Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/13/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 45, Whole Number 1910

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net
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        Hugo Awards Update and More Availability (comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Elon Musk and Science Fiction (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Scary History (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Losing Power (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        AURORA (letters of comment by Gregory Benford and Andy Love)
        The Logic of Mathematics (letters of comment
                by Leland R. Beaumont, Kevin R, and Keith F. Lynch)
        This Week's Reading (LOST HORIZON) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Hugo Awards Update and More Availability (comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)

MidAmeriCon II has accepted the withdrawals of Thomas Mays and John
O'Neill.  May's short story will be replaced by "Cat Pictures
Please" by Naomi Kritzer; "Black Gate" fanzine will be replaced by
"Lady Business" edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan.

It's nice that people have a(nother) worthy finalist, but it
bothers me that even with a process to make sure people accept
their nomination, we still have people churning the ballot after it
is announced.  In general (and I realize the current situation is
possibly atypical), what this means is that people go into the
voting knowing the relative positions of at least some of the
finalists.  It happened before when there was some confusion about
the 5% Rule, and a ballot was published with only three finalists
in several categories, but then later these were increased to five.
So people knew who had done well in the nominating process and who
had just squeaked in, so to speak.  Yes, I know that late additions
have gone on to win Hugos, but still...

The FANAC Project has made available material for the Retro Hugo
Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer categories.  See their page at

They have the three of the five fanzines: FUTURIA FANTASIA, LE
ZOMBIE, and SPACEWAYS.  (They are missing NOVACIOUS and VOICE OF
THE IMAGI-NATION, but hope to get copies soon.)  They also have fan
writing by Ray Bradbury, Bob Tucker, and Harry Warner.  (They are
missing Forrest J Ackerman and H. P. Lovecraft.)  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Elon Musk and Science Fiction (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Not noted in any of the news reports about Space X's landing
platforms is that Elon Musk named them after ships from Iain M.
Banks's "Culture" series: "Just Read the Instructions" and "Of
Course I Still Love You".  See http://tinyurl.com/void-musk-banks
for more information.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Scary History (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I saw a documentary on PBS that said archeologists are using
satellite data to discover Viking (the Nordic kind, as opposed to
the space kind) artifacts.  Good.  As far as it goes.  But now they
are saying what they discover with these approaches might actually
change history.  That is a little scary.  If that is true, what is
going to happen to causality?  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Losing Power (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I had an embarrassing thing happen to me while I toured China back
in autumn of 1982.  In the evenings after prying ears had gone home
teens from the local city would find ways to be alone with a
tourist and would ask, "Do you really vote for your President?"
"Yes.  Every four years."  "Oh.  That's a very good system."  They
were envious of us being able to choose our own leaders.  The right
to vote for President is a valuable thing.

Well, that felt good.  At least it did until I remembered that it
was not really strictly speaking true.  We have an Electoral
College system.  We get to vote for the electors who get to vote
for the President.  That is are one step removed from voting for
our President.  I tried explaining this to my somewhat crestfallen
guide.  Apparently we do not have quite so good a system after all.
We claim it is one voter gets one vote.  But that is not how it

The Electoral College is a safety precaution.  Suppose the leading
contender was a nut case--Hitler with a slingshot in his back
pocket.  And just suppose he was charismatic enough to win over the
majority of the voters.  You would want some sort safety mechanism
to stop this nutcase from being elected President.  It is not you
and me who vote for the President, it is the Electors of the
College.  And what rules do the electors have to follow to choose
whom they will vote for?  Technically there is no such rule.  That
is a matter between the elector and his state.  But clearly they
would be faithful.  I mean they are in politics, so they wouldn't
cheat, right?  The power would be in the right hands, wouldn't it?
It turns out that their choices are reasonably correlated to the
choices that would be made with a popular vote.  So this system is
founded on the apparently firm belief that the Electoral College
will choose more intelligently than the population as a whole.
This is supposed to give more reliable results than if you had a
simple popular vote.  It is stepping away from democracy.

