Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/18/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 12, Whole Number 1876

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Eat This (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Fermat's Last Tango ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        The Retreads of Summer (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE 17th ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS (film review(s)
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        Fall SF TV Previews and Mini-Reviews (comments
                by Dale L. Skran)
        Future NASA Mission to Europa (letter of comment
                by Gregory Frederick)
        Edward Gibbon and the Maya (letter of comment by Peter Trei)
        Favorite Books and Movies, CHILDHOOD'S END, WAR OF THE WORLDS
                Illustrations, ROCKETSHIP X-M, and Ace Doubles
                (letter of comment by John Purcell)
                (Volume VI of VI) (Part 1)  (comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading (THE JUST CITY) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Eat This (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

There are a series of popular diet books called "Eat This Not
That."  If I ever package and sell food of any sort I have a brand
name already picked out.  I am going to trademark the brand name
"This."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Fermat's Last Tango ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

... is a musical--actually an operetta--by Joanne Sydney Lessner
and Joshua Rosenblum based on the story of the proof of Fermat's
Last Theorem and of the study of obscure but beautiful mathematics
in general.  It is available free on YouTube.



TOPIC: The Retreads of Summer (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Last summer I was in a discussion of current films.  A
correspondent asked what I thought about the big studio output of
summertime films.  I think the question came to me with a
particular point.  It was that almost everything coming out to play
last summer was a remake, a reboot, or a sequel.  Since that
discussion I have given some thought as to what makes a remake,
reboot or sequel acceptable.

In the warmer months it is rare to see a big film coming to my
local theaters that is not intended to bring of fond memories of
some previous film in the hopes I will buy a ticket to repeat that
experience.  At the time of the discussion my favorite neighborhood
theater was running the sequels PITCH PERFECT 2, AVENGERS: AGE OF
these did not excite me.  My theater was also running the remakes
OF ADALINE.  Even the original films, which I admit I did not
actually see, were probably not that original.

Some of these films may be just spectacular variations on films I
had already seen.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was enjoyable, but it was not
a story film.  It essentially relied on what was in THE ROAD
WARRIOR and then showed a spectacle which was almost devoid of
story.  It was amazing what was in that film but it did not include
much of a plot.  It was impressive as an experience, but not as a
cinematic experience.  Rare was the moment in the film that was not
in an action sequence.

It is getting harder to find original experiences at movie
theaters.  I have to say, however, that I am not one of those
people who really have something against having so many remakes,
reboots, and sequels.  Yes, it is true that a lot of the films I
dislike and/or avoid are in these categories.  But let me be clear
on this.  When I buy a theater ticket I want the film viewing
experience to be worth the cost of the ticket.  The filmmaker who
is making a remake is working at a disadvantage.  Seeing a film too
much like some previous film I have seen is making his task harder
for the filmmaker.  If I am investing the price of a ticket I
expect a return on that investment.  I guess that is the underlying
and unifying theory of everything in film reviewing.  It seems
almost too obvious to state: Give the viewers their money's worth.

Repaying the audience the value of their ticket investment is by no
means impossible.  It has been done at least occasionally in the
past.  The Coen Brothers' version of TRUE GRIT in 2010 had a lot of
content that had been previously seen in the John Wayne version
form 1969.  But the Coen Brothers' version had a deeper and darker
tone than the Wayne version, which was in the end just another
western with John Wayne heroics saving the day.  It was one of the
darker John Wayne Technicolor westerns, but what it did well the
Coen Brothers did better.  The ending of the remake was certainly
darker with the main character ending up a one-armed spinster who
missed by four days seeing a dying Rooster Cogburn one last time.
The Wayne version had a forced upbeat ending.  It was not only
closer to the book, it also felt more authentic.  It just overall
was a better film.  Admittedly I did not have to pay to see either
version, but I think the improvements were sufficient enough to
justify the price of a film ticket.

Much the same could be said of Philip Kaufman's version of THE
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978).  Yes, it had much of the
same plot, but it also has imaginative images of the alien life
form and, more than most people realized, subsonic sound on the
soundtrack that game it an ominous atmosphere.  Mundane images like
a telephone cord retracting were turned into ominous alien action.
The major change in the remake was transplantation to urban San
Francisco.  Visual images of the aliens were creatively done and of
course did not have computer imaging, coming as it did only one
year after the first STAR WARS.  Again I knew most of the story,
but I got my ticket's worth even having seen the plot done before.

