Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

02/21/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 34, Whole Number 2107

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The Bishop of the Moon (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic

Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Is Space Settlement/Colonization a Terrible Idea? (comments by Dale Skran)

AGENCY by William Gibson (book review by Joe Karpierz)

Temperature Puzzle Answer (sent by Tom Russell; letters of

comment by John Sloan and Keith F. Lynch)

Rude Words and Euphemisms (letter of comment by Sam Long)

This Week's Reading (authors and series, and THE HANDMAID'S

TALE) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: The Bishop of the Moon (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Bishop William D. Borders, who was bishop of the Orlando diocese

from 1968 to 1974, claimed that "according to the 1917 Code of

Canon Law (in effect at that time) any newly discovered territory

was placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese from which the

expedition which discovered that territory left.  Since Cape

Canaveral, launching site for the Apollo moon missions was in

Brevard County and part of the Diocese of Orlando, then in addition

to being bishop of 13 counties he was also bishop of the moon!"<*">"><**-


At over 14,000,000 square miles, that would make the Orlando

diocese the largest Catholic diocese ... I was going to say "in the

world", but I guess that wouldn't really be accurate.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic

Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 2) (comments by Mark

R. Leeper)

This will conclude the comments on 1944 films eligible for the

Retro Hugos this year.

Short Form (Part 2):

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN: Universal made some of the great monster

movies starting with DRACULA (1930), but by 1943 the formula was

getting tired.  It occurred to Universal that a story with two

monsters might attract audiences better than one with one, so they

made FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN.  Two monsters did indeed help

to revive the market.  HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN did just that.  They

herded a bunch of monsters in one script.  It had Frankenstein,

Dracula, and the Wolf Man, and they introduced a new "monster", a

pitiable hunchback.  And they got Boris Karloff to appear again in

a canonical monster film for the first time since SON OF

FRANKENSTEIN.  Dracula almost has his own second (albeit weak)

story.  Audience members who came expecting to see monsters fight

each other will be disappointed.  No two monsters are ever in the

same scene when both are conscious.

THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE: This was late in Universal's

"Invisible Man" series. Jon Hall plays a revenge-minded adventurer

who was swindled by his partners and left for dead in the jungle.

He stumbles on a scientist re-discovering the invisibility formula.

This film was made eleven years after Universal made its first

"Invisible Man" film and it used just the same photographic

effects.  There is very little progress in the visual effects or

the story-telling.  [Could be Long Form.]

JUNGLE WOMAN: This is unique among Universal's horror series in

that it is the only series composed entirely of bombs: CAPTIVE WILD

WOMAN, JUNGLE CAPTIVE, and JUNGLE WOMAN.  In this one, a gorilla

has been vivisected to become a very near copy of a human woman.

THE LADY AND THE MONSTER: This was the first of three film

adaptations of Curt Siodmak's novel DONOVAN'S BRAIN (THE LADY AND

THE MONSTER (1944), DONOVAN'S BRAIN (1953), and THE BRAIN (1962).

A powerful but criminal industrialist has his brain kept alive

after the rest of him dies.  The brain can dominate the scientist

who is keeping him alive.

THE LODGER: This is director Edgar G. Ulmer's version of Jack the

Ripper.  Ulmer specialized in dramas very dark in tone.  This is

his remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent version.  All of

London is terrified by the Jack the Ripper murders.  Laird Cregar

plays the man suspected of being the Ripper Murderer who no doubt

has deep psychological problems, Ripper or not.  [Could be Long


RETURN OF THE APE MAN: There was a previous Poverty Row film

entitled THE APE MAN.  It had nothing to do with RETURN OF THE APE

MAN.  In RETURN OF THE APE MAN a prehistoric man is thawed out of

ice and freed into our world.

THE SOUL OF A MONSTER: In this film a great doctor becomes a

national hero for his great feats of healing, but he can only do so

with the help of dark forces.  This film borrows heavily from Val

Lewton's bag of suspense tricks and odd camera angles.  It also

gives some feel of Universal's horror films.

VOODOO MAN: Mad scientist played by Bela Lugosi rearranges road

landmarks to trap passing motorists to make them test subjects.

Lugosi uses pseudo-science and voodoo to resurrect his wife.  This

is wackier than most Lugosi outings, with a lot of different ideas

thrown together to make this story.  There is even a bit of stop-

motion animation thrown into the pot and stirred.

