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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 07/19/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 3
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC 07/23 CRONOS (East Brunswick Library, 8PM) (see review this issue) 07/24 CRONOS (Monmouth County Library, Manalapan, 7PM) 07/25 CRONOS (Monmouth County Library--Eastern Branch, Shrewsbury, 7:30PM) 07/26 CRONOS (Monroe Township Library, 7:30PM) 07/29 CRONOS (Old Bridge Library, 7PM) 07/30 CRONOS (New Brunswick Library, 7PM) 07/30 WINDOW TO PARIS (East Brunswick Library, 8PM) 07/31 CRONOS (Highland Park Library, 7:30PM) 07/31 Hugo Ballots due 07/31 WINDOW TO PARIS (Monmouth County Library, Manalapan, 7PM) 08/01 CRONOS (North Brunswick Library, 7PM) 08/01 WINDOW TO PARIS (Monmouth County Library--Eastern Branch, Shrewsbury, 7:30PM) 08/02 WINDOW TO PARIS (Monroe Township Library, 7:30PM) 08/05 WINDOW TO PARIS (Old Bridge Library, 7PM) 08/06 CRONOS (Metuchen Library, 7:30PM) 08/06 WINDOW TO PARIS (New Brunswick Library, 7PM) 08/07 WINDOW TO PARIS (Highland Park Library, 7:30PM) 08/08 WINDOW TO PARIS (North Brunswick Library, 7PM) 08/13 WINDOW TO PARIS (Metuchen Library, 7:30PM) Outside events: 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/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 email@example.com Backissues available at http://www.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:
http://us.imdb.org/Movies/. The Internet Movie Database: not science-fiction-specific, but definitely the best on-line movie database around. [-ecl] URL of the week: http://www.tor.com/. The home page for Tor Books and one of the best of the various publishers' home pages. [-ecl]
As you may have noticed in this week's notice, the local libraries are showing the film CRONOS at various library locations. Personally, I will be going to see it at the Manalapan Library on Wednesday, July 24, at 7PM. Or if you would like to join us for dinner, we will be eating at King II at the Galleria at, say, 5:50PM. (This is a new Chinese restaurant in the storefront that used to be Chengdu 9. It has a different sort of cuisine and one that I judge to be fairly authentic.) Let us know if you want to join us for dinner or the film. The Galleria is on the northbound side of Route 9 just a bit north of the turnoff for the Manalapan Library. (And we will be doing the same the following week for WINDOW TO PARIS.) [-mrl]
UK is not United Kingdom:
ALERT: The country code UK does not go to Britain any more.
It is indeed true. Ukraine has been given the country code UK and the new country code for the United Kingdom is GB. The other alternatives are "United Kingdom" in full, "Great Britain" or GB, or the actual countries: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. We have yet to find out whether the GB code does cover Northern Ireland ("Great Britain" doesn't, as it's the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" officially). [-ecl]
Lon Chaney said it. Or at least Jimmy Cagney said it playing Lon Chaney in MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES. The way to succeed in [the film acting] business is to be as many different things as you can. He was talking about applying his own make-up and being able to make himself anything from an American Indian to a Chinese sailor to an Indian Rajah in just a few minutes with his makeup kit. In some ways he was ahead of his time with this philosophy. Well, actually if he was around today he would not be allowed to design his own make-up or apply it, so in that way he wasn't ahead of his time. But in his philosophy he was. The idea of being a whole bunch of different things is very much a 1990s strategy for success. It seems as if everybody has one foot in being something else as well as who they are. What got me thinking about this was passing a Burger King with a marquee sign out front. And what did the sign say? On one side it said "The Puppets are In!" and on the other it said "We have Hunchback Toys." It sort of stoked my curiosity as to whether they actually had any hamburgers in. And if they did, was their heart really in their hamburgers? (Well, not actually I hope, but it would be nice to think that they really wanted to be in the hamburger business and there was nothing on the outside that indicated that they did.) The fact is that they wanted to be in the burger business and at the same time they wanted also to be in the toy business. But everybody is diversifying in odd ways. Well, for years Pepsi-Cola has also been Fritos and Lays potato chips. And there are about 37 different brands of corn chips on the market and 34 of them are just one branch of Frito-Lay competing with some others. And yes, I know that I am getting some of my movies from Sony who makes the TV that they are shown on. And some of the rest are coming from Gulf-Western who are best known for making gasoline. And when I am buying Snackwell cookies I am buying them from a tobacco company. Big corporations no longer have personalities you can pin down because they are like Eve White in THREE FACES OF EVE. One minute they are a tobacco company and the next they are selling you dog food or whiskey. (Three products which I myself have never bought in my life. My parents did buy dog food, but only when we had a dog.) (I hope.)
