Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/15/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 41, Whole Number 1906

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Is the Future Award-Winning Novelist a Writing Robot?
        Bigger and Bigger Thieves (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Penny Box Crimes (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Passover (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Space X (comments by Gregory Frederick)
                by Jacob Weisman (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        The Loneliness of Numbers (letters of comment
                by Kip Williams,         Charles S. Harris, Kerr Mudd-John,
                and Kevin R)
        WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK (letters of comment
                by Gregory Benford and Judy Harris)
        Valerie Hobson (letter of comment by Paul Dormer)
        Creativity (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch)
        This Week's Reading (IN THE HEART OF THE SEA: THE TRAGEDY OF
                THE WHALESHIP ESSEX and the film IN THE HEART OF THE
                SEA) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Is the Future Award-Winning Novelist a Writing Robot?

And speaking of machines that think (see letters of comment below):

"Could a writing robot make novelists obsolete?  It might not
happen anytime soon, but then again, it might.  In Japan, a short
novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-
author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary
contest, the Japan News reports."

Judges for the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award weren't told
which novels were written by humans and which were penned by human-
computer teams.  The award is unique in that it accepts entries
from non-humans.

Official Shin'ichi Hoshi website:


TOPIC: Bigger and Bigger Thieves (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Things just keep getting worse and worse.  Elsewhere in this issue
I observe that several world leaders have been siphoning off
national funds and stowing them offshore.  This is a real breach of
public trust.  So I turned to what is happening in science news.  I
read that Planet X has not been officially even discovered.  We
just think we know where it is through mathematical deduction.  Now
what do we hear?  There are rumors that Planet X was likely stolen
from another star system.  We cannot even give it back because we
don't know what star system it was taken from.  And even if we made
a good guess which star system, Planet X is going to be attracted
to any star it approaches like it was home already.  It doesn't
matter that it is breaking up a family.  And if I was expecting
more responsibility on a galactic level, Milky Way galaxy is
stealing pieces of the Andromeda Galaxy.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Penny Box Crimes (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Back when I was in college I created for myself a sort of
philosophical toy.  Not a physical toy.  It was more of a
philosophical device to illustrate an idea.  I called it the "Penny
Box."  The idea was there to toy with.  You would get the Penny Box
and you had to decide if were to use it or not.  It was a box about
3"x7"x3" uniformly grey with a button on the top.  It looks a lot
like a moneybox, which I suppose was what it was.  You press the
button and one million dollars, tax-free, drops out of the bottom
of the box.  Meanwhile by some mystical process everybody in the
United States is one penny poorer.

Now there are about 320,000,000 people in the United States.  So if
you press the button there is a loss of about 3.2 million dollars
when the money is collected, but you are richer by a cool million.
You have basically destroyed 2.2 million dollars, but you have a
million to assuage your conscience.

There are several ethical questions that come out of a Penny Box
situation.  The first and most obvious one is, "Would you press the
button?"  It seems to me more people answered yes than answered no.
I am not sure I believe the people who say no.  Of course I myself
would not use the box.  At least that is what I tell myself at this
moment.  Fictional corruption is far less of a temptation than the
real thing.  If I were in desperate need of the money I suppose it
is possible I would give in.

Another question: would you push the button more than once?  You
would have already made a million dollars off of the deal.  Would
you really want another million?  Again I think human nature lets
me down.  People who would press the button once generally would
push it as many times as they could.  A 2012 study conducted by
psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley and
reported on CNN indicates that the wealthy and the fortunate have a
greater propensity for unethical behavior than those less
fortunate.  Probably whoever would push the button once would push
it as many times as were allowed.


One more question: if you found out that Penny Boxes were becoming
available from disreputable sources would you think the government
should move to stop the sale.

I have come to classify a type of antisocial action a "Penny Box"
action.  That is one that gives benefit to the perpetrator while
distributing a small harm to a large number of people.  Simple
littering is a Penny Box crime.  But so is political graft.

At the time I first suggested the Penny Box several decades ago I
had heard that organized crime was getting involved with toxic
waste dumping.  For me it raised philosophical questions.  With
toxic waste dumping it is hard to prove any great harm was done to
anybody by a single action.  You just have a lot of people (and
animals and plants) whose health is just slightly degraded by each
dumping.  Eventually those little bits add up and really degrade
the environment.  You can end up with a very large bunch of people
who have each been responsible for a tiny bit of a murder.

The Penny Box is just a way to conceptualize highly-distributed
harm done for profit.

