MT VOID 01/02/98 (Vol. 16, Number 27)

MT VOID 01/02/98 (Vol. 16, Number 27)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/02/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 27

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
       Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: The "Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficcion" web site. [-ecl]

Arthur C. Clarke: Congratulations to *Sir* Arthur C. Clarke, just awarded his knighthood.

Trivia question: How many other knighted science fiction authors can you name? [-ecl]

Film Festival: Well, our first revived Leeperhouse festival had some people show up. It is successful enough that I can show a BBC production I think is pretty good. On Thursday night, January 8, at 7 PM, we will be showing the 1981 BBC version of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS.

Society has fallen apart. In one night a strange and spectacular meteor shower has blinded nearly everybody in the world. When morning comes, only those who by chance missed seeing the celestial event still have their eyesight. They are the most valuable people in society. In one night the old order is swept away and new little societies gropingly try to form. Some fall apart on their own. Some survive on their own only to be destroyed by contact with other societies. The ones strong enough to survive that have a third, higher threat. Triffids are a new form of intelligent life from the plant world. They can think and they can even walk a little. They were a little dangerous when people could see. To a blind man, they are deadly.

John Wyndham was a fine British science fiction writer and his best work was THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. (He also wrote THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS which twice has been filmed as VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.) In the late 1962 there was a mediocre film version of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. It never really jelled. In 197? the BBC turned the novel into a miniseries in three parts. There were three one-hour chapters. The last time I saw it I had the book in my lap and turned the pages as the story got to them. That is how faithful it is to the novel. [-mrl]

Premio UPC de Cienca Ficcion: News item: Robert J. Sawyer of Toronto, Ontario, and James Stevens-Arce of San Juan, Puerto Rico, were recently jointly awarded the world's largest cash prize for science-fiction writing.

Sawyer and Stevens-Arce shared the 1997 "Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficcion," which carries a cash prize of one million pesetas (about US$7200). By comparison, the largest North American cash prize available to published SF writers is the annual Philip K. Dick Award, which carries a US$1,000 prize; the largest British prize is the annual Arthur C. Clarke award, valued at 1,000 pounds (about US$1650).

The "Premio" is open to manuscripts between 25,000 and 40,000 words long in Spanish, Catalan, French, and English.

Sawyer's winning work was a portion of his forthcoming tenth novel FACTORING HUMANITY, which will be published in hardcover by Tor Books (a division of St. Martin's Press, New York), in July 1998. Sawyer has previously won the top SF awards in the United States (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award), Canada (the Aurora), Japan (the Seiun), and France ("Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire").

Stevens-Arce's winning work is called SOULSAVER. It deals with the increasing intervention of the religious right into the political process. His short fiction has previously appeared in the magazines AMAZING STORIES and ABORIGINAL SF, and in the acclaimed 1995 anthology NEW LEGENDS, edited by Greg Bear.

Last year, the one-million-peseta prize went to Carlos Gardini of Buenos Aires for his story LOS OJOS DE UN DIOS EN CELO. The 1995 award went to Mike Resnick of Cincinnati for his novella SEVEN VIEWS OF OLDUVAI GORGE.

[Note: After this was announced, LOCUS reported that a new French award for SF, The Eiffel Tower, would carry a prize of 100,000 francs (about $20,000).] [-ecl]

THE POSTMAN: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: After some unexplained apocalyptic war that destroyed society, a drifter is looking for a free meal. He pretends to be a postman from a newly reformed US Government and unintentionally makes himself a hero of mythic proportions. THE POSTMAN was torpedoed by what is perhaps the most disastrous film trailer in history. But Kevin Costner's film's worst fault is merely that it covers territory that has already been covered so many times before and uses a sensibility that would have worked better in the 60s than the 90s. Still, this is *not* the bad film that people are expecting it to be. Rating: 6 (0 to 10) +1 (-4 to +4)

