Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/20/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 42, Whole Number 1437

 El Presidente: Mark Leeper,
 The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper,
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
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        Human Computer Interaction in Movies
        Aerospace and Honeybees (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        EIFELHEIM (letter of comment by Gerald W. Ryan)
        Witchcraft, Conventions, and THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB
                (letter of comment by Bob Devney)
        This Week's Reading (PESACH FOR THE REST OF US,
                BLAMELESS IN ABADDON, MARK TWAIN, and "The Golden
                Man") (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Human Computer Interaction in Movies

In his Boing-Boing blog, Cory Doctorow says, "Michael Schmitz's
paper, 'Human Computer Interaction in Science Fiction Movies'
is a visual, thematic tour through the ways that people talk to
computers (and vice-versa) in movies and TV shows, from Metropolis
to Futurama. There's some really insightful analysis here--and
there's plenty to be learned just by looking at the side-by-side
screenshots."  [-cd]


TOPIC: Aerospace and Honeybees (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

One of the arguments I have made for the importance of space
technology and for becoming a space-faring people is that as time
goes by there will be more and more threats to our planet brought
about by our population growth and our increasing technological
state.  Even if each has a low probability of causing a real
disaster, the sheer numbers of such threats makes something
really nasty happening almost inevitable sooner or later.  Now if
at that time we have advanced sufficiently that we are no longer
dependent on Home Planet Earth--and that will take hundreds of
years to get to that state--then the human race will survive.  If
not, we are really taking our chances.  Of course the irony is
that space technology also speeds up the rate of other
technology.  It increases the possibility of us giving ourselves
another whiz-bang that has some dire side effect.

Now what makes this all the scarier is plausible deniability.  We
might not know that what we are doing is having the side effect
that is bringing our downfall.  A great example is carbon dioxide
from cars and industries.  Is carbon dioxide causing
environmental changes?  It seems likely, but it takes a long time
to prove such a thing.  There is some doubt.  Meanwhile there is
a certainty that we like having very big cars.  We like the
things that industries are creating for us.  And the industries
employ a lot of people who need their salaries to survive.  We
weigh the doubt against the certainty and do not take any action
at all.  We just continue what we were doing.  And the side
effect gets worse and worse.  And there is something to be said
for that attitude because we do not want to be fearful of every
technological change.  Fear of change makes society stagnate.
But there are worse dangers than stagnation.  It is a difficult
course to go.

It is a staple of science fiction movies that when something
really bad is about to happen it starts in some subtle way that
makes that back pages of the newspaper.  It is there for all to
see.  And many of us do see it and leave it go just saying,
"That's funny."  For example, fish are washing up on the shore in
THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, or the pigeons in Trafalgar Square are losing
their sense of direction in THE CORE.  Or bees are disappearing
from their hives.  That one is from real life.

You may have seen this in the back pages of your newspaper, but
to date not very many people are taking it very seriously.  We
have been hearing about it only for a few months.  It is call
Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.  Over the last few months
honeybee keepers have been facing a very strange phenomenon.
They have been going out to visit their hives and finding nobody
home in a significant fraction of them.  Some of the hives are
just empty of bees.  Whole colonies of bees are just going
missing.  First this was happening in isolated parts of the
United States, then large parts of the United States, then in
continental Europe.  Now it is being reported in Britain.  Most
of us see the story and just say, "That's odd."  If we think
about the effects at all maybe we think that the price of honey
might go up.  The truth is that bees sting people and many of us
are just not that fond of bees.

The more thoughtful of us see this is something a little scary.
About one third of all crops get their pollination from
honeybees.  Since the age of dinosaurs there have been intimate
links between bees and flowers that sort of evolved together.
And we are highly dependent on that symbiosis.  If honeybees were
to disappear we would likely have much less food grown, much less
fed to animals.  The whole system would go into famine mode.  And
honeybees are disappearing.  And the problem is they are
disappearing without a trace.  It would be one thing if we were
finding their dead bodies someplace and could see if we could
figure out what killed them.  Maybe it is some parasite and maybe
it is pesticides.  Of course people would be rooting for it to be
parasites because then there would be little we could do.  And we
prefer that to stopping use of pesticides for some strange
reason.  And city dwellers would rather it be pesticides than
something they are doing.  The further the cause is from our
daily lives, the less chance we will be asked to change our
lifestyle.  But there are no bees to be found to perform an
autopsy on so we have no idea what the cause is.

Now it looks like it might be something that we all are familiar
with.  Bees become disoriented in the presence of cell phone
radiation.  Bees actually avoid their own hives in the presence
of cell phone radiation in the frequency range 900 MHz - 1800
MHz.  They seem to communicate in the hive by means of a "waggle"
dance.  It is being speculated that the ability to do that dance
is being affected. Dr Jochen Kuhn of Koblenz-Landau University in
Germany has been doing research into the effects of this
radiation and bees.  He finds that the normal function of bees is
disrupted by the radiation resonance effect of telephone
handsets.  When bees cannot return home they have no choice but
to fly until they drop.  Then birds probably eat them.  Nothing
is found.

