The View from Entropy Hall (Online Archive) - From Ed Meskys - RR2 Box 63 - 322 Whitter Hwy - Center Harbor NH 03226
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Issue #10

The View From Entropy Hall #10 for APA-Q 405, 8 Mar. 1997, from Ed Meskys, RR #2 Box 63, (322 Whittier Hwy Mbo), Center Harbor NH 03226- 9708, [email protected], 603-253-6207.



I just stopped by my pest office to verify that my address will be stable before having a new rubber stamp made up, and the clerk told me there will probably be another change in May. This July I will have lived in the same house for 30 years and this will be my unpteenth CoA! (Well, I exaggerate...a bit!)


by Robert L. Forward, TOR, 1993, 304 pp. SPOILER WARNING--I GIVE AWAY MANY ESSENTIAL AND SURPRISING PLOT ELEMENTS. This is the third novel by Forward that I have read, the others being his first, DRAGON'S EGG and ROCHE WORLD, as serialized in ANALOG. Like Hal Clement he takes joy in exploring an astronomical body with exotic conditions and speculating on what sort of life could evolve there.

Like DRAGON'S EGG, this starts with a bleak picture of a decaying space program. We have abandoned our telepresence on Mars and are slowly shutting down our base on the moon. We do have a high tech launch facility in orbit...a 4000 km cable along which electromagnetic carts can accelerate small probees at up to 3,000 gravities and larger ones at lower rates. A fly-by probe is sent to an interesting newly discovered body in the Kuiper belt just outside Neptune's orbit, and its pictures show defenite signs of intelligent life at a temperature of 30 kelvins. There is utter amazement that any form of life, much less intelligent life, can exist that far from the sun, and limited money is pumped into the space program to investigate further. A cable facility is shipped there to catch probes and launch return samples, and a lander with two-way video communication is sent. The probe establishes communication with a "wizard" or town scholar of a near-by community. The creatures are small crayfish like crustatians and have a medieval level of technology. Mankind MUST learn the alien source of life energy which might help solve our energy crisis. The story opens with the arrival of an international crew of six after a protected but dangerous launch at 30 gravities and a two year voyage.

The humans stay in their lander while two telerobots in the form of the natives are used to communicate and gather samples. The wizard, called Marline by the humans, gives them a guided tour of her community while they struggle to learn about the source of the life energy, and the dynamics of how evolution can occur when each colony has an immortal equivalent of a "queen bee" who lays all the eggs.

The tour of the city, called "Camelot" by the humans, reminds me of the utopias of a century ago where the majority of the book is spent by natives explaining to the visitor how the civilization works. Even utopias as recent as Skinner's WALDEN II share this format. The humans have interesting interactions among themselves, and the cat smuggled aboard as a kitten by one of them, as they gather bits of evidence of how the biology of the planetesimal works. The energy is both cosmic ray energy trapped in the snow and nuclear energy. The life forms can separate out not only pure elements, but even isotopes. The life cycle ends in a nuclear explosion which destroys the city but scatters countless seeds into space which can land back on this cometoid (asteroid with a thick coating of frozen volatiles) or another one in the Kuiper belt. Only Marlene survives the explosion that scatters her community's seeds and at the end she is off on a mission to upset the life cycles of the other communities on her world by preventing the nuclear explosions. I suppose life is sufficiently advanced for evolution to stop, as it has for mankind. Because of medicine and civilization natural selection no longer operates to improve the gene pool. Perhaps, as in Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons," it is actually working to deminish our intelligence.

I DO find it difficult to imagine that the lone Marline will be able to have any significant effect on the rigid medieval society of her world. Despite the long tour of the world and the unlikely ending, I enjoyed this novel very much and do recommend it. The solution of the puzzles is well handled and the solutions are worthy of the problems. Also the humans and Marlene are interesting characters and interact in an absorbing manner.



A few ish back I reviewed Diana Gabaldon's DRAGONFLY IN AMBER and VOYAGER, and speculated that there would be a fourth novel. Well, one was published this fall and Sandy bought a copy when she found it on sale. It is DRUMS OF AUTUMN, Delacorte, 880 pp., $24.95. Sandy says it does continue Claire's and Jamie's adventures in The Colonies and ends before the revolt, though you see it coming. Also, their daughter Briana and her boyfriend come through the gate and find their way across the water in order to join them. I am looking forward to reading the book once the talking book program records it, perhaps a year from now.


