Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/18/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 37, Whole Number 1902

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        I'd Bet On That (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Fruit in Jeopardy (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        NEMESIS GAMES by James S.A. Corey (audiobook review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        ANCILLARY MERCY by Ann Leckie (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        Mass Market Paperbacks (and Other Forms) (letters of comment
                by Keith F. Lynch, Gary McGath, and Peter Trei)
        Travel and Adaptors (letters of comment by Kip Williams
                and Paul Dormer)
        Sherlock Holmes (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
        Time's Arrow (letter of comment by Dan Cox)
        This Week's Reading (THE COBBLER OF RIDINGHAM and D.A.)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: I'd Bet On That (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I saw a news headline that would have been funny if it were not for
the serious subject.  It said, "Half People Killed by Police Suffer
a Mental Disability."

I would actually put the proportion nearer 100%.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Fruit in Jeopardy (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Like just about everybody else in the world I am a big fan of fresh
fruit.  I guess I have a sweet tooth and foods that are healthy and
sweet are rare.  But in a few years the set of fruits that will be
available to people may be very different and not as pleasing.
Oranges and bananas as crops may be in real trouble.

You probably like a nice juicy and sweet orange.  Orange juice is
the most popular fruit juice in the country.  But the orange crop
in California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, South
Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands is in serious trouble
from a disease called "greening."  That is a very apt name for the
problem.  Once an orange tree gets the disease it produces smaller
oranges, all or part green.  The fruit becomes bitter and useless.
Not only does the fruit have to be destroyed, the entire orange
tree will never recover and itself will become a vector for the
disease spreading.  There is no reversing the disease.  Greening
comes from a bacterium that is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid,
a tiny insect no bigger than the head of a pin.  So far there is
not a good way to kill the psyllid.  It can be slowed but not very
well stopped.  Also moving the plants that have the greening
bacteria can spread the disease.  That makes it very important that
once a tree is diagnosed with the disease it must be destroyed
thoroughly before its bacteria spreads.  The citrus industry is
losing the battle to contain greening.

Then there is the banana.  Its problems we caused ourselves.  There
are multiple breeds of banana, more than three hundred.  Most
people have probably seen only one breed.  Worse than that, if you
live in the United States you probably have seen only one banana in
your life.  It has been cloned over and over and over.  Every
banana you have seen is probably a genetically identical twin of
every other banana you have seen.  Whenever you eat a banana you
are probably eating a Cavendish banana.  And that is a good thing.
You are eating a good banana.  Bon appetit.  There used to be a
very good banana called the Gros Michel.  And they too were all
genetically equivalent.

Each of these types of bananas is a monoculture--they have one
genetic makeup.  What happened to the Gros Michel was that it had
no immunity to a certain fungal disorder.  The disease that killed
one banana tree killed all it reached.  Honduras, which depends on
fruit export, was financially devastated.  Produce producers had to
switch to another banana not quite as good.  This was the Cavendish
banana.  It was unaffected by the fungal threat.  The Gros Michel
had been made into so many clones that did not have the defense
they needed, so the Cavendish took the Gros Michel's place.  Now it
is being cloned over and over and over.  It will survive nicely if
not too threatened by disease.

Surprise.  The black Sigatoka, a leaf fungus, and Panama disease, a
soil fungus that attacks the plant roots is sending the Cavendish
down the same road that the Gros Michel traveled.  These bananas
all have just one genome and if it leaves bananas vulnerable to
fungi, the entire worldwide crop is endangered.  And all this had
happened before.  Ireland survived largely on a monoculture breed
of potato.  Then the right fungus came along--it so frequently is
a fungus--and you had on of the most terrible events of recent
centuries, the Irish Potato Famine.   Somewhere around a million
people died of disease and starvation in the years between 1846
and 1851 when the potato crop failed.