Why does this come up now?  Well the old Penny Box or something
like it is making its presence known.  You may have already heard
that Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian financial service provider has
had a huge security leak of 11.5 million confidential documents
covering 214,000 offshore corporations created to be safe-deposit
boxes where ill-gotten money can be safely stored.  Heads of state,
world leaders, and really anyone with wealth who has been
enormously enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow
countrymen are being revealed.  These are leaders setting up low-
tax shell companies and secret financial accounts.  These are funds
that are being siphoned off and hidden abroad to avoid taxes.
These seem to indicate that around the world the wealthy are
slamming their Penny Box buttons as fast as they can.

One country showing up very little in the leaked documents is the
United States.   Why not?  Well, Americans are just more honest and
upstanding than the rest of the world.

Just kidding.

Americans just have more options and better ways to hide ill-gotten
gains or keeping money out of reach of the taxman.

What is scary is not just that so many countries seem to have been
victimized through use of the services of Mossack Fonseca, but that
Mossack Fonseca is just one financial services source.  This is the
one that had the leak.  There are probably many more companies like
Mossack Fonseca still operating in secret.

Sadly, Penny Box crimes seem to be the wave of the future.  Guilt
is just so hard to prove.  I have no idea what we can do about
them, so this is just a lament.  It seems to me one science that
has advanced the greatest amount in my lifetime is the science of
strategies for gaming the system.  And we all pay the price.


TOPIC: Passover (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Passover was simpler when people ate only "real food", did not eat
in restaurants, and did not store several months' worth of food in
their homes.  Of course, one could argue that the rest of the year
was more work, but at least it was spread out.

[Basic rules of Passover: The Bible prohibits everything made from
wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt unless specially supervised to
make sure it doesn't rise.  By custom, European Jews avoid all
other grains and all legumes as well, though not derivative
products (such as peanut oil).]

Now, even if you don't have a huge food supply, you still have to
contend with the fact that almost everything you buy other than
plain meat or fish, produce, and most dairy products[*] have either
corn syrup (usually high fructose), corn starch, some form of
soybean, some form of grain, or a combination of these.

[*] Even dairy is not exempt; for example, most shredded cheese has
rice flour added to prevent caking.

So the first hurdle for Passover is getting rid of everything that
has grains, legumes, etc., as well as anything that has been opened
and possibly "contaminated" (e.g., a container of butter which
might have had bread crumbs introduced into it).

[At some point, the rabbis realized that many people would not (or
could not afford to) throw out good food, so there is this
procedure of "selling" your food to a non-Jew and then buying it
back after Passover.  (Frankly, it might be better for people who
could afford it to give all the unopened food to their local food
bank, but that's another story.)]

Then there is the buying of food to replace everything you just got
rid of.  One could use this opportunity to eat only "real food",
but most people want at least some prepared food.  So you have a
shopping list of all sorts of things: matzoh, ketchup, matzoh,
Passover cake mixes (with potato flour), matzoh, Israeli chocolate
spread, ... oh, and did I mention matzoh?

Matzoh is made from wheat, but its production is specially
supervised to guarantee that no leavening takes place.  It is the
basic staple of Passover (contrary to Mark's claim that honey cake
is the basic staple of Passover).  In addition to the basic sheets
of matzoh, there is matzoh farfel (matzoh crumbled up and used as a
stuffing base or instead of granola), and matzoh meal (used in
dumplings and other prepared foods).  Potato starch and potato
flour are also ubiquitous ingredients.

So there is getting rid of all the non-Passover stuff and buying
Passover stuff.  There is also cleaning the kitchen to eliminate
all traces of grains, etc.  (I am not convinced that anyone can
completely clean a toaster oven, so maybe you're supposed to sell
that too.)  Even if you don't go to extremes like using a
toothbrush to clean between the tiles in your floor, this is yet
more work.

Oh, and you are also supposed to have special dishes, flatware,
pots and pans, etc. for Passover.  My understanding is that sales
of paper- and plastic-ware have a sudden jump about this time of
year. :-)

After all this, then you start to cook.  For people who eat out a
lot.  Just having to cook three meals a day for eight days is a
major life change.  The Seder for the first night alone is the
equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner, and then you are supposed to
do it all again for the second night.  Why?  Because the new moon
in Jerusalem determines when Passover starts and it used to be that
people could not predict it nor could they transmit the information
about when it was seen in time, so everyone decided to celebrate
the two possible days just to be on the safe side.  Does this make
sense with today's science and technology?  No, but it's tradition.

