Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/16/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 25, Whole Number 1941

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted.
All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for
inclusion unless otherwise noted.

To subscribe, send mail to
To unsubscribe, send mail to
The latest issue is at
An index with links to the issues of the MT VOID since 1986 is at

        Grading Pass/Fail (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Indian Savory Snacks (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        CROSSTALK by Connie Willis (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        Roman Names (letter of comment by Sam Long)
        This Week's Reading (TEXTOS CAUTIVOS/BORGES EN "EL HOGAR")
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Grading Pass/Fail (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Why is someone dying said to be "failing"?  When they do die, they
say he has "passed."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Indian Savory Snacks (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I used to work for Bell Labs/Lucent/Avaya.  That meant that at one
time there was a lot of technical engineering that was done in
three or four facilities that were not a long distance from my
house.  So there was a lot of employing of South Asian Engineers
done in this area at one time, and though that activity is now just
a thin shadow of its former self, there were a lot of South Asian
engineers who came to this area to resettle and raise families.
That means we have a lot of Indians and Pakistanis living in the
area.  And that means we have Indian grocery stores.  And they are
not bad places to get exotic foods at fairly reasonable prices.
After all, there is a community of people most of whom eat Indian
food every day.  By the way, there are also (East) Asian groceries
in the area and they are also very good places to get good Asian
food and pay just regular grocery prices.

Anyway, that brings me to Indian snack foods.  Now when I traveled
in India I would occasionally buy snack foods to eat on the train
or bus.  Most made available to us were like cookies and crackers
and at the time I thought they were essentially mostly for the
tourist crowd.  At one point one of the buses I was riding stopped
at a roadside snack food stand.  I got a pack of what looked like
potato chips.  When I bit into them I quickly decided that they
neither tasted like potato chips or anything else that was
pleasant.  They were sort of potato chips made with different
cultural assumptions than we have in the United States.  I was
tired and they just did not bring out the adventurous in me.  I
would love to try those chips again, but as the package was labeled
in Hindi and I would never find and recognize them again.  However,
I have discovered I am quite fond of Indian snack food.

Indian savory snacks really are made with different cultural
assumptions than our snacks are made with.  And they are making the
assumptions.  If they claim to be spicy, they are considerably more
piquant than American snacks are.   The ones that are spicy are
made with red chili powder.  It is not intense enough to sting, but
it will give a pleasant burning sensation.  (I know that sounds
like a contradiction in terms if you do not like spicy food.)  If
the package says "masala" it is saying it is spicy.  Good.

As I write this I am eating Chakri or Chakli.  It is made from rice
flour, different kinds of gram flour, and chili powder and sesame
seeds are mixed in.  Then it is mixed and extruded in a spiral so
that to becomes almost a disk to inches in diameter.  Then it is
fried until is extremely hard and crispy.  Somehow it gets prickly.
A variant is called Murukku, but it tastes much the same to me.

Another similar snack is Fulwadi.  It is made with mostly the same
ingredients as Chakri but it extruded into sticks about the size of
AA batteries.  (I could suggest something else that the sticks look
like but it would not be in good taste.)  But Fulwadi is about the
consistency of a good piecrust.  The flavor is both a little sweet
and a little salty.  It also has a little chili burn.  This one
melts in your mouth if you do not crunch it up right away.

Another snack is Sev.  This is a sort of a noodle made from
chickpea flour.  It also is spicy.  It comes in various sizes and
the small Sev is impossible for a non-Indian to eat without making
a mess.  The investigation continues.

In any case Indian savory snacks have products like Doritos beat
all hollow.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: CROSSTALK by Connie Willis (copyright 2016, Del Ray, $28.00,
498pp, ISBN 978-0-345-54067-6) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices:
a book review by Joe Karpierz)

I think it can be agreed that Connie Willis has pretty much "been
there, done that" in the science fiction field over her long and
storied career: 11 Hugos, 7 Nebulas, 4 Locus Awards, a John W.
Campbell Memorial Award, and a boatload more nominations for works
that didn't win.  She was named a Damon Knight Grandmaster of the
field.  Just about everything she's written has turned to gold.