Back in April 2007 I talked in my column about Colony Collapse
Disorder (CCD):

CCD is a phenomenon of worker bees mysteriously disappearing from
hives and the hives fail, killing off the remaining bees.  These
bees are necessary to pollinate fruits and vegetables.  If these
bees cannot pollinate plants it will take a huge bite out of our
selection of the fruits and vegetable on our tables.  Humans will
still find enough to eat, but our diet will be rather pallid.  Each
of these phenomena has a different cause, but each is a new
phenomenon and I strongly suspect it is at base caused by human
activity.  The world is an extremely complex system.  Any new
activity humans start doing stands a good chance of having
unintended consequences.  We are in a race between positive change
and negative change.  We cannot stop that.  We just have to wait
and see what the net effect is.  In the meantime why not sit back
and enjoy a piece of fruit?  [-mrl]


TOPIC: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Michelle is leading a normal life when she has a car
accident and wakes up to find herself in an underground cell that,
as she is told, was why she survived the end of the world outside.
She does not know if she should elude her captor or cooperate with
the man saved her life.  This is a taut film that flips reality and
tears up your expectations of where to think the film is going.
Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The first thing that film buffs will notice about 10 CLOVERFIELD
LANE is the title.  Does the film have something to do with
producer JJ Abrams' CLOVERFIELD?  That was a found-footage film
with something big attacking Manhattan.  Well this film's plot may
not have anything to do with the other film.  Then again, any
conclusions you draw from what you see on the screen are likely to
be wrong.  This is not a found-footage film and does have one or
two stars.  But the viewer is cautioned.  Abrams likes to toy with
his audience.  Whatever you think you have guessed about what is
going on, in five minutes things may seem entirely different and
you will likely have new theories as to what is going on.  Abrams
keeps shaking the viewer's understanding around like a cat with a
field mouse.

So what do we know about what is going on?  Well, Michelle (played
by Mary Elizabeth Winstead of the most recent THE THING and
currently of "Mercy Street") is leaving her husband to strike out
on her own.  Driving down a dark country road suddenly her car is
hit by a pickup truck and is badly rolled end over end.  When she
wakes up she has good news and bad news.  The good news is that she
is not badly hurt.  She will have to spend some time on crutches.
That may be a little difficult since she is chained to a wall.  Not
a very nice wall either.  She is in some sort of a cell with cinder
block walls.  That is the bad news.  But then Howard (John Goodman)
visits the cell.  It seems this is not so much a little cell as a
large room in some sort of underground shelter or bunker.  Howard
has brought her there as a mercy.  How is it a mercy?  It seems
that while she was unconscious the world as we know it has come to
an end.

Apparently there was some sort of an attack and maybe by chemical
means, maybe by nuclear means, everybody is dead.  She can probably
leave, but as soon as she steps outside whatever killed off most of
the human race would probably kill her.  Now what kind of a
ridiculous story is that?  Well, maybe Howard has a wildly active
imagination or maybe most of the human race is gone.  And evidence
keeps building on either side of the argument.  John Gallagher,
Jr., plays Emmett, who shares the underground bunker and has seen
enough evidence to know that Howard is absolutely right.  Or are
they both crazy?

John Goodman is best known as a comic actor.  This is one of only a
few films in which he can be frightening and is imposing as a
possible dangerous psychotic.  If he were just unambiguously shown
early on to be psychotic that would be one thing, but with director
Dan Trachtenberg and writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and
Damien Chazelle toying with the viewer the viewer finds him/herself
straining to look at him for clues to the central question of
understanding him.  Winstead is quite good in a role that is not
particularly new or cutting edge.  She is the main character, but
could have been a little more complex.  JJ Abrams has found a film
that would keep the budget down much as he did (differently) in
CLOVERFIELD.  This is a smallish film with a limited cast.  Most of
the film takes place in a bunker.  But the film does seem to be
pleasing audiences in a time when so many films are overstuffed
based on comic books.  I would rate 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE a low +2 on
the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: NEMESIS GAMES by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2015, Orbit,
2015 Hachette Audio, $28.33, 16 hrs. 44 mins., narrated by
Jefferson Mays) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook
review by Joe Karpierz)

Several weeks ago, my son and I were out to dinner and talking
about various things, as you do, when he asked the following
question:  "How do you know when you're done writing a book
review?".  Most times when he asks a question I can answer almost
immediately.  This one caused me to pause for a few moments before
I could formulate an answer.  The more pressing question for me is
not how I know when I'm done writing a review, but just how do I go
about starting one.  Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not. Many
times I'll fumble around looking for a way to get started.  You may
be able to tell that this is one of those times.  But I'll see what
I can do.

