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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/27/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 52
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.
URL of the week:
http://yarra.vicnet.net.au/~msfc/george.htm. The George Turner Memorial Page.
George Turner died 8 June 1997 of a stroke at the age of 80. He won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 1988 for THE DROWNING TOWERS, which was also nominated for the Nebula and John W. Campbell Awards. He was scheduled to be one of the Guests of Honour at Aussiecon 3, the 1998 Worldcon. [-ecl]
Comments on charities:
Last week I wrote a piece on how I was just using red tape to my advantage by asking fund-raisers who call to apply for an account number before I can contribute to them. I admit now it was a joke, or perhaps a thought experiment. But you know some of my jokes turn out not to be so absurd. I have decided to actually try telling a fund-raiser that they have to fill out an application for me to contribute to their cause. It was a broadcast station that I have contributed to quite generously for year and continue to. But of course they want me to increase my pledge and frankly, I am not sure they deserve much more. The more I thought about it the more I decided if they really wanted more money it seems only fair to have them fill out an application form. So I really have tried telling them when they called that they had to send me a stamped, self addressed envelope and I would send them an application.
Now I am not saying that if you think that a charity is really worthwhile you cannot waive this procedure. I am a great believer in OXFAM--Oxford Famine Relief (plug! Plug!). But I get tired of being called by all kinds of alumni associations--four or five different ones claim me. I am a pretty soft touch and have a hard time saying "no." So I hit on this scheme to have people requesting money fill out an application form. This way I can seem absolutely sympathetic. I have never yet seen a charity willing to go through the effort to fill out an application form to get my patronage. They may want money, but not that badly. There are easier pickings out there. The problem is some fund-raiser may at some point decide they really do want to apply for my funding. In this case I told the caller that if he wanted funding he would have to fill out an application and apply for it. His response was a simple if bewildered OK. And I expect never to hear from them. But I still am not sure.
Well, I decided that I might actually need to have an application form, just in case someone actually asked for one. I thought of it as just a responsibility. That is up until the moment I started putting together the application. Suddenly I realized this was going to be the fun part of the job. Hey, putting together an application is a kick. No wonder so many banks and universities, and who knows what else use them. You can ask just about anything you want. If you were a public institution there are only certain things it would be legal to ask. But I seriously doubt there are any laws protecting fund-raisers. That is because nobody says I have to give them anything. We let ourselves be hounded by people wanting money for all sorts of things, but you really have to bear in mind that they are dependent on you, not the other way around. If they don't like what you ask them, they don't need to apply. If you wanted to ask the application filler about his or her sex life you really could do it. I mean, you aren't disbursing public funds. You are doing this on your own dime. And if they lie they are fraudulently collecting funds. They can refuse to answer a question, but you can refuse to fund them.
It may sound like actually putting together an application is a lot of work, but don't forget all you need is a pencil and a blank piece of paper. Nobody says an application form has to be neat. I would say just make up a rough application form in pencil on a blank piece of paper. As soon as I started thinking about what I should put on the application, the more enjoyable task it became. What would I want to know? Hey, how much did you take in last year? What proportion went to operating expenses? What is the highest salary in your organization? If I give you one dollar, what will you do with it? What if it is 10 dollars. $100? $10,000? A cool million? Well, you get the idea. Well, probably nobody is ever going to apply for funding using the application. But then even so it has served its purpose. My phone no longer rings four times a night. [-mrl]
(Bantam Spectra, 671pp, ISBN 0-553-1144-7) (a book review by Joseph A. Karpierz):
With BLUE MARS, Kim Stanley Robinson finishes his ambitious work on the colonization of Mars. The first two novels, RED MARS and GREEN MARS, have won numerous awards. BLUE MARS puts a fine finish on the trilogy, but I don't think it lives up to its predecessors. It seems a tad long, and to me it wanders in spots, and it acts as if it is in search of a real ending. Having said that, I gained an appreciation for what Robinson was really doing about halfway through the book, so much so that the length didn't bother me as much as it first did.
The real question with this review is "where do I begin?", for Robinson covers so much ground in the 671 pages of the novel on so many different levels that it is difficult to get a grasp on. On a pure story level, it begins with a conflict between the various groups on Mars as to whether the elevator to space should be knocked down to isolate Mars from Earth. From there it goes to the development of a constitution for Mars, the development of effective and fast space travel, the colonization of the Solar System, another revolution, political tensions among the various factions on Mars as well as with Earth, and, well, you get the idea.
