Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/14/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 2, Whole Number 1971

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        James Bond (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Notes From My Recent Trip to San Juan (Mostly the NASFIC)
                (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        TOO LIGHT THE LIGHTNING by Ada Palmer (book review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        DEATH'S END by Cixin Liu (audio book review by Joe Karpierz)
        Sikhs (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris)
        Scholastic Aptitude Test (letter of comment by Gerald Ryan)
        This Week's Reading ("There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a
                Crooked House" and LIMITLESS) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: James Bond (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Though I have never seen it stated explicitly, I guess James Bond
is a sort or specialized agent for British Intelligence.  His
specialty is rooting out subversion at tourist destinations.
You've got spies in the pretty part of Athens or in Venice.  He's
your man.  If your spies are hiding out in Akron, Ohio, or Reading,
Pennsylvania, send for double-O-8 or double-O-3 or anyone but
double-O-7.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Notes From My Recent Trip to San Juan (Mostly the NASFIC)
(comments by Mark R. Leeper)

07/09/17 14:37:39

Greetings from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

As we are coming to the end of our convention, the NASFIC, I
realize I should say something in my column in the MT VOID.  I
should have made more notes on panel discussions from the
convention, but I do not writer convention reports these days.  Now
I decided I will just comment on random subjects and make that my
column this week.  (Hey, it's good to be the editor.  (Not as good
as being king, but I'm working on it.))

Well, our convention (the North America Science Fiction Interim
Convention, or NASFIC) ended a couple of hours ago.  This turned
out to be a small convention, with 200 people or so attending.

I got to talk to and get to know Brother Guy Consolmagno.  Now who
is he?  It seems the Vatican has an astronomical observatory and
the Pope has astronomers who work for him and who do real
scientific research.  We are no longer living with attitudes of the
time of Galileo.  Today the Church has befriended science.  Brother
Guy does scientific research sponsored by the Pope.  On Vatican
organizational charts Brother Guy reports directly to the Pontiff.
Guy is an American-born Jesuit who directs the Vatican Observatory
and functions in it as a research astronomer.  He is also a big
science fiction fan.  But if you collected six random male
convention attendees and Brother Guy as a seventh in a police
lineup it would be hard to tell which one was from the Vatican one
level below the Pope.  He is very American and very pleasant.  He
is a little soft-spoken but has an air of erudition.

[P.S. Now this is I speaking, (or is it me?), but it seems to me
that the Church is still somewhat embarrassed about the whole
Galileo thing.  They used religious authority and dogma to squelch
new scientific authority.  And now they have to admit that the
proto-scientific ideas at the time were a more correct viewpoint.
I think they decided that they needed enlightened counseling to
avoid making the same mistake again.  Sometimes when dogma comes
into conflict with political or religious dogma the dogma may be
right, but the smart money does not bet that way.]

Brother Guy talked on a variety of subjects like information
gathered by the Arecibo telescope and what it is like living in the
Vatican, how accurate was THE DA VINCI CODE, what would it be like
living in space.  He was on panels talking about young adult SF,
how technology would change education, what we expected to learn
from the coming solar eclipse, and how to create a believable
religion in a science fiction story.

So what did THE DA VINCI CODE get wrong?  What sticks with me is
that the book describes a hidden stairway in travertine marble.
Actually the stairway really is hidden, but it is not marble but
rock or poured concrete.  It looks like something from low-rent
housing and not so glamorous.

