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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/06/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 23
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.
URLs of the week:
for copies of our travelogues for Japan.
(The last two are available only to those operating within the Lucent firewall.) [-ecl]
A guest editorial by our factotum:
It's that time of year again. No, not *that* time, but rather the time of year when all the organizations that haven't yet had their annual diversity meeting frantically try to come up with ideas. And in the process, as often as not someone will suggest, "How about if everyone brings some ethnic food in for lunch?"
How about we don't?
Now, I like ethnic food as much as just about anyone, and probably more than most. That's one reason I wish people would stop suggesting this--most people don't like ethnic food. Even those who say they so often mean they like "safe" ethnic food: lasagna, egg rolls, and bagels. If people bring in anything more exotic-- anything in a sauce other than tomato sauce, for example--people manage to skip that dish on their way through. The result of this is that anyone who brings in something authentically ethnic finds that their contribution is ignored by most people. This, I contend, is *not* likely to improve someone's opinion of how welcome diversity really is.
Ah, yes, bagels. I am constantly amazed on how many different people from different ethnic backgrounds say that they'll bring the bagels. There was once a musical entitled "When You're in Love, the Whole World's Jewish." Well, when it comes time to volunteer to bring ethnic food, the whole world's Jewish.
Did you know that such ordinary foods as chocolate chip cookies and tuna casserole are suddenly ethnic when someone says, "Let's all bring ethnic food!"
But there are even more serious objections. For one thing, this emphasis on ethnic food makes everyone think that diversity is all ethnic. When someone puts on a diversity day, they tell all the groups invited to bring special foods from their group, which always leads to those of us in EQUAL!~trying to figure out just what constitutes gay food. And what is veterans' food: C-rations? (Yeah, right--bring those and you'll see how popular ethnic food is.)
Another problem is that people think that all ethnic diversity consists of is ethnic food, colorful costumes, and exotic dances. As long as these are addressed, some people think they don't need to look any deeper. A bowl of groundnut stew is not going to solve our racial problems, nor will a mariachi band resolve the conflict between those who think only English should be spoken in the building and those who wants to speak other languages.
And lastly, I have never seen a man suggest bringing ethnic food, and for whatever reasons, I notice that men frequently say that what they are bringing in was made by their wives, but never hear that someone's husband made their dish. I realize that this division of labor is not the direct concern of the planners, but I personally feel that people should not be asked to do a task that one has a reasonable suspicion will be passed on to someone else. Or looked at another way, people are employed by Lucent Technologies in a variety of positions, but none of the job descriptions includes preparing ethnic food. I can't help but feel that Miss Manners has probably already commented on the gradual attempt to turn the workplace into a social circle, and not in its favor.
And for the last few years this is even being done for the "holiday party." (Okay, so I am going to briefly mention that as well.) This used to be a perq that the company gave us. Now it's a pot- luck dinner that we end up preparing.
So next time someone says, "Let's all bring ethnic food," my response is, "Let's not." [-ecl]
I don't know. I figure buy stock about like I buy fruit. I have really good advice about how to choose, but it never turns out so good. Then I just hang onto it until well past the point I should have gotten rid of it. [-mrl]
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The newest "Star Trek" adventure is an okay science fiction piece lacking in some of the absurdities from which the "Star Trek" films have occasionally suffered. The first of the series without William Shatner finds Patrick Stewart a more than adequate replacement on the screen. The script needed a little tightening, but the Borg turn out to be a good, if familiar-seeming screen foe. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
To this point the "Star Trek" films have either had reasonable action but scripts that have shown far too little thought to the concepts (numbers 2-4, 6 and STAR TREK: GENERATIONS). Or have had intriguing ideas wasted on poor execution (1 and 5). STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT falls into the first category, but is blessedly free of ill-conceived ideas like the Genesis Device or the Nexus. The Borg at one time added desperately-needed tension to the "Star Trek" suite of series by introducing an enemy that was at once orders of magnitude more powerful than the Federation ships and as implacable as a nest of ants. The Borg underscored that space exploration was still dangerous and that whatever the current Enterprise was, it still had limitations. However, whatever value that property represented has long since been mortgaged in episodes that showed in a fair fight the Universe has nothing--not even the Borg--that can stand up to the Enterprise, and individual Borgs can be won over by niceness. Some dim bulbs in the "Star Trek" factory have safely established that we never need to worry about "Star Trek" characters again. Vulcans return from the dead and new Enterprises come in convenient six-packs, so we can safely ignore the series and give our primary attention to "Babylon 5." With the concept of the Borg already compromised, they seem fair game to use in a film. In large part they are reduced here to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD style zombies with electronic enhancements they do not seem to use, but then the concept has already been compromised.
