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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/04/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 14
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.sff.net/locus/0start.html. Index to science fiction, fantasy, and horror (1984-1996). Includes books and short fiction, with cross-index to LOCUS reviews. [-ecl]
My Worldcon convention report will not be included in the MT VOID this year due to its length (22,000 words). It is available at http://www-gbcs.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/TRIPS/lacon3.htm, or for those outside the Lucent firewall, http://sflovers.rutgers.edu/archive/fandom/conventions/LAcon3.ConReport.html.
If you don't have Web access to either and want a copy emailed to you, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). [-ecl]
Deep down, what I am is a mathematician. I am not saying I am a great mathematician, but when I was doing math, I wasn't too bad either. If suddenly a few million dollars fell into my lap I would spend just as much time reviewing movies, and doing most of the other things I like to do, but I would replace work with doing mathematics. Not that I have some great goal. I am not somebody like Andrew Wiles who is sure that if I spend a big chunk of my life in an attic doing only math I can prove Fermat's Last Theorem. Not everybody in mathematics is so goal-oriented. No, I found my piece of original math back as a high school and college student. I made my discovery that nobody before me had ever made (or at least had not documented) and I would be perfectly happy just to spend my time just looking at mathematics even if I never discover anything else that is new.
But what I want to write about here is not mathematics, but charity, or more accurately the mathematical approach to a strategy for choosing charities. We all give to charity. (Well, any way we should.) And we choose a set of charities that we think are worthy and give money to them. We do this in the hope of doing good in the world. Or at least some of us do. There are also people who give to charity in the hope that the people who receive it will be grateful and will start to think the way the giver does. You know the sort of thing. "Hey, I am from Religion X and to prove Religion X is correct, here is a sack of flour. If you like that logic, come to the new church we are setting up and we will explain to you more about metaphysics and give you more sacks of flour." I wonder how many people really make lasting metaphysical decisions about the Universe based on who is giving them sacks of flour. (Oh, don't worry, Reader, I am not talking about YOUR religion, of course. But we know that there are some religions out there that use this sort of argument. And if there is no other way to get a sack of flour, I suppose I can see why people put up with it.) This sort of activity is technically called a "charity" under the law, but lots of things get wrong names under the law. But I am talking here about the "no strings attached" sorts of charity. Also, I am talking about charities that you give to specifically to do good in the world as opposed to ones you give to for some political advantage. Contributing to something like the ACLU or the NRA is NOT giving to a charity.
The thing is that in contributing to charity you want to do the most good in the world possible. Most people think of this in about the same way. Now here is where a mathematical approach starts to lead me to different conclusions that the ones that others reach. I see this as a sort of optimization problem. Well, it is really, isn't it? You have a certain amount of money that you give to charity, you choose how much to distribute to each charity. This is really a function in many dimensions, one for each charity, and the value the function gives is the amount of good done. (Don't worry, I won't go deeply into the mathematics, that was just a restating of what you already know about giving to charity.) Now further I will point out, if it was not already obvious, that I am not Bill Gates and the amount of money I would give to a charity would not bring it to a point of diminishing returns. Basically, if I give ten dollars to a charity they will do a certain amount of good; if I give twenty, they will do roughly twice as much good. (This is what is called a "linear" function, if just in case somebody at a party asks you.)
