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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/12/96 -- Vol. 14, No. 41
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC 06/25 JEOPARDY (starring our own Rob Mitchell) (check local TV listings)
The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.
MT Chair: Mark Leeper MT 3F-434 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org MT Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3F-434 908-957-5619 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 1F-337 908-957-2070 email@example.com Backissues available at http://www-gbcs.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/MTVOID/backissues.html or http://sf.www.lysator.liu.se/sf_archive/sf-texts/MT_Void/. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
URL of the week: Harper-Collins Voyager at http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/voyager/main.html. Currently this has an interview with Stephen Baxter about THE TIME SHIPS and a retrospective about H. G. Wells. [-ecl]
I am writing this on Easter Sunday and I see that TNT has planned a whole day of one-word title films on the theme of the power of Faith in the Invisible. They have scheduled back-to-back: ABRAHAM, JACOB, MOSES, and HARVEY. [-mrl]
Can I see a show of hands? How many of you when driving past a road accident say to yourselves, "Hey, that looks like a great idea! I think I am going to smash myself all over the road just like that!" Okay, you guys with your hand up, you have what it takes to be public policy makers. What brings up the question of people who do not learn from disasters? Well, they have started talking about putting ratings on television programs to warn viewers of what programs have sex and violence. I guess those few of you who have programs that are still decent can protest. (I hope by the time it comes into effect, BABYLON 5 will have finished its run so it will not be affected.) But I fully expect that the results of rating TV shows will be as disastrous as it has been for films. Oh, has rating films been a disaster? Do you think kids going to movies get more or less sex in their films than they did in the 1950s? How about more or less violence? Putting ratings on films starting back in the 1960s is one of those ideas that on the face of it seem like an obvious approach to a problem and in effect have just precisely the wrong effect.
I mean, what are we getting these days as our superstars? I have heard the claim with dinosaurs that they could continue to fight and kick even after their brain was dead. I am not sure I quite believed it watching movies with dinosaurs, but after watching Steven Seagal on the screen I am a believer. I mean, how many films do we need a year with actors who can't deliver a line but who really, REALLY know the right way to kick somebody in the head? And why do so many people find watching people kick each other entertaining? And when we get a film like this, does the rating really tell us anything we didn't know about who should see the film? I mean, do you really need a rating system to tell you that there might just be a tad of violence in these films with pleasant titles like KICKING BACK, PUSHED TO THE LIMIT, POINT OF DEATH, KICKING BACK BEYOND THE POINT OF DEATH, MEANER THAN HELL, BLIND RAGE, BLIND FURY, TOUGH AND DEADLY, VICIOUS AND MEAN, DUMB AND DUMBER, FISTS OF DEATH, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, and CROSS MY PATH AND YOU DIE? Do you really need some expert to tell you that these are so called "fun films" are not well suited to Barney fans?
And the filmmakers get so sanctimonious about making these things. I heard an interview with John Woo talking about the number of bullets fired in one of his Hong Kong films which is about the same number as the combined number of bullets fired the battles of Gettysburg and Bull Run. But Woo adds, "But there's no sex!" Another filmmaker whose film was cut for sexual content complains, "You can kill people on the screen without getting cut, but you can't show people loving each other."
So it almost sounds like a rating system is a good idea. Warn parents away from some of the films that are out there. Bullfeathers! The rating system is good because it helps save some parents from the problems that it itself creates. No film demonstrated to me what the rating system is doing to American films than FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER. This was a film about a the first woman on the Supreme Court (made just months before Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed). And the film was in large part a discussion about the nature of the law. It was based on a Broadway play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee who also wrote "Inherit the Wind." The film, however, had a sequence that I am sure Lawrence and Lee never intended. The new Supreme Court Justice is seen watching a pornographic film as part of her decision on the question of censorship. And the director showed the pornographic film to the audience in loving detail. Why? Well, INHERIT THE WIND actually was controversial and if made today--I wish--might get a PG-rating. That's because it is about religion and might be touching on some sensitive issues. FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER is even more innocent and probably would get a G-rating. It is a very adult film, but only in the non-hypocritical meaning of the word. It deals in ideas and issues. But a G-rating for most people means a children's film. People do not take seriously a film that gets only a G-rating. The filmmakers obviously did not want to risk having this film not be taken seriously, so they found a way to get the film an R-rating. They added sex and nudity.
