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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 09/13/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 11
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC (no meetings scheduled) 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://www.maths.uts.edu.au/staff/eric/ain99/. Web site for Aussiecon Three, the 1999 Worldcon. [-ecl]
The following message is from Andrew Durston: Hi, folks. As some of you may know, Shorecon'96 returns to the ever-improving confines of the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel in Asbury Park NJ on September 26-29, 1997. Shorecon is continuing to improve its print Science Fiction track, this year with the help of Oz Fontecchio, from Philcon and the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society (PSFS), heading programming. Our Guest of Honor is Connie Willis (DOOMSDAY BOOK, Nebula and Hugo Winner) and our current program participants include John Norman and Michael Swanwick. Our Artist Guest of Honor is Lissanne Lake (AMAZING and DRAGON magazine, book covers and card games) and other artist participants include Ron Chironna (ASIMOV'S and ANALOG interiors), Barbara Manui and Chris Adams (the Yamara strip in DRAGON magazine). The usual trappings will be present including a Seminar track (this year in the Oval Room throughout the weekend), Workshops (on Costuming and Gaming), Anime, Movies, an Art Show and a Masquerade on Saturday night. And of course some gaming as well. We hope you will drop by a check things out and be sure to let us know whether we are improving or not. Shorecon'97 will be at a new site, The Hilton Cherry Hill on September 4-7, 1997. [-acd]
First the bad news. We are now well past the halfway point of episodes of BABYLON 5. At this writing we are waiting for the hiatus to end so we can have the last five episodes of the third season. Meanwhile at L.A.con III, the World Science Fiction Convention, an episode won the Hugo for the best dramatic presentation. Based on the reception it got, I suspect that it is fairly likely to get Hugos for its fourth and fifth seasons also. Until I went to the convention I did not know the series had attained the popularity it has achieved. Its ratings are not all that high, but among science fiction fans it is something of a phenomenon. Somewhere between a third and a half of the attendees at L.A.con III tried to get into J. Michael Straczynski's presentation on the series.
I got a piece of e-mail from a friend asking me to review the first half of the series. Apparently I wrote one of the very few enthusiastically positive reviews of the two-hour pilot. I evidently have weird tastes and was one of the few people who did not think that the pilot was mediocre. My friend said that while he thought much less of the pilot than I did, he kept watching the series in part because of my review. And now he apparently is very glad he did. He has requested that I write comments on the series to date. Well ... doing the series justice is a bit ambitious. A 105-minute film has about the same plot content of a 50-page story. That would mean that if we told the story of BABYLON 5, all 110 45-minute episodes including the pilot there are about 5040 minutes or about 48 feature films. So roughly there is the story of a 2400-page novel. I cannot even keep straight all the conspiracies and different forces at play in the story, but I do want to make some follow-up comments on that first review. I suppose I should say why I felt excited after seeing a TV movie with some problems with bad acting and even a few plot holes. This is not to gloat, but to give my criteria in the hopes of applying it to other series.
My values in a science fiction book or film are in order: ideas, ideas, characterization, ideas, and--I admit it--special effects. Those are my values. I want a story that will play with my curiosity and my sense of wonder. The pilot of BABYLON 5 did just that. I mean, consider the questions raised by the pilot of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE 9. You are really left to wonder what happened to Odo's race and what the orbs are. (Now there is a bad start right there. These so-called "orbs" were not at all orb-shaped but shaped like hour-glasses. Somewhere between the writing and the filming somebody did not know what an orb was.) The question of Odo's race really was answered and the writers have done very little with the second. That is in part because STAR TREK creates some possibilities for story ideas and then hopes writers will take advantage of these hooks. Some of the ideas may never be touched again and we have seen major plot lines dropped. Remember when in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION major parts of the Federation were being taken over by giant, mind-controlling parasites? The writers never mentioned this plot-line again. Did you ever wonder which directives from the Federation were actually coming from the parasites? Actually I can answer that one. None of them. The writers have each and every one ignored that revelation. BABYLON 5 is written with one guiding mind over-seeing the episodes watching for consistency to a plan to tell a specific story. It is a tyranny. There is no similar structure in the STAR TREK organization. If no other writer wants to pick up on the parasites or if the central organization decides it is a subplot they do not want to pursue, it goes away.
