Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/05/19 -- Vol. 38, No. 1, Whole Number 2074

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        PBS Summer of Space and "Universe of Stories" Library Summer
                Reading Program (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Canine Perception (Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Some Thoughts on TOY STORY 4 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        FRAU IM MOND (letter of comment by Gary McGath)
        This Week's Reading (SETTING THE EAST ABLAZE, BABEL, LINGO,
                and "Heroides") (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: PBS Summer of Space and "Universe of Stories" Library Summer
Reading Program (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Art Stadlin put a copy of the PBS guide to the July programming for
their "Summer of Space" in Dropbox at

I'll note that this year's summer reading program at libraries is
"Universe of Stories", and our local library's display as you walk
in is filled with Alastair Reynolds, David Weber, and all sorts of
other authors that one doesn't usually see in a featured library
display.  As part of their kick-off, they had someone demonstrating
to younger kids a scale model of the solar system, and I will agree
that it's a lot easier if one doesn't have to include Pluto.


TOPIC: Canine Perception (Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Some articles about the intelligence of dogs got me thinking.

I want to ask the reader to consider how a dog sees the world.  Now
when you are a dog--and that is a situation I suspect the reader
will never have to face.  Or perhaps you have already mastered.
Then as a dog your language skills are probably not as well-
developed as they would be if you were a human.  But I am sure that
when a human talks to you as a dog, the dog is thinking, "Now what
the HECK does this all mean?  I am supposed to understand it or he
wouldn't be saying it to me.  Now what does it mean?"  And with a
dog putting himself under that sort of pressure you can bet that if
the intelligence is there, the dog will pick up many human language

I suspect that barking is really a dog's attempts at the verbal
language he hears humans using, or as close to it as the dog can
make with his throat.  I should have mentioned that this idea of
dogs trying to imitate humans is not so fanciful as it might sound.
There is a canine behavior that animal behaviorists have said is an
imitation of humans.  When dogs are around humans sometimes they
will pull back the corners of their mouths.  I believe that they do
it for the sake of humans and not for dogs.  Dogs do sometimes
smile as a greeting to humans.

I would like to think that dogs are happy with the pact they have
made living with humans.  I doubt it because so much of their lives
have become boredom.  That has to be part of the reason a dog
sleeps so much of the time.  The figure I heard is that an American
dog sleeps on the average 75% of its life.  That means there is
much less continuity in how long the day is.  A dog wakes up
several times a day and probably has a hard time of getting the
concept of whether it is morning or afternoon.  That would depend
on how long he has slept.

About the nastiest punishment you can give a human is to put him in
solitary confinement so he has nobody to talk to.  Dogs do
communicate with humans, mostly collecting information, but it
cannot be as interesting as a human conversation.  There dogs in
the wild have the edge.  Writers like Farley Mowat think that wild
dogs have much more complex conversation than we imagine when they
are talking with other dogs.  And dogs talk on very large networks.
In NEVER CRY WOLF, Mowat is out in the northern wilderness and an
Inuit tells him that a stranger was coming and would arrive the
following day.  The prediction proves to be true and when Mowat
asks how the old Inuit knew, he founds out he heard it in the
howling of the wolves.  Mowat does a sort of double take on the
implications of that idea, but wolves network complex information
with wolves at what must be great distances.  (I may have wrong
some of the details of the anecdote, but the conclusion is the one
Mowat drew.)

More on this next week.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Some Thoughts on TOY STORY 4 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

We recently saw TOY STORY 4, and while I am not going to write a
full review, I do have a few thoughts on the film.


If you have not seen the movie, I will be discussing important plot
points, including the ending.

One aspect that everyone seems to have commented on is the switch
to strong female characters.  Not the humans--Bonnie may learn to
cope with kindergarten, but is hardly a strong character.  No, it's
the female toys.  In the previous films, Woody is the main
character, and the leader of the toys.  In TOY STORY 4, he may
still be the main character, but as often as not, Bo Peep is the
leader: coming up with plans, convincing other toys (including
Woody) to do things that are necessary but that they may not be
comfortable doing, etc.  Gabby Gabby is also strong, and apparently
the leader of her own gang of toys.  Even Jessie gets a role of
power when Bonnie puts the sheriff's badge on her.

The female toys are also better philosophers than the male toys.
Gabby Gabby presents Woody with a watered-down version of the
"trolley car problem".  This being a PG movie, the question is not
who should die, but who should get the working voice box: Woody
(who has already twice experienced all the happiness of having a
child) or Gabby (who has not had even one).  This is similar to who
should get an organ transplant: someone old or someone young?  The
movie has a very utilitarian answer, although the lack of a voice
box doesn't seem to have handicapped most of the toys.  (Maybe a
defective voice box is worse than no voice box at all--but then
just removing Gabby Gabby's would solve her problem.)