THE MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 AMAZING COLOSSAL EPISODE GUIDE:
by Trace Beaulieu et al (Bantam, ISBN 0-553-37783-3, 1996, 174pp, US$16.95) (a book review by Mark R. Leeper):
I am a fan of old movies. I have a particular interest in Fifties science fiction films. That makes me ambivalent, to say the least, about MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. This is the program on cable that shows old films while three characters, seen only in silhouette as if they are sitting in the front row of a theater, make rude comments. On one hand, I am positive on it because I have been able to see some films I have never been able to find any other way, like TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (oh, boy!). On the other hand, do I really count this as seeing them? They are cut to pieces and, of course, they have the often inane heckling comments acting as a distraction. But, on the third hand, I am often surprised at the obscure comments. I will watch the program only when they are showing a film that I know is bad but I really want to see. Hopefully that way the comments might actually help in the enjoyment. So while I cannot actually count myself as a fan of the series, by a long shot, I have watched it and at times been glad that it was around. I am far more interested in the films that are shown than in the surrounding regular characters.
So it is from the point of view of having more interest in the films than the silhouettes blocking the view that I come to the book THE MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 AMAZING COLOSSAL EPISODE GUIDE. The book is written by the writers and performers of the TV show in much the same style as the show. Part of it is about the films and the rest of it is better skipped over. And the part about the films is specifically designed to be as painful as possible for the fans of the films. The wrap-around is silly stuff about the history of the TV show, who the characters are, etc. I didn't care. The material about the films has the film in episode number order. There is not even an index to help find a specific film. I had to make my own index by getting an episode listing off the Internet and sorting it in film title order. Not that it was really worth the bother. There is little of interest about the film itself. For each film there is a one-paragraph synopsis of the plot complete with humorous comments (not worth the effort to read). I will say that there is occasionally a note of interest to the film fan. There is an explanation of where in THE LOST CONTINENT to find the scene where Hugh Beaumont ruins a scene by laughing at the wrong time and somehow it got into the film anyway. There is a description of the host segments that are on the show (who cares?). And there is a reflections section telling you some of the inside story of what when on behind the scenes when the episode was being made. I suppose you have to care something about the hosts to care what else they were doing at the time they did the episode. They treat their host segments with more respect than they do the film, even here. There are two appendices, one of frequently asked questions about the show and one with the 50 most obscure reference in the comments.
At just a nickel shy of $17 you have to be a much bigger fan of the show than I can claim to be for this to come anywhere near being worth the cost. THE MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 AMAZING COLOSSAL EPISODE GUIDE is really a true-fans-only item. [-mrl]
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: FLIRTING WITH DISASTER is more a chain of quirky scenes than a single cohesive film. Ben Stiller plays a man, adopted as a child, who takes a trip to meet his biological parents. He takes his wife, his baby, and a psychologist intent on studying the meeting. Along the way the entourage grows and goes from one grotesque situation to the next. The quirky humor is hit-or-miss and generally not quite good enough to make up for the off-center feeling of the style. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4)
Most novels and most scripts are written first with an overall plan of what the story is that is going to be told and where is it going to go. FLIRTING WITH DISASTER seems to have been written instead one scene at a time in the faith that when the time comes to write the next scene that the inspiration will come as to what to put into that scene and how it should unfold. To the film's credit, a story did result without writer (and director) David O. Russell writing himself into a corner. And this style of writing has the advantage of keeping the viewer guessing what is going to happen next, since the author may very well not know either. But after the film is over it also leaves the audience with the uneasy feeling that they do not know where they have been. When all is said and done we have seen eggshell-thin portrayals of a lot of different kinds of characters from many different walks of life, but nothing to touch the audience and no reason to care about any of the characters, making a film that is just vaguely dissatisfying.
Mel Coplin (played by Ben Stiller) is off on an odyssey to find his real parents. Like the original Odyssey it seems at the start like it should be an easy trip, but Mel finds that it is more arduous than he expects. And along the way he travels through whole worlds he never expected to see close up. Along on the trip is his fleshy wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) and his new-born son, whom Mel hopes to be able to name after a member of his real family. Also along is Tina Kalb, a willowy psychologist (Tea Leoni) sent by the adoption agency to record and study the experience. The first problem: Mel's parents (Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal) are dead-set against him making the trip and try every manipulative trick in the parent book to get Mel to give up the idea. The traveling companions soon find relations strained with a temperamental Nancy jealous of the attention that Mel and Tina give each other. Relations are further strained when the trip goes weirdly awry. The company get to see a lot more of the country than they bargained for and as more people join the party there are even stranger relationships to be strained.
