If there is a little water that seeps in between the gains that can act as a lubricant and the grains can slip past each other a bit better. Under normal conditions that is not too dangerous, but it can be messy to step on. However, if there is force on the water in the sand, like if it is coming from an underground spring, that can make matters much more slippery. It is rare, but it could be dangerous.

But what about very wet quicksand? The gentleman in the swamp creature movie could have been in trouble. He could have sunk into the mud or sand beneath his feet sufficiently that he could not keep his head above water. That would be death by drowning, not by quicksand really. It occasionally happens to animals, but rarely to humans.

On an episode of "Mythbusters" the experimenters stepped into quicksand and went in only up to their waists. They considered the myth of killer quicksand busted. In fact, they are wrong. There are very occasional cases of quicksand deaths. Actually, the Mythbusters left out what could have been a crucial ingredient. They did not shake the quicksand. An earthquake can push the water harder as it seeps through the sand and the shaking also acts to break the friction bonds between sand grains. During an earthquake the liquefaction phenomenon people are warned about is essentially a quicksand effect. The ground seems to liquify and things--theoretically including people--can sink in it.

Then there is dry quicksand. I infer from the Wikipedia article that it must be a very rare phenomenon since they claim that until recently it was considered only folklore. It is an effect that can be demonstrated in laboratory. Air blowing through loose sand apparently can blow it apart so that it is less dense. There is more air between the particles so in a sense the sand has been whipped up so it is less dense. The important fact is that it becomes compressible when force or weight on top squeezes the air out. But then much the same can be said for snow. And dry quicksand seems to be more compressible than snow. Again there is not much to worry about here.

The conclusion is that you should not believe everything you see in movies. You are more endangered by the possibility of stepping in mud or snow than you are from stepping in quicksand. But you know that kind of danger. [-mrl]

Plastic Bags (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

When we were in Arizona recently, we drove from Phoenix to near Tucson on Route 79, a beautiful road through the desert. Or it would be beautiful, were it not for the plastic bags that pollute the landscape. All along the road, you see them hanging on cacti, shrubs, and trees. The fact that most of the plants have spikes, or thorns, or needles just makes it so much easier for the bags to get hung up on them permanently, so the problem is even worse than in other areas of the country. There were some stretches where the bags had been removed. I noticed that the stretches cleaned by organizations tended to be cleaner than those that are cleaned by "The Smith Family" or "In Remembrance of Joey". (It is actually pretty disrespectful to Joey's memory that they put up the sign and let the roadside get as messy as it does.)

For what it's worth, the stretches cleaned by both the Republicans and the Democrats of the Saddlebrook are equally clean.

It is so bad that even in Arizona, Bisbee is making stores charge for them, and Tucson is considering it. It is not popular with a lot of people there but frankly, it is a real shame that such beautiful scenery is marred by all that unnecessary garbage. [-ecl]

TEEN A GO GO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Melissa Kirkendall takes a look at the Rock and Roll explosion following the fame of the Beatles, 1964 to 1972. The unlikely scene of a lot of the action was Fort Worth, Texas, home of an entire culture of "garage bands." This was a pivotal change in American culture, and it was kids in their mid to upper teens. Kirkendall tells us the story of the Rock and Roll youth movement and those exciting eight years. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

I was around for but not into the 1960s Rock and Roll scene that followed the British Invasion with the popularity of the Beatles. The "Ed Sullivan Show" featured the Beatles on March 13, 1964, and overnight the style of long hair, English mannerisms, and bands with four or five musicians became the standard for teens all over the United States.

I did not participate but was the right age and I remember the revolution and what was really the invention of what we now call the "youth culture." Also this is about the phenomenon that swept the country but one of the centers of the excitement was, of all places, Fort Worth, Texas. Now normally Fort Worth is not even the cultural leader of the twin cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. But it did seem to be the center of garage bands--bands of kids in their early to mid-teens who formed groups and practiced typically in their garages because there parents would not allow the loud noise in the house. In this time Fort Worth became to Rock and Roll sort of what Roger Corman was to American cinema. It was a kind of proving ground for what was to come in Rock and Roll. Several teen Go-Go clubs opened in town, and if your group was booked for an A Go-Go, you were pretty much already a star.

