Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/07/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 15, Whole Number 1931

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Gregory Benford Receives Award
        Practical Application (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Jules Verne, H. P. Lovecraft and the Russian        Space Program
        Walmart and the English Language (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        TRANSGALACTIC by James Gunn (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        This Week's Reading (THE BIG BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION and
                THE PAPER MENAGERIE) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Gregory Benford Receives Award

Frequent MT VOID correspondent Gregory Benford has received this
year's Forry Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Science
Fiction from the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.


TOPIC: Practical Application (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

It has been said that some of the new discoveries in cutting edge
theoretical physics and in cosmology have little practical use
beyond the theoretical research environment.  To the contrary I
will point out that the Miss America Beauty Pageant was first
celebrated in 1921.  To outdo it 1951 was the first year of the
Miss World Beauty Pageant.  To stay ahead of any new beauty pageant
that would the very next year saw the initiation of the Miss
Universe Beauty Pageant.  That name seemed at the time to offer a
sort of permanence as nobody could choose a name more global than
Universe.  Universe was everything.  They were wrong.  Whoever
initiates such traditions may now organize a Miss Multiverse Beauty
Pageant.  Whoever wants to had better go in and copyright the name
since we may never find anything bigger than the multiverse.  But
an even better plan would be to have an infinite series of pageants
inspired by the short film "Powers of Ten."

[I want it strictly understood that even though I may write about
beauty pageants I do not myself advocate for them.  I would be
willing to be made very rich taking a cut if someone takes one of
my ideas and makes a fortune out of it.]



TOPIC: Jules Verne, H. P. Lovecraft and the Russian Space Program

 From BigThink:

Q: What do sci fi pioneer Jules Verne, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft
and the Russian space programme have in common?

A: Their overlapping interest in an inhospitable corner of the
South Pacific, only recently identified as the remotest part of the
world's oceans--Point Nemo.

Nowhere in the world can you find a place further from dry land
than Point Nemo. This oceanic pole of inaccessibility (1) is
located at 48deg 52.6'S 123deg 23.6'W.

See BigThink's for more


TOPIC: Walmart and the English Language (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

The following article is sort of a mess as I had two ideas on my
mind at the same time.

I heard a radio report on shopping center sorts of stores.  These
are places like Kmart all have one fear in common.  That is
competition with Walmart.  Walmart is a corporation of 1.4 million
employees in the US alone.  And Walmart is one of the most
successful store chains in the world due to their pricing low and
forcing low prices on their suppliers.  So if all the retail stores
like Kmart fear Walmart, whom does Walmart fear?  Well, according
to a 2013 article in Fortune (that has stuck with me) Walmart fears
Costco.  And I can tell you why.

Evelyn and I bought from Walmart two small individual cherry pies
for dessert.  They were packaged with a brand name "The Bakery."
The box bore the motto "Baked with Pride."  It also said in fine
print that Walmart, Inc. distributed it.

When we served ourselves the pies we found almost no solid fruit
material.  All of the filling of the pies could be squeezed out of
a toothpaste tube.  This certainly was a product that did not meet
customer expectations.  What is more I am sure I am the last of a
whole group of people who knew this was an inferior food product.
But the people at The Bakery and almost certainly buyers from
Walmart knew that this packaging was intended to promise a higher
quality product than was actually delivered.  It is a small fraud
on the consumer.  Everyone knew the consumer would be disappointed
and probably actually cheated.

Certainly The Bakery knew that they were not putting many real
cherries into the pie.  Walmart may or may not have checked the
quality of the product they were selling.  Their commitment to
quality was in the form of having a generally liberal return
policy.  If we wanted to repackage the pie, we could probably get
our money back at the cost of another trip to Walmart and probably
then a wait in line.  I know Walmart generally has a 90-day return
policy and they are fairly liberal on what can be returned.  I
think that is most of Walmart's quality assurance policy.  They
will put the product out.  If you buy it and then do not like it
you probably can get your money back.  That is Walmart's quality
policy: If it is bad you can return it (with some inconvenience,

Costco has a liberal return policy also.  But somehow I cannot see
the same problem that we had with the pies occurring with a
purchase from Costco.  We have been members of Costco since
something like 1985 or so.  It was Price Club when we first joined.
In all that time we have used our membership frequently.  Never
have we ever bought a product and then found it was a fraud on the
consumer.  Somewhere along the line somebody at Costco is weeding
out misrepresented products and they do not make it to the shelves.
Good on you, Costco.

