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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/14/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 20
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://www.bylines.org. On-line non-fiction "bookstore" where you can purchase downloadable articles and books for anywhere from $0.19 to $1.99. [-ecl]
President Clinton was giving a speech to a national gay rights organization. How he can show his face there I am not sure after he backed off on his gays in the military stance after his first election. (I wonder how many soldiers afraid that someone was going to look at them lustfully in the shower turned away in disgust from STARSHIP TROOPERS's co-ed shower scene. Just a thought.) But I guess gays are sort of forced to be friendly with Clinton. They can hardly threaten to become Republicans.
Anyway Clinton made a statement in his speech that "discrimination is always wrong." He actually said that. I am not going to get on the bandwagon of Clinton-bashing, but I think that to make such a statement is indicative of unclear thought processes. Realizing I may prejudice people against my opinions in the future I would like to say that I personally am a great believer in discrimination. And I chose those words intentionally. Some people who like to think they are against discrimination seem to have the strongest prejudices of all.
Let me say that it is the responsibility of education to teach people to discriminate and to be discriminating people. As an example, at least in my opinion people who sit around and watch professional wrestling are not very discriminating in their tastes. I think of someone whose idea of entertainment is to listen to a Gustav Mahler Symphony as being much more discriminating. And that is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. I personally discriminate against Chef Boy-Ar-Dee products every time. My experience is their pasta is mush in a can and I feel when I buy food in a grocery, I want to discriminate against them. That is what a free economy is all about. It is about my right to discriminate.
On the other hand you really should hear the records of the Portsmith Symphonia. They are a symphony orchestra that does not discriminate on the basis of musical talent. A Portsmith Symphonia album is painful to endure. And I think that is their point. Anyone who has heard their music will be greatly pleased that theirs is not policy of most symphony orchestras. The University of Massachusetts, where I did my under-grad work thinks of itself as a bastion of anti-discriminatory thinking. You should take a look at their entrance application some time. They surely want to know a lot about people before they decide if they want to teach them how not to discriminate.
What is wrong in society is not that people discriminate. We would not have a very good society if they did not. What is wrong is that they sometimes discriminate systematically based on irrelevancies. If I am hiring someone to do work for me, there are relevant and irrelevant aspects about that person and I have a responsibility to discriminate based on all the relevant aspects of that person. I will choose someone who can do the job over someone who cannot. Religion, skin-tone, orientation, eye-color, and probably weight are things that are probably irrelevant. Or even if they are relevant, the person should probably be protected from me discriminating on that basis. But let's not indiscriminately rule out all discrimination. [-mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Perhaps Robert Heinlein's most celebrated novel gets a big-budget Hollywood treatment with an incredible number of glitzy special effects. When Heinlein's right-wing political philosophy mixes with a "blow 'em up real good" film about a war on an alien planet fighting giant insects, the results are limited in how good they can be. This film is pretty close to that upper limit. Not a great film, but Heinlein would have probably been pleased with the results. Expect a lot of blood (red for humans, red or green for insects), a lot of violence, and a little nudity. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein is one of the perennial classics of science fiction. The novel may be so popular more for the timing of its publication, 1959, than for quality, being probably the first important piece of military science fiction. The book itself is a look at life in the combat military during World War II, but had it been written as such it would have been forgotten two months after it was published. And it was, in fact, probably inferior to many of its contemporary novels about the war. But Heinlein was a science fiction author and so set the story in an interstellar war. Having been written as science fiction, it brought military fiction to a new audience and probably was pivotal in creating military science fiction as a new sub-genre. (Historical note: 1959 was also the year of military science fiction novel DORSAI by Gordon Dickson. The only major military science fiction novel prior to that year was 1952's GUNNER CADE by Cyril Kornbluth and Judith Merrill writing as Cyril Judd.)
Heinlein's story is a set of forays into Heinlein's own political philosophy combined with a sort of enthusiastic--but somehow unsavory--look at military discipline. He wrote it after serving in the military in the war, albeit behind a desk. The philosophy for me was more engaging than the discipline. After all, if one feels threatened by people's different ideas, one should not be reading science fiction. But Heinlein's admiring descriptions of good, harsh military discipline--up to and including the use of the lash--are often hard to take. So that humanitarian concerns would not get in the way of Heinlein's military philosophy he dehumanized the enemy well beyond even the level of gooks to spiders with hive insect habits. (The film goes a step further, and in the wrong direction, calling them both "insects" and "arachnids." Of course they cannot be both.) Making the enemy bugs neatly reduces them in the reader's concern and disposes of any humane consideration for them. Ironically, this is just the aspect that Paul Verhoeven seizes upon in his film. He wants to examine what would a war of infantry against an implacable army of giant insects be like? And with the advent of good computer graphics, giant insects could be shown attacking in the thousands.
