Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/16/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 16, Whole Number 1880

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Astronaut Kjell Lindgren's Sasquan Videos
        Church Schism (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        The Wilhelm Gostloff (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE MARTIAN (letters of comment by Pater Rubinstein
                and Hugh McGuinness)
        Religious Laws (letter of comment by Peter Trei)
        Kevin McCarthy (letter of comment by Kevin R)
        Colm Feore (letter of comment by Kevin R)
        This Week's Reading (THE WORLD WITHOUT US and LIFE AFTER
                PEOPLE) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Astronaut Kjell Lindgren's Sasquan Videos

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren's videos for Sasquan's big events are
available at

(This was the first time part of the official Worldcon ceremonies
have been held in outer space.)


TOPIC: Church Schism (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

It has been reported that there has been a major schism in the
Church of Last Thursdayism, with about 20% of the (remaining)
members voting to break away and form their own church, the Church
of Last Fridayism.  Previously other groups had broken away to form
the Church of Last Wednesdayism and the Church of Last Tuesdayism.
In a separate development, the Church of Last Tuesdayism is
debating whether to endorse the Morningists or the Eveningists in
defining their doctrine.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: The Wilhelm Gostloff (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I have recently discovered the Podcast of Doom, which in spite of
the lurid name is a fairly serious look, one at a time, at
disasters of history.  I looked over at the events they reported on
and most I already knew something about.  I had never heard of the
Wilhelm Gustloff.  This was a major calamity of history and nothing
came to mind about it.  Actually it seems to have been a major
disaster that nobody seems to have heard of.  It was a gigantic
maritime tragedy.  How many people died?  It was up around 9000.
By comparison, the Titanic had about 1500 passengers die.  Some
numbers are estimates but there were about six people killed on the
Wilhelm Gustloff for each person killed on the Titanic.  One reason
you do not hear more about the Wilhelm Gustloff is that it was
filled with refugees struggling to stay alive.  It showed just how
bad things can get for refugees.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was a luxurious cruise ship built as a status
symbol for Germany and launched March 24, 1938.  It had less than
eighteen months as a pleasure ship before the Nazis were at war,
and it was pressed into service to wartime Germany.  It was used as
a hospital ship and was kept at anchor from 1941 to 1945.  Germany
had invaded Poland and held it from the west while the Soviet Union
invaded Poland from the east.  Germany now found it was fighting on
many fronts and they could not hold off the Soviets in Poland.
German sympathizers in Poland found the climate unhealthy.

Germany took a page out of Britain's book and arranged their own
sea evacuation like Dunkirk.  And they did it up big.  What they
called Operation Hannibal was the biggest military sea evacuation
ever executed.  It was a plan to transport up to two million people
in a thousand ships.  The Wilhelm Gustloff was one of those ships.
The ships were overloaded with German refugees including wounded
soldiers and men women and children wanting to escape the coming
clash of the German and Soviet militaries.  The Wilhelm Gostloff
was to set sail on January 30, 1945.  Men, women, and children
refugees desperate to get out of the area before life got really
dangerous flooded the ship.  The ship was rated for 1800 passengers
but it officially allowed about 3000 refugees to board.  In fact,
in the circumstances it allowed many thousand more passengers than
even its official capacity.  Estimates are that there were 9000
passengers, more than half of them children.  Conditions were
extremely uncomfortable on the ship so tightly packed, but worse,
the overloading was extremely dangerous.  So overfull the boat was
slow in the water making it an easy target for Soviet submarines.
Picking up more passengers from small boats its total reached
10,000 people on board.

In the same water was the Soviet submarine S-13, commanded by
Captain Alexander Marinesko.  He sighted the giant ship and
shadowed the Wilhelm Gostloff for two hours.  At what Marinesko
thought was an opportune time he launched three torpedoes at the
Wilhelm Gostloff.  All three hit their target, striking it near the
port bow, near mid-ships, and at the engine room.

The air temperature was in the single-digit Fahrenheit and many of
the passengers were drowned in the onrushing water.  The water was
floating ice chunks and people falling in the water mostly froze
there.  There were panics on board the boat.   Imagine the panic
when the boat listed over on its side.