Her previous work, BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR, a novel in two parts that
won the Hugo in 2011, was large in scope and even larger in word
count.  The story was so huge that it was broken into two books,
which were both released in the same year.  ALL CLEAR picked up
right where BLACKOUT left off, with no "the story so far" kind of
lead in, letting the world know that "no, this was intended to be
one book but it was two big, so we made it into two".  CROSSTALK
suffers from, in my opinion, needing an editor, and as a result I
don't think the book is as good as it could be.

Briddey Flannigan and her boyfriend Trent work for a communications
corporation named Commspan.  The folks at Commspan are worried
about Apple's next iPhone release, which is probably going to
revolutionize communication (never mind that Apple hasn't come out
with a revolutionizing version of the iPhone since the early days,
but I digress). That's not the big news, though.  Briddey and Trent
are going to get EEDs.  An EED is a device which allows two
strongly emotionally bonded people to know each other's emotions
without even having to talk about them.  That is, there will no
longer be any doubt as to whether your loved one is really your
loved one.

Commspan is a center of gossip, a place where communication has
gone wild.  People know about things that happen long before they
should.  As an example, we all know someone who, if we want to
spread some salacious gossip, we tell first.  The word will spread
like wildfire.  At Commspan, that would be Suki Parker.  But she's
not the only one, just the best.  All the employees we meet during
the novel seem to be one big interconnected information network--
except for C.B. Schwartz.  C.B. is the nerd that works in the
basement and stays away from everyone.  His hair and clothes are a
mess, he has no friends, and everyone thinks he's weird and creepy.
No one wants to go down to his basement office to talk to him.

Trent and Briddey are able to get their EED operations moved up on
the doctor's busy schedule.  They are trying to get this done in
secret because Briddey has a meddling family and Trent has his
reasons (which I will not spoil here).  Trent and Briddey are
perfect subjects for an EED--their compatibility scores are off the
charts.   Briddey has her operation first.  She wakes up after the
surgery, and not long after she begins to not feel Trent's
emotions, but to hear someone speaking to her--and it's not Trent.

Hilarity ensues.

CROSSTALK is billed as a romantic comedy involving telepathy.  It
certainly is that--or at least it tries to be that.  It's the
comedy part that I have a hard time with.   Granted, romantic
comedies are not my cup of literary tea, and I understand that to
qualify as a comedy the reader is not required to laugh out loud
for a majority of the book.  Yes, there is witty banter; yes, there
are awkward situations that arise from circumstances at the time,
but this book never grabbed me in that fashion.  What did grab me
was the inclusion of telepathy and how it was dealt with in the
book (and maybe that's just because I'm not a romantic comedy fan--
your mileage may vary).

It is clear that once again, Willis has done her research with
regard to her subject matter, in this case reported cases of
telepathy (and some that weren't reported as such, but in terms of
convenience Willis uses them as such--Joan of Arc is the major
example here).  But much like in BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR, not too much
happens for a long period of time, and when it does happen here, it
comes on so fast that the reader's head is spinning.  The other
half of the Duel Fish Codices and I were discussing one night the
subject of writers that need an editor.  The feeling was that some
writers eventually get so big that editors let them have their way
without much restraint.  It seems that Willis, with her last two
novels, has entered that category.

CROSSTALK, for all its faults, is a wonderful look at how our
society is *over*connected.  There are too many ways for people to
be in touch, to share thoughts, to communicate.  Willis is telling
us that we are too connected, that people need a break, that the
voices can be overwhelming and come at us like a torrential flood,
and that maybe we just need to cut ourselves off from the world now
and again.  In that regard, Willis' message succeeds, and it
ultimately makes this a better book.  It's not a great book, it's
not a good book.  But it's okay, and sometimes that's good enough.

