Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/04/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 5, Whole Number 1974

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        NorthAmeriCon '17 (NASFIC 2017) Convention Report (comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Today's "West Wing" (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        The Shape of Places to Come (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Greece and RHINOCEROS (letter of comment by John Hertz)
        Henry Ward Beecher (letter of comment by Sam Long)
                SANTERIA and THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: NorthAmeriCon '17 (NASFIC 2017) Convention Report (comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)

My con report on the NASFIC (NorthAmeriCon '17) is available at  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Today's "West Wing" (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

With Trump as President things in politics seems so changeable
these days.  If "West Wing" were revived and set in the present it
would essentially be an anthology series with mostly new characters
each week.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: The Shape of Places to Come (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Over the last decade there has been a good deal of discussion of
whether or not Pluto should be a planet.  (Okay, and I have
returned to the issue repeatedly in this periodical.)  But
generations of school children were brought up being told there
were nine planets in our solar system, and the outer-most planet is
Pluto.  There was a sort of security in this astronomical fact.
After all Pluto was well out of human reach.  Our ideological
enemies could not reach out and take away Pluto.  Nor could our
government.  There were nine planets and that was all to be said on
the issue.  Our schoolteachers would probably have given us a test
that asked us to list all the planets.  We would write out nine
planets and the last one would invariably be Pluto.  And that was
the end of it.  Everybody knew it.

When the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto no
longer was to be a planet there was a real uproar.  Someone--some
human who had never even visited Pluto--had reached out and took
Pluto away.  It was like taking something everybody wanted to be
true and someone reached out and took it away from us.  Much of the
public took it all very seriously.   Somehow we had an emotional
need for Pluto to be a planet for us.  It was an incredibly secure
piece of knowledge that proved to e transitory had been taken away.

Maybe we took a little more positively the idea that dinosaurs had
all died out one million years ago.  Later the number of years was
fine-tuned to be more like sixty-five million years ago, but it was
just a whole lot of years if it was one or sixty-five million.  At
least they were all dead.  Even the more knowledgeable of us might
have trouble squaring with the fact that some of us have live
dinosaurs in our backyards and on our telephone wires.  Most kinds
dinosaurs died in what was probably the result of a meteor strike
and/or possibly the eruption of a volcano.  But whatever killed
most of the dinosaurs left a way for some, the ancestors of birds
to live.  So there are dinosaurs alive today.

But I have avoided it long enough.  I should get to the point.  I
want you to close your eyes and picture the state of Louisiana.
You know, the teacher who taught you about Pluto being a planet had
that map of the United States up on her blackboard that showed you
what the fifty states looked like.  (Well, maybe it was forty-eight
or maybe forty-nine.)  Can you picture what Louisiana looks like on
the map?  Kiss that picture good-bye.  I am sorry but I really
doubt that you can picture what Louisiana looks like right now.
How you are picturing it will never look like again.  That shape is
a thing of the past.  The coastline has always been complex, but I
had some idea of the shape of the state as being something like a
high shoe or a boot.  That shape is a thing of the past. Take a
look at this.  It is the picture on the right:

It sure looks different.

What you are seeing is what is left of Louisiana. What you are
seeing is happening many places in the world.  The disappearing
land is the result of erosion, global warming and storm damage.  It
is climate change that is not supposed to be happening, according
to some (poorly chosen) politicians.  I wonder how much longer the
people who print maps of the United States will print the out-dated
shape of Louisiana.  More details at:

("Louisiana's Changing Shape Before Our Eyes")

My nice comfy feeling that I knew the shape of all the states is
gone.  I will no longer recognize the shape of Louisiana.  That
worries me more than that Pluto is no longer a planet for me.
People that I know will be hurt if the oceans keep rising.  And
they ARE going to keep on rising.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Greece and RHINOCEROS (letter of comment by John Hertz)

In response to Mark's comments on Greece in the 06/02/17 issue of
the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:

Thanks for the VOID as ever.