So when you finally sit down to dinner on the first night, you've
just spent weeks cleaning, discarding, buying, re-arranging
kitchenware, and cooking--and then you hear how this is a festival
of freedom and liberation.

You couldn't prove it by me.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Space X (comments by Gregory Frederick)

Well, Space X has successfully landed a primary stage booster
rocket on a platform floating in the Atlantic Ocean, recently.  A
few months back they landed one on a pad (a land landing) at the
Cape Kennedy center in Florida.  Blue Origin successfully launched
and landed its New Shepard vehicle and rocket for the third time
(April 2).  Re-using rockets will greatly reduce the costs of going
into space.  So we are truly entering an age of less expensive
space travel.  This means the commercial use of space is more
feasible; mining asteroids, and the Moon just got cheaper.  [-gf]

Mark replies:

And speaking of space capabilities, today [April 12] marks fifty-
five years since the first man went into space.  [-mrl]

[At this place the discussion shifted to Breakthrough Starshot.
Next week we will have the discussion of Breakthrough Starshot
consolidated in one issue.  -mrl]


edited by Jacob Weisman (copyright 2016, Tachyon Publications,
$16.95, 384pp, ISBN-10 1616962100, ISBN-13 978-1616962104) (excerpt
from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz)

Science fiction and fantasy have long been considered the ghetto of
literature--if they were considered literature at all.  SF&F have
long been shut out of major non-genre awards, and indeed have not
often been considered for such awards.  Literary writers and
magazines have long looked down their noses at genre fiction.  That
attitude slowly appears to be changing.  To be sure, the attitude
is still prevalent, but the dividing line between genre and
literature is showing some cracks.  Authors like Michael Chabon and
Doris Lessing have long professed their love for the genre, while
writers such as Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Harlan
Ellison are considered to be among America's finest writers, not
just America's finest science fiction writers.

It's also very clear that genre stories have taken over
entertainment.  In addition, we really do live in a science
fictional world, a fact that no one denies.  So it comes as no
surprise that there are many literary writers that dabble in genre,
either jumping in with both feet or using science fictional tropes
in their stories without making it the centerpiece of the tale.
Jacob Weisman of Tachyon Publications has gathered twenty-two
stories by writers who are not known to work in the genre in this
anthology. And while it's not a book a fan of core science fiction
is likely to casually pick up and read, it contains some highly
entertaining and definitely well written genre tales that science
fiction fans looking to broaden their reading experience are well
advised to pick up.

I will admit to have heard of only four of the authors in this
book, those being Jonathan Lethem, W. P. Kinsella, George Saunders
and Junot Diaz.  Kinsella is known for baseball stories, and here
he combines science fiction and baseball in a first contact story
called "Reports Concerning the Death of the Seattle Albatross are
Somewhat Exaggerated", about a baseball mascot who is an alien.
Junot Diaz gives us the frightening "Monstro", set in a world that
is falling apart at the seams.  The story tells of two friends and
a mysterious, glamorous woman who all together are trying to figure
out what is going on with the weird virus/disease that has broken
out.  Lethem's "Five F*cks" is a tale which involves many familiar
science fiction tropes which make us think a little bit about one
night stands and evolution.  Saunders give us "Escape from
Spiderhead", a story of scientific advancement in the area of
pharmaceuticals and the moral dilemma that can arise from those
advancements.  It's quite a frightening tale, but I suppose that
with the advancements in genetics and medicine it may not be all
that far-fetched.

While those are good stories, they aren't my favorites in the book.
Steven Millhauser's "A Precursor to the Cinema" is a tale of an
otherwise unexceptional artist who for a short period of his career
has exhibits of his work that are indeed exceptional and
particularly haunting.  "Portal", by J. Robert Lennon, shows us a
family who has bought a house and property that has a portal at the
back of the property that can transport people to other places.
The problem is the affect this transportation has on the people who
use the portal.  Brian Evenson's "Fugue State" is a very scary tale
of a man who apparently has a malady that is not only contagious
but looks like it could bring about the end of mankind (taken to
its logical conclusion).  "Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss is
another first contact story which takes place in a remote location
and relates the story of a human woman who meets an alien and the
respect they have for each other.  "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover"
by Robert Olen Butler is a story straight out of the National
Enquirer, about a woman in a small country town in Alabama who
meets an alien and falls in love with it.

