Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

06/12/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 50, Whole Number 2123

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Kings of the Interstate (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Some Random Comments on THE WIZARD OF OZ (comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Books (letters of comment by Fred Lerner, Jay E. Morris,

and Peter Trei)

Books, "The Changeling", and "Trog" (letter of comment

by Taras Wolansky





ROME) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Kings of the Interstate (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Way back I used to live in the Detroit area, and I did not like it

much.  In Detroit and environs the truck is the King of Road.  You

better believe it, particularly if you are going to drive on the

roads.  At that time a truck cab was allowed to pull two trailers

in tandem.  The problem is, of course, rollover.  I don't remember

for sure, but I think there were fatal accidents due to cars and

people being crushed.  As you might expect there were people trying

to get the law changed ... to allowing three tandems.

I think I owe a vote of thanks to our nation's truck drivers.  But

they ain't gonna get it from me.  They not only tirelessly kept the

American economy moving (or is "tirelessly" a bad choice of

words?), but they have stepped in and filled the road entertainment

vacuum that was left when Burma Shave stopped putting up signs.

(And if you are too young to know about Burma Shave signs, please

don't tell me--it will only depress me.)

One is led to believe that passing a truck driver on the right is

an act akin to racing a train to a railroad crossing.  And since

these drivers get on the road and head straight for the left lane,

the idea is the driver is saying, "Get thee behind me and stay thee

behind me.  Wherever I'm going I'm getting there first."  They may

have mud flaps that say "yes" on the left and "no" on the right.

These truck drivers are masters of the veiled threat.  "Get in my

way and I will turn you into pressed duck." The poets among them

may have an arrow pointing left that says "Safe side" and one

pointing right that says "Suicide."

I saw one recently that shows a line drawing of a truck moving

right and a car smacking into it with a big red flash.  One is led

to believe that somewhere behind the wheels is fresh pate of

driver.  Now I always thought of this warning as plain good advice

until I realized that you never see these signs on anything but

trucks.  If a car cuts someone off like that it is assumed that the

driver is a candidate for the Home for the Criminally Stupid.  The

truck driver is warning you that he is driving more truck than he

can legally control.  So why should trucks be allowed to intimidate

other drivers to give them a wide berth? Some trucks have signs

that say, "This truck pays $9,867,532 in road taxes each year," my

first question is what the heck is he hauling that he can afford to

pay that much? Must be funny white powder from Columbia.  But even

so, is it fair to ask this guy to bear so much of the burden of

road taxes? Damn straight it is as if they are driving the

Interstate.  That truck has 38 wheels on it, give or take a couple

(not counting the two little wheels that don't reach the ground and

evolution is in the process of eliminating; they used to serve a

function in prehistoric trucks, but these days they just seem to go

along for the ride).  The reason for all the wheels is that those

suckers are heavy.  You watch an ant walk across a cookie leaving

it not visibly changed.  Then you step on the cookie.  Then you can

tell me why you think a really heavy truck pays so much in road

tax.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Some Random Comments on THE WIZARD OF OZ (comments by Evelyn

C. Leeper)

Plants in Munchkinland look very artificial--very plastic, though I

am not sure plastic was what was used.  It might have been some

sort of paper or wood with a shiny glaze.

This is a very "lookist" movie ("only bad witches are ugly").

The Munchkins seem under the rule of both Glinda and the Wizard,

without having much autonomy.

Munchkinland seems to be about four square blocks (unless Dorothy

just happened to land very close to one edge).

To where do the other two roads at the scarecrow's intersection


Mark asks, "Have you ever won a fight by ripping pieces off

yourself and throwing them at people?"

Who sent the snow to wake Dorothy and the others up?

How does the gatekeeper know about the ruby slippers?

Doesn't it bother the Wizard even a little that he sent Dorothy

(supposedly a young child) and her friends on what was basically a

suicide mission?  He claims he is a good man, but his behavior

doesn't seem to support that.

The Scarecrow says, "The sum of the square roots of any two sides

of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the

remaining side."  He needs to return his new brain as defective.

This sound vaguely like Pythagoras's Theorem, but that is, "The sum

of the *squares* of the two sides adjacent to the right angle in a

*right* triangle is equal to the *square* of the remaining side."

The "Emeraldites" seemed to have picked their ruler for foolish

reasons, and now they are stuck with the Triumvirate he has picked

to succeed him.  Why does this sound like how the Roman Empire went

bad (see my book column below)?  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Books (letters of comment by Fred Lerner and Jay E. Morris)

In response to Mark's comments on books in the 06/05/20 issue of

the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

Have you ever seen "Benjamin Bagley's Beowulf"?  He declaims an

abridged version of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon,

accompanying himself on a replica of a thousand-year-old lute.