COMMENTS on APA-Q #403 & 404

BLAnCmANGE (Mark Blackman). I was interested in your discussion of the origins of the name "Palistine." I had heard from Peter Gilman, now deceased, that it is derived from "Philistines," a tribe the Jews were often at war with, even though the modern Palistinians have no historical connection. Peter said it was chosen simply to annoy the Israelis. You point out the use of the name Palistine by the Romans after the suppression of the first century to try to bury the name of Juda. You said they used the name of a tribe that briefly took Gaza. Was this the Philistines of the bible? Around WWI the British called the area Palistine...why? When I was a kid in the early '40s I spent my summers on an uncle's potato farm out past Riverhead LI. When it rained I played in the attic where there were a number of old games from when their children were growing up and one was a jigsaw world map. I remember that what is now Israel and Jordan were indicated as one nation called "Trans-Jordan." I assume the map post-dated WWI. Was there such a legal entity or did the mapmaker simply lump together two too small areas? I don't remember what the other Middle-eastern countries were on that map.

In #404 you remarked that the Fanoclasts expired a couple of years ago in response to my remarks on NY fandom of the '50s and '60s. I just read FANHISTORICA #4 pubbed by Joe Siclari some 15 years ago. In it he reprinted Dick Lupoff's article about how the Fanoclasts got started as a split off from the Futurians. I vaguely remember from the same time period the Fanarchists, which Bill Donoho had written about in HABAKKUK a couple of years ago. I am not sure where they fit into this sequence.

You said that Marion Bradley does not like filk because some filker had tried to sue her for "stealing" a plot idea from a Darkover filksong in a story. Marion seems to be channelling this creative energy safely into her "Friends of Darkover" anthologies. I had always speculated that her dislike came from her love of opera and her thus considering filk too simplistic. I do suppose all authors have to be wary of ideas expressed by fen, but I wouldn't have expected this in fandom. Most fen KNOW how little money is paid for SF books and stories, with rare exceptions, and there are no deep pockets to be picked. I gather manufacturers and movie studeos have separate isolated departments for handling "ideas" for new products from the public so they could not be sued over an idea already developed by their R&D branch. similarly movie and TV studeos must have to isolate story ideas submitted by the public. Occassionally stories get filmed, sometimes accidentally like David Gerald not having even heard of Heinlein's ROLLING STONES when he wrote "Trouble With Tribles." I gather that the scripters of the movie ALIEN had not heard of van Vogt's VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE but the plot gimmicks were sufficiently similar that they did make a payment. There are only so many themes for SF stories and duplication is unavoidable. Sort of reminds me of Spider Robinson's story, "Melencholy Elephants." But it is all in the handling of the theme. A hundred different stories can be written on the same theme, all different and all good. A year or two back I heard a story on NPR's All Things Considered about a child who came up with an idea for a sequence on a kids cartoon series where the protagonists make a trip to Hawaii, and the studeo bought and used the idea. The kid got paid something like $60 for the plot. I am surprised that the plot made it from the buffering department into the real story originating section, and that the payment was so little. If that is all they pay for a sequence of several episodes how can any professional scripter make a living?

DAGON (John Boardman). I have read of how the tarot card deck evelved into the modern playing deck, but had not seen the symbolism of the suites representing classes. Swords representing nobility makes sense, but how did that evolve into the spade, a laborer's tool? All they have in common is a blade. Cup for clergy makes sense too, as the chalice used to celebrate mass. But how did that evolve into the heart? Their supposed love of God? Coins and diamonds both make sense for merchants, and for the peasantry staves are the same as clubs. Were there intermediate forms? How did one set actually replace the other? When did the names change? How did the 11 through 14 evolve into the picture cards jack, knight, queen, & king? Just what did the jack represent? When was the knight dropped from the deck? Of course the joker is the only survivor of the greater trumps. When and why were the others dropped?

and lets look at the other end. Where and how did the tarot deck originate? In approximately what century did each of these transations occur?