In the new film the Borg have an unusual strategy for assimilating Earth. They go back in time to just before that momentous day in the 21st Century--and who can forget it?--April 5, 2063 when both Zephram Cochran (James Cromwell of BABE) took the first warp jump and as a result Earth also makes its first contact with an alien race. It is amazing that both happened in one day and even more that nobody in any of the series or films has ever mentioned that fact till now. If the Borg can manage to abort the first warp trip and the first alien contact, apparently everything else will be okay for them. And their arrival has to be just within hours of the flight and not two weeks earlier because ... uh ... well, maybe the Borg are not quite so smart after all. To the rescue in their time-travel wake comes the Enterprise commanded by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, of I, CLAUDIUS and JEFFREY). He is here against the express orders of the Federation in a move that would be more characteristic of James Kirk than of Picard.
In the new "Star Trek" tradition of giving the directorial reins to an aspiring "Star Trek" actor, the task went to Jonathan Frakes, who is perhaps one of the least noticeable actors in this film. He is in some major scenes but is only noticeable when he seems to be grinning at the joke of him directing himself. But Frakes has always been a little redundant in the Next Generation stories. He was thrown into the cast because the creators knew that there could be no romantic interest in a bald middle-aged captain. Then Stewart demonstrated far more appeal than anyone expected. Speaking of whom I am not sure if it is meaningful to talk about whether Patrick Stewart is a good Captain Picard, but he is. Stewart is the best actor who was ever a regular in the "Star Trek" stories and his is the most interesting character. There are a few other familiar actors sprinkled in (besides the regular cast), but none to very good advantage. James Cromwell plays a sort of working class physics genius in a role that never really gels. He is never believable as the inventor of warp drive, which is perhaps the point of the joke, but it just adds to the question of how with so little resource, physical as well as mental, could this particular person putter together warp drive. Alfre Woodard is totally wasted in a throwaway role. Alice Krige, best remembered for GHOST STORY has only slightly less thankless a role as the one-dimensional punk-looking queen bee of the Borg.
This episode is not just darker in tone than many of the chapters, it is literally darker in lighting. In the entire film there are just two scenes that come to mind that are filmed in daylight. This, combined with the somewhat repulsive Borg and their queen who, as a possible homage to INVADERS FROM MARS, is little more than a head gives the film a decidedly colder and more dour feel. This could be a positive touch, but it really undermines the attempted humor scenes. It is hard to imagine Marina Sirtis doing a drunk act being funny even under the best of conditions, here it does not stand a chance. Visual effects are generally fairly good with the exception of some zero-G floating that would have been unconvincing even before the release of APOLLO 13. Jerry Goldsmith has written a nice score incorporating themes from other "Star Trek" series and films but also including some new themes.
This is a "Star Trek" episode with its share of faults, but few that come to mind while watching it. It has the melodrama of other episodes of the films but fewer absurdities this time around. Oh, and it is entertaining. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Minor spoiler...Minor spoiler...Minor spoiler...Minor spoiler...
Some complaints about the script. I have avoided reading discussions on the net so some of there may have already been brought up there without my knowledge.
1. Even a few minutes of warp should have taken a ship a lot further from Earth than it was. Presumably warp speed is faster than light if not out and out discontinuous jumping.
2. The claim in made that in the 25th century they no longer use money. This is patently inconsistent with STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE 9. People are spending and gambling something in Quark's Bar. Gold- pressed latinum is also frequently mentioned and used as money.