What makes a reboot, remake or sequel work?

A remake or sequel has to have good actors and solid production
values.  THE FLY (1958) was a very well made film with sympathetic
characters and genuine drama.  It had well-orchestrated color.  THE
RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) was a black-and-white cheapie with the
same props and the only innovation was the fly's head was about
eight times as big.  A film may not have to be as good as the
original, but it should be darn close.

A remake, sequel, whatever, better have something to surprise the
audience and it should be good enough to make the film better.  The
2008 THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was bigger and flashier than the
original, but the major change was addition of non-corporeal
digital effects as if Gort was no longer a robot, but a weapon we
never see.  It might have been difficult to match the original Gort
in awesomeness, but this certainly was not what was required.

And the filmmaker should make sure the story still plays well.
Even if the filmmakers could do THE GRADUATE more meaningfully and
funnier they would still face the problems that Benjamin Braddock
was a romantic in 1967, and today he would be a stalker and a
predator.  [-mrl]


Mark R. Leeper)

After candy and dinosaurs one thing that everybody seems to love is
animated films.  There is just something about an animated film.
We love to see these flat (and more recently three dimensional)
images seem to come to life and have lives of their own.  There are
a number of animation festivals, or feature-length collections of
what is chosen as the best animation of the year.  These
collections tour the country and my wife and I and a legion of
other people sometimes travel great distances to see a handful of
films brought to life with the magic of animated filmmaking.  I
have just finished seeing THE 17th ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS.

Most of my readers are used to me rating films on a -4 to +4 scale
and for those who want it on a more standard scale I translate that
rating to a 1 to 10 scale.  But since this film is the work of (at
least) eleven different production teams, I will rate each film
individually.  Each film will be graded on a scale with A for
excellent, B for good, C for acceptable and D for poor.  Recognize
that there will be no films that get a C or D since a C or D film
will not have been selected for THE SHOW OF SHOWS.  Films will be
rated on the basis of quality of narrative and artistic merit.
(Take my style rating with a grain of salt--I am no artist.)

"The Story Of Percival Pilts", created by Janette Goodey & John

This is a clay animation story of a boy who walked on stilts
everywhere he went.  He kept getting stilts longer and longer and
longer so he could see the world from a higher and higher angle.
The question is why did he do it.  Percival has separated himself
from society, but his high life has its rewards.  With the final
words of the story we find out why he did this odd thing.  The
story is told in rhyming couplets.  Rating: A

"Tant De Forets", created by Geoffrey Godet & Burcu Sankur

This is a short film suggested by a poem by Jacques Prevert.  With
geometrical images it shows us the beauty of the forest and what of
value is gone when the forest is lost to development, in this case
a paper factory.  The film is narrated in thick French accent, a
little hard to understand.  The figures are shown as combinations
of very simple geometric forms.  The short film concludes with a
plea to preserve the forests.  Rating B

"Snowfall", directed by Conor Whelan

This film is technically proficient but does not build to any
obvious point.  It appears to be a story of a man who goes to a
party during a snowfall.  He appears agitated.  What happens to him
is inscrutable.  In an afterward Conor Whelan, the director tells
how to understand it, but it should have stood on its own without
needing his explanation afterward.  Rating: B-

"Ballad Of Holland Island House", created by Lynn Tomlinson

This is primarily a song by Lynn Tomlinson with her own animated
illustrations done in a process called clay painting.  It is the
true story of a house except that it is the house telling the story
in the form of a song.  The story tells us of the last surviving
house in Chesapeake Bay.  The house is to be inundated by the
waters rising.  The house remembers how it gave shelter to animals,
though that will soon be no more.  Clay painting somehow has a
melancholy feel suggesting that nothing is permanent.  The clay
paint style lends a melancholy tone.  Rating B

"Behind The Trees", created by Amanda Palmer and Avi Ofer

"Behind The Trees" is illustrated in pen-and-ink sketches which are
reminiscent of the style of Jules Pfeiffer and provided by Avi Ofer
illustrate Amanda Palmer stories.  When the Palmer's husband, Neil
Gaiman, is very tired he mumbles in his sleep.  This story is
inspired by some of his mumbling.  Palmer mumbles herself so it is
not always easy to understand her.  The art is crude but it is an
amusing story.  Rating: B+