This is the kind of story that Albert Brooks does extremely well. In fact there are parts of this film that are strongly reminiscent of Brooks's REAL LIFE and LOST IN AMERICA. Unfortunately, Russell has a long way to go before he can match Brooks's wit and his characterizations. It is in the characterizations, in fact, that Russell fails the worst. Brooks can make his characters likable at the same time that they are strange and there is often a feeling of recognition in his people. Russell has real problems humanizing his characters. His people are just a little bit too bizarre and exaggerated; his humor is just too leaden- handed. For example, Brooks would not be likely to have a character rip open her blouse to try to show her family the benefits of a support bra. Under Russell's direction none of the characters has any real human appeal. They seem more like dolls getting into funny situations. The editing by Christopher Tellefsen is often confusing or just crude, like in an amateur film. There also seems to be a very noticeable continuity error involving a wheel of brie.
In spite of many bits that were funny, FLIRTING WITH DISASTER just does not hang together as a film and, in spite of positive critical comment it has received, rates a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Boskone 33: (Part 5)
Boskone 33 (A convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper with a section by Mark R. Leeper):
[Thanks to Mark for taking notes for this.]
[The NESFA recommendation lists are appendices to this report, but these do not include additional suggestions made during this hour. There are also recommendations in the Worldcon Progress Reports.]
While many of the panelists commented that they remembered this era fondly, my suspicion is that most of us remember it from elsewhere.
Pelz said that he invented the idea of the Retro Hugos, being curious to see what would have won Hugos had there been any at the Worldcons where there weren't. Olson said that this was only the first time for them, and they will be done in perpetuity, so this is an important year because we are proving the process, but Pelz pointed out that as the rule currently reads, it can be done only eleven times. Olson's response was, "We can change the rule." Of course, even so there are only so many years for which Hugos haven't been awarded that would be reasonable. For example, it would not be very productive to award Hugos for 1724.
I noted that the turnout would probably be low and we may end up with just a few categories. Olson felt in particular that the novel category was very weak, with only two or three books even eligible, and thought Asimov's FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE the only thing with a chance of winning--and even that had technical problems (it was not published as a novel until *after* 1945). Stern asked about Lewis Padgett's "Baldie" stories, which Olson said he remembered as a novel, but I noted they weren't a novel then. Rebecca Brown in the audience pointed out, however, that George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM was a 1945 book, to the great relief and rejoicing of all, since at last there was a novel they could comfortably give a Hugo to. Someone else suggested C. S. Lewis's THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, and Joe Siclari went to the Dealers Room and borrowed a copy of Clute and Nicholls's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION to check all these suggestions out. It turned out that Lewis is also eligible.
Olson though that while the novel category was weak (without even five nominees), the novella and novelette categories are both very strong. Pelz said that since it was difficult for fans to know precisely which stories fall into which categories, fans should make their best guess as to where a story belongs and the administrators with sort it out.
Olson said he could not conceive of us passing by "First Contact" by Murray Leinster, Pelz said that he had nominated "I Remember Lemuria," which was very controversial, and also "Red Star of Danger" (so there would be one "Captain Future" story). Olson said that for something like this, "memory counts for a lot"--stories that one remembers are likely to be good. For example, Olson said that all of George O. Smith's VENUS EQUILATERAL is terrible, but he would like to nominate something from it anyway.
Pelz mentioned Padgett's stories, such as "Three Blind Mice" and "Beggars in Velvet." Someone else asked if "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" was 1945, and the suggestion was made that if you want to nominate something, someone else can decide if it's eligible. [It's actually 1943.] Someone else suggested Lester Del Rey's "Into Thy Hands."
One person suggested that how often a story was anthologized might be an indication of its quality. Olson said he looked at that and, "It is what you would expect; 'First Contact' overwhelms everything else." Olson also recommended A. Bertram Chandler's "De Profundis," which he described as "one of the best things Chandler wrote."
For Professional Editor it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that John W. Campbell would win, though it was pointed out that Ray Palmer and Sam Merwin were also eligible.
Pelz thought there weren't really any candidates for best non- fiction book. Though others thought there were fannish references, the fact that they needed to be in book form would eliminate most, if not all, of them. It was not clear whether staples counted.
