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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/23/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 30
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.avonbooks.com/Eos/conv/index.html. "Eos Convention Front Page" to celebrate the launch of Avon Books' new SF imprint. [-ecl]
Synchronicity: I was amazed. It all came together this morning. Everything fits together into a neat package. Perhaps Jung was right. Let me tell you about my last few months. I am involved at work in rolling out a package of tools that a central organization at my company has decided is the best thing for the company. I won't go into details because that would be unprofessional. Suffice it to say that I have certain reservations about how good this package of tools really is. And even if it is good it may not be good for our organization. And certainly even if it is good for some of our organization, it does not work for me. But it was more or less decided that this one package would fit our whole section of the company. And they have previously made one-size-fits-all decisions that pretty much everybody agrees was a mistake.
In the middle of this roll-out my vacation time came. This year instead of going to someplace exotic in a foreign country, we decided to see a little more of our own country, specifically the Southeast. Now most people don't think of going places like Arkansas for a vacation. Nobody but Bill Clinton, I guess. Generally the people who vacation in Mississippi also happen to live in Mississippi. But surprisingly there was more than enough to see here to fill five weeks of accumulated vacation time. Now what we started to discover on the trip is an amazing number of coincidences. I will not list them all, I am not sure I even remember them all. The sort of thing was we would go to the Space and Rocketry Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and I would be particularly interested in a biographical tape they showed on the life of Werner Von Braun. Then just a couple days later there would be a program on TV we would see in our motel room on the German rocket and Von Braun. Earlier in the trip I was reading about the battle of Midway, then we would visit the U.S.S. Yorktown which was not at Midway, but it was named right after the battle since the Yorktown was the major American aircraft carrier sunk at Midway. And they would have a long discussion about that battle.
One of the major points of the trip was to see Civil War sites and without ever picking out our route that way, several of them we visited in chronological order so in my log the descriptions of the battles could be one continuous history of the war. These are what Jung called "synchronicities." I think Jung would have seen a mystical force behind them. There are a lot of strange coincidences that occur. Actually, I think that there need be no mystical explanation. On a trip like this you see a lot of different things and every aspect of something you see could potentially be one end of a coincidence. If you watch educational channels in the motel rooms at night you get a lot more potentials. It would be surprising if with all these "incidences" every one was on a totally different subject. Statistically you would expect that there will be a whole bunch of pairs of incidences on similar subjects. And that what a "coincidence" is all about. We expect some coincidences. I don't know if we expected as many as we saw, but you certainly expect no small amount.
Now I get home and back to working on getting people to adopt this software package and suddenly I realize the issues I am seeing at work are the issues that led the South against the North. I get a much better view of what was going on in the Civil War. Well, we are not going to go to war, but the whole States' Rights issue vs. the mandates of a central Federal Government is recapitulated in our own problem with this software package. I am not saying it is nearly as serious and we are not going to start firing on each other. Not yet anyway. But what we have is a central governing body trying to make decisions for a large organization. And personally we do not have a whole lot of confidence that they are making the best decisions for our local area. Now the decisions they are making may be the best thing for the overall organization since there are certain advantages to having everybody using the same package. But I may feel that it is so far from our needs that I do not feel we locally need to be bound by their decision. This whole process is giving me more sympathy for the Confederacy. Not that I am condoning slavery I hasten to add, but of course that was not what the South was fighting for and for the most part it was not what the North was fighting about either. But the South felt it needed a certain autonomy and that the decisions made by the government of the North were not in the best interests of the South. I have exactly the same feeling here. This is a great object lesson about the Civil War. Let us hope it turns out a lot better. [-mrl]
ALTERNATE SKIFFY: edited by Michael Resnick and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Wildside Press, ISBN 1-880448-54-8, 1997, 123pp, US$9) and INSIDE THE FUNHOUSE edited by Michael Resnick (AvoNova, ISBN 0- 380-76643-4, 1992, 246pp, US$4.99) (book reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In their introductions, Resnick and Nielsen Hayden tell two different stories of how this anthology came about. Both are obviously from alternate universes. But Resnick has cruised these waters before--see the comments on INSIDE THE FUNHOUSE at the end of this review.
This seems to me to be a sort of cousin to Resnick's ALTERNATE WORLDCONS and AGAIN, ALTERNATE WORLDCONS. The main difference to me is that these stories seem more professional and less "fannish." In fact, one had already appeared in INTERZONE: Dave Langford's excellent G. K. Chesterton pastiche, "The Spear of the Sun."
There are a few other stories which stand well on their own. Gregory Feeley's "Scatchophily" has Samuel Beckett and James Joyce in an unlikely situation, but Feeley's writing style, including subtle literary puns, compensates for that.
Nick DiChario, who burst upon the science fiction scene with his Hugo-nominated "Winterberry" in Resnick's first alternate history anthology (ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS) turns in "Mission 51-L," in which a science fiction author rather than a teacher is chosen to go into space. It has a realistic feel as a possible history, in addition to examining several famous (and infamous) science fiction authors.
