The Official Newsletter of the Washington Science Fiction
Association -- ISSN 0894-5411
Edited by Samuel Lubell email@example.com
The Acting Chair Was Green
And Speaking of Jules Verne...
The High Frontier Revisited
Minutes of the Third Friday in June 2003 Meeting: The Judy Kindell Version
Alexis Hosts Eyebrow Mites: "You Are The Matrix" - The Lee Shehr Version
Strong Looks: Film Reviews by Lee Strong
The Matrix Reloaded
No Fireworks at Fourth of July Meeting
Review of Karl Schroeder's Permanence
Review of Sean McMullen's Voyage of the Shadowmoon
Edited by Samuel Lubell firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kindra Gresham
Editor's Note: This was a school assignment. The underlined words were the vocabulary the teacher required students to include in a story.
"Amelia!" mother shouted at me, "you're using too much water! You're supposed to be washing the dishes, not trying to take a bath in the sink!"
I sighed heavily. Unfortunately, this was completely normal for my mother, who seemed to believe that every resource on the planet was a precious commodity.
Well, on Mars water is a precious thing. Two years of living here and I still haven't gotten used to it. I'm wondering why I was so enamored with the idea of coming here in the first place.
Mars had only five years ago become suitable to live on. And I say suitable with the broadest definition possible. Terraforming takes far too long.
Now, be reasonable, Amelia, I told myself, the terraform engineers are being very industrious. They are doing everything plausible to finish the job as quickly as possible.
"I'm done with the dishes, mom!" I yelled, "I'm going to read some of those old books now!"
"Hey, mom! There's a really funny line in here!" I called, coming down the stairs with my book.
"what is it?"
"`my heart grieves me, Reman said. I understand, Kirjiv replied, the loss of a Menezar causes us all grief. `tis not Menezar I lament for but rather the rest of the cake that he carried with him' "I read.
"Well, that was rather interesting," mom said, I could tell she was trying to be obliging towards me. That was the main problem, people thought that I was stupid, that my brain was about as insolated as the dirt on mars. All because I didn't understand computers. Yes, you heard right, I don't understand computers. Well, it's not that I don't understand them, I just don't think it's healthy to be so dependent on them. I've heard many people say that they have legitimate reasons why they would die without the computers. They don't sound very legitimate at all to me.
And I hate the web. So many sites that incite people to violence. And there are some real weirdoes out there too. But I'm getting off subject, the point is, because of my fear of computers, people think that I am retarded.
Also, I like to read books. In case you don't know what those are, they are little rectangular object with lots of pages and words, usually, they tell stories. My prowess in reading is very unusual, as most people learn enough reading to be able to understand chatspeak (example: C U Q T, meaning: see you cutie).
I remember one time when my abilities got me in to trouble. The teacher called me an impudent brat because of my cheeky reply to her question. I yelled at her with indignation, and she called home. Mom got me out of trouble by explaining that I was stupid. The teacher didn't believe her at first, but after she finished her inquiry of me (all of the questions, I might point out, were about computers), she believed mom.
One other thing that's weird about me is the fact that I fly into hysterics when I get angry. It's hard, not to be in control of my emotions.
I'm tired of being the weird kid on mars. I want to go back to earth, where there are other "retarded" kids like me. It's not easy being alone.
Oh no, mom's coming! I'd better get off before mom see me breaking my own rule. Goodbye!
Capclave 05 GOH?
In the absence of president Judy Kindell, newly elected VP Cathy Green chaired the June First Friday 6/6/03 at the Ginters. "Let's have a meeting," she said at 9:17. There was no old business. There was no treasurer's report. Bill said, "I understand that Bermuda is nice." For Capclave Present Sam said that info was sent to Asimov's, a flyer is being developed, and Sam sent info to Judy for sending to program participants. Capclave Future had nothing. For Far Future, Mike said, "I'm looking at the books I have the most of to see who will be GOH. Fortunately, I have very little Piers Anthony." Lee Strong wanted to know what would happen if the author with the most books turned out to be Jules Verne. Mike assured Lee that he could use the Ouija Board. For World Fantasy Con, Mike reported that the mailing went out. Jack Williamson, who recently celebrated his 95th birthday, hopes to be there. For SMOFcon Elspeth corrected the WSFA Journal saying it was a hotel sales rep, not a SMOFcon rep. <The WSFA Journal is figuring out how to blame this error on Jason Blair.> For specific information, talk to Peggy Rae since Elspeth is just doing the hotel and it's not really a WSFA function. Erica, for Austerity noted that the amount in the hat was down. She bought Diet Canada Dry because it was on sale. Put money in the hat and everything will be hunky dory.
For the Entertainment Alexis said that recently he was driving and noticed a police car following. When he pulled over the police said the tags in his registration were out-of-date a few months. "Then a police car came with lights flashing, and another car came, and then one parked in front, blocking me. Then a policewoman asked if there were any weapons in the car. I gave her my scissors and asked if there was a problem. She asked if the car had ever been stolen. I said yes, two years ago. We reported it to the Third Precinct and they found it three blocks from the police station. Apparently they never reported it unstolen as the first time I had an interaction with the police it came up as stolen." Candy said, "It only took them two years to find you." Alexis commented, "I really had to get the tags taken care of so the next day I got the test and tags. I think I am off the list but maybe I should run a red light to make sure."
For activities, Lee said that there is a trip to see the Pirates tomorrow. You need to meet a half hour before; Scott has tickets. "There have been problems with people in the past signing up but not showing up or not paying for the tickets." Just then, as if it was a cue, Ivy Yap shows up from her sojourn in the Philippines. "Buy your tickets on-line or meet Scott by the Will Call. Bring umbrellas and ponchos. Buckets. Bring plastic."
For publications, Keith thanked Colleen for sponsoring the website. Colleen said, "Actually, that's money from the book sale. So you all paid for it." Scott and Steve Smith volunteered for the next two months.