And it is the Democratic Party, ironically enough, that has
introduced its own system to sidestep democracy at one step lower.
It is used in the process of choosing nominees.  Instead of voting
for the Presidential nominee, the voters in the primaries vote for
the delegates who will vote for them for the Presidential
candidate.  The assumption is that the delegates will vote more
wisely than would the individual voters.

On top of that the Democratic National Convention has introduced
further the concept of the "super-delegate."  The voters in
Democratic primaries vote for the delegates who will vote for the
party's nominee to run for President.  The voters in the primaries
choose them.  Here also the logical system to use would be one-
voter-one-vote.  But instead the individual voters are voting for
the delegates who are to be entrusted to do the voting for the
nominee and who may or may not be reliable.  And if that were not
bad enough the party will choose a large number of super-delegates.
These are people appointed by the party without having been chosen
at all democratically.  They have the same power to vote for the
nominee that the elected delegates have, but they are just picked
by the party "leadership."  The party leadership has given itself
the power to appoint a lot more delegates.

There is no onus on a super-delegate to vote in favor of winners of
the popular vote.  They are chosen by the leadership of the party
to be delegates even if nobody outside the inner circle has voted
for them.  Again there seems to be the fear that the rank and file
voter cannot really be trusted.  A bit of what makes a democracy a
democracy is being quietly stolen.  The power of the individual is
being diluted and deflated.  It is a lot like a company giving huge
packages of stock options to its upper management.  The individual
stockowner still has the same stock, but with so much stock being
given away, the value of his/her shares is much diluted.

The Republicans have super-delegates also but their rules give
super-delegates much less power.  Super-delegates can tip races and
give Democratic leaders the power to tip primary elections in a
most undemocratic manner.  We really need to return our elections
to one-person-one-vote.  We need to have a system so simple and so
tied to the will of the people that the Chinese can justifiably
envy us.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: AURORA (letters of comment by Gregory Benford and Andy Love)

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of AURORA in the 05/06/16
issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford notes that issue 325 of the
"New York Review of Science Fiction" has three columns about the
novel: a review by Benford; a "scientific critique" by Stephen
Baxter, James Benford, and Joseph Miller; and comments by Jonathan
Strahan.  [-gb]

Andy Love writes:

[Joe Karpierz writes,] "With regard to sequels, I think Robinson
has been somewhat sneaky with AURORA.  Unless you blink and
therefore miss it, AURORA takes place in the same universe as 2312
(which may be in the same universe as his award winning Mars

2312 certainly has references to the Mars series (at one point
someone in 2312 mentions someone being stranded in space after a
Martian space elevator fails--which happens in RED MARS).  I think
there are also some hints in 2312 that connect to GALILEO'S DREAM
and even to A MEMORY OF WHITENESS, too.   [-al]


TOPIC: The Logic of Mathematics (letters of comment by Leland R.
Beaumont, Kevin R, and Keith F. Lynch)

In response to Mark's comments on mathematics in the 05/06/16 issue
of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I enjoyed your VOID article on "Do Mathematicians Live in a Fantasy

I believe what you are discussing is the distinction among
deductive logic (the logic of mathematics) inductive logic (the
logic of inferring general principles from specific observations)
and what I will call "argumentative logic" which is what lawyers,
debate team members, and perhaps others (Journalists? PTA members?)
practice.  The rules of deductive logic are relatively few and
impeccably correct, but are generally so restrictive that they are
rarely applied outside of mathematics.

Inductive logic is used more often, but is never certain.  The
classic example is the assertion that "all swans are white" has
held up pretty good as Europeans observed millions of white swans,
the first observation of a black swan, however, demonstrated the
frailty of inductive logic.  See:
.  What is most
popular, however, seems to be called "eristic" see:

The goal here is winning, not insight.  Eristic is arguing for the
sake of conflict, as opposed to resolving conflict.