Anthony R. Lewis's "Plus Ultra" has Hugo Gernsback heading up the League of Nations rather than AMAZING STORIES (a fairly low probability event, given Gernsback's background) with results more colored by wishful thinking than likelihood. Still, this at least tries to stay in a serious path rather than straying into the cutesy byways that some of the stories head down.
Barry N. Malzberg can always be relied on to produce a good story, and his "Science of the Mind" delivers, with Theodore Sturgeon attempting to invent a religion. (Well, at least he had the name for it.) And eluki bes shahar's "My Object All Sublime" makes some interesting observations on media fandom and book publishing and marketing.
The rest of the stories vary in quality from passable to real groaners. Some seem to have been created by saying, "Let's take author A and move him arbitrarily to situation B." Some seem to throw in gratuitous comments about science fiction authors who have nothing to do with the story.
Let's face it, either you were interested in this book as soon as you heard about it, or you're still not interested. It's quirky and focused enough that the function of a review is more to announce this than to review it.
If you are interested in this, the best way to get it is by ordering directly from Wildside Press, 522 Park Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922. Add US$3 for postage in the United States, and 6% sales tax if you live in New Jersey.
Resnick previously edited INSIDE THE FUNHOUSE, a reprint anthology of "SF stories about SF." Not all of those were alternate history, but a few were and are worth mentioning here: Patricia Nurse's "One Rejection Too Many," Frederik Pohl's "The Reunion at the Mile- High," Allen Steele's "Hapgood's Hoax," and Barry N. Malzberg's "Corridors." [-ecl]
ILLEGAL ALIEN by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00476-8, 1997, 292pp, US$21.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Robert Sawyer has changed gears a bit for this novel. Rather than an analytic look at the existence of souls or the implications of genetic testing or a tour of the cosmos, he gives us a here a classic first contact situation that rapidly becomes a murder mystery. I found myself thinking of Isaac Asimov's science fiction mysteries, and this is a worthy successor in the genre.
We start with a spaceship that lands in the Atlantic Ocean. It turns out to be disabled and, after communication is established, arrangements are made for the Tosoks to exchange their advanced technology for our help in making repairs. All is going along splendidly until a human turns up dead, and it appears as though he was killed by a Tosok.
There is a lot of "courtroom procedural" here as well, and I can't help but wonder if this was inspired somewhat by the Simpson trial. (Sawyer has his characters make reference to it, which seems to support this.) On one hand, this gets a bit heavy-handed at times. On the other hand, I think this could be made into a very interesting movie. (Not that it would be, knowing movie-makers, but it *could* be, a la WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION or even TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.)
ILLEGAL ALIEN is an enjoyable mystery, a bit lighter than Sawyer's recent works, but certainly worth a read. [-ecl]
FALLEN: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: There are a whole lot of pieces of other films in FALLEN, a sort of a police corruption story with supernatural overtones. Denzel Washington plays a sharp police detective. He caught a serial killer and saw him executed but unfortunately execution seems to be only a minor setback for the killer, who after death seems to be passing his mode of operation to other killers. In spite of a few good moments, the script is only so-so, but the photography is very atmospheric and John Goodman turns a minor partner role into a real tour de force. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
Things are indeed rather dangerous for police homicide detective John Hobbes, played by Denzel Washington, who begins the film saying "Let me tell you about the time I almost died." Hobbes is the detective who caught the serial killer Edgar Reese (played by Elia Koteas). Reese seems mightily unconcerned to be heading into the gas chamber. Besides merrily singing "Time Is On My Side," he wildly shakes Washington's hand and babbles in some gibberish language. He may be the most cheerful soul who was ever strapped into this gas chamber and executed. Then in an unexplained shot we seem to see Reese's viewpoint rise from the body and settle into a guard. Reese's murder spree should be over. Unfortunately the killings stubbornly refuse to stop complete with Reese's particular trademarks. Hobbes and his partner Jonesy (John Goodman) have to figure out why. At the murder scenes now there start appearing for Hobbes clues left in the form of riddles. The clues seem to point at a previous case involving a policeman named Milano who turned murderer and eventually committed suicide. Hobbes wants to find out more about this case and questions the dead officer's daughter (Embeth Davidtz) who has since become a religious fanatic, surrounding herself with images of angels. Hobbes investigates the cabin that was the site of the Milano suicide and finds the name of a demon painted on the wall.
Some aspects of this film are done very nicely. Tom Sigel's photography creates a nice somber mood of doom and dread. His previous work includes THE USUAL SUSPECTS and BLOOD AND WINE. Sigel creates a tone to his photography effectively. Nicholas Kazan has a good ear for dialog which director Gregory Hoblit brings out, most noticeable as Hobbes and Jonesy discuss the case. But the story is really a patching together of familiar ideas from other police thrillers and even some science fiction films. As is all too frequent in films, the real killer is much to anxious to strut his stuff and reveals much too much to the police. Presumably the killer wants to give the police a handicap to make the game more interesting for himself, rubbing their noses in the fact that they cannot stop him, but it is too common a device to advance the plot. Also too common are "false alarm" scenes intended to make the viewer jump. These touches in the script are signs of weak writing.