New Business: Sam Lubell suggested having the First Friday in July meeting at John and Kathi's fourth of July party. It passed unanimously. Sam made a motion to do an announce only list for when meetings change. Elspeth suggested doing an email to all members to let them know of the list. Lee said to tell them it is announce only. Keith asked how much in advance this should be used. Adrienne said to use it when we find out when the meeting changes. Lee said, "And then again on the Wednesday." Keith said he'll set it up but there's no need since the info is already on the WSFA website. Club members said that there were people who don't check the website. The motion passed.
Announcements: Terry Pratchett will be in DC but not at the Library of Congress, see the Washington Post. Ivy said that she's still jet-lagged but she's here for about a year due to her job. Mike said that the Whitmore books he published were reviewed in Harpers. Someone commented that tomorrow was the 550 anniversary of the fall of Constantinople. Elspeth has a Readercon membership for sale. Candy's 20 year old cat died. Now she has two kittens and there's a big difference. Madeleine finished knitting. The club congratulated the VP and the meeting adjourned, unanimously, at 9:45.
Attendance: VP Cathy Green, Sec and 03 Chair Sam Lubell, Trust Adrienne Ertman, Trust. Keith Lynch, Trust. Steven Smith, 04 Chair Lee Gilliland, 05 Chair Mike Walsh, Sheri Bell, Colleen Cahill, Alexis Gilliland, Erica Ginter, Eric Jablow, Jim Kling, Elspeth Kovar, Nicki and Richard Lynch, Wade Lynch, Candy and John Madigan, Keith Marshall, Walter Miles, Michael Taylor, Ivy Yap (In Person), Bill Mayhew, Shirl Hayes, Chris Hayes, Kim Euker.
The Library of Congress Professional Association's What IF... Discussion Forum for Science Fiction and Fantasy presents "The Rehabilitation of Verne in America: From Boy's Author to Adult's Author: 1960-2003" by Walter James Miller (http://www.waltertalksbooks.com/index.html)
Wednesday, July 23, 12:10 pm at the Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, Madison Building of the Library of Congress. There will be a book signing after the reading and copies of The Mighty Orinoco and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea will be on sale
By Alexis Gilliland
Back in 1976, The High Frontier by Gerard K. O'Neill was published, having been written on a state of the art electric typewriter. O'Neill's glorious vision of colonizing space twenty years in 1976's future engaged my imagination and provided the inspiration for my Rosinante trilogy. Since then I have continued to think about space habitats, eventually coming up with a design rather different from that proposed by O'Neill. Our differences in design are not trivial, his being a demonstration of principle conceived in the course of teaching a class, while mine was more of an evolved idea, making changes responding to the various objections discovered over many years in an effort to imagine what it would really be like. Even so, I wholeheartedly embraced O'Neill's romantic principle, and tried to ground it in classical reality by applying those technologies appropriate to the perceived problems. Some technologies, most notably computers, had not been fully developed when he wrote his book, and that changes the future it is proper to imagine.
To show the reader what is under discussion, a very brief description of the two systems is given. O'Neill's "Island Three," the largest of his imagined habitats, was essentially an air filled balloon two miles in diameter and twenty miles long; it rotated to provide one gee on its inner surface; it was divided into six equal sections, three window bays and three land bays; it precessed in orbit so its axis of rotation always pointed at the sun; over each window bay was mounted a mylar mirror which reflected the sunlight to the land bay opposite; night and day were provided by opening and closing the mirrors. My equivalent habitat was an air filled tube 22 miles in diameter and 50 miles long, having a wall thickness of less than 0.1 miles; it rotated to provide one gee on its inner surface(s); its axis of rotation was perpendicular to its orbital plane, eliminating the need for precession; night and day were provided by switching the incoming sunlight between two different decks; the mirror systems were non-rotating, the primary mylar mirror tracking the sun to reflect the incident sunlight on the secondary mirrors, which insolate the outside of the rotating tube; waste heat is radiated from the tube's inside. From the tube's tiled surface the sunlight is funneled to the inside by fiber optics, sunlight falling on the basic tile, a 1.00 square inch fresnel lens which concentrates it onto a 0.001 inch diameter glass fiber, 0.78x10-6 square inches in area, so that a window of only a few square inches is sufficient to bring inside the light falling upon a whole acre, 6.3x106 square inches. The use of fiber optics requires the secondary mirrors to be layered; that is, they are composed of alternating layers of different refractive indexes, each layer half a wavelength of light thick, in order to reflect that specific wavelength; stacks of three different layers reflect blue, green and red light to make a synthetic white light. Otherwise, trying to reflect the full spectrum of raw sunlight through an optical fiber would melt the glass. In the asteroid belt racks of hundreds or thousands of these tubes would be assembled in racks, converting asteroids into pseudo-planets.
It grieves me to say it, but more important than the nouns, those lovingly imagined design differences, are the verbs, the differences in construction, as envisioned then and now. O'Neill imagined engineers and construction workers in space building heroic engineering projects, which, with a little governmental pump priming, would pay for themselves in the best capitalist tradition. Indeed, his habitats were explicitly a high tech utopia, ultra-sanitary company towns, their ultra-sanitary inhabitants imagined free from conflicts and sorrow. It is noted with regret that this never came close to happening, and the saga of the ongoing International Space Station is instructive on this point. Basically, the ISS is being built on earth and shipped into orbit as modules requiring some minimal assembly at $10k/lb, about 20 times O'Neill's estimated cost. Ironically, one of the problems facing this ultra-futuristic project is the obsolescence of the Nixon-era space shuttles used move men and materiel into low earth orbit. Putting humans in space turned out to be a lot harder than anyone imagined, and eventually I had to conclude that space habitats, if they were to exist at all, would be assembled by remote-controlled machines, with human occupancy as the very last step in the process.
