Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/13/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 15, Whole Number 1984

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Personal Realities (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        STARLINGS by Jo Walton (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        REALIVE (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)
        MEDUSA (letter of comment by Gregory Benford)
                FUTURE) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Personal Realities (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

In 1995 I was visiting Scotland.  A local radio station broadcast 
an interesting feature.  Several well-known celebrities were asked 
the question, "What is the most important lesson you have ever 
taught your children?"  One respondent gave an answer that troubled 
me: "The most important thing I ever taught my child is to never 
assume there is only one reality.  Your truth may be different from 
my reality.  What is true for you may not be true for me."  She was 
very proud of that observation, but it really bothered me.  It is a 
nice cushy feeling that if we disagree on what a truth is, we can 
both be right in our own private realities.

I see a great deal of risk in abandoning the idea of there being 
one true reality and giving everybody the right to their own 
private choice of the way things are.

I had never actually heard this idea that everybody is entitled to 
the reality that makes him or her feel the best.  If you want, one 
plus one equals whatever you want it to be.  If you believe that 
female genital mutilation is a virtue my feeling is that this is 
not a "reality" you have a right to, even if you do not take 
action.  It seems to me valuable to have to have people around who 
have differing viewpoints to help shape my own.  But my ideas are 
better than some people's and not as good as others.  It is a 
mistake to say everybody's ideas, their reality, are of the same 
value and people have a right to them.

My feeling is that there is a single reality and many perceptions 
of that reality, some correctly interpreted and some incorrectly 
interpreted.  My perceptions might contradict your perceptions, but 
both are just subjective perceptions.  Perceptions do not always 
tell the full story and may be misleading.  Even correct 
perceptions may be incomplete.  The real truth may lie beyond.

The best example of this is probably the story of the elephant and 
the blind men.  One blind man feels the elephant's trunk and 
declares the elephant to be like a tree.  One feels the tail and 
declares the elephant to be like a rope.  And so forth.  The 
elephant is just what it is if many of the perceptions of it are 

The assumption that each person has his or her own reality may seem 
very comfortable and not at all dangerous.  It, in fact, may seem 
like a useful expedient for avoiding conflict, but it may be just 
kicking the can down the road.  It may create other problems, 
particularly in the Age of the Internet.

The Internet, while making communication far easier than it had 
been previously, may exacerbate the problem.  With the Internet you 
have more opportunity than ever before to choose what opinions 
reach you.  It is now easy to surround yourself with opinions that 
are very much like your own, if you so choose.  You cannot only 
create your own reality, you can choose pundits to reinforce your 
natural prejudices.

It may be that on the short run complacency that everybody's ideas 
are of equal value may avoid small conflicts in the short run, but 
it in the long run with the help of the Internet it is dividing up 
the United States and will lead to disaster in the long run.  


TOPIC: STARLINGS by Jo Walton (copyright 2018, Tachyon 
Publications, 288pp, Paperback, Print ISBN 978-1-61696-056-8, 
Digital ISBN 978-1-61696-057-5, ASIN: B073WG5J8N) (book review by 
Joe Karpierz)

I've not read much by Jo Walton, but even to use the word "much" is 
a bit of an exaggeration.  Up until STARLINGS, the only work I've 
read from her is her Hugo award winning novel AMONG OTHERS.  While 
I enjoyed the novel, I thought it had a few flaws.  Nonetheless, I 
enjoyed it enough to know that I would be okay with reading more of 
Walton's work at some point in the future.

STARLINGS is a collection of short fiction and poetry.  Walton is 
not known as a writer of short fiction; as she states in her 
introduction, novels came much more naturally to her than short 
fiction ever did.  In fact, STARLINGS is her first collection of 
short stories, and the poetry that is included in the volume is, in 
her words, her fourth poetry collection.  The stories and poetry 
collected here are as diverse in their subject matter as they are 
in their style and technique.  This was a different kind of book 
for me to read in more ways than one, not the least of which is the 
fact that it contains poetry.  More on that a bit later on.  
However, one of the things I enjoyed about the book was that 
instead of an introduction before each story, Walton gives the 
reader a background for the story at the end, a sort of "now that 
you've read it, here's the deal with it".  That kind of structure 
appealed to me and I really enjoyed it.