Luckily, James S.A. Corey--the pseudonym of the writing pair of
Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck--don't have the same problem I do.
Oh, it's probably true that when they start writing an Expanse
story, they have some problems getting started, but the final
product that we see on the page--or on our e-readers--or hear from
a narrator always seems to get off with a bang.  NEMESIS GAMES,
book five of the Expanse series, does just that.  The book starts
with an attack on the shipyards of Callisto, and while it does have
its quiet moments, it really never stops moving.  And while we're
used to that with Expanse stories, NEMESIS GAMES is truly a totally
different animal that is still somehow the same.

The Rocinante is back in the Solar System, badly in need of repair
after the events chronicled in CIBOLA BURN.  It's going to be
several weeks before the ship is ready for action again, so the
crew--Holden, Alex, Amos, and Naomi--all depart from Tycho Station
where the Rocinante is docked and undergoing repair, to deal with
personal business.  So, for the first time in the series, the
characters are not together during the crisis that occurs during
their journeys.  Alex returns to Mars to tie up some personal
business with loved ones, Amos returns to Earth to do much the same
but in a different way, Naomi takes a trip to deal with what is, at
least to me, a suprising (but maybe it shouldn't be) past, and
Holden is tasked to help look into the mysterious disappearances of

There is much unrest within the structure of the Solar System.  The
galaxy outside the Solar System is home to countless worlds that
are now available to settlers because of the gate that the
protomolecule--or whoever or whatever made the protomolecule--left
us.  Those settlers are leaving in droves, and the political
stability of the Solar System, what with the inner planets, the
Outer Planetary Alliance, and the belters, while always tenuous,
has gotten worse.  The attack on Callisto is followed by one of the
most spectacular and audacious attacks on Earth we have ever seen,
and the Solar System is thrown into chaos.  And how our four main
characters, separately and eventually together, deal with that
chaos while at the same time dealing with their own personal
issues, is what lies at the core of this book.

For the first four Expanse novels Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos
have been together, interacting with and playing off each other.
For the first time, we not only see them apart for an expanded
period of time, but we see how they handle things in the absence of
the rest of their friends.  And yet, their friends are never far
from their thoughts.  Several times we hear one character or
another ask "What would Holded do", or "What would Alex do?".  Just
as interesting is learning about the past and private lives of the
four.  We certainly find out some surprising things, but we also
find out what makes these people tick, what made them into the
people they are today, what caused them to get where they are from
where they were.

And yes, for the first time, there are very few new characters
introduced.  Oh, there are a few, certainly, and while at least one
of them drives the plot, they are not the focus.  They appear to be
there for the convenience of having events in the series move
forward.  We do have a few old favorite friends back along for the
ride.  Fred Johnson, the butcher of Anderson station, plays a key
role in the book, as does Bobbie Draper, who makes a welcome return
to the story.  And we really couldn't get through this without
Chrisjen Avasarala, who is as feisty and vulgar as ever, but who is
also funny and, of course, effective.

This book is also about change, but it needs to be.  When you hit
book five in a series, the story and characters can tend to get
stale and routine.  With NEMESIS GAMES, Corey seems to be saying
"alright, it's time for a shakeup; let's stir the pot a bit".  The
book ends on a cliffhanger, with events of the book irrevocably
changing the shape of the Solar System.  Similarly, as a result of
their separate journeys, each member of the crew of the Rocinante
has changed, both individually and as a unit, as their
relationships with each other have changed.  There are a projected
four more books to go in the Expanse series, with BABYLON'S ASHES,
book six, due out this summer.  Corey has turned what we know about
the Expanse on its ear.  It is going to be interesting to see what
comes next.

