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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/30/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 48
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URLs of the week:
Lois McMaster Bujold: http://www.herald.co.uk/~dendarii/ Elizabeth Moon: http://www.sff.net/people/Elizabeth.Moon/ Kim Stanley Robinson: http://euro.net/mark-space/bioKimStanleyRobinson.html Robert J. Sawyer: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/sawyer/ Bruce Sterling: gopher://gopher.well.sf.ca.us/11/Publications/authors/Sterling
Web sites for the authors of the five Hugo nominees for novel. I've used official sites where they exist and unofficial where there are no official ones. [-ecl]
Tobacco and Alcohol:
Last week I was comparing the effects of alcohol and tobacco on our society. In some ways I don't think that tobacco is nearly as bad on innocent bystanders, in spite of its current notoriety. What people are really complaining about is the discomfort of breathing someone else's smoke. There is the knowledge that it is unhealthy, but the irritation is what causes most of the anger.
I mean, I live in New Jersey where everybody knows there is unhealthy toxic waste in the water, at least to some degree. And there is some low-level grumbling, but no overall panic. Not nearly so much as if the water tasted like acetone, even if it were not toxic. Actually the unpleasant aspects of tobacco are part of the reason I think it constitutes less of a threat. When I leave a building and have to walk through a noxious curtain of tobacco smoke that hangs just outside the door of so many public buildings these days, I pick up the pace of my walking. To me it is good that tobacco has an unpleasant smell, much in the same sense that it is good that an unpleasant odor is added to natural gas. It is a warning. And in truth I feel a little sorry for smokers who have to go through so much inconvenience for their habit.
Now, my attitude on alcohol is that having drinkers around really constitutes more of a threat to me than smokers. When people around me drink, I am not forced to taste their drink. But every time I step into a car, I am in danger from the prominence of alcohol in our society. I believe that about 40% of fatal car crashes involve someone who was drinking and in the early 1980s it was closer to 60% (yes, there is some improvement). Then there are the people injured or in some cases killed by abusive people around them who have been drinking. I think the reason that this society is so lenient on drinkers--and it really is--is that there is the feeling among law-writers and law-enforcers that they themselves occasionally abuse alcohol, or might some day, and they don't want to make things harder on themselves when they do. And so they have empathy for alcohol abusers. As an example, one late December when I lived in Detroit the police department, trying to improve their image, announced that if they found people driving drunk on New Year's Eve, they would get them off the roads by sending them home in taxi cabs. The Michigan State Police (who have access to a much richer source of neurons, apparently) responded by announcing that if they found people driving drunk on New Year's Eve, the drivers would be given a ride to a nice safe jail cell. I don't believe that the Detroit Police ever repeated their kindly offer, thank goodness.
Now I realize that Prohibition was tried at one point. I am not advocating Prohibition. Everybody knows the Prohibition, when tried in the 1930s, was a dismal failure. Of course like so many things that everybody knows, it is a false statement. Based on current day estimates, Prohibition really did cut down on the use of alcohol in the US. It did not eliminate it, as we all know, but what it was intended to do it did. The problem was that it also did a lot of things not intended like fostering organized crime. I am not suggesting any particular course of action; I am only looking at the problems like traffic accidents created by alcohol.
The thing is, there are apparently laws in society we intentionally do not enforce. As a society we just don't want to really enforce our own drunk driving laws. It is not the only laws we intentionally do not enforce. New York City has a horrible problem with gridlock and it also is tolerated. Go to Manhattan during gridlock hours and look at the cars entering an intersection when they know they cannot leave. When the light changes to red the way is not cleared for the legal traffic, every car stuck in the intersection is driven by a lawbreaker. I have often said that New York City does not really need to have BOTH a financial crisis and a gridlock problem. One of those two problems should eliminate the other.
Similarly if we all we want to do is catch drunk drivers we probably know where and when to catch them. You pick a bar, sit there at closing time, and catch cars as they are coming out of the parking lot. How many people leaving at that time are not doing it under the influence of alcohol? You still need breath tests, of course. But certainly leaving a bar at that time is reason to suspect the driver is driving under the influence. I cannot imagine that at closing time there are a whole lot of designated drivers in a bar. Well, there might be, but are they in any condition to drive? You probably would have to pick a different bar each night to not harass any particular bar. But then I don't have all that much sympathy for the bar owners since they almost certainly are making a profit by contributing to drunk driving.
