Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

07/24/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 4, Whole Number 2129

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Say What?  Mark Leeper's Journal, June 24, 1994 (comments

by Mark R. Leeper)

THE ACCURSED TOWER by Roger Crowley (book review

by Gregory Frederick)

LA TRAVIATA and Other Operas (letters of comment

by Paul Dormer, Gary McGath, Dorothy J. Heydt,

Scott Dorsey, and Keith F. Lynch)

Fanac Fan History Project, LA TRAVIATA and Other Operas,


of comment by John Purcell)



MACHINES THAT THINK) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Say What?  Mark Leeper's Journal, June 24, 1994 (comments by

Mark R. Leeper)

[Note Bene: This column was originally written in earlier days.

These days nobody has a fighting chance to understand and keep up

with the tech on things like 5G (or is it 7W?)  -mrl]

It is time to at least talk about the last great taboo of our

society.  The words that everybody thinks but that few people have

the courage to say.  I must think these words thirty times a day

and yet dare not speak them aloud.  I hear what you are saying.

"He must be going to talk about something sexual.  I better hide

this from the kids."  Well, first of all, no it is nothing like

that.  (Besides, these days the kids could probably teach you a

thing or two.)  But even today I am talking about the words that

nobody dares say, but that everybody thinks.  Even kids in school

think it but dare not say it.  And experts say that people will be

thinking this more and more in the future and may be all the more

terrified to say it aloud.  What are the dreaded words that we all

think but only few have the courage to say out loud.  The words are

"I don't know what you are talking about.  I don't understand."

Certainly in school you are taught from the first that you should

study very hard and always be sure you will understand every pearl

of wisdom the teacher utters.  Your parents expect that when your

math teacher says the hyperbolic tangent asymptotically approaches

zero you will think to yourself "Of course it does."  When your

history teacher talks about the Diet of Worms you are expected to

know what he is talking about and not stop to ask yourself, "What

do worms eat, anyway?"  (Actually, I wonder if anybody even teaches

about the Diet of Worms anymore.)

As you get older it gets even worse with contractors asking you

about rabbiting joists, and car ads talking about dual cam engines.

Here at AT&T (this is 1994 remember) we take it a step further with

the liberal use of acronyms.  "Shall we connect the TSGs to the

smart hubs via NFS or TCP/IP?"  People who teach clarity of writing

usually say to keep acronyms to a minimum, but have your read a

Bell Labs Technical Journal lately.  It looks like alphabet soup.

Even when people talk about TV these days everything is going

technical.  When I was growing up I used to talk to my friends

about the latest episode of THE OUTER LIMITS.  I knew what they

were talking about and they knew what I was talking about.  These

days people talk about STAR TREK or BABYLON 5 you have to keep

straight the names of seven or eight different alien races and

forty or so different character and actor names.  Conversation gets

more and more technical and harder and harder to follow, even

talking about TV shows.  These days talking about science fiction

TV shows comes down to conversations like "Didn't the Traggleump

have hyperwarp drive in their war against the Plargut?"  It is the

hardest thing in the world to admit you don't understand.  But deep

down most of you are like that, going through life afraid to admit

that you don't understand something.  Now me, I am not like that.

I have admitted it the few times I didn't follow a conversation.

And you can believe that today I understand everything I hear.

Please.  [-mrl]



CRUSADES by Roger Crowley (book review by Gregory Frederick)

This history book chronicles the events leading up to and the

actual battle for the last major crusader castle in the Middle East

in 1291.  Acre was a well-fortified and fully manned castle on the

East Coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  For years before 1291 the

Muslims from Egypt were capturing and destroying other crusader

castles along the coast near the present day country of Israel.

But what lead to the demise of Acre was a belief common to people

which has occurred many times in history.  They did not think that

they would become a target.  They thought their location made them

valuable as a trading center between the Europeans and the

Egyptians.  And there was no unified command leading the defense of

this castle.  These factors and others meant that Arce would fall

in a matter of days.  The latest in siege methods also helped to

bring about a quick end to the battle.  Huge trebuchets and many

smaller catapults were built by the attackers and transported to

the siege site and additionally mining operations were undertaken

to undermine towers along the castle wall.  There was a double wall

of towers around the castle at Arce.  When a tower would collapse

the attackers could advance to the next wall of towers.  But the

failings of the defenders would bring about the eventual loss of

this castle.  Roger Crowley is a great author and this book like

many others he has written is a very good read.  You feel like you

are there during the events he writes about.  [-gf]


TOPIC: LA TRAVIATA and Other Operas (letters of comment by Paul

Dormer, Gary McGath, Dorothy J. Heydt, Scott Dorsey, and Keith

F. Lynch)

In response to Mark's comments on LA TRAVIATA in the 07/17/20 issue

of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

[Mark wrote,] "... when Alfredo's father visits Violetta and says

that she has to call the affair off because Alfredo's sister's

fiance's family objects to the name Violetta is giving the family.

