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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 09/26/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 13
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 732-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 email@example.com Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URLs of the week:
http://www.npr.org/news/tech/970812.seti.html and http://www.bigscience.com/setiathome.html. NPR's story on SETI@home, the plan to use surplus cycles on volunteers' PCs to analyze data for the SETI (Search for ExtraTeresstrial Intelligence) project. [-ecl]
Barnes & Noble:
Suggestion to members in Lucent. Go to a Barnes and Noble and show them that you have a Lucent badge. Ask them if they give a discount for Lucent employees. Rumor has it that the Barnes and Noble right near Middletown gives you a 20% discount. Hot stuff, particularly for big book fans such as we. Does it extend to other branches? I dunno. Does it work for AT&T? I dunno. But it pays to ask the question. [-mrl]
This year's Hugo winners:
- Best Novel: BLUE MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperCollins Voyager; Bantam Spectra) - Best Novella: "Blood of The Dragon" by George R. R. Martin (ASIMOV'S 7/96) - Best Novelette: "Bicycle Repairman" by Bruce Sterling (INTERSECTIONS; ASIMOV'S 10/96) - Best Short Story: "The Soul Selects Her Own Society ... by Connie Willis (ASIMOV'S 4/96; WAR OF THE WORLDS: GLOBAL DISPATCHES) - Best Non-Fiction Book: TIME & CHANCE by L. Sprague de Camp (Grant) - Best Dramatic Presentation: BABYLON 5 "Severed Dreams" (Warner Bros.) Directed by David J. Eagle, Written by J. Michael Straczynski, Produced by John Copeland - Best Editor: Gardner Dozois (ASIMOV'S) - Best Professional Artist: Bob Eggleton - Best Semiprozine: LOCUS edited by Charles N. Brown - Best Fanzine: MIMOSA edited by Dick & Nicki Lynch - Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford - Best Fan Artist: William Rotsler - John W. Campbell Award: Michael A. BursteinButton seen on the way in: "If Windows 95 is Y2K-compliant, why isn't it called Windows 1995?"
Okay, wacky theory time again. Some of this I have expressed here before but I have some new pieces.
Why do we all get into flying one way or another? If we don't actually fly we get fascinated with birds or kites or paper airplanes. Perhaps not everybody, but a lot of people feel it would be natural to glide on our own. Most of our impulses are to stay away from snakes and spiders and dangerous things. But it somehow would seem natural to us and not scary to fly. We dream about flying. Can it be that at one time in our evolution we did fly? After a fashion.
We are the only primate that does not have fur. We are the most intelligent primate. Mammals without fur tend to be dolphins, whales, and other aquatic beasties. There are those, I think Desmond Morris is one, who think that we were aquatic apes at one time. It would explain a lot about us. But what does this have to do with flying? Ask a dolphin. Dolphins don't walk around on the bottom of the sea. A dolphin glides by line of sight. Could it be that dreams of flight are just dreams of living in a denser medium that supports out weight. An aquatic ape might well find flight in its own medium perfectly natural. But that leaves a question of why would we still want to fly. If we ever were aquatic apes we surely are not now. Well there are apparently behaviors that are linked to genes. I recently saw a documentary on dog behavior that said that if you want to punish a Border Collie, you don't give him any sheep to herd. Retrievers one and all think that it is the greatest thing in the world to run and get something that has fallen from the sky and bring it to the master. Sled dogs have an innate urge to pull. They will be frustrated and somehow not feel whole if they are not pulling something. An aquatic ape will adapt to land, but will still feel the urge to effortlessly glide. Take away the opportunity to fly from an aquatic ape and you will frustrate him. Perhaps we still feel the need to glide like a dolphin does. Hence our dreams of flight. [-mrl]
Summer Movie Poll:
MT VOID SUMMER MOVIE POLL from Tom Russell:
Vote for the best science fiction movie of the summer of 1997. We've done some initial screening of choices, and have altered the titles and plot lines a little to avoid bias or spoilers.
(2) "Close Encounters of the Prime Kind" Computer geeks outsmart the US Army and federal agents when they decode a message using primary school arithmetic. (3) "Beach of Dreams" Odd family reunion on a beach in Florida, or maybe elsewhere. (5) "Search for Television Intelligence" Network of satellite dishes gets *billions and billions* of channels but only picks up one very, very old TV rerun. (7) "Dark Force Won" Threatening government research project is the target of a religious fanatic. (11) "Mir's Flashbacks" A rich capitalist boards Mir. He's in worse health; gets to wear a zip-loc spacesuit. (13) "Return of the Jodie" Cute tunnel traveller comes back to Earth at a time and place she may never have left. (17) "Sequel Opportunity" The government's investigation of a scientist's claim is closed but another woman may have withheld supporting evidence. (19) "The Silence of the Aliens" sC.adr.nleir.Sfaynag.marienhtdna.ssSredaeErDIT.OIVTMtsrep eaeLkra.lMeybdeyCojnoenebot.stihtaetorwcllessuRtmoT sC.adr
Send response by the end of summer. [-tlr]
MIMIC (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Guillermo del Toro needed a better story, but his visual style and his offbeat direction make this a horror film that gets the viewer where he lives. This is certainly the scariest giant insect film I remember ever seeing. Mutated six-foot (and six-footed) insects live in the depths of the New York Subway System. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) 7 (0 to 10). There is a small spoiler following the review as I discuss a premise point.
