Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : Presidents Page October 2000

I was interested to see that Alan Robson and I both chose last month to promote the charms of User Friendly. I guess such coincidences happen. I was also interested to see that he wrote about Tom Holt as I had planned to write about him this month. Like Alan, I have finally decided to write off Holt's comedies. After collecting about fifteen of these comedies, it is clear that Holt has run out of steam with them. The problem is not that the writing has got worse, it is just that there are no new ideas, just the same stuff repeatedly recycled.

However, comedies are not all that Tom Holt has to offer - he also writes historical novels. To use a food analogy, if the comedies are a light snack gone stale then the historical novels are a substantial meal. I have just read Alexander at the World's End which is a sequel of sorts to The Walled Orchard. In the earlier work, we follow the fortunes of a playwright as he interacts with some of the famous figures of the classical Athens play writing scene as well as getting involved in one of the more famous wars. In the later work, the grandson of the earlier character is a philosopher - a pupil of Diogenes. By a series of misfortunes he becomes tutor to the young Alexander ("The Great" of course) and then goes on to head a colony on the northern shores of the Black Sea.

Holt does not view history through a rose tinted lens. Rather he takes the point of view of a cynical local. Everything is viewed with a kind of weary humour which makes the detailed story so much more interesting. Holt takes no liberties with historical accuracy however - his scholarship is very evident. Unlike the comedies, it is not always easy to find these historical novels in the local bookstores. Your best bet would be either Unity or Parsons.

For the November meeting, we are planning to run a "Design an Alien" session. Over the years we have run a number of these design sessions covering such things as planets, aliens and spacecraft. But the session which provoked by far the most comment was a meme based approach to designing a religion. It is interesting that the meme concept has become a successful meme since it was introduced in Richard Dawkins' hugely successful The Selfish Gene. In essence a meme is a way of representing thoughts and ideas as natural selection replicators in a manner similar to that of genes.

Over the intervening years however, there has been very little work done on putting a rigorous theoretical framework around the concept. There have been a number of fairly informal attempts to codify memes but each of these have usually been inconsistent with previous attempts. The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore is an attempt to bring some rigour to the meme concept and explore some of the basic areas of human development which have come about because of the ability of the human brain to replicate memes by the process of imitation.

For all that The Meme Machine is a scholarly book aimed more at presenting a theory than entertaining, it is remarkably easy to read. The language is simple and mostly free of jargon. The ideas are well explained and the book structured logically so that these ideas build on one another in a consistent manner. Having said that, it is not a book that you will knock over in a quick afternoon read. There are a lot of ideas to digest which will require you to do quite a bit of thinking as you read. I know that that last comment will put of many, but for those of you who are interested in the concept of memes and the way we think then this book is a good start, or even better, an excellent way to follow on from the Dawkins book.

I was having a discussion the other day with that most famous of big name fans/authors, Broderick Wells. The talk turned to the ages of various actresses who play teenage school pupils in various television series. I was curious about the three shows which screen on Monday nights on Sky 1 - Sabrina, Clueless and Buffy. In order to follow this up, I went to what I consider to be the best source for such information - the Internet Movie Database ( IMDB has lots of information about the Hollywood product including biographical data about the actors and production personnel along with reviews, quotations, cast lists, plot summaries and other assorted trivia. For what its worth, Sarah Michelle Geller is the youngest of the seven actresses whose data I looked up - it is just possible that she was actually a teenager when production on Buffy TVS commenced. (By the way, as I write this, the new season of Buffy is about to start in the states and of course TV3 have yet to start Angel).

Broderick also asked me how I was keeping up with my column. Assuming he meant this column, I was able to inform him that I was even getting it in early. Cutting through the innuendo, another participant in our discussion informed us all that the antidepressants where causing him to have problems keeping his column up. I include this piece of pointless double entendre as an exercise in seeing how beer effects memory. You may, or may not, find the answer to this exercise elsewhere in the 'zine.