"We Can't Live Without The Cosmos", created by Konstantin Bronzit

In the days of the old Soviet space program two cosmonauts in
training become very close friends, preparing for space together
and getting into mischief whenever they can.  Both yearn for the
stars and are inspired by the same book, "We Can't Live Without The
Cosmos".  A flight comes up and only one can go on it.  The
animation is two-dimensional, but the story is poignant.  The
images are fairly flat, two-dimensional, but the narrative is
touching.  Rating A

"Messages Dans L'Air", created by Isabel Favez

All the images in Favez's film are made of paper.  Some is folded
as origami, and some are cut pieces.  But they are all montages of
paper.  Once that is said there is not a lot of story behind the
images.  The story may be more in service to the visual
compositions than the visuals are in service to the story.  Rating:

"Stripy", Written and directed by Babak Nekooei & Behnoud Nekooei

Two Iranian animators give us a short story that reminds one of
ALLEGRO NON TROPO.  In an urban metropolis workers are responsible
to paint nice parallel black stripes on boxes.  They are pretty
much just parts of machines themselves.  One worker rebels.  He
paints beautiful red curlicues instead.  Can society handle people
who refuse to be machines?  Who will win the struggle of will and
what does winning a conflict like this really mean?  The visual
images are flat and two-dimensional and the film is done to
Hungarian Dances #5 Of Brahms.  Rating: A-

"Ascension", written and directed by Thomas Bourdis, Martin de
Coudenhove, Caroline Domergue, Colin Laubry, Florian Laubry

Fans of the myth of Sisyphus will enjoy this frustrating little
tale of two mountain climbers clambering up the steep rock face of
a mountain in order to plant a religious statue high so one and all
can see their great faith.  The story, the rocks, and the climbers
are rendered in three dimensional computer graphics.  Will man win
or will the mountain?  And will the religious statue be placed?
Rating B

"In The Time Of March Madness", directed by Melissa Johnson and
Robertino Zambrano

Rendered in what looks like animated scratchboard images we have
Melissa Johnson pour out her heart about the pain of being a six-
foot-four-inch tall girl in 8th grade.  Her height was extremely
useful on the basketball court, but it did not help her face the
constant embarrassment of having longer arms and legs than she
could manage.  Walking with other people she towered over them, but
being tall was no advantage.  Johnson tells us about her love life
and her sports life always being the tallest person in the room.
This entry would make a good companion piece to the first film,
"The Story Of Percival Pilts".  Rating B

"World Of Tomorrow", directed by Don Hertzfeldt

"World Of Tomorrow" is a full science fiction story animated with
line drawings.  A little girl, Emily, meets and is taken on a time
traveling trip by her own granddaughter looks aged enough to
instead be her grandmother.  Most of the art is or appears to be
just line drawings.  Emily visits her own future.  She is told,
though she is much too young to understand, that she will have her
mind and personality downloaded into a clone.  This process will be
repeated indefinitely giving her virtually eternal life.  And that
is just the start of what Emily's grandmother reveals to her.  One
after another Emily hears about the technological wonders of her
future, marvels of dubious value.  Rating: A

Let me take this opportunity to thank Ron Diamond, curator of the
show, for allowing me to preview the show and review it.  The show
itself will premier in Los Angeles on September 24, 2015 and
following that it will tour to more than 20 cities.  See:



TOPIC: Fall SF TV Previews and Mini-Reviews (comments by Dale
L. Skran)

It's that time of year again, and the networks are cranking up the
new SF TV shows! It's also a good time to look back at the best of
summer 2015.  I've been on a TV diet this summer as some of the
regular summer shows have been moved to the fall, leaving just one
that I've been watching--DARK MATTER.  The premise behind KILLJOYS
(space bounty hunters) didn't grab me, and I've already bailed on
DEFIANCE and DOMINION.  I also religiously avoid anything where an
astronaut becomes mysteriously pregnant while in space (EXTANT).

