The View from Entropy Hall (Online Archive) - From Ed Meskys - RR2 Box 63 - 322 Whitter Hwy - Center Harbor NH 03226
Home | Newest Issue | Browse Archive | Email Ed

Issue #21

The View From Entropy Hall #21 for APA-Q 418, 7 March 1998, from Ed Meskys, RR #2 Box 63, 322 Whittier Hwy, Center Harbor NH 03226-9708, [email protected], 603-253-6207. Text online at: and as email list. {Corrections added after APA distribution in braces.}

I have been thinking about what has been said in APA Q and elsewhere about post nuclear war fiction, anything from CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ to THE POSTMAN. Post WWII ASTOUNDING was full of such stories, and others range from Pat Frank's ALAS BABYLON to Dean Ing's PULLING THROUGH.

Could such a disaster have happened in the past? Is it possible for the future? I say yes, and while less likely still possible.

I think we were in a metastable situation where a small perturbation would not have pushed us over the edge, but a slightly larger one could have. Past perturbations included Dulles's "brinkmanship" and the "Cuban missle crisis." Sane leaders on both sides of the east/west struggle for hegenomy over the rest of the world knew that an all-out war would destroy both sidesHowever a mis-step by either side in Cuba or elsewhere, an accident like in FAIL-SAFE, or a fanatic like the pilot in the movie STRANGELOVE, could have been a trigger of a nuclear exchange and a subsequent nuclear winter. The results could have been far worse than those depicted in any of these novels. About ten or twenty years ago there was an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN which pointed out that a nuclear device set off over a nuclear powerplant would release so much fallout that perhaps a million square miles would become uninhabitable. I am sure that several such strikes would happen in places all around the world. Until I started recalling this SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article I regarded Shute's ON THE BEACH (which I have not read) as an unlikely fantasy, but perhaps it is possible after all. did the book give the mechanism of the world-wide poisoning?

What was total fantasy is the idea of the occupation of the States by the Soviet Empire, as in THE LIBERATION OF MANHATTAN, AMERIKA, or NOT THIS AUGUST. As John Boardman has implied, not even the most fanatical hawk of real power, not even a Goldwater or Reagan, dreamed of the US occupying Russia and no Soviet commessar could have reasonably have hoped to occupy the States. (I dislike using the word "America" for our country as it implies the non- existance of Canada, Mexico, or any of a score of other countries on our continents.)

And such a disaster could still happen. In mid-February I heard warnings that if the US attacks Iraq over the inspections issue the conflict could escalate with an eventual nuclear exchange between the US and Russia. I think it was a Russian who said this. While the well of stability is a little deeper with the collapse of the Soviet Empire there is sufficient anarchy there for a rogue patriot to launch such an attack. Both sides have untargeted most or all of their missles but as commentators have pointed out the targeting computers could be reloaded with their old targets in a matter of seconds. An article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN last fall suggested adding stability by locking the silos in such a way that it would take 12 to 24 hours to open them. The author said this status could be verified by satellite.

John Boardman critized the ending of LEIBOWITZ as downbeat, with a new nuclear war totally destroying the rebuilt earth. I think it fitted the zeitgeist of when it was written. I remember a few years earlier, around 1950, watching the construction of new ramps off of FDR Drive near the UN and thinking, "why are they bothering since this will all be destroyed in a nuclear war in a year or two." Also the ending implied that the very existance of nuclear weapons made the world unstable and would happen no matter what beliefs were in conflict. It wasn't only the result of a capitalist/comunist conflict but a non-ideological conflict for hegenomy.

What's this got to do with SF or fandom, department. I am a member of the NH Commission on Disabilities and just attended one of a series of seminars sponsored by the group. In theory it was supposed to be on how decisions of the Public Utilities Commission effects the handicapped population of NH, but instead it was a presentation on how electric deregulation will work in NH. I was flabbergasted by what I heard.

The presentor was Amanda Noonan, Director of Consumer Affairs for the PUC, and she did a masterful job of explaining a complex topic.

