Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/07/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 45, Whole Number 1596

 C3PO: Mark Leeper,
 R2D2: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Personal Interest (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Hugo Nominees in the Dramatic Long-Form Category
                (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Financial Science Fiction (letters of comment
                by Peter Rubinstein and Rick Kleffel)
        HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and the Rosenbergs
                (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky)
        This Week's Reading (STEAL ACROSS THE SKY, KAFKA'S SOUP,
                and PAPER TIGERS) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Personal Interest (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

KFC, the fried chicken people, are currently running a promotion
that if you get a pink bucket they contribute fifty cents to fight
breast cancer.  However, they do not even mention diseases of the
thigh and drumstick, and certainly contribute nothing at all to
halt the spread of breast consumption.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Hugo Nominees in the Dramatic Long-Form Category (comments
by Mark R. Leeper)

The Hugo Award Nominees have been announced and due to popular
demand I am giving my take on the five films.  ("Popular" in this
case spelled E-V-E-L-Y-N.)

Screenplay by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter; Story by Bob Peterson,
Pete Docter, & Thomas McCarthy; Directed by Bob Peterson & Pete
Docter (Disney/Pixar)

To be honest I think the second half of this film is overrated.
The story, which had some good human drama, devolves into a
gratuitous high-speed action sequence in the sky.  That is hardly
unique.  What sets this film apart is the set-up, a ten-minute
prolog telling the story of two young people who had a dream of
traveling to exotic places but never fulfilled it.  It is rare that
a cartoon leaves the audience misty-eyed, but this one does.  This
prolog explains why the main character has become a grumpy old man
(Ed Asner--is it redundant to say he is terrific?).  Most of the
rest of the film just requires that he be grumpy until he knows
better.  There is a villain who never ages (and nobody seems to
comment on that).  Pixar does some wonderful things with the
animation.  Evelyn pointed out that Asner's last shave gets older
and older as the film progresses.  That is real attention to
detail.  There is also a nice bit with a dog collar that allows
dogs to talk only to prove that dogs suffer from ADD.  The film
takes the audience through a wide range of emotions in characters
the viewer can care about.  I am glad it was nominated.  I don't
think it should win.

Screenplay by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman; Directed by J.J. Abrams

Two years ago the "Star Trek" franchise had pretty well seemed to
have run its course.  There was a notable loss of popularity that
even some good episodes of "Star Trek: Enterprise" could not
revive.  The idea of having a story about the Starfleet Academy
days of he characters seemed weak.  It seemed unlikely that anyone
could get interest flowing again, so they brought in TV idea man
J. J. Abrams.  He made just about the best Trek film ever in spite
of a lot of silly ideas in the plot.  (Red matter???  What's red
matter?  If it's painted blue, is it no longer red matter?)  The
story tells how Kirk and Spock got into Starfleet Academy, came to
hate each other, and then have their first adventure together in
space.  One highpoint: Commander Pike gives the young,
unenthusiastic James T. Kirk a pep talk that had half the audience
ready to jump out of their seats and join Starfleet.  With just a
few lapses I think this was a really good film.

Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by
Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)

Judged simply as a science fiction story, MOON is the best film
nominated.  Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell, lives a solitary life
on the moon mining Helium-3, a product much needed on Earth for
clean energy.  By radio he communicates with his wife on earth, his
only companionship besides the robot GERTY.  He is however having
hallucinations seeing other people on the moon.  Sam is nearly
killed when he has an accident in his rover.  Then things start to
get really strange.  This film had a lot of hype on the Internet,
but it is a pretty good story and perhaps nearly worth the hype.
It feels like an American film but is actually British.  Rockwell
is very good and the exterior lunar scenes stretch a small budget

Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell; Directed by Neill
Blomkamp (TriStar Pictures)

What is it like to see the world not just through the eyes of an
alien, but actually as an alien?  For one thing it is not very
safe.  Humans feel threatened by aliens in this film set near an
internment camp near Johannesburg.  We follow the story of a human
who gets a chance to inhabit the body of an alien and actually to
become one of the creatures he has been told to mistrust.  Seeing
things from the viewpoint of an alien is a revelation for the hero.
But when real conflicts come between humans and aliens our hero
must decide where his true loyalties lie.  The film starts
thoughtfully, but by the final act it is basically an action film.
But what action!  Terrific special effects make this film a real
spectacle, but the anti-intolerance message leaves the viewer with
something to think about and makes this film unique.