The plot has been done so many times in so many tiresome ways that we really did not need one more. Society has been destroyed and peaceful good guys of the world are menaced by marauding nasties. Then one hero (or perhaps a handful) stands up and saves the good guys. It is really SHANE turned into a science fiction film. NO BLADE OF GRASS, THE ROAD WARRIOR, WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND, and any number of bad sci-fi films on cable have used the plot because it does not require fancy special effects to make a science fiction film. Of course it can still use up a big budget on the plot if the filmmaker wants. Kevin Costner's WATERWORLD is just one example. Now Costner is back and, surprise, it may be the best film on this theme ever made. But it came along too late and had a misleading trailer. Had THE POSTMAN been made in 1960--and except for having been based on a later novel it well could have been--it might have been stiff competition for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. But that was almost four decades ago. Audiences might have been more receptive to the film's idealism. Today audiences might be more cynical about the film's message of the power or idealism and optimism.

It should be noted that in spite of the impression given by the trailer THE POSTMAN is not BACKDRAFT with mailmen. The film is *not* a tribute to the loyalty and service of letter carriers. That would be a cause whose banality would be second only to that of the importance of good dental hygiene. The trailer gave audiences that impression, and as such it may turn out to be the most disastrous movie trailer in cinema history. I saw this film at a Saturday matinee and there were four people in the audience, three of which were my group. This film is not STAR WARS, but it is not that bad of a film either. It is considerably better than ROBIN HOOD, PRINCE OF THIEVES.

We never do find out exactly what the war was that destroyed civilization. There was ground fighting in the United States and there was either a nuclear winter or something similar. In any case, the world of 2013 is little pockets of people trying to scratch out a subsistence living. Making that more difficult are "the Holnists," a private army, raiding small settlements. The leader of the Holnists is the fascist General Bethlehem (played with nice savagery by Will Patton). Bethlehem spouts the self- reliance rhetoric of the right wing taken to a sadistic extreme. Kevin Costner plays a drifter, a sometime Shakespeare player, who is conscripted into the Holnists, meeting their admission criteria ("if you are between fifteen and fifty and of suitable ethnic foundation...") When the drifter finds the opportunity he escapes. On the run, he finds a post office jeep with a skeleton of a postman inside. He thinks up a scam to get some food. Putting on the postman's uniform, he takes some letters to a small nearby community of Pinetree, Oregon, to deliver. He claims to be an official postman appointed by the newly reformed government and they have a responsibility to feed and house him while he performs his duty. The effect is totally unexpected. These are people desperately in need of good news and a return to the world that they knew. (There is an amusing scene earlier demonstrating that even Bethlehem's army is tired of all the violence in their lives and refuses to watch UNIVERSAL SOLDIER on a movie screen when there is THE SOUND OF MUSIC to watch.) The Postman is treated by the settlement as a romantic hero. His false story rekindles optimism. Writing a letter for the postman to deliver becomes a symbolic act signifying faith in the new government.

With a government to help protect them, people are willing to resist the Holnists. This hope and optimism is something that Bethlehem cannot allow ("morale is a dangerous thing"), but also cannot stop. Two people are especially affected by the visit of the Postman. One is Abby (Olivia Williams) who is looking for someone to impregnate her. Her husband is impotent and both have decided to find someone virile to act as biological father, especially one who will not be around much. The Postman fills the bill. The other person affected is a black teen who goes by the name Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate). He is so inspired by the Postman, he decides on the spot that he will become a Postman also.

Playing another clean-cut hero, albeit an involuntary one, will not do much for Costner's career even if this film does find an audience. There is little in his role that Costner has not done many times before. There probably is little in the role of the idealistic savior that he could not do in his sleep. Will Patton, on the other hand, is spell-binding playing the self-indulgent and inflexible fascist leader with total conviction. He plays the part like some great but strange Civil War general. Olivia Williams is sharp and smart as Abby. Most of the cast are little known but good actors while a few of the characters are a little too cloyingly polished and pretty for their roles--specifically a child actor handing off a letter to a racing Costner. But generally Stephen F. Windon provides some terrific images of Oregon and Utah. James Newton Howard provides a stirring if not greatly original score.