But it's what surrounds and supports the story that makes the novel so remarkable. It seems as if Robinson knows more than just a little bit about politics, constitution building, weather, memory research, and a host of other subjects. I feel as if I came away with a better education than I did in some of my college courses.
But it's not just the plot and the ideas that carry this story. Robinson takes the remaining First Hundred and others and weaves a tale that made me care about them more than the first two novels in the series. Part of the story concerns the dying off of the First Hundred; there are less than twenty left by the end of the novel. But as we watch those First Hundred change and realize that they really won't live forever, the story shifts to the younger generation, as they make Mars their own.
There is so much to this book that I can't begin to do it justice. It is truly a rich book. But for me, the problem is its length and focus. The entire series should have been broken down into smaller books (but then you'd hear me complaining about how sf has nothing but series being published). Overall, the Mars Trilogy is an astounding piece of work, one that will probably go down as an all time classic. For what this story is about is not just the colonization of Mars (and the rest of the solar system), but about man's struggle to reach out beyond himself to new places and new experiences, and to forge new beginnings. Not unlike the settlers of America, I suppose. It is certainly a series worth reading. [-jk]
BATMAN AND ROBIN:
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: BATMAN AND ROBIN combines the pacing of a Hong Kong action film with the plot depth of a Hong Kong action film. The current chapter has some interesting visuals if it would ever slow down enough to let the audience appreciate them, but the writing is the worst of any of the series. Rating: low -1 (-4 to +4), 2 (0 to 10)
New York Critics: 2 positive, 10 negative, 12 mixed
Someone decided it was time for another Batman film. Note that this is not the same thing as saying that somebody had a good idea for a Batman story that they wanted to film. I did not say that someone was really excited about the possibilities for the Batman character and the peripheral people in Batman's life. But time has definitely passed and the cash cow was ready for another squeeze. Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) battle Mr.^Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) a villain who wants to freeze the world and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) who can make people love her, has a poison kiss, and wants to make the world safe for plants. Batman's butler Alfred (Michael Gough) is dying. Batman and Robin have a falling out over Ivy. Alfred's British niece (Alicia Silverstone) becomes Batgirl. And this plot is just one minor feature of the new BATMAN AND ROBIN! If I seem not to consider the plot very important, you should see the treatment it gets from director Joel Schumacher. The script was not ready to film and Schumacher should have rejected it. Clearly there are better things to do with the villains than to have them call the title characters "Batface and Birdbrain." Ivy was turned into a monster by being buried with some poisons for a few minutes. She comes back to life and immediately says various parts of her have been replaced by chemicals and her lips are now poison. How would she know? One sparkling line in the film has a scientist claiming to have drilled "three concentric circles" into somebody's skull.
Top-billed as Mr.^Freeze is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who may be able to bench press a Buick but finds it beyond his ability to push a performance out through thick layers of blue makeup and plastic suit. The concept of a villain who fell into a freezing vat and now wants to freeze the world left me cold, and Schwarzenegger's performance is an absolute zero with none of his natural wit and far too many lamely unfunny one-liners. Physically, George Clooney looks the most like the comic book Bruce Wayne of the three actors who have played him so far, or put another way, this is the first one who looked at all the part. The problem is that Clooney is not a very exciting or even interesting actor. And if you cannot be exciting as Batman, you may just not be destined to be exciting at all. Chris O'Donnell plays Robin, the Boy Wonder who in my days of reading the comic was eternally about fourteen years old. Unfortunately it is hard to find a fourteen-year-old with marquee value. Putting O'Donnell in the role becomes an increasingly silly piece of casting each time he shows up. This leaves the BATMAN AND ROBIN wide open to be stolen by the fourth-billed Uma Thurman. Uma Thurman! How bad do three actors have to be for a decorative but dull Uma Thurman to turn in the most interesting performance? Next comes Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson, soon to be Batgirl. Silverstone is a cute blonde who gets most of her personality by making funny expressions with her mouth: biting her lower lip, pouting, so forth. The script apparently calls for her to be British, but she made no attempt to sound British and nobody cared. Michael Gough, who has been in ALL FOUR Batman films turns in the most touching performance and may well be the best actor in the film.