I recently read a helpful book:  THE LOGIC OF REAL ARGUMENTS by
Alec Fisher.  IN this book he relegates deductive logic to the
appendix.  The bulk of the book dissects prominent examples of
persuasive rhetoric and demonstrates the arguments used are

I am now developing course materials on "clear thinking" and
recently considered the difficulty posed by the above.  I dialogued
with a colleague on "the shortest path to clear thinking."  I have
not yet found that path.  Currently I plan to cover deductive
logic, recognizing fallacies, inductive logic, cognitive errors and
distortions, scientific methods, and analyzing real arguments in
the curriculum I am calling "Clear Thinking".  See:
http://tinyurl.com/void-lrb-clear.  [-lrb]

Mark replies:

I guess this discussion hinges on your tolerance for false
conclusions.  The statement "all swans are white" could still be
true if you insist that the definition of "swan" includes the
proviso that a swan has to be a white bird.  You admit that there
are other birds that are very swanlike but are not swans because
they are not the right color.  That does not really happen with
swans so nobody's ego is really involved, but it does happen where
egos are concerned.

I was interested in your mention of black swans.  There was a time
when we said what set humans apart from animals is that humans use
tools.  But then it was discovered that apes make tools.  I don't
remember the exact chronology, but it was later decided that the
difference was that humans forge tools.  Then it was discovered
that corvids forge tools.  The definition of human was refined a
little more.  And we keep finding animals who fit our definition of
intelligent, sometimes more so that we do, and then redefining what
intelligence is so that no non-humans are invited into the
intelligence club.  A lot of this may be based on a religious
belief that humans have "dominion" over animals, a very self-
serving and immoral logic.  But as long as we have this so-called
dominion we can say that only humans are intelligent.  (I guess
that is a digression.)

But I am sorry your author minimizes deductive logic.  I feel that
truth and proof exist only in the fields of logic and probably
mathematics.  Elsewhere the best you can achieve is "a pretty good
argument for..."  [-mrl]

Kevin R writes:

OBsf: The question of the use of the media by terrorists to promote
their agenda, and the media's cooperation or refusal to cooperate
with the perpetrators, was taken up back in the late 1970s by Dean
Ing in his story "Very Proper Charlies," novel version SOFT

See http://jamesdavisnicoll.com/review/very-proper-charlies.

The TV show NUMB3RS went to great lengths to try to point out
how much the real world depends on math, or can be described by it.
Whether the math in the stories is bunk or not, I leave to the
mathematicians.  Certainly the rise of Big Data shows even the
layman that math is a powerful tool, if he hasn't already realized
that humans have used it to send things to other planets and
created magic boxes that can bring us infinite cat videos.  [-kr]

Keith F. Lynch writes:

"Thinking like a lawyer demands a dedication to harsh logic, not
merely because we strive to be able to present rational arguments,
because reliance on emotion or logical fallacies will usually be
the kiss of death before the court."  -- from a lawyer's blog,
which also disparages computer and math experts as "geeks."

An example of lawyer logic that I encountered was when a prosecutor
conceded that I might indeed be innocent of the burglary I was
convicted of, but that my innocence in that one case was
irrelevant, since the typical burglar is only caught for one
burglary for every hundred he commits.

To be fair, if absolute proof were required to convict someone,
nobody could ever be convicted, even if there were a hundred
witnesses, DNA evidence, a video of the crime, and the defendant
confesses on the witness stand.  Every one of these has an
explanation that doesn't require guilt.

I think the "reasonable doubt" standard would be a good compromise.
And it has the advantage that it's what most people believe we
already have, and approve of.  Unfortunately, it's completely
mythical.  The way it really works in the US is that police and
prosecutors guess at who is guilty, and then frame them by using
threats, coercion, lies, suborned perjury, and bogus forensic
science.  So for a wealthy defendant the rule is "guilty until
proven innocent," and for a middle-class or poor defendant, the
rule is simply "guilty."

If the proportion of people in prison who are actually guilty is
more than half (which I'm not totally convinced of), it's only
because police and prosecutors do better than chance when guessing
who is guilty and framing them.