Hey, while I think of it, one touch I really liked at the hotel.
The meeting rooms had cold drinking water like a lot of convention
rooms have other places.  But the Sheraton has a new design.  It
has a big chamber at the top and then narrows down as a typical
dispenser.  That keeps the water dispensed at 32 degrees all day.
After walking around in the heat and humidity it dispenses really
cold water all day long.  It is as good as having ice cream all day
with none of the calories.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: TOO LIGHT THE LIGHTNING by Ada Palmer (copyright 2016, Tor,
$15.99, 448pp, ISBN978-0-7653-7801-9) (excerpt from the Duel Fish
Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz)

Ada Palmer's TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING is yet another first novel on
this year's Best Novel Hugo finalists list.  Palmer has delivered
a very complex, involved, and intriguing novel, one that deals
with complicated issues of religion, politics, gender, and war in
an historical style that will probably take the reader some
getting used to.  It may be a struggle for some folks; it was for
me at first.  But once my head got into the space the story was
using, the novel flowed and kept me engaged until the end.

The time is the mid-2450s.  The planet has undergone a vast world
war with religion and America at the center of it all.  A new
world order has been put in place, but it appears to be a very
draconian one.  Public discussions of religion--including
traditional faith gatherings as we currently know them--have been
outlawed.  Normal gender classifications and distinctions are now
taboo (this does result in what I think is a bit of a problem
with the handling of gender pronouns, with "they, them, and their"
sometime being interchangeably used with his and hers, but I
suspect we'll find out more in the coming volumes of the story).
Written documents (such as the book itself) are subject to
violence, sexuality, religious, and offensive opinion (which kind
of frightens me) ratings.

All of this has been put in place as the cost for a near utopia
built on abundance.  The population lives in a world that has no
borders in terms of citizenship--it really doesn't matter where
you live, since you can claim allegiance to any country on the
planet you like.  The economy is controlled a number of groups
called Hives, which have complex interactions with each other and
the population.  Crime is still a problem, even with the abundance
of resources that is available to everyone.  The punishments,
though, are handled differently.  A criminal is sentenced to being
a Servicer.  Servicers have no possessions.  They must go about the
world doing good deeds in support of their fellow humans.

(I could go on for a lot longer about the world building that
Palmer did for this novel, but it would take up the entire review,
and I don't think you want that.)

So, Mycroft Canner is a Servicer.  Carlyle Foster is a Sensayer, a
sort of spiritual counselor in a world that has abolished
religion.  While a Servicer's life is simple, a Sensayer's calling
is not.  With a job of counselor to a population that still
believes in something greater than themselves, Foster's life is one
long balancing act.  Foster is assigned as the new Sensayer to a
family which controls the usage of all cars on the planet (except
for those of the Utopian Hive--like I said, it's complicated).  On
his first visit to the bash Foster stumbles upon a secret that
Canner is already aware of since he is there performing service for
the family.  The secret, a boy name Bridger, could upend the
balanced utopia because of what he can do--make his wishes come
true.  And thus the novel begins.

But of course, nothing is that simple.  Pretty soon, the political
wheels start spinning, and everything we've learned about society
in the 2450s is turned completely upside down and around to the
point where we're really not sure what's going on.  We eventually
do find out what Mycroft Canner's crime was (and if you are
squeamish you may want to zip through that section about 250 pages
into the book), and that there is more to him and the rest of the
government that meets the eye.  Throw in an additional crime of a
stolen modified "Seven-Ten" list--think a popularity list published
by the main newspaper of the various Hives upon which the economic
stability of the planet is resting--and you have a recipe for a
very intriguing story that starts one way, but ends another.

There's a lot of misdirection going on in this novel.  Mycroft,
Carlyle, and all the rest of the cast are definitely not what they
appeared to be when we first meet each of them as the novel
unfolds.  The political intertwining that becomes apparent as the
novel approaches its conclusion is enough to make your head spin
not only on its axis 360, but along the *other* axis (think
shoulder-to-shoulder) 360 degrees as well.  I don't think any
character in this book can be trusted.