WEIRD WOMAN: None of Universal's "Inner Sanctum" mysteries, of

which this is one, rises above low mediocre.  This is the best

"Inner Sanctum" mystery of the lot.  That is at least in part

because it is based on Fritz Leiber's horror novel CONJURE WIFE.  I

recommend instead the 1962 remake, NIGHT OF THE EAGLE, a.k.a. BURN


In my introduction to this series of articles I promised the reader

to reveal which two films I considered to be genuine classics.

When I was first becoming a horror film fan I was not quite sure

what to make of CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE.  There are certainly and

its well-rounded commentary on children and imagination.  I still

am not quite sure what Val Lewton was saying, but it has enough to

keep me guessing.  Lewton deserves veneration after all the years.

And the film most easily appreciated is THE UNINVITED.  Those two

were the best fantasy films of 1944 in my opinion.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Is Space Settlement/Colonization a Terrible Idea? (comments

by Dale Skran)

Usually the best practice among space advocates is to ignore anti-

space settlement arguments, which are almost always not new, and

focus on positive advocacy for space settlement.  But every once in

a while, a new anti-space settlement idea comes along with the

potential to convince a lot of people that developing and settling

space is a really bad idea.

The newest anti-settlement argument comes from philosophers,

notably Phil Torres (**-

humans-stay-on-earth/) and Daniel Deudney (DARK SKIES).  There

are three components to the argument:

1.  As humanity spreads out into space, especially to interstellar

distances, large divergences will occur, with the result that it

will be impossible to fully trust that somewhere there isn't

someone coming to destroy your civilization.

2.  Again, especially on interstellar distances, there is no

possible means by which any kind of "police force" could maintain

order due to communication lag.

3.  Finally, on interstellar distances deterrence is not possible,

since you can never be sure where an attack is coming from.

The net result of these three situations will be endless

existential warfare with super-weapons on an interstellar scale,

creating a significant risk of extinction for many branches of

humanity.  Torres concludes that perhaps it would be better to

avoid space settlement to minimize these risks.


The first point is a neat judo against one of O'Neill's stronger

arguments for space settlement, namely that it would allow for

"infinite diversity in infinite dimensions."  Each political,

ethnic, religious, or ideological group would be free to live as

they please and to mold their future to their liking, including via

genetic engineering.  The argument being made is that as the

process of differentiation occurs, it will become virtually certain

that somewhere a divergent group goes "insane/paranoid" and embarks

on a galactic scale preventive attack to avoid being attacked


For this scenario to be a real concern, it has to be possible for a

lone divergent group to mount a threatening attack on a galactic

scale.  There are two main ways this could be implemented:

- An "island hopping" approach in which large a fleet spreads

across the galaxy, destroying divergent lifeforms and replacing

them with the "paranoid/insane" group.

- A "berserker" approach in which automated ships/robots are

dispatched to rid the galaxy of any potential threats.  The exact

attack technology the berserkers use is not key; it could be any

form of attack.

The main difficulty with both of these approaches is that as the

exterminating attack spreads out, divergence will inevitably occur

over long periods of time, and due to speed of light limitations,

the periods of time will indeed be long.  Thus, the "berserkers" or

the "attack fleets" will factionate, and in time go to war with

each other.  The net result will be that the paranoid, xenophobic

war of universal extermination will probably not be all that

successful at exterminating all divergent views, although vast

destruction would surely occur.

Suppose the "xenophobes" focus on more simple weapons--relativistic

impact weapons.  The notion here is that an attack at high

fractions of "c" will be more or less unstoppable, and also will

arrive with minimal warning.  This kind of thinking seems to

suppose divergent branches of humanity living on planets, but a

more likely scenario is that many solar systems will be transformed

into a vast sphere of variants on O'Neil colonies.  With millions

of relatively small targets distributed over an enormous volume of

space, even large numbers of relativistic kinetic weapons may have

little impact on the target civilization.  When we add the

consideration that divergent branches may develop hard backups for

their minds, and distribute them in space, the impact of even a

large-scale relativistic attack may be hard to notice.

For an interstellar war of extermination to be more effective, the

"xenophobes" would need to develop "sun bombs" that can make stars

go Nova (**?