But the point I am trying to make is that I am losing my bearings when I deal with companies since I no longer can pin them down as being one type of business and not another. I can buy corn chips (from some branch of Frito-Lay, I am sure) and salsa or candy at my video store and on my way home stop at the grocery and rent a film. I mean, it is really getting bizarre. Would I really want to trust my child to Valuejet/Terminex/Smith-&-Wesson/Tinkerbell-Day-Care? (Not that it exists--I am speaking hypothetically.) I just wonder how long this can go on before there is consumer backlash saying, "If you want to sell me a hamburger, you darn well better show me that your heart is in the hamburger business. On second thought, no, give me a chicken filet sandwich." [-mrl]
THE PSALMS OF HEROD by Esther M. Friesner (White Wolf Borealis, ISBN 1-56504-916-0, 1995, 478pp, US$5.99)
(a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
If Esther Friesner can write something like this, why is she wasting her time on CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL?
Well, okay, I'm sure that CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL pays the rent, while a serious novel like THE PSALMS OF HEROD pays for espresso. It's the way of the world. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But judging by the number of articles mentioning on CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL on the Net (forty-one) compared to the number mentioning THE PSALMS OF HEROD (eleven, six of which are announcements from bookstores), I suspect I'm not.
But back to the book.
I will try to avoid giving away too much of the plot, which will probably make this a bit vague. The time is the future, and there has been some sort of holocaust. The world is much more sparsely populated, and there has been a return to a more pioneer society-- and a more religious one. There are identifiable elements from present religions but, not surprisingly, there have also been some changes because of the changed situation. Friesner doesn't have an "expository lump" to tell the reader what the society is like, but relies on the reader picking up on the details as they are given as part of the story. The society is not a likable one--not the cozy families of the post-holocaust novels of the 1950s or even the survivalist discipline of more recent works--but it is consistent. There are echoes of Walter Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz here, as well as of George Stewart's Earth Abides, but only echoes--Friesner has looked at the paths others have taken in this genre, and struck out on her own.
There are a couple of problems. The main problem is that turns out to be yet another first book of a bleedin' series. And there is no warning of this on the cover or anywhere in the book--except on the last page, where they advertise the next book, Sword of Mary, due out in October of 1996.
The other problem is that I am not entirely convinced about the likelihood or even possibility of the basic assumption of the book. With a lesser author this might be more of an objection, but Friesner handles the plot and characters so well that I am willing to suspend my disbelief in this regard.
I am trying to avoid revealing too much, and the result is probably somewhat incoherent. Come back and re-read this after you've read the book and it will be much clearer.
[Note: This is a trade paperback, but it is the size that one thinks of as "mass market." "Trade" and "mass market" have meanings based on distribution methods, not size. In other words, don't go looking for an oversize book.] [-ecl]
TENNIS SHOES AMONG THE NEPHITES by Chris Heimerdinger (Covenant Books, ISBN 1-55503-131-5, 1989, 229pp, US$8.95)
(a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This is a book whose target audience is teenage Mormon boys. I, on the other hand, am a middle-aged Jewish woman. So why am I reviewing this?
Well, perhaps the main reason is to remind people that there is more to science fiction than what they find in their local mall store, or even in their local superstore. Here is a book that in its eleventh printing, has spawned a whole series, and that I can almost guarantee that practically no one reading this has heard of.
