Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/06/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 40, Whole Number 2009

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Hugo Awards Finalists
        SpaceX 2018 Goals (pointer to article by Dale L. Skran)
        Obvious Language (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        I Survived a Month of an Incurable Disease (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        AUTONOMOUS by Annalee Newitz (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        This Week's Reading (comments on the Hugo Finalists)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Hugo Awards Finalists

The lists of finalists for the Hugo Awards and Retrospective Hugo
Awards can be found at:

A complete list of the regular (non-retro) Hugo finalists, with
links to where one can find many of them for free online, is at  Thanks to "JJ" for compiling this,
and Mike Glyer for including it in FILE 770.

[Now that there are six finalists in each category, new categories
have been added, and there are both regular and retro Hugos this
year, the list has gotten too long to include in full.]


TOPIC: SpaceX 2018 Goals (pointer to article by Dale L. Skran)

Long-time contributor Dale Skran has a new article on the NSS blog
about SpaceX's three goals for 2018.  You can read it at:


TOPIC: Obvious Language (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

It is remarkable how powerful language can be.  I got a whole piece
of mail in a language I do not speak and from the first words I
knew exactly what the whole piece of mail was saying.  It said:
"Doacao da Sra. Rebecca Thomson (US $ 6,5 milhoes)."  From that
fragment I knew exactly what the whole message was saying.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: I Survived a Month of an Incurable Disease (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

WARNING: This account graphically depicts one of the hazards of
getting older and demonstrates that one should avoid aging at all

One of the most frightening months of my life was after I was
diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.  There is no cure and it causes
progressive brain damage.

Last summer I would notice a problem when I was taking my walks
around the block.  I would be out walking and notice that my hand
would start quivering rhythmically on its own.  Actually I thought
the motion was more or less like my hand was repetitively winding a
watch that was invisible between my fingers.  Some of my younger
reader may have no idea what it means to wind a watch.  Look it up
in Google.

As I was saying, I could stop my hand from the motion, but it might
start up on its own again.  Twitching my hand would feel as natural
as leaving it sit at rest.

I was not too disturbed by the problem.  I thought it was a natural
symptom of aging.  I also noticed my balance was suffering.
Standing in the shower it felt like I was standing in a rowboat and
shifting my weight back and forth between my feet.  I made a mental
note to tell my doctor on my next check up.  The doctor gave me a
list of local neurologists.  I picked one conveniently located and
made an appointment.  All this took a while, since I did not yet
feel a sense of urgency.  That was soon to come.

I went to see the neurologist.  (His name is withheld to avoid
legal entanglements.)  He told me the moment he saw me he noted
posture changes that go with Parkinson's disease.  My feet
shuffled.  My back bent forward.  My face looked like a mask,
showing no expression.  He gave me some tests and I found my knee-
jerk reaction just did not work on my right side.  If he hit my
left knee with a little hammer, my knee would kick.  Then on my
right side the leg felt no urge to kick.  The neurologist ordered a
brain MRI and a blood test.  I made an appointment to see him again
in about four weeks to among other things go over test results.  So
this was getting real.  I really had Parkinson's disease.

That afternoon I took out of the library all their books about
Parkinson's.  The more I read the more it worried me.  Parkinson's
Disease was incurable and progressive.  In other words there is no
improvement.  It does brain damage that does not cure.  In it
advanced phase it is really debilitating.  I had no idea of how
long that would take and how much time I had left.  I lost a lot of
sleep.  And I fretted.  Boy did I fret!  The second week of the
month was the week the MT VOID reached it 2000th issue.  I tortured
myself with questions like how much longer could I continue
publishing the VOID with a progressive brain disease.  On the other
hand, if I tried to publish in brain damaged condition would anyone
notice the difference?

The afternoon of the MRI the neurologist called me and said he
needed another MRI.  With this one they needed contrast.  I got it
and there were still two or more weeks until my appointment.  More
fretting.  That's it.  They are trying to measure the degree of

We started planning a trip to South Korea and Taiwan.  If it was
still possible for me to travel, it is best to do it sooner rather
than later.  When the Parkinson's advances I will no longer be able
to travel as much.  So I wanted to go while I still could.