The story of the film is at least roughly that of the novel. It is a world where veterans have taken over the government and military service is a prerequisite of having voting rights. The film follows Johnny Rico (played by Casper Van Dien) through the military experience from his high school experience coming under the influence of pro-military teacher Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside). It follows him and a few of his friends though enlistment and an extended sequence of training. About an hour into the film it takes him to battle and to becoming a hero fighting the giant insect like inhabitants of Klendathu. Overlaid on the military plot is the much less interesting story of the love lives of the main characters. It is hard to build up a whole lot of interest on whether Johnny will get together with girlfriend Carmen Ibenez (Denise Richards) or Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) when giant insects are ripping people apart. That whole subplot seems a little bit like unneeded padding in a film that is 129 minutes long.
As far as acting, this is a film in which all the interesting characters are in minor roles. The only real tension on screen in the relationship between Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards is to see when they finally do kiss, how will they keep those jutting chins from getting in the way. On the other hand in a more minor roles are Clancy Brown as the violent, sadistic drill instructor with the heart of gold. Always watchable is Michael Ironside as the gruff, hardened teacher-turned-commander with the heard of gold, Rasczak. Anybody who is military seems gruff and insensitive, but that is because they really love the troops. Edward Neumeier wrote the screenplay which shows similarities to his screenplay for Paul Verhoeven's previous ROBOCOP, particularly in its send-up of the popular media. Special effects--some showing incredible swarms of giant insects--are produced by Industrial Light and Magic among other contributors. Things have come a long way since Warner Brothers made THEM! with one full-sized ant mock- up and the front half of a second ant. These giant insects are too realistic at times. The film has a right-wing-slant so it comes a no surprise that the score is by Basil Poledouris who also scored CONAN THE BARBARIAN, RED DAWN, IRON EAGLE, ROBOCOP, AMERIKA, FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER, and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. It is not one of his better scores and is regrettably well below that quality he showed with CONAN THE BARBARIAN.
My feeling is that it is not the most ambitious project in the world to make a film of STARSHIP TROOPERS. The best film you could possibly make would be none too good. But I also feel this very nearly is the best film you could possibly make from the book. It is not accurate to the book, but most of the changes are probably for the best. There are places that this version diverges from the novel, but they seem to be modifications that the author would have endorsed. Heinlein gave us an all-male army that just does not square with our 90s vision of the future. If serving in the military is a prerequisite for voting rights, it is unlikely that women would be excluded and they would have to serve under the same conditions as the men. The script does that very handily. Also scenes like the one with co-ed shower facilities are very much within the style of later Heinlein books. That idea could have almost come from a Heinlein book.
With the proper set of substitutions this could be a fairly typical John Wayne film about World War II. As a science fiction piece with good special effects, this makes for an entertaining two hours plus, and it is fun to hear some of Heinlein's political ideas. I would rate this film a +6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
(a film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
I prepared for viewing STARSHIP TROOPERS by not reading the book again, as I was confident Verhoeven would abuse the original text, especially after seeing the Worldcon trailer, which although intriguing, contained a brief clip of Verhoeven mumbling about Heinlein's "fascist society." And I was not disappointed! What is indeed unfortunate is that a number of excellent elements have been jumbled into a disagreeable hash.
First, consider the good. A substantial amount of the plot and character does indeed derive from Heinlein, and to the extent that the movie sticks either to the literal substance of the book, or combines elements appropriately, it works well. Most of the battle scenes, the "administrative punishment," the "moral philosophy" lecture, and the general substance of the character Johnny Rico and Sargeant Zim work well.
The aliens are top-notch, defining a new level of movie monster skill, and the space battles beautiful. The scene of the giant ship cut in half by a powerful beam has appeared on many magazine covers, but appears here for the first time on the big screen. The gradual growth the of aliens' abilities was well handled and plausible.
Michael Ironsides is quite plausible as Rasczak, of "Rasczak's Roughnecks" and moral philosophy. The actors portraying Rico, Dizzy, and Carmen, as well as the various soldiers generally put in a solid performance.
Verhoeven introduces two elements that were not in the original story, but not really in conflict with Heinlein's world view. One is sexual equality in the Mobile Infantry. Although in the book, the "Fleet" is essentially all female and the "MI" all male, with powered suits there is no real reason for a sexual division of labor, and that is removed here (along with the powered suits as a budgetary measure). Another is the addition of a fair amount of sex. As is now well known, although Heinlein's early novels were sex-free, once the 60s hit he become a bit more liberated than most, and I suspect he would have enjoyed the flesh on display here.