Now here is the thing. The way to optimize such a function is simple: you find the charity that does the most additional good with each additional dollar and you give them ALL of your charity money. They are going the most good with each additional dollar you give, so why not let each dollar do the most it can do? It is kind of like telling each dollar "be all that you can be." With each dollar doing the most good that it can do, overall you are doing the most you could do with your charity budget. This argues that everybody should pick just one charity to which to contribute. Now initially that goes against intuition, as many things do in mathematics. And what makes people not like mathematics is that when that happens, if you look close enough what you usually find is that the mathematics is right and your intuition is wrong. It goes against your intuition but maybe the mathematics is not really modeling the situation. The first thing to question is whether this really is a linear system. If you give twenty dollars to a charity, perhaps they do not do exactly twice as much good as if you give them ten dollars. Well, true enough. There is overhead at a charity, things like the work to process your check. BUT... that only increases the effect. If you give to many charities you write many checks that have to be processed. It makes more sense to give to just one so that fewer checks have to be processed. So it looks even more like it makes the most sense to give to only one charity. The bind is that you are using your own judgment what is the most worthy charity. Well, it is your dime, that is your prerogative. Of course, you could choose wrong, but you probably want to research your charity fairly well before you shoot your whole charity budget on it. (And you sure as heck should not ask me what is the best charity. I am arguing strategy here, not campaigning for my favorite charity.)
Well, what about something like the United Way? They take your dollar and give to a bunch of different charities. Does this argue against them? Well, the answer is yes and no. They are sort of like a mutual fund in investing. They diversify so that your dollar for sure is not going where it will do the most good. Arguably a fraction of a cent of it might be, if they have chosen the most effective charity. But you also know that at least many of the charities they give to are good ones. If you do not feel confident to choose what is the best charity, they can make your decisions for you and while they will not be the best, they will also not be the worst. (Just don't let them tell you are being selfish by not giving to them at all if you are giving the same amount to your own choice of charities.) Also, the above logic does not take into account the fact that the United Way deals with such large sums of money that if they are not careful the system can be non-linear. But in truth I feel that if I do a little research I can do more good with my charity budget than the overall effect that United Way can do, but that is just me. I am not arguing against the United Way here.
Now this goes against my intuition to abandon a bunch of what I consider worthy charities for what I judge to be worthier ones. But then I know that the amounts of money we are talking about are not going to tip any charities. So do I do it? Do I give all my charity money to just one charity? Well, no. I give to a bunch of charities that I want to support, just like everybody else does. I guess I get some sort of emotional perk from giving to a bunch of different charities. And I realize that I am selling off good that I could be doing, for this emotional high. It is a selfish thing to do, giving charity in the traditional way rather than with the strategy that I know will do the most good, but it's my money and I can do with it what I like. I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it. [-mrl]
ALTERNATE WORLDCONS and AGAIN, ALTERNATE WORLDCONS edited by Mike Resnick
WC Books, no ISBN, 1996, 262pp, US$15 (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This omnibus book contains both ALTERNATE WORLDCONS (with seventeen stories) and AGAIN, ALTERNATE WORLDCONS (with eleven stories). ALTERNATE WORLDCONS was conceived at ConFrancisco in 1993 and appeared at ConAdian in 19994; AGAIN, ALTERNATE WORLDCONS is new this year. (A third volume is a possibility. Quel surprise.)
As a fan of alternate histories and an attendee of Worldcons (so far, twenty-one of them), this would seem to be right up my alley. But these are not, on the whole, serious alternate histories. They are very "fannish," often dealing with people or events not known to most readers. Strangely enough, Mike Resnick is a character in many of these. There are a few that stand out, though. "ApocalypseCon" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a poem rather than a story and could hold its own in a "regular" anthology. While it's true that its subject matter is a bit specialized, I hope it does make a more visible appearance somewhere. The other notable serious work is "Letters in the Wall" by Barry N. Malzberg and Batya Swift Yasgur. (Malzberg appears frequently in alternate history anthologies, and usually blows away the rest of the stories. For some reason I don't see him in magazines as much, but for the life of me can't figure out why.) The third story of note is "The Man Who Corflued Mohammed" by Mike Glyer, a well-done fannish homage to Alfred Bester's "Man Who Murdered Mohammed."