As I already mentioned, it takes some time (well, it took me some
time, anyway) to get into the novel's style.  The (apparently)
inconsistent use of gender pronouns is difficult to follow, at
least at first.  And while I don't mind the speculation of the
handling of religion, sex, and violence by the society depicted in
the novel, it may be a bit disturbing to some.  After all was said
and done, I found the book to be well worth the time and effort I
put into it, although its abrupt ending with the realization that
there are more books to follow (one more to tell the tale of
Mycroft Canner, and four in all for the Terra Ignota series made me
wish I didn't like it so much (see my statement about discovering
new authors in my review of Yoon Ha Lee's NINEFOX GAMBIT).

But I did like it, and I certainly am looking forward to the next
book in the series, SEVEN SURRENDERS, to be published later this
year.  I look forward to the continuation of Mycroft's tale.  I
suspect it will also be well worth my time.  [-jak]


TOPIC: DEATH'S END ("Remembrance of Earth's Past" Book 3) by Cixin
Liu, translated by Ken Liu (copyright 2016, Tor, 608pp, ASIN:
B00WDVKZY0, narrated by P.J. Ochlan) (excerpt from the Duel Fish
Codices: an audio book review by Joe Karpierz)

DEATH'S END brings popular Chinese science fiction author's
"Remembrance of Earth's Past" trilogy (begun with Hugo winner THE
THREE BODY PROBLEM) to a rousing, fulfilling, and moving
conclusion.  It is a story that spans millions of years and
multiple universes.  It is strange, wonderful, full of ideas, and
thought provoking.  It is grand in scope and despite that, personal
in nature.  It is quite possibly the best science fiction book of
2016, which was full of science fiction novels that could claim
that title, as this year's Best Novel Hugo finalist list attests
to.  It deserves all those superlatives and more.

A summary of the plot of DEATH'S END is somewhat difficult,
although the story itself is told in a somewhat straightforward (I
was tempted to put the phrase "sometimes meandering" after
straightforward, but that just didn't seem like the right thing to
do) sequential manner.  The story starts, in essence, where THE
DARK FOREST left off.  The people of Earth and the Trisolarans are
at a standstill.  Luo Ji, the one Wallfacer that actually did his
job properly, found a way to hold off the Trisolaran attack via the
Dark Forest defense.  Luo Ji became what was called The
Swordholder.  The Swordholder was tasked with the responsibility of
broadcasting the location of Trisolaris if the  Trisolarans should
head to earth to attack.  The drawback is that broadcasting the
location of Trisolaris would also give away the location of Earth,
thus dooming both planets to attack from another malevolent
civilization out there in the cosmos.

The story, then, is how humanity moves forward in the face of
impending disaster. Unlike both THE THREE BODY PROBLEM and THE DARK
FOREST, which have enough central characters to keep track of to
make George R.R. Martin look like a rookie (okay, maybe not many,
but you get the idea), DEATH'S END does have one central character,
Cheng Xin.  She is the character that ties all the sections of the
book together as well as the character upon which the fate of
humanity hinges.  Time and again, Cheng Xin is called upon to make
critical decisions.  The most important decision comes not long
after she is elected by the Earth's population to become the next
Swordholder after it is time for Luo Ji to step down from that
post.  We all know that every decision has a consequence that leads
to another decision point, and Cheng Xin finds herself in the
middle of every monumental decision that is made in the book
(granted, the nature of storytelling is to put the protagonist
front and center and let him or her sort it out).  And every
decision is more monumental than the previous, leading up to the
final decision at the end of the book.

While the threat of the Trisolarans is present throughout the
novel, there is a point at which the focus changes from fear of
attack from the Trisolarans (for reasons which I will not go into
here) to that of protecting and saving humanity over the long haul.
That's not to say the Trisolarans didn't have their moment in the
sun (sorry about that) in the story, but they nearly became an
afterthought as humanity switch its goal from defending itself
against the Trisolarans to defending itself against the universe.