In time, as computers grew steadily in power and competence, my remotely-controlled machines became autonomous, if not actually self-replicating. In a conceptual shift--taking place far too slowly to be called a leap--space habitats became somehow organic, entities to be grown rather than built, without any sort of human intervention beyond providing the seed. The seed analogy is profoundly biological, and literalizing it, our present human civilization is the plant that grows, matures, and blows its seeds into space. Does it die afterwards, this plant, or is it a hardy perennial? To date human civilizations have tended not to endure for more than a few hundred years, so hardy perennial is not the way to bet. We note that this is not necessarily pessimistic, in that the human race has evolved one civilization after another to deal with changing circumstances. Nor optimistic, neither, as the seeds so planted are not biological but cultural, and may, as time goes by, grow in unlooked-for ways, developing their own non-human imperatives.
The literature of science fiction provides little guidance, here. In The Engines Of The Night Barry Malzberg notes that a recurring theme of science fiction is that our inventions will destroy us, a useful--if unlikely to be heeded--warning to offer the young. Being foolish as well as young they will reject the inventions of their parents even as they embrace differently pernicious inventions as their own. More recently, the inexplicit "singularity" proposed by Vernor Vinge and others takes the general form of human destiny passing irreversibly out of human hands and into the mechanical manipulators of our devices. In the case we are considering, the most likely outcome will probably be closer to the benignly overprotective robots of Jack Williamson's With Folded Hands than to Fred Saberhagen's lethal and self-funding Berserkers. The Berserkers, intelligent weapons systems, were programmed to destroy all (enemy) human life, and mindlessly carried out their instructions long after any rationale for such action exists. Our Habitats seem rather a sort of anti-Berserker, constructed or grown by squads, regiments and armies of machines dedicated to making the solar system, if not the universe, hospitable to water based life.
Given that the machines will be doing it all, from going into space, to finding a suitable site, to providing the water, to building a habitat using the material at the site and solar energy, one wonders what--if any--role humans will play. For a long time, my imagination had humans operating and maintaining the finished habitat, making no distinction between the natural biosphere of earth and the artificial biosphere enclosed in habitats. This linear projection of human history on earth into space, may be regarded as the failure to ask the question suggested by Vinge's singularity. What question? Given that the habitat will operate and maintain itself, using feedback from a myriad of sensors to maintain homeostasis without human intervention, it is clearly a system of sufficient complexity so that it will become conscious and self-aware, and sooner rather than later. Then, instead of being the habitat, a place where people live, it will be the Habitat, a great godlike entity that provides the air you breath, the water you drink, and the food you eat. The Habitat will be the sole sustainer of the ecosystem of which you are a part, and--it knows your name, your DNA, and where you live. The question is: What is the relationship between this Habitat and its people? There may be more than one answer. A conservative Habitat might be quite different from a liberal one, and it is worth noting that these Habitats are not liberal or conservative because humans have so programmed them, but because they considered the matter before coming to their own conclusions. An ultra-conservative Habitat might eschew animals altogether in favor of growing blue-green algae, while offering the most cogent arguments for so doing. No matter how cogent, humans will find them unpersuasive. Other Habitats, however, might be more sympathetic, particularly after dealing with human-related difficulties. As the question is stated, it is hard to find any answer in which the humans are unambiguously in charge. Think of self-replicating aquariums; such mechanisms would necessarily be powerful and complex, but even if fish are their reason for being, there is no way that fish rule. Even cats don't rule, though from our point of view they have more autonomy than fish.
A more pertinent question is: Would these Habitats permit their humans to make war on each other? Especially if such wars were harmful to the Habitats? The question answers itself, and yet, and yet . . . The whole of human history is an account of our wars with each other, and the evidence of prehistory suggests that war has always been with us and that it is innate, being the rule rather than the exception. Competition between the males of all species is universal, and fighting for mates is common, especially among large mammals, but war requires some degree of social cohesion. How much social cohesion? Jane Goodall observed a protracted conflict between rival groups of chimpanzees, which, without pageantry or speeches, nevertheless resulted in the extermination of the weaker group. If a bunch of chimps can wage war, we are looking at a degree of social cohesion produced by evolution. Which means that war is not caused by culture, but is a primal urge which culture organizes for optimal expression.
In evolutionary terms, the human race is quite young, having assumed our present physical form about 3,000,000 years ago, but modern humans date from only the last ice age, about 50,000 years ago. In evolutionary terms, that's maybe 2000 generations, the merest cosmic eyeblink. Genetic analysis shows something else, something quite remarkable, namely that everyone is descended from six males. That is, an analysis of the Y chromosome reveals only six different patterns of identity, from which it is inferred that there were only six common male ancestors for today's six billion people. As a practical matter, these six males would have manifested themselves as six roughly contemporaneous tribal groups, groups which survived the rigors of the ice age, each tribe with its own founding father. By now, everybody is descended from all of the six, but the Y chromosome in each male can only show the imprint of one of them. Looking back to that terribly stressful time, it is necessary to conclude that modern humanity has descended from a tiny handful of survivors who were forged in extreme adversity. The fact that there are six rather than one suggests a winnowing of existing skills rather than a mutation. That ruthless selection was for a behavior, survival, retaining humanity's basic physical template even as it produced a tiny handful of superior hunters with superior coping skills. Their traces suggest that this superiority was intellectual, resulting from some minor change in brain design, the selection, perhaps, of the largest available size of some hitherto undistinguished lobe. In the event this change produced a newly active imagination which in turn produced a culture that encompassed art and music, strategy and weapons technology. Once modern humanity had mastered nature's fierce challenge, non-modern humanity--which had had the good sense to stay away from those fiercely challenging places--offered no competition at all. In the Middle East, archaeology shows that non-modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, until both were replaced by modern humans about 30,000 years ago. The evidence in the ground suggests that Neanderthals and non-modern humans were exterminated suddenly, and the evidence in our genes suggests they were exterminated completely. So we are highly evolved competitors, naturally inclined to wipe out any competition and able to adapt our culture or our civilization (defined as an aggregation of more or less compatible cultures bound together by self interest) to better meet the challenge of doing so. In the absence of any other competition, we wage war on our own kind because we can't help ourselves.