DARK MATTER is basically Jason Bourne in space multiplied.  A crew
awakens from cold sleep, their ship adrift.  Just one problem--none
of them remember who they are, what ship they are on, or what they
were doing.  But they do remember their skills when confronted with
specific situations.  They call themselves "One," "Two," and so on
based on the order in which they woke up.  Thus begins a Bourne-
like space opera adventure as the crew attempts to work together
(challenging) to find out who they are and what is going on (more
challenging).  Although the pace can be a bit slow, there is enough
here to keep me watching.  This is not ORPHAN BLACK or CONTINUUM,
but it rises above the general level of SyFy TV shows.

There are a lot of shows I'll be returning to (time, date of
premiere, channel), including:
- CONTINIUMM (11 pm, 9/11, SyFy)
- GOTHAM (8 pm, 9/21, Fox)
- SCORPION (9 pm, 9/21, CBS)
- AGENTS OF SHIELD (9 pm, 9/29, ABC)
- SLEEPY HOLLOW (9 pm, 10/1, Fox)
- FLASH (8 pm, 10/6, CW)
- IZOMBIE (9 pm, 10/6, CW)
- ARROW (8 pm, 10/7, CW)
- SUPERNATURAL (9 pm, 10/7, CW)
- VAMPIRE DIARIES (8 pm, 10/8, CW)
- ORIGINALS (9 pm, 10/8, CW)
- HAVEN (10 pm, 10/8, CW)

That totals twelve shows, which by any standard is a lot, but we
haven't even gotten to the new series!!

I plan to check out MINORITY REPORT (9pm, 9/21, Fox) and BLINDSPOT
(10 pm, 9/21, NBC).  MINORITY REPORT is, oddly enough, based on the
movie of the same name and is ultimately derived from a Phillip
K. Dick story.  BLINDSPOT opens with a naked tattooed woman suddenly 
appearing in the center of Times Square.  The name of a NYC detective is 
tattooed on her back.  But she does not know who she is!  After this 
things get strange.  On Tuesday we have LIMITLESS (10 pm, 9/22, CBS), 
which, again, is based on the movie LIMITLESS, and is loosely connected 
with the film as a sequel.  Thursday brings us HEROES REBORN (8 pm, 
9/24, NBC), a reboot of HEROES, TV's attempt at original superheroes. 
The new shows are rounded out by SUPERGIRL starting on 11/2/15, which 
may or may not ultimately connect with the CW DC hero shows ARROW and FLASH.

This is not by any means all the upcoming shows.  SyFy is bringing
out EXPANSE, an adaptation of a well-known space opera by James
Corey.  Amazon has adapted the Hugo Winner MAN IN A HIGH CASTLE.
Nextflix has a series of four super-hero shows--DAREDEVEIL, AKA
JESSICA JONES, LUKE CAGE, and IRON FIST in the pipeline.  And so it
goes...  I'm not even bothering to try to count them all!!!  Of the
various new shows I'll be watching LIMITLESS, HEROS REBORN, and
SUPERGIRL the most closely or at least giving them the most rope.
BLINDSPOT, which seems like Bourne with a female protagonist, is
supposed to have top-grade fight scenes.  ARROW may be the best
superhero TV show ever.  FLASH and AGENTS OF SHIELD are fun to
watch if a bit dizzying.  IZOMBIE is surprisingly watchable.  A
Golden Age indeed!  [-dls]


TOPIC: Future NASA Mission to Europa (letter of comment by Gregory

NASA has budgeted for a space probe to orbit Jupiter and pass by
Europa numerous times during the orbits. The time for this mission
is 2022.  It will have a number of sensors to explore the salt
water ocean which is a few miles below the ice layer that covers
that Jupiter moon.  It may also have a small landing vehicle
attached to the main ship.  The lander would touch down on the ice
surface.  The lander has not been confirmed though, at this time.
It is possible that an alien form of life could exist in Europa's
ocean.  So, Europa is a good place to look.  [-gf]

Mark replies:

It was a good place to look in EUROPA REPORT.  I am curious if that
film might have upped people's interest in Europa.  [-mrl]

And Greg responds:

Europa and Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) are high on NASA's list of
places to look for life besides Mars.  Both are moons with salt
water oceans under a thinner layer of ice (compared to other
moons).  And both have that ocean in contact with a rocky mantle.
This means deep ocean vents (called smokers on Earth) could be
tunneling heat and chemicals into the ocean.  Smoker vents on Earth
have all kinds of deep ocean life around them.  The lowest life
forms use chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis at these Earth
bound smokers.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Edward Gibbon and the Maya (letter of comment by Peter Trei)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Edward Gibbon and the Maya in
the 09/11/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

