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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/10/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 28
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:
http://dobson.ils.nwu.edu/hypertext/time-intro.html. A hypertext version of H. G. Wells's TIME MACHINE. I can't claim it's great, but it is an interesting experiment. [-ecl]
For all you BABYLON 5 fans in the New York City area, the schedule for it on WWOR is as follows: From January 4, 1997 until January 17, 1997: 1st airing, Saturday 8:00pm 2nd airing, Sunday 8:00pm From (Saturday) January 18, 1997, until September 1997: 1st airing, Saturday 11:00pm 2nd airing, Sunday 8:00pm
Well, I guess things were too quiet in my life, so I criticized the people who made STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT and poked a little fun at the whole Star Trek mythos. Now things are just not quiet any more. The last time I poked fun at STAR TREK on the Usenet an irate fan responded asking me "Who are YOU to criticize STAR TREK???" I responded "Who do I have to be?" Well, that derailed the conversation right there. It switched over to whether people had the right to criticize STAR TREK. I'll say this for the fans, they are broadminded. In something like a two to one ratio they agreed that people had the right to criticize STAR TREK. (True story!)
But one of the last things I was expecting was to get into a discussion of economic theory. I did comment on Picard's statement in the last STAR TREK film that in his time people are no longer motivated by money. I find that a little hard to believe. Really one of the last things I expected to come out of a discussion of a science fiction film was me coming off with what I think is a "Great Truth" in the field of economics, but I think I am ready to take a stab at one. Someone can tell me if this law has been suggested in the past. Or perhaps they can tell me I am all wet.
The discussion has been over whether money can be eliminated in the 24th Century and if it is still around, is it possible that it is not a motivation. Now I am one of the first people to admit that money is not a strong motivation for some people. Mother Theresa is probably not pulling down the biggest salary that she might if she were really serious about building a personal fortune. But the reason for this is that she probably does not have to pull $5 out of her pocket to pay for a meal. In her line of work, probably most of her meals are provided to her without anyone asking to be paid. I can't imagine a whole lot of people ask her for money after feeding her. I suspect she is pretty much taken care of in regards to her net income and does not give it a whole lot of thought. Nobody is going to hand her a whopping big hospital bill for her recent stay. Could we then not have a society that works this way with everyone doing the same? That is what they suggested in the most recent film, that people in the future are motivated by what they can personally attain and not by monetary concerns. My response is no, Mother Theresa is a special case, but a society could not work this way with personal attainment rather than interest in monetary gain being the general rule. And it seems obvious to me that is the case, so let me try and explain the reason.
I guess I should posit Leeper's First Law of Economics. It is my first law because I have not given all that much thought to economics since I have gotten out of school, and I was not nearly so pompous then as to be defining laws of economics. But from the comfort of my armchair I would like to posit what I call a law of economics and people can come to me and tell me I am wrong.
Leeper's First Law of Economics is that every price and salary (and for all I know every value in the physical universe) seeks its own boundary point. In the special case of salaries, they will seek to be both the maximum that the employer is willing to give and the minimum that the employee is willing to accept. Now the person whose mail brought this to mind is someone who is apparently a professor at an Australian university. (And that in itself I find pretty impressive. The concept that I am discussing STAR TREK with Australian college professors attests to the power o the Internet. I may be propounding Leeper's First law of economics but at heart I still feel like a kid discussing sci-fi moomies and to be doing it with distinguished correspondents is pretty nifty.) But take my Australian professor. His school is paying him a very carefully chosen salary. They are paying him the least that they think they can pay him without causing problems to themselves. They have multiple priorities including keeping costs down for their local government and their students. The same thing happens where we work. The budget people try to be sure that every single salary is determined to be the minimum possible in their estimation without causing the company too much trouble. Of course the company may have some flexibility in what it considers to be trouble. If somebody gets a big bonus it is there to head off the possibility that the employee will become disgruntled and want go elsewhere. Every salary is the lowest possible consistent with the interests of the stockholders and the management who are all trying to get as big a piece of the pie as they can. Basically unions are formed to raise the minimum salary threshold of where trouble begins for a company. They do this by controlling the supply of the commodity known as "labor" to push up the price.
Now let's take Jean-Luc Picard. If pay were not an incentive to him, the level of pay would not matter to him, within reason. If the level of pay did not matter to him within reason, Star Fleet would have better uses for some of that salary--perhaps noble space exploratory uses or perhaps just relieving taxpayers, but definitely other uses. One might almost make a case that it is the right and proper thing to put those funds where they create more good. But the money has some place else to go, be it a noble place or not. Continue the process and eventually Jean-Luc's salary would be so low that money would become an important concern to him. Then keeping Jean-Luc happy would again be a consideration of Jean-Luc's paymasters.