The book contains a lot of pieces that Walton says aren't stories 
at all; they might be pieces that play with form, mode, or point of 
view.  A good number of them defy description or summary.  For 
example, "Parable Lost" certainly be read as a parable, but don't 
get lost in all the jellyfish.  Then there's "Escape to Other 
Worlds with Science Fiction", a piece that's stitched together from 
newspaper, ads from various science fiction magazines (among other 
things), and story fragments.  It certainly isn't a story, but it's 
fascinating in any event.  There's a snippet of a narrative called 
"What Joseph Felt", a retelling of a portion of the circumstances 
surrounding the birth of  Jesus from the point of view of Joseph; I 
enjoyed this one quite a bit. There's a book review, written by an 
alien, of a novel that has humans as its central characters, 
entitled "The Need to Stay the Same".  At one point the review 
complains, albeit gently, of the book being the eighth book in the 
sequence and the "themes are starting to feel familiar"--there's 
something we see all too much of in this field.  "Joyful and 
Triumphant:  St. Zeobius and the Aliens" is a wonderful guide for 
new residents of heaven who are a bit surprised that there are 
aliens there.  Growing up Catholic, I certainly never thought that 
there'd be anything other than humans in heaven.  I found the piece 
interesting and delightful.  "Turnover" is a piece that I think of 
as a short story, but Walton says is the first chapter of a novel; 
if that's true, then this is a novel that I'd like to read.  It 
takes place on a generational starship, and in this particular bit 
we're joining some of the starship travelers for lunch as they talk 
about whether they want to go on to the landing or not, as the 
Turnaround of the story, where the ship turns around and begins 
deceleration toward the planet upon which it intends to land, is 
quickly approaching.  The idea of residents of a generational 
starship born during the journey discussing that they didn't choose 
this life--it was chosen for them--is not a new one in science 
fiction, but the idea of being a figurative fly on the wall during 
one of these discussions is intriguing.  "What Would Sam Spade Do?" 
is a piece with a fascinating idea:  clones of Jesus are a common 
ethnic group in the United States.  The narrative relates the 
circumstances under which one clone is investigating the death of 
another clone at the hands of yet a third clone.  The idea that 
someone would find Jesus' genetic material and create clones of him 
is interesting in and of itself, and the oddness of the 
investigation is an intriguing and interesting way of using the 

Real honest to goodness stories?  How about "Unreliable Witness", 
about a woman with dementia who meets aliens--and of course, no one 
believes her?  One of my favorite pieces in the book is entitled 
"Three Shouts on a Hill (A Play).  It's a story told in play form 
based on an Irish legend.  My wife may be half Irish (on her 
father's side), but I've never heard the legend before.  This one 
had me going for a while as I didn't know where it was headed.  It 
was certainly a lot of fun. "A Burden Shared" is a wonderful piece 
the central conceit of which is the fact that a person's pain can 
be shared by other people, but the story is really about familial 
relationships and how we deal with suffering loved ones.

The remaining prose pieces are generally just as interesting and 
just as creative and diverse as those I've already talked about.  
They nicely demonstrate Walton's range as a writer and storyteller. 
There are many pieces throughout the book, either some that I've 
mentioned above or those that I haven't, that I would like to see 
fleshed out into complete stories or novels.  

The second section of the book is a collection of poetry.  In the 
interest of full disclosure, I've never been into poetry; maybe 
it's because I don't know how to read it or appreciate it for the 
many and varied forms it takes.  I will admit to having a difficult 
time in reading and appreciating the poetry that appears here.  
Favorites are "Ten Years Ahead:  Oracle Poem", a piece that tries 
to predict the future; "The Godzilla Sonnets", the title of which I  
suspect is fairly self-explanatory; and "Three Bears Norse", the 
subject of which may be obvious.