[Gibbon wrote:]

"From the age of Charlemagne to that of the Crusades, the world
(for I overlook the remote monarchy of China) was occupied and
disputed by the three great empires or nations of the Greeks, the
Saracens, and the Franks."  [-eg]

[Evelyn commented:]

"It is not at all clear why Gibbon decided to ignore China,
unless he is implying by "remote" that China had no interaction
with the other empires.  But that is not true; China was
interacting with the Saracens.  And he completely omits the Maya
Empire.  (The Aztecs and Incas considerably postdate the Crusades
to which Gibbon is referring.)"  [-ecl]

[Peter Trei writes:]

The Maya were almost certainly unknown to Gibbon.

Maya culture had pretty well collapsed by the time the Spanish
arrived, and though they finished off the dregs, most of the great
cities were already abandoned and lying under jungle vegetation.
Gibbon finished D&F in 1789, decades before the expeditions of
Humboldt, Galindo, and especially John Lloyd Stephens brought
notice of Mayan civilization to the West, (outside of sparse
Spanish colonial accounts).  [-pt]


TOPIC: Favorite Books and Movies, CHILDHOOD'S END, WAR OF THE
WORLDS Illustrations, ROCKETSHIP X-M, and Ace Doubles (letter of
comment by John Purcell)

In response to various items in the 09/11/15 issue of the MT VOID,
John Purcell writes:

Well, 1875 was a very good year for somebody, I would think.  It is
also the number of a fine and varied issue of MT VOID.  [-jp]

Mark notes:

It was the year Bizet's "Carmen" was first performed.  [-mrl]

John continues:

I enjoyed that listing of favorite books and movies of scientists.
Interestingly, the SyFy Channel will be broadcasting an adaptation
of CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke in December.  I will watch
it, and hope its producers don't mangle the book too much.  As
usual, I await this with trepidation.  Fear?  Possibly.  Fear that
it will be a waste of my time, but we shall see.

Thank you for the link to the Alvim Correa illustrations to the
1906 edition of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  Very cool work, and so
evocative.  I might just have to favorite that Monster Brains

Deux ex Machina in "Rocketship XM" and other movies, eh?
Definitely.  I agree with your closing comment.  For me, as hokey
as the stories and science were, these movies and stories got me
hooked on science fiction and fact.  Not necessarily in that order,
but the older I got and kept reading, the more scientific accuracy
and the plausibility of the stories gained importance for my
reading enjoyment.

Over the years I have been slowly acquiring Ace Doubles from used
bookstores and conventions.  Every so often the "other" used
bookstore in this area, BCS Books, has a fresh batch of old SF
paperbacks, and two years ago I went in there one day and walked
out with a dozen Ace Doubles for less than $20. I really need to
get back there again.  I remember meeting Don Wollheim at a Minicon
back in the mid-1970s.  He was quite the cantankerous sort, but so
knowledgeable of the genre that I enjoyed listening to him.

Lots of good book reviews herein, for which I thank you.

And with that, I shall sign off. Many thanks for keeping this e-
zine running. I enjoy it.  [-jp]


(Volume VI of VI) (Part 1) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

[continuing my comments from last week]

"The merit of the true cross was somewhat impaired by its frequent
division; and a long captivity among the infidels might shed some
suspicion on the fragments that were produced in the East and

E: This is not exactly a new idea now, and probably was not even
then, but Gibbon's ironic understatement does make one smile.

"Aristotle was indeed the oracle of the Western universities, but
it was a barbarous Aristotle; and, instead of ascending to the
fountain head, his Latin votaries humbly accepted a corrupt and
remote version, from the Jews and Moors of Andalusia."

E: Gibbon's complaint (here, anyway) is not that the Jews and Moors
were barbarous and corrupt, but rather than Latin speakers were
working from a Latin translation of the Arabic (and Hebrew?)
translations from the original Greek, rather than translating
directly from the original Greek to Latin.

"The principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism; and the
most important effects were analogous to the cause.  Each pilgrim
was ambitious to return to return with his sacred spoils, the
relics of Greece and Palestine; and each relic was preceded and
followed by a train of miracles and visions."