There are three segments to the power industry, generation, long range transmission by high voltage line, and local distribution to customer from substations. Deregulation will separate generation into a competitive, unregulated, industry and transmission & distribution which will remain regulated. NH has two major power systems, Public Service of NH and the NH Electric Coop, plus a few small, local, outfits. These are to sell their interests in power generation and become exclusively transmission and distribution companies. Afterwards our electric bill will have two parts, just like our phone bill. 80% of the cost of our electricity is to pay for the transmission and distribution, the amortization of the lines, transformers and substations, their maintenance, especially in winter with snow and ice pulling lines down, paying the meter readers and billing clerks, etc. Only 20% of the cost is the generation and it is ONLY there that we will have competition and possible savings. Since the lines are there whether we use one killowatt hour or a thousand, the lines cost the same amount to maintain and I expected that part of the bill to be fixed, but no way. The transmission & distribution bill will be proportional to the amount used in order to make the heavy user pay more than the light user. Upon reflection this strikes me as fair if slightly illogical.

Thus my monthly electric bill runs around $50 today. $40 of this will stay the same, and various power companies will compete for my remaining $10. Various power generating companies willoffer different deals, linear pricing, unmetered fixed payments, rates related to amount of use, and I will have to spend hours analysing all of these to maybe save 50c a month. It will be as bad as all the offers from telephone long-distance carriers. There will be a default service provided by the distributors for those not ready to make a choice or for those areas where no power generators will want to serve. The distributors will accept competitive bids for this power and send it on to those customers. Also, groups like the residents of a town or area can "aggregate" and negotiate for the best rates for their members.

And that's not the end of it. Much worse is still to come. Not an official speaker but an active participant at the meeting was Bill Homeyer of the OCA (Office of Consumer Advocates). He pointed out something I did not fully understand but as near as I get it, PSNH has 1.4 billion$ invested in infrastructure which they consider "stranded" and expects to get re-embursed for this from surcharges on all customers' bills. 100 million$ of this is the value of the generating equipment and that much will get deducted from the official bill. But auctions of generating equipment have brought in more than the book value in other states and it is anticipated that PSNH will get 200 million$. The extra 100 million$ will be pure profit to be distributed to stockholders. Mr. Homeyer said that PSNH should, in fairness, get about .6 billion$ but will be given the full 1.4 billion$ they are asking for. He explained that in California for every $6 the consumers saved by deregulated competition he lost $7 in these excess fees. I do not know if I am stupid or what, but I still do not fully understand these charges. Bonds were sold to build a power plant and monthly consumer charges go to pay interest on these bonds, to pay depreciation on the equipment, and presumably to pay off the principal of the bonds by when the equipment is depreciated to zero. Today $100 million remains on the bonds for a particular plant. The plant is sold for $200 million and the stockholders share the profit. The transmission and distribution system infrastructure, service trucks, office space, remains the property of PSNH and its value remains in the cost calculations for your monthly distribution bill. Why does PSNH need 1.4 billion$ in new bonds which they will then charge to the customers?

It looks to me like deregulation is NOT coming for the benefit of users but to further enrich the power companies.

And you can't even get out of the game. If you bought solar panels or your own diesel generator and cut yourself off of the network, you would be subject to about $1,000 in disconnect fees to pay back the distributor your share of the value of the infrastructure. I wonder what would happen if you didn't tell the power company you had your own source of electricity, but pretended to mismanage your finances and simply stop paying your bills until THEY cut you off.

There is a slight glimmer of hope. Final details have not yet been worked out and one proposal is for the NH Electric Coop to get a Federal low- interest loan they are eligible for and buy out PSNH's transmission and distribution business. They would then charge the consumer far less for this equity.