You went to Greece, hurrah!  But where in your report is
architecture, sculpture, poetry, drama, philosophy, food, drink,
costume, song, dance?

This country while small in acreage (50,000 square miles, like
Alabama) has easily a half dozen recognizable folklore regions.  I
could do Cretan, Macedonian, Peloponnesian, Pontian, Thracian,
dance into the wee hours, and have.

Though not a member, nor even a Christian, I admire the beauty and
inspiration of the Orthodox Church.

"Philoxenia" is Greek--the opposite of xenophobia.

Not to mention Aristotle, Plutarch, Sophocles--oops.  [-jh]

Mark replies:

Travel to foreign countries would frequently leave the tourist with
a lot of time to kill.  We would plan our own trips and that would
of necessity leave us with a lot of unused time.  Out of
desperation we would fill the empty hours describing the trip to a
pocket notepad or a palmtop computer.  Time has taken its toll on
our poor bodies.  No we go on guided tours and lest the tour
company carry our heavy bags.  Tour companies can use leverage to
give us more time in the day touring or in social activities.
Hence there is less empty time.  And my writing speed has slowed
down over the years.  I still start a log for each trip, but after
a day or so I spend my spare hours resting my weary bones.  I have
a great collection of logs of the first 48 hours of a trip and that
is about as far as they go.  [-mrl]

And Evelyn responds:

What was written in the MT VOID does not constitute our (my) trip
report; a link to that will appear when I finish it.  (It's
currently about 10,000 words long and not finished.)  It got put on
hold so I could write my NASFIC report, since there were actual
requests for that.

"Apophasis" is Greek also.  [-ecl[

In response to Evelyn's review of RHINOCEROS in the 05/19/17 issue
of the MT VOID), John writes:

About RHINOCEROS (E. Ionesco, 1959; incidentally, you typo'd the
poor playwright's name: I wonder if therefore the cosmic Joker will
cause a typo here), Evelyn says it's supposedly a parable.  I can't
stop her from supposing.  Once I'd have told her it's a
parallelogram.  But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that

I tried out for Jean.  I'd even practiced turning into a
rhinoceros.  I was turned down.  The director asked me to read
Berenger so he could cast Daisy.  At the end he said
"Congratulations, you're Berenger."  I said "But you've already
cast him."  He said "So we'll double-cast."  However, things ganged
agley and the play was not produced.  To me this always seemed
existentially correct.  [-jh]

Mark responds:

You were so much older?  Perhaps that is hyperbole.  [-mrl]

And Evelyn replies:

Yes, I typo'd "Ionesco" as "Ionescu"--I was misled by his Romanian

I would not confuse a parable with a parallelogram, but I might
confuse it with a parabola, at least in Spanish.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Henry Ward Beecher (letter of comment by Sam Long)

In response to the quote from Henry Ward Beecher at the end of the
07/28/17 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:

I prefer this literary remembrance of Henry Ward Beecher:

The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher
Called the hen a "most elegant creature."
The hen, pleased with that,
Laid an egg in his hat,
And thus did the hen reward Beecher.



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

Hernandez (ISBN 978-1-495-60739-4) is a great collection.
According to the Introduction, the author is an assimilated Cuban
who lives in Queens.  The collection has a dozen stories:

"The Aphotic Ghost": The narrator's son, a diver and photographer
in the aphotic zone (the level of the sea so deep that there is no
light) had taken up mountain climbing and died on Everest, and the
narrator begins to train to be able to climb Everest and recover
the body.  But why is he so insistent about it?

"Homeostasis": An operation lets people with severe brain damage
live normal lives, but what does it do to their personhood?

"Entanglements": This is a story of parallel worlds, though
ultimately it is about how people deal with this one.

"The International Studbook of the Giant Panda": Is this a story of
waldos (telepresence) or of virtual reality or something else
entirely?  It is also a reminder of the bizarre lengths to which
devoted researchers will go to save a species.  This is the first
of the stories with reporter Gabrielle Real.