E: Gibbon, as you might have deduced, was very negative on relics,
and the miracles associated with them.

"... in human life, the most important scenes will depend on the
character of a single actor."

E: So Gibbon comes down clearly on the side of "The Great Man"
rather than "The Tide of History" theory.

"If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery
[gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason,
science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his
temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind."

E: Of course, Gibbon is comparing a single invention with the
entire fields of "reason, science, ad the arts of peace."  If one
looked at an individual invention in the latter (such as printing
press), the speed would be similar (as Gibbon later implies).

"In the last four centuries of the Greek emperors, their friendly
or hostile aspect towards the pope and the Latins may be observed
as the thermometer of their prosperity or distress."

E: The schism between East and West Rome was not as much as between
East (Communism) and West in our own times.

" ... the Greek, who must have confounded a modest salute with a
criminal embrace.  But his credulity and injustice may teach an
important lesson; to distrust the accounts of foreign and remote
nations, and to suspend our belief of every tale that deviates from
the laws of nature and the character of man."

E: A healthy skepticism is certainly called for, but the lessons of
the Holocaust, Pol Pot, and Rwanda, among others, may teach us a
contradictory lesson: tales that deviate from the laws of nature
and the character of man may, alas, be true.

"But an important distinction has already been noticed: the Greeks
were stationary or retrograde, while the Latins were advancing with
a rapid and progressive motion.  The nations were excited by the
spirit of independence and emulation; and even the little world of
the Italian states contained more people and industry than the
decreasing circle of the Byzantine empire."

E: One may, of course, argue that the decreasing circle of the
Byzantine empire was one reason for the stagnation of it.  As
Gibbon notes, even a small region of the West was more populous
(and covered more area) than the entire Eastern "Empire".  The East
also was surrounded by hostile or at least limiting powers, while
large parts of the West had secure borders in the form of the
Atlantic Ocean.

"... besides his native tongue it is affirmed that he spoke or
understood five languages, the Arabic, the Persian, the Chaldaean
or Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek.  The Persian might indeed
contribute to his amusement, and the Arabic to his edification; and
such studies are familiar to the Oriental youth.  In the
intercourse of the Greeks and Turks, a conqueror might wish to
converse with the people over which he was ambitious to reign: his
own praises in Latin poetry or prose might find a passage to the
royal ear; but what use or merit could recommend to the statesman
or the scholar the uncouth dialect of his Hebrew slaves?"

E: Let us just say that Gibbon was not a philo-Semite.

"The Mahometan, and more especially the Turkish casuists, have
pronounced that no promise can bind the faithful against the
interest and duty of their religion; and that the sultan may
abrogate his own treaties and those of his predecessors."

E: As we will see, this is not a trait limited to the Muslim or
Turkish casuists.  The Christians certainly seem to take the same
position, especially the Eastern Christians in the instance noted

"Persuasion is the resource of the feeble; and the feeble can
seldom persuade..."

E: This sounds a bit oxymoronic; I think the idea is that all the
feeble can do is try to persuade, but their efforts are almost
always doomed to failure.

"While Mahomet threatened the capital of the East, the Greek
emperor implored with fervent prayers the assistance of earth and
heaven.  But the invisible powers were deaf to his applications;
and Christendom beheld with indifference the fall of
Constantinople, while she derived at least some promise of supply
from the jealous and temporal policy of the sultan of Egypt."

E: So not only did Heaven ignore the pleas of the East, but so long
as Egypt was still shipping grain to the West, the West had no
interest in the pleas of the East either.  One could substitute
"oil" (or other natural resource) and specific countries for "East"
and "West" and come up with a statement that perfectly describes
the situation in the 20th century--or the 21st.

[to be continued--and concluded!--next week]



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

THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton (ISBN 978-0-7653-3266-0) has a very
basic, and fascinating, premise: A group of people attempt to
establish "The Just City" that Plato described in his REPUBLIC.
Now admittedly there is a lot of willing suspension of disbelief
required of the reader at the outset.  The reader has to accept
that the Greek gods are real, and that they have the ability not
only to travel through time and space, but to carry ordinary humans
through time and space as well.