One more item about the structure of the novel before I move on to
other things.  The story is broken up into eras, which are listed
in the front of the book and cover from the present all the way
through 18906416 (In the timeline of Universe 647--there, did that
whet your appetite?  If not, I have more coming.), although in
reality (and I'm not sure which reality I'm talking about at this
point) the story doesn't actually end in that year.  The framework
is a memoir entitled "A Past Out of Time", from which excerpts are
presented from time to time.  It proved to be, at least for me, an
effective way to move the story along and provide perspective to
what exactly was happening.

This book is a lot of things, but one thing it isn't is a
traditional story where there's a hero and a villain and a battle
at the end to decide the victor (although that kind of story seems
to be slowly disappearing from view). Sure, there's a protagonist
in Cheng Xin, but she's really there to tie up all the eras (by
going into hibernation which enables her to span those eras) and be
there from beginning to end to provide a familiar thread while
Cixin Liu does what he really wants to do:  blow our minds.

It's a story of the survival of humanity, a story of moral
decisions, a story of love--of one person for another as well as
one person for the entire human race--and a story of frenzied, mind
blowing concepts and ideas that has the reader's head constantly
spinning.  Just when you get your head around a particular idea
that Cixin Liu is presenting, he throws it away in favor of another
equally mind blowing idea that is just as relevant to the situation
at hand. I'll just list a few here:  firearms that shoot bullets
which contain a mini-black hole inside of them; the attainment of
lightspeed by a method called curvature space propulsion, which has
the potentially nasty side effect of reducing the speed of light in
its wake to a point so slow that those trapped within its field
can't get out, and thus are stuck there forever in something called
a Black Domain;  the concept of a weapon that can destroy its
intended  target by transforming the area of space from three
dimensions to two dimensions; and just how do you file an insurance
claim on the death of someone who fell into a mini black hole when
in their frame of reference they've fallen through the event
horizon but in our frame of reference it will take so long for them
to fall through the event horizon that the claim will never be able
to be made?

Along with the flood of ideas comes its companion, the flood of
exposition, or infodumps, if you will.  It seems inevitable that
with each complex idea there is an accompanying firehose worth of
information regarding that idea. Sometimes it comes in the form of
"As you know, Bob...", and sometimes it comes in the form of the
author simply--well, I don't think there's anything simple about
any of the ideas--telling the reader about it with large amounts of
exposition, which sometimes lasts for several pages.  If there's
anything that could slow this book down and be a bit problematic,
it's the infodumps.  One could argue that at 600+ pages the book
could use some editing, but it could also be argued that in order
for Cixin Liu to get his ideas across those infodumps are
necessary.  In the long run, they didn't ruin my enjoyment of the
novel, but I can see where they could be a proble for some readers.

With regard to the narrator, P. J. Ochlan, it should be said that
he did a wonderful job creating different voices for the characters
and seamless changing between them when called upon to do so.  His
narration never took me out of the story, and he truly did the best
he could with the aforementioned long and involved infodumps.  I
enjoyed listening to him and would be interested in listening to
other books for which he is the narrator.  I feel as if his style
supplemented and augmented the tone that Cixin Liu was looking for
in the novel, and if I ever find time I would be interested in
going back and listening to his narration of DARK FOREST.  He did

With regard to Ken Liu's translating job, once again, since I don't
know Chinese I cannot say how much his translation represented what
Cixin Liu was trying to tell the reader.  I did enjoy the text of
the story, and it felt well written.  There's not much else I can
say about it.

It's no secret that I'm a sucker for cosmic, mind-blowing ideas.  I
fall for the grand scope of a story that spans millions of years
and multiple parallel universes, including the old message in a
bottle trope.  Yeah, I just love all that stuff.  DEATH'S END is
the book I've been waiting to read for several decades.  A book
like it may never come along again.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Sikhs (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris)

In response to Mark's review of UNDER THE TURBAN in the 07/07/17
issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes writes:

Here's a bit of verse I wrote many years ago, during an Asian flu

One little, two little, three little Indians,
Bedridden.  Nothing to do.
All of them ill with an Asian disease:
Six Sikhs (sic) sick with flu.