[Interestingly, on the latest "Coode Street Podcast", both Gary
K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan listed CROSSTALK as [one of] the most
disappointing book[s] of 2016.  -ecl]

[And by the way, science fiction critic Gary K. Wolfe is not to be
confused with science-fiction writer and Roger Rabbit creator Gary
K. Wolf.  -ecl]


TOPIC: Roman Names (letter of comment by Sam Long)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Cato in her MOBY DICK
annotations in the 12/09/16 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:

"Marcus" was Cato's praenomen, his "first name", as we might say.
"Porcius" was his nomen, the name of his clan, more or less
equivalent to his surname.  "Cato" was his cognomen, and was the
name he was known by, more like our family name.  Cato also had a
second cognomen, Uticensis ("of Utica", from a place he was
associated with.)  He would have been referred to formally as
Marcus Porcius Cato, not Cato Marcus Porcius.  Usually he would be
addressed as or spoken of as Cato, to distinguish him from other
Marcuses in the Porcius clan.  Only family and close friends would
have addressed him as Marcus.  The same can be said of Marcus of
the Junius clan, cognominated Brutus, and Gaius of the Julian clan,
cognominated Caesar.  But there were some exceptions: Caius Cassius
Longinus was known as Cassius (at least in Plutarch and other
contemporary sources).  Women were usually known by the feminine of
their clan name: thus Brutus's wife, daughter of Cato, was known as
Porcia [Catonis]; and Caesar's 3rd wife was Calpurnia, daughter of
Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesonius.  [-sl]

[There will be a quiz on this next week. :-)  -ecl]


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

MISCELANEA, ISBN 978-84-9989-204-7) is the final section of the
omnibus volume MISCELANEA.

Between 1935 and 1939, Jorge Luis Borges wrote a literary column
for the magazine EL HOGAR.  This included essays, mini-biographies,
reviews, and snippets under the section heading "Of the Literary
Life".  In 1986, a selection of these columns was published by
Tusquets as TEXTOS CAUTIVOS.  In 2000, the *remaining* columns were
published by Emece as BORGES EN EL HOGAR.  In 2011, Debolsillo re-
united the two, along with PROLOGOS; BORGES, ORAL; BIBLIOTECA
wonders why the Emece edition did not include all the columns.

With these, as with the collections of his other non-fiction
writings, one can see the breadth of his interests, and in
particular, his willingness to include science fiction and fantasy
as topics worthy of discussion.  Among the authors whose books he
covers are H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Franz Kafka, Ernest Bramah,
Arthur Machen, and Lord Dunsany.  We learn that Lord Dunsany was
six feet, four inches tall, and the trenches from which he fought
in World War I had all been dug to a depth of six feet.  And we can
also marvel at Borges's criticism of Stapledon as not having real
characters (He says, "The purely novelesque of [LAST AND FIRST
MEN]--dialogue, characters, personalizations--is less than
mediocre.").  We marvel at this, because Borges's fiction also
tends to avoid fully-formed characters, or (often) characters at

But in addition to the authors familiar to American readers, Borges
also reviews books less familiar (mostly because they were written
in Spanish, or French, or German).  For example, there is L'HOMME
ELASTIQUE by Jacques Spitz, about a scientist who discovers how to
shrink or expand human beings.  Spitz also wrote LA AGONIA DEL
GLOBO, in which the United States breaks off from the earth and
forms its own planet.

Borges also has a long column on the "thinking machine" ("Ars
magna", or in a simplified form, a "Llullian Circle") of Ramon
Llull, and some of its descendents.  Borges did not know of all of
Llull's discoveries that pre-dated what we had thought were their
first appearance; in 2001 manuscripts of Llull were found that
revealed he had discovered the Borda count and the Condorcet
criterion for elections (1299) long before Borda (1770) and
Condorcet (18th century).

Borges talks about non-fiction books as well: books about
relativity, the fourth dimension, and time.  And to show that
there is indeed nothing new under the sun, Borges describes how
H. G. Wells disparaged the Koran (and 2 billion Muslims who respect
it) in his SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD.  In response, the Muslims of
London gathered in their mosque, where the imam hurled a copy of

(I have to note here that the word for "flame" is "llama", but when
I first read "ha arrojado a las llamas" I found myself why the imam
was throwing it to a bunch of pack animals!  However, it does make
Monty Python"s "Cuidado! Llamas!" a lot less silly, since it can be
interpreted as "Careful! Flames!")  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made
           stupid by education.
                                           -- Bertrand Russell