STAR TREK seems to be only loosely organized. On the other hand BABYLON 5 has J. Michael Straczynski who has planned out the five- year story before the first camera ever rolled. He writes most of the scripts himself. His organization is not a loose federation of writers, it is a dictatorship. But that is how a single artistic work functions best. A single guiding mind, rather than a committee, should make the decisions. That is how a work of art should work.
I think the pilot of another series, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, left me with the question of whether the two lovers would get back together. Frankly I did not much care whether they did or not. That is basically a boring and uninvolving question to hand viewers. But now let us look at BABYLON 5. In BABYLON 5's pilot were the Minbari, a race that was so much more powerful than Earth that when we fought them we might as well have been feeding our soldiers to a meat grinder. But it was not just that. We had been fighting them and they had been stamping us flat, they were all set for the last step that would have annihilated all human life. Then an incident happened. We have no idea what that incident meant or even what it was. All we know is that the Minbari stopped their attack on a dime and did not even request a truce. They announced that we had beaten them. And nobody would tell us what the incident was. Of course this hooked me. Somebody was writing who know how to peak my curiosity. The writers solved that mystery, only to replace it by a lot more mysteries.
The BABYLON 5 pilot immediately got points with me because there were alien races who were more powerful than humans. An episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION pitted the Enterprise against a race incredibly more powerful than the Enterprise. Well, it stands to reason that with a really big universe out there must be some races more powerful than the best the Federation has to offer. That was a really good touch. The invincible Borg was not a great idea, but at least is was not a bad one while it lasted. But the way the STAR TREK committee thinks, there had to be an episode in which the Enterprise faces the invincible Borg and beats them. Yes, people would want to see that great fight. And of course the Enterprise would emerge victorious. It is a much better story that way, right? So of course the Enterprise would turn out to be the most powerful force in the universe once again. So much for the idea that the Enterprise has limitations. But if the Enterprise can beat anything out there they run into, there is no longer any dramatic tension to their battles. There is little point in showing the Enterprise in a battle.
And in any battle the Enterprise or any of the STAR TREK people are in, we not only know who the eventual victor is, we know that nobody important will be killed. They once killed off a major character in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and it was done with a great deal of fanfare. But a policy of STAR TREK is that in syndication the episodes must be capable of being shuffled and shown in any order. They have to be able to appear in any order like the cars on a train. This means that at the end of an episode nothing of substance can be different from it was at the beginning. In one episode of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE 9, Kira was told that she was not a Bajoran but a brainwashed Cardassian. This might have had really interesting implications for the series. But it might have meant that a later episode could not have been shown in syndication before this episode. So there could be no chance that it would turn out that she really was a Cardassian. One phaser blast to the dramatic tension of the episode. The instructions to the writers must be the same instructions that went to the British Raj in India: "Do nothing and allow nothing to be done." A key phrase we use to start discussing a BABYLON 5 with someone else who has seen it is either "Nothing happens" or "Things happen." It has been a good long time since there has been a "Nothing happens." The episodes of BABYLON 5 very much have to be seen in the order in which they were first broadcast.
But each new episode is filled with uncertainty as to what might happen next, and it is nearly anything. The series could turn on a dime and certainly has had some surprises in the past of magnitudes greater than any that have ever been in STAR TREK. But this is also a problem for the BABYLON 5. Most people who try to join the program mid-series will not understand what is going on for many episodes. Most who try will give up rather than becoming habitual watchers. Of course, the same is true of a novel. If you start reading a novel in the middle, you will be lost. The series has had in the past some recap episodes to help catch new viewers up, but these probably have not been successful for the most part. That is going to be a problem in any series that really needs ratings to survive. It tends to mean that the viewer population may decrease with time, though there is good information on the Internet to bring people up to date if possible new viewers are interested. There probably will not be a large number of new viewers joining the series because that material is available.