Sheryl and I saw his performance at Dartmouth College several years

ago.  I've studied Anglo-Saxon, and after a few beers I can (and

all too often will) recite the last twelve lines of "Beowulf" from

memory, so naturally I enjoyed the Bagley version.  Sheryl had

never read "Beowulf" in either Old or Modern English.  She had seen

many more live drama performances than I ever have, and she said

that "Benjamin Bagley's Beowulf" was one of the best evenings of

theater that she had ever experienced.  Bagley also performs other

Northern material.  If you ever get the chance to see him, don't

miss it!  [-fl]

Evelyn responds:

At last, someone who uses the term "Old English" correctly!  I

flogged the "Classical Stuff You Should Know" guys so often on it

that they now automatically correct themselves after they mis-refer

to Old English, which I suppose is a victory of sorts.  [-ecl]

Jay E. Morris writes:

[Mark wrote,] "Try saying 'Hello' as if to your lover.  Try saying

'Hello' as if to your worst enemy.  Try saying 'Hello" as if to

your boss.  They are almost three different words.

Well, sometimes two.  On the rare occasion, the same.  [-jem]


TOPIC: Books, "The Changeling", and "Trog" (letter of comment by

Taras Wolansky

In response to Mark's comments on books in the 06/05/20 issue of

the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

When I read Mark's disquisition on the danger so-called "books"

pose to society, my immediate thought was, "True Wisdom.  True."

It certainly puts a different light on the burning of Uncle Hugo's

bookstore in Minneapolis.  [-tw[]

In response to Evelyn's comments on the Retro Hugo Award novella

finalists in the 05/29/20 issue of the MT VOID, Taras writes:

The trick to reading those two Retro Hugo-nominated novellas that

you skipped is to invert the colors, giving white letters on a blue

background, and then stretching the text until the type is a good

size to read.

"The Changeling" by A. E. Van Vogt really brings out what many

critics have noted:  his influence on Philip K. Dick.  As the story

opens, a self-satisfied businessman suddenly realizes there is no

way his memories can possibly be real.  For one thing, he should be

50 years old, but looks only 30.  And what's this about losing a

limb in the war ...

The story offers yet another one of those trippy, dreamlike Van

Vogtian plots that made young critic Damon Knight pull out his

hair.  A sinister American President plots to make himself

President for Life, except he intends that life to be eternal.

When the story was written, FDR was running for an unprecedented

fourth term, which Van Vogt may have found concerning, even as a


As a sort of throw-away, the sinister President's henchmen are,

well, henchwomen:  "equalized" women, who have undergone a

treatment to make them as strong as men, but without messing them

up like steroids.  A plausible extrapolation, even 75 years later.

"Trog" by Murray Leinster has its moments.  Its visions of a partly

burned and largely abandoned Manhattan are particularly evocative

at the present moment.  And as the heroes lay a trap for an enemy

they don't understand and can't see, it's genuinely suspenseful.

However, when they finally do understand that enemy, well, let's

just say it's of its time.  The solution the story offers, on the

other hand, is well after its time; that is, it's something

Leinster might have come up with in 1934 or even 1924.

The only significant female character has no role in the story but

to ooh and aah as the engineer heroes save the day.  I can't quite

shake the sneaking suspicion that the character was intended as a

parody, like the dumb blonde in Monty Python's sci-fi episode a

quarter of a century later, but I may be giving Leinster too much

credit.  [-tw]


TOPIC: Books (letter of comment by Peter Trei)

In response to Mark's comments on books in the 06/05/20 issue of

the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

This brings back memories of an essay I wrote back in 2002, when

the entertainment industry was trying to force into being mandatory

hardware IP protection into all electronic devices...

The bill being lampooned:


[At the time, I wrote,] I've been trying to think of an analogy to

show just how awful the idea of the SSSCA [The Security Systems

Standards and Certification Act] is.  I've had to go back a way.  A

long way.


The Original SSSCA.

Statement of Yakval Enti, spokesman of the MPAA (Mnemonists,

Praise-singers, and Anthemists Association) to His Highness

Hammurabi, King of Sumeria:

Your Majesty: I wish to call you attention to a severe threat to

the security of your kingdom, and the livelihoods of thousands of

your subjects.

After Shamash sets and the people kick back after a long day of

growing millet, they desire entertainment.  Their favorite forms

are stories, tales, and sagas, told by the members of the MPAA.

Talented boys spend up to twelve years learning the tales by heart

at the feet of the masters.  Any evening MPAA members can be found

in the taverns singing the old tales, praising the praiseworthy,

and creating new tales from the old.

This system has worked well since the beginning of time--there were

storytellers at your coronation, there were storytellers at your

father's coronation, and there were storytellers in the caves of

our ancestors.

This natural arrangement is now threatened from an unexpected

direction - the scribes and accountants.  The geeks' system of

recording numbers and quantities has been perverted to freeze

speech onto clay.