(By "framed" I don't mean to imply the defendant is innocent, only
that there's no connection between the "proof" of guilt and any
actual guilt.  If the police correctly guess that you robbed a
bank, and they offer leniency to your cellmate if he agrees to
falsely testify that you confessed to him, that's framing a guilty

There have been several causes of mistaken proofs.  But in modern
times for well-known problems, none of them lasted long.

"Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."  -- Eric Raymond

"Beware of bugs in the following code.  I have merely proved it
correct.  I have not tested it."  -- Donald Knuth

To win the million-dollar prize for solving one of the Clay
millennium math problems, you have to publish your proof (or
disproof) in an approved peer-reviewed publication and then wait
two years so Clay can see what the consensus of other
mathematicians is.

(Publishing both a proof and a disproof of the same conjecture in
an attempt to collect $2 million is right out.  )

"Just because a formula matches the first thousand terms does not
prove that it is correct."  -- Online Encyclopedia of Integer

But did [your friend] really intend [press reports] as a proof, or
merely as examples?

He may have been arguing that it's a moral principle whose
rightness does not depend on its utility.  For instance whether it
was right to free the slaves did not depend on whether they were
better off as slaves or as free people.  (There were arguments on
both sides, and with the information available in the 1860s it
wasn't obvious which arguments were correct.)

Should [being right] apply to the criminal justice system?  Instead
of the ideal being a "reasonable doubt" standard, should it be some
explicit number, such as a 99.5% probability of guilt?

I don't know.  Would you acquit someone if you thought there was a
99.5% chance they were guilty?  Does it matter if he was accused of
a very serious crime, such as being a serial killer?

I don't have to worry about jury duty, at least in criminal cases,
even though the governor restored everyone's jury-duty rights last
month, since any prosecutor would instantly reject me.  And quite
rightly given that he's seeking a conviction rather than justice,
since I would ignore any police testimony, any cellmate or
codefendant testimony, and most forensic "science."  [-kfl]

Mark replies:

My friend stated his conclusion vehemently and gave three examples.
Then he said that he was talking about the "real world and not the
world of mathematics."  I believe that he considered that to be an
irreproachable argument. [ -mrl]


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

The book discussion group at the Old Bridge Library chose LOST
HORIZON by James Hilton (ISBN 978-0-062-11372-6) for this month and
the science fiction film-and-book discussion group at the
Middletown Library.  All this needs a lot of explanation.  The Old
Bridge group reads science fiction in odd-numbered months, and
other books in even-numbered months.  Although LOST HORIZON is a
fantasy, it is considered "mainstream", so it fell into an even-
numbered month.  The Middletown group has a lot of overlap with the
Old Bridge group, though, so it was decided to kill two birds with
one stone and show the 1937 film for its meeting the following

These comments are on both the book and the 1937 film.  The less
said about the 1973 film, the better.

- The opening scene in the book LOST HORIZON--indeed, the opening
paragraph--encapsulates what is wrong with high school or collage
reunions, and makes one wonder anew why they remain so common.  And
I'll note that the "school days" to which the narrator refers were
almost definitely at an English public school (that is, to
Americans, a private school).

- The number of coincidences and felicities in the story the
narrator tells would make even Agatha Christie blush.  That from
all of China, he meets a missionary who has Conway as a patient
(though not knowing Conway's name), and that the missionary tells
him about this, and that his train should break down so that he
could discover it was Conway...

- In the film, if the crowd is rioting and trying to get into the
airport offices, why are all the windows still unbroken?

- At the beginning, Conway is saving the eighty (ninety in the
film) *white* people in Baskul, with the implication that they are
the only ones who matter.  To the film's credit, Conway does
comment on this later--that they left 10,000 Chinese to be
slaughtered.  The book omits this.

- If Shangri-La arranged for Conway to arrive, how did they plan
exactly where the plane would run out of fuel (since they knew
where to meet it)?  I suppose the pilot might have faked it, but
then why did he have a heart attack?  In the book, the reason for
the crash is less clear--it is possible that the pilot tries to
make a difficult landing and fails.  Also, in the book, it is not
specifically Conway that they wish to bring to Shangri-La--
apparently they wanted a few Europeans for diversity, but had no
one specifically targeted.