For forty minutes the ex-luxury-liner tried to float lying on its
side, its bow in the water.  After the forty minutes it slid bow-
down under the Baltic waves.  German boats in the area tried to
rescue passengers from the freezing waters, but no more than a
handful could be saved.  The best guess of how many were killed say
it was 9343, though records are not complete.  This was the
greatest number of fatalities of any single ship that had ever

So why have we heard to so little of the sinking of the Wilhelm
Gostloff?  We hear much more about the Titanic.  That is probably
because on the Titanic there were so many of the upper class who
were eloquent and held the world's attention already.  Somehow, I
guess, it is more poignant if it is the wealthy that die.

The Soviets have not wanted to brag about a victory that killed so
many civilians and a high proportion of which were children.  The
Germans saw the Wilhelm Gostloff as a disaster that they allowed to
happen.  Everybody involved was content to just let the matter rest
and be forgotten.  The Wilhelm Gostloff sits there at the top of
the list or worst marine disasters, but most people who see it
there have never heard about the ship and about what happened.  Now
you have.




TOPIC: THE MARTIAN (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein and Hugh

In response to Mark's review of THE MARTIAN in the 10/09/15 issue
of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

[Mark writes,] "Following Andy Weir's novel, astronaut Mark Watney
is on a mission to Mars that has the bad timing to be in the path
of a violent windstorm."  [-mrl]

A violent windstorm in the Martian atmosphere?  I would think that
unlikely.  Can someone better versed in Martian meteorology explain
this to me?  [-pr]

Evelyn replies:

This is one of the two major scientific errors in THE MARTIAN.
(The other is the hand-waving about the amount of radiation.)

Hugh McGuinness writes:

I too watched THE MARTIAN recently, but was astounded at your
comment "About the first thing we learn
about the real man is that he swears a lot"  What????  As I recall
he swears about six distinct times in the film, all of which (apart
from the second broadcast text message where he does it to provoke
the President) are completely justified--he's on Mars alone with a
piece of metal through his belly, for example, or they're telling
him he has to make the return capsule into a convertible.

If it had been me there would have been non-stop swearing for the
first ten minutes of the movie, I would think. :-)  [-hmg]

Mark responds:

Swearing six times is quite a lot for a PG-13 film.  I admit,
though, that my comment was influenced by my reading the book.  In
the book from Watney's very first words he is swearing a lot.  It
does not bother me, but that is how Andy Weir first characterizes
Mark Watney.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Religious Laws (letter of comment by Peter Trei)

In response to Mark's comments on religious laws in the 10/09/15
issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

Your point that many religions 'break' when they try to deal with
too many people, or with places inconceivable to those who created
them, is well taken.  Judaism and Islam have a lot of hackish
solutions to high latitudes and distance from Jerusalem and
Mecca/Medina messing with the concept of 'day', and have for done
so for a long time.  Dealing with space travel adds a whole extra
layer of hacks and hand-waving.

However, your claim that Islam can't alter the Mina pillars to make
the even more crowd friendly is incorrect--they've been altered
more than once.

[Background: In Mina, near Mecca, there are three stone pillars,
150 to 200 yards apart in a rough row. Muslims on Hajj are expected
to throw seven stones at the pillars, at one pillar on day 3, and
at all three on days 4 and 5 of the ceremony, re-enacting Ibrahim
driving away the Devil.  The most propitious time to do this is at

The number of people taking part has grown vastly--from about 100k
in the 1930s to over 2 million today.  Two million people, trying
to get within throwing range of the pillars at more or less the
same time, is impossible.

So they've adapted:

1. Fatwahs were issued that expanded the time window to anything
between sunrise and sunset.

2. In 2005, the pillars were replaced with three massive
freestanding walls, each 85 feet long (this also eliminated
injuries from missed throws).

3. Around the area of the pillars, the Saudis have constructed a
huge pedestrian bridge, with three levels of decks
surrounding the new pillars, providing (with the ground) four
levels from which to throw (this also puts most people in the

[In case you're wondering, yes, some people objected to replacing
the pillars, seeing a secret anti-Islam conspiracy behind the

I don't understand your worry about needing Muslim workers.  There
are plenty of skilled people to do the work (and in fact, the crane
was owned by the Bin-Laden family, that which disowned OBL).

The most recent crush is claimed to have been started by a group of
pilgrims who tried to go back the way they came, up the down ramp
so to speak.  The bridge is designed to flow in one direction.