PaperID4277).  But even here we can imagine swarms of space

colonies simply moving outward from the sun to safe distance, and

then gathering closer around the resulting white dwarf.  The

fundamental point is that although a single free-space colony is

relatively vulnerable, a solar system with millions of free-space

colonies is quite robust due to their distribution and ability to

move.  And they become more robust with "hard backups" of soft

lifeforms.  Finally, if each divergent branch fully occupies all

niches in each solar system, including the local equivalent of the

Ort Cloud and the Kepler Belt, it becomes more and more difficult

to understand exactly how an exterminating attack could be


One can go on and consider bigger and better interstellar weapons

(directed quasar blasts? targeted super-novas?) but with less and

less plausibility.  Torres and Deudney are really into E. E. "Doc"

Smith territory here, something I find ironic.  At some point it

becomes obvious that Torres and Deudney are using an extreme

variation of the precautionary principle--if there is even a one-

in-a-billion chance of the construction of cosmic super-weapons, we

should stay at home and avoid settling space.  At the same time,

Torres and Deudney are implicitly being very optimistic about

humanities ability to survive a wide range of existential dangers

without space settlement.  There is no rational basis to be super-

pessimistic in one direction and super-optimistic in another.

There is a monumental hole in Torres' argument, however.  Torres is

basing his thinking on the idea that humanity is alone in the

universe, or at least the galaxy.  Thus, the only danger to

humanity comes from within--the possibility that a xenophobe branch

of humanity will embark on galactic war of extermination.  Although

arguments can be made that intelligent life is rare, the ground

truth is that we just don't know.  In the absence of informative

priors, Baysian logic would assign a 50/50 value to this

proposition.  Viewed this way, there is a 50% chance that the only

real long-term danger to humanity is humanity.  However, there is a

50% chance that humanity is not alone, and some real chance that a

xenophobe alien race has ALREADY embarked on a galactic war of

extermination.  If this is the case, the only hope humanity has is

the most rapid possible development of space settlement on the

largest possible scale.


Now let's consider whether an interstellar "leviathan" or "police

force" is in fact impossible.  It is certainly hard to imagine how

a young race could establish any kind of "law enforcement" on an

interstellar scale.  Torres suggests that speed of light limits

will prevent any kind of organized response to a xenophobic

faction.  This might be true if one imagines a "space patrol" [more

Doc Smith here!] racing to contain the "bad guys."  Clearly, any

real leviathan will not operate like characters in a Saturday

morning TV show.

I would like to suggest a physically realistic approaches to

building a leviathan on a galactic scale, but first let's see how

the leviathan relates to interstellar deterrence.  Torres believes

that deterrence will not work on an interstellar basis since you

will never know where an attack is coming from, and thus will be

unable to retaliate.

As it turns out, my proposal for an interstellar leviathan solves

both issues.  We would require that each interstellar settlement

expedition would agree, in advance, to do certain things:

- Participate in a galactic Internet.

- Allow the originating solar system to station a "leviathan" in

the outer reaches of the colony solar system.  This "leviathan"

would be a von Neuman complex capable of carrying out mutual

assured destruction on the colony.

- The colony would have the same right to station their own

"leviathan" in the outer reaches of the originating solar system.

- Each colony would have the right to emplace a leviathan on the

outskirts of every other colony, including the originating solar


With such a "leviathan" network in place, mutually assured

destruction would be a meaningful policy since the local "leviathan

stations" can respond to attacks without direction from the

homeworld.  This system has the additional advantage of creating a

defensive shield on the outskirts of every solar system with a

colony that would work together to repel a xenophobe attack.  Such

defensive actions might not always succeed, but at a minimum, they

would give warning via the galactic internet.  I submit that the

existence of such a system would greatly reduce the probability of

a xenophobe faction arising in the first place.  Should we

encounter alien races, the potential exists of including them in

the leviathan system.  There may be other, better solutions to the

challenges raised by Torres but this approach seems workable.

This system would work very well in the context of space settlers

spreading out from Earth since technology levels among all parties

would be relatively similar.  It would work less well if we

encounter alien races much in advance of our own.  If we encounter

a very old xenophobe race, we are probably doomed.  These would be

sad events, but are not arguments against settling space.


Torres' last two arguments have less salience when applied to the

solar system.  Distances are much less, there are only so many

places an attack can come from, it is more possible to retaliate

against an attack, and so on.

There is at least a possibility that a xenophobe faction might

arise on a solar system scale, but they would have more difficulty

carrying out massive exterminating attacks.  By definition such a

faction would be tiny compared to the combined resources of the

settled solar system, limiting the scope of potential attacks.  And

even a sun-destroying attack would have limited impact on a fully

settled solar system.

Settling the solar system would protect humanity from a wide range

of existential threats, which suggests we first settle the solar

system, and then have a discussion about Torres again as we debate

where to found the first interstellar colony.

In particular, space settlement would protect the human species

against the destruction of Earth by a xenophobic faction that

arises on Earth, perhaps via genetic engineering as envisioned in

HACKING DARWIN by Jamie Metzl.