"The Just City" is Athena's project, and she collects "masters" and
"children" to bootstrap it.  The masters are those people
throughout time who have prayed to her to live in Plato's "Just
City".  (One has to accept that there really would be enough who
explicitly prayed to her for this, but the requirement also
prejudices the choice towards Europeans and others who are familiar
with Athena and Plato--for example, Confucius does not have a
chance.)  The children are ten-year-olds collected from slave
markets around the world, and familiarity with Plato is not

Okay, so the city (set up on Thera in far distant prehistory) is
populated.  Now what?  Well, conveniently, there are "workers"
(robots) brought from our future to do all the hard and menial
work, so the masters think they have avoided the problem of
slavery.  When they begin to realize that the workers may be more
than mere machines, however, this forms one conflict in the novel.

Another conflict comes from Plato's ideas of family, marriage, sex,
and child-rearing.  As Apollo says in the novel after countless
examples of citizens subverting the rules about inter-personal
relationships, "We've established, I think, that what Plato knew
about love and real people could have been written on a fingernail
paring."  In other words, Plato's notions of the perfect society
run up again human psychology.  This should not surprise us, since
we have seen this happen in so many "engineered" societies (over
family, or over private property, or over something else), but it
should not surprise most of the masters either--they lived
centuries or millennia after Plato and have seen all these
societies fail also.

And a third conflict comes over what the masters call Plato's
"Noble Lie".  To make Plato's numbers work out for the division of
the classes, for example, the masters have to "cheat."  When
assigning children to gold, silver, bronze, or iron, the masters
need to have perfect gender balance in each.  Therefore, they
actually have to do some form of affirmative action if, for
example, more girls than boys are in the objectively top 252.  (And
for that matter, the assignment is supposed to be based on
absolute--not relative--criteria, which would mean that the chances
of ending up with groups in very convenient and balanced
percentages of the total is very unlikely.)  As the children
discover this "cheating," what will they make of it?

Ultimately, these are part of a larger issue, which by the end of
the novel both the masters and the children (now grown) come to
understand.  That is, it is easy to propose a new sort of society
and write about it in such a way that it works just as one intends.
However, this proves nothing, because when you are writing about
it, it is working properly by diktat, not because it would in real
life.  Heinlein does this in STARSHIP TROOPERS, for example, with
characters lecturing, for example, "Of course, flogging people for
traffic violations is right; you can see how it has made our
society better," or "Of course, giving only veterans the vote is
right; you can see how it has made our society better."  That one
could write the exact reverse equally convincingly would seem to
demonstrate the flaw in the author's logic.

So when the masters attempt to implement Plato's "perfect society,"
they discover all the flaws, omissions, and hand-waving that Plato
glossed over.  The exact organization of the mating festival: how
often it is held, who is paired with whom, how to handle subsequent
festivals when part of the female population is pregnant--all these
"details" Plato avoids but the masters have to deal with.  It is as
if someone watched "Star Trek" and then attempted to build a
spaceship from it (GALAXY QUEST notwithstanding).

The Just City also ran into a common problem when someone they
think of as practically a god starts disagreeing with them, and not
following the rules and customs laid down.  "Only golds were
supposed to study philosophy and rhetoric.  But the masters
couldn't very well stop Sokrates from going up to people and asking
them about their work.  They couldn't stop him from inviting
whomever he chose to come back to [his house] for conversation.
Sokrates was famous.  The masters revered him practically be
definition--they were here specifically because they revered
Sokrates, after all.  They didn't want to stop him behaving the way
he had always behaved.  They had loved to read in the 'Apology'
about how he was a gadfly sent by the gods to Athens.  Now he was
their gadfly, and they weren't as happy about that.  He was
upsetting their neat system, and he knew it."

And as I noted, this had a trickle-down effect: the masters also
find themselves changing Plato's rules when the rules make no sense
to them.  For example, they thought the rule of everyone having to
eat together was too restrictive, so they decided that what Plato
really meant was that you could take food from the dining commons
*if* you shared it with someone else.  This, of course, is not
really so different from deciding that when the Bible says X it
really means Y.

In short, there is a lot to chew on in this book, even read on its
own, but clearly the thing to do to get the most out of it is to
read THE REPUBLIC first.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           There is nothing so horrible in nature as to see
           a beautiful theory murdered by an ugly gang of facts.
                                           --Benjamin Franklin