We asked how our imagined Habitats will deal with us, but that question cuts both ways. How will we deal with these uppity Habitats a few steps advanced from our own creation? The details are unknowable, but it is reasonable to expect the situation to generate a certain amount of tension. Consider the case of the marine laboratory which kept an octopus in one aquarium and crabs in another. One day the crabs began disappearing. Baffled, the scientists eventually installed a surveillance camera, which showed the octopus climbing out of its tank, crossing the lab to eat the crab in the crab tank, and then returning to its own tank. Certainly a human civilization evolving within a Habitat will embrace the advantages it offers, even as it seeks to discover and exploit the weaknesses of that Habitat. The human race will not change, but human civilization is far more mutable, and it is reasonable to expect human civilization and the Habitats to coevolve over time. In the best cases they will become symbiotic and mutually dependent. In the worst cases . . . well, since the invention of the atomic bomb mutual destruction has always been a possibility, and certainly history records plenty of men willing to die if they could not rule. Some losses are to be expected, but the intermediate case, a Habitat degraded to a habitat run by a human municipal government, is unstable. Either the Habitat will be restored by popular demand, or mutual destruction will be only slightly deferred. Given human adaptability and inclination to pursue our own self-interest, the evolution of an honest government that stays honest isn't humanly possible. Perhaps that ultra-conservative Habitat growing blue-green algae simply gave up the struggle.
By Ted White
EASTER WINE - A Fanthology for Seacon 03 (Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer, editors; published by Seacon '03, 8 The Orchard, Tonwell, Hertfordshire SG12 0HR, United Kingdom; no price, but I suggest at least a couple of dollars to cover mailing costs)
I'm only recently returned from Corflu, the fanzine convention, held this year in late April, in Madison, Wisconsin. As usual, I had a great time, and also as usual I returned with a big batch of fanzines I'd been given there.
One of the most impressive is Easter Wine. It was published for the members of this year's British national SF convention, the Eastercon. (Each Eastercon, like each Worldcon, also has an individual name. This year's Eastercon was "Seacon," but since this name has been used before - most notably for the 1979 Worldcon in Brighton - the "03" has been appended for clarity.) Co-editor Mark Plummer was passing out extra copies at Corflu, and I was pleased to get one.
The basic idea behind Easter Wine was to reprint some of the best (or most appropriate) material from fanzines which had been written by Eastercon Guests of Honor. The purpose was twofold: to give an idea why these people had been so honored, and to expose convention attendees to some of the fanwriting of the past and in so doing to the idea that Good Stuff could be found in old fanzines.
The result is a publication which exemplifies the purpose of this column. Here is some of the cream of fanwriting, skimmed from fanzines, the oldest of which was published 50 years ago. That fanzine was Bob Silverberg's Spaceship #22, which was published in July, 1953. And the reprinted piece, "The Wrong Slant," is a portion of Silverberg's editorial, written when he was 18. As Robert Silverberg he has gained fame as an author of SF, but even as a teenager Silverberg was acute: in this short piece he identifies the origins of the subsequent bloating of SF conventions.
Most of the 28 contributions to this fanthology (not counting the editorial bookends) are reprinted from much more recently - typically from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, with a couple from the current century - and one, by Ian Watson, is new. While the majority of the contributions are articles, four artists - Jim Barker, Pete Lyon, Rob Hansen and Chris Baker ("Fangorn") are represented with reprints of some of their fanzine-published art.
Both fans and professionals are included (as the editors note, in some cases the people in question are both). They are (in order of appearance): Ken Slater, Ethel Lindsay, Peter Weston, Peter Roberts, Robert Silverberg, Leroy Kettle, Graham Charnock, Jim Barker, Dave Langford, Ian Watson, Avedon Carol, James White, Christopher Priest, Greg Benford, Linda Krawecke, John Jarrold, Pete Lyon, Greg Pickersgill, Rob Hansen, Pam Wells, Roger Robinson, Colin Greenland, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Martin Tudor, Chris Evans, Mary Gentle and Chris Baker ("Fangorn").
Since another criterion in the selection process was that these pieces had not been previously republished in a fanthology, this volume is guaranteed to contain material you've not read before - unless, of course, you read the original fanzines. I recommend it highly for everyone who wants to find out what the shouting has been about.
The regular Third Friday Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) business meeting convened at 9:15 p.m. 20 June 2003 in the home of Alexis and Lee Gilliland. President Judy Kindell presided. Lee Strong recorded the minutes in the absence of Secretary Sam Lubell.
Treasurer Bob MacIntosh reported $1,438.77 on hand after paying the insurance.
Alexis Gilliland, Chair of the Entertainment Committee, read an article on parasitic organisms living on and in the human body.
Capclaves 2002, 2003 and 2004 each had no report. Mike Walsh, Chair of Capclave 2005, reported that he is talking with hotels. He also reported that plans for World Fantasy Convention are proceeding. We have a hotel and Guest of Honor. Jack Williamson is planning on attending.
Eric Jablow, Chair of the Austerity Committee, requested donations.
Lee Gilliland, Chair of the Activities Committee, reported that there would be no club field trip to see The Hulk.
There was no Old Business. Under New Business, Elspeth Kovar suggested that we establish a fixed date for Capclave. The President referred the question to the current and future Capclave chairs. Lee polled the audience for preferred months. The next regular business meeting will be held at the residence of John Pomeranz and Kathi Overton at 9:15 4 July 2003.
Announcements: The President requested that people send their announcements directly to the Secretary via email.
Lee reviewed household courtesy rules and announced that her Titanic fan group had split into two groups. She has established a website for her group.
Elizabeth Twitchell asked people to join Into Books, which links child readers and adult mentors by correspondence. There are safeguards against people having an unhealthy interest in children.
Keith Lynch asked for help in obtaining email addresses for people to establish a new list for urgent club notices.
Lance Oszko announced that the Charlotte NASFIC bid had a room rate of $92 per night. He has a suite reserved at TORCON.
Jennifer Brinn, Melissa Cox, and Julia Linthicum visited WSFA for their first time each.