I am not saying I like this system or that it is even reasonable. It just seems to be a principle like Adam Smith's Invisible Hand. In the case of a corporation the same principle seems to work, only it goes double. There any excess money left in the budget goes to the shareholders or is siphoned off by a high executive before it gets to them. You don't find people in Microsoft saying "You know, selling this software has turned out to be highly profitable. We should cut prices." Instead you have a Bill Gates, who is wealthy enough to play Monopoly with real hotels. And also the original shareholders are paid very nicely for their foresight of buying Microsoft stock.
Getting back to Jean-Luc, the system is not infinitely flexible. Starfleet does not know how little they can pay him without him getting disgusted with the dirty job of solving the personal problems of close members of the crew and dealing with all those alien races--some of whom are bound to give off what to human tastes are terrible odors. But you can bet that with everything else they have to worry about somebody is making sure that Jean-Luc is not getting a heck of a lot more than Starfleet feels is absolutely necessary to pay him. To say that this is not how Starfleet operates is to assume that they do not have to worry about funds. That can be accomplished only two ways. Either the whole universe has so much that nobody has to worry about money, in which case money would go away. This clearly is not the case in the Trek universe as Quark's quest for gold-pressed latinum indicates. The other possibility is that Starfleet has so much political power that none of the taxpayers dares question how much tax goes to the support its huge and bloated structure. And you know, that is scarier than the Borg. [-mrl]
AUTOMATED ALICE by Jeff Noon (Crown, ISBN 0-517-70490-0, 1996, 223pp, US$21) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Like Lewis Carroll, Jeff Noon fills his story with puns and word play. Unlike Lewis Carroll, he tries to work in computers and industrial development. This is not entirely successful, and at times the conceit of computers giving their answers by having termites spell them out gets to be a bit annoying.
Noon is writing from a very different perspective than Carroll, and there is no chance of mistaking Noon's prose for Carroll's. In a sense this works against the novel, just as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche not done in Doyle's style seems to be missing something. And Noon is not as deft or as free with his logical puzzles and riddles as Carroll--but then, Carroll was a logician by trade.
If you're willing to accept this as a modern homage instead of a copy, and if you enjoy word play, you might find this worth a look. Whether it's worth buying in hardcover is questionable though. [-ecl]
THE LAW OF LOVE by Laura Esquivel (Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) (Crown Publishers, ISBN 0-517-70681-4, 1995 (1996), 266pp+CD, US$25) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This novel by the author of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE is bound to be a success, no matter what I say. But for a speculative fiction audience it is worth noting that in spite of its future setting and its characters' travels to other planets, and in spite of some descriptions labeling it as science fiction, this is not science fiction--this is fantasy. The premise is that everyone goes though thousands of reincarnations, trying to match up with their "beshert." "Beshert" is Yiddish for "the person for whom you are intended and who is intended for you," a concept not easily expressed in English. There are guardian angels and mind transference and machines that read minds and a whole slew of other ideas.
There is also a CD with music tracks to be played at various points in the story. And there are illustrations in the style of graphic novels of people's dreams and memories. All this book seemed to be missing was a scratch-and-sniff card.
Maybe this is unfair. But I found the CD tracks disruptive--when I read a book I don't like having to stop, reach over, hit the start button on my CD player, listen to arias which seem to have a background of clattering cups or some such, hit the stop button at the end of the track, and go back to the book. Not to mention jumping from text to pictures and back again.
Ultimately, I found this book had too much science fiction to work as a fantasy, too much fantasy to be good science fiction, and too many gimmicks to work as a novel. [-ecl]
PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: by Jules Verne (translated by Richard Howard) (Random House, ISBN 0-679-44434-3, 1996, 222pp, US$21) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper)
This is not Verne's best book. But it has a certain charm that is lacking from Verne's other works, a certain sparseness of prose that gives the appearance of an intentional style. Of course, it may be just the translator's doing, or it may be unintentional awkwardness, but for me, at least, it worked.
The story takes place in 1960. Much has been made of the predictions Verne made, many fairly accurate, others amusingly off. I suppose one could consider this a sort of alternate history of the steampunk ilk, but that is technically inaccurate. It's more like all those stories from the pulp era that wrote about the marvels of the 1960s which somehow never came to pass, and it's only the fact that it's newly published that gives one pause.
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT:
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This is a high-level and frequently very rushed look at the career of wildcat pornographer Larry Flynt with emphasis on his battle against government censorship. Milos Forman gives us a more superficial treatment of the legal issues to make way for a familiar doomed love story and other more salable aspects of Flynt's career. In doing so he makes this a much less engaging film, albeit more profitable, than it might have been. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
As portrayed in this new film, the first directed by Milos Forman in seven years, Larry Flynt is a free spirit who spent most of his life drifting. He makes the decision to publish a magazine with pictures of the dancers at his sleazy Cincinnati strip club, just as a publicity stunt, after that things pretty much just happen to him. The magazine become popular; Flynt becomes rich and famous filling the demand; the local government decides to prosecute him; his cause becomes a major civil liberties case; he becomes a national figure in the anti-censorship movement. In the course of all this he occasionally tries to make decisions that will change the course of his life and his magazine, but none of these decisions ever sticks. He decides to have his Hustler magazine mix fundamentalist Christianity with pornography, but somehow the combination just does not sell. Flynt fires the entire executive staff of his own magazine only to be ignored. He decides that he and his wife, Althea, should kick their drug habits and though he succeeds himself, he finds he has no control over her. Flynt seems to want to scuttle himself when he to be as uncooperative as possible with his lawyer, but his defense goes on in spite of himself, all the way to the Supreme Court. During all of this Flynt shows no admirable traits at all beyond loyalty to Althea.