Mark responds:

I don't think I said that Islam could not alter the Mina Pillars.
I was saying that it is conceivable that the Mecca administrators
may reach a capacity point where there will not be that much more
that can be done to accommodate future larger crowds.  They may
reach a point when the religious rules do not fit the physical
constraints.  And I was comparing to other cases where religious
rules had to be reinterpreted to apply to unforeseen situations.
It argues that the original rules are fallible and imperfect.  The
authorities in Mecca need to decide what is the upper limit of
pilgrims the ceremony can physically accommodate even with
alterations.  They have to plan for what they will do if they
approach those limits.

As to the worry about Muslim workers, I doubt that Mecca itself has
enough teams of contractors to do all the repairs.  They probably
have to bring in outsiders.  Outside of Mecca the teams of
contractor workers may not be all Muslim.  A team that is made up
of Christians and Muslims would have to be broken up and only the
Muslims brought in on the repair.  Perhaps there are not enough
Christians working in Saudi Arabia for this to be a problem, but it
was my impression that there were a lot of Christian contractors
who were not Muslim and who had been brought to the country to
work.  If you have a team half Muslim and half Christian suddenly
the religion of people on the team becomes very important.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Kevin McCarthy (letter of comment by Kevin R)

In response to Mark's comments on Kevin McCarthy in the 10/09/15
issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

I had to scratch my head a minute for the reference.

Seriously, when you were raised Oirish Catholic in the second half
of the the 20th Century, your mental Rolodex is going to include
multiple Kevin McCarthys, and MacCarthys.  [-kr]


TOPIC: Colm Feore (letter of comment by Kevin R)

In response to Mark's comments on Colm Feore in REVERSION in the
10/09/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

I had to check, because there was heavy makeup and/or CGI, but he
was Laufey, King of the Frost Giants, in Marvel's first THOR movie.


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

THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Alan Weisman (ISBN 978-0-312-42790-0) is a
2007 book which may be the source for the 2008 television special
(and subsequent series) LIFE AFTER PEOPLE.  (Other television
specials along the same vein are AFTERMATH: POPULATION ZERO and THE
FUTURE IS WILD.)  But while LIFE AFTER PEOPLE takes a macro look at
the future--what will happen to buildings, animals, roads, etc.--
THE WORLD WITHOUT US takes not just a micro view, but a molecular
one--what happens to the heavy metals, the PCBs, the PBDEs, the
PAHs, and so on.  And while LIFE AFTER PEOPLE takes what could be
called an optimistic view, with Manhattan (for example) returning
to a pastoral primordial landscape, THE WORLD WITHOUT US is far
more pessimistic, questioning whether the remaining life forms can
survive all the poisons we have left that will not disappear in
five, ten, or even a hundred years.

Weisman makes some interesting observations.  For example, writing
of a project to restore a small part of Manhattan to its pre-
Columbian state, he says that it is "re-creating the island as the
Dutch found it--not some primordial Manhattan forest no human had
set foot on, because there wasn't one.  'Because before the Lenni
Lenape arrived,' explains [Eric] Sanderson, 'nothing was here
except for a mile-thick slab of ice.'"

He also observes that the old rules about what defines a species do
not seem valid, because red-tailed monkeys and blue monkeys are
interbreeding in Gombe and, "although the two species have
different numbers of chromosomes, at least some of the offspring of
these liaisons--whether between blue males and red-tailed females
or vice versa--are fertile."

Weisman notes, "Wrangel Island's mammoths lived on, a dwarf species
that lasted 7,000 years longer than mammoths on any continent.
They were still alive 4,000 years ago, when Egyptian pharaohs
ruled."  Which means, among other things, that the movie 10,000
B.C. may not have been *quite* as crazy as it first appears (except
that 10,000 B.C. should really be more like 2,000 B.C.).

Arthur Demarest said, "[Mayan] society had evolved too many elites,
all demanding exotic baubles."  Weisman continues, "He describes a
culture wobbling under the weight of an excess of nobles, all
needing quetzel feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom
polychrome, fancy corbeled roofs, and animal furs.  Nobility is
expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of
society's energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings."  Substitute
"Ancien Regime French" for "Mayan" and "velvet clothing, elaborate
wigs, jewels, fancy food, and gold" for "quetzel feathers, jade,
obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, and fancy corbeled roofs"
(no change to the "animal furs," however!), and you have a
statement just as true.  And I'm sure if you substituted "21st
Century American" for "Mayan" you could figure out what to
substitute for the consumer goods.