The real philosophical message is the ending.  Throughout the four
movies, Woody has defined his purpose in life as serving his child.
Everything he does is driven by that motive.  It's as if there was
a "Brave New World" system where he was genetically created for
this task, or worse, the world of the movie is saying that the toys
are happy being slaves and serving their masters.  But also
throughout the four movies, we have seen Woody (and all the toys)
as individuals with minds and emotions, as beings in their own
right.  Immanuel Kant wrote, "Act that you use humanity, whether in
your person or in another, always at the same time as an end, never
merely as a means"  (And who would have thought an article on the
"Toy Story" movies would be quoting Immanuel Kant?)  The toys may
not be human, but if they are presented as intelligent, feeling
beings, then it would seem that one should apply this Kantian

The conclusion of all this is that Woody *has* to go off with Bo
Peep to seek his own destiny.  For the filmmakers to have had him
choose to stay with Bonnie as her servant/slave would be on a level
with a film about slavery having the slaves decide to stay with
their former master after Emancipation because they felt that was
their duty in life, that that was all they were capable of doing or
being.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: FRAU IM MOND (letter of comment by Gary McGath)

In response to Mark's comments on FRAU IM MOND in the 06/28/19
issue of the MT VOID, Gary McGath writes:

The accuracy in FRAU IM MOND is really impressive until the
landing.  A couple of nitpicks:

The controls were very badly placed, given that they had to be
operated under high G-force.  This allowed a dramatic effort to
reach the controls, of course.  They should have been within
convenient reach of an acceleration couch.  (But points for having
acceleration couches!)

The creators didn't get that the astronauts would experience zero-G
as soon as thrust was cut off, regardless of where they were in

After the landing, the movie turns into pure fantasy.  It's an
extremely long movie.  Here I'm speaking as an accompanist.  I
never accompanied FRAU IM MOND for an audience; I preferred shorter
movies that wouldn't wear me out as much.  [-gmg]


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

Just some quick thoughts on a variety of books this week:

SETTING THE EAST ABLAZE by Peter Hopkirk (ISBN 978-0-719-56450-5)
is a fairly concise history of the Bolsheviks early attempts to
spread Marxism into Central Asia and India.  I can't say I could
always keep track of everyone and everyplace (my knowledge of the
geography of central Asia is not all it should be), but fascinating
nonetheless.  (This is an example of the sort of random book found
on the sale shelf at Second Time Books in Mount Laurel; for $2 it
seemed worth a try, and indeed it was.  This sort of serendipity
never happens when looking for a book online, which is why brick-
and-mortar book stores and book sales are so important.)

For people interested in "popular linguistics writing" (sort of a
parallel to "popular science writing", I can recommend Gaston
0-802-12571-2).  The former is twenty chapters on the twenty most
widely spoken languages, and their individual "foibles" (as
Amazon's summary calls them).  The latter is a look at sixty
European languages, and their histories and foibles.  I found them
a whole lot of fun, and they pass muster by John McWhorter, who has
recommended them on his "Lexicon Valley: podcast, so they are
definitely worth your time if you have any interest oin this

The "Classical Stuff You Should Know" podcast recently covered
Ovid's "Heroides" (ISBN 978-0-140-42355-6), a collection of fifteen
letters presented as having been written by classical Greek and
Roman heroines to their husbands and lovers.  For example, the
first, from Penelope to Odysseus, begins, "This your Penelope sends
to you, too-slow Ulysses; A letter in return does me no good; come
yourself!"  Some of the stories represented are familiar (e.g.,
Medea and Jason, Briseis and Achilles, or Dido and Aeneas); others
will probably be new to most readers (e.g., Oeneone and Paris).  My
suggestion is to either read the unfamiliar back stories before the
corresponding letters, or just read the ones that you know the
stories for.  In any case, this seems like some sort of proto-
feminist literature, or at least an attempt to show these stories
from the female point of view--yes, Odysseus was a great hero, but
no one seems to talk about how crappy he was to Penelope.  Everyone
knows about Jason and the Argonauts (thanks to Ray Harryhausen),
but few know how he dumped Medea for a trophy wife.  And so on.


                                           Mark Leeper

           That indefatigable and unsavory engine of pollution,
           the dog.
                                           --John Sparrow