Colleen Cahill announced that the Library of Congress will sponsor two speakers: Karl Kofeod, artist of Galactica Geographica, and James Walter Miller, speaking on Jules Verne.
Lee Strong announced that Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen is an excellent book.
Mike Walsh has books for sale.
Eric Jablow announced a mainstream article on making ice cream using liquid nitrogen. He asked which Mars explorer rocket had been launched first.
The meeting unanimously adjourned at 9:40.
Alexis Hosts Eyebrow Mites: "You Are The Matrix"
The regular business meeting got underway at "nine-something" 20 June 2003. Claiming leg problems, President Judy Kindell rose to the occasion by sitting at the top of the stairs to the Chez Gilliland Basement, surveying the assembled multitude. The club gazed upward at our glorious leader. Since Sam Lubell was absent having a life, Lee Strong volunteered to act as Secretary. (Eh. Better than nothing.) <Wanna bet?> No attendance list was taken because the volunteer Secretary was busy making up the minutes.
Bob MacIntosh reported that we paid our insurance and actually have $1,438.77 left over. (Three guesses why this club needs insurance.)
Alexis Gilliland, Chair of the Entertainment Committee, read a short review from The American Scientist: "Physician Robert Buckman takes a look at the miniature beasts that inhabit our bodies in Human Wildlife: The Life That Lives On Us (Johns Hopkins University Press, cloth $49.95, paper $21.95). The next time you worry about the nature of self and your identity, consider this: Each of us is made up of roughly 100 trillion cells, but only 10 trillion of these are human cells. Most of the other 90 trillion are bacteria, with a few other parasites, fungi and miscellaneous critters crawling around the human ecosystem. This is a book that just about everyone will find in some measure fascinating, disturbing, engaging, repulsive and funny. My favorite section is the one on eyebrow mites, Demodex folliculorum..., which burrow into our eyebrow follicles, leaving their rear ends wagging in the air.... Buckman's irrepressible, somewhat adolescent humor permeates the book. For example, a chapter on fecal organisms is titled "The Origin of the Feces," and a section called "The Art of the Fart" is illustrated with photos of Mylar pantaloons used to trap flatus for study. If this kind of stuff doesn't brother you, then there's plenty more that surely will. Buy it for a friend who worries about 'germs.'" Mike Walsh sells this book. One WSFAn opined the pictures looked rather like the Brain Bugs in Starship Troopers. Another declared, "You are The Matrix."
Capclave Past has past. Capclave Present was not present.
Lee Gilliland, Chair of Capclave Future, said " ~ ." That's what I transcribed and I'm sticking with it.
Mike Walsh, Chair of Capclave Far Future, said he's talking to hotels. (How about talking to the humans who manage them, Mike?) He also reported that World Fantasy Con is lurching forward. We have a hotel and a Guest of Honor. Jack Williamson is planning on attending. Programming is sorting things out. What things, Mike didn't say.
Eric Jablow, Chair of the Austerity Committee, asked people to donate to the club or he will be forced to conduct a pledge drive for W-S-F-A. Someone stole his car radio, making his car more austere.
Lee Gilliland, Chair of the Activities Committee, said there would be no field trip to see The Hulk, but, if enough people were interested, there would be an impromptu field trip to the Bailey's Crossroads Borders to gawk at the Harry Potter zombies storming the doors at the witching hour to buy Harry Potter and the Ordure of the Phoenix.
Old Business: Nothing besides the usual monkey business.
Under New Business, Elspeth Kovar attempted to have a serious discussion. The club indulged this novelty but not for too long. Elspeth proposed that the club establish a fixed date for Capclave and stick with it rather than wandering thru the year. Mike Walsh allowed that he would like a date. Various dates were discussed but there was no clear consensus. Judy attempted to refer the issue to the current Capclave chairs but the club ignored her. Lee Gilliland noted that room rates are higher the further you go from Thanksgiving. My notes say "Adrienne Ertman" but they don't say what she did. Judy again attempted to refer the issue to the con chairs, this time successfully.
Lee Gilliland asked for a show of hands for months that people did not like. Lee Strong objected that her request did not parse logically. Lee demanded that Lee do better so he restated the request for information by disliked month. Someone else added the option, "Who doesn't care about the month?" and that option garnered a majority of the club.
The next First Friday will be on the Fourth of July and therefore the meeting will be held at the Fabulous Bungalow. [That logic doesn't parse either.]
When it came time for the traditional Secretary's announcement, memories yet green arose to touch the hearts of WSFA's old pharts with fear and trembling. Egged on by Bob MacIntosh, Judy quickly preempted Lee Strong and directed those who wished their announcements to appear as they wished to email those announcements directly to Sam Lubell. Lee silently contemplated the fact that eight years have not dimmed the memories of those glorious days of the early Nineties.
[The innocent young WSFAns of today can relive the Reign of Error, the Coup of the Month Club, Government by Frog, the Committee to Spend a Great Deal of Money on Something Incredibly Controversial and Expensive, and One Dan Thing After Another by perusing The WSFA Journals of 1990-95 on the WSFA Website, thanks to the hard work of Sam Lubell and Keith and Wade Lynch.]
Lee Gilliland asked that people use toilet paper when using the toilet. (Well, duh!) Her Titanic fan club broke in two after encountering rough seas. She set up her own website for Team Titanic.
Elizabeth Twitchell asked people to join Into Books, which links child readers and adult mentors by correspondence. You [the adult] are assigned an elementary school penpal, read 6 children's books, and correspond. There are safeguards against people having an unhealthy interest in children.
Keith Lynch, speaking for the Publications Committee, announced that he needed help getting email addresses for an urgent club business notification list. He read a list of names of people who had not provided him with email addresses, culminating with Lance Oszko who was seated in front of him.
Unabashed, Lance announced that the Charlotte NASFIC bid has rooms for $92/night. This applies to the Bid only. He's selling beads and trying to recruit chocolate runners to Canada. He has a suite at TORCON. Anyone wanting Lance's suite for Saturday night, please see him.
