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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/12/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 24
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.
URL of the week:
http://pubpages.unh.edu/~ss1/bookaminute/. Now you can catch up on all that science fiction you wanted to read but never had the time for. [-ecl]
Stephen Hawking's Universe:
At home we are watching STEPHEN HAWKING'S UNIVERSE. Am I the only person who thinks that name is strange? The implication is that they are saying which universe it is. It is Stephen Hawking's as opposed to someone else's universe. But a universe is the set of all points. But if there is more than one universe, it could not have been the set of all points. So Stephen Hawking's Universe is a contradiction in terms.
In any case, this is a series that is bound to make it on American TV. It is big and spectacular with tremendous photos of the sky, probably from the Hubble Telescope. I heard an interesting comment about Americans and science.
It seems I was flying back to the United States. This was after the World Science Fiction Convention was in Glasgow. We had stayed a few weeks more and had toured Wales and were headed home. I happened to notice the man in the seat in front of me was reading a script. Now me, I am fascinated with films and drama, so I sort of eavesdropped over his shoulder and what did I see but the name Andrew Wiles. This was the mathematician who had won world acclaim by apparently proving Fermat's Last Theorem, the Holy Grail of mathematics. Then it was discovered that his proof was bad. And a few months later he once again announced he had a proof and this one stood up. The idea that there would be a play about Wiles fascinated me. So I asked the man about the play and where was it being produced. Well, it turns out he was the man behind the British science series that is like our NOVA. And in fact some of their episodes they do sell to NOVA. They were doing an hour program on Fermat and Wiles and then they were going to offer it to NOVA. But the man was not sure the Americans would want it because it was about mathematics. It did not have spectacular explosions or tornadoes. It struck me that he was right. NOVA tend to go for sensational science. This would be the first time I can ever remember them covering mathematics. I am kind of sorry about that because mathematics is to me the most beautiful of the sciences--if you really can call it a science. I consider it more basic and co-equal with logic. But there is little spectacular to see so NOVA does not cover it. Luckily this one time they made an exception, I suppose because Wiles's proof made international news.
Oh, and a personal note. Actually I had another connection with this particular episode. They had some scenes of John Coates, Andrew Wiles's thesis advisor at Cambridge. Coates was one of my professors at Stanford. I remember even giving him a ride in our car once. That's just a personal note. So I guess I casually knew someone who had taken some part in the proof of Fermat.
But what makes mathematics too unspectacular to show up on NOVA is what makes it so approachable. You don't need millions of dollars worth of equipment to do math. You need a pencil and some paper. You can do math just about anywhere. You can use the backs of envelopes found in a wastebasket. And that is pretty much anywhere. [-mrl]
FRAMESHIFT by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor, ISBN 0-312-86325-X, 1997, 347pp, US$23.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The only problem with Robert Sawyer's novels is that they're busier than Shinjuku Station at rush hour. This one has a scientist working on the Human Genome Project, driven by the fact he has a fifty-fifty chance of developing Huntington's disease, mugged by neo-Nazis who may be connected to the Treblinka guard Ivan the Terrible. Meanwhile the scientist and his wife arrange to have a child by artificial insemination by donor, and this child may or may not inherit some of the wife's telepathic powers. There's also the question of whether the scientist can get health insurance and how the insurance companies try to get around legislation protecting people from being excluded due to genetic pre- dispositions toward disease.
All of these are important, and all of these are interesting, but all of these in a 347-page book makes for a lot of coincidences, strange connections, and red herrings (and one whopper that's all three).
I found the parts about the genetic testing to be the most relevant. (Of course, whether relevance is important is a subjective decision on the part of the reader.) I understand why the rest was there, at least in some sense, and Sawyer does connect it thematically. But as in THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT, I found myself wishing for more concentration on, and examination of, fewer topics.