Concluding Note: I encourage comments/discussion from the readers

of the MT VOID, and especially hope that Greg Benford has some

thoughts.  [-dls]


TOPIC: AGENCY by William Gibson (copyright 2020, Berkley, 413pp,

ASIN: B072NXSB14, ISBN-10: 110198693X, ISBN-13: 978-1101986936)

(book review by Joe Karpierz)

AGENCY, the latest novel by William Gibson, is being billed, at

least by Amazon, as "Book 2 of 2 in the Peripheral Series".  I

might call this "Book 2 of X in the Peripheral Universe", because

how can you call anything a series in which the stories don't

necessarily follow one from the other, whether as a prequel or a

sequel?  Also, given the concept of a stub--a past timeline doesn't

exist until it's created--an essentially unlimited number of

stories can be written because Gibson can come up with as many

stubs as he wants to as long as he wants to keep writing in the

universe he created in The Peripheral, which means it's a "universe

(multi-verse?)" and not a "series".

I'm not quite sure whether I'm correct, but near as I can remember

AGENCY was delayed for quite a while, and I believe Gibson alludes

to this in the Acknowledgements section of the book.  While the

reasons are never stated, it wouldn't surprise me that the delay

was due to his reworking of the stub that is the one of the

timelines of this book. AGENCY deals with a stub from the year

2017, a stub in which Donald Trump was not elected president, but

that a woman was (not named Hillary Clinton, by the way).  The stub

is on the brink of a nuclear war, and our protagonists (at least

one of which was part of THE PERIPHERAL) are keeping an eye on it.

In 2017, Verity Jane, an "app whisperer", is hired to beta test a

new product which turns out to be an AI that can only be accessed

through a pair of glasses.  The AI is named Eunice--although its

real name is an acronym that just *sounds* like Eunice--and she is

smarter and more powerful than Verity's employers know.  Meanwhile,

in Verity's future--well, not her future exactly, but later up the

timeline from her, Wilf Netherton and his boss Lowbeer (especially

Lowbeer, and really only Lowbeer--it's complicated) are nudging

Verity's stub in a direction away from the nuclear devastation that

is her stub's own Jackpot--the apocalyptic event that devastated

Lowbeer's and Netherton's timeline.  It is clear that Eunice has

something to do with the whole thing, but she has disappeared.  So

just what is going on?

So, what does the title of the book have to do with anything?  A

little Googling found this:  "In social science, agency is defined

as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make

their own free choices."

Ah hah.  So, agency here *might* refer to Eunice's ability to make

her own decisions and her own choices.  It also *might* refer to

the 2017 stub being able to work its way out of the mess its in,

with--or without--Eunice's help.  It also *might* refer to the 2017

stub being nudged about by Lowbeer, and thus *not* having agency.

It's really quite complicated.

As I mentioned in my review of The Peripheral, I've not read a lot

of Gibson, and in fact I have yet to read NEUROMANCER.  What I can

tell you is that Gibson is consistent in his writings about wealth

and power not necessarily being a good thing.  As with THE

PERIPHERAL, and his other novels that I have read, he is not afraid

to delve into politics and the messages he can send about politics

and power.  AGENCY is no exception.

Make no mistake, AGENCY is a pretty good book.  I just don't think

it's as good as THE PERIPHERAL.  That novel introduced a bunch of

new concepts that made the story fascinating and fresh.  AGENCY

introduces a powerful AI--as depicted on the cover of the book--but

I don't think uses her to her full capacity.  She disappears for a

large part of the novel.  Maybe that's because Gibson is trying to

give agency to the rest of his characters to do their thing in the

book without an all-powerful AI exerting its influence.  That's

okay, but the reader gets the impression that the story is about

the AI gaining and using its agency.  And maybe it is, but instead

of being a central character in the novel she turns into just

another piece of the puzzle.

And maybe AGENCY is the dreaded middle book of a trilogy.  But,

going back to an earlier point, is it a series, or is it a

universe.  If it's a series, it's difficult to see a beginning and

end to an overall arc.  If it's a universe, I'm not sure it should

go on indefinitely.  That's not Gibson's style.  Nor should it be.

Still, AGENCY is worth your time.  It's still Gibson, and who knows

how many more books we'll get from him?

Now I really need to go and find NEUROMANCER and get on that.



TOPIC: Temperature Puzzle Answer (sent by Tom Russell; letters of

comment by John Sloan and Keith F. Lynch)

Last week, Tom Russell wrote:

There is a certain weather-reporting system which includes

temperature-sensing devices and temperature-displaying devices.