This film covers thematic territory that has become too familiar from too many lesser films. And then it made the further mistake of releasing to theaters a trailer that distorted the thrust of this film. Get past those two problems and this is actually not too bad a story, even at its three-hour length. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A number of interesting stylistic touches that work to varying degrees of success. The story, however, is a disjointed, confusing portrait of an almost totally uninteresting Lothario who never misses an opportunity to screw up his own life and to hurt others. The film is a collection of story fragments and manipulative arguments. If this is a confession Allen should have written it in his diary and put it under his pillow, not on the screen. Rating: 3 (0 to 10), -1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 16 positive, 4 negative, 1 mixed.

Woody Allen is one of the most successful artist-directors in Hollywood, but he is becoming less and less reliable as a filmmaker. In his early years of film-making he mastered the simple comedy. From there he went into a second phase and took risks experimenting with different approaches and styles. Some of these work better than others. ZELIG and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS are the work of a creative and intelligent artist. DECONSTRUCTING HARRY goes to the other extreme and is a bizarre experiment demanding more of the viewer than it gives back.

Harry Block (Allen) has in his life only two drives. He wants to have sex with as many women as possible and when he makes a mess of his life and those of his lovers he wants to retreat into his writing. The story of this static and highly unsympathetic character is told with a number of often clumsy stylistic experiments. Perhaps the most irritating device is to express the disjointedness of Harry's life by editing Harry's scenes putting in cuts in the middle as if to show missing time with something edited out. As a writer, Harry puts his friends into his books in the thinnest of disguises. The film dramatizes incidents from these supposed books and cuts between his real story line and fragments from Harry's books with different actors playing the real and fictional people in Harry's life. These fragments are frustrating in their lack of completion, but even more frustrating is the bringing of the characters out of the fragments into scenes with the real characters. It is up to the viewer to keep track not just who is fictional and who is real but also to keep straight who is the fictional doppelganger of which real person. If that sounds complicated, it is. Then as another device in one of the stories, an actor seems to have the peculiar property that he has gone out of focus and can only be seen in blurry image. Harry sees this as a metaphor for his own condition and himself goes blurry for a short time. As if these touches did not create sufficient confusion, the story is told out of chronological order. If Allen were giving the audience a story that was worth decoding, any and all of these stylistic touches could be excusable. But Allen puts the audience through all of this to give us a portrait of Harry Block who is a selfish manipulator who is not worth the effort to understand.

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY is set at a time when Harry's old college, the one that expelled him when he attended it, wants now to honor him for a lifetime of writing achievement. Harry is searching among his friends to find one who will go with him. Just why someone who is so unwilling to commit to a relationship with anyone suddenly needs the support of someone else is unclear. Harry tries his current girl friend Fay (Elizabeth Shue) only to find that she is about to marry Harry's old friend Larry (Billy Crystal). Block would like his son Hilly (Eric Lloyd) to accompany him, but Hilly's mother, previously first Harry's psychiatrist and more recently his wife, refuses to let her son see his father. Another friend Richard (Bob Balaban) would go but has health problems. Harry also considers bringing a prostitute Cookie (Hazel Goodman). It is interesting that Allen should introduce another likable prostitute so soon after MIGHTY APHRODITE, but Cookie is considerably different--black and a lot brighter than Mira Sorvino's character in the previous film.

While the comedy sequences are never complete, a few are elaborate and some quite funny. The centerpiece of the film is a journey into Hell with Allen playing a sort of Orpheus rescuing Fay from the clutches of the Devil, who looks a lot like Larry. That story also is left uncompleted, perhaps to show Harry's unwillingness to commit even to telling a story. The linchpin that was needed to tie together the stylistic quirks of this film was a central character who changes and who gives us something about which to care. That character is patently not the one Allen creates in Harry Block and not the characters around Harry as seen through his acerbic eyes. Allen can do much better than DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. I rate it a 3 on the 0 to 10 scale and a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

GOOD WILL HUNTING: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A twenty-year-old super-genius works as an anonymous janitor at MIT. He is also into brawling and getting into trouble with the law. A parole is arranged on the conditions that he do mathematics and get a psychological analysis. This is key to a difficult turn in his life. Ben Affleck and Mark Damon wrote the screenplay and play major roles in the film. Gus Van Sant directs. The character is a little too sharp and the action a little too dull. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 18 positive, 1 negative, 1 mixed