- In the book Conway's group totals four: Conway, Mallinson (a
highly excitable Briton), Barnard (an American whom you eventually
discover is Chalmers Bryant, on the run from the law), and Miss
Brinklow (an English missionary).  In the movie, there are five:
George Conway (the excitable one, now Conway's brother), Chalmers
Bryant (the American with a shady background, though his guilt is
toned down), Alexander P. Lovett (an English paleontologist), and
Gloria (an American floozy who apparently does not even warrant a
last name).  As you can see, they Americanized a couple of the
English characters (to appeal the American audiences).  They had to
keep Conway English, but the only other obviously English character
is Lovett, played for comic relief by Edward Everett Horton.
Presumably Conway's brother is English, but it is certainly not

- Also in the movie, there is a reference by the British
authorities about "Conway and four others."  But Lovett got on at
the last minute and was not on any lists, so there is no way they
could know about him.

- How did the grand piano get brought in?  James Agee asked this
one in a film review, but it is also asked--though not answered--in
the book, when Chang is asked whether everything, even the grand
piano, was brought in the same way Conway's party arrived.

- In the film, the discussion of which man should have a woman if
two different men want her, neither Chang nor Conway says anything
about her opinion--apparently it does not matter.  In the book, at
least, Chang says, "it would be good manners ... on the part of the
woman to be equally agreeable."  But he still talks about the man
"taking" a woman, or "letting the other man have her," making her
apparently a very minor part of the decision-making process.

- Why didn't Father Perrault's leg grow back in the film?  If the
natives said it would have healed, then why wouldn't it heal from
amputation?  One might argue that the natives were wrong, but
surely there were occasional accidents and such even in Shangri-La
such that they would have some experience of this.

- All the elite of Shangri-La seem to be European (in the novel,
Chang is Chinese, but in the movie he clearly is not) and they rule
over the others (according to Chang's speech on moderation).  The
book is a bit more egalitarian, in that while the monastery/
lamasery was founded by Europeans, it has taken in people from the
valley and become more diverse.  Still, Father Perrault is still
the "benevolent European" taking care of the more childlike Asians.

- Why is Sondra teaching the students English?  Are there that many
English visiting Shangri-La?  In the book, Miss Brinklow works on
learning Tibetan, though one can argue that this is only to
proselytize, and is done only for pragmatic reasons.  [Mark says it
is because many/most of the books and newspapers being brought in
are in English.]

- Is Sondra's attaching flutes to the pigeons' tails in the film
just another example of oppression by one group over another?

- In the film, wouldn't the porters know there is danger of an
avalanche if they fire off their guns?

- In the book, we are not told the population of the valley, but it
is supported by cultivating something between 12 and 60 square
miles.  Assume it is 36 square miles, or about 23,000 acres, which
apparently supports "several thousand inhabitants."  The most
recent figures for agricultural land say that an acre can support
between 2 and 5 people.  If one assumes the higher figure (because
Shangri-La is so perfect), then we come up with a maximum
population of 115,000.  So (somewhat surprisingly to me), the
valley could support several thousand people easily.

- The inhabitants also "seem to have suffered little from the
inevitable inbreeding of such a small society."  Again, the latest
figures suggest that only 160 people is the "minimum viable
population."  Of course, this supposes optimal breeding for at
least several generations, but certainly "several thousand" would
be sufficient to avoid genetic problems.

- At times, Hilton gets so poetic that one cannot figure out what
he is talking about, as in, "At times he had the sensation of being
completely bewitched by the mastery of that central intelligence,
and then, over the little pale blue tea-bowls, the cerebration
would contract into a liveliness so gentle and miniature that he
had an impression of a theorem dissolving limpidly into a sonnet."

- A lot of scenes in the film seem very similar to the 1975 film


                                           Mark Leeper

           I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath
           toys were a toaster and a radio.
                                           --Joan Rivers