But most of the stories require some knowledge of fannish personalities, Worldcon business meeting minutiae, and so on. Of course, the book will probably be found only at conventions or in very specialized stores, so it is targeted at its audience. If you have all the prerequisites, you may find this volume of interest. If so, and you can't find it locally, you can order it from Old Earth Books, P. O. Box 19951, Baltimore MD 21211-0951, or Blue Moon Books, Ltd., 360 West First Avenue, Eugene OR 97401, http://www.teleport.com/~hypatia, email@example.com or BlueMoonBk@aol.com. [-ecl]
FLY AWAY HOME
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A young teenager and her father rescue orphan geese and find they have to lead them on a migration from Canada to North Carolina. This is a good family film that could have been a lot better had the story been kept simpler. Too many overly- familiar conflicts are thrown in and damage a beautiful and at times touching film. Still there are some stunning moments in the photography. The film never quite lives up to Carroll Ballard's previous films but it is one that should be entertaining to adults as well as children. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4). Minor spoilers in the review, but most are made obvious by the poster.
Young Amy Alden (Anna Paquin of THE PIANO) is the daughter of separated parents, her mother living in New Zealand, her father (Jeff Daniels) in Canada. When her mother is killed in an automobile accident, she must go to Canada and live with her father. Now it is clear to the audience that Thomas Alden is about as nifty a father as anyone could have. Non-conformist Dad creates fantasy sculptures and builds and flies his own gliders. But Amy refuses to forgive him for separating from her mother. The two absolutely cannot connect until Amy needs her father's help. She finds some goose eggs, ready to hatch and broods them herself, inadvertently imprinting herself on the goslings as their mother. She then finds she has the responsibility to raise them and teach them what geese need to know. Her greatest challenge is the dilemma of whether to have their wings clipped or to teach them to migrate. Finding the former unthinkable, she is left with the seemingly impossible task of the latter. It is her father's idea to teach them how to migrate by actually leading them on a migration with the use of a single-person aircraft he would build. Even with so impossible a task, there are human impediments in their way including a local official who insists that legally the young geese have to have their wings clipped. In some ways the plot of FLY AWAY HOME has many of the same messages as APOLLO 13. It teaches that faced with a prodigious task you break it down into small pieces and solve the problem a piece at a time. And there is a fascination for the audience in simply watching as the formidable list of obstacles is whittled down one by one.
Jeff Daniels adds another off-beat role to his collection, this one more charming than some of his other recent ones. Anna Paquin turns in a performance more like one would expect of a thirteen- year-old than of an Oscar-winner. Dana Delaney is winning but does not have enough to do as the father's girl friend (and by implication in this family film, his lover). Director Carroll Ballard previously helmed the excellent NEVER CRY WOLF and the lyrical BLACK STALLION. Like the latter film, this one starts very well but falls apart in the final act when a race is thrown in to create synthetic tension. In THE BLACK STALLION, Ballard may have been constrained by the book on which the film was based. However, FLY AWAY HOME had already taken large liberties from the original story, part of the autobiography of Bill Lishman, and one suspects that the final race against time was not in Lishman's story.
The photography is in the hands of Caleb Deschanel, who formerly filmed THE BLACK STALLION for Ballard and more recently was Oscar- nominated for THE RIGHT STUFF and THE NATURAL. His photography of the geese at all stages of their lives is flawless, though at times it looks like the geese grow much too quickly, sometimes in a single day of the plot. Still, Deschanel's ability to capture the birds in flight together with the small ultra-light airplanes is extraordinary. Mark Isham's score is generally undistinguished and usually just lays in the background. That is good because when the one song is sung it is basically telling the audience just the same things they could see with their own eyes if they have been paying attention. Frankie Lane could get away with that in the 50s, but it is a little out of place in the 90s. There is also something wrong with having Anna Paquin making a plea for the protection of the natural world wearing two pendulous earrings and a nose-ring. There may be nothing wrong with the jewelry, but it really is jarring to see it in this context.