Guillermo del Toro was an unknown new director in 1994 when his CRONOS played the arthouse circuit. It turned out to be a fresh and arresting take on the vampire film. Mexican horror film to that point had a reputation for shoddy production values. Del Toro brought a fascinating no-holds-barred morbidity to his work that made the film rich and memorable. He is back with his second film and he proves to be just about the only filmmaker in the world who could have pulled off a giant insects in the subway plot and turn it into a film worth watching.
Three years ago a deadly disease carried by cockroaches was killing and crippling children. The approach to kill all the cockroaches was to create a sterile cross between a praying mantis, a termite, and a cockroach that would kill off cockroaches and then die off itself. Dr. Susan Kyle (Mira Sorvino) was the entomologist who created the new insect. The approach seemed to work perfectly, but now Kyle is seeing signs of a new insect in the subway tunnels that could be more dangerous than the original disease. But there is something else going on. Strangers seem to be running around the city furthering the ends of the insects. They are shady characters who seem to inhabit the dark corners of the city. And they have a special interest in Dr. Kyle.
This is an odd role for Academy Award winning Sorvino. At base this is an overly familiar story. Science has created a monster and now a few people have to fight it. Sorvino could certainly have chosen a film with a more original and less cable-fare-like plot had she wanted. But in this second film del Toro shows us exactly what his strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker will be. He does not have really original plot ideas. Here he takes a short story by classic science fiction writer Donald A. Wollheim, but still turns it into a familiar plot. But the only film with a comparable style is his CRONOS. He has a marvelous way of keeping secret that this will be a story that has been done before. His telling is atmospheric and not quite linear. He creates perhaps too many characters, certainly at the beginning, but the major characters are fairly unique. Most interesting is a small boy who may be a genius and who may be retarded, but we are never sure which. Del Toro has carefully distorted color to heighten the ominous atmosphere. He plays with light and darkness preferring the latter. If the obvious is inevitable, at least del Toro keeps it at bay for a good long time.
If del Toro's work is to be compared to any other filmmaker, I would choose film producer Val Lewton. He makes terrific atmospheric B-pictures that are better than most of the A-pictures around. Both take the familiar and imbue it with a sense of real dread. I would give this second effort a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
The whole premise behind the title sounds like one that would come from Donald A. Wollheim, but it is faulty. It is true that insects and other creatures with a short generation time mimic their predators. But this is only with frequent contact with the predators. It is not a mystical process, but natural selection, a form of evolution. We would have had to been killing off a lot of six-foot insects in the subways before by chance some would look like humans and that would render them some protection. There is a lake in Japan where the crabs have backs that look like masks of humans. After a great battle was fought on the lake fishermen who pulled crabs from the lake would throw back the ones whose back look vaguely like human faces, thinking them to contain the souls of those killed in the battle. Over hundreds of years the only crabs that were safe were those that had really good renderings of masks. A species whose predator did not constantly select for resembling itself would not come to resemble its predator. [-mrl]
EVENT HORIZON (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A good cast, good special effects, and an intriguing title all go to make a really exciting-looking coming attraction. The film itself has nearly nothing of value that was not in the trailer. This is not so much set in the universe of modern physics as in Clive Barker's horror universe. This film is a loser. Rating: -1 (-4 to +4), 3 (0 to 10)
I have heard it observed that any film that starts out with an aerial view of a city is not a film worth seeing. That may be helpful on cable, but not for films in a movie theater. I guess I would claim that any film whose publicity uses the word "terror" is a film well worth avoiding. I saw a coming attraction for EVENT HORIZON and thought that it looked pretty good. At the time I did not realize that I knew the rule about the word "terror." I knew but knew not that I knew. I only realized that I knew when I looked up some information about this interesting looking film on the web and saw the word "terror" in the ad, that I realized it had to be a bad film and I knew that only on the basis of seeing that one word. PSYCHO is one film that could be said to produce terror, but the ads did not use the word. Hitchcock never claimed to be a master of terror; William Castle made that claim. As a rule of thumb, if you are terrified by a William Castle film you should wait five or six years until you hit puberty and try it again.