TOPIC: Scholastic Aptitude Test (letter of comment by Gerald Ryan)

In response to Mark's comments on the SAT in the 07/07/17 issue of
the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:

In theory the SAT is testing aptitude.  In practice?  Well, there
is an enormous industry around test prep, tutoring, etc for these
tests, and presumably all that prep is somehow ... improving one's

I remember being told (by my parents, who were high school
teachers, and by my own teachers) that it was a good idea to do a
practice exam, or maybe two, so that you had an idea of what the
experience of the test would be like.  The implication was that
studying a bunch of vocabulary words and/or math facts was not
going to be terribly helpful.  However, I knew many people--
including the parents of the friends of my children--who swore by
the SAT tutoring as a way of making sure that their kids did a
couple hundred points better on the exam than they would have done
without the tutoring.  Several could point to a situation where
their child took the exam, then went to a tutoring center, then did
enormously better the next time around.

I've wondered if that improvement can be attributed to simple
familiarity with the test, but I suspect not.

I've come to think that the SAT itself is a flawed instrument for
assessing Scholastic Aptitude.  Even when I took it in preparing
for college, back in the late 1970s, I was told that, at best, the
SAT was a *slight* predictor of success in the first several
semesters of college.

The tweaking of the exam (several times over the last few decades)
and the growing number of schools that are no longer requiring SAT
scores for incoming freshmen, make me think that I'm not the only
one that believes that it's a flawed instrument.  [-gwr]

Mark responds:

It is a flawed instrument.  I do not know many instruments that are
not flawed.  Certainly the SAT industry is exacerbating the
problems.  It may not even be possible to measure scholastic
aptitude.  But turning it into the industry that it is just
corrupts it even more.  [-mrl]


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

Because Mark and I were going to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the
NASFIC convention, I've been reading mostly short works this last
week and catching up on magazines--I don't like to start a novel
too close to a trip, because if it's a physical book I probably
don't want to have to carry it, and in any case, I usually get very
little reading done on a trip.

However, I do want to recommend one novella I read, "There Was a
Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House" by David Erik Nelson (F&SF
July-August 2017).  As you might have guessed from the title,
Nelson takes Robert A. Heinlein's idea in "...And He Built a
Crooked House", brings it up to date, and elaborates on it in
interesting ways.

I did read LIMITLESS by Allen Glynn (ISBN 978-0-312-42887-7), since
the book-and-movie group would be discussing it right after we
returned, and I had an ebook version of it.  The idea--a drug that
makes you more focused--is fine, but there was far too much
discussion of stocking trading in the novel, at least for my
tastes.  I did like the description of the first-person narrator's
first experience with the drug, in which he is driven to straighten
up his apartment.  He says one thing that particularly struck home:
"Then I found another sack and started going through all of the
papers on my desk, and in the drawers of the desk.  I was fairly
ruthless and threw things out I'd been keeping for no good reason,
stuff that if I died my unfortunate executor would have no
hesitation in throwing out either, because what was he going to do
with it ... what was he going to do with old love letters, pay
slips, gas and electric bills, yellowed typescripts of abandoned
articles, instruction manuals for consumer durables I no longer
possessed, holiday brochures of which I hadn't gone on ... Jesus,
it occurred to me--as I stuffed all of this garbage into a bag--
the sh*t we leave behind us for other people to sort out.".  Given
that I am currently in the process of cleaning out old papers (why
do we still have dental claim forms from thirty years ago?), it is
not surprising that this would resonate with me.

(Synchronistically, Brother Guy Consolmagno mentioned at NASFIC
last week just liberating it felt when he became a Jesuit and got
rid of all his personal possessions.  Or most, since he still seems
to have a lot of fannish T-shirts that I am sure are not Vatican-
issue. :-) )  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           [to H G Wells] It is all very well to be able to write
           books, but can you waggle your ears?
                                          --J M Barrie