Other terrific stories include Deji Bryce Olukotun's "We are the
Olfanauts", which gives us the tale of advancements in Internet
technologies.  In this case, as you can probably tell by the title,
the story deals with aromas that can be transmitted over the
Internet, and the consequences for the people that work in the
field involved with that technology.  "Topics in Advanced
Rocketry", by Chris Tarry, takes place in a future when space
travel is made available to the common family and the effect it has
on the first family it is made available to.  Max Apple's "The
Yogurt of Vasirin Kefirovsky" shows us a scientist who is obsessed
with the idea that the biblical manna was a form of yogurt.  "The
Inner City", by Karen Heuler, is a story straight out of The
Twilight Zone, about a woman who is out of a job and looking for
work, and who finds a lead for a job on a very strange street in a
very strange part of town.

There are no bad stories in the book, and while I haven't
summarized all of them, the stories by Eric Puchner, Ben Loory,
Julia Elliot, Rivka Galchen, Jami Attenberg, Amiri Baraka, Kelly
Luce and Katherine Dunn are just as engaging as the others I've
mentioned above.  This collection is, in my opinion, well worth
picking up and shows that you don't need to be a genre writer to
write good genre fiction.  If only the rest of the literary world
would understand that "good genre fiction" is not any oxymoronic
term and recognize there is some really good stuff to be discovered
in genre literature.  [-jak]


TOPIC: The Loneliness of Numbers (letters of comment by Kip
Williams, Charles S. Harris, Kerr Mudd-John, and Kevin R)

In response to Mark's comments on the loneliness of numbers in the
04/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I think the problem is not mathematical, but semantic.  One, we are
told is "the loneliest number."  Two, "can be as bad as one."  I
suggest, therefore, that a switch has been made, from "lonely" to
"bad," and thus there is no conflict.

Badness is not fully equivalent to loneliness, though loneliness is
a subset of badness in general.  There must be other bad things
about two, which the song is unable to detail, perhaps because of a
lack of space in the three-minute popular song format.

Perhaps there are clues in the song as to why this is so.  The
line, "It's just no good any more since you've gone away" (with the
attendant danger that now he spends his time making rhymes, which
can be bad for the listener) hints that two is bad, partly because
it consists of a pair of ones, which are the loneliest number.
Twice as lonely?  It is hard to say.  At any rate, the number two
is only one away from being one, so the departure of either one
leaves not just one, but two ones being lonely.

Poor, sad little numbers.  [-kw]

Mark replies:

That badness is not fully equivalent to loneliness would be an
explanation, I suppose.  Two might have some aspect other than
loneliness making it bad.  Two may not be as lonely as one, but it
also may have some other unstated aspect making it an object of
fear.  There are people who are diaphobic and have an unreasoning
dislike of the number two.  So then two may not be as lonely, but
it may be emblematic of some personal pain deeply repressed in the
songwriter's subconscious.

There is a love poem for lonely prime number by Harry Baker on TED


Charles Harris was confused by the wording:

[Mark writes,] "if the domain is the natural numbers 2 would be the
*only* number since the number 1."

??  [-csh]

Mark explains:

It is assuming you are counting 1, 2, 3...  There is no number
between 1 and 2.  [-mrl]

Charles replies:

Hmm, all of the dictionary definitions and examples of "since"
involve a time, and don't seem to be applicable to a number, as in
"It's the loneliest number since the number one."  Also none of the
definitions imply "the next one"; was Andrew Johnson the tallest
President since Lincoln?

Is there a technical term "since" used in mathematics?  [-csh]

Mark answers:

Well, I did not write nor do I endorse the song lyric.  "Since"
does seem to refer to time, but it can refer to a place if the
place is associated with a time.  As in "We are driving across
country, but I have been driving since Pittsburgh."

The same could apply to numbers.  "I am slowly counting '1, 2, 3,
4, ...' and at the moment each number since the number 1 seems to
have been a divisor of 420.  [-mrl]

Kerr Mudd-John sends this (Lene Lovich, "Lucky Number"):


Kevin R responds:

LL! (How did she never date Superman?)

By the way, "One" comes to you by the author of "The Point,"
(a.k.a. Oblio).

TV chefs may know one way to slice an onion. I know one, also:

1.) Don Hazmat suit
B.) Load onion into nuclear-powered, sub orbital trebuchet.
III.) Aim NPSOT at knife, propped up at the antipodes relative to
       the ol' one-armed chucker.
iv.) Fire onion.