Somehow that got me thinking about the "Baked with Pride" claim.
This also is not a guarantee of any value, even if it is the truth.
I mean maybe they take pride in finding ways to palm off inferior
products on trusting customers.  But also we have a sort of low
standard of understanding what statements are made.  With
mathematics background I notice what people literally say may not
be what they mean.  (Okay, I see that puzzled look on your face.
Maybe you can just consider the following a related point.)  I
heard someone in a movie say "I never want to see her again."  I
know what he meant.  The writer knows what he meant.  But the line
of dialog is not what he meant.  There is an action that is
"wanting to see her again."  But the speaker is saying he never
engages in that activity.  What he is saying is the same thing as
"I never actually want to see her again.  I might not mind seeing
her again, but I never find myself wanting for it to happen.  It
may happen and I may not care one way or another whether it does,
but that is in the future.  Right now I do not find myself wanting
it."  The correct statement is "I want to never see her again."  We
say, "I never want to see her again" when we mean "I want to never
see her again."

Another expression that bothers me is "it will be twice as hot
today as yesterday."  Unless there is a zero point obvious it is
not clear what that means.

This is one that gets me.  "This product cleans with ten times less
effort."  But what does that really mean?  Cleaning with zero times
less effort is cleaning with the same effort.  Cleaning with one
times less effort is cleaning with zero effort.  There is the
original effort and from that you take one times the original
effort.  That means zero effort.  Cleaning with two times less
effort is cleaning with negative one times the original effort.
Cleaning with ten times less effort is cleaning with negative nine
times the effort.  And you can put that extra effort looking for
real fruit in a "The Bakery" pie.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: TRANSGALACTIC by James Gunn (copyright 2016, Tor, 220 pp,
ISBN 978-1-4668-7612-5 (e-book), 978-0-7653-8092-0 (hardcover))
(excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz)

I have a very soft spot in my heart for old school science fiction.
You know, the kind with huge scope, alien races, wars between
planets, and interstellar if not intergalactic distances.  These
are the kinds of stories that brought many of us old-timers into
the fold--the gateway drug, if you will.  These kinds of stories
are still being written of course, with modern day takes on the old
themes and tropes.  It's very rare, however, that one of the old-
timers still writing produces a book like this. Most have retired
from the field, showing up at conventions now and again.  Some are
still writing, like Larry Niven (albeit with collaborators), others
are not, like Robert Silverberg.

And then there's James Gunn.  Gunn isn't writing very much these
days, but he is in the middle of a trilogy that started out with
2013's TRANSCENDENTAL, which I reviewed back in March of 2014.  I
concluded that for the most part, while being old school science
fiction of the type I grew up reading, it wasn't a very good novel
(in my opinion, of course).  The book ended on something of a
cliffhanger, which I didn't know at the time was supposed to be a
cliffhanger.  I was left in an unsatisfied state at the end of that
novel, which contributed to my opinion of the book at the time.

2016 brought the second book in what I now know to be a trilogy,
TRANSGALACTIC.  And while this book ends with many things
unresolved which I presume will be resolved in the third volume,
I'm still disappointed.

TRANSGALACTIC is still old school, because that's what Gunn knows
best how to write.  However, the book suffers from "middle book of
the trilogy syndrome".  There really isn't much going on to advance
the plot of the trilogy, and by the time we get to the end we
wonder why we spent all that time reading it (although to be fair,
the book is only 220 pages long, so not only is it old school in
terms of subject matter it's old school in terms of length, which
is good because really there isn't much more to write about in this

The novel follows two of the characters from TRANSCENDENTAL, Riley
and Asha.  At the end of that novel, they entered the
Transcendental Machine--which is really just a transportation
device that has the added bonus of repairing all of a body and
mind's faults--and came out at terminals far apart from each other.
They independently determine that they must find each other (for no
reason that is explained) and go about doing just that.  They also
independently determine that the "Pedia", the brain implant that
everyone has that contains all knowledge and we find out is an
overarching artificial intelligence controlling the galactic
population, is out to kill Riley. From my point of view, there is
nothing in the novel that would clue the reader in as to how Riley
and Asha know that when they first determine it--the reader does
eventually get clues as to the Pedia's intentions.  What is also
unexplained is that they know exactly where the other will be so
that they can actually reunite and set about doing what they need
to do to save humanity.