In the discussion of dramatic presentation, someone mentioned that the Progress Report list didn't include DEAD OF NIGHT. [Mark Leeper later discovered that another major omission was THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.] There was also a lack of radio broadcasts listed, but someone noted that identifying what year a show was first broadcast is difficult. Olson noted that if radio broadcasts were included, "I guess we know what is going to win for 1939," until I pointed out that was also the year of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
In the professional artist category, an audience member asked if it was a given that Frank R. Paul would get the Hugo, and Pelz described him as "the 500-pound gorilla" of the category. Then someone else said that Virgil Finlay had done work that year even though he wasn't on the NESFA list, and Pelz agreed that made Paul a smaller gorilla. Gary Farber in the audience suggested Hannes Bok, but Pelz said that he would need to give an example of some professional work Bok did that year. I asked whether, if Bok did one piece in 1945 and Paul did twenty-seven, people would vote for Paul for best for that year, or for Bok as a lifetime achievement award.
Farber said that a lot of the material is available in libraries on microfilm, and there was discussion of putting some of it on the Web. Pelz felt that L.A.Con III couldn't do it without being suspected of favoritism unless they put *everything* up.
There was much discussion of fanzines, but I suspect this category may be too lightly nominated to work. After all, it's hard enough to get fans to nominate fanzines for the current year, when they are much more available. And the fan artist category has the same problem.
Pelz reminded people that there would be no John W. Campbell Award for 1945, as that is not a Hugo.
Moving on to 1995, I observed that both TWELVE MONKEYS and THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN were eligible for dramatic presentation. Someone said that the Hugo administrators have said that if APOLLO 13 is nominated, it will be allowed on the ballot. I recommended THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH even though I had the impression hardly anyone else saw it. Several people mentioned BABE, and Olson said that RICHARD III was alternate history.
I noted that in fiction, 1995 was a weaker year that previous ones, but recommended Stephen Baxter's TIME SHIPS and Ian McDonald's EVOLUTION'S SHORE for novel. Olson mentioned Neal Stephenson's DIAMOND AGE, and said that Judith Tarr's PILLAR OF FIRE was a possibility, though a long shot.
Farber said that he thought Greg Egan had withdrawn DISTRESS because of its "limited" availability (it came out in Britain, but not in the United States). This seems unlikely, as there is nothing in the constitution that says an author may withdraw a work one year to make it eligible the next.
For novella, I recommended "The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires" by Brian Stableford, but realized its appearance in INTERZONE gave it less chance than novellas which had appeared in magazines such as ANALOG or ASIMOV'S.
Someone asked if the CD-ROM version of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION was eligible for best non-fiction, and the answer seemed to be no, because it wasn't a book. I suggested maybe it could be nominated as a dramatic presentation, but the consensus seemed to be that the category needs to be broadened in the future. It has also been suggested that non-fiction should be non-fiction, rather than art. This reminded people of all the art books they wanted to recommend. Olson listed SPECTRUM 2, which he said was very hard to find in stores, and someone else mentioned a second collection of Hannes Bok.
Key to nominators: ca: Claire Anderson, daa: Dave Anderson, ta: Ted Atwood, rb: Ray Bowie, mab: Michael Burstein, ec: Elisabeth Carey, ged: Gay Ellen Dennett, gf: George Flynn, pf: Pam Fremon, mh: Mark Hertel, cjh: Chip Hitchcock, rk: Rick Katze, arl: Tony Lewis, pal: Paula Lieberman; jam: Jim Mann, mlo: Mark Olson, po: Priscilla Olson, kp: Kelly Persons, jr: Joe Rico, sls: Sharon Sbarsky, jds: Joe Siclari, by: Ben Yalow
Key to nominators: ca: Claire Anderson, daa: Dave Anderson, jb: Judy Bemis, rb: Ray Bowie, mab: Michael A. Burstein, ec: Elisabeth Carey, ged: Gay Ellen Dennett, gf: George Flynn, pf: Pam Fremon, pg: Paul Giguere, mh: Mark Hertel, cjh: Chip Hitchcock, rk: Rick Katze, ecl: Evelyn Leeper, sl: Suford Lewis, arl: Tony Lewis, pal: Paula Lieberman; jam: Jim Mann, mlo: Mark Olson, po: Priscilla Olson, kp: Kelly Persons, jr: Joe Rico, sls: Sharon Sbarsky, by: Ben Yalow
[to be continued] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper MT 3F-434 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself.--John Kenneth Galbraith