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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/17/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 29
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 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org 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://www.design.no/2001/multimedia.html. See below. [-ecl]
From 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by Arthur C. Clarke (chapter 28, toward the end, page 156 in the Signet edition):
"Dave," said Hal, "I don't understand why you're doing this to me ... I have the greatest enthusiasm for the mission .... You are destroying my mind .... Don't you understand?.... I will become childish ... I will become nothing ...."
"I am a HAL Nine Thousand computer Production Number 3. I became operational at the Hal Plant in Urbana, Illinois on January 12, 1997. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The rain in Spain is mainly in the plain. Dave--are you still there? Did you know that the square root of 10 is 3 point 162277660168379? Log 10 to the base e is zero point 434294481903252 ... correction, that is log e to the base 10 .... The reciprocal of three is zero point 333333333333333333333 ... two times two is ... two times two is ... approximately 4 point 101010101010101010 ... I seem to be having some difficulty--my first instructor was Dr. Chandra. He taught me to sing a song, it goes like this, 'Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you.'"
Regarding our story a few weeks ago about the Navy and the lighthouse, Rob Mitchell reports, "By the way, that 'actual' radio conversation has been used in the Navy since the late 40's as a cautionary tale to young officers -- don't get too enamored with your rank, and listen to your people. I first heard it in NROTC in the mid-70's and it was old then. READER'S DIGEST published it a year or so ago, etc. If the CNO actually 'realeased' it, it must have been as part of a message intended again to be a reminder to those in command to listen to their people -- a timely reminder as we hear about sexual harassment scandals, Academy drug scandals, etc...." [-jrrt]
Terriers: Evelyn did a double take when I said it. She is never really clear when I say something like this if I am joking or not. Sometimes I will say something in all seriousness that sounds like no sane person could say it. This time what I said is that terriers tend to come back from the dead. She was talking about a film called MICHAEL in which she says a dog returns from the dead and I said it might makes sense if it were a terrier because dead terriers come back to life. It is the same kind of straight face I have when I tell people that the legend of Excalibur is probably based in reality on some real magic sword.
Yup, there really were magic swords at one time. You see, back when swords were made of iron people did not know a whole lot about how to forge iron. I guess we would say their methodology was not all that consistent. Well, if you get really sloppy making iron and get the carbon content wrong--that can happen when you get your heat from charcoal fires--what you get is something that looks like an iron sword but is in large part steel. This is iron made so bad it is good. A steel sword could bite through pretty much any sword or iron that they knew how they were making at the time. So every once in a while a sword came out wrong, but better. Hence the legend of magic swords.
Oh, and terriers that return from the dead, that really happens also. The time was that humans used to return from the dead. That is one of the reasons to have people embalmed. It makes sure they do not return. We tend to have a horror of the idea of people returning from the dead, but that is because we tend to think selfishly. It is a heck of a lot more horrible for the person it happens to. Time was when people would wake up in coffins and find no way out. When you would exhume old coffins, a certain percentage had signs that the occupant had tried to make an exit. But of course coffins are pretty well-made. Now only very rarely does a dog get embalmed. And very few have coffins. A dead dog just gets buried in the ground. So a dog coming back to life may have a fighting chance of saving himself. If any kind of dog has a good chance of making it to safety, it is a terrier. Most kinds of dogs are bred for some purpose and the name tells their purpose. It means "earth-dog," it has the same root as "terra." A terrier is a hunting dog who chases the quarry into its hole or tunnel, fights it there, and brings it back out. These are dogs who are really good at digging and tunneling. And every once in a while you see a news story of a Jack Russell Terrier or a dachshund who was some prized family pet who had to be euthanized or perhaps was dead from other causes, but then comes back scratching at his master's door. This is a dog who seemed to be dead, was buried, came back to life, found himself in dirt, and his natural instincts were to dig his way out.
I have a particular interest in the spirit that terriers have because I grew up with a dachshund. I never knew he was a terrier and he never let on except that he occasionally would dig in the back yard. He probably thought it was his idea to dig also, but it was instincts that were bred into him. That is interesting, isn't it? That if you want and animal (including a human) to have certain thought patterns and certain behaviors, you can actually breed for them. You can give them a genetic message to think is a specific way or to have some specific behavior trait. You could breed humans for intelligence and integrity if you really wanted.
Getting back to dogs, most people think that dachshunds are hounds. The name means "badger hound." But they were bred to go into badger holes and bring out badgers. A badger is a particularly mean and uncooperative animal, especially when it comes to preserving their own life. A terrier was bred with little short legs so that they do not get in the way when burrowing. They also had the sort of personality so when they get into the burrow, they still have the intelligence to out-think and out-fight the badger. That made them precocious pets. With a name like "badger hound" they were bred to look like little basset hounds so snouts got longer and ears more pendulous. It is surprising just how easily formed dogs are when it comes to breeding them. It does not take long to breed a dog with a certain look and a certain personality if you just make those the traits you want to breed for. That has implications that evolution is a lot faster a process than we would think. Animal behavior and human behavior is much more pliable than we may realize. That is a scary thought. [-mrl]
WORLDWAR: STRIKING THE BALANCE by Harry Turtledove (Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-40550-1, December 1996, 465pp, US$23) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This volume concludes the "Worldwar" tetralogy, though it certainly leaves room for more books to follow. However, since Turtledove has contracted for a six(!)-volume series set in an alternate World War I, we will be spared any sequels for a while. (Some may say that in this case the cure is worse than the disease.)