STARLINGS is a collection that demonstrates Jo Walton's ability as 
a writer.  The pieces within show off her range and versatility, 
her style and technique.  This short story collection may not 
contain a whole lot of traditional short stories, but what it does 
contain is a whole bunch of good old fashioned high quality 
writing, the kind she demonstrated in AMONG OTHERS, and the kind I 
expect we'll see from her as her career continues.  [-jak]


TOPIC: REALIVE (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)

Mark's review of REALIVE doesn't indicate whether the film 
addresses the central question of cryonic preservation and revival: 
what incentive is there for anyone in the future to go to the 
trouble of reviving someone who underwent the process?  Perhaps 
Marc Jarvis is the only person who was cryonically frozen, and thus 
would be of interest to historians wanting a firsthand account of 
life in 2015.  Or perhaps he is thought to know the location of 
some buried treasure.  But if he is one of many optimists who 
thought that their medical problems might be resolved in the 
future, I fail to see what he would have to offer the world of 
2084.  I suppose that some war or disaster might have set 
civilisation so far back that the technological knowledge of a 
random person who had been alive seventy years before might be 
considered valuable.  But would such a post-disaster world possess 
the technology to revive him?  Absent such a cataclysm, the world 
of 2084 would presumably be sufficiently well populated not to 
require the presence of Mr Jarvis.  If the folk of that year 
harbored kind feelings toward him they might decide to leave him in 
the tank so that some future era might choose to decant him.  More 
likely they would decide that the resources necessary to keep him 
on ice might be more usefully deployed elsewhere.  [-fl]

Mark responds:


The film does address the question of why.  Marc is the first and 
the real motive is scientific curiosity.  And one never knows what 
application scientific knowledge will bring.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: MEDUSA (letter of comment by Gregory Benford)

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of MEDUSA in the 10/06/17 
issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:

Good review. Agree with "It's a throwback to a different time, when 
the sense of wonder that was present in the science fiction that we 
read--maybe it was just because we read those books as young people 
with eyes wide open to the future--was what brought us into the 
field to begin with."

But I think there's a dearth of optimistic, cosmic sf because it 
takes more work to envision a positive, expansive future than to 
just see problems and dystopias.

I might also note regarding: "It's not until the final story, where 
he is called to unknowingly be the delivery system for a virus that 
will destroy the machines, that the ultimate solution--the 
unification of machine and man--is the way to get the long elusive 
peace to occur."

--that this is the ending of my Galactic Center series, too. I 
think it's inevitable, with much stress before...  [-gb]


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

978-1-785-65291-2) crosses Sherlock Holmes with H. P. Lovecraft's 
"Cthulhu" world.  It is also the first of a trilogy, though it does 
stand on its own.  One thing that I find a bit off-puttng is that 
Watson changes a lot of the original canon, with pretty much the 
same explanation that he used for not writing about the Giant Rat 
of Sumatra: the world is not yet ready for the true story.  (I hear 
Jack Nicholson in the background yelling, "You can't handle the 
truth!")  By the time you change as much of the background story as 
Watson/Lovegrove does, it is questionable whether you still have 
Sherlock Holmes.  And Lovegrove seems to go a bit overboard on the 
writing styles, both Victorian and Lovecraftian.  Still, it's 
enjoyable in a pulpish sort of way.

Finn and Kathryn Cramer (ISBN 978-0-062-20471-4) is the product of 
a challenge to science fiction writers to write more positive, big-
engineering (or big-science) sorts of stories.  Apparently someone 
blamed science fiction writers for the current sad state of "big 
science", saying that they had stopped writing inspiring stories.  
Well, it is true that ANALOG (and before that, ASTOUNDING) used to 
publish this sort of story (and maybe still do, for all I know).  
But an issue of ANALOG would have one earnest story about "big 
science" ... and then there would be a humorous "first contact" 
story, and a puzzle sort of story, and so on.  Having an entire 
(thick) volume of earnest "big science" stories just accentuates 
how they are all trying so hard to send a message to the reader, 
often at the expense of story and character.  I don't mind 
infodumps, but many of these are nothing but infodumps.


                                          Mark Leeper

          The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse 
          gets the cheese.
                                          --Jon Hammond