I can't say enough about the narrator, Jefferson Mays.  He brings
each character to life, giving each their own voice, reading them
with expert enthusiasm.  My favorite is his portrayal of Chrisjen
Avasarala.  I looked forward to those scenes more than the rest--he
brought her to life in a way I believe no other narrator could.
Mays makes listening to this book worthwhile.  This is the first of
the Expanse books that I have listened to, and I wish I had
listened to the others he narrated as well.

NEMESIS GAMES is a book that expertly changes the face of the
Expanse universe.  If the rest of the novels in the series come
anywhere close in quality to this one, which I believe is the best
of the lot so far, then we as readers have a lot to look forward
to.  [-jak]


TOPIC: ANCILLARY MERCY by Ann Leckie (copyright 2015, Orbit, 334pp,
$9.99 (Kindle Edition), ISBN 978-0-316-24667-5) (excerpt from the
Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz)

I really don't know what to make of ANCILLARY MERCY, the third and,
presumably, final book in the Imperial Radch series.  ANCILLARY
JUSTICE, the first book in the series, took the field by storm,
winning all sorts of awards, and deservedly so.  It introduced the
concept of the ancillary, an individual that isn't an individual; a
being that is at once a starship and part of a starship.  It was
also lauded for its use of a single gender pronoun for both
genders, rendering the concept of gender itself nearly irrelevant,
if not completely so.  It was well written, and injected a terrific
breath of fresh air into the space opera sub-genre.

ANCILLARY SWORD, the second book in the series, seemed to indeed
suffer from being the second book in a series, kind of a bridge
between the introduction and set up of the story and what would
presumably be the triumphant, climactic finish to the entire story.
In my review of ANCILLARY SWORD, I called it more of a soap opera
than a space opera, with all sorts family squabbles and intrigue,
and in my mind not a lot happened.

Which brings us to ANCILLARY MERCY.  A friend of mine commented
something to the effect of "that's a lot of book for what happened
in it".  I think he hit it on the head.  But let's not get ahead of
ourselves here.  So, aside from the neat and interesting concepts
introduced in the first book, the overarching storyline is that
Breq, former Justice of Toren ancillary and now Fleet Captain of
the Radch forces in the Atheok system, is out to destroy Anaander
Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch.  You see, there's a civil war going
on in Radch space, but the thing is that the civil war is between
at least two different instantiations (okay, the former software
developer in me is coming out) of Anaander.  Breq has been made
Fleet Captain by one of those instantiations, but she is looking to
go after the other instantiation.  I do waffle a bit on how many
there are, because Breq herself thinks there might be more than
two, but that was never followed up on.

The book contains familiar characters, as Lieutenant Seivarden and
Tisarwat are back along for the ride.  We have yet another Presger
translator as well as an ancillary from another ship that has
apparently remained hidden from the Radch empire for a very long
time.  Quite frankly, I still haven't quite discerned the purpose
of the new ancillary, and the Presger translator seems, in general,
to be there for increasingly annoying comic relief, constantly
asking for fish and fish sauce (this tells you a lot if most of
what I remember from the book is about the Presger translator).
Then again, the translator does make a decision that will influence
the future of the empire, but it is never followed up on.

And there is the final confrontation with Anaander Mianaai.  I had
been wondering for quite some time how the whole situation was
going to be resolved, as there are numerous Anaanders on both sides
of the civil war.  The answer to that question is, in my mind,
quite disappointing.  Nothing much happens, really (other than a
lot of tea drinking), and the solution to the problem doesn't seem
to be much of a solution at all.  It seems that the conflict should
be one that is difficult to win, given the numbers involved.  In
the end, I'm not sure there was a winner or a loser.