Do I sound negative? Well, there can be too much of a good thing, and this is an example. In fact, I would say there's about a thousand pages too much. At approximately 1,800 pages total, this series is longer than LES MISERABLES, and shorter by only a third than Shakespeare's total output. I enjoyed the first book, but frankly by the end I was thinking of all the books I could have read instead of this, and this is not a good sign.
Another side effect of this length is that characterizations that the reader can accept in a single average- length novel become less believable at this length. For example, the inability of the Lizards to "expect the unexpected" or even to understand that what they learned about humans was not accurate any more becomes harder and harder to accept.
And even after all this, Turtledove does not completely wrap up his story. I actually have mixed feelings about this: after all, stories are not neatly wrapped up in real life. The actual end of World War II did not solve all the problems; we still had the Cold War, the refugee problem (which certainly had implications which still affect the situation in the Middle East today), and a whole new set of problems in social and technological areas. But fiction is supposed to be neater than real life (most would say), and it looks too much like the reason for the open-endedness is to leave room for more sequels.
I really enjoyed the first book, but I have to say that my enjoyment decreased with each succeeding volume. By the last book, people seem to be traveling almost at random criss-crossing North America and Europe, and this left me with the feeling of trying to get a little bit of everything in before the end. If you've read the first three you will almost definitely want to read this, but I can't really recommend it. And the series is just too long for me to recommend it as a whole. [-ecl]
THE RELIC (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Peter Hyams tries his hand at horror and instead finally makes a fun science fiction film. If you liked IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE there is a darn good chance you will like its 1990s successor. A stone statue from the Amazon basin is somehow connected to a series of beheadings in a Chicago museum. Like the novel, the film is a patchwork of pieces from better horror stories, but it all makes for a decent B-picture. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
THE RELIC is based on what is apparently a fairly popular horror novel by Douglas Preston (author of the non-fiction DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC, about the American Museum of Natural History) and horror editor Lincoln Child. The trailers for the film preceded the release by several months. That is all really something of a pity. This would be a great little film to come upon by accident, sitting in some dusty corner of the video store. Maybe this should be the second film of a drive-in double-feature, playing with something like MARS ATTACKS! The key to enjoying THE RELIC is to see it on the cheap with very little expectation. Then you would not feel you have to analyze the ideas in any great detail. This film is for the 90s what a film like TARANTULA was for the 50s, a bit of playful fun with some really dubious science. THE RELIC pastes together bits from a lot of horror and science fiction movies and gives some nice hokum explanations for how its particular monster came to be haunting a natural history museum in Chicago. If you look for it you will see the ghost ship from DRACULA or a big chunk of plot borrowed from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Another piece of the idea comes from THE CREEPING UNKNOWN. Still, by STAR TREK standards the ideas in the film seem mostly reasonably plausible and nothing seems totally absurd. The film fails only in that it does not offer enough to satisfy the expectations for a major studio production.
A museum expedition to the Amazon Basin in Brazil has discovered some peculiar superstitions of the local Indians. They involve a statue and some other jungle artifacts that get crated up and sent to the Chicago Museum of Natural History by an explorer who later regrets sending them. At the museum the artifacts come to the attention of the research staff including a young evolutionary biologist Margo Green (played by Penelope Ann Miller) and her mentor and friend Dr. Frock (James Whitmore). But what really attracts attention is the set of beheadings that start occurring in different parts of the museum. Investigating them comes Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore). He is asked to keep a lid on the killings because the museum is about to open a major new exhibit on superstition that will be extremely lucrative for the museum. The museum director (Linda Hunt) is planning in just a day or two to inaugurate the exhibit with a celebration, a major social event for the city government of Chicago. D'Agosta does not want the opening ceremonies for the exhibit to occur in a museum with a killer still at large somewhere in the huge system of underground chambers beneath the museum, but the museum plans to go ahead. While D'Agosta tries to find the killer, Dr. Green struggles to understand exactly what the superhuman killer is.
Penelope Ann Miller is probably the least interesting of the top- billed four actors. Tom Sizemore as the superstitious police detective is a much more interesting actor. He overcomes the distraction of his constant one-day growth of beard to put some interesting accent on his character. He is probably remembered best for the sleazy sorts he played in DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS and NATURAL BORN KILLERS. He plays his hero in much the same way and it is worth seeing the sleaziness translate into attitude. Linda Hunt and James Whitmore are both magnetic scene stealers, as is a somewhat mournful-looking dog. Director Peter Hyams's previous science fiction films have been CAPRICORN ONE, OUTLAND, 2010, and TIMECOP. Of those, only 2010 warrants even the effort of a second viewing and it was pretty stodgy. Hyams had to step over into horror to make his first reasonably enjoyable science fiction film. Even in THE RELIC he lacks the style he really needs. Hyams floods the film with false-alarm jump scenes, many highly predictable, instead of creating the feeling of tension he really needs.
