MT VOID 01/24/97 (Vol. 15, Number 30)

MT VOID 01/24/97 (Vol. 15, Number 30)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/24/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 30

Table of Contents

Upcoming Meetings:

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
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  908-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  908-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
              Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  908-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  908-957-2070
Backissues available at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URLs of the week: The list of the century's top hundred books, according to 25,000 Biritsh readers surveyed by Waterstone's (the major bookselling chain in Britain).

The top ten were:

  • J. R. R. Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS
  • George Orwell's 1984
  • George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM
  • James Joyce's ULYSSES
  • Joseph Heller's CATCH 22
  • J. D. Salinger's CATCHER IN THE RYE
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE
  • John Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH
  • Irvine Welsh's TRAINSPOTTING

    It is interesting (to me, anyway) that four (including the top three) are arguably science fiction or fantasy. [-ecl]


    Just some musings this week on the relationship between intelligence and problem-solving ability.

    Part of intelligence, apparently, is knowing when to be stupid. Intelligence is generally measured by the ability to solve problems. People who are good at solving the problems posed by everyday life are thought to be intelligent. But is it really true that problem solving ability goes hand-in-hand with intelligence?

    In fact, a big part of being perceived as intelligent is to be able to think conventionally, to think the way others think only better, but definitely to think along established lines. As an example, Evelyn saw a puzzle asking "Which of these is least like the others: an encyclopedia, a thesaurus, a dictionary, an atlas, and a novel?" I don't know for sure but I suspect the answer they were looking for is the novel. The most common break-down of the printed word is fiction versus non-fiction. Now if Evelyn had picked that and it was what the author was driving at, then she would have been thought to be fairly intelligent. But is that really the intelligent answer? As Evelyn points out, four of these express their information primarily in words. The atlas is the only real exception. It has words, but the words are not the primary form of communication, it is the pictures and charts. I guess the way I would express the idea is that four of these forms of literature could come out of a typewriter, the atlas could not. For those who know something about data, four of the types of books could be transmitted in ASCII. Another distinction could be made with length, though not one that is s clear-cut. Just about any decent encyclopedia will be a lot longer than the other four types of book. So looking at this particular problem, the more intelligent approach is to be confused or at least a little unsure of what the correct answer is. I will give Evelyn credit that she is probably more intelligent to not be sure what is the correct answer to the question.

    I am never really sure when I am unable to solve a particular everyday problem if it is because I am looking too deeply at the problem. At one point when I was out visiting my parents in California my mother asked me to bring in something from the garage. She told me it was in "the cabinet by the door." Now I have seen my mother make the same sort of request of my sister and my sister would carry it out without too much trouble. But in this case I walked out into the garage and realized that there are really three doors from the garage. One leads to the house, one to the garden, and one is the big garage door leading to the driveway. Each door had cabinets near it. In fact every cabinet in the garage was near a door. So I eventually came back to my mother empty-handed. And I told her every cabinet in the garage was near a door. And of course what I got for my efforts was a withering look and she went out to retrieve the item herself. It was in the cabinet by the door into the garage from the house. True problem- solving ability would have been to be able to think along the same lines that my mother did and to see only one cabinet as fitting her description. Analyzing the problem in too much detail can make someone look less intelligent.

    On the other hand, of course, sometimes intelligence is the ability to think in a manner different from the person posing the problem. My father complained about an odd inconsistency in his car. He could never remember if to lock the car door you turned the key to the left or to the right. On the passenger side of the car you turned the key to the left, on the driver side you turned it to the right. But he could never remember which side was which. Almost without thinking I asked him, "You mean that you always turn the key to the back of the car to lock it and to the front of the car to unlock it?" Problem solved.

    In the case of the problem posed by my mother my mistake was to analyze to a greater degree than she did. In the case of my father the solution was to look at the problem to a deeper degree than he had. There are whole paradoxes built around the problem that you do not know how far to analyze a problem. Martin Gardener has the Unexpected Hanging problem. A prisoner is sentenced to be hung at dawn one day in a given week, but to be humane he is not to know until right up to the hanging that that is the day. So what day can he be hung? If he is still alive on Saturday, the last day of the week, he will know for sure that that is the day. So it cannot be Saturday. How about Friday then? Obviously Friday is the last possible day and if the prisoner has waited that long, he will know for sure that is the day. But he is not supposed to know so Thursday is really the past possible day. And so forth we discover that no day is possible. Each day becomes the last possible day and is ruled out in turn, eaten away from the end of the week to the beginning. Yet it seems intuitive that if you do pick Tuesday as the day of the execution the prisoner will not know for sure it is that day. And why? Well, my explanation is the prisoner does not know to how many levels the executioner applied the logic.