There is a lot of high praise going around for ANCILLARY MERCY
right now.  I am afraid that I'm in the minority--I just don't see
it.  As I said to another of one of my friends recently, when he
asked what I thought of it, "I wasn't moved".  There was still a
lot of family squabbling, still a lot of political maneuvering, but
not a lot of interesting goings on.  As I was disappointed in
ANCILLARY SWORD, I was even more disappointed in ANCILLARY MERCY.
While the book itself was well written, I'm not sure what it was
written about.  I'm left with an empty feeling that a lot more was
promised, but not enough was delivered.  It's not clear to me that
if there is ever another book written in the Radch universe that I
will pick it up and read it.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Mass Market Paperbacks (and Other Forms) (letters of comment
by Keith F. Lynch, Gary McGath, and Peter Trei)

In response to Evelyn's comments on book sizes in the 03/11/16
issue of the MT VOID, Keith Lynch writes:

That's how I almost always read books other than mass market
paperbacks [lying on my stomach with the book lying on the bed].
Not only are mass market paperbacks (mmpbs) much more comfortable
to hold, to read, and to carry home from the book store, they also
take less space to shelve.  And, being all the same height and
depth, don't waste space on the shelf.

Not coincidentally, I always wait for the mmpb before buying a new
novel.  If it's been several years, I'll reluctantly buy a used
hardback or trade paperback if I can find one (which I usually
can't).  Of course that means neither the author nor the publisher
gets any money from me.

I'm baffled by the apparent gradual phasing out of mmpbs.  I've
been waiting for eight years for Turtledove's THE MAN WITH THE IRON
HEART to come out in mmpb.  I guess it's never going to happen.
And I think it's been more than a decade since I've found any new
mmpbs from one of my favorite authors, Greg Egan--and his novels
never show up at used book sales.

I bought THE MARTIAN, even though it cost $10, as I had heard very
good things about it.  And it *is* good.  But on finishing it and
attempting to shelve it, I discovered it's not really an mmpb, and
is just a little too tall to fit on my mmpb shelves.  I could
shelve it with my non-mmpb fiction, but it would really waste space
on that shelf, as it's not nearly as tall or deep as most of them.
I'm strongly tempted to take a saw to it and trim it to mmpb size;
the top and bottom margins are tall enough that I wouldn't lose any

What are publishers thinking?  Are they intent on self-destructing?
When they go out of business will they claim it's because people no
longer read?  [-kfl]

Evelyn responds:

[From the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ--the numbers may be outdated, but
their relative values still apply]

As for why (more expensive) trade paperbacks instead of (cheaper)
mass market paperbacks:

To publish a mass-market paperback successfully, you need to sell
10,000 copies of a 25,000 run to succeed--*and* you need to do this
in a six- to eight-week period.  Trade paperbacks can sell fewer,
but even more to the point, they don't have a time limit, since
they are not stripped by bookstores after six weeks.  [culled from
panels at Boskone and elsewhere]

Or as Michael Kube-McDowell explained it:

The floor condition for successful mass market publishing is
roughly analogous to being able to fill a particular 50,000-seat
stadium for a football game on a particular Sunday afternoon.

The floor condition for successful trade publication is roughly
analogous to being able to attract 10,000 visitors to a new museum
of textile arts in the first six months it's open.

You can't have successful mass market publishing if people are
wandering into the stadium a few at a time from Saturday morning to
six weeks from Thursday, all expecting to see the same game--even
if the total eventually is enough to have filled the stadium.

What you get in that case is a 50,000-seat stadium that's mostly
empty (returns), which doesn't do much for either the team or the


[Thanks to MK-M.]

And as for the new, taller mass-market paperbacks, the explanation
from publishers was that it allowed for a bigger typeface for baby
boomers whose eyesight was going, while still fitting into the
fixed-width wire racks.  I've seen them called "premium mass-market
paperbacks", but "taller mass-market paperbacks" seems like a fine
description to me.  (They post-date the RASFW FAQ.)  [-ecl]

And Gary McGath writes:

E-books are eating into the paperback market. They cost nothing in
materials, get the publisher points for eco-friendliness, let the
publisher snoop on your reading habits, and (when under DRM) can't
be lent out.