Make no mistake.  This is frightening stuff.  Suppose a link is
discovered.  Are we going to throw out our cell phones and decide
cell phone technology was a big mistake?  Are we going to shut
down the mobile phone industry and throw the people out of work?
And if strong evidence is not proven are we going to just let
things go on?  We will probably not make a big change without
really solid evidence, evidence that may not even be possible to
collect.  So with the introduction of the cell phone we may have
put ourselves on an inevitable course to worldwide famine.  And
we never could have seen the association in advance.  This may be
right up there with fundamentalist Islam and global warming as a
threat.  And it could be something we are doing to ourselves.

So what other new technology is coming along now that may have
unforeseen effects?

See for more details.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: EIFELHEIM (letter of comment by Gerald W. Ryan)

In response to the announcement of the Hugo nominees in the
03/30/07 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:

Just catching up with my reading here.  I seem to remember
Michael Flynn doing a short story called "Eifelheim" in ANALOG,
at least fifteen years ago, maybe even twenty.  Have you read the
novel?  I am wondering if Flynn decided to do a novel-length
version of the story.

My memory of the story was that the protagonist had done some
kind of mathematical analysis of population growth and did not
understand why a town that his model predicted would exist did
not actually exist.  It turned out that there had been a town in
that place, named Eifelheim, that had been abandoned for some
reason... and as the stroy developed we learned that an alien
vehicle had landed in the place and that it had gotten an evil
reputation (at one point the characters determined that the
original version of the town name was Teufel Heim or "devil
home"), and the story ended with exhuming the grave of a dead
alien whose body had not decomposed, because no terran bacteria
would eat it.  I remember liking the story and wishing it had
been longer.  Do you think I finally got my wish?  [-gwr]

Mark responds, "I think the Hugo-nominated novel is an expansion
of the short story.  And, no, I have not read it.  I hate to say
it, but I am very under-read with current SF."  [-mrl]

Evelyn adds, "Yes, it is definitely an expansion from the
novella.  In fact, the novella was nominated for a Hugo exactly
twenty years ago (it lost to Robert Silverberg's "Gilgamesh in
the Outback").  See Mark L. Olson's review at for more
details."  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Witchcraft, Conventions, and THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB
(letter of comment by Bob Devney)

In response to Mark's comments on witchcraft in the 03/16/07 issue
of the MT VOID, Bob Devney writes:

You have lured me out of my lurker's den by dangling a delicious
opportunity for nigglement.  A few ishes back, you noted that the
English killed a lot more people for witchcraft than ever did our
New Englanders, yet pop history makes Salem the center of witch-
hunting hysteria.  Great observation, and one new to me.  These
cool gedankenpunkts are why everybody should be diving into the
MT VOID with unceasing regularity.  However, along the way you
said, "The few people executed for witchcraft in American history
died by the relatively merciful method of hanging.  -mrl"  This
might come as crushing news to Giles Corey.  You may recall his
story from Arthur Miller's great Salem play THE CRUCIBLE. Here's
how Wikipedia (I know, I know, but this agrees with other
accounts I've read) describes Corey's story.

     "Giles Corey, an 80-year-old farmer from the southeast end of
     Salem called Salem Farms, refused to enter a plea when he
     came to trial in September.  The judges mistakenly believed
     that the law provided for the application of a form of
     torture called peine forte et dure, in which the victim was
     slowly crushed by piling stones on a board that was laid upon
     the victim's body.  (British law had, in reality, abolished
     this practice twenty years earlier.)[1]  After two days of
     peine fort et dure, Corey died without entering a plea (Boyer
     8).  Though his refusal to plead is often explained as a way
     of preventing his possessions from being confiscated by the
     state, this is not true; the possessions of convicted witches
     were often confiscated, and the possessions of persons
     accused but not convicted were confiscated before a trial, as
     in the case of Corey's neighbor John Proctor and the wealthy
     English's of Salem Town.  Some historians hypothesize that
     Giles Corey's personal character, a stubborn and lawsuit-
     prone old man who knew he was going to be convicted
     regardless, led to his recalcitrance (Boyer 8)."


[True.  Now that I think about it what I had read was that the
majority were hanged, but there were a few that were executed by
other means.  I think that one person was actually sentenced to
be burned at a stake.  The only such case in the New World.  He
escaped however and the sentence was never carried out.  That may
have been outside of Salem.  You are right, my statement was too
sweeping.  (Gee, should I make a pun with broomstick?  No, maybe
not.)  -mrl]

Miller records the tradition that Corey refused to say anything
to his tormentors except, "More weight." Anyway, Mark, that's my
case for you to revise and extend your remarks . . . . [-rd]

[Sustained.  -mrl]

And by the way, if you try to wriggle out by claiming that
technically he wasn't executed but died under questioning, I'll .
. . I'll . . . I'll think less of you.  [-rd]

[I wouldn't think of it.  And in fact didn't.  -mrl]