It will be interesting to see what effect BABYLON 5 will have on other television series. It certainly sets a higher standard, but I cynically expect that it will probably be a standard that will be ignored. Certainly there are STAR TREK fans who are losing their enthusiasm for that series due comparisons to BABYLON 5. That was a prediction I made in my original review and it has proved correct, certainly among the people with whom I discuss the two series. I know of people who are die-hard STAR TREK fans who are giving up on watching STAR TREK: VOYAGER. The STAR TREK organization's cash cow may not yet be running dry yet, but it clearly is no longer giving cream either. [-mrl]
WALKING THE LABYRINTH:
by Lisa Goldstein (Tor, ISBN 0-312-86175-3, 1996, 254pp, US$21.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Lisa Goldstein is an author who does not follow the more heavily traveled roads of fantasy, but tends to set off in her own direction, sometimes along a lesser-known path, sometimes blazing her own trail. So the title of this work is perhaps as descriptive of her work as a whole as of this work in particular
Molly Travers is a modern woman with modern concerns until she discovers that her family were had a vaudeville act in the 1930s, doing magic. And not just illusion, it seems, but real magic. Molly travels to England to find out more, where she discovers hidden books, secret relationships, and, in the basement of an English country house, a labyrinth that is more than it first appears.
My main complaint with the book is not even anything Goldstein had control over: the typeface. It's a thinner line than the "standard" typeface, hence lighter appearing and, for me at least, harder to read. It did have a light fantasy feel, probably the idea, but ....
Now, given that is my main objection, you can guess I liked the book. Goldstein's work has often been called "magical realism," and I guess that description is as accurate as any. WALKING THE LABYRINTH is set more in real places--London, Oakland, and so on-- than her works set in the mythical land of Ahaz. (That is, unless you agree with Gertrude Stein about Oakland: that "there is no there there.") But it still has that feel of being just slightly askew from reality that one finds not only in her other works, but also in those of Garcia Marquez and Amado. I am not saying she is their equal--that would be like comparing a playwright of today with Shakespeare. But she seems to be their quite worthy literary descendent. and I recommend this highly.
(That STARLOG magazine can say, "Goldstein's work does *not* remind the reader of other books: it is truly original and has a clear, distinct voice of its own," would seem to indicate more the narrowness of the books it knows about than Goldstein's position in literature. That she is part of such a rich literary field as magical realism is not to be considered at all a bad thing. After all, it is not just in science that "standing on the shoulders of giants" is the way new accomplishments are achieved.) [-ecl]
WHITE HOUSE HORRORS:
edited by Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, ISBN 0-88677-659-7, 1996, 316pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Four years ago, during the 1992 Presidential campaign, I saw Mike Resnick's ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS in a window display along with the books by and about the various candidates. So I fully expect to see this in a similar display. Certainly the picture of the "President" on the cover, with a grinning half-face, half-skull, fits in with the image people are starting to have of politicians.
Unlike ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS (of which this seems to be, if not the child, then perhaps the niece), many of the Presidents here are future Presidents rather than (real or imaginary ) past ones. Perhaps it's that my tastes don't normally run to horror that makes me say that this collection is not as good overall. There are, however, some very good stories here. "Healing the Body Politic" by Brian Hodge is a strong lead-off, Gary A. Braunbeck's "And Somewhere I Shall Wake" is a memorable idea well-executed, and "The Cabinet of William Henry Harrison" by Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins also makes an impression. "The Ghost and Mr. Truman" by Bill Crider, while perhaps not as historically accurate (I don't think the Truman renovations of the White House gutted it quite that much) does have some very strong images.
But many stories are sabotaged by anachronisms. For example, were doughnuts really purchased in bags 150 years ago, rather than just being wrapped with paper and string? Minor, perhaps, but I am of the opinion that a story set in 1860 should feel like 1860, unless there is some conscious stylistic reason to do otherwise. Some stories were a bit too predictable from the very beginning. And some stories which I think were supposed to be humorous just didn't tickle my funny bone. (One didn't even seem to have anything to do with the White House.)
Do I recommend this book? Well, if you like horror stories in general you may like this more than I did. And there were four good stories that even I liked. Still, when one considers some of the Presidential candidates we've had in my lifetime, one can't help but think that the authors could have come up with more convincing horror stories than these.
[Not surprisingly, assassinated Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy show up either as characters or references fairly often. Even Garfield gets a story. But poor William McKinley seems to be completely ignored. People interested in pursuing the assassination theme should seek out Stephen Sondheim's musical, ASSASSINS.] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood. --George Santayana