But the point is that cigarette smoke announces itself to innocent bystanders; drunk drivers usually do not. [-mrl]
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Darker in tone than JURASSIC PARK, this sequel concerns another island that Ingen has populated with dinosaurs. The film has considerably more dinosaur effects, though most take place in the dark, possibly as an economy measure. The film has more action than its predecessor but less of a sense of wonder and amazement. The last half hour is great fun. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4), 6 (0 to 10).
Steven Spielberg has fashioned a sequel to his supremely successful JURASSIC PARK that in many ways does what a sequel should do: it continues the story rather than remaking it. The film features the same terrific dinosaur effects, but this time around Spielberg changes the tone to make a darker and more somber exercise. At the same time has removed much of the anti-science sentiment of the previous film. But perhaps the most interesting touch is that since it is based on Michael Crichton's novel which borrows the title of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic novel, Spielberg has played up the similarities in plot to the Doyle novel and its 1925 film adaptation. THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK also borrows from KING KONG and GORGO. On the negative side the character it builds the story around is Dr. Ian Malcolm (played again by Jeff Goldblum). This was not a very good decision since while Goldblum had some good lines in the first film, his character was never very well developed and does not have the appeal to carry the sequel.
It is four years after the incidents of JURASSIC PARK. The entire experiment has been hushed up. Ian Malcolm has tried to tell his story to the world and has been made to look like a sensationalist kook. Meanwhile there has been a power struggle at John Hammond's company Ingen. Each faction wants control of an island that was a laboratory and breeding ground for the ill-fated park and where, unbeknownst to the world dinosaurs still live and breed. John Hammond has sent a team of four scientists to the laboratory island to document what is there. Ingen, now led by Hammond's nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) has sent a team to secure the island. The team leader is hunter and mercenary, Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite). Tembo's team is composed of what are supposed to be crack mercenaries, but Tembo knows them to be unprepared for the situation they will be facing. The hunter cares little that his team is incompetent so long as they can provide him with an opportunity to kill a T. rex. As with the earlier film David Koepp has adapted the Crichton novel. His film is mostly dark and somber until the last half-hour when finally the film cuts loose for some fun.
To make Goldblum's Ian Malcolm the tie to the previous film seems almost an act of desperation. Alan Grant or Ellie Sattler's characters had more appealing personalities. Malcolm was slickly obnoxious and remains so in this film. The worst fault of the script is its failure to create a character that that audience really cares about. In this film Pete Postlethwaite's villain is almost as appealing as the hero. Of course with dangerous dinosaurs on the loose, it is not clear the story really needed a human villain to start with.
In contrast to JURASSIC PARK, Spielberg has chosen to visualize this story in muted colors, often with light sources blurred. There is intentionally no natural scene that looks as beautiful as the helicopter landing in the last film. The new island is not to be confused with a paradise. The film has more time on the screen of dinosaur effects, but in many it is harder to make out details. Also curiously some of the effects sequences are cut short, as if they were not completed to save time. There will be a stegosaurus attack and the camera will flash to Goldblum who says something like "they're leaving," rather than showing them leave. Spielberg does have some feel for suspense, and this film includes one suspenseful sequence involving a glass window that is almost sure to be borrowed by other films in the future. John Williams has scored the film, but this is sure to be considered one of his lesser scores with some standard suspense music and no really memorable new themes.
The most impressive touch in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK is how successfully it pulled together the plots of both Crichton and Doyle. It delivers a few thrills, some nice dinosaur effects, and packed theaters. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]
MEMORY by Lois McMaster Bujold (Science Fiction Book Club Edition, 1996) (a book review by Joseph A Karpierz):
This is the time of the year that I look forward to both with anticipation and dread. While that combination would apply to the start of the baseball season (being a Cubs fan is not necessarily a rewarding experience), what I really am talking about is Hugo voting time. Every year at this time, I eagerly await the release of the Hugo ballot, looking to see whether the stories I nominated made it. Seeing that most of them haven't, I begin the task of reading all the nominees that I can in order to vote intelligently (or some reasonable facsimile thereof).
Of course, that brings on the dread that I mentioned in the first sentence. There are invariable stories and/or novels that I just plain old don't like, and some just be looking at the author or title that I think I won't like. Others I know are huge tomes, like this year's BLUE MARS, which I enjoy reading but are, at least for me, difficult to get through.