And now for a hundred little errands before I'm off to bed.  Hope
you and Evelyn are well.  Are y'all going to Yokohama?  [-rd]

[We are doing less con-going this year.  As much as we like
Worldcons, I cannot see going all the way to Japan and then
sitting in a convention.  There would be so much more to be
amazed at outside of the convention than in.  If I go again to
Japan, it will be to see Japan.  And that I can do without using
up space in some of the rare cheap accomodations.  We went to
Japan very inexpensively, but the means we used to not scale up
well for conventions.  I am expecting some serious problems.  -

Or, hey, are you going to Readercon, like last year? [-rd]

[We are unsure at this point.  Not to sound like a grinch, but
the convention seems built around the mean-spirited Kirk Polland
Bad Prose Competition, which always leaves a very bad taste in my
mouth.  If I go at all I leave after one round.  If they ever
realized that it has run its course (years ago) and abolished it,
we would probably go to Readercon every year.  -mrl]

I just saw the very first audience sneak preview of a movie
they're still editing of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, from the
novel by Karen Joy Fowler, one of the co-GOHs this year.  Maria
Bello, Amy Brenneman, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Jimmy Smits, and
more.  I mostly loved it.  Not out until Aug or Sept, apparently.

[I will probably see it then.  Thank you for the tip.  -mrl]


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

Marge Piercy (ISBN-10 0-805-24242-2, ISBN-13 978-0-805-24242-3)
is a bit too radical for me.  Piercy and her family and friends
do a lot to make the Seder relevant: putting an orange on the
Seder plate to represent women, emphasizing all the
springtime/fertility images, changing the Four Questions to ones
they find more relevant, and so on.  If she were more aware of
the basics, I might be more accepting of her changes, but she
does not seem to be.  For example, she discusses why we bless the
wine for the Seder, and claims we don't bless wine any other
time.  This is just flat-out wrong.  The observant bless it
whenever they drink it; even the less observant bless it for
Kiddush on Friday night.  And she pads the book out with recipes,
including some that are not even kosher!  Maybe I am just too
much of a traditionalist, but I found this too unstructured, too
"New-Agey/pagan symbolism/do-your-own-thing" to be worthwhile.

[Well, perhaps that is what the Seder is about from a certain
point of view.  -mrl]

I re-read BLAMELESS IN ABADDON by James Morrow (ISBN-10
0-156-00505-0, ISBN-13 978-0-156-00505-0), the middle book of his
"Towing Jehovah" trilogy, and the one which most discusses
theodicy, its defenses, and the flaws in them.  I suppose one can
get one's philosophy in a more traditional philosophy book, and
in some sense Morrow is as enamored of the "expository lump"
approach as Kim Stanley Robinson.  But as with Robinson's work,
the exposition is part of what makes it good.

MARK TWAIN by Albert Bigelow Paine (ISBN-10 0-877-54170-1,
ISBN-13: 978-0-877-54170-7) was the first biography of Twain
(published in 1912), and the most hagiographic.  In his
introduction to the three-volume 1980 Chelsea House edition I
have, James Cox gives a brief overview of the major biographies
of Twain and the approaches they have taken.  Paine relied a lot
on his own conversations with Twain (as well as those close to
him), and people are notoriously unreliable in remembering their
early years (as well as often desirous of portraying themselves
well).  And Twain, as a storyteller, was probably more prone to
"elaborate" than most.  So it is not surprising that Paine paints
only a favorable picture of Twain--it is left for the later
biographers to do more research and discover a more balanced
picture.  (Paine himself wrote an introduction in 1935 correcting
some of the more noted errors.)  But as long as that is kept in
mind, Paine's work is a joy to read.

Other noted Twain biographers include Van Wyck Brooks (1925),
Bernard DeVoto (1932), Dixon Wecter (1952), Justin Kaplan (1966),
and Hamlin Hill (1973).  The last three cover three different
eras in Twain's life, so complement rather than directly dispute
each other.  (Works by Susy Clemens and William Dean Howells are
too brief and anecdotal to be considered true biographies.)  The
Kaplan is on my to-read shelf, so expect comments on that

In preparation for the film NEXT, I read the story upon which it
is based, "The Golden Man".  This appeared in IF in 1954, and was
reprinted in Judith Merril's BEYOND THE BARRIERS OF SPACE AND
TIME that same year.  Of it, Merril wrote, "The theme [of
predestination vs. free will] is handled here, with unusual
dramatic impact, by a young West Coast writer of exceptional
promise."  And who was that writer?  Philip K. Dick, now so
esteemed that he is the only modern science fiction author whose
name is actually used to promote movies based on their work.  I am
sure there is some anthology or collection in print with this
story, as Hollywood usually makes sure that there is advertising
for their films even in bookstores.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

            I once saw a photograph of a large herd
            of wild elephants in Central Africa seeing
            an airplane for the first time, and all in
            a state of wild collective terror. . . .
            As, however, there were no journalists among
            them, the terror died down when the airplane
            was out of sight.
                                           -- Bertrand Russell