Denzel Washington does a competent job here, but he brings nothing to his part any other capable actor could not have. On the positive side, there in nothing in the script that draws attention to the fact that the character is black. It is simply cast with a black man; it is not a black role. But Washington could have done a lot more with it. The real acting honors in this film go to John Goodman who takes the role of partner and invests it with real personality. Donald Sutherland is there being officious and just slightly sinister, a role that he can manage in his sleep. Embeth Davidtz gives her character a certain vulnerable courage. Davidtz formerly played Helen Hirsch in SCHINDLER'S LIST and has understandably not found a role of such substance since.
FALLEN is something of a hybrid film which probably falls more into the camp of the horror film than that of the police drama, though it rarely approaches anything really frightening. One very nice sequence has the killer demonstrating his abilities to Hobbes through the use of innocent bystanders. It is perhaps the most effective scene of the film, giving the homicide detective and the viewer a feel for how difficult the killer will be to catch. Not everything in this film works as well as it might, but FALLEN does build to a nice keep-em-guessing finale. I rate this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
KUNDUN: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Martin Scorsese gives us what amounts to an encyclopedia article on the Dalai Lama from early life until his exile. The Lama is always perfect and never human. The strongest emotion Scorsese gives the Lama or evokes in the audience for that matter, is bewilderment at the mysterious culture of Tibet. The film should have taken more chances and humanized its subject a little more. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4) Spoiler warning: this review will assume the reader has common knowledge about the Dalai Lama.
New York Critics: 11 positive, 1 negative, 7 mixed
Seeing KUNDUN is a lot like reading a good article about the Dalai Lama and Tibet from the National Geographic. It has great color photography and it has a lot of facts. But it is an appeal more to the intellect than to the emotions. And even as an appeal to the intellect not everything that the viewer sees will be understood. But neither what we see, nor what we hear in the dialogue fleshes out the character. Director Martin Scorsese would almost have us believe that there is nothing to the Dalai Lama but a bundle of wise Buddhist aphorisms. Like a Magic 8-ball, whenever he is shaken a different wise response comes floating to the surface.
The story begins in 1933. The 13th Dalai Lama is dead and in the Tibetan tradition scouts have been sent out to find a young boy who is the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama's soul. A two-year-old child is found who seems to be the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. The young child's parents are already aware that their son is special due to favorable omens surrounding the child, but we never find out what they feel when they have confirmed that their child is, in fact, a Buddha of Compassion.
The boy is brought to the magnificent palace embedded in the side of a mountain, one of the most majestic buildings in all the world. And to the boy's bewilderment he is immersed in Buddhist wisdom. Soon he begins to understand what is going on and begins to speak with the insight we would expect of the Dalai Lama. Still, there is much in the film left intentionally enigmatic for the audience. In one scene we have a large hissing dancer performs for the Lama and then slides across the floor up to the Lama. The scene ends with no more message to the viewer than that this obviously means something. The viewer begins an outsider at the beginning of the film and remains an outsider right through to the end. Then, as if there was not already enough in the film that is hard to follow, Scorsese adds sequences of his own visual symbolism. Rather than show us a big unexplained piece of Tibetan culture, Scorsese would have done better to show us a smaller sample and explain his understanding of it. We get a better idea of who the Dalai Lama is as a person from SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET than we do from this biography of the Lama.
As the story progresses, Tibet is invaded by China and the Lama has to face the implications of the Chinese invasion of his country. He is brought, a virtual prisoner, to China where he meets with a surprisingly affable Chairman Mao. The Chinese leader is apparently a man who can have a simple peasant charm one moment and order the death of thousands the next. Mao politely but firmly threatens the Lama to cooperate with the Chinese rape of his country. The Lama appeals to the world for help, but not surprisingly his pleas are to little avail. It seems Tibet's natural isolation is a double-edged sword: over the centuries it has been a natural barrier to invaders, but no military force in the world will pierce that barrier just for the sake of altruism. Eventually the Lama must decide if he will serve his country best from within or outside its borders. The film lacks the scope of history and the human values that the similar GANDHI had. Gandhi was made much more a three-dimensional character than the Lama.
Scorsese tells the story of the Lama with a cast of unknowns, most of whom are Tibetan amateurs. They all stand in the right places say their lines, but there is no passion in the performances. The Tibetans' seem as cold and distant as their land. Melissa Mathison's screenplay conveys none of the emotion of her writing screenplays for THE BLACK STALLION and for E.T., THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL. Roger Deakins to create a believable Tibet in hues of reds, yellows, and browns. (The real Tibet being inaccessible, he shot instead in Morocco, British Columbia, and Idaho.) Philip Glass provides a score hypnotic in its repetitious minimalism. It seems well-suited to the splendor of Tibet but is perhaps not a rousing as the film needed.
KUNDUN is like a very sincere tribute to a great man that just would not come out the way it was intended. The Dalai Lama may well be a great man, but KUNDUN is not a great film biography. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
There are no manifestos like cannon and musketry. -- The Duke of Wellington