Although teenager Jim finds his classmate Garth a bit of a nerd, he is fascinated by Garth's discoveries in a nearby cave. So he and Garth and his younger sister Jennifer go exploring, fall into a whirlpool, and wake up in the Meso-America of the Nephites and the Lamanites. (The Nephites and the Lamanites are tribes from two thousand years ago described in the BOOK OF MORMON.) So what you have is a group of teenagers who find themselves in another time and have to use their knowledge of history to get by.
Of course, the history is Mormon history, so this is more like finding oneself back in Joseph's Egypt than at Plymouth Rock. And while it must be meaningful and educational to someone who knows at least the basic story, it's a bit baffling to someone who doesn't. (I suppose that one might claim that it should teach it to someone who doesn't know it already, but it didn't have that effect on me, partly because with Jim and Garth back there, things are at least slightly changed from the "real" history.)
Am I recommending this? Not really. Unless you live in an area with a large Mormon population, your local bookstore won't have this. While I assume that you can order it directly from Covenant (no, I don't have the address or phone number, but I'm sure directory assistance can help you), it's not clear that it's worthwhile for most people. On the other hand, if you want to look at some of the "edges" of the fantasy field, you might find this interesting. [-ecl]
COURAGE UNDER FIRE
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A Medal of Honor investigation of an incident in the Persian Gulf War turns up contradictory accounts of what really happened. Denzel Washington plays the chosen investigator, still haunted by his own error judgment error in a different action of the same war. He is determined to find the truth about an incident that got a woman Medivac pilot killed and for which she may be given the country's highest award. Patrick Sheane Duncan's script is by turns intelligent, powerful, and badly flawed. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
COURAGE UNDER FIRE has been compared to Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON, as I suppose any film with contradictory flashbacks is likely to be. But RASHOMON had more respect for its audience. The classic Japanese film said that the truth cannot be determined by talking to people after the fact and, in fact, that the truth may no longer exist after the fact. COURAGE UNDER FIRE is not so intelligent a film and feels the need to tie everything up for the viewer. In the end of COURAGE UNDER FIRE you know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. And it is not hard to guess well before the end. It treats itself as a mystery film, sort of a courtroom drama without the courtroom, with a not-too-surprising solution revealed at the end.
Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) was an armored tank commander in the Persian Gulf War. In the action of battle he makes a split-second decision and accidentally kills several of his own men. He unwillingly takes part in an Army cover-up of the incident which would make both him and the Army look bad and he is given a desk job at the Pentagon. Meanwhile the Army is considering awarding the Medal of Honor posthumously to Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan). Serling has only to write a superficial report on the events surrounding Walden's heroism and death following the crash of the Red Cross helicopter she was flying. But Serling notes that there is contradictory information in the reports of the people who witnessed Walden's death and decides that it has to be cleared up before he is willing to file his report. He conducts his investigation under pressure to conclude from his commander (Michael Moriarty) and a slimy Whitehouse aide (Bronson Pinchot). He must sift through accounts and try to determine the truth.
Edward Zwick directs Denzel Washington for the second time here, having previously directed GLORY. Zwick has a feel for creating vivid battle scenes with a believable high-speed pacing and a certain chaos. It is rare to find such a combination of thoughtful scripting with action scenes. Patrick Sheane Duncan's script walks a careful tightrope being neither greatly pro-military nor anti- military. In a sense it is a film with a respect for heroes, but at the same time does not minimize the horror of battle. It is respectful of the Medal of Honor, but at the same time has ironic scenes of soldiers praying together before battle and concluding with "Let's kill 'em all." Through much of the film he and director Zwick seem to maintain a careful control of the style, then in the final third that control starts to fail. A gratuitous (non-battle) action scene is used for some unneeded visual excitement toward the end of the film. Then it all ends with a slightly too perfect conclusion and a sequence of scenes that are both cliched and overly sentimental. It is a bad faltering for a film that had done reasonably well up to that point. Also, it is disappointing to see a director of Zwick's stature using fairly blatant product placements.