EVENT HORIZON is essentially a haunted house film in space that rather artfully uses scenes and touches from a lot of different films to tell a new story. There is a lot of ALIEN and a lot of HELLRAISER with bits of THE HAUNTING, FORBIDDEN PLANET, 2001, STAR TREK VI, MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN, THIS ISLAND EARTH, and probably others I missed.
These days too many films tend to have a great look but not very much content. It is the music video aesthetic. This is a film with great visual images, but the plot is really basically the haunted house film in space. The film shovels images at the viewer so fast that it is difficult to interpret just what has been seen, and really it may not matter. When you find out what is really going on, it is a real letdown. This has to be one of the least intriguing concepts possible for a film. I will not give it away, but this is more a Clive Barker sort of horror film in a science fiction setting than it is a science fiction film. The title is the most intriguing thing about the film, but "Event Horizon" is just the name of a spacecraft, and there is no internal evidence that anyone involved in the production knew even what the term meant.
This film is really a good cast wasted. Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne are, of course, major actors. I suspect they will take the money and run. But what makes the casting particularly unusual is the inclusion of Kathleen Quinlin of I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN. She is an actress who always added a certain fragility to her roles. She is sort of the anti-Bette-Davis. Here that quality is not just ignored, it is plastered over and she is nearly unrecognizable. She is cast against type and brings nothing special that is usable to her role.
This is a film that needed a writer with vision, but instead had one with a high concept. I would rate this letdown a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
KULL THE CONQUEROR (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: King Kull comes to the screen as Rafaella Di Laurentiis continues her father's series of Robert E. Howard adaptations. Badly damaged by a horrible musical score and unmemorable villains and a bit too much sex, the film is still manages to be an acceptable adolescent adventure. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4); 5 (0 to 10)
Last year we had the film THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD tell us about the personality of Robert E. Howard who from rural Texas spun yarns of barbarians fighting sorcerers. His chief character was Conan but some of his stories were about King Kull and took place in an earlier never-was. Kevin Sorbo, who plays TV's Hercules-with-pants stars as the title barbarian. The chief problem with this film is that it tells its story without worry too much what its audience is. The plot is a little lightweight for an adult audience and has a little too much sex-play for a children's film.
Kull (Kevin Sorbo) is a barbarian fighter come to join an army in a country with an old and unbalanced king. The king has several sons fighting for the throne. In a fit of anger the old king kills some of his sons and Kull fights the king to stop him. Mortally wounded the old king names the angry barbarian newcomer as his successor. Suddenly Kull is a king with new enemies trying to steal his kingdom. And his enemies are willing to make bonds with the forces of evil including an old sorceress, Akivasha (Tia Carrere) who is revived from the dead to be an ally of the vengeful brothers.
The film is written by Charles Pogue who gave us DRAGONHEART last summer. While it is not a highly ambitious goal to capture Robert E. Howard's style in a script, he does a reasonable job. The villains could have had a little more depth. Of course one of Kull's better villains, Thulsa Doom, was borrowed for CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Conan lived well after Doom in Howard's pseudo-history. Here the problem was the script had times when it was a little hard to follow and there was perhaps a little too many "Shall I undress now, your highness?" scenes for a film essentially intended for adolescent audiences.
Director John Nicoletta makes unfortunately makes little effort to preserve the period feel and it is here that the film falls down the most. The horses are shoed and have bridals that would look too modern in a Civil War film. But Nicoletta's biggest mistake is in allowing Joel Goldsmith's totally misplaced main theme. It is difficult to evoke so ancient a period with electric guitars and Joel's attempt is merely jarring and obnoxious. The visual effects are not always convincing, including some bad mattes, but for me that is a small fault.
Sorbo is not the most exciting actor in the world. Charleton Heston claimed he was cast in a lot of historical films because people thought he had a historical sort of face. I am told by one of the women that Sorbo's great virtue is his pectorals. But Sorbo does not really evoke a historical period. Part of it may be that he never dresses for the period. As with the Conan films, there is an odd mix of cultures and races in the primeval world. Most of the sets are Egyptian-looking. Sorbo's sidekicks include a priest of an unknown cult played by Litefoot, who played the title role of INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD. Tia Carrere is of Chinese descent, I believe. Then there is Harvey Fierstein as a pirate captain. I cannot honestly say he was badly cast since had I never seen him before he might have not seemed all that strange in this role. For once his gravelly voice might have made him seem tough.
Tone down the sex and this might have made a decent matinee film. As it is there is a lot of sex but no nudity and a lot of violence with virtually no blood. I rate this one a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
Politics, n. strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. -- Ambrose Bierce I thought that was most of the world's religions. Not yours of course. --Mark Leeper