The film opens with a prologue set in the early 1950s in Kentucky where a young Larry Flynt is already giving the public what it wants by making and selling his own moonshine. Cut to two decades later and Flynt is running the Hustler Club in Cincinnati. He has the idea to have a magazine to promote his club. Once that is in place he decides to make his HUSTLER magazine what PLAYBOY is not, a magazine overtly aimed at the shotguns and pickups types who come to his club. While at his club he meets dancer Althea Leasure (Courtney Love) who shows immediate romantic interest in Flynt. The publicity says that Flynt is an unlikely hero for a film and that is a true statement. But the hero of the film is Alan Isaacman the civil liberties lawyer who took his principle of defending the First Amendment to the Supreme Court in Flynt's name, often frustratingly sabotaged by the childish antics of Flynt himself. Had there been some nobility shown in Althea beyond her initial loyalty to Flynt, she might have made an interesting character. But eventually she will show herself to be even weaker than her husband.
Forman tells the story of Larry Flynt, but never gives us much of an emotional investment in his character. Flynt is never anything but selfish in the course of the film. With other characters his love for Althea might have been touching, but only occasionally is there any chemistry between the two of them or any feeling that it is good that these two people have found each other. Interestingly Courtney Love made her film debut in SID AND NANCY, in some ways a very similar film with very similar problems. Forman may have seen parallels between Flynt and McMurphy in his ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, but he was able to capture an emotional core and a nobility in McMurphy that seems lacking in Flynt. Even when his lawyer is winning in court, Flynt seems determined to play the Bad Boy and to derail the proceedings. Forman's telling of the story of Flynt moves too quickly with too little explanation of what is going on. Flynt will be in jail in one scene and out the next organizing a free speech rally without explanation of how he got out of jail. Other obvious production details seem to be ignored. Edward Norton, playing the idealist lawyer, seems not to age at all over the course of the many years the film covers (not including the prologue).
Woody Harrelson will probably never be a great actor. Here Flynt is supposed to behave in an eccentric manner, and Harrelson does. Flynt is supposed to be superficial and have a fly-weight intellect easily influenced by others, and Harrelson does that sufficiently too. And he is supposed to be juvenile in unexpected places, and he is. On the surface this does not seem like a difficult role to play and Harrelson is just fine. Curiously he is out-performed by the much less experienced Courtney Love as Althea.
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT has positioned itself to be an engaging film on the meaning of the First Amendment of the constitution. It also is supposed to be a little titillating, though in a style much more subdued than is Flynt's enthusiastic approach. Frankly the film does a better job of the former than the latter. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
(a theater review by Mark R. Leeper):
When we were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1995, we saw a production of Bulgakov's MOLIERE performed by the Oxmad Theatre Company. Well, in January Bravo TV is running the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, so we thought we'd include Mark's brief review of the earlier version here (along with the program description given):
"MOLIERE! Was his Marriage really incestuous? Or was it all a conspiracy? ... masked maidens, fornicating Frenchman and murderous musketeers ... brilliantly funny, passionate play by fiery Soviet dissident, MIKHAIL BULGAKOV."
Well, this was the best thing we have seen so far in Edinburgh. The play follows Moliere (Bernard Horsfall) from the height of his popularity to his death. Moliere is a popular writer of comedies and a personal favorite of Louis XIV. But he has made enemies, foremost of which is the Archbishop Charron (Adrian Sharp). It seems that the Church did not like TARTUFFE with its theme of religious hypocrisy. The Archbishop complains to Louis and to his shock finds that Louis's punishment for Moliere is a light reprimand and a commission to perform the very play in question. But soon events turn in the Archbishop's favor. The play is by Mikhail Bulgakov, the Soviet dissident who wrote THE HEAR OF A DOG and THE MASTER AND MARGARITA. Horsfall is a stage actor primarily but he appeared in GOLD, GANDHI, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, and BRAVEHEART. His final scene has him on a stage staged stage bed. It appears the character Moliere died on-stage, playing a character who was in bed so we have a piece of a play within a play. When it was over Horsfall picked up the cardboard bed and said to us "this is known as 'take up thy bed and walk.'" [-mrl]
MOLIERE airs January 8, 17, 18, 25, and 26.
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. --Martin Luther King