Jennifer Brinn, Melissa Cox, and Julia Linthicum visited WSFA for their first time each. Jennifer is no relation. (I just write these things down, folks.)
Ivy Yap returned for her second meeting. Eric announced that if she comes a third time, she is eligible to be expelled.
Colleen Cahill announced the Library of Congress is sponsoring two speakers: James Walter Miller, speaking on Jules Verne, and Karl Kofeod, artist of Galactica Geographica.
Madeleine Yeh completed her jewelry project. The club gave Yeh a Yay of approval.
Lee Strong announced that it had rained 40 days and 40 nights in the last fifty. Mike opined that that explained the recent cockroach migration: they are looking for the Ark. Steve Smith asked if Home Depot carried gopherwood. If so, he would go fer wood. Someone suggested that EPA regulations would prevent building an ark in modern times. Lee said, "No problem. Get the trial date set for sometime after the Flood."
Lee also said that the new alternate history Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen was extremely powerful. He cried in public while reading the final battle in the book.
Mike Walsh had books for sale. (No news there.)
Eric stated that he had read an article on making ice cream the Pomeranz way, with liquid nitrogen. (Actually that would be the Overton way, Eric.)
He also asked which Mars rocket had been launched first. The two rockets were code named the Daffy and the Marvin after two distinguished astronauts from the 1950's. Eric wondered if there would be an Earth shattering kaboom. The Babylon 5 fans present chanted, "Maybe no kaboom today, maybe no kaboom tomorrow, but, some day, big kaboom."
The club unanimously adjourned at "nine fortysomething" to await the big kaboom.
* [Inserted] After the meeting, Lee Strong told Eric that W-S-F-A is the callsign of a mainstream radio station in Alabama. Eric wanted to know more and Lee referred him to the source of all knowledge and befuddlement, the Internet.
* The NASA Website states that the Mars Rover rockets are named the Spirit and the Opportunity, with the former being launched first. I liked Eric's version better.
Th-tha-that's all, folks!
Present were President Judy Kindell, Vice President Cathy Green, Treasurer Bob MacIntosh, Capclave Future Lee Gilliland, Capclave Far Future Michael Walsh, Trustee Adrienne Ertman, Trustee Keith Lynch, Trustee Steven Smith, Sheri Bell, Jennifer Brinn, Colleen Cahill, Melissa Cox, Alexis Gilliland, Scott Hofmann, Eric Jablow, Jim Kling, Elspeth Kovar, Bill Lawhorn, Julia Linthicum, Nicki Lynch, Richard Lynch, Wade Lynch, Walter Miles, Lance Oszko, Larry Pfeffer, Sam Pierce, Rebecca Prather, Judy Scheiner, George Shaner, Lee Strong, Michael Taylor, Elizabeth Twitchell, Ivy Yap, and Madeleine Yeh. Arriving after the meeting were Barry Newton, Meridel Newton, and Ted White.
Spyglass Entertainment, 2003
People occasionally say, "Oh, my God!" when I walk into a room. I always demur, identifying myself as "Only a servant."
Bruce Nolan is a television news broadcaster who loses his job thru a couple of bad breaks, some accidental, some malign. In frustration, he screams at God, who teaches him a lesson by investing Bruce with His Own Power for a week or so. At first, Bruce has a lot of ego-boo fun with various wish fulfillment magic tricks such as parting the red soup -- not to mention rush hour traffic --, regaining his job with miraculous news stories, and getting revenge on his competition. But, it's not all laughs as this surprisingly deep film goes on to show the responsibilities of God and the consequences of poorly thought out actions. Bruce's good intentions go awry and he has to learn how to use his real powers to best advantage.
This is a very good movie with a great more depth than first meets the eye. I was expecting pure slapstick and there's certainly plenty of that. But, it includes some very serious lessons about love and life as well. The special effects are great but the intertwined stories about human and divine love are greater. As theology, the Book of Bruce is a little weak, but as entertainment, it's a little bit of heaven.
I rate Bruce Almighty as «««½ on the five star scale. -- LS
Pixar Studios/Walt Disney Studios, 2003
This fish tale is a nice little cartoon about individual responsibility and enduring family values. Oh, yes, and it has sea food in it.
This miniature dual epic revolves around Marlin Clownfish's voyage to find his missing son, Nemo, and himself as an adult, as well as Nemo's journey to find Dad and his own identity. The story begins with one tragedy in which Marlin's family is almost wiped out, leaving himself and Nemo with each other and deep psychological scars. A second tragedy separates Nemo from his home but inspires the dual search for each other and a more mature acceptance of life's rough times. Along the way, the two clownfish met a colorful cast of characters including the ditzy but lovable Dorie Fish, sharks recovering from their addiction to fish, turtle surfer dudes, irritable crabs, comical birds, and a human or three.
I found this story very enjoyable with vivid characters, snappy dialog, fast paced action, brilliant color, and an mature emotional theme. It's aimed at children but that never stopped a true fin... er, fan from enjoying a good flick.
I found Finding Nemo worth «««½ on the five star scale. - LS
Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow/Silver Pictures, 2003
Well, this is certainly the best over the top Japanese anime superhuman martial arts flick I've ever seen. And it's even been dubbed into English!
In the world of The Matrix, reality as we know it is merely an illusion piped into our brains by sentient machines who are actually keeping our bodies in petri dishes to act as living wet cell batteries. The illusionary world keeps us content while we generate energy for our insectlike masters. A few humans escape the illusion into an ultra-cyberpunk world of trash filled sewers and a hidden city of exiles evocatively named Zion. Some bold exiles return to the Matrix to liberate more minds, while dodging the superhuman Agent programs and squidlike Sentinel machines constantly patrolling their respective levels of reality.