The film needed a final sequence better than a race against time to preserve wetlands. Also superfluous was the conflict with a local game official and how it was resolved. Telling this story simpler would have been better and less might have been more. Still, this is one the adults will enjoy perhaps more than the children. I give it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The issue of pragmatism vs. ideals and the contrast of Old World and New World values are treated in a slice-of-life comedy-drama. Comic actor Stanley Tucci shows that he has many film-making talents in this bittersweet tale of a restaurateur with one final chance to save his high-quality restaurant from going under. This film is predictable but touching. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
Every once in a while a particular performance grabs my attention and I begin to watch for the actor gave it. Perhaps the best thing about PRELUDE TO A KISS was the comic acting of Stanley Tucci. I saw him several times after that and always liked his performances. But he always seemed to have small parts; generally he plays thugs and henchmen, at least in the films I have seen. Apparently to actually star in a film he had to co-write the script, co-produce the film, and then co-direct it. But it is worth it to see much more of his acting.
Tucci plays Secondo, an immigrant from Italy trying to run the aptly-named Paradise, an Italian restaurant somewhere on the New Jersey shore in the late 1950s. Secondo manages the tiny restaurant while his older brother Primo (Tony Shalhoub) does the cooking. And what cooking he does! Primo is an artist who believes that "to eat good food is to be close to God." Eventually we see some of what Primo can do. Like BABETTE'S FEAST and LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, this is definitely not a film to see when you are hungry. Among other things this film is a paean to great Italian cooking. The problem is that the customers are expecting spaghetti and meatballs. Every dish must have a spaghetti side dish and most must be buried under cheese. New Jersey is just not ready for great authentic Italian cooking in the late 1950s. The customers just don't get it. Making things even harder is just down the street is the fabulously successful Pascal's Italian Grotto. Pascal (Ian Holm) makes an art of living, not of cooking. His philosophies are "bite life in the ass" and "give the people what they want, then later you can give them what you want." That "later" may never come, but in the meantime he is making a fortune selling steaks and spaghetti with meatballs. To help the failing brothers he arranges that the famous singer Louie Prima (playing himself) will come to the restaurant to eat and thereby endorse the establishment. The brothers have one night to demonstrate the best in Italian cuisine for Prima and some invited friends. Secondo has to balance the preparations for dinner with his diffident relationship with his woman friend Phyllis (Minnie Driver) and his mistress (Isabella Rossellini).
This is probably Stanley Tucci's favorite role, since he did, after all, write it for himself. However his acting is just a little more reserved than is some other films. Complete with Italian accent he is certainly believable in the role, but I still prefer some of his humorous touches in PRELUDE TO A KISS. He is looking for more authenticity in this part than in some of his others, apparently. He seems a little too unflappable as Secondo and the film foregoes some comic possibilities as a result. On the other hand Tony Shalhoub is just a bit over-the-top as Primo boisterously rebuking a boorish customer or accusing Pascal of "culinary rape." Even more exaggerated is Ian Holm's wild and crazy Pascal, literally biting people on the ass as part of his life-loving routine. Tucci co-directs with Campbell Scott (of LONGTIME COMPANION, DEAD AGAIN, and MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE).
A well-made period piece is always a pleasure to watch, though Tucci does not flood us with late-50s detail. Occasionally we notice a price has been changed, a car has fins, or a pair of glasses has the same distinctive fin-styling. The feast itself is complete with titles for each of the courses and includes some authentic Italian dishes that are unfamiliar even today. The photography of food preparation and of the final product is at times gorgeous, but not all the film is as well-paced as it might be. At times the plot just stops dead while the camera watches somebody prepare food. In the end there are still many loose ends intentionally not tied up. But then not everything in life is tied up at the end of a day. BIG NIGHT will leave some audience members feeling that there should be more to the story, while others will be happy it is over so that they can proceed to dinner. I give BIG NIGHT a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
In an age when the fashion is to be in love with yourself, confessing to being in love with someone else is an admission of unfaithfulness to one's beloved. -- Russell Baker