TEEN A GO GO is Melissa Kirkendall's reminiscence of that exciting time. It tells the story of what happened but concentrates mostly on interviews with the musicians, the disk jockeys, executives, and fans. It moves back and forth between telling the story and interviews with participants. There are plenty of musicians still around. None of the Fort Worth crowd seems to have made more than negligible money from their music--that has gone to the corporations. But this was a wholesome creativity. Rock and Roll comes off as well adjusted compared to the rock that followed. In telling the story I do not believe there is ever an occasion in the film even to use the word "drug". Sex is never mentioned much more than to say the guys really liked to have girls screaming for them. (There are two murders mentioned in one story, but they do not appear to having anything to do with the music.) These are people who in those eight years from 1964 to 1972 had a fun and creative time as teenagers and then went on to do something else with their lives. Records were made of the teens, frequently with just one take of the song. Many of these records have become valuable collectors' items. Most of the music is unfamiliar (to me at least) though the premiere group, The Elites did have a song, "One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four" that did get national play.

Curiously there is no mention of the fact that there are very few girls in the bands. A girl band is discussed, but there are no bands of mixed gender, with the possible exception of bands with Go-Go girls who were pretty much just stage decoration.

Kirkendall co-produces, directs, and edits, each for the first time on a feature film. The technical work could use some work. There are occasional jumps in sound level between scenes. When music historian Joe Nick Patowski is interviewed his glasses distractingly reflect bright light and street scenes.

TEEN A GO GO is a reminder of a simpler and more innocent time when "Rock and Roll" was enough by itself and did not need to be "sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll." I rate the film a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:


Sid Coleman, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT and THE END OF ETERNITY (letter of comment by John Hertz):

In response to Mark's comments on Sid Coleman in the 02/17/12 issue of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:

Mark says he was unaware of Sid Coleman until Greg Benford posted an appreciation at Benford's appreciation was (as he says) previously in TRAP DOOR 25 and was noted in VANAMONDE 770. The fine drawing of Coleman by Dan Steffan was used as one of the samples on Steffan's page at the Rotsler Award Website ( [-jh]

And in response to Evelyn's comments on A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT and THE END OF ETERNITY in the 03/09/12 issue, John writes:

Evelyn speaks of A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (Twain, 1889) and THE END OF ETERNITY (Asimov, 1955). As it happens these are two of the books I've noted at "Collecting Science Fiction Books" (, under "A Fan's View". You might like to see my perspective. [-jh]

Counting Countries (letters of comment by Lax Madapaty, Fred Lerner, Tim Bateman, Jette Goldie, and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Evelyn's comments on counting countries in the 03/30/12 issue of the MT VOID, Lax Madapaty writes:

Just last week I was wondering how many countries there are in the world today. 194 per UN? Or 195 with South Sudan?

Did you visit all the countries that were part of a single country in the past? Example: of the former Yugoslavian countries did you visit the parts in Slovenia, say Lubljiana?

I don't count airport layovers and "sightings" from a distance. It is--did I spend at least a night in that country not counting airport stays? I stepped in Italian soil on a bus trip from Slovenia and "saw" Sweden from the edge of Denmark but they don't count.

I think I am now at 32. [-lm]

And Fred Lerner writes:

Counting countries visited (or rather, determining what counts as a country) can indeed get one into the morass of definition. I don't count landing in or passing through an airport as adding a state or country to my list; but if I changed planes at Schiphol and made a brief foray into Amsterdam, even if only for an hour, I would count that. I also count driving or riding through a state or country as qualifying, even if I never leave the vehicle and set foot on land. (And of course merely flying through a country's airspace does not constitute a visit.)

Once when visiting my daughter in Sweden we drove through a very narrow stretch of Norwegian territory, and I got out of the car and stood on the Norwegian side of the boundary marker. Elizabeth maintained that I could not on that account add Norway to my list of countries visited, but I disputed the point. Finally I explained the controversy to an eminent Norwegian physician who happened to be visiting my workplace, and he ruled that my daughter was right, and my brief footsteps on Norwegian soil did not entitle me to claim a visit to Norway, so I surrendered the point.

I think the only country I've visited that you folks haven't is Portugal. [-fl]

And Tim Bateman writes:

I am interested to see that your visit to the United Kingdom did not include England, although I would wager you a Kit-Kat that you overflew it at some point when travelling from Scotland to Wales.

And then there is the 'Six Nations' football tournament, wherein the six nations are England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and the one I've forgotten (Italy?).

[Regarding the three "one-offs": Palestinian Territories, United Nations, and Vatican City,] I'd be inclined to count Vatican City but not the other two. Although I'm not sure... [-tgb]

Jette Goldie responds:

Not necessarily--if she went from Scotland to Northern Ireland by ferry, then ferry to Wales (although I think she'd have to have gone to the Republic of Ireland to catch a ferry to Wales). [-gd]

Keith F. Lynch adds:

By "United Nations" is meant the building in New York City? I wouldn't count that as another country. If it does count, I could visit a hundred countries tomorrow, entirely on foot, by visiting embassies in DC. [-kfl]

Evelyn responds to all:

As for the number of countries in the world, there are 193 countries in the United Nations, plus Vatican City (a.k.a. the Holy See) as a permanent observer. The United States recognizes 195 countries (it also includes Kosovo). Taiwan is on neither list.