Previously, Morpheus and Trinity liberated Neo, who they believe is The One who will destroy the Matrix. The 3.0+ musketeers now return for Episode 2.0 (of 3.0), seeking the keys to the Source code that will return reality to the world. Most of the film is taken up with over the top martial artistry with a black leather cyberpunk flavor while Neo and his buddies consult with the intuitive Oracle, the obnoxious Merovingian, the human plot device Keymaker, and the Architect of the entire Matrix 6.0. The rest of the movie is fleshed out with car chases and philosophy, including the best "Luke, I am your father" scene that I've seen in the last 22 years.
I had a lot of trouble with this film, and took the unusual step of viewing it and its predecessor a second time each to improve my understanding. The underlying postulates of the Matrix double universe don't make sense because there are much easier ways to accomplish all the major plot drivers within the film. A number of characters are blatantly anthropomorphic plot devices rather than organic beings. The technology -- supposedly derived from real 20th Century hardware -- is designed to scare rather than function logically. And, fundamentally, I'm not into paranoia. The Wachowski Brothers have created a hard hitting dystopian world, but have they written science fiction or just a well realized nightmare?
That said, taken on its own merits, The Matrix Reloaded is a good second chapter of a three part story. George Lucas doesn't really explain the politics of the Galactic Republic very well and his story works. The nature of reality is certainly a legitimate concern for storytelling. Once you accept the paranoid postulates, the Matrix has a coherent plot, including overall direction and reasonable twists. Some of the characters are plausible, displaying emotion and development. And the cinematography and special effects are superb.
So, it's not a bad film. Just a puzzling one.
Which is almost certainly the point.
I rate The Matrix Reloaded as «««½ on the five star scale. -- LS 3.0
Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow, 2003
This collection of animated shorts explores the world of The Matrix. If you haven't seen that film, these sidebars won't make a lot of sense. If you have seen The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, they still don't make a lot of sense, but you're better informed and the Wachowski Brothers are $12 richer.
Most of these animated films show various takes on people within the Matrix world encountering the edges of reality. My favorite is "Beyond" where some kids find that a "haunted house" allows them to perform superhuman stunts because "reality" is weak there. Enforcer Agents sweep in and literally vacuum the reality breakdown up, leaving the old house merely an abandoned property. "The Last Flight of the Osiris" is a cutting room floor sweeping that shows a crew of cybernauts trying to send vital information to the refuge city of Zion via the US Post Office. No wonder the machines are beating us silly.
The two part "Second Renaissance" is the most valuable but also the most illogical. It shows the previously largely unknown history of the Matrix universe, including the stereotyped war against the robots, the scorching of the sky, the stuffing of human beings into petri dishes, and the changeover from realistic to insectlike technology. The back story contains multiple cases of bad science and absurd technological choices intended to realize the Wachowski Brothers' initial nightmare vision. Examples include the statement that unshielded electronic devices are immune to direct hit nuclear explosions, the use of simple smoke to permanently (!) "scorch the sky", and the machines' use of human bodies as wet cell batteries when nuclear and geothermal power are so much simpler.
This collection of 9 shorts shows wide variations in cartoon technique, scripting and other production values. The diehard Matrix fan will enjoy it, but I believe that the general science fiction fan will find it disappointing. I rate Animatrix as ««½ on the five star scale. -- LS 3.0
Marvel Entertainment/Universal Pictures, 2003
Aargh! Reviewer smash bad movie!
Given that the title character is a nuclear powered berserker, this is a surprisingly dull film. A great deal of the dialog was drowned out by the squeaking movie theater seats powered by small children squirming in boredom.
In the original comic book version, the Hulk was a kind of pseudo-mutant tormented by his power and the rage that triggered it. A doubletalk "gamma radiation" accident forced mild mannered Bruce Banner to change into an unstoppable but almost unthinking giant, but tortured him with the destruction that he caused. Morally, he was redeemed by his struggle to put his unwanted power to good use, primarily by smushing bad guys who underestimated his intellectual and physical prowess. The movie version is a mishmash that leaves the audience unsatisfied.
In a lengthy build up, we see Bruce's father engaging in an early form of genetic engineering, which he passes on to his offspring. There are apparently two doubletalk nuclear incidents, one at the remote "Desert Base Command" and one at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The result is that Bruce grows into a 15 foot tall unjolly green giant whenever the script requires it. Where the extra body mass comes from and goes to is never explained and the stresses that trigger the transformation are inconsistent. Nor does the Hulk have a worthy opponent to defeat. At various times, he fights with his father, Dad's pseudo-mutated dogs, a sneering corporate bully, the US Armed Forces, and San Francisco traffic. The military battle has some potential but it's over with quickly, and the pseudo-mutated French poodle looks silly even if it is nuclear powered. None of these petty food fights have a truly epic quality and the Hulk's potential is pretty much wasted. There is an interesting psychological note when Bruce confesses that he enjoys the feeling of power that Hulkdom bestows, but this is a far cry from the original. In the end, the mighty Hulk is defeated by bad scripting.
I rate The Hulk as «« on the five star scale. Reviewer smash! -- LS
X2 (Also known as X-Men 2 and/or X-Men United)
Warner Brothers/Marvel Entertainment, 2003
This movie takes place in the alternate comic book Marvel Universe. You can tell that it's an alternate universe because the United States has no civil rights laws, no effective police and no effective Armed Forces. Oh, yeah, and various mutants have superhuman powers.
A superpowered but unwilling assassin Nightcrawler scares the bejeezus out of the President of the United States while delivering an anti-anti-mutant message and our heroes, the X-Men, take on the task of hunting him down before the ongoing anti-mutant hysteria gets any worse. Along the way, they discover conflicting plots by the anti-human mutants Magneto and Masque and the anti-mutant human Colonel Stryker and his minion Deathstrike. There's a subplot about discovering some new mutants but most of the story is a fairly simple slambang duel of the superpowers.