Both Riley and Asha exit the Transcendental Network on planets into
situations with the natives which they must successfully negotiate
in order to leave that planet and begin their journeys to find each
other.  The tale is told in chapters that alternate between Riley
and Asha (a time honored and well worn tradition) with the
exception of a couple of chapters devoted to the aliens they are
traveling with during their adventure.  The readers discover that
they simultaneously come to the same conclusions: they must find
each other, where they will find each other, and that the Pedia is
out to get Riley.

I wrote in that earlier review that I enjoy novels that leave a bit
of mystery for the reader, that the novel lets the reader figure
things out on his or her own.  It seems that Gunn goes a little too
far here, having his characters make intuitive leaps without any
clues to the reader regarding how they made those leaps.  I also
wrote in that earlier review that TRANSCENDENTAL was a novel about
journeys.  This one is too, but it's nowhere near as effective as
the first one (although that one wasn't very effective either) as
it's basically "step out of machine, encounter local population,
travel through the galaxy to meet the other one, the end".  There
just isn't much to this book.

At Midamericon 2 in Kansas City in August this year there was a
Grandmaster panel.  The writers on that panel were indeed among the
living greats of the field: Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg, Larry
Niven, Joe Haldeman, and yes, James Gunn.  (As a side note, I look
around at today's crop of writers and wonder who could actually
fill the shoes of these five people.)  They discussed what they
were working on today, and Gunn mentioned that he was working on
the third book of the trilogy.  While I've been disappointed in the
first two, I am curious enough to see what he had in mind for the
whole thing.  Gunn's best days are behind him, and it just might be
he rides off into the sunset after the final book in the trilogy.
We'll see.  [-jak]


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

THE BIG BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
(ISBN 978-1-101-91009-2) is another one of the big "floppy books"
that are impossible to read holding in your lap.  Unlike THE WEIRD
(edited by the same editors), most of the stories in this volume--
at least in the center, from 1940 to 1990 or so--were familiar to
me, and indeed could be found in various anthologies and
collections we already have.  I suspect this would be true for most
"serious" science fiction fans.  On the other hand, the first
section (pre-John-W-Campbell period), the last section (most
recent), and the various works in the middle that have just been
translated into English, would make a fairly respectable-sized
volume on their own.  (I speak of "sections", but these are not
delineated in the book itself; they are merely "virtual sections"
whose boundaries may vary from reader to reader.)

This book would be good for the younger science fiction fan--
someone in their twenties or so who likes the current science
fiction and is curious to see more of the history of the field.  We
old fogeys got it by reading science fiction for decades and
consuming short fiction in the hundreds of anthologies available to
us over that time, but such an extensive reading program is not
viable except over a lifetime.  (And to be honest, we also got a
condensed selection, particularly of that pre-Campbell stuff I
mentioned.)  So with the holiday season coming up, keep this volume
in mind.

THE PAPER MENAGERIE by Ken Liu (ISBN 978-1-4814-4254-6) is a
collection of fifteen stories, one of them new to this volume.
Often one reason a new story is included in a collection is to
provide something people have not seen before.  In this case, it
may also be to counterbalance the fact that almost all the stories
are available free on-line, and (so far as I can tell) authorized
by Liu.

Though both are Asian-American authors who have excelled in the
short-story arena, Liu is not Ted Chiang, and unlike Chiang's first
collection, this book does not contain his entire oeuvre up to this
point.  As such, it is possible that your favorite stories may not
have been included.  But the selection is of uniformly high-
quality, so one cannot complain about the contents.  Perhaps at
some point there will be a "Complete Short Fiction of Ken Liu",
though it will have to run into several volumes.

One complaint I do have is not directed at Liu at all, but at the
publisher.  Most collections and anthologies have the current story
title as the right page header, making it a bit easier to find a
story by flipping through the book.  Saga Press instead uses "The
Paper Menagerie" as the right page header throughout.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           God is a comedian playing to an audience too
           afraid to laugh.