I did note in my list that we had listed Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia. We did not get to Montenegro or Macedonia.

Staying overnight seems a reasonable criterion until one starts looking at places like Monaco or (at the extreme) Vatican City. I don't think most people *can* stay overnight in Vatican City. One might quibble about our inclusion of Germany (several hours in Frankfurt during a stop-over--but in the city, not just the airport).

Yes, I've been to England--Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were "countries" I said I could add to the list, which already included the United Kingdom. If I listed England, then I would have to remember to deduct one from the list first.

Yes, the sixth nation in the tournament is Italy.

I guess I would count the United Nations because it issues its own Stamps (I used to be a stamp collector, which is where my notion of countries started), and the buildings in New York City are all that there is to it. Interestingly, I got no feedback on whether Gilbralter and Hong Kong should be counted separately or not. [-ecl]

THE MENTALIST (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniark):

In response to Dale Skran's review of THE MENTALIST in the 03/30/12 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniark writes:

That was a great summary and analysis by Dale on THE MENTALIST.

I might add that what also intrigues me about this show is the tempered nature of the production. The incidental music is evocative without being melodramatic or in your face. The characters usually interact without bombast--the specific team members working with Jane generally operate with cool precision. In essence, the overall tone of the show is cerebral in nature that matches its theme and is refreshing in contrast to the rest of what's on prime-time TV. That said, be careful watching while on antihistamines--the calm and cool pacing can be meditative enough to knock you out when you're under the influence. [-ak]

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

THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR by Arthur Phillips (ISBN 978-1-4000-6647-6) is the most extreme example of the "unreliable narrator" that I have seen. Arthur Phillips the author of THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR has written a novel in the first person about Arthur Phillips the character, a writer whose biographical details match the author's to a high degree. In the novel, the character has two objects of interest: a 1904 edition of the play "The Tragedy of Arthur" by William Shakespeare, and a 17th century folio of the same play with Shakespeare's name as author on the frontispiece. However, the character's father is a consummate forger of art and documents, and he is the person who has given the character both the book and the folio. So the question is, are these objects real or are they forgeries?

One key argument made in the book is that it does not matter whether the play is real or a forgery: if it is good, it is good in itself. But our attitudes toward Shakespeare have blinded us to this. For example, we say that Shakespeare is great, and his contemporaries are mostly mediocre, but the narrator writes, "We now find it hard to enjoy any of his contemporaries very much, but at the time, the same people who liked his plays liked the other guys'. We've lost the ability to appreciate those others, because we've been too obsessively appreciating him." [pg 226]

This adulation ("Bardolatry", as it has been called) also leads us to spend a lot of time and effort coming up with reasons why Shakespeare wrote this or that bad line, or had this or that awkwardness. As the narrator say to a group staging HAMLET, "Shakespeare was the greatest creator of Rorschach tests in history. That's why we keep going back to him for the ten billionth production of this lame play. Look, look: you have a weak spot where Will's not thinking very clearly, and the character rambles on, and Will Sticks in a joke that he likes about flowers that look like wieners. It plainly doesn't belong there. Any editor would cut it. It breaks the rhythm and the logic of the scene. And your sweet old Gertrude noticed it and rightly points out the weak spot. Anybody else, we'd say, 'Whoops. Not buying it, Will.' If I wrote it they'd send me home to rework it. Instead, what do you all do? You all talk it out until you make it make sense for him. He wrote it, so it must be right. You six very intelligent people form a committee to offer him your help, and when you've done the best you can, consulting old books of other would-be helpers, when you actually come up with some very clever solutions, you marvel at *him* for composing such a subtle moment." [page 94]

And another character points out what now seems obvious: "Okay, so all your Shylock has to tell that little bitch is, 'Hey, it's Antonio's debt to pay me, so he can cut his own flesh without me and give me my pound, and if he spill his own blood or cuts out too much, that is *his* problem. Now *pay* me, Christian bastards!' Am I not right?" [pg 100]

The basic problem with the novel, of course, is that had there really been such a book and folio as it claims, they would have been all over the news. So in spite of all attempts to make the question of attribution ambiguous, it is hard not to feel that we know the solution/answer to it. The good news is that there is enough substance independent of the attribution issue to make this worth reading.