Violetta agrees to leave her lover and return to her life of

partying.  She writes him a note and leaves."  [-mrl]

Alfredo's father's big aria in that act is one of my all-time


Incidentally, I'm reminded of the opera house's sudden request for

a replacement singer:

"Our Mimi's sick."

"Well, she's supposed to be."  [-pd]

Gary McGath replies:

One of the strangest opera deaths is Desdemona's in Verdi's OTELLO.

The title character suffocates her.  Then Emilia comes in and

explains that Otello's accusations were unfounded.  Desdemona

declares her innocence, and only then does she die.  I thought that

if someone stopped choking you and you were still able to speak (or

sing), you weren't very likely to die.  [-gmg]

Dorothy J. Heydt responds:

Well, in Shakespeare's play, somebody comes in and asks Desdemona

who killed her, and she says, IIRC:

"Nobody, I myself, farewell."

I don't think it's physiologically accurate either, but maybe both

Shakespeare and Verdi's librettist [Arrigo Boito] wanted to

emphasize that Desdemona forgave her husband for being violent and

credulous, a terrible combination.  [djh]

Paul adds:

Conversely, UN BALLO IN MASCHERA is based on the real-life

assassination of Gustav III of Sweden, who really was assassinated

at a masked ball in 1792.  (Italian censors forbade the depiction

of a monarch being assassinated so for early productions, the

action was transposed to colonial Boston and the king becomes the


In the opera, if you think the king is taking a long time to die,

in real life it took two weeks.  [-pd]

Scott Dorsey observes:

Sure, but in real life he didn't sing F two octaves above middle C

while doing it.  [-sd]

Gary notes:

In real life, Gustav III was shot, and in the opera he (or the

governor) is stabbed. Either way, taking a long time to die is

plausible.  What strains credulity for me is a masked ball in

Puritan Boston.  [-gmg]

Keith F. Lynch provides the following:

"Several balls took place at the hall in the 1770s.  For instance,

'the fourth Subscription Ball will be held at Concert Hall on

Thursday, the 29th instant [of January], 1776.'  Also: 'on Monday,

the 11th of March, will be given at Concert Hall, a Subscription

Masked Ball.  By the fifth of March, a number of different masks

will be prepared & sold by almost all the milliners and mantua

makers in Town.'"




TOPIC: Fanac Fan History Project, LA TRAVIATA and Other Operas,


by John Purcell)

In response to the comments on LAN'S LANTERN in the 07/17/20 issue

of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Another week, another VOID. Life goes on, tra-la! Well, such as it

does in this day and age. We are still here, and that's a good

thing; at least, that is how I am going to look at things.

The Fanac Fan History project is a splendid and wonderful service.

Mark Olson scanned in a raft of old fanzines during Corflu Heatwave

this past March, and the site is truly a treasure trove of old

zines and photos of SF fandom's history, people, events, and

publications.  I remember LAN'S LANTERN from back in the day--

George Laskowski, Jr., was a fun person to hang out with at

conventions, and I remember a lot of good times at Minicons,

Windycons, and elsewhere from those years--and the zine always

contained fine articles and artwork.  His many tribute issues to

writers were huge and fun reading; the Clifford D. Simak issue

featured cover art by Minneapolis fan Kathy Marschall, if I recall

correctly.  Sadly, George ('Lan') died of cancer in July 1999 at

the age of 50.  [-jp]

In response to Mark's comments on LA TRAVIATA in the same issue,

John writes:

I find it interesting that you saw LA TRAVIATA and LA BOHEME in

Estonia in 1994.  Am I correct in assuming they were in their

original languages?  While I do enjoy listening to the music and

appreciate the skill of the vocalists, I am a non-fan of operas.

The same goes for watching ballets.  Just can't do it.  I would

much rather just listen and enjoy the music.  This does not

disparage the skills and performances of opera singers and ballet

dancers, nor the extravagant stage settings and performances, it is

simply that I don't like "watching" either medium.  Chalk it up to

personal preference.

Mark responds:

I did not see LA BOHEME in Estonia, but I have seen it numerous

times.  TRAVIATA was probably done in Italian, but I think the

producer decides the language of the production.  I am not a

particular fan of opera but a lot of the most beautiful music I

know comes from operas.  [-mrl]

Evelyn responds:

LA TRAVIATA (in Estonia) was sung in Italian (though with a strong

Estonian accent, making it difficult to understand even the words

we knew).  We did not see LA BOHEME; I presume it would have been

the same.  We also saw RIGOLETTO in Lithuania, of which I wrote,

"For one litas [about 25 cents] they have a program that explains

the action in three languages: English, Lithuanian, and Russian.