    So I guess that my answer to Evelyn's objection to the book question is that sometimes it is smarter to not be so smart. [- mrl]

    The Western Canon:

    Food for thought: In REASONABLE CREATURES: ESSAYS ON WOMEN AND FEMINISM, Katha Pollitt points out that the root of the huge brouhaha over The Canon, and school and college reading requirements, is that we realize that the books on these lists are the only books most people are ever going to read. If the college population consisted of genuine readers it really wouldn't matter if schools forced everyone to read the phone book and the back of cereal boxes. [-ecl]

    JACKIE CHAN'S FIRST STRIKE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

    Capsule: Heavy on action, light on thought, this is a film that easily matches the stunts of a James Bond film but delivers little else. The plot is mostly an excuse for action scenes and is a contrivance to which the script gives only cursory attention. Chan has the personality to make much more engaging films. Still, only he can do stunts like this without a stand-in. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)

    The Hong-Kong-based Jackie Chan has been making a rather free-form series of crime films which are best known as his POLICE STORY films. Depending on how you count them, FIRST STRIKE is either the fourth or fifth film in this series. It is probably the fourth, but another film, PROJECT S, was released as if it were part of the POLICE STORY series and called by alternate titles that include POLICE STORY 4 and SUPERCOP 2. That almost makes sense because SUPERCOP was an alternate title of POLICE STORY 3. In general, the more titles a film can be given the more people who will see it a second time not realizing they have seen it before. In any case, this time around Chan is departing from the police motif and making a sort of poor man's James Bond film. And he has the action scenes down pretty well. In fact, his film has better stunts than most Bond films. The only problem is that at a time when the James Bond plots are deteriorating, they are still better and much more complex than a Chan plot. Chan's film is little more than an excuse to string together a series of admittedly pretty exciting action scenes. One has the distinct feeling that the stunts are planned first, then a plot is written to connect the stunts. Not that Chan is not a wonder to watch. When Chan gets going he is a marvel of grace and at times his stunts are difficult to believe. But while this film tries to be like a Bond film--not all that ambitious a goal, particularly of late--FIRST STRIKE is less like a spy film than it is like a collection of circus acts.

    It would almost be a mistake to say that FIRST STRIKE has a plot. Basically there is just enough so that Chan can get into a series of fights. Jackie (played by Jackie Chan for the first time under something approaching his own name) has performed well in a mission for the CIA and they have decided to ask him to go on another mission almost as a perk. Jackie is to fly from Hong Kong to Ukraine, just watching a beautiful woman whom the CIA is following. Once he gets to the far end he can have a short vacation at the expense of the CIA. But at the far end he finds there is more involved in the case than he expected when he sees what appears to be a kidnapping. Soon Chan is chasing through snow pursued by soldiers in white parkas and what looks like white hockey masks. Not long after he is fighting muscle-bound assassins proportioned like TV's The Tick. There are a few complications in the plot, a few silly comedy situations, and a few fights using props at hand. While the centerpiece of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX was a fight involving a grocery basket, this time he does considerably more with a folding ladder.

    What Chan is making are not films in the traditional sense. Instead he is showing off for the camera, taking risks that probably no other actor making films today would dare. And Chan makes no secret of the fact that a lot of times things go awry as he is filming and he goes through a lot of physical pain to create the stunts he is showing us. More frequently than most other actors would tolerate, things go very wrong and he comes near to physical injury. When he jumps off a cliff and grabs for the skid of a helicopter I think we know that it is probably not a real cliff, but also that there is a real physical danger to Chan to even shoot the scene. We watch him with a fascination that is almost perverse as he takes one dangerous risk after another and that is the real soul of his films, knowing we are seeing real danger. And so nobody doubts that Chan is taking real risks, he includes his out-takes collection at the end to prove how close he really came near to serious injuries. In what plot there is, the characters other than Chan become props almost as much as the inanimate objects around which he flows. Nobody does much acting in one of his films and Chan does little but a little mugging for the camera. Chan is the only character who has a chance to be a character and he does not take that acting part of his work seriously.

    FIRST STRIKE--there is no explanation of the title of the film, by the way--is a lampoon of a Bond film and J. Peter Robinson plays along at times giving us imitation John Barry music, but something short of the real thing. Chan has some comic talent and appears to enjoy living dangerously. But most of what it would take to make this film really tick is still missing. I rate FIRST STRIKE a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                       Mark Leeper
                                       MT 3E-433 908-957-5619

    Quote of the Week:

         What men call social virtues, good fellowship,
         is commonly but the virtue of pigs in a litter,
         Which lie close together to keep each other warm.
                                       -- Henry David Thoreau