Oh, and it also includes the entire text of THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR by William Shakespeare. It is certainly an impressive effort, but I found it unconvincing as being a play by Shakespeare for four reasons:

1) It is too short--at only 2808 lines it is shorter than most of Shakespeare's other tragedies. This would make sense if it was written by Arthur Phillips--it cannot be easy for a modern author to write a play in iambic pentameter using Tudor language and references, so one would expect such a play to be as short as possible. But this is not conclusive--it is about the same length as JULIUS CAESAR and longer than MACBETH or TIMON OF ATHENS.

2) There is a higher proportion of prose to iambic pentameter in THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR than in Shakespeare's other plays. Shakespeare used prose when "low characters" talked to each other or made speeches (e.g. the cobblers at the beginning of JULIUS CAESAR). Arguably, prose is easier to write than iambic pentameter, so it is not surprising that a modern author imitating Shakespeare would try to write as much prose as possible. Stylometrics would probably be able to analyze this better than just my feeling about it though.

3) The word choice is more obscure than in other Shakespeare plays. I realize that this sounds like the opposite of the first two, but it is much easier to decide to change "bundle" to "fardle" than to write another few lines in meter. One need only have a list of unfamiliar words from Shakespeare as one is composing and try to throw one in whenever possible. In an attempt to sound authentic, I think Phillips overdoes it. It is similar to the problem of trying to generate random patterns manually--we tend to *over*- randomize.

4) I do not believe that Shakespeare would use the word "pregnant" in his stage directions (e.g., "Enter King, Queen [pregnant], ..."). In fact, while Shakespeare used the word several times, it was never as meaning "with child" except when a double entendre, and I wonder if it was considered somewhat improper at the time.

(I will admit that I am not a Shakespeare scholar [nor do I play one on television :-) ], but I have read all of Shakespeare's plays, including the "Apocrypha"--plays that have been at times attributed at least in part to Shakespeare, but now generally are believed *not* to have been written by him. So I can claim to be at least as familiar with Shakspeare as most other amateurs.)

THE SCHOPENHAUER CURE by Irvin D. Yalom (ISBN 978-0-066-2144-12) tries to blend psychotherapy and philosophy, and a lot of people like it, but it just does not work for me. I have two problems with it. First, Julius Hertzfeld seems to put Philip Slate into his group therapy sessions for insufficient reasons. Slate wants to get certified as a psychotherapist, but Hertzfeld does not think he is ready. So instead he puts him into a group therapy session with other patients, without appearing to think about how it will affect *their* therapy. And second, when he is in the group, all he does is quote Arthur Schopenhauer ... at length ... at great length. All that keeps it from being labeled an info-dump is that Schonpenhauer wrote philosophy rather than science or history or something explicitly fact-based. If a patient in a group therapy session is actually allowed to monopolize it as much as Slate does by reciting long stretches of his favorite philosopher, this does not speak well for the effectiveness of group therapy. I will admit that I am not a psychologist, so I may be misunderstanding what is going on here. But to an outsider, it does seem as though Slate is a disruptive influence and Hertzfeld does nothing about it. (SPOILER: That all this Schopenhauer actually helps cure the group members is clearly a plot contrivance rather than something that seems likely to happen.)

John Rawls has proposed a theory of justice that says that the just system is what you would pick if you knew you were going to live in it, but did not know who you would be. (His term for this is the "veil of ignorance.") For example, many people see themselves as being happy in ancient Athens, but that is because they assume they would be free men. If you told them that they would be sent back there as a female slave, they would probably decide that it was not a perfect society after all.

Rawls proposed this theory in 1971 in A THEORY OF JUSTICE (ISBN 978-0-674-01772-6). One can see intimations of it in such unlikely works as the film DARK CITY (1998), but I think it first showed up in Jorge Luis Borges's "The Babylonian Lottery". As Borges wrote (in 1941, thirty years before Rawls), "Like all the men of Babylon, I have been a proconsul; like all, a slave; I have also known omnipotence, disgrace, imprisonment." This is the result of the lottery, that regularly "re-deals the cards" and re-assigns new positions in society to everyone. That this does not cause Babylon to become a more just society is not a refutation of Rawls--after all, this is fiction.

(One could argue that term limits is a way of implementing the premise of Rawls's theory--if an elected official knows he will be out of office after N years, he will presumably be less likely to accrue power to the position at the expense of the common citizen that he will again become.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          My intention here is to make it clear that not 
          a single cell of my composition, here in regard 
          to "The Raven", is found by chance or intuition, 
          that the composition moved towards perfection with 
          the precision and inevitability of a mathematical 
                                          --Maurice Ravel 

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