BLUE MARS was already on my to read stack anyway, as was the subject of this review, MEMORY. A new Miles Vorkosigan novel always brings anticipation and dread to me. Anticipation because I think that the Vorkosigan novels are well written and entertaining, and that Bujold does an excellent job of storytelling. Dread because I'm afraid that I'll actually like it well enough to vote it for Best Novel.
Why is this so bad? Well, I, for one, am quite tired of series, stories in one universe, and all that sort of thing. I think that Bujold is a talented writer who can't seem to get out of, for lack of a better word, a rut. It's a decent rut, but a rut nonetheless. A majority of the fiction she has written has been in the Vorkosigan universe, and while I've enjoyed everything she's written there, I wonder if she can do anything else. I know she's written a fantasy novel (which my wife enjoyed, but I didn't read), but that's one out of a bunch. I want something else from her to see if she can break out of the rut.
Having said all that (and keeping my fingers crossed that you're still reading), I picked up MEMORY for two reasons: 1) it was on my to read stack, and 2) it is a Hugo nominee this year. And after it was all said and done, I was not surprised to discover that I really enjoyed the book.
If you remember MIRROR DANCE, the last novel in the Miles timeline (as opposed to CETAGANDA, which occurred much earlier in Miles' life), Miles was killed and brought back to life by something called cryo-regeneration, or something like that (it's not really important, after all. What IS important is that Miles cannot be killed, apparently, otherwise the series would be at an end). An side effect of his revival is that he blacks out under conditions of extreme stress. As we pick up the story, he's just recovering from a black out. The unfortunate effect of this one is that he's severed the legs of someone he was supposed to rescue. Fearing the consequences of the truth, he lies in his report to Simon Illyan, the head of Imperial Security. Unfortunately, the consequences of the lie are much worse than he imagined they would be - he is given a medical discharge after the lie is discovered (it pays to have relatives in high places).
Shortly thereafter, Illyan falls ill, apparently from a malfunction in his eidetic memory chip, implanted 30 years previously by a prior emperor. He is experiencing events that have happened over the past 30 years, and talking about them as if they were happening currently. He seems to have lost his mind. On top of this, Emperor Gregor has announced that he will become engaged to a Komarran woman - a security nightmare. Nothing seems to be progressing with Illyan's diagnosis and treatment, and Miles is very upset and suspicious about this, but can't do anything about it because he is no longer a part of Imperial Security.
From here, the novel turns into a mystery/whodunnit that in my opinion is well done and a lot of fun. Bujold continues to develop her characters, most notably Simon Illyan. In the past, Illyan has been almost robotic; we knew nothing about him, and he was as efficient as could be at his job. There is a wonderful chapter in which Miles and Simon go fishing at one of the Vorkosigan family retreats, and they talk over old times and many other things while drinking copious amounts of beer. It is quite wonderful to read. We also learn about some other things about Miles' past that we have never seen before, as he now turns 30 years old (a fact which seems to hit him pretty hard).
I guessed the culprit reasonably early on, but was never quite sure if I was right until the characters confirmed it for me, but the fact that I guessed right didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book. It is a good entry in the Vorkosigan saga, and I would recommend that you pick it up and give it a read. Where it ends up on my Hugo ballot is another matter.
Next up is BLUE MARS. Stay tuned, but be patient. This one will take awhile. [-jak]
ALTERNATE TYRANTS edited by Mike Resnick (Tor, ISBN 0-812- 54835-3, 1997, 337pp, US$11.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I'm a big fan of alternate history, but even I have my limits, and I think I've reached them. In fact, I have problems with this book on two levels, both its contents and its format. Since in general people care more about the content, I'll start there.
The first two Resnick alternate history anthologies (ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS and ALTERNATE KENNEDYS) were quite good and their stories garnered several award nominations. The third book (ALTERNATE WARRIORS) was passable but definitely a step down. And ALTERNATE TYRANTS is still more disappointing. Of the twenty stories, only the Maureen McHugh ("The Lincoln Train") is noteworthy. It was, in fact, a Hugo nominee. I found the rest surprisingly unengaging, even the Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg, who can usually be relied upon. But stories of rock stars as President (shades of "Ike at the Mike"?), gangsters as President, Einstein as the leader of Israel, and so on, while they *sound* promising, decline rapidly into cliche and predictability. Example: "Jubilee" by Jack C. Haldeman II and Barbara Delaplace is set in a 957 C.E. in which the turning point was the failed assassination of Julius Caesar. The characters speculate about what might have happened had the assassination succeeded. Okay, it is the millenial celebration, but why have a millenial celebration of a failed assassination anyway? And why have a spaceship called a spatiumnavis, when other vehicles are called freighters and vans?