~BLAnCmANGE (Mark Blackman). You said that you can creat the Lithuanian letter "sha" in Word Perfect. I am making note of this in my zine which I can search through later. I am not sure of what you meant by "hitting control vsv. Is that control v, control s, control v or do you mean control v, plain s, plain v. Would "cha" and "zha" be done by replacing the s in the middle command by a c or z? Can this also be done for upper case letters? In Lithuanian and (I believe) Latvian the diacritical mark is only used on C, S, and V, but I believe it is sometimes used on other letters in other central European languages. What I am thinking is that I have seen it on the R in the composer Dvorak's name. Just which languages do use that mark? [] I am puzzled by your remark that kids were supposed to discipline their virtual pets by "potching" them. Is this a typo or a word I am not familiar with? [] I was interested in your discussion of the translations of the Hebrew word "chug." I have read in several places over the years (Vawter's A PATH THROUGH GENESIS which I read before losing my sight in 1971, and Asimov's GUIDE TO THE BIBLE, and probably elsewhere) that when GENESIS was assembled in its final form the belief was that the earth was flat with a dome ("the firmament") over it, in creation the waters were separated into those above the dome from those under it, in Noah's flood doors were opened in this dome to allow the waters to pass through, etc. About ten years ago I read a collection of Psalms in Braille and do not remember which translation of the bible they were from, but I got the distinct impression in one Psalm that heaven, God's adobe, was a palace sitting on top of this dome. As I have said before, modern Catholics believe that God inspired the compilors and/or authors of various parts of the bible with general ideas which they wrote down in their own words and in terms of their own world views. Your interpretation of one phrase in Ps 104:5 as representing the orderly progression of the earth in its orbit strikes me as a re-interpretation made in view of modern knowledge. The original author could not have imagined such movement. [] As you say, racial stereotypes used to be common in SF, but then there were stories where a green skinned Martian stood in for a discriminated black. I am thinking particularly of a story I read in an anthology in the early '50s, "The Martian Teacher," author forgotten. In this corny story a green skinned Martian is hired as a school teacher by a small town because he will work for less money. He overcomes the put downs and prejudice of the town by doing a good job despite all the insults. Another story I remember from that period did a much better job of preaching against racial hatred. I do not remember title or author but a time traveler from the far future is sent to modern times on a one-way trip and is supposed to leave a time capsule of his findings for his people. He is accepted by the Southern town where he lands and eventually is engaged to marry the daughter of the local bigwig. He is well liked and reveals his origins. It turns out that after a major disaster the survivors of all races intermarried and that everyone has about a quarter of his genes of black origin. He is quietly murdered and his body hidden since he is regarded as "a nigger." [] You mentioned a number of comic strips which were inspired by cartoons. Don't follow enough to know whether it is still happening, but in the '50s when a new Disney feature came out there was a temporary Sunday comic strip based on it. In particular I remember one based on LADY AND THE TRAMP and I think there were others. [] In reference to Mary and Joseph at the time of the "annunciation," it was explained in religion class that by custom of the time a betrothed couple legitamately COULD have relations even though they weren't yet officially married but in this case didn't. Thus, as you said, Mary could have been accused of adultery and not fornication.