On to the Bad. A really horrible touch, completely at odds with Heinlein, and pure Verhoeven, are the 50's style TV adds for the "Federal Service" which are insulting, trite, and odious. They are pure parody, 100% out of synch with the rest of the movie. The film could have been improved dramatically by simply cutting them out. They are the same adds the Verhoeven used in Robocop to make fun of Star Wars, Reagan, and conservative ideas in general. Here he uses them to mock Heinlein's society and the battlefield values on display in the rest of the film.
Another revolting change from the novel is the reconceptualization of Zim as a sadist who breaks a boy's arm to show he is tough, and impales a hand with a knife to make a point. The points are scenes are straight from the book, the sadism is all Verhoeven, who apparently believes the military mind is intrinsically sadistic.
The various news reports suggest that Verhoeven believes Heinlein has written about a fascist society, neatly avoiding the paradox that the Federal Service is voluntary (really voluntary), anyone is taken regardless of handicap (a point lost in the film), and that except for the requirement of Federal Service to vote, the same kind of democratic rights we have today prevail (you can say whatever you like, you just can't vote!). The shots of the trial of a murderer suggest a mock-trial instead of swift justice.
On to the ugly. In many ways this is an ugly film. The future cities are mock-Gernsbackian. The battlefields set a new record for the liberal distribution of body parts. Some of this ugliness is an inevitable result of an honest portrayal of violence. Some of it is Verhoeven making fun of Heinlein. And some, like the "Iron Cross" style Eagle that adorns the Federal Shield, is purely political in attempting to link Heinlein's world with the great fascist regimes of this century. Another silly touch is when the "sensitive" intelligence specialist appears to read the mind of the "brain" alien, he is wearing a long Nazi-style SS trench coat straight out of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" even though the scene is a desert and soldiers are wearing T-shirts!
Another ugliness (and bad as well) is surely the addition of a high-school love triangle to the story. This wastes a lot of time at the beginning of the film with a sophomoric note passing scene, and a love-fight on the football field. I am not objecting to the love-triangle per se, but to its introduction in this hackneyed and uninteresting fashion. It also adds the childish puke-scene where they dissect a strange alien bug. The scene adds something to the story, the puking doesn't.
Least this review be taken as an endorsement of Heinlein's personal philosophy, or that of STARSHIP TROOPERS, this is not the case. I simply feel that Heinlein deserves to have a film version of STARSHIP TROOPERS that presents his society as he intended it, right or wrong. What we have here is more a parody of STARSHIP TROOPERS than the real thing. Unfortunately, it is about 20% parody, and 80% pretty good. I have rarely seen a film that could so easily have benefited from the liberal use of a pair of scissors.
Rating: +1 on the Leeper Scale. Keep in mind that this is a combination of a -2 adaptation/parody with +3 special effects. Be warned: STARSHIP TROOPERS is a very hard "R" with lots and lots of violence, and some frontal nudity/sex. Not a Hugo candidate. Not recommended as an introduction to SF or Heinlein! [-dls]
THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR
by James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon, ISBN 0-9655901-9-4, 1997, 275pp, US$22.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This volume contains fourteen of Kelly's best stories, including two Hugo nominees and four Nebula nominees (a fifth, "Saint Theresa of the Aliens," is missing). The title story is the best known, and the most discussed, of all of them. Some see it as a response or follow-up to Tom Godwin's "Cold Equations." It can be seen that way, but the "equation" in Godwin's story is a function of the physical universe, while that of "Think Like a Dinosaur" is more artificially created. And in fact it's not a new idea, but has been part and parcel of teleportation discussions for a long time now. Kelly combines it well with an alien sub-plot, though, and makes it interesting from that perspective.
The other stories represent the best of Kelley's work, and make it available in a permanent form.
This is the first volume from a new publisher, Golden Gryphon, and is a very well-produced volume. The single-author short story collection is not as dead as some claim. It isn't even relegated to the small press, as some would have--just this month sees the publication of a single-author collection by Ace, for example. But these collections do have an extra hurdle (as do reprint anthologies, for that matter): readers may decide they already have some or most of the stories and pass them up. In the case of THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR, what will work against its success is the fact that all but one of the stories in it were first published in ASIMOV'S, and most readers who know of Kelly are probably subscribers to that magazine. On the other hand, libraries should definitely acquire this book. In fact, I hope someone is bringing the single-author collections being produced these days to the attention of libraries, since they provide the only way for most libraries to get some of the best work of today's leading authors. [-ecl]
A DYBBUK, OR BETWEEN TWO WORLDS:
(a theater review by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the perennial favorites of the Yiddish theater is Shalom Ansky's play A DYBBUK. A dybbuk is a possessing spirit. The story is a famous mystical work of the that has been done many times on the stage as well as having been made in 1938 Poland into an effective film by Michael Waszynsky, in Yiddish. That film was restored in 1989 and offers a priceless look at the Polish Jewish community exterminated in the Holocaust. The Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York are doing a production of the Ansky play adapted by Tony Kushner.