There were three reasons this was useful: 1) Mark wasn't sure he

remembered the plot, 2) there were no super-titles, and 3) it was

sung in Lithuanian, not Italian.  We suppose if it were sung in

Italian, any super-titles would have been in Lithuanian, but at

least Italian has some cognates with English and we would have had

some chance of picking up the plot from the words."

This all reminds me of seeing MALEVIL at the Worldcon in The Hague,

of which I wrote, "This was a post-holocaust film none of us had

seen, so Mark, Dale, Kate, Kate's friend, and I all went to see it.

Unluckily, it was in French.  Luckily, it was subtitled.

Unluckily, it was subtitled in Dutch.  Luckily, it had very little

dialogue.  Only Dale and I stayed for the whole film.  He could

pick up some of the Dutch because it was like German, which he

knew, and I could recognize some of the French and some of the

Dutch, and he remembered the story from the book fairly well, so

between us I think we pieced together what was going on.  But we

did agree that we didn't remember a train in a tunnel from the book

and suspect that was added for dramatic effect."  [-ecl]

On the comments on QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and other BBC

series/serials, John writes:

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT is one of my personal favorite all-time SF

movies.  Fred Hoyle's A FOR ANDROMEDA is on my bookshelves

somewhere, so it's interesting to note that there was BBC

serialization of it.  The email exchange between Paul Dormer, Scott

Dorsey, Keith F. Lynch, Kevin R, Peter Trei, DorothyJ. Heydt, and

Tim Merrigan is interesting reading.  Thank you for sharing it in

this week's VOID.  [-jp]

And finally, John writes:

Any comments I could make on THE DECAMERON will have to wait until

I have read it.  In the meantime, I once again thank you for

pubbing your ish.  This was fun reading, and is greatly

appreciated.  [-jp]


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

Addendum on THE DECAMERON (Day 3): I discovered that Florio's

translation of THE DECAMERON has a completely different story for

the tenth story of the third day.  I guess "putting the Devil in

Hell" was too racy even for him, and so he made another one up.

The original Italian has the story that I had described last week.


(Capstone, ISBN 978-1-684-46141-7) is described as being at a

reading level for 8- to 11-year-olds.  It is possible that 8- to

11-year-olds are more knowledgeable than when I was growing up, but

words like "imbalance" and "incandescent" seem a bit too advanced,

particularly for the low end of that range.   What I do find

interesting is that Dockray emphasizes how Thomas Edison and others

cheated Tesla of the rewards for his work.  Most authors have

concentrated more on Tesla's achievements and glossed over this

aspect.  (She does soften it a bit with the information that even

when he had money, Tesla spent it all on experiments, so he might

have ended up broke anyway.)

Okay, this is not exactly what 8- to 11-year-olds want to read, and

most of the book is more about Tesla's technical achievements.  So

it is of interest to the scientifically-minded tween.


by John Brockman (Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0-06-242565-2) in the

02/14/20 issue of the MT VOID, and at the time said I was reading

it one or two essays at a time.  There being a couple of hundred

essays, this is a long-term project, and I have a comments on a

couple of essays I have just read.

In "AI/AL", Esther Dyson writes, "If you're alive, you must face

the possibility of being dead.  But if you're AI/AL [artificial

intelligence/artificial life] in a machine, perhaps not."  Later,

she refers to AI/AL being immortal, alive forever, and apparently

aware of this.  There are a couple of problems with this.  First of

all, if an AI/AL has no concept of its own possible death, how

would that be any different that thinking itself immortal.  One

could claim that current AI thinks it is immortal in that it does

not think it could die.  But more importantly, the AI/AL is not

immortal.  The sun will eventually go dark, and even if it escapes,

the heat death of the universe will overtake it (Isaac Asimov's

"The Last Question" to the contrary notwithstanding).  Or is Dyson

saying that the AI/AL will *falsely* believe in its immortality?

In "Brains and Other Thinking Machines", Tom Griffith makes a

dichotomy in learning I don't recall seeing explicated before

between structure and flexibility.  Structure attempts to fit new

data in an existing framework; flexibility attempts to build a

constantly evolving structure from new data.  Both have their

place, but both can lead to problems.  Structure, for example, is

what leads to errors from false cognates--as we had to be told in

Spanish class, "Sopa isn't soap, and ropa isn't ropa."  Flexibility

leads to finding patterns in what is actually pure chance (or

misinterpreted data).  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          One dog barks at something, the rest bark at him.

                                          --Chinese Proverb