~DAGON (John Boardman). I loved your remark, "...recurrent bouts of the bimbonic plague" in reference to the goings on in D.C. [] You said that Christians date the beginning of their church to the time of the death and resurrection of Yeshua, since during his lifetime he actively practiced his birth religion of Judaism. However, even later the apostles and desciples continued to practice judaism and attend regular Jewish services, but on top of that had their own rites. They were finally expelled by the Jewish authorities, and after that continued the same Jewish rites. I am told that the first half of the mass, the "Liturgy of the Word" (before Vatican II it was called the "Mass of the Catechumins"), is the same as a standard Jewish service except for which scriptures are read and whom the prayers are addressed to. Anyhow, until they were kicked out His followers considered themselves as Jewish. I believe that the Catholic Church regards its birthday as Pentacost, the 50th day of Easter, when the Holy Spirit inspired them to go out and preach, thus retroactively de-Judaizing the desciples. [] You said you do not like the word "liberal" because of its taint by Lyndon Johnson and his involvement in Vietnam. I seem to remember "progressive," your preferred term, being applied to Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Party of the time. It was the Republicans who reigned in excessive capitalism with their "trust busting" policies. I assume that the Democrats of the time were like the Dixiecrats of the post WWII period, the conservative impeders of progress. The Republicans obviously started out as Liberal or Progressive with their opposition to slavery and then their reining in of the trusts and the food and drug industries. When did the Democrats begin to be regarded as Liberals and the Republicans as reactionaries? I gather that Al Smith had been a liberal. Were there any other Democratic candidates before him who could be called liberal or progressive? [] Thank you for reminding me to read Pangborn's DAVY. I also have to read his MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS which too has an excellent reputation. I am adding them to my list of books to check places like NLS (National Library Service for Blind & Handicapped of the Library of Congress) and RFBD (Recording for Blind & Dislectic, specializing in textbooks and HS & college required reading) to see if they have been done. Otherwise I will have to add them to my pile for volunteers of Vacaville and have them custom record them for me. The only book by him that I have read is WEST OF THE SUN, though I think I read a serial in GALAXY by him, title forgotten. ~JERSEY FLATS, TOO (Roberta Rogow). If I run into you at Lunacon or Worldcon I will pick up a copy of your fanspeak book, as I collect such things. I have Eney's FANCY2, Tucker's guide, "Ghu's Lexicon," a pamphlet done by Ralph Holland 30 years ago, and the FANDBOOK buplished by the N3F shortly after that. In the latest MIMOSA Mike Resnick said your book was pretty good but dealt almost exclusively with media fandom. That isn't surprising what with your strong Trekker orientation. Did you do that on purpose, aiming at a media audience, or is it just that that was the dialect of fanspeak you were more familiar with? [] Congrats on the publication of your book, THE PROBLEM OF THE MISSING MISS. I will buy a copy when it comes out in paperback, and have it put on tape by Vacaville or another volunteer agency. I know it hurts writers, but I want to read so many books and prices have risen far faster than inflation, that I cannot afford to buy hardcovers at cover price. I guess that John will review it in GRAUSTARK in his section on historical crime stories. Interesting combination you have selected for protagonists. I assume you have researched them and portrayed their real characters? I know so little about these two that I will be very interested in their characters. From bits here and there I believe Doyle was grumpy and Dodgson shy but a secret admirer of prepubescent nudes.

~QUANT SUFF (John mALAY). I rode the Newark subway to the end and back once after an ESFA meeting. At times there were various proposals to extend it to places like the Newark airport or somehow to merge it with the Hudson Tubes. I understand the Port Authority is talking again about a rail line to the Newark Airport, but how serious is this and what form would it take? When I did ride the line 30 years ago they were still using old PCC trolly cars. Has the rolling stock been replaced or is it still the same? If so it must be pretty old. [] I know the movie THINGS TO COME was SF and the screen play, by Wells himself, was published as a book, but I believe that the book that inspired the film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME, was a non-fiction essay. That is why I did not count the film as one inspired by a Wells novel. Am I wrong about its origins? The Ackmerman book says the film EMPIRE OF THE ANTS has the following credits: Director-Producer: Burt I. Gordon. Screenplay: Jack Turley. Music: Dena Caproff. Special effects: Roy Downey. Cast: Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson. Released by American International, 1977, 89 minutes, color. [] Ah, so in the remake of THE THING the aliens are detected by the same blood test as in the novella "Who Goes There?" The microbe nature of the alien in the movie makes better sense than the story where the mechanism is pretty much unexplained. However the end as you describe it seems illogical. If the alien survived freezing and thawing before, and if the two human survivors allow themselves to freez just in case they are infected and do not know it, what is to prevent the alien from thawing again and menacing the earth at some future time?

~QUOI**8 (Philip M. Cohen). I hope I have your first name right. You made some mention of the right number of "l"s in it and I assumed it was the conventional spelling with one "l". Two ls are in the name of the Dutch electronics company and I assume that is based on a family name and in another language. When I am thinking about there is nobody around with sight to check your fanzine for me. [] aI guess the Italians do things the right way, calling it the equivalent of "the eighteen hundreds" instead of the 19th century. We are IN the twentieth century, and have completed ninteen centuries. Just like I am 61 years old, but am in my 62nd year, and will be 62 years old a few days after this disty comes out. My birthday will be the last day of my 62nd year. Similarly, when a president or governor signs a proclamation it reads "in this, the 222nd year of our republic," and will continue to do so up to 4 July 1998, after which it will read "223rd." Anyhow, 1999 will be the last year of the 1900s, but 2000 will be the last year of the 20century. [] I was very glad to read your findings on microgravity from the NASA web site. So it can fluctuate from 10 micrometers/sec sq to 10 m/sec sq.

Back to Issue Archive      
End of Page

Hosted by