The B-29 bomber was developed to reach Germany from the States? I know it was developed late in the war and was used in the Pacific campaign. I am no expert on WWII aircraft but I doubt the B-29 had THAT long a range. I HAD heard that the B-36 was developed to take off from the US, bomb Germany, and return to the US, in case England were to fall. Fully loaded the plane needed such a long runway to take off that there were only about two bases anywhere in the US capable of supporting it. Of course England never fell, and the war was over before the plane became fully operational. I guess it was too big and clumsy to be ever used operationally. In Korea the US used B-29s.

I remember that the B-25 was a small 2-engine 2-rudder bomber which Billy Mitchell used to firebomb Tokyo from aircraft carriers in early '42. The B-24 Liberator...that was Canadian or British built, 4-engined, 2-ruddered, if I remember. Wasn't this the one that Dyson analysed for the Brits and found a fatal flaw in the design which prevented the crew from escaping? but nothing was done about it?

I guess the B-17, the B-29, and the B-52 were our most successful bonbers. The mach-2 B-58 hustler was never used, and the mach-3 B-72 Valkyrie bomber never got beyone two prototypes, one of which collided with another plane and crashed during a photo op. I wonder how successful the new B-1 and B-2 are.

Speaking of aircraft, I finally saw a SR-71 Blackbird on display at the air and space museum in Huntsville, Alabama. Well, at least Sandy saw it and was able to describe it in detail for me. I know the services had long sought to retire it because it was too costly to operate. (I find it croggling that any military person is concerned about cost.) I was surprised to learn, while at the museum, that three were re- commissioned and are in use over Yugoslavia. Why is that speed needed over such a small area and so close to US bases?

You mentioned marijuana prohibition as paralleling alcahol prohibition. I have seen several items in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN on the social acceptance of various mind-altering drugs and the US seems to alternate between prohibition and acceptance. In the '60s many seemed ready to accept legal marijuana and LSD and perhaps other drugs. The referenda in California and Arizona strike me as a last stand against a rising tide of moves to further suppress the drug trade. The US seems to be losing the battle against the drug lords of Mexico and South America. If the high-paying market for these drugs were taken away by legalization would these drug lords go the way of Al Capone? Has the near- legalization in England and the Netherlands helped reduce the illegal market there? What I am afraid of is that the current anti-smoking wave will eventually lead to total prohibition and all the evils that would bring. Sandy was addicted for over 30 years and finally kicked the habit a half year ago. I always hated the stink of stale smoke, especially on my clothes after a party, and am so glad that most places are now smoke free. But a total ban would bring in a black market and a criminal element.

I was interested in your description of the evolution of the calendar. Over the years the inaccuracies in the calendar and attempts to reform it have certainly moved the dates of the solstaces, equinoxes, and the new year back and forth. I had long heard that once upon a time new years was marked in late March, hence "April fool" for those who continued to celebrate it then after the change. Do you imply that the Feast of the Annunciation, near the spring equinox, was set before Christmas was, and the date was picked to coencide with the start of the new year? In a way that would make sense since the Christian Era could be said to coencide with Yeshua's conception. I believe that Christmas was not originally regarded as Yeshua's birthday, but merely the feast day designated to celebrate the fact of his birth. Similarly March 17 is not St. Patrick's birthday, but merely the day to celebrate his life and sainthood. And as many have pointed out, if the biblical infancy narratives are to be taken as factual, his birth had to be in the spring.

You mentioned that at the Church Jubilee in 1300 the Pope decreed that the traffic stay to the right of the road because of the large crushes of pilgrims. First, I vaguely remember from de Camp's historical novel AN ELEPHANT FOR ARISTOTLE that Babylon had such flow control a millenium and a half earlier And when the Pope did introduce the practice to Europe, would have it been to keep to the right? I understand that before Napoleon the standard European practice was to keep to the left so the sword arms would be more convenient should there be an encounter on horseback.Napoleon changed the rules of the road and trained his soldiers to cope in order to confound his enemies.