This probably all sounds negative, but given that I plan on nominating FRAMESHIFT for the Hugo this year, perhaps I should say something positive. Okay: Robert Sawyer is the one of the two authors I first think of when I think about who the successors to Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and the other Golden Age authors in this "literature of ideas" are. (Greg Egan is the other.) So maybe my complaints about too many ideas seem a bit odd. If what you are looking for are ideas, and consequences of science, and all that sort of stuff, Sawyer is definitely high on my recommendation list. [-ecl]
THE WINGS OF THE DOVE:
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: One of Henry James's lesser novels makes one of the more entertaining films based on his works. A woman whose guardian will not let her marry her poor lover plots to have the lover seduce a dying heiress so he will inherit her money. The story meanders a bit in going where the viewer knows it eventually will, but the view is nice along the way. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 18 positive, 1 negative, 2 mixed
The characters that Jane Austen writes about are almost from another world. Perhaps that is part of their appeal. An Austen heroine may spend the best part of a novel wondering if she should make her move and profess her love for some man, or if she will instead follow the conventions of her society. That helps us get a better feel for early 19th century British society, but it makes it a little harder for the viewer or reader to identify with her characters. Henry James's characters, coming from a world a century later, are far more modern and they get involved in situations the modern viewer can more easily recognize. While set in 1910, THE WINGS OF THE DOVE might have taken place in the middle or maybe even the late 20th century. Certainly the characters could be ones from a much more modern novel.
Years ago Kate Croy's mother married for love a man from a lower class. The mother is apparently dead and her father has returned to the lifestyle of drinking away what little money he has left. Kate (played by Helena Bonham Carter) now lives with her aunt (Charlotte Rampling), who wants to protect her from making the same mistake her mother did. And protect she must because Kate loves a poor journalist, Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Kate's Aunt will not allow Kate and Merton to even see each other. Kate wants to marry Merton, but they cannot live on the small salary that Merton makes. Kate has a friend who is an heiress from America, Millie Theale (Alison Elliott). Millie is a fresh young woman who appears to enjoy life, but as Kate discovers Millie is actually dying. Millie is being courted by Lord Mark, who has breeding, is of the noble class, and otherwise is a consummate jerk. Kate would much prefer to see Millie leave her money to her Merton. That will make him acceptable to her class and will give them both the money to live on. She sets about trying to act as matchmaker for her friend and her lover. The story unfolds on a backdrop of Kate's native London and Venice where she visits.
To be frank, I have liked many of the films that Helena Bonham Carter has been in but never been particularly fond of her as an actress. Her trademark has seemed to be an indelible indignant pout. She has too often played the woman who knows all too well what is wrong with society and has every right to pout. Ironically she is much more likable as an actress when she is playing someone who is essentially a deceitful schemer and who is betraying one of her closest friends. I liked her in this film as much as I ever have in any role. My one complaint is that the screen was probably just not ready for a Helena Bonham Carter nude scene. Nor was I. Much more captivating is Alison Elliott as the dying heiress. She is brash yet unassuming, representing all the positive characteristics that the British used to think Americans had. She is a very flattering stereotype. Neither Linus Roache nor Elizabeth McGovern (as Theale's friend and nurse) make much of an impression. Both are a little bland, though the film suffers more from Roache's blandness.
Under Iain Softley's direction Eduardo Serra's camera captures memorable views of both London and Venice. London is usually seen in business-like blues and grays, often showing the coming of the modern age. The film starts on an underground train and often shows us streets choked with cars and busses. Venice on the other hand is usually shot in earth tones. Most of what we see is centuries old. Is there some ironic comment that Kate's aunt with her old school ideas of class remains behind in a very modern seeming London, while the more modern seeming, cigarette-smoking Kate and her modern-thinking friends gravitate to the antique splendor of Venice? One remarkable scene is captured by Serra has Kate's face lit up and framed in an oval mirror so that the subtle conniver looks a lot like the witch from SNOW WHITE.
THE WINGS OF THE DOVE surprises the viewer in several ways. While the ending is not much of a surprise, the film is creative in the ways it get there. I think people will find this film more approachable than they expect. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
Life is a hospital in which every patient is possessed by the desire of changing his bed. One would prefer to suffer by the fire, and the other is certain he would get well if he were by the window. -- Charles Baudelaire