The display devices show the temperature as an integer number of

degrees Fahrenheit.  The sensors are much more precise; the display

devices round off the input from the sensors.

When I checked the temperature yesterday for a place we had visited

this past September, I thought, "Aha, interesting: the actual

temperature must be just slightly below what is displayed."  What

was displayed?  [-tr]

The answer is "-0".  [-tr]

In response to Tom's puzzle, John Sloan wrotes:

Temperature puzzle: -0 was displayed.

I saw something similar with the GPS app on my iPhone while

standing on the GPS Meridian (which is about a hundred yards from

the Prime Meridian near London). By walking just a few steps east

or west I could change the displayed longitude back and forth

between zero degrees "East" and zero degrees "West", the fractional

seconds having been truncated.  [-js]

[Keith F. Lynch also sent in the correct answer.  -ecl]


TOPIC: Rude Words and Euphemisms (letter of comment by Sam Long)

In response to comments on "arse" by Paul Dormer and Dorothy

J. Heydt in the 02/07/20 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:

Actually, "arse" is from the Old English (and ultimately Indo-

European) word for "buttocks", and is related to the old Greek

"orrhos" or "orros", which meant the same thing (cf. "ouros", Gk.

for "tail").  The use of "ass" (which is from some non-Indo-

European language via Latin) for "arse" is partly a euphemism, and

partly due to the fact that, particularly in British English, the

/r/-sound tends to disappear (cf. "horse" and "hoss", for example,

or "parcel" and "passel").  But the word "ass" for the animal has

been so affected by the "backside" meaning that it has been pretty

much replaced by "donkey" or "burro". In the same way, "cock" has

been replaced by "rooster", and "coney" has been replaced by

"rabbit".  On the other hand, in certain varieties of Pidgin

English, the word for a building's foundation is "as bilong haus"

(arse belong house).  So euphemism sometimes works both ways.



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

On the Coode Street Podcast recently, Gary K. Wolfe said, "I'm

actually old enough to have been excited about new Ray Bradbury

books coming out before the new Ray Bradbury books that were coming

out weren't the ones that you got excited about, which happened

after a while."  Later Wolfe talked about reading five Jim Butcher

"Dresden" novels and then deciding that while he enjoyed them, he

did not need to continue (he could see where they were going, he

got the point, whatever).  This, and similar comments about other

long series (yes, I mean you, Robert Jordan), led me to the

realization that much as I like Terry Pratchett, I do not have to

read all the Discworld novels.  (Pratchett was another example

Wolfe gave, though more about his non-Discworld books.)

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood (Anchor, ISBN 978-0-385-

49081-8) was chosen for both my local science fiction discussion

group and the film-and-book group in a nearby town.  I had read the

book when it came out in 1985 and seen the movie when it came out

in 1990, but had not read or watched them since, nor seen the

television series at all.

There were a couple of details about the movie worth noting.  One,

the budget was so low that the costume department had only about

$60 per costume, which is not much at all.  So the majority of the

women's costumes were simple shifts in the named colors, and the

handmaids had plain veils rather than elaborate headdresses with

wings.  The other is that the movie was very careful to avoid

offending Christians.  The society was based explicitly on "the Old

Testament" (I guess they didn't care about offending Jews), the

symbology contained no crosses, and one of the guerilla groups

opposed to them was a Baptist group.  (The last is also true in the

book.)  Apparently the series is less worried, and hence more

explicit, about Gilead being a *Christian* society.  At one point,

the narrator cites a modification of Marx's famous slogan, "From

each according to her ability; to each according to his needs," and

attributes it to St. Paul, in the Book of Acts, a New Testament

book.  (Note the subtle modification: the women have to contribute,

but the men are those who reap the benefits.)

The book is also much more explicit about why Serena Joy may be

more resentful of her situation than others.  She used to be a

television preacher of sorts: "Her speeches were of the home, about

how women should stay home.  Serena Joy didn't do this herself, she

made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a

sacrifice she was making for the good of all."  But after the

creation of Gilead  "she doesn't make speeches anymore.  She has

become speechless.  She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to

agree with her.  How furious she must be, now that she's been taken

at her word."

And one thing Atwood says that often gets overlooked in real life

is, "Better never means better for everyone; it always means worse

for some."  People trying to design utopias, or even just pass laws

to "improve things" need to keep this in mind.  Prohibiting murder

makes things worse for would-be murderers, but this is probably a

good thing.  A flat income tax, on the other hand, makes things

worse for low-income families, and this is probably not a good

thing.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          There is no faith which has never yet been broken except

          that of a truly faithful dog.

                                          --Konrad Lorenz