With each new Batman film Gotham City becomes more deeply engulfed by the inevitable and all-consuming advance of Art Nouveau. The art style appears to be chewing up all the more normal-looking buildings and spitting out titanic geometric formations and baroque reliefs and statues of colossal human figures. Gotham seems unable to stem the tide, but apparently Batman has not been called. The city has gone from resembling Helsinki in the first film to being an incredible architectural nightmare in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Perhaps the one saving grace of the film is that it does bring this abstract art-form to the masses. But this combines with Stephen Goldblatt's dark photography and Dennis Virkler's fast editing. The result is a film that might be entertaining to look at if it were just a little more sparse and if the pace were cut down just a bit. But there were many scenes in which I had to ask myself what it was that I just saw.
BATMAN AND ROBIN is a sloppy and slapdash film that gets a low -1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE PILLOW BOOK:
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: THE PILLOW BOOK is a stylishly presented but overly long and deliberate modernization of the 10th Century Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. What could have been a good study of clash of traditional and modern values never really gets beyond being self-indulgent and even obscure. Rating: -1 (-4 to +4), 2 (0 to 10)
New York Critics: 8 positive, 2 negative, 4 mixed
Peter Greenaway is a filmmaker who often expects a lot from his audience and takes chances. The downside of taking chances is that sometimes you lose. THE PILLOW BOOK is one of his losses. This is a film that is pretty to look at and one which does a lot of strange and unexpected things with the visual style. But the story is over-blown, over-long, overly-obscure, and overly melodramatic.
The basis and inspiration for Greenaway's latest film is the original Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, published in Heian period, the late 10th Century Japan. The original was a collection of poetry, reminiscences--some amorous, lists, and anecdotes all relevant to court life of the time. Greenaway's film inspired by that book is the story of Nagiko (played by Vivian Wu), a modern woman who one millennium later is collecting her own set of experiences, mostly erotic, inspired by Sei, but also by her own fascination with body painting. Nagiko's fascination stems from her father's annual ritual of on her birthday painting text on her face and neck and retelling of how God made people out of clay. In his myth God painted each of them, naming them in the process. If He approved of his work he also signed it.
Nagiko grows with an erotic fascination with having text painted on her body. Her first requirement of a lover is that he be a good calligrapher, painting nearly anything on her body in any language. In flashbacks, often in only one small part of the screen, we see how her father was betrayed by his publisher who also forced her into marriage with his nephew. The husband proves to be a cruel and insensitive man who is also a lousy calligrapher in bed. The film has a problem in that most viewers from a European background are uneducated in the subtleties of Japanese calligraphy and will not know good work from work not so good. Nagiko eventually finds love in the arms of Scotsman Jerome (Ewan McGregor of EMMA and of course TRAINSPOTTING--any young Scottish actor you see these days is probably from TRAINSPOTTING). But when the publisher's hand reaches again into her life, she decides it is time for a particularly appropriate retribution.
In the tradition of his PROSPERO'S BOOKS Greenaway plays with his screen composition. He varies the size and shape of the screen. He will inlay as many as four smaller frames with action into a full-sized fifth frame, now reduced to a cross. Greenaway works to combine the texture of the original Pillow Book on paper with his own updated version of the story. The result is hypnotic but eventually the slow and deliberate pacing and the repetition begin to wear on the audience. Nagiko's attempts to recreate the painting experience of her early youth in erotic terms almost reminds one of Jack Nicholson's stylized erotic ritual toward the end of CARNAL KNOWLEDGE. The pretensions of Greenaway's style become a liability when there is too long for too little story. In the final analysis the story seems more an erotic dream than an intelligent narrative. Occasional pieces of wit do leaven the story, but they require careful observation and are of a very dry humor. One example: characters in the film are painted with texts meaningful to them, and apparently in the same vain a van is painted with road maps, the texts that it follows.
Greenaway's films are rich with style, but style without a good plot can be as bad as plot without style. I found his recent THE BABY OF MACON far more rewarding. Greenaway taking on Japanese culture should have been a good deal more insightful and less tedious. I rate it a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education. -- Bertrand Russell