3. Data turning off his emotion chip by twisting his head is a nice piece of mime, but it makes little sense.
4. It really reduces the Borg to a very unintelligent level to say they do not even notice intruders in their midst. Even ants are smarter than that with far smaller brains.
5. There are two strategies to use against the Borg and Picard chooses one because he has an unreasoning hatred of the Borg. Someone who really had an unreasoning hatred of the Borg would have chosen the other strategy.
6. Admittedly complaining about holodeck sequences is like tripping a dachshund, but this one seems especially stupid. The holodeck in principle creates only visual effects. It would take a lot of double-talk to make it sound possible that anyone could actually be shot by a visual illusion and bleed real blood.
7. The Universal Translator already sounds like magic assuming that it needs a lot of input about a new race. It goes considerably further to say that it knows the new language instantly with virtually no sampling. [-mrl]
QUANTUM MOON by Denise Vitola (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00357-5, 1996, 279pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
At first, this sounded like a really cobbled-together idea--a werewolf detective in a future of a world-wide dictatorship (the United World Government). But strangely enough, it works.
Ty Merrick is a detective in a rather run-down future, or at least run-down for the masses of the people. The rich are. of course, still rich. The title might make you think this book uses some high-tech physics concept, but it's really just a reference to a new drug called quantum. Okay, so that makes this just another drug-running story, and telling any more of the story is perhaps unnecessary, but the twist of having the detective be a werewolf, and a female werewolf at that, gives it just enough of a twist to make it worth reading. It's not great, but as a first novel it shows promise. [-ecl]
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Peter Shaffer, later the author of AMADEUS, creates his densest and most complex film. Richard Burton plays a psychiatrist treating a boy who blinded horses in a fit of rage and frustration. The ideas really go too fast to catch all that is said. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)
Muhammed Vanker wrote to me saying that he could not find any reviews on the Internet for the film EQUUS (1977) and asked if I could point him to one. Well, the answer was no. There are probably a lot of major films from prior to the explosion of the Internet that have no reviews readily available. Though I had seen the film once in 1978 and only once again in the early 1980s, the film left a deep impression on me. In part because for years I said that the film, actually a play by Peter Shaffer makes a very good companion piece to another film by Peter's brother Anthony Shaffer, THE WICKER MAN. EQUUS is in part about the birth of religions, THE WICKER MAN is about the maintenance of religions. Possibly the third film should be INHERIT THE WIND, about the death of religions. In any case I sent Vanker the quick outline of what I would say if I were to review EQUUS. With that in place, I might as well go ahead and complete the review. These comments are based on memories of the film from at least thirteen years ago. Please excuse the brevity and perhaps even minor inaccuracies.
Richard Burton plays a psychiatrist (himself very troubled) who tries to get inside the mind of a sociopathic stable boy (Peter Firth) who has blinded the horses who were left in his care. The boy resists for a long time any cooperation with the psychiatrist, but finally does open up to reveal a troubled past. What Burton discovers is that the boy has is deeply disturbed but also has a mystical train of mind. The stable-boy has created for himself something like a religion (with strong sexual overtones) worshipping horses. The religion has its own ceremonies and the boy even turns the bits from the horses mouths into a sort of religious icons which he calls the "Jingle-jangle." The religion, however, cannot fulfill the boy and after an attempted sexual encounter that fails his utter frustration was release in the horse blinding. This scene, depicted in reenactment, is an intense scene in which angry boy lashes out against his god. The full frontal male nudity in the reenactment scene was rare in 1977 and quite shocking.
In some ways the play EQUUS is perhaps ill-suited for cinema since it is so dense in ideas that deserve considering. It is one film that would perhaps be better on video than in the theater. The viewer will be able to stop and even replay passages to think over their content and impact. The pace of ideas is so fast that you cannot think about one idea before the next one comes along. Still would have been really powerful with the immediacy of a stage performance. Richard Burton and Peter Firth in two main roles were both nominated for Academy Awards as was Peter Shaffer. The film was directed by Sidney Lumet who had previous directed several classics including TWELVE ANGRY MEN and FAIL-SAFE. This is, however, his most intense film and it rates a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things are they are, not as they ought to be. -- Ambrose Bierce