Remove Hazmat suit, decontaminate, then chop celery or something
else edible to replace onion.  (Green peppers are nice.)  [-kr]

[I would like to apologize to any reader confused by the above.
Somewhere this discussion seems to have gone off the rails and I
don't follow it either.  Onions??? -mrl]


by Gregory Benford and Judy Harris)

In response to Evelyn's comments on WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES
THAT THINK in the 04/08/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford

[Evelyn writes,] "And while Gregory Benford's piece is not science
fiction, he has been known to write science fiction in the past
while still remaining a grown-up."

Thing is, Brockman forces answers into a formula of sorts.  He
knows nothing of SF and dismisses it because the NYC litbiz still
thinks genre is for losers.  This instead makes them losers, as
we've seen.  SF gets welcomes in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in
California."  [-gb]

And Judy Harris writes:

Evelyn, this is in response to your review of John Brockman's

You said, "It is apparently part of a series in which each volume
is just such a collection on a topic chosen by the editors of"

The topic is chosen by John Brockman himself.  Brockman is the
founder and head of a literary agency, Brockman, Inc., which
specializes in scientific literature.  Every December, Brockman
poses an "Annual Question" to his stable of scientist-authors.
Their job is to write a short essay inspired by the question.  The
essays are posted on Brockman's website,, on January 1st.
Then he puts them together and turns them into a book.  See:

The Annual Question for 2015 was "What do you think about machines
that think?"  Brockman received 192 responses, which were posted on on Jan. 1, 2015. They're still there:

You noted, "Not surprisingly, there is a wide variety of opinions."
Right, that's what Brockman wants.  His questions are open-ended
and he generally doesn't give his scientist-authors much guidance.
And most of them probably don't bother to read more than a few of
the other essays before getting to work on their own contribution.

In fact, Brockman himself may have reached the point where he finds
it too tedious to read almost two hundred essays on the same topic.
He's the editor of the book only in the sense that he asked the
initial question, put together the responses, found a publisher,
and wrote a brief introduction.  He doesn't do editing in the sense
of correcting typos or fixing up the prose. (He hires someone else
to do those jobs.)  Nor did he exercise any selectivity in deciding
which essays to include: in this case, at least, he included all of

Thus, there was no real need for him to read all 192 essays.  He
might not have noticed that some of them do make reference to "all
that science fiction."

As for his "implication that science fiction is not something
'grown-ups' bother themselves with," I suspect that was meant
tongue-in cheek.  The authors Brockman represents are scientists.
Most of them probably grew up reading science fiction.  No doubt
many of them still do.  [-jh]


TOPIC: Valerie Hobson (letter of comment by Paul Dormer)

In response to Mark's review of Q-PLANES in the 04/08/16 issue of
the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

I had not known she was in either of [THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON or THE
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN].  I know her more from being Edith in KIND
HEARTS AND CORONETS, one of the finest of the Ealing comedies.  I
see she was also Estella in the David Lean version of GREAT

I was about 10 when the Profumo scandal broke which meant I knew
something was going on, but no-one would explain it to me.  [-pd]

Mark responds:

I certainly agree that KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS and GREAT
EXPECTATIONS are fine films.  I suspect that THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON
and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN have better recognition value today.
Universal horror films have an undying popularity.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Creativity (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch)

In response to Mark's comments on creativity in the 04/08/16 issue
of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:

Both [creativity and simplifying tools] are good.  You can waste a
lot of time reinventing the wheel.

When teaching algebra, the first few problems given are ones that
can easily be solved without algebra, but that would defeat the
whole purpose of learning, since in that case the goal is to learn
algebraic techniques, not to find the solution to one specific
problem. Similarly, someone who, instead of learning to swim,
reaches the far side of the swimming pool by walking around it will
not be well served when he finds himself in the middle of the
Pacific with his ship on the bottom of the ocean and no land in

["Knowing the turn-the-crank way of getting the answer will get you
only so far.  You do better with simple tools and with approaches
nobody taught you." -mrl]

The ideal is to *reinvent* algebra, calculus, etc.  Not very time-
efficient, but if you invent it you're much less likely to ever
forget it.

The best thing about math is the proofs, and the fact that they
mostly only require pen and paper, rather than billion-dollar
instruments such as LIGO, the LHC, or Hubble.  Being badly burned
by trusting untrustworthy authorities has made me a fairly extreme
skeptic. I want to be able to prove things for myself.

["We tend to partition off math problems into geometry problems,
algebra problems, calculus problems, etc.  The truth is that for
the most part there are only math problems and recommended tools."