This is conceivably a spoiler, but like opera, most people who see a version of this story already know the story. Sender and Nissen are two Yeshiva students and the closest of friends. To seal their friendship they swear that should they ever have children and they are of opposite gender they shall be betrothed. But later Sender goes off and loses touch with his friend Nissen. He eventually finds out Nissen has died, but does not forget his friend. Over the years Sender prospers and becomes wealthy. He has a beautiful daughter Leah for whom he must find a husband. He wishes his son- in-law to be someone of power and wealth worthy of so beautiful a daughter. One suitor after another he turns away. Leah is just as happy to see suitors fail. The man she really loves has knowledge but neither money nor power. It is the young Rabbi Khonen who is a great scholar of the approved books like the Talmud. But his real interest is into the forbidden mystical knowledge of the Kabbalah. That is the book that gives humans God-like power if they can understand it and use it. The power is tempting to Khonen.
Khonen would be a good son-in-law, but he has neither money nor earthly power so Sender instead finds a wealthy boy and arranges a marriage. Khonen and Leah are heart-broken. Khonen determines to use forbidden knowledge to avoid losing the woman he loves. On the day of Leah's marriage she feels the presence of the mystical. More and more she feels herself controlled by morbid forces. Meanwhile Khonen performs a secret mystical ceremony of great power. It is power he cannot control and the forces overcome him and kill him. Soon after Leah is being married. She falls in a faint. But when she rises it is no longer her who speaks through her lips, it is Khonen. He has died, but his soul has occupied Leah. The two are united, not as a man and woman, but in a single body.
Sender must find a way to separate the two souls. Another town has a the great Rabbi Azriel, the former teacher of Sender and Nissen, and Sender calls upon him to come to the aid of his possessed daughter. The rabbi discovers through dream interpretation that the soul of Sender's old friend Nissen is still earthbound and angered at Sender. Nissen had died leaving a pregnant wife. The wife had indeed had a son. The son was Khonen who without knowing it had been promised Leah as a wife. Unknowingly he had been cheated of Leah. But now he had her anyway, possessing her body from within. The rabbi can exorcise the spirit, but only if Leah agrees. Leah cannot. Though the soul of Khonen leaves her body Leah's soul does not stay long. It too leaves to be with Khonen's soul and Leah's body, now empty of souls, falls dead.
The story is powerful, but the Public Theater's production only once or twice rises to the occasion. A forceful and charismatic personality is required for Rabbi Azriel. He must tower over the proceedings as a great and learned man. The role goes to Ron Leibman, best known as the labor organizer in NORMA RAE and more recently as an over-ripe district attorney in NIGHT FALLS ON THE CITY. Leibman can be an interesting actor, but is too brash and shrill to play a greatly learned man. Another familiar actor, Josh Mostel of CITY SLICKERS, plays a relatively minor role as one of the elders in the village where Leah lives. The only really interesting acting is from Marin Hinkle (of ANGIE, I'M NOT RAPPAPORT and "Another World') as Leah. She has to go through the greatest number of changes a normal Leah, morbid Leah, possessed Leah, Khonen, and depossessed Leah. What is good about this production is largely due to her.
Definitely not one of the better things on the stage is the stage design. It starts out cleverly with a building on stage that splits in half to represent parts of a room inside. Later in the play it inexplicably flips upside-down and hangs from the ceiling almost down to the floor for the rest of the play. Act Two starts with a train on the stage (well, an engine and a single car) that Ansky never imagined. Later in the second act the train car inexplicably levitates and it too hangs from the ceiling for the rest of the play. The purpose may have been some sort of other worldly symbolism, but it did not convey well. Music for the production is provided by the Klezmatics and they do a nice job, particularly with a weird little song about Leah's mother coming to the wedding from the world of the dead. Still, with the exception of the casting of Ms. Hinkle, the Public Theater have done nothing with the play that would not have been improved just doing a straight production as Ansky had written. My recommendation: get ahold of the Waszynsky film instead. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Conservative, n.: A statesman who is Enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. -- Ambrose Bierce