What puzzles me is why buyers fought tooth and nail against DRM in
music and won (though "Internet radio" is gradually displacing
buyable music now), yet buyers of books have acquiesced with few
complaints.  [-gmg]

Peter Trei responds:

As soon as PCs started installed CD drives as standard equipment,
people found they could easily rip them and share the tracks.
Remember Napster?

By the time the music publishers realized that money could be made
selling music online, there was already a flourishing (if illegal)
culture of music sharing. Trying to get those people to accept DRM
meant getting them to buy a worse product than they could obtain
for free. Unsuprisingly, they resisted.

Books, otoh, remained largely physical, and still remain a royal
pain in the ass to 'rip' to digital form. It was the *publishers*--
mainly Amazon with the proprietary, walled-garden Kindle--who
pushed ebooks, not the customer.

Since relatively few people were used to sharing free ebooks, and
the main early platform for reading them didn't permit it, the
ebook reader culture grew up without the notion of sharing.  [-pt]

Evelyn suggests:

I would guess that music is something most purchasers want to put
on many different devices and listen to over and over, while for
most purchasers books go on one device, get read once, and then get
abandoned.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Travel and Adaptors (letters of comment by Kip Williams and
Paul Dormer)

In response to the comments on travel in the 03/11/16 issue of the
MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

Having traveled, and having worried about and prepared for
different electrical situations, I've found that most kits seem to
convert in both directions, and that many adaptors that come with
electronics are already equipped to convert a wide variety of
voltages to run the unit.  It never occurred to me to ask a hotel
if they had an adaptor I could use, but most places we've been that
tend to have Americans come through seem to have at least one
117VAC outlet in the room (most often, it's in the bathroom, and it
may claim to be for shavers only).

I was expecting to have to buy transformers, but it turned out that
all I needed were simple outlet adaptors.  I also carry my own
extension cord or power strip so I can keep things charging.  So
many damn chargers.  [-kw]

Evelyn replies:

These days it is true that most devices can run on either 120V or
240V systems, but the plugs/points have all sorts of different
physical configurations and that is what one needs adaptors for.
(Adaptors change the plugs; transformers change the voltages.)

And Paul Dormer writes:

As it happened, I remembered I'd left the power adaptor behind
whilst I was on the Eurostar.  I was stopping the night in Cologne
and got there before the shops closed and found a Media Markt which
sold UK to European adaptors for 10 euro--plugs are the same in
Germany, Sweden and Finland, which were my main stopovers for the
journey.  [-pd]

Evelyn adds:

As I noted in my travelogue to South Africa, South Africa takes a
peculiar type of plug found nowhere else in the world (not even the
rest of Africa): three large round prongs in an equilateral
triangle.  This means no "universal" or "international" adaptor is
of use.  Well, that is not exactly true.  You see, a Europe-to-
South Africa adaptor costs about $1.50 in South Africa, while a US-
to-South Africa adaptor (when you can find one!) costs about $10.
So you buy the Europe-to-South Africa adaptor, plug the device into
the US-to-Europe (or universal) adaptor, then plug *that* into the
Europe-to-South Africa adaptor, then plug that into the wall.  The
South Africa adaptor also makes a great cheap souvenir.

See; the South African one is the
second row, fourth from the left.  You can also find pictures at  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Sherlock Holmes (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Sherlock Holmes in the 03/11/16
issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

Interesting.  I find "Sherlock Holmes" stories that aren't by Doyle
to be more irritating than "Sherlaw Combs" parodies.  I don't read
a whole lot of either these days, but I used to dream of being able
to find the Ellery Queen anthology, THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK
HOLMES, which commanded prices well north of my range, back in the
70s.  Fifty bucks and up.  That the book existed at all was a bit
of a fluke, since it came out while the Doyle heirs still
controlled the character, and it was quickly suppressed.  Anyway,
Archive has the book now, free for anyone to download or online
perusal: .