Frankly, the film did not do a lot for me. I could not believe the main character. Goethe was one of the great geniuses in history and he excelled, as opposed to just being good, in only a few fields. The premise of GOOD WILL HUNTING bothered me from the very beginning because it was too difficult to believe that Will Hunting could be as brilliant in as many different fields as the script requires him to be. To have a super-genius of his caliber places this film more in the category of science fiction than that of a believable drama. The premise that there is someone out there of this magnitude of brilliance who has not by the age of 20 come to a lot of people's attention seems unlikely. Here he is working as a custodian at MIT and he can easily beat the best mathematics professors on the faculty. Then he demonstrates he is way ahead of an economics graduate student in that student's own field. This would be hard to believe of someone who spends his full time studying, but Will Hunting (played by Mark Damon) seems to spend very little time in books. Instead he spends most of his spare time drinking with his blue-collar buddies and getting into trouble with the law.

His real genius is discovered by mathematics Professor Lambeau (Stallan Skarsgard), winner of the Fields Medal (the most prestigious award in mathematics). Lambeau gives his classes a prize problem to see if one person can get it over the semester. Janitor Will Hunting solves it with the effort of doing the Times Crossword Puzzle and leaves the answer anonymously on a hallway blackboard.

Lambeau sets a harder problem and Hunting solves it also, but is seen leaving the answer. This gives Lambeau the clue needed to track down the mysterious genius whom he finds conducting his own legal defense after having attacked a police officer. Hunting fails to convince the judge and is sentenced to jail. Lambeau arranges a parole on two conditions: Hunting will undergo analysis and will do math with Lambeau. Once he is discovered, different people fight to understand Will Hunting and to pull him in different directions. For a long stretch there are just four breeds of scene in this film. Hunting carouses and drinks with his rough-playing blue-collar buddies; Hunting does math with Lambeau, proving himself a far better mathematician than anybody on the MIT faculty; Hunting has a relationship with Skylar (Minnie Driver), an English Chemistry student; Hunting has mutually parasitic mind game sessions with his analyst (Robin Williams). The film just goes back and forth among these scenes until Hunting decides how to handle his life.

Hunting's ability to turn psychiatrists into raving animals in minutes seems more modeled on Hannibal Lector than on anything human. It takes many sessions with his analyst before they can talk in anything but sarcastic jabs. The film does a decent job of showing the relationship between Hunting and his lifelong friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) who really care for each other. The relationship with his girlfriend was okay, but covers well-trodden territory. But Hunting's mind seems really clear only when he is doing mathematics. It is never clear what exactly is going on in Hunting's mind or why he changes in just the ways he does, sometimes playing games and others following the simplest of advice. This is a film with a serious credibility problem and one which stagnates in the middle act. I would give it a 5 on the 0 to 10 and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Side comment: It is difficult to present someone superbly brilliant in a film without having someone being superbly brilliant to write the script. Damon does a reasonable job playing the troubled super-luminary who has buried himself in a lower-class lifestyle, if any such person has ever existed. The film draws false parallels to Ramanujan and Einstein, neither of whom had Will Hunting's broadband versatility. For what it is worth, this is one of the few film that did a reasonable job of representing higher mathematics. Certainly the they got the facts on the Fields Medal (though they omitted to mention that you have to be young to win the Fields). Ramanujan did not actually work for "many years" with Hardy as stated. He died quite young, probably in large part because of his transplanting from his native climate to England. It was a tremendous loss.

I would have assumed that answers to really difficult problems in combinatorics might involve complex counting arguments and would not fit on a single blackboard, but it is possible. It filmed nicely, but it is unlikely a mathematician would do math with a marking pen on a mirror. It is too easy to accidentally rub off, it does not give enough writing space, and the results are not easily portable or savable. He may have done some scratch-work there, but even that seems unlikely.

It is hard to believe an American mathematician would not know who Ted Kaczynski is. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Imitation is the sincerest form of television.
                                   -- Fred Allen