Understand the threat to our business model.  At the moment, if

someone wants to hear 'The Tale of the Ox, the Ass and the

Sumerian', they find an MPAA member, pay him, and sit back to

listen to the whole four hour saga.  While anyone could recall and

tell others the general outline, only MPAA members know every

detail and can give the listener the whole story.  If you want to

hear it again, you pay again.  Thousands of MPAA members rely on

this fact for their livelihoods.

With the recent invention of "writing" the system is in danger of

collapse.  We've found that some scribes are actually "recording"

entire sagas onto clay.  Any scribe can "read" these out to people

for free or for money, complete and word-for-word, without being a

member of or paying the MPAA!  A scribe who has obtained a set of

tablets of an story can even read it an unlimited number of times,

or (worst of all) make copies.  This is starting to have an

economic impact on our membership.  Consider Rimat-Ninsun, whose

masterwork "The Epic of Gilgamesh" took him three years to create,

and who looked to it to put bread on his table into his old age, as

he told it for money, or let others tell it under paid license

after learning it from him.  'Gilgamesh' is now circulating on 12

clay tablets, and Rimat is starving.  Who will bother to create new

tales if they are just going to be written down?

"Writing" presents insidious dangers to your kingdom as well.  It

can be anonymous.  Before writing, any message arrived with a

person to speak it, who could be held accountable for their speech.

With writing, it is impossible to tell what scribe "wrote" a

message.  Anonymous threats, kidnap notes, and untraceable sedition

are now possible.  Clearly "writing" carries with it far greater

problems for our civilization than it does advantages.

However, scribes, accountants, and their skills are essential to

business, contracts, laws, and the collection of taxes.  We just

need to make sure that they are controlled properly.

I therefore propose the Scribal Stylus Safety Control Act.

(SSSCA).  This requires every scribe to have an MPAA approved,

"literate" slave with him at all times, peering over his shoulder.

If a scribe is seen to be "writing' something other then accounting

information, for example a story (stories are the province of MPAA

bards), or a message (which should have been given to a paid

mnenomist for delivery), or anything seditious, then the slave will

take away the scribe's stylus and call the authorities.  I ask you

to have this Act "written" into your Code of Law.

Is this difficult?  Yes.  Is it expensive?  Yes.  However, it is

clear that without strict controls, widespread "writing" will not

only destroy the entertainment industry, it will threaten

civilisation itself!




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


Cullen Murphy (Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-618-74222-6) was

published in 2007, and Murphy saw parallels between the current

condition of America and the end of the Western Roman Empire.

Nowadays people are more likely to see a parallel with the fall of

the Roman Republic, five hundred years earlier, with its

introduction of violence as a means to a political end, its debates

about citizenship, its movement towards rule of the few and

eventually the one, and its growing wealth inequality.  The main


THE END OF THE ROMAN REPUBLIC by Mike Duncan (PublicAffairs, ISBN

978-1-610-39721-6).  One can argue that both have aspects of truth.

We still have a lot of the characteristics of the Republic, but we

also have the equivalent of the size and the bureaucracy of the

Empire.  Read them both and you can get really depressed.  (Even

though ARE WE ROME? was written in 2007, it has a reference to

Donald Trump: it mentions "the vulgarity of Donald Trump".)

Duncan's book is more of a straight history book; the parallels are

left for the reader to draw.  On the other hand, Murphy's parallels

are explicit, and the point of the book.

I am also re-listening to Duncan's "History of Rome" podcasts and

have to say that Murphy is certainly on to something in parallels

to the Empire.  For example, Duncan points out that Valentinian

began the custom of emperors sending generals to fight invaders

rather than taking command personally.  Valentinian realized that

if the general won, the emperor could still take the credit, but if

the general lost, the general would take all the blame.  Now we see

politicians who want to take credit for everything good, but blame

someone else for everything bad.

And refugees?  The Goths showed up at the border of the Roman

Empire in 376, fleeing from the Huns and asking for sanctuary,.  In

the past, Rome would accept "barbarians" and settle them in the

Empire, assimilating them in the process.  These "barbarians" also

helped keep the numbers of the army up.  In this case, officials

let them in, but held them in refugee camps, refused to let them

settle, and charged them for food until the Goths had no money, at

which point the officials took the Goths' children as slaves as

payment.  Eventually (after the Roman officials treacherously

killed a Gothic leader), the Goths broke out and pillaged the

countryside for two years, and when they finally met the Romans in

battle, they wiped the Roman legions out and killed the emperor in

the process.

Let's see: people fleeing death squads, coming to a country that

formerly welcomed refugees, thrown into camps, having their

children taken away from them, ...  Sound familiar?

[A few days before this was due to run, I heard on the radio a


FALL OF ROME by Douglas Boin, which seems to cover a lot of the

same ideas.  If my library ever re-opens, and if one of the books

in its consortium gets a copy, I will definitely read this.]



                     Mark Leeper

* *

          My Father had a profound influence on me. He was a


                                          --Spike Milligan