Realizing that it is a capital mistake to theorize without data, I suspect the method of constructing this anthology may be partially to blame. It appears (from the introductory notes) that in many cases writers were given scenarios (or at least premises) to develop into stories. It is of course possible to write to spec (television writers do it all the time), but I can't help but feel that it is not the way to get the most creative results from fiction writers. And the fact that the stories are all copyrighted 1996 even though the anthology didn't appear until April of 1997 makes me wonder if perhaps it was decided to give the authors a chance to sell the first publication rights elsewhere first. This is okay, but the reference to "new stories" leads one to think this is an original anthology, while the copyright dates indicate perhaps not.
As for the format, this book has the worst of both the trade paperback and the mass market paperback formats. (It is, technically, a mass market paperback.) It has the higher price and larger, more-difficult-to- store size of a traditional trade paperback, but the cheap paper and environmentally unsound strippability of a mass market paperback. When I spend $12 for a book, I don't want it to feel like paper toweling.
In summary, much as I wanted to like this book, I cannot recommend it. [-ecl]
NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Police corruption, degrees of justice, compromises, and conflicts of personality all mix in a relatively straightforward but still engrossing story of a new man in the District Attorney's office uncovering corruption that could involve his own father. Sidney Lumet gives us in another strong set in the New York City justice system. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), 7 (0 to 10)
New York Critics: 10 positive, 4 negative, 5 mixed.
Sidney Lumet, whose early work for film included the now classic 12 ANGRY MEN, has built up a major body of sharp films, frequently set in New York and frequently about the criminal justice system. In spite of a little violence, and that mostly off-screen, this is a low-key ironic look at how the system works and where it chooses to fail to work. While in the final analysis the film may not deliver a whole lot more than some of the better television police procedural programs, it is an intelligent and adult alternative to this season's fluff and "blow 'em up real good" films.
Sean Casey (played by Andy Garcia) is a new investigator in the office of District Attorney "Morgy" Morgenstern's. He is something of a straight arrow who expects to go it on his own and stick to the letter of the law. His father Liam (Ian Holm) is an experience-hardened cop who has encouraged his son to pursue a career in law. The plot thickens as Liam is on a stakeout of Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey), a local drug pusher on his way to being a drug lord. An attempted arrest goes very wrong as three different precincts send in backup, two policemen are kill by Washington and a third policeman is accidentally killed in the confusion. Liam himself is very nearly killed. District Attorney Morgenstern, who is having a bad time with his public image and who is being betrayed by his own ambitious assistant, decides to give the job of prosecuting Washington instead assistant. This in spite of any conflict of interest or emotional entanglement Sean might have prosecuting the man who nearly killed his father. And there is a further complication as the defense--led by the Alan Dershowitz-like Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss)--implies that the police involved in the attempted arrest may have been on the take. In specific suspicion falls on Liam and his long-time partner Joey (James Gandolfini). Lumet wrote the screenplay himself, basing it on the novel TAINTED EVIDENCE by Robert Daley. Daley also wrote the novel that was the basis for Lumet's PRINCE OF THE CITY.
When one actor in a film gives a good performance, he is probably a good actor. When there are many good performances in the same film, some from almost unknown actors, it probably is because of the talent of the director. One of the better performances in the film is James Gandolfini as the partner of Liam. He has just a scene or two, in which he is an important character, but he seems very believable in those scenes. Holm and Garcia play reasonably well off of each other though they do not give much feeling of being father and son. The most memorable performance is probably that of Ron Leibman as the District Attorney, played with what could be called "an excess of personality," to borrow a phrase from JURASSIC PARK. Richard Dreyfuss underplays just a bit as a celebrated defense attorney who does not reveal the dimensions of his character until the end of the film. Rounding out the cast is Lena Olin the attractive but somewhat dispensable character Peggy Lindstrom, assistant to Vigoda who has an affair with Sean.
This is not Lumet's best film and its final irony is more a subtle point than a hard-hitting one, but it is an intelligent adult story. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
These days the news media feels comfortable only when they are covering a major trial. That is because it is exciting to some, it sits in one place, and there only too rarely is shooting. -- Mark R. Leeper