Indeed.  Often the solutions to long-standing math problems came
from unexpected branches of math.  For instance Dirichlet proving
there are infinitely many primes congruent to A mod B whenever A
and B have no factors in common, not by using number theory, but by
using analysis, i.e. by proving that certain sums of complex
numbers don't converge.

["Descartes, who pioneered graphing of formulae, showed that so-
called geometry problems could be solved purely with algebra."

Yes.  I tend to do it that way, since I'm not a visual thinker.  It
serves me well when solving "geometry" problems in higher
dimensions. Quick, how many regular solids are there in four
dimensions?  Good luck trying to solve that through visualization.

["In mathematics it is better to see a creative solution than to
know the proscribed way to solve a problem."  -mrl]

I assume you mean "prescribed"?

Again, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish.  If the
astronaut will die if you don't quickly tell him how much thrust to
apply in which direction, that's not the time to nurture your
creativity.  [-kfl]


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

Nathaniel Philbrick (ISBN 978-0-14-100182-8) and IN THE HEART OF
THE SEA (film by Ron Howard) are an example of how a movie
supposedly based on a book may vary considerably from it.  I have
already reviewed the book, but I just saw the film and thought I
would compare the two.

The differences start with the framing story.  Herman Melville
never met with Thomas Nickerson.  He did meet George Pollard, but
only after he had written MOBY-DICK.

The crewing of the ship is also not accurate.  In the film, Owen
Chase has been promised a captaincy, but instead he finds himself
as First Mate under an inexperienced relative of the owners of the
Essex, and he and Captain Pollard take an instant dislike to each
other.  In actual fact, Chase and Pollard had sailed together
before (with Pollard as First Mate and Chase as harpooner), and
Pollard had been on the Essex almost all of the previous four

The squall is accurate, including the loss of two whaleboats.  The
whaling scenes that follow are taken as much (or more) from MOBY-
DICK as from Philbrick's book.  One can suppose that similar scenes
happened on the Essex, but it is clear that Howard is trying to
film MOBY-DICK without admitting it.

(Note: It is true that Howard did not write the screenplay.
Writing credits go to Charles Leavitt for the screenplay; Charles
Leavitt, Rick Jaffe, and Amanda Silver for the story; and Nathaniel
Philbrick for the book.  But I assume that as director Howard also
had some input--the final input--and will use his name as a

As an example of how MOBY-DICK has crept into the story of the
Essex. the whale that destroyed the Essex was not a white whale,
but the whale in the movie is.  The whale in the movie also follows
the survivors as they drift around the Pacific, which is inaccurate
to both the Essex and to MOBY-DICK.  (One of the survivors'
whaleboats, amazingly, was in fact attacked by a whale, but it was
a different whale.)

Another example is that there is a character on the pier in
Nantucket who looks (to me, anyway) like Melville's description of

Because he is trying to sandwich MOBY-DICK in, Howard leaves out a
lot of dramatic events, such as when one of the Essex crewmen sets
a fire on Charles Island (now Floreana Island) as a prank, except
that it spreads and burns the entire island, contributing to the
extinction of the local tortoise.  He also omits scenes of the
survivors repairing underwater leaks in the old and damaged
whaleboats even as they are drifting in them.

Indeed, Howard omits the ultimate irony of the story of the Essex.
When the Essex is wrecked, the twenty survivors got into the three
remaining whaleboats and then made a critical mistake: instead of
heading for the nearest land (the Marquesas, about 1500 miles away
and in the direction in which the prevailing winds would blow
then), they decided to try for South America on a route covering
almost 4000 miles because they would have to sail a long ways south
to catch trade winds blowing in the right direction.  They
apparently were terrified by reports of cannibals in the Marquesas.
And because of this, they ended up cannibals themselves.

On the other hand, Howard adds a very dramatic series of explosions
and the sinking of the Essex.  In fact, there was no explosion, and
the Essex did not sink until after the survivors rowed out of sight
of it.  The island they land on is not Ducie, but Henderson, and
while they thought it was Ducie, by the time Melville is getting
the tale from Nickerson, the latter would have known the truth.
And while indeed Henderson Island had a cave with skeletons in it,
it was not the reason most of the Essex survivors left the island--
it was discovered by the three who had remained many days after the
rest of the survivors had departed.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Never give in, never give in, never, never, never,
           never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--
           never give in except to convictions of honour and
           good sense.
                                            --Winston Churchill