Perhaps the best thing to do with this film would be to forget you ever heard of it and then rent it in two years. Barring that, go into the theater with lots of popcorn and no expectations. Then you might agree this film deserves a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The on-again, off-again history of
attempts to bring this Webber and Rice musical
to the screen finally culminates in a
spectacular film starring Madonna, Antonio
Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. By now the music
is mostly familiar. The politics are
superficially explained, but the visuals give
the film a great epic feel. It is hard to
imagine Madonna will ever have as powerful a
role or be as good in another film. Rating:
high +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 4 positive, 4 negative, 3 mixed
Eva Peron was dead 26 years before the musical was produced, and it took nearly as long, 19 more years, for that musical to be filmed. It is not clear why the film should be made even now or why the people at Disney thought the American public would be interested in this story of the attractive, blond, and politically-active wife of a controversial reformer President who is popular among the poor but disliked by the rich, the military, and the Right Wing.
Like the play EVITA, the film opens in 1952 with the announcement of the death of Eva Peron. The film then tells in flashback the life story of Eva, supposedly related by Che (Antonio Banderas). Che is every bit as omnipresent here as he was in the musical, but in Alan Parker's film version he is no longer a research chemist developing an insecticide, he is now just sort of a one-man voice of public opinion. (This creates something of a problem with the lyrics of some of the songs. They have images of images of dying insects that now seem to come out of nowhere.) Eva is the illegitimate daughter of a prosperous middle class man. Her life is forged in bitterness by her father's other family refusing to acknowledge her existence or letting her attend her own father's funeral. Her being forcibly ejected from the church is the film's most powerful scene. At age fifteen, still filled with venom, she sleeps with popular singer visiting her village. Seeing this as an opportunity she attaches herself like a lamprey to the singer forcing him to take her to Buenos Aires. In spite of bad treatment, she works her way up a human ladder of men, trading her way up until she allies herself to the powerful and politically ambitious Colonel Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce). Juan unexpectedly finds himself caught between Eva on one side and the Army and the wealthy of Argentina on the other. It is a moot point which side has a greater loathing of the other. But "Little Eva" brings with her an overwhelming payload of political support from the Descamisados--the poor, "shirtless" workers and Juan rides their support to the Presidency--a very stormy trip.
Madonna Louise Ciccone has not had a very distinguished acting career up to this point but finally seems cast perfectly in a role. Madonna not only resembles Eva Person, both have notoriety for a somewhat salacious background. The biggest drawback to casting Madonna in the role is that she is 38--five years older than Eva Peron was even at her death--and the days are long past when Madonna could reasonably play the fifteen-year-old Eva. Antonio Banderas is transformed from chemist into a sort of narrator and Greek chorus and that causes some problems with his character. It is not clear what his point of view means or if it is even consistent. When Che was envisioned as a real human, he could change his mind about Eva without it being a story problem. But can a narrator or a chorus change his mind in the course of a story? It is not usually done. Ironically the Banderas character has far more lines than does the much more literal character of Pryce. Through much of the film Pryce has only to look good. I was surprised when Pryce speaks toward the middle of the film and I realized that we have not heard his voice in quite a while.
EVITA looks like a very expensive production and Parker has used his budget very cleverly in some cases to make a film that looks extremely extravagant. In some cases it appears he had a whole scene setup with a crowd on the screen only for the length of one line of a song. In fact there are some clever reuses of settings which may or may not be disguised to offset the cost. Part of the spectacle was made possible undoubtedly only because of the comparative low cost of filming in Argentina and Hungary. The two sets of scenes flow together seamlessly. We get to see some impressively-scaled political rallies or major street riots. Camerawork is by Darius Khondji who previously filmed DELICATESSEN, SE7EN, and the amazing CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. His camera is at its most impressive in the long-shots. Too often on the close-ups are plagued by bad synchronization between the singing and the lip movements. Some images go by often too quickly to be completely understood, including what looks like a sort of surrealistic ballroom dance on the occasion of the death of Eva. Webber's and Tim Rice's play gives us only a superficial view of Peronist politics, but then one does not expect an operetta to have the historical content of a GETTYSBURG. We never really see much of Eva Peron's politics beyond her allying herself to the Descamisados and avenging herself against the middle classes. Andrew Lloyd Webber apparently could not resist the opportunity to write one new song eligible for the Academy Award race. That song is "You Must Love Me," and it you want to hear it you must listen carefully. It is such a bland and lackluster piece of music it can slip right by the viewer unnoticed. It sounds more like a bridging piece of music than a song of the caliber of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina."
As a history film, EVITA is limited by the perfunctory musical script on which it is based, but the look of the film is dazzling. I rate the film a high +2 the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Virtue has never been as respectable as money. -- Mark Twain