Screenplay and Directed by James Cameron (Twentieth Century Fox)

What is it like to see the world not just through the eyes of an
alien, but actually as an alien?  For one thing it is not very
safe.  Humans feel threatened by aliens in this film set on Planet
Pandora.  We follow the story of a human who gets a chance to
inhabit the body of an alien and actually to become one of the
creatures he has been told to mistrust.  Seeing things from the
viewpoint of an alien is a revelation for the hero.  But when real
conflicts come between humans and aliens he must decide where his
true loyalties lie.  The film starts thoughtfully, but by the final
act it is basically an action film. But what action!  Terrific
special effects make this film a real spectacle but the anti-
intolerance message leaves the viewer with something to think about
and makes this film unique.

So what do I think will win?  No question that the smart money bets
with AVATAR.  I think it is already the most financially successful
film since at least the fall of the Hittite Empire.

What deserves to win?  60% of the films have strong anti-
Establishment themes.  That is a bad sign.  I would rule out the
two "My-Life-As-An-Alien" twins.  If I look at the remaining three,
UP would be the first to go, reluctantly.  I am very ambivalent
about STAR TREK.  MOON is a nice uniformly good science fiction
story.  I think I would go with STAR TREK for the high points and
try to forget Scotty getting jammed in the plumbing.

If the Mexican-American co-production SLEEP DEALER were nominated I
would have remembered Scotty in the plumbing and voted it best.
But, alas, not enough people saw SLEEP DEALER.  (Interestingly at
this writing SLEEP DEALER has just gotten even more relevant thanks
to the State of Arizona.)  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Financial Science Fiction (letters of comment by Peter
Rubinstein and Rick Kleffel)

In response to David Goldfarb's comments about financial science
fiction in the 04/30/10 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Rubinstein

You could add Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage" to the list of
financial SF.  From WikiPedia, "Riders of the Purple Wage is an
extrapolation of today's tendency towards state supervision and
consumer-oriented economic planning. In the story, all citizens
receive a salary (the purple wage) from the government, to which
everyone is entitled just by being born."  [-pir]

Rick Kleffel writes:

When I saw that heading, I first thought it was a reference to
those sort of budget projections by doomsayers who predict that "By
2032 Social Security will be bankrupt!" or "By 2050 Medicare will
consist of 50% of the GDP!"  (As opposed to "By 2032 Social
Security will be managed by a surly and slightly corrupt artificial
intelligence!" or "By 2050, Medicare will employ 35% of the
nanobots with voting rights!")  I'd give 'em all equal weight, and
that feather on the other side of the scale would still win.  [-rk]

Mark responds, "I think anything you can project will seem mild
compared to what really happens."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and the Rosenbergs (letter of
comment by Taras Wolansky)

In response to the 04/30/10 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky

Review of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: "The visitor realizes that the
real villains are not the natives but his own people.  ...  The
story must be mythic because it shows up with minor variations so
often.  Beside AVATAR and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON it was the plot
SAMURAI, several westerns, and probably a lot more."

Or perhaps "anti-mythic", given that a myth upholds a culture
rather than attacks it?  What we might call the "noble treason"
narrative has become commonplace in Hollywood only in recent
decades.  (No doubt a future Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner will make

DUNE is not a very good example, however, as Paul's "own people",
the Atreides, are presented positively.  Come to think of it, nor
is HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: the Vikings are not imagining that the
dragons are stealing their food and burning their homes, nor is it
something they provoked.

On the subject of treason, there were some comments in an earlier
issue about the Rosenberg spy case.  Doing a quick Google search, I
was surprised to find that, after decades of claiming their parents
were not spies, by the early Nineties the Meeropol brothers were
reduced to insisting their parents were ineffective spies.

Well, maybe.  But we have Khrushchev's testimony that Stalin and
Molotov (of Molotov-Ribbentrop fame) praised the Rosenbergs by
name.  As information continues to trickle out of the former Soviet
Union, we learn Julius Rosenberg seems to have been more important
than we thought, a spymaster rather than just a spy.

How important as an "atom spy" is not clear, however.  After all,
the Soviets had real physicists feeding them information, like
Bruno Pontecorvo and Klaus Fuchs.  And Theodore Hall, thought of as
a "victim of McCarthyism" for forty years, until the Venona
decrypts were declassified in the Nineties.