I was a little surprised to see that this volume excludes two
stories Doyle wrote in which a character who many believe to have
been Holmes offered ingenious solutions to a mystery which then
turned out to have been wrong.  I've seen these in other
collections.  The one I recall offhand, "The Lost Special," is
available here:
('"It is one of the elementary principles of practical reasoning,"
he remarked, "that when the impossible has been eliminated the
residuum, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must contain the truth. ..."')

My personal favorite Holmes parody is the Firesign Theater's LP,
"The Giant Rat of Sumatra," which plays up the coke-fiend aspect
(Stones becomes much more smug and garrulous after a sniff of
cocoa) and puts the adventure in the Jazz Age over a rich texture
of puns and entendres. The identity of the mysterious Electrician
is ... well, let's not spoil it.  [-kw]


TOPIC: Time's Arrow (letter of comment by Dan Cox)

In response to Mark's comments on entropy and ripples in a pond in
the 03/04/16 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Cox writes:

[Mark had suggested that entropy was not the only phenomenon that
could not be reversed in time and hence showed the direction of
time's arrow.  Ripples on a pond move outward when you are moving
forward in time.]

Roughly speaking, the pre-ripple water, at the instant that the
rock has made the maximum "dent" in the surface, has less entropy,
since there are places with more potential energy and places with
less.  [-dtc]


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

I finally read THE COBBLER OF RIDINGHAM by Jeffrey E. Barlough
(ISBN 978-0-978-76344-2), which I had bought several months ago but
waited until I was in the right mood to savor it.  This is another
in Barlough's "Western Lights" series, for which the premise
(according to a note at the end) is that the last Ice Age never
ended, medieval England sent out explorers to find more habitable
climes, and they found a North America with no humans but still
populated by Pleistocene megafauna.  Then, in 1839, the "sundering"
happened.  All life on Earth was apparently destroyed, save that
along the west coast of North America.

Much as I like the books in the series, I have to say this is a
load of codswallop.  In the books, in spite of an Ice Age that
never ended, British civilization developed along exactly the same
lines: there is a Wales (and they are known for their harps), there
is a Scotland (wouldn't it be covered in ice?) (and they are known
for their stinginess, and there was a Henry Tudor and an Oliver
Cromwell.  If anything, wouldn't there be even more of a chance
that the Americas were colonized from Asia, across a land bridge
that was much wider because so much more water was tied up in ice?
And this "sundering" has no logic behind it, unless one argues it
is a supernatural event caused by God (which, in the sense that it
is a naked plot device created by the author, I suppose it is).
And in this world of different climates, where are people finding
tobacco, tea, ginger, and coffee in the first place?

That said, the books are enjoyable, with their Dickensian language
and characters.  I fear, however, that Barlough may be getting
carried away: he has his tradesmen in this named Woolsack (tailor),
Pinchbeck (bootmaker), Derby (hatter), Sweeting (confectioner),
Dousterwweed (tobacconist), and Casken (vintner).  Barlough is also
going a bit steampunk, with dirigibles.  The earlier books had more
of a sense of mystery, though I suppose Barlough cannot write eight
books without providing somewhat more information about the world
he is writing in than the vague hints he started with.

Still, the writing is wonderful, full of obsolete yet evocative
words, and it makes overlooking the plot holes allowable.

D.A. by Connie Willis (ISBN 978-1-596-06120-0) is a Heinlein-esque
novella, with a young protagonist who finds herself accepted into
the space academy when she never volunteered and has no desire to
go.  I suppose as a young adult book it is okay, though it seems a
bit padded out and could have been done at novelette length (though
probably not as a short story).  I will go along with the
suggestion in many reviews that this is best borrowed from the
library rather than bought at full price.  (Obviously, if one is
giving this as a gift, this does not apply.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
                                           --Bertrand Russell