Finally came the day for my second neurologist visit.  While I was
planning what to ask first about my situation I realized he was
telling me how he knew I did NOT have Parkinson's.  He was going
through the same set of symptoms he had told me about last time,
but this time he was telling me each symptom had gone away and so I
could not possibly have Parkinson's.  The posture related symptoms
were either over or in decline.  Why then did I have the symptoms
of Parkinson's?

There is a viral attack that had many of the same symptoms as
Parkinson's.  It was Epstein-Barr virus.  Like the common cold,
which is also a virus, runs its course and goes away.  The blood
test had found lots of Epstein-Barr antibodies in my blood.  My
body was detecting Epstein-Barr viruses in my blood and was
creating antibodies to kill it.  Sounds good to me.

I naturally smiled at the news and he pointed out that smile is
more evidence that I did not have Parkinson's.

The neurologist wanted to see me again in six months, but that I
should just wait for the symptoms to go away.  One of the worst
worrisome months of my life was over.  I could just wait and the
problems would go away.  Apparently Epstein-Barr mimics Parkinson's
disease, but your body knows how to fight it.  The neurologist gave
me vanilla physician advice like get lots of aerobic exercise.  And
the other symptom were the natural effects of aging.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: AUTONOMOUS by Annalee Newitz (copyright 2017, Tor Books,
298pp, ASIN B01N4P14CI, ISBN 0765392070) (book review by Joe

I don't necessarily read many debut novels during any given year,
at least not until the Hugo Finalists are announced (as they be
later today as I write this) and one or two are on that list.  Ann
Leckie's ANCILLARY JUSTICE comes to mind as the most recent
example.  I typically want to try to get through a few books on my
to-read list, or new novels that are coming out from authors that I
like.  But every once in a while a novel is published that gets so
much buzz that I can't ignore hearing about it, and if the story
sounds like something I might be interested in, I'll give it a try.
AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz, fits that description.

Jack is a pirate, but not the kind that has a hook for a hand,
sails on a ship that flies the skull and crossbones, or is Johnny
Depp.  Rather she is a humanitarian pirate, one who is attempting,
in her own way, to take down big pharma.  She sells recreational
and other fun drugs to raise money for her real cause: reverse
engineering drugs that will help humanity. But as we all know, the
road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Jack reverse engineers
a drug called Zacuity.  Zacuity is a productivity drug, intended to
help the people who take it, under controlled circumstances, become
more focused and well, get more work done.  The key phrase is
"under controlled circumstances".  Jack unleashes the reverse
engineered drug on to the populace, and those who take it become
addicted to it, to the point of focusing on tasks so intensely that
many die because they don't eat, sleep, or do anything else that a
person needs to do to survive.

Meanwhile, the IPC has traced the drug back to Jack.  Newly
awakened bot Paladin is teamed up with an IPC agent named Eliasz,
and the pair go in search of Jack in order to bring her to justice.
Jack, on her part, is desperately trying to find a drug that will
cure the addiction and stop people from dying.  She discovers that
Zacuity, in fact, *is* addicting, and that the corporation that is
marketing it did not perform sufficient testing to determine any
nasty side effects.  In effect, Jack perfectly reversed engineered
the drug, and now she has to not only fix the problem she caused
but try to take down the manufacturer in the process.

The novel, then, on the surface looks to be a standard, run-of-the-
mill crime story, with the possible twist that the well-intentioned
pirate may actually win the day and take down the big, bad, nasty
pharmaceutical corporation in the process. Of course, things aren't
that simple.  And in fact, that particular story line is just a
small part of what Newitz is doing here.

Bots, and some humans are born into indentured servitude, and must
earn their way out.  Humans also can voluntarily enter into this
indentured life style because they don't have much choice.  Paladin
is an indentured bot, for example.  Newitz explores the
implications of this system and what it means to society.  Newitz
is also exploring the nature of sexuality and gender fluidity and
the ability to make choices.  Bots, for example, are generally
considered male, and Paladin is presented with a choice she's never
had before, a choice bots don't generally get to make.

Relationships and characters are explored in detail as well.
Eliasz and Paladin develop a romantic relationship; we learn about
Jack's past relationships and how her character developed to get to
where it is at the time of the novel and *why* it developed the way
it did.  The bottom line here is that this is a very complex,
layered novel that may be an adventure crime story on the surface
but is really much much more than that by the time it is over.