Denzel Washington has been playing well-balanced and in-control characters for quite a while and it is nice to see him playing a man with some serious emotional problems. In fact, he is by far not the only character who tries to hide a troubled core under an expression of composure. Matt Damon is particularly good a Ilario whose affable manner does not quite hide a tense emotional core. This is a good role for Meg Ryan and calling on talents that she has not shown before, but though her character hangs over the whole film, she is given star billing for what is really not much more than a supporting role. Lou Diamond Phillips plays a somewhat two-dimensional character, Monfriez and he does little to make the character memorable.
COURAGE UNDER FIRE offers some very good action battle scenes and a somewhat engaging mystery. But it has only one really well- developed character and its mystery is not solved by clever deduction so much as by asking witnesses what happened long enough until the truth comes out. Still, when the film waves its flag for wartime heroes, it is hard not to salute. The film rates a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper) (first published in 1994):
Capsule: This is genuinely a cutting-edge art house monster movie. It is visually striking, has a real "what-happens-next?" plot, and some intriguing human relationships. It has been a long time since a new monster movie has played to art film audiences, but this one is worth it. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)
Sometime I say "don't trust me on this one because it is not my kind of film. On this one I say don't trust me because it *is* my kind of film. From an early age I have loved the horror film. But I have to say that the horror film rarely likes me. Too often the horror film just feeds off films made earlier. It has sequels that are really remakes and even films in which each ten minutes is a remake of the last ten minutes. The sort of thing you see is "Another teenager is fooling around for nine minutes, then Jason attacks and kills him." What changes from film to film is the prosthetic makeup, the special effects, and very little else. The feeling I most prize in a horror film is not chills but curiosity. There are far too few films that make me wonder what the heck is going to happen next. Horror films that do that include CARNIVAL OF SOULS, LIFEFORCE, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, CRONOS, and not nearly enough other horror films. What makes CRONOS a particular surprise is that it comes from Mexico, a country whose horror films have so often lacked style and originality. Occasionally there will be an atmospheric scene in a Mexican vampire film, but by and large there has not been a whole lot to interest foreign markets. Now Guillermo Del Toro has made what may have been for me the most enjoyable and creative horror film of the 90s.
In 1536 an alchemist fleeing the Inquisition came to Mexico where he continued his work on immortality until his death in the 1930s. The authorities were shocked by what they found in his rooms, sold off his belongings, and considered the matter closed. In 1996, an antiques dealer, Jesus Gris (played by Federico Luppi) finds a strange antique clockwork mechanism hidden in the base of a statue. It looks like a very large pocket watch, the size of a bar of soap, crossed with a mechanical scorpion. Wind it up and it sprouts legs and stings the hand that is holding it. It is a nasty trick, but that is just the beginning. Roughly speaking I will say that it does fall into an overly-familiar horror genre, but it presses buttons that genre rarely approaches.
This is a film of stylish images and delightful subtle humor. Little visual images like the monster walking the streets of Mexico in what looks like a tuxedo worn back to front (don't worry, in context it makes perfect sense) spice the film and make it a pure pleasure to watch. Del Toro, who both wrote and directed, has an impressive visual sense without ever letting the special effects or the makeup take over the film. Also to be treasured are the few looks we get inside the Cronos Device itself.
Del Toro is a well-known film fan in Latin America having grown up on United States and British horror films, OUTER LIMITS, and TWILIGHT ZONE. He wrote the definitive Latin American study of the works of Alfred Hitchcock (which he calls a 540-page love letter to Hitchcock made public). Now he is making his own horror films to compete in Mexico with those made in the United States and if this first film is any indication he is exceeding his goal. Sr. Del Toro, please continue to make original films like this one.
CRONOS is one of the most enjoyable horror films I have seen since I was a teen, I would rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3F-434 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
The believer is happy; the doubter is wise. --Hungarian Proverb