On the other hand, it now appears that while Robert Oppenheimer was
a secret member of the Communist Party--denying this, he must have
perjured himself dozens of times--he was not a spy.

How important were the atom spies?  They certainly sped up the
development of the Soviet A-bomb, imposing the threat of nuclear
destruction on the West.  Also, we now know Stalin refused to
greenlight Kim Il Sung's 1950 invasion of South Korea until he had
his own atom bomb.  The Korean War cost as many as 1.6 million
lives.  [-tw]

Mark replies:

On the issue of being what you call "anti-mythic" might you be
confusing being anti-culture with being anti-government or against
some government actions and policies?

I find it interesting that you term these films "treason."
Opposing specific government policies, in a film or elsewhere, does
not constitute "treason" in a free society.  In specific, I know
some far right advocates who are very much against some government
policies currently, but I do not see that as being treason but
exercise of free expression.

If I remember, it is not clear in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON who
provoked the conflict between dragons and humans.  We joined the
story with hostilities on both sides already in progress.  I think
that the film leaves open the interpretation or even implies that
humans started the hostilities.  [-mrl]


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

STEAL ACROSS THE SKY by Nancy Kress (ISBN-13 978-0-7653-1986-9)
suffers from a problem shared by many science fiction (and mystery)
novels.  It is written around a mystery and the reader may well
find that she is more interested in just knowing the solution to
the mystery than in reading the novel, getting to know the
characters, etc.  In STEAL ACROSS THE SKY, the premise is that
aliens show up and tell us that they feel really guilty about
something they did to the human race ten thousand years ago, and
they want some humans from Earth to go to other planets and
"witness" until they understand what the aliens had done.  Okay,
but the problem is that given this, I found myself more interested
in the "solution", the "answer", rather than the book in its
entirety.  There can be "puzzle" books that don't have this
problem--Raymond Chandler or Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries, for
example, or (to use a book discussed here recently) China
Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY.  In all of these, even when you
figure out the puzzle, the book remains interesting, the characters
engaging, the language poetic, and so on.)

by Mark Crick (ISBN-13 0-15-101283-0) is a collection of recipes,
each written in the style of a well-known author.  (well, mostly--I
had never heard of Irvine Welsh before).  One can only appreciate
the pastiches of authors one is familiar with, though, so I really
only "got" about half this book: Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen,
Franz Kafka, John Steinbeck, Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer, and (of
course) Jorge Luis Borges.  Some of the others I could get a sense
of, but realized I was missing a lot.  For example, "Tarragon Eggs
à la Jane Austen" begins, "It is a truth universally acknowledged
that eggs, kept for too long, go off."  Or "Lamb with Dill Sauce à
la Raymond Chandler: "I took hold of the [leg of lamb].  It felt
cold and damp, like a coroner's handshake."  Without a familiarity
with the original, these homages fall flat.  The Borges, in
particular, is patterned after a specific story in addition to its
more general imitation of style and images.  The Kafka, also, has
implicit connections to THE TRIAL.

On the other hand, I have no ideas if the recipes are any good.
(Having just tried a couple of recipes out of cookbooks that
sounded good to me, but turned out only so-so, I am convinced that
I cannot judge a recipe on the page.)  I do find the idea of Kafka
serving "Quick Miso Soup" a bit outré--but maybe that was on
purpose.  The rest of the recipes seem better paired to their

0-19-815746-0) sounded interesting.  After all, what could be more
ideal--more perfect--than Borges's short pieces?  Carefully
crafted, no wasted words, ...  Well, first of all, Sturrock did not
have this meaning "ideal" in mind.  What he was referring to was
philosophical "idealism" as opposed to "realism".  Realism is "the
common-sense doctrine that real things exist independently of the
mind," while idealism "holds that mental phenomena are all we can
ever know of reality."

Okay, so it's about something other than I thought but, hey, that
could be even better.  True, I was having some problems following
some of the deeper philosophy, but I made an effort, until I got to
his discussion of "The Library of Babel":

The story dramatises an idea mooted elsewhere by Borges in his
'Note sobre (hacia) Bernard Shaw' ('A Note on (towards) Bernard
Shaw'), where it is attributed to a hypothetical scholar by the
name of Kurd Lasswitz (taking 'lass' to suggest 'lass'itude, or the
French 'las', and '-witz' to suggest 'wits', we end up with the
perfectly appropriate meaning for this name of 'Weary-wits').