"The Macrobe Conservation Project": Children's perceptions of the
world are often very different from adults'.  Not only that, but
they also form these into a picture of the world that is not always
congruent to reality.  (It is like the old story of the young child
saying the Pledge of Allegiance and wondering who "Richard Stands"
was, that the Republic was for.)  This story involves that idea and
an almost completely distinct thread about intelligent plants and
their symbiosis (?) with humans.

"Los Simpaticos": If you thought reality television was bad in our
world, wait until you read this story.  And you may think you know
where this is going, but I would not count on it.

"More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give": A tale of possession and
politics and loss.  If I had to give it a label, I would call it
magic realism`

"Bone of My Bone": This is an example of literalizing a metaphor.

"The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory": It sounds like a
fantasy, but it is strictly science fiction.  Trust me.  This is
another Gabrielle Real story.

"American Moat": First contact does not always turn out the way you
expect, or even the way they expect.

"Fantasie Impromptu No. 4 In C#min, Op. 66": If we can upload a
person into a computer, what happens to their soul?  If we destroy
the computer, is that murder?  And what if ... but that would be

"The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria": This story is
just what the title says.  The narrator is the assimilated Cuban,
who is trying to use santeria to bring about what he wants--but it
is difficult to get all the obscure ingredients in suburban
Connecticut, so there is a level of indeterminacy in the santeria.
Warning for monolinguists: there is a fair amount of dialogue in
Spanish.  Reading it with Google Translate at hand might be a good

The styles of these re varied, but three of them are tied together
by having reporter Gabrielle Real as the main character.

The book is very easy to read from a physical standpoint, but that
is in part because all the pages have wide margins and are almost
double-spaced.  Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but there are
25 lines to a page, while the average book of this size has about
35.  Each line has about 10 words, which is about average.  So the
271 pages are really closer to 200.  I am not sure if the intent
was to make it easier to read, or to pad out the book, but I
appreciate not having tiny, close-set lines.

The "high concept" description for THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE by John
Scalzi (ISBN 978-0-7653-8888-9) would be "Asimov's Foundation books
with a climate change stand-in."  Instead of the "Galactic Empire"
there is the "Interdependency".  Rather than generic faster-than-
light travel, the Interdependency is tied together by "the Flow":
wormholes (I guess) that make it possible to get from point A to
point B in a matter of weeks or months, but only is there is a Flow
from point A to Point B.  Otherwise, it takes however long
conventional ships take (years, decades, centuries, ...).  There is
even a chamber where holographic images of previous Emperors appear
and give advice.

The Flow has been stable for the several hundred years it has been
known.  But now it is shifting, and if it shifts away from a place
near planet Whatever, then planet Whatever is effectively cut off
from the rest of the Interdependency--getting there would have to
be done the old-fashioned way, slower than light.  Physicists and
some politicians are trying to alert the Interdependency, but other
politicians are convinced it is all paranoia, or a hoax, and refuse
to believe it (hence the climate change parallel).

There are differences from Asimov, of course.  The main one is that
there is no gender inequality in this future, and so ship captains,
CEOs, and even Emperors are as likely to be women as men.  (In
fact, the title is not Emperor, but Emperox.)  And for what it is
worth, Scalzi does not overlook some of the usually ignored aspects
of this, like cramps.  (Susan Calvin had a lot of problems, but
apparently never had cramps.)

Scalzi writes in an easy-to-follow manner, with names lacking
superfluous apostrophes or unpronounceable diphthongs; his
characters' names actually also have an Asimovian sound to them,
while still maintaining a connection to Earth names.  Ghreni, Amit,
and Nadashe Nohamapetan's names semm to have their origins in south
Asia, while Blinnikka appears to be Finnish.

My only hesitation in recommending this is that, just like Asimov's
FOUNDATION, this is the first of a series.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           I have studied many philosophers and many cats.  The
           wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.
                                          --Hippolyte Taine