Newitz also doesn't present any easy answers, doesn't tie anything
up in a nice little bow for the characters or the reader. Life is
dirty and messy, and the reality is that things rarely turn out
such that people live happily ever after, and the big bad
corporations rarely get their comeuppance.

AUTONOMOUS is a complex, involved, and many layered novel with
engaging characters and terrifically written.  Since I began this
review earlier today, the 2018 Hugo finalists were announced, and
AUTONOMOUS did not make the cut for Best Novel.  It is a strong
novel and deserved to be on that list.  It certainly deserves your
consideration the next time you're looking for something to read.


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

My first observation is that the ballot is getting too long.  With
nineteen categories (counting the non-Hugo John W. Campbell Award
and the Young Adult Award) and six finalists per category, this
means the voter has to evaluate 114 finalists.  Even if one
eliminates the art, dramatic, and editing categories, there are
still 78 finalists--and six of them are for *series*.  Out of
curiosity, when the series category was being discussed, did anyone
raise the issue of how/whether a single voter could be reasonably
expected to be familiar with six different series?  One might
theoretically read six *novels*, but it is totally unreasonable to
expect voters to read six *series* in the three to four months
between announcing the finalists and the voting deadline,
especially if they hope to vote in other categories.

And one of the main characteristics of the voting system used is
that it operates best when voters are familiar with, and rank, all
the choices.  It is hard to have truly representative results if
most voters are familiar with only two or three of the finalists--
and for each, it's a different two or three.

Okay, there's too much on the ballot.  What about the actual
finalists?  Well, all the "Puppy" nonsense seems to have
disappeared.  The prevailing theory seemed to be that it was too
expensive for the supporters to maintain, especially as one can no
longer get three years' worth of nominations for a single
supporting membership.

The fiction categories are overwhelmingly dominated by women.  (The
novella and short story categories are entirely women.)  In the
bicentennial year of Mary Shelley's writing of FRANKENSTEIN, that
seems somehow fitting.  Does this reflect a change in the
demographic of the authors, i.e., are male authors perhaps being
marketed more as mainstream, and hence not being considered by
genre-focused nominators?

Continuing a trend, the novella category had five of the six
novellas published as individual books, rather than as stories in
magazines, and all five of those were published by Tor.  The
novelettes and short stories are almost all from on-line magazines
rather than print magazines (eleven of the twelve).

I cannot say that I am familiar with all the fiction finalist
authors, but I do want to read at least the short fiction works.
One advantage of all this electronic publication is that the short
fiction is much more available to readers than the print magazines
ever were.

The Retro Hugo ballot is a bit more manageable.  There are only
nine categories (after all, there were no podcasts back in 1942, or
fan artists, or editors--long form (hardly any qualifying novels
published in book form).  The few dramatic presentations that would
have been long form are within the margin for relocation to short

However, the novel category is a problem.  ISLANDIA (by Austin
Tappan Wright) is hard to find (my library system has no copies),
the cheapest copies available are $15-$20, and it is a thousand
pages long.  On the other hand, missing entirely is THE SCREWTAPE
LETTERS by C. S. Lewis.  Much as I love Olaf Stapledon's work, THE
SCREWTAPE LETTERS should be on the ballot instead of DARKNESS AND
THE LIGHT.  But I intend to read all the nominees (except
ISLANDIA), and more comments will follow.

Of the short fiction, it is all relatively easily available from
collections and anthologies.  The one story not really anthologized
("There Shall Be Darkness" by C. L. Moore) is available from  (Note: The two stories from Asimov's "Foundation"
trilogy have been renamed; "Foundation" is now called "The
Encyclopedists", and "Bridle and Saddle" is now "The Mayors".)

For dramatic presentations, there are six, varying in length from
68 minutes to 100 minutes, straddling that 90-minute boundary most
inconveniently.  The "Golden Age" of speculative fiction on radio
seems over, so there are no truly "short" dramatic presentations.
Again, through the magic of home video, all the finalists are
fairly readily available.  (But you can save yourself the time--CAT
PEOPLE is clearly the best in the category.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           It is with children that we have the best chance of
           studying the development of logical knowledge,
           mathematical knowledge, physical knowledge, and so
                                           --Jean Piaget