Back when Book Row in Manhattan was still flurishing I remember working my way down 4 ave from 14 St to the end, around 8 St.with side trips to University Ave around 12 St and to 3 Ave around 11 St (for Steve Tacak's SF shop). the last block had three stores on the left (east) side. Then I remember turning the corner and half way to 3 Ave. there was one last used bookshop on the north side. Is this the one that has moved to Stuyvacent & 3? Or was it the store that was across from the north edge of Washington Square? When I come to Lunacon and we hit the new book row I figure we should start with the Barnes & Noble bargain outlet which I expect opens before 11 AM, and which does have an excellent collection of used, remaindered, and review books. Then we can go west to Acadamy and Starlight, then back to 5th Ave. north to the new location of Books of wonder, and then head down to Strand, SF Shop, SF Mystery & More, and (maybe) Forbidden Planet and this shop in the most convenient order, what ever that is. The three places I like best are B&N BO, SFS, and SFM&M. These are where I find most of what I want at good prices. Maybe we can do Canadian House of Pancakes for lunch. I liked their chocolate-chip corn bread! Would it be worth swinging over to Tower Books? My memory of just where Houston St. is vague.

In reference to my problems with PC WRITE, I now think it was a problem with the hard drive, perhaps a virus. Brian brought over a disk repair utility (scandisk) which found that two files had gotten scrambled together on the hard drive (with a second similar case which had happened to another file that morning), and the utility repaired the problem. Fortunately the new problem had a back-up copy and I didn't lost anything.

I did not mean to imply that the role playing game of LA fandom of the '60s, Coventry, lead to Gygax's game of D&D. I cited both as role playing games. I understand that coventry was invented by an adolescent not yet in fandom some time in the '50s and was played by several friends in Pasadena. When they came into fandom they brought it with them, and it changed from a live-action street game into a medium for fiction writing. When I visited Seattle in August, 1962, I met the inventor of Coventry but I have forgotten his name.

About the City College SF club of the '60s. I had forgotten Larry Kafka's first name. As I remember he did some cartoons for the college fanzine, ENGRAM, and he was a very distant relative of the German/Jewish fantast. I moved to California a few months after fandom and the City College club discovered each other, and got to meetings only on my infrequent visits to NYC (about three times a year). I do remember seeing Randy Garrett at several meetings and vaguely remember Larry Jannifer, but never happened to be there with Bob Silverberg. I do remember Bob and Barbara Silverberg as regulars at the Lunarians in this period. I also remember a bunch of us going to a near-by bar with Randy Garrett after several City College meetings.

You commented on the fact that when Polish names are Lithuanized the ski or sky ending becomes skas. Well, a vowel and s is the normal nominative masculine ending for a noun, so when a name was converted the "as" ending is natural. Even the Swedish Lansberg became Lansbergas.

I liked your comment about building a wall around the various middle-eastern trouble spots like Israel, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, etc., and keeping it locked for a generation, and then opening it up to see whichever faction survived. Reminds me of Heinlein's story "Coventry."

I was interested in the story of Julius Caeser being held for ransom by pirates. Also interested to see that Julius was his family name. Did I understand that Caeser was also some sort of family designation? I thought it was simply his title meaning something like Emperor or king of kings, hence Kaiser and Tsar in more modern useage.

You said that the gospel of Matthew seemed to refer to the death of Zechariah, son of Baruch, which happened during the Jewish uprising of 66, so the book was put in final form after the destruction of Jerusalem. Thus the prediction of Yeshua could well have been put into his mouth after the fact. How clear is that reference to the killing? Could it be referring to something else? (I want to separate speculation from strongly indicated fact in my mind.)

In your section "Civil Wars" you quoted Daniel Pinkwater as saying on National Public Radio last August that the Martians are in secret communication with Mexico, that President Clinton knows about it, that the real purpose of NAFTA is to allow commerce with Mars through Mexico, that Ross Perout is really a Martian, and that the announcement of fossil bacteria on a meteorite from Mars is the first gambit to prepare the American population for the real news. You then ask, with him spouting such nonsence, can parody be far behind? IT IS PARODY! Parody of the flying saucer nuts. Parody of the international conspiracy nuts. Even parody of Ross Perout! Has Pinkwater ever broadcast anything that is not broad farce or parody?

HOW TOO (Don del Grande). Both Brian and I are puzzled about what you meant in your comment on the Entropy web page. Brian says he did nothing covert intentionally. What do you think is there?

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