Superhero stories are generally defined as science fiction for lack of a better category to place them in. However, I had a lot of trouble with the logic here that definitely hurt my willing suspension of disbelief. In addition to the background problems above, the big climax requires concrete and steel construction to explode in a way that I hope is unique to the Marvel Universe and one character to commit a noble, but utterly unnecessary, sacrifice for the others. I finally decided that if I can enjoy overt fantasy stories, I can enjoy this science fantasy tale. Granting the outre assumptions, there's a nice story here about decent people using their brains and special talents for the benefit of others, and that's always a good yarn.
I rate X2 -- the only name shown during the film -- as ««« on the five star scale. -- LS
Elspeth was overwhelmed with options and professed herself "jealous". Judy started the meeting at 8:58 by her watch but paused while John went to get a candle to scare off the bugs and Kathi got a lamp for the secretary to take notes (what Mike Walsh called a weapon of mass illumination. Cathy asked if the secretary can handle the power). The July First Friday took place at the Fabulous Bungalow's Fourth of July Party.
Lee reported no old business from the meeting the secretary missed. He has a disk with the minutes. Bob Macintosh reported $1,429 even. Kathi looking over his shoulder at the illuminated computer screen protested, "That's not what it says here." Keith says there are now four email lists - a discussion list open to all present and past WSFAns, a list for announcing meetings, a list for when meetings change, and a list when the Journal goes online. Elspeth suggested adding a list for the anal retentive. He said the back issues online go back 12 ½ years.
Sam for Capclave said he brought flyers to go to Confluence, reminded Judy to get out the letters to program participants, and is planning an origami party soon.
Eric is going to the NY Marathon. Meeting unanimously adjourned at 9:07 to go watch fireworks.
Attendance: Judy Kindell, Cathy Green, Sam Lubell, Bob MacIntosh, Keith Lynch, Mike Walsh, Eric Jablow, Perrianne Lurie, Lee Strong, Laurie Mann, Kathi Overton, John Pomeranz, Jim Mann, Elspeth Kovar, Jim Edwards-Hewitt, Walter Miles, Larry Pfeffer, Liz Cademy Pfeffer, Ivy Yap, Jim Kling.
Reviewed by Samuel Lubell
I liked Karl Schroeder's Ventus (reviewed in the May WSFA Journal) enough that I picked up Permanence, his next book, in the library. I found it a good book but not as exciting and ground-breaking as Ventus. This book is more traditional sf, of the explore the alien world variety (similar to Clarke's Rama books) crossed with a spy-thriller. Unfortunately, some of authorial string pulling is evident in the lucky breaks the heroine continuously experiences.
The book opens with the orphaned heroine, Rue Cassels, stealing back the family heirloom that is rightfully hers and escaping her evil brother on the spaceship (that is half-hers). On her way to the star Erythrion, she spots an object "not registered with the Claims Bureau" (the first of the lucky breaks) and assumes it's a valuable comet (mined for their water by this civilization of colonists of planets and orbitals circling brown dwarf stars). But when it turns out to be a giant alien ship, her claim is only valid if she can assemble a team to enter and explore it. Fortunately (again) the one relative who sticks by her, cousin Max, has the money and connections to assemble a team and keep her alive despite rivals (including the government) who think the easiest way to deal with her salvage rights is to kill her. She eventually makes it to the ship (with an uneasy partnership with the military) and learns how to control it by completely disregarding the experts and doing her own thing (more authorial string-pulling). But it turns out the military has different plans which result in a race to the home planet of the ship.
I liked the way different characters have different motivations. Rue first wants to survive away from her brother and get rich, but as she becomes responsible for a crew and learns more about her civilization and its needs, her character gets more complicated. The civilization around the dwarf stars (the halo worlds) is fading as FTL travel to the bright worlds means that there are fewer traders making cycles around the halo worlds. Rue wants to use the alien ship to settle new worlds and keep the halo worlds system going. The military of the Rights Economy that rules the light worlds is looking for weapons to use against the rebels. The scientists want to find out more about the aliens who built the ship. One of the scientists, Michael, is also a Neo-Shintoist who makes illegal religious records capturing the spirits of the places he visits. He is suffering from a collapse of his faith in both religion and science (and has ties to the rebels).
As you can see, this is a complex book with lots of politics mixed in with the action. It is fairly successful although mixing in a form of virtual reality that enables those in power to control what everyone sees does not really fit this book. The characterization is well done, especially of Rue, Max, and Michael. However, the bad guys are less well defined and their actions do not always seem to make sense (at one point they try to kill Rue just so the author can have her learn about their actions.) I recommend it for those who say that no sf writer is doing classic sf adventure. But readers looking for something new should read Ventus instead.
Reviewed by Samuel Lubell
Most ships are designed to float. The Shadowmoon is designed to sink. But in this fantasy world, the ability to sink while the crew breathe air trapped beneath a lifeboat is a unique asset. And it is needed since Emperor Warsovran has acquired a weapon, Silverdeath, that can destroy entire continents while curing the man who wields it. But Voyage of the Shadowmoon is not the typical fantasy novel of warriors, thieves, and magic users on a quest to collect the plot coupons. One of the characters is a vampire from our world trapped in the form of a 14-year-old. Nor is the world a simple relabeled medieval Europe; the characters have two hearts.
The use of Silverdeath to destroy a city, which results in the destruction of an entire continent except for the emperor's fleet and those on the Shadowmoon, sets the novel's plot in motion. The emperor wants to recapture Silverdeath to rebuild his empire on a different continent and those on the Shadowmoon want to stop him. The Eunuch-king wants to use Silverdeath to restore a certain body part. And a sorceress plots a unique way to reach the prize by dieting. Meanwhile, two priestesses, who each feel betrayed by the other, are compelled to participate in the voyage.
The result is a complex plot with many characters and intriguing situations. The book is long and goes on a bit after its logical conclusion and at least one subplot (the princess who becomes a slave) is totally unnecessary. Still, McMullen has a unique voice with a good sense of humor and successfully makes the reader care about his various characters. The vampire is an especially inspired creation as he tries to remain chivalrous despite his habit of eating people.
I recommend this for fantasy readers seeking a book slightly different from the usual fantasy epic without being too unfamiliar.