Regarding Ebola, R. Thomas Ksiazek of the CDC said, "Hygiene is the
key.  Even if someone tried to introduce Ebola intentionally,
though you might get a few secondary cases in families and hospital
staff, with sufficient precautions it would die out rapidly."  This
may have sounded reasonable in 2007, and it might still be true,
but the "sufficient precautions" is the sticking point: they turned
out to be far more difficult to enforce than people had realized or

Reading WORLD WITHOUT US inspired me to re-watch the television
special LIFE WITHOUT PEOPLE.  As I remembered, it dealt with macro
issues more than the micro issues that Alan Weisman covers.  It
starts with power systems: coal-powered power plants will stop
first from lack of fuel, then nuclear plants will go into a
"hibernate" mode because no one will be drawing the electricity
they generate, and even wind generators will die from mechanical
failure.  What they say will last the longest is Hoover Dam; they
say it will last a couple of years, but then later someone says the
invasive quagga mussel will clog the cooling ducts in Hoover Dam,
the water will stop flowing through the plant, and the Colorado
River below will dry up.  However, Lake Mead will rise until it
spills over the dam.

(Of course, all this was before the drought set in and Lake Mead
fell so far that now the concern may be that it will fall below the
intake pipes.  See pictures from at

Tunnels under cities will flood in 36 hours (at least in New York
City).  With the power gone, food will rot.  Rats and mice are
actually very dependent on our food, so after they finish off
everything that does not rot, there will be a big die-off with the
survivors changing over to a diet based on nature.  (The same is
true of sea gulls, which have become dependent on human land
fills.)  Cockroaches will do fine for food, but the cold may be a
problem in non-tropical areas.

Dogs will also have a massive die-off.  Obviously, pets that are
trapped within houses will die, but the larger dogs will be able to
break out through a window or something.  Even if small dogs get
out, their chances of survival against predators is slim.  And many
breeds of dogs have been bred with characteristics that are
unhealthy (such as greyhounds and the various short-faced or short-
legged breeds).  Cats will do much better, having not become as
dependent on humans as dogs, and also not have a wide variety of
unhealthy characteristics.

Within six months there would be predators roaming the cities.
(Heck, in New Jersey we get bears in the suburbs already.)  Wolves
(possibly interbreeding with dogs), coyotes, and even bears will
spread, particularly without highways full of cars splitting up
their habitats.  Zoo animals are the great unknown--it would depend
on whether they got out or not.

Plants will encroach everywhere (and not just invasive species).
Lightning strikes will start fires that will burn until they burn
themselves out naturally.  (Gas leaks in cities were not even

There was a long section on Chernobyl/Pripyat, which they describe
as happening twenty years earlier.  In fact, by now it is almost
thirty years ago (April 26, 1986).  The conclusion of Chernobyl is
that the lack of humans overcomes the radiation.  In this LIFE
AFTER PEOPLE is more optimistic that WORLD WITHOUT US, which
emphasizes the mutations and low survival rates of offspring in the

By twenty-five years, many of the cities protected by flood gates
and dikes have been at least partially submerged.  The windows in
the skyscrapers are starting to break and fall, and the lightning
rods corrode.  Building interiors become habitats for plants and

Eventually salts will destroy stone buildings and non-concrete dams
will fail.  After about fifty years, bridges and other steel
structures dependent on cables will start to fail.  After seventy-
five years cars will have rusted into unrecognizable piles.

Cellulose acetate film and paper will be destroyed by humidity (or
mold encouraged by humidity).

Eventually, the roofs under the cities (and the streets they
support) will collapse.

After about 150 years the oceans will have recovered and be full of
fish.  There is mention of how much we have polluted the oceans,
but no real explanation of where all the plastic, Styrofoam, heavy
metals, and long-lasting chemicals have gone.  At least the
remaining sea gulls will have something to eat.

In two hundred years, steel structures such as the Eiffel Tower,
the Space Needle, steel bridges, etc. will collapse.  Buildings
such as the Empire State will start to lean as the ground under
them subsides, then collapse.  They say that the period between one
hundred and three hundred years after the event would be the "Era
of the Great Collapses".

In five hundred years, concrete will have failed.  After a thousand
years, cities will have vanished.  In ten thousand years, all that
will remain will be sections of the Great Wall, the Great Pyramid,
Hoover Dam (which will be the "Last of the Great Collapses"), and
what is mostly likely to last for thousands if not millions of
years: Mount Rushmore (and the Crazy Horse Monument as well, I
assume).  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Men hate to be misunderstood, and to be understood
           makes them furious.
                                           --Edgar Saltus