There's only really one thing wrong with this theory of Borges's
intention in making up this name: Kurd Lasswitz is *not* a
"hypothetical" scholar, but a real author who really wrote a work
entitled "The Universal Library".  And not just any author, but the
man considered the "Father of German Science Fiction".  It's as if
Sturrock said that H. G. Wells or Jules Verne was "hypothetical".
(Or as if this were one of those "future archaeology" books, where
historians in the far future have Churchill fighting Vikings, or
decide that William Shakespeare must be another name for William
the Conqueror.)

Some may point to Sturrock's continuation ("Lasswitz, who
flourished in the late nineteenth century, like so many of the real
and counterfeit authorities in Borges ...") as speaking of Lasswitz
as if he were real, but of course since he is referring to
"counterfeit" authorities as well, this won't hold water.

What is most depressing is that not only did Sturrock write this,
but at least one editor at Oxford University Press read it and did
not catch it.

Sturrock talks about presupposition, which Borges says "consists in
imagining a reality more complex than the one declared to the
reader and relating its derivations and effects."  For example,
"the chair is made of wood" presupposes that there is a chair.
However, Sturrock has earlier unintentionally pointed out the flaw
in this: the presupposition may be wrong.  A statement about
something being "attributed to the hypothetical scholar by the name
of Kurd Lasswitz" presupposes a hypothetical scholar by the name of
Kurd Lasswitz.  But there isn't.  (Or is there?  Does the existence
of a real scholar named Kurd Lasswitz preclude the existence of a
hypothetical scholar with the same name?)

Sturrock also talks about "so many monkeys sitting at so many
typewriter keyboards and hammering blindly away, *must* end by
reproducing, Pierre Menard-like, PARADISE LOST."  This misses the
entire point of "Pierre Menard"--that Pierre Menard is not just
copying DON QUIXOTE by rote but writing it fresh with an entirely
different mindset.

Sturrock also criticizes Funes (the Memorious)'s attitude towards
numbers.  Borges writes, "Funes sets out to revise the two systems
of representing numbers ..., replacing the orthodox forms with a
random assortment of nouns and those old favorites of his, proper
names."  Sturrock says, "Funes's system of numbering is a poor
substitute for the original."  That's as may be, but it is actually
what many of the "memorious" do, or at least the one described in
the classic work on amazing memory by A. R. Luria, THE MIND OF OF A

On labyrinths in fictions, Sturrock says, "A Borges story is not
labyrinthine; it does not face us with alternative continuations,"
and adds in a footnote: "It is hard to see how any sequential
narrative could be truly labyrinthine, in the sense that it might
make us retrace our steps and try some other path through the story
every time we get to what is obviously a dead end (but what, in a
narrative, *is* a dead end?)."  This was written well before
hypertext, or even its earlier relative, the "Choose-Your-
Adventure" book.  He then makes reference to mysteries that offer
multiple solutions, but have to eliminate all but the "correct"
solution.  This reminded me of "April March" in "An Examination of
the Works of Herbert Quain".  "April March" is a novel which has a
current situation, then three paths that could lead to it, each of
which has three paths leading to it.  Mysteries have a similar set-
up.  We feel they need to eliminate all but the correct one, but
Quain does not.  Or rather, Quain does not necessarily believe that
there is only one correct path and the other eight are incorrect.

Sturrock may be confused about Kurd Lasswitz, but at least Lasswitz
is not the subject of Sturrock's book.  J. M. Cohen, in the first
book about Borges and his work to be published in English (BORGES,
1973, Oliver & Boyd; 1974, Barnes & Noble) consistently refers to
"Pierre Mesnard"!

(Cohen also refers to Borges's citation of "one of two obscure
Hollywood films" in Borges's essay "Narrative Art and Magic".  I
find this telling, because it reminds us that Borges was a cinema
fan--in fact, was even a movie reviewer for a while--and the fact
that he is familiar with obscure films (DISHONORED, UNDERWORLD, and
THE SHOWDOWN, if you care) reminds us of that.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

            There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy.  That used
            to be a huge number.  But it's only a hundred
            billion.  It's less than the national deficit!
            We used to call them